You Are Here: Dealing with doubters, and the quest for “proof”
Dealing With Doubters, And The Quest For "Proof"
Dealing With Doubters, And The Quest For “Proof”
by Alex McFarland
heard the saying everything old is new again.
certainly true regarding objections raised by those who are skeptical
about the Christian faith. Though blog sites and recent books by
several high profile atheists have given a fresh platform to
skepticism, the basic objections to the Christian faith being batted
around today are not new. Questions and objections that a defender of
the Christian faith should know how to answer have not changed much
in nearly two millennia.
questions about the faith that are heard from skeptics today were
posed to Christians during the first centuries of the church's
existence. Though it would be nearly twenty centuries before
C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and Ravi Zacharias would come along, what
we know about many early Christian thinkers reveals that they did an
impressive job handling skeptics in their day. It should be an
encouragement to know that you
have the same available resources that Clement, Irenaeus, and
Tertullian did (they were some defenders of the faith who came along
very early in the life of the church): Prayer, The Scriptures, Your
God-given reasoning abilities, And the Holy Spirit. We in the
21st-century also benefit from years of good Christian scholarship
that has amassed over the past two millennia.
in the third century, St. Augustine (354-430) made an observation
about the doubters of his own day. In Confessions,Book 21, chapter 2,
Augustine writes about doubters, who refuse to accept the claims of
Christianity unless a believer can, "prove them by ocular
demonstration." The skeptic's demand for "ocular
demonstration" is heard to this day. The standard for "proof"
becomes essentially this: "If Christianity cannot be physically
demonstrated before my very eyes, in a way that I can watch on
demand, touch, and verify by repetition, I will not believe."
our generation is not the first in which people have made empiricism
the only test for truth. But the skeptic should be reminded that all
people hold to beliefs that cannot be replicated on demand, or "proven" by observation. We accept on the authority of history
that George Washington crossed the Delaware, though none of us was
alive to see it. We cannot scientifically prove that our family
members love us, though we take it for granted that they do. And (as
has been pointed out by many an apologist), the skeptic has never
visibly seen his own brain, but we know that he has one!
even the strictest empiricist accepts things that aren't always
types of doubters
debated a number of atheists myself, and in my experiences sharing
the gospel with many skeptics, I can relate to Augustine's
observation. The late Adrian Rogers- a beloved pastor and prolific
author- often talked about an honest doubter and a dishonest doubter.
When a skeptic would confront the pastor with an objection, Rogers
would sometimes ask a question of his own: "If I can
sufficiently and factually answer your question," Rodgers would
ask, "... Will you open your heart to Christ and to the
have posed this same question to people at times. The responses
given can be very interesting. An honest doubter will say, "yes,"
or in some way indicate that they are, indeed, trying to resolve the
obstacles that lay between them and belief in God. Bottom line:
An honest doubter really does want an answer to his question.
response (and heart condition of) a dishonest doubter is different
entirely. The dishonest doubter will respond negatively to
questions like, "Are you asking this question in hopes of
finding your way to God? If I answer your question would you be
open to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ?" An atheist
whom I interviewed last year said to me, "I am not so much
against God, I am against believe in God." When asked if
there was anything that could ever convince this person to believe in
God, he said, "No." The dishonest doubter may have a number
of different motives for the issue(s) he is raising, but the search
for truth is not one of them.
the will says, "I will not"
of old could sympathize with anyone who has ever struggled to
dialogue with a dishonest doubter. The dishonest doubter engages in
conversation over spiritual issues, and as the Christian responds to
the (supposed) "key issue" standing between the person and God,
the information laid out is quickly dismissed. Augustine wrote of
such persons who, "...content, with the same skepticism, that these
facts are not examples of what we seek to prove."
dishonest doubter is avoiding the reality of God and Christ by
saying, a) You haven't proved your case sufficiently for me; or, b)
You have proved your case (or something like it), but this wasn't
what I was really asking.
1: 18 talks about the universal human tendency to know God's truth
but to suppress it. In John 3:19, Jesus explained that people prefer
darkness rather than light because of desire to keep their sins
hidden. Thus, apologetics and Christian worldview ministry is
not a mental exercise only. Dialoguing fruitfully about spiritual
questions and objections does require tact and preparation, but also
proof really suffice? Regarding
perennial demands for empirical proof about the claims of
Christianity, I am reminded of the exchange between Abraham and the
lost Rich Man recorded in Luke chapter 16. The unbelieving rich man
who found himself in hell asked Abraham to go and tell his family
members about salvation. Abraham said that the people had ample
revelation of God through Moses and the prophets. The Rich Man
prophetically observed that a resurrection from the dead would be the
highest proof: "...If one went unto them from the dead, they
will repent" (v. 30).
did not have quite as much faith in the skeptics of that rich man's
family: "He said to
him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will
not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead' " (v. 31).
Abraham had a keen understanding of human nature. When the will has
been turned against God, no amount of evidence is enough.
Conversely, when a person is hungry for truth and is sincerely trying
to work through an intellectual impasse, a solid answer is usually
In light of I Peter 3:15 (and 2:15, as
well), the apologist's calling is to present, explain, and when
necessary, defend the Gospel. Honest or not, the doubter's
response is between them and God. The Christian's role is to share
truth, model Christian love, and we do these things prayerfully and carefully.
century Christian witness is following in a long line of apologists
that goes back nearly two thousand years. Regardless of how people
respond to the reality of Jesus Christ, continue to sow seed, spread
truth, and field questions. Journey with the searcher and
(respectfully) spar with the skeptic. Don't feel bad if not every
one accepts your message. Not even Augustine could claim that.
McFarland is the founder of Truth For A New Generation, an annual
apologetics conference that draws attendees from across the US and
internationally. The 2013 TNG event will be held in Charlotte, NC,
September 27-28. Learn more at: www.truthforanewgeneration.com