Guest Reflection: Confidence in the Gospel

"Knowing that behind this world is a loving God, personally involved in our world...we experience a sense of meaning and direction." Photo: Dubova/Shutterstock
"Knowing that behind this world is a loving God, personally involved in our world...we experience a sense of meaning and direction." Photo: Dubova/Shutterstock
Published February 15, 2011

In December, the Anglican Journal reported on one of the most widely publicized religious debates in recent times-two great minds debating whether or not religion is a force for good in the world (A force for good or evil? p. 1).

Defending religion was former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the most overtly religious prime minister since William Gladstone. Blair converted to Roman Catholicism after he left office, and now heads a foundation to promote respect and understanding among the world’s religions.

Blair’s opponent was the prominent atheist and journalist Christopher Hitchens, whose book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything became a Canadian best-seller.

Who won the debate? Well, among the 2,700 people in the audience at Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall, 68 per cent sided with Hitchens, while Blair got 32 per cent of the final vote.

Now my question to you is this: if you were in a discussion with a committed atheist like Christopher Hitchens, how would you make the case for Christianity?

In 1 Corinthians 2:2, St. Paul writes: “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

St. Paul was a rabbinic scholar before becoming a Christian. He was articulate, erudite and a superb debater. Yet, when he sought to share his Christian faith with others, he didn’t rely on the power of his oratory but on the power of God. There are some lessons we can draw from Paul’s approach to the gospel-lessons we can carry with us as we speak to our non-Christian friends about our Christian faith.

Here’s the first: the gospel is true. It does not contradict science nor is it contrary to reason. That’s where we must start-with a firm conviction that the gospel is true.

The gospel, of course, is the good news of Jesus: that, at the heart of the universe, the benevolent power of a personal God exists-not a black hole that will drain the last vestige of life from us-but a personal God that invites us into eternal companionship. In other words, we are not alone in this universe. God is here with us. God will always be with us and someday we will be with God forever. This truth is at the heart of the gospel. Too many Christians spend too much of their time defending God-and in the process they do great damage to Christianity.

In the nineteenth century the Anglican bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, publicly burned a copy of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, declaring it contrary to the Bible. Today, few Anglicans would deny some kind of evolution. Yes, among fundamentalists the denial of evolution rages on, as if the entire Christian faith were at stake. But they are wrong.

Christians believe that truth is truth, wherever it is found and by whoever finds it. All truth is from God-period. The second-century church father Justin Martyr settled the matter once and for all when he wrote, “Whatever has been uttered aright by any man in any place belongs to us as Christians.”

Christian faith does not need defenders, for it is never in conflict with truth. God does not need to be protected from the onward march of science.

But there is a second lesson we can learn here. The gospel is something the world desperately needs. Christians have something the world cannot find anywhere else.

Ernest Boyer, in his book Finding God at Home, describes an event at which Mother Teresa was speaking to persons from all over the world who had come to meet her. Among them was a group of nuns from many of the North American religious orders. After Mother Teresa had finished, she asked if there were any questions.

“Yes, I have one,” a woman sitting near the front said. “As you know, most of the orders represented here have been losing members. It seems that more and more women are leaving all the time. And yet your order is attracting thousands upon thousands. What do you do?”

Without hesitating, Mother Teresa answered, “I give them Jesus.”

“Yes, I know,” said the woman. “But take habits, for example. Do your women object to wearing habits? And the rules of the order-how do you do it?”

“I give them Jesus,” Mother Teresa replied.

“Yes, I know, Mother,” said the woman, “but can you be more specific?”

“I give them Jesus,” Mother Teresa repeated.

“Mother,” said the woman, “we are all aware of your fine work. I want to know about something else.”

Mother Teresa said quietly, “I give them Jesus. There is nothing else.”

What does the church have to offer that the world can’t find anywhere else? All we have is Jesus.

Many people of many religious backgrounds call Canada their home. And we can learn many things from our neighbours. If someone should ask you, though, what is distinctive about Christianity, let me suggest you do as Mother Teresa did: give them Jesus.

Certainly, all the world’s great religions have something worthwhile to offer. You can find help in all of them. But what you can’t find in any of them is a crucified God. Almost every major religion expects its adherents to die for God.

Christianity, though, is the only religion where God dies for us. This is a God who loves the world so much that he enters our lives and dies our death, so that we might have new life in him. This is a God who never gives up on us, even when we give up on ourselves. This is a God who will never turn his back on us, even when we turn our backs on him. This is a God whose love is without limit and whose mercy is without end. This is the God of Jesus. In fact, there is no higher order of life than Jesus, because he is the personification of truth itself.

And that brings us to the last lesson we can learn from Paul’s words: the gospel gives us power. Knowing that behind this world is a loving God, personally involved in our world, and that we are God’s children, we experience a sense of meaning and direction.

In Maya Angelou’s book, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now, she tells of a lesson she learned from her voice teacher, Frederick Wilkerson. He asked Angelou to read a passage from the book, Lessons in Truth. This passage ended with the simple line, “God loves me.” Maya read it through in just the manner she thought Wilkerson wanted, over and over, and each time he insisted she read it again. Finally, on the seventh read-through, Maya Angelou began to cry. She realized the truth of what she was reading. As she said, “I knew that if God loved me, then I could do wonderful things. I could try great things, learn anything, achieve anything.” Many of the greatest people who have ever lived will give the same testimony.

In the end, the best case for Christianity we can make against militant atheism is that Christianity is true, and therefore is not in conflict with any other truth anywhere in the world. It is true because Jesus is truth personified. It is true because the gospel has the power to change lives and to draw us closer to God and to one another.

The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London, Ont.



Related Posts

Skip to content