David G. from Australia emailed us, concerned that our ministry seemed to be taking the focus away from much more important issues of charity. However, the whole approach commits the fallacy of false alternatives, aka the “either-or” fallacy. His letter appears first in full:
Dear CMI Christian ministers,
I have read your mission statement as it is presented on your website and have these concerns. The purpose of the Christian ministry is to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations … (you take that to mean “Christians,” as “disciples” as they were “called” in Acts: 11(it does not specify by whom)). I do not understand how you justify spending your valuable time and money “defending” against the “attacks” of “atheists.” There is “faith, hope, and love … ,” but you seem to add your own brand of “jihad” against the atheists to the list.
How do you defend “faith” with reason? This is absurd. These two notions are apples and oranges; they are distinct in function and form. The miracle of salvation is never presented as an act of reason, but of relationship to God; something that is impossible to prove outside of the mind of a believer, especially in your extreme brand of Christian faith. Defending God and faith is unnecessary and a distraction to the believer’s call by Christ and the mission of the church.
Would you defend God? Does God need your defense? Of course not! Then neither is it necessary to defend your faith, but instead only to live it through good deeds and the sincerity of your worship – in that order. After all, who would listen to sound preaching if there were no cause to do so, that is love (as defined in – well, you know where).
I hope you will stop your incessant and futile “warring” with “atheists,” and set about the only true work of the church which is foremost, to feed the poor, heal the sick, and take care of the children of the world. Teaching people to do these things is “discipleship,” not argument and intellectual “jihad” against an insignificant fraction of the peoples of the earth who are “atheists.”
Let go of this incessant distraction, this imaginary war that is based in the fear of “doubt” (which all reasonable people of faith have in some measure), and focus on the true Christian tasks as they are assigned to you – that is “faith, hope, and love, the foremost being love.
Far more would be won through acts of love and relationship than with a rare conversion through arguments of “reason.” The war of Christ’s church is against hunger, sickness, and wars between nations; not war between faiths or against the questions of faith which are merely doubt.
In addition, it is my experience that non-theists are not so concerned with winning this debate as they are with protecting their rights according to the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. They have a much different agenda for the most part, and care far less about the argument than you. Believe it or not, their main concern is their freedom from religious tyranny, something history has proven to be a righteous cause, indeed. You must care about the rights of others more than your own. Defend their civil and moral rights to deny God, not to believe, and not to have creationism forced upon their children in the public schools, and they someday just might allow you to share with them the word of God in love.
You must come to the realization that you are not about the business of the Great Commission at all, but instead you are consumed in winning legal battles over curriculum in the public schools. This does nothing in the way of loving your enemy, healing the sick, or feeding the children, not to mention leading many to salvation or discipling anyone at all. You are fighting a battle that was exhausted twenty years ago and abandoned by most Christians because they have found far more fruitful and relevant battles to fight. I ask you, do you spend more time demonstrating Christian love and tolerance toward your enemy or arguing with them? It seems you would rather argue with a hungry atheist than feed him—or do you even care if he is hungry. I assure you, dear friend, the wars that end human existence will not be over ideas, but over food. If you want to save the world through Christ you must first see to it that the hungry are fed. For the starving, belief will always lean in the direction of food, or would you believe a good debate would turn their mind to God? I suggest that you save your creationism debate you have so passionately embraced to be put aside until the day when the great audience of the world is no longer hungry.
I challenge you to give up the theater of debate, to cease your futile efforts to deconstruct evolutionary theory, and end your battle over curriculum in the public schools in order to pick up the distasteful and glamourless chores of feeding, clothing, and healing the hungry hoards of the world. If you feed and clothe a thousand starving naked children, 999 of them will crumble in gratitude at the feet of Christ who sent you in His name; or would you prefer defending your irrelevant faith against what is largely an imaginary onslaught of atheism? In reality the defensive nature of this ministry demonstrates that atheism is actually a threat to your own beliefs and is a terror to you in the shadow of your own doubts, such is the passion of your anger and the severity of your defensiveness.
I wish you well in your pursuit of God. But I assure you that God spends little time in the arena of this debate. If you truly wish to know Christ, at least now you know where he waits for you.
Jihad (which is actual war against those of other faiths) is not something that is commanded by Scripture or advocated by our ministry; in fact, we would condemn those who use violence. You must have confused us with “the Religion of Peace”, but see Unfair to Islam? and a response to that article; both of which refute the common ‘moral equivalence’ ploy.
We oppose viewpoints that we believe to be contrary to Scripture, but we do this in accordance with biblical commands to ‘Demolish arguments’ opposed to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), to contend for the faith (Jude 1:3) and to be ready always to give an answer to everyone who asks us the reason for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15). So, in short, making disciples includes winning those to Christ who are not presently Christians. I don’t believe that Jesus’ command just referred to Christians. As the atheists are influential in winning people over to their ‘gospel’, we want to engage in this debate to show people the futility of the false religion of atheism and win them to Christ.
We spend so much time and so many resources doing this not only to give an answer for ourselves, but to help equip others to do so as well (see our article Linking and Feeding, one of the foundational articles for describing the goals of our ministry). This helps believers engage in this battle as well, as 2 Corinthians 10:4–5: explains:
The article Loving God with all your mind is a classic explanation for how we defend a reasonable faith, and they are not mutually exclusive as you would claim. The Bible does not contrast faith with reason, but with sight.
Yes, salvation involves a change in our relationship to God. Before salvation, our unregenerate hearts are not only unable to receive the message of salvation; we are overtly hostile to it—we were enemies of God when Christ died for us (Romans 5:10). It takes a work of God’s grace to enable us to accept the Gospel (and Christians believe this regardless of their soteriological stance). Salvation involves God changing our orientation from estranged enemies to beloved children. Any ‘heart’ change requires a mental change too, since in the Bible, the heart was most often a metaphor for the thinking part of man, not the emotional part. People need to consider the information they hear, and if convinced their ‘hearts’ (in the modern, non-biblical metaphor) will then follow.
But the basis for this amazing transformation is rooted in historical events. The human estrangement from God resulted from Adam’s historical sin, and the remedy is only possible because of Christ’s historical death and resurrection. Take the latter away and there is no remedy; take the former away and there is no need for one. (See also The Resurrection and Genesis).
The likes of Richard Dawkins understand this very well! He says:
So by defending the creation account in Genesis, we are defending the basis for the Gospel. If Genesis is not real literal history then we don’t literally need to be saved. It is because of the historical events in the Garden of Eden that Christ came to redeem us. They cannot be separated.
What is extreme about it? Our ministry distinctive is to support the Genesis account of origins, which, as I have just shown, is necessary for understanding the very Gospel itself. So, I rather prefer “biblical” or “orthodox” over “extreme” to describe our “brand” of Christian faith. We take the Bible to be the actual word of God which is as useful and relevant for the believer today as it was when the constituent documents were first penned (2 Timothy 3:16). If that is “extreme”, then I will take the designation as a compliment! If anyone professes to be a Christian, but does not accept the Genesis account, then I would think that is less logical (one might even say ‘extreme’) as there is not a consistent basis for their need for salvation. That is, understanding that sin entered the world through the actions of Adam and Eve. Please understand that I am not saying someone is not a Christian (see also Can Christians believe evolution?), if they don’t hold to the Genesis account, but if one recognizes the need to be saved from sin, then what is the historical basis for that?
The Great Commission commands us to preach the Gospel to all nations. Note, by definition most nations are not Christian. But a major stumbling block to many people is that the Bible’s history conflicts with evolutionary science. One has to be wrong, so where does the truth begin in the Bible? And since the Church retreated from the debate in the last century or so, “science” is thought to be the infallible guide by many. One thing CMI’s ministry does is challenge that secular history, and remove that very real stumbling block for some people who are really seeking answers.
The article Caged lions addresses the faulty charge that the Bible can defend itself, and has some testimonies from people who were converted after they found that the Bible’s history could be trusted, or whose wavering faith became firmer. You’ll notice if you read the article that I am one of them; one of the reasons I am involved in this ministry is because of the personal importance that it has had for me. So really, although I’m sure this isn’t how you mean it, when you say, “You shouldn’t be wasting time on this” you’re saying, “Your salvation, and that of others like you, isn’t important to me.” Also see Was my salvation unimportant to you? and Who has an answer?
Respectfully, I find this statement bizarre. The whole basis of apologetics is the defence of the faith, in order to win people to Christ. Even Jesus was challenged from Scripture by Satan. Jesus then went on to give a defence of what He has obviously inspired the earlier authors to write. What about 1 Peter 3:15 that tells us to be prepared to give ‘an answer’ to the reason for the hope that we have? Is that not an injunction from Scripture to be ready? And other apologetics ministries like CMI help people to be ready.
That is a great way to live out the hope that you have, but you have not provided any scriptural basis for that belief. Our motivation for doing good works is our love for, and our relationship to God. A benefit of this is that others see the outpouring of these good works through us. After, all, the Apostle James wrote in James chapter 2 that any faith without deeds is not really a faith at all. Therefore, I do believe that such deeds are part of the whole counsel of God, but not the sum of it. For instance, what about when an unbeliever comes and asks you why you have such good deeds and sincere worship? Should we ignore the question as to why we are doing these good works? The question ultimately stems from our belief in Scripture, so we are called to defend same. I saw lots of good Christians before I converted; I thought they were nice people and even envied their faith, but I could not believe until my questions were answered.
After all, who would listen to sound preaching if there were no cause to do so, that is love (as defined in–well, you know where).
I hope you will stop your incessant and futile “warring” with “atheists,” and set about the only true work of the church which is foremost, to feed the poor, heal the sick, and take care of the children of the world.
You are being selective in your application of the commands of Scripture while ignoring others. The true work of the Church, as defined by the Great Commission, is to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). Feeding the poor, etc, was a major outworking of the church’s faith from the beginning, but never its primary focus (and the Church was primarily concerned about caring for the poor in its own ranks—not agitating for massive welfare bureaucracies to do the job for us). After all, what good is it to solely feed the body while leaving the soul starving? The concern for the physical needs of the needy was always in a sense secondary to the concern for the person’s soul. Indeed, in a way, the most unloving thing someone could do is to neglect the spiritual need of the unbeliever. If a person is fed, but goes to hell because we refuse to give them a reason for believing what we believe, what would be the point?
But this “insignificant fraction” wields enormous influence—in the schools, media, courts and government bureaucracies. Their goal is to weigh people down with doubts that will eventually cause them to abandon the faith of their parents, and to keep those who never believed from considering the Gospel. Or even more insidious, even if the secular education system doesn’t overtly attack God, it renders Him irrelevant. And they succeed in tearing some away from the faith; were it not for God’s grace, I might have been one of them. It is not a matter of people who simply don’t believe; theologically speaking there is no “neutral” unbeliever. You either love God or you hate Him—Jesus said that if you’re not for Him, you’re against Him, and vice-versa. You are either contending for the faith or against it. There is no middle ground. And in this spiritual battle, those who hate God are trying to instill that same level of hatred in those who are less decided.
But what is the function of doubt? I doubt some things, but I don’t shrug my shoulders and remain content with the doubt. Questions are meant to have answers. To remain doubtful indefinitely is like refusing to eat because one thinks hunger is a virtue. Martin Luther once told a doubter, ‘Don’t worry, your doubts are the best sign of your faith because if you didn’t really deep down believe, you wouldn’t bother to doubt and worry about it.’ Indeed, doubt may lead to resolution, e.g. the firm confession of Jesus as Lord and God by ‘doubting Thomas’ (John 20:24-29; note that neither this passage nor any other identifies biblical faith with credulity, or disparages logic). However, this is different from doubt of Christianity for its own sake (James 1:6). And you evidently have no doubt that evolution is true!
These aren’t tasks, they are attributes. And these attributes are completely in harmony with the defense of the faith.
You mean the rare conversion like mine? We know from experience that doubts about the veracity of Scripture, especially about origins, are the major reason why people don’t accept Christianity. Like those others in the above article who were despairing until they finally found answers? As someone who knows the anguish of those who need reasonable answers but can’t find them, I would urge you to be more compassionate to those ‘rare’ people. Heaven rejoices just as much over the conversion of the person won through apologetics as the one won through charity. Thank God for all the ways He brings people to Him!
“Merely” doubt? That is like talking about “merely” sin or “merely” separation from God. Only those who haven’t experienced the faith-stealing sort of doubt could ever talk so lightly about it. I am glad that you apparently haven’t, but I would urge you to be merciful to those who have experienced it, and who are experiencing it! This is in accordance with Jude’s admonishment: “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (Jude 22-23).
You speak of clothing the poor, feeding the hungry, curing sickness, and that is admirable! But it is just as admirable to give spiritual nourishment for those who are aching for answers. See our article “You should be feeding the hungry”. This isn’t an either/or sort of thing either; many of CMI’s employees also give to charities, support missionaries, etc. But CMI as an organization can’t do so; our money is just not ours to give, but is entrusted to us by our donors for specific purposes. See our response to a similar objection to our article on the Boxing Day tsunami disaster.
Your experience, then, has been very different than mine and my colleagues’. We come across people every day who emphatically do not want to coexist with religion; they want to eradicate it. What we are now seeing is a belated reaction to a consistent atheistic ‘Jihad’ to expunge all mention of the Christianity in society. This has now extended to punishing Christians who dare to challenge the homosexual agenda (see The hypocrisy of intolerant ‘tolerance’: Christian schoolgirl failed for refusing ‘gay’ assignment and ‘Lose Christianity or face expulsion’: Georgia student told to read ‘gay’ lit, attend ‘pride parade’, change beliefs).
Yet some of the most oppressive governments have been atheistic religious tyrannies: 77 million in Communist China, 62 million in the Soviet Gulag State, 21 million non-battle killings by the Nazis, 2 million murdered in the Khmer Rouge killing fields.1 See also:
By that time though it might be illegal to do so! Dawkins has claimed that religious instruction is “mental child abuse”. By the way, our Education questions and answers page has some articles about creation in the public schools that makes it clear that we are not a lobby group, and we would oppose the mandatory teaching of creation in public schools (though if a teacher wants to present alternatives to evolution, he should be allowed to do so).
You spoke of a “moral right to deny God, not to believe”. But how can someone have a ‘moral’ right to do something that is inherently immoral? This is like talking about a ‘moral right to murder’ or a ‘moral right to sodomy’. Denying God is inherently immoral, so there is no ‘moral’ right to do so. This is different from claiming that the government should not punish such denial.
As the articles referred to above show, we are engaged in no such thing. Respectfully, to say such things is actually to misrepresent us. We have never once engaged in any legal battle of what should be taught in schools. I think you may be confusing us with the well-organized intelligent design movement.
We don’t lead anyone to salvation; only the Holy Spirit can do that. But God has used us to bring people to salvation, as the testimonies referred to above show. And just as importantly, our ministry more often functions to “preserve the harvest” by strengthening the faith of those who already believe.
You present these as if they were mutually exclusive, and your comment is also revealing in many ways. It actually reveals that you are not as much on the front lines, or up with public thought on the issue as you might believe. The issue is increasingly relevant as demonstrated by the demand for creation ministry in general. The attacks on the Christian faith today are coming from no greater area than the area of secular science. In fact, I would say that it is the issue of all issues facing the church today if we are to communicate Christianity as being relevant in this 21st century. I think if you’ll read some of our responses to our opponents, you will find them firm yet loving. I have personally received grateful replies from initially hostile people who were surprised by the depth and kindness of our replies to them. As for tolerance, should we be tolerant of beliefs that will send people to Hell? Such tolerance is the antithesis of Christian love. Rather, it’s come to mean a gross intolerance of true (biblical) Christianity. See The tyranny of ‘tolerance’.
Again, it’s not a matter of either/or. But if I feed an atheist out of mercy, the goal would be to do so as an opening for evangelism. In a very real sense, what happens to the body doesn’t matter if the soul is going to perish.
The atheist’s physical hunger is the easier need to see. But some of them live in a despair that they don’t express. Two accounts, one with a positive outcome and one with a tragic end, are recounted in Suicidal atheist converts to Christ. To convert an atheist may be literally to save his life, but this is not possible if he cannot trust the Bible.
Where is your actual evidence for this? Recent wars have been over ideas—evolution-based ones such as Nazism and Communism—or false religious ideas like Islamofascism—Osama bin Laden was a multi-millionaire so was hardly lacking for food. See also Genocide, evolution and the Bible.
Ministries that feed the hungry are important—and ideally, help them feed themselves if they can—and no one who works for us would say otherwise. But a Christian ministry that provides for the physical needs of unbelievers also needs to evangelize them. For instance, there are homeless shelters that have attendance at a chapel service as a condition for staying there for the night.
But just because those ministries are worthy does not mean that they are the only worthy kind of ministry. There are Christians who are ‘starving’ for answers to their questions, and creation versus evolution is an area where much of the church is sadly deficient in sound teaching and theology, to the point where some people are leaving the faith because of it.
And as we have pointed out, conservative Christians are the most likely to be generous with their time, their own money, and even their blood. See Helping the needy with Creation? Surprising research facts about who really helps the poor.
I believe that if we and other likeminded creation ministries gave up this debate as you propose, the Church as a whole would be weaker, including those ministries which clothe the poor and feed the hungry. This is because actions rest on the foundation of ideas. If I share a meal with an atheist and share the Gospel with him, these actions are rooted in the foundational ideas that it is a good thing to share with the less fortunate and that it is important for people to accept the Gospel. But if I accept an evolutionary philosophy, why should I feed the atheist? He is obviously “less fit” or he would be able to get his own meal. The “good” thing to do in an evolutionary scenario is to let natural selection take its course; if the atheist dies of starvation, praise Darwin! See also Darwin’s critical influence on the ruthless extremes of capitalism.
Of course this is a repugnant idea that no Christian, evolutionist or otherwise, would accept. But why? This is where the importance of ideas comes in. We know of people who have left lives of comfort to spread the Gospel and minister as missionaries, etc, because they realized the truth of creation. Also, evangelism which starts from a strong creation foundation results in conversions that are deeper and lasting.
I don’t know where you’ve been for the past few centuries, but the onslaught is not imaginary. Read the likes of Dawkins and the other “New Atheists”. Read Bart Ehrman and the Jesus Seminar’s publications. Atheism has declared war on Christianity. These are the people who control the government schools, the state universities, the most prestigious research departments, and much of the media. They write best-selling books, produce documentaries with millions of dollars’ worth of sophisticated computer graphics (often at taxpayers’ expense) to indoctrinate people with their worldview. What are Christians doing to fight back?
Similarly, since you like the word ‘Jihad’, modern historians have shown that the Crusades were a belated and justifiable response to centuries of Islamist butchery and conquest of Christian lands (see Genocide, evolution and the Bible).
We are not afraid; we know that the truth is on our side. But we are concerned that such weak atheistic arguments are drawing so many people away from the Church.
I wish you well in your pursuit of God. But I assure you that God spends little time in the arena of this debate.
It seems a little presumptuous to presume to know the mind of God I would have thought.
If you truly wish to know Christ, at least now you know where He waits for you.
This reply may not have changed your mind. But I hope you have a better understanding of why we do what we do, and perhaps respect our efforts on behalf of the Church and the Kingdom.
Lita Cosner (with Gary Bates and Jonathan Sarfati)