Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Paul Copan's important book, True for You but Not for Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith, (Bethany House Publishers).
Many Americans today don't believe in absolute truth. Instead, they simply accept the relativistic philosophy that's so popular in our culture. Christians who reach out to them too often struggle to respond successfully to their objections about the faith. But some thoughtful comments can help clear up people's confusion and pique their interest in seeking Christ themselves.
Here are some statements people commonly make when objecting to Christianity, and how you can respond:
"That's true for you, but not for me." It doesn't make sense to say that no belief is true for everyone, because by making that statement you're claiming that your own viewpoint (relativism) is universally true - and thereby contradicting yourself. And simply living life depends on belief in truth of some kind; everyone must implicitly trust that certain things exist in order to survive.
"So many people disagree - relativism must be true." Just because it's sometimes difficult to discern the truth doesn't mean that truth doesn't exist or can't be discerned. The fact that people disagree doesn't say anything about an issue's truth or falsehood. Often, people don't have full knowledge about the reality that exists.
"What right do you have to convert others to your views?" If you're trying to persuade me not to share my viewpoint, you're trying to convert me to share your own view that people shouldn't evangelize. Faith may be personal, but that doesn't mean it's private. Everyone naturally wants to share what they're passionate about with others.
"You can choose whichever religion you want." If you build your own religion simply by personal preferences rather than according to truth you seek, you're dangerously out of touch with reality. It may seem safe to create God in your own image, but it actually will end up destroying your soul.
"Who are you to impose your morality on others?" When you denounce imposing morality on others, you're taking a moral position yourself (saying it's wrong to impose moral values). You don't use moral standards only when they suit your agenda. All people intuitively recognize certain moral basics.
"We can be good without God." Goodness must have its source in a good God. If God doesn't exist and people are the product of valueless processes, why would valuable people with moral rights exist? Practical reason alone can't give people morals, help them act ethically, or give rise to human dignity.
"All religions are basically the same." World religions actually differ in major, profound ways. Some aspects of various religions may help pave the way to the Gospel's truths, but only Jesus fulfills the ultimate hopes and aspirations in all religions, philosophies, and cultures.
"If you'd grown up in Thailand, you'd be a Buddhist." God graciously reveals Himself to people throughout the world. God knows people's hearts, wherever they live, and reaches out to those who seek Him. While people do grow up in diverse cultures - some of which make it easier to hear the Gospel message than others - God does break through and it's not arrogant for people to reject beliefs that ultimately prove to be unworkable for them in favor of Christianity.
"Mahatma Gandhi was a saint if ever there was one." There is more to true religion than moral decency. Even atheists can be morally good, since everyone has been created in God's image. The ultimate problem is people's alienation from God, and that can only be solved through saving relationships with Jesus.
"You can't trust the Gospels - they're unreliable." The Gospels - and the entire New Testament - are actually more reliable than other ancient documents, which don't have as many manuscript copies existing or as much historical evidence supporting their claims. Furthermore, there's no good reason to doubt the Gospels, yet they're criticized much more severely than other ancient documents - probably because they portray an unsafe, untamable God who reaches out from the pages to make personal demands on readers.
"Jesus is just like any other great religious leader." Jesus stands out from the pack of other religious leaders because He claimed to be divine. He can't simply be a great teacher; His claims about Himself leave only two options: Either He really was who He said He was - God's Son - or else He was a flagrant idolater.
"People claim JFK and Elvis are alive, too!" Only the story of Jesus' resurrection is supported by real historical evidence - an abundance of it. Consider the context, purpose, and evidence for stories that claim to parallel Jesus' resurrection and you'll quickly see that they don't hold up to scrutiny.
"It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you're sincere." People can sincerely believe something and yet still be wrong because the object of their sincerity is flawed. The essential question to ask is, "How reliable is the object of your trust?". Also, you can't rely on sincerity for divine acceptance, because salvation is based on God's grace rather than on what people do to try to reach Him.
"If Jesus is the only way to God, what about those who have never heard of Him?" God's good, trustworthy character assures us that He will do what's right for every person He has created and deeply loves. Also, God makes Himself known in many ways to people, prompting them to seek Him, and He has promised to reveal Himself to those who seek Him with their whole hearts. God won't condemn people simply because they haven't heard the Gospel. God will judge people who have not been evangelized based on their responses to natural revelation (such as creation, conscience, reason, and experience), which His Spirit can use to bring them to salvation. Also, God often uses the world's natural revelation about Himself to prepare people to respond to the Gospel once they do hear its message.
Adapted from True for You but Not for Me: Overcoming Objections to Christian Faith, copyright Paul Copan. Published by Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Bloomington, Mn., www.bethanyhouse.com.
Paul Copan (PhD, Marquette University) is the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida. He lives with his wife and five children in Florida.