My son was hanging out at Sinclair Community College in Dayton earlier this week when he overheard two students talking about their religion class. Intrigued, he asked if he could join their conversation. They told him they had surveyed Native American religions, Indian religions, Islam, and Judaism, and everything had gone along just fine. This week they began covering Christianity — and the class broke out in open hostility. They were stunned.
I’m not surprised, myself. Christianity is under fire in North America. If you need more proof, look at what’s been happening on campus. (The post is dated 2015 but the author, J. Steve Lee, has been updating it.) Or read what sociologist and Stream columnist George Yancey writes about Christianophobia.
The Surprising Biblical Example
This is unprecedented for us here in the Western world. We need to re-think what it means to follow Christ. If you think Christianophobia hasn’t hit close to home yet, I’ll just ask if you have sons or daughters, nieces or nephews, or grandchildren attending public school, or surfing the web, viewing film or TV, or (especially) going to a secular college or university. If so, then I can assure you it’s closer to home than you think.
What do we do in times like these? The Bible has an answer you probably haven’t noticed before. It’s the book of Hebrews. Not just in the book of Hebrews, but the whole book. It’s actually a letter, like most of the New Testament after Acts. Most scholars think it was written to a community of Jewish Christians, whose Jewish family members and neighbors were pressuring hard to give up their faith in Christ.
In that sense their situation was a lot like ours today: secular culture is pressuring us to give up faith in Christ. So what did God supply them to shore up their faith? He inspired someone (we don’t know who) to write this Letter to the Hebrews.
Working In Familiar Territory
You might or might not have known that. Hebrews can be an intimidating book for us today, since it relies so heavily on knowing the Old Testament law. The Hebrews who first received the letter wouldn’t have had that problem. They would have felt just as home in it as we do talking about the founding of America. Probably more so, actually. This was familiar territory for them.
But here’s what you probably haven’t noticed: The book of Hebrews is all about reasons to believe. It starts by showing the greatness of Jesus Christ in comparison to the angels and to Moses, which gave the Hebrews good reason to follow Him instead of just the Old Testament law. It moves on later to showing how He fulfills (completes) the Old Testament sacrificial laws, so they had justification for moving away from them to Christ, too.
Of course Hebrews contains warnings and encouragements along with reasons to believe. It’s our best explanation of who Jesus is in relation to the Old Testament. But the author added all that in the course of providing his readers with encouragement, in the form of good reasons to keep believing.
Familiar Territory We Can Work In
Now, unless we’re witnessing to a believing Jew, you and I would never use the book of Leviticus for that purpose today, but that’s because we don’t encounter people who were really convinced of the Old Testament yet unsure of Jesus Christ. Persuasion and encouragement need to start from points of familiarity and conviction.
People today are comfortable with the idea that science, history, and logical thinking can provide useful information for decision-making, so when I want to encourage people to believe in Christ (or hold on to their existing belief), usually I’ll start right there with science, history, philosophy, and good thinking about the Bible itself. There’s plenty of reasons for faith in each of those disciplines.
The Bible Sets the Example: Use Apologetics!
What I’m trying to say — and what you’ve probably figured out by now — is that the Bible sets a clear example of using apologetics to encourage believers when their faith is under fire. I hadn’t noticed that until this week, even though apologetics is my primary field of Christian ministry. Had you?
More to the point, if you know someone who’s facing pressure against their faith, are you giving them reasons to believe? Or if they’re not facing that pressure today, but you know they’re heading into a world where it will come, are you preparing them for it with reasons to believe? Are you prepared yourself?
Where You Can Go for Help
I hate to leave that kind of question hanging without providing ideas on what to do. I have two suggestions for you.
- One way the pressure comes is through LGBT activists telling us that Christianity is homophobic, anti-equality, intolerant, and irrational. I wrote my book Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality With Teens to help you help young people with this issue. It isn’t just for parents; it’s great for campus ministers, pastors, youth pastors, and aunts and uncles and grandparents. If the kids in your life aren’t teens yet, they will be soon enough.
- The film The Case for Christ is coming out this weekend. I’m planning to see an advance showing tonight. The early word on it is that it’s a dramatically satisfying film, not preachy or awkward like some Christian movies have been — but it does tell the story of how an investigative journalist discovered there are great reasons to believe.
Image Credit(s): Silverdale Baptist Church.