One of the most helpful ways I’ve heard Christianity be described is as the best explanation for reality. It’s the best explanation for how we understand and see the world, and it makes sense of our deepest knowledges and intuitions, the things we just know innately. Greg Koukl has popularized this idea, and he wrote a book called The Story of Reality, which I highly recommend. It aims to tell the Christian story, the Christian account as a grand narrative, all the way from the garden, to the fall, to the cross, and to ultimately a new heavens and a new Earth, and how it makes sense of what we see and what we feel in the world.
In fact, many people have talked about how a lot of the movies and stories that are in the most popular books today actually are echos of the one true story, of creation, fall, and redemption. Think about what’s in a movie. Often it starts out great, and blissful, and then something happens, and some evil event occurs, or there’s some fall or brokenness.
Then there’s this struggle to get back to how things used to be, or even better. The stories most people like are where good triumphs in the end. These are all echoes of the one true story that we see in scripture, and actually a story that we are living out. We are a part of this story. The story is not yet done. We’re told how it will end, but it has not yet come to climax and fruition. That’s a helpful way to look at Christianity. It’s the best explanation for reality.
I want to tie that together with a conversation I had, and then actually give you something practical here very soon. I was at a conference for theologians about a week or two ago, and it is as nerdy as it sounds. You literally go, and you sit, and you listen to people read papers. They’re not just giving talks. They’re literally reading papers. You couldn’t get much more nerdy than that, and I met some new friends there. I had some old friends I got together with, and some of these old friends introduced me to some new friends, people that you follow online, and are Twitter friends with, but don’t actually know in person.
Getting a bunch of people together who care about theology, who care about God, and articulating those concepts can lead to some interesting conversations. One of the conversations I was having was about how we communicate with younger people, let’s say high school students. The biggest problem almost anyone sees when they communicate with high school students, or even younger, is apathy. How do you get them to care? How do you get them to want to learn about theology, and apologetics, and church history, and spiritual disciplines? How do you get them to even care to start with? Someone put that question to me, and I had to say, “You know what, I don’t really know.” You can scare them, right? You can do some sort of atheist role play to show them that the things they believe, they can’t actually defend. But that actually assumes they care about defending those, and some people just don’t care, but here’s what my new friend Keith Plumber, who’s a college professor of apologetics, pointed out.
What he likes to do is ask people what they care about. So if you’re talking with someone, and they don’t care about theology, they don’t care about Christianity or apologetics very much, ask them what they do care about. What he said, and this is just very obvious but I had never pieced it together, is most people today, most younger people, care very deeply about many things. They care deeply about justice, and equality, and inclusion, and rights, and equal treatment. Most of the things it seems like people care deeply about today are some sort of cause, and many of those are good. I think some of them are misdirected. There is this phenomenon today, where we have parades for things God condemns, but nonetheless, there is an impulse that maybe in some ways for some people has been pointed in the wrong direction or corrupted, but where people think justice should be done, where people should be treated fairly, people shouldn’t be discriminated against unjustly. Many young people today believe that, and feel that, and campaigned for that more than many generations have in the past in different areas.
Of course, history hasn’t been uniform here. Every generation has had its proponents of justice, but I’m just saying, there’s this tendency today where many younger people are becoming much more involved politically, where at least they give the outward impression of caring very deeply about an issue. Keith says, he likes to ask them that question, find out what they care about, and then, (and I love this part), he says, “Let me show you how that actually fits best in Christianity.”
It was interesting. He was making this point to me about how he gets people to maybe become interested in Christianity and that actually dovetailed very well with a series of talks I was already prepping to give that weekend, about how Christianity is the best explanation for reality. I was already planning to talk about how things like justice, and equality, and fairness, really only make sense in a Christian worldview, where I “ought” to do things to someone else. Only in a Christian worldview, in a theistic view, where God exists, can we actually have obligations for how I am supposed to treat someone else, for why something is actually right, and for why something else is wrong.
I’d already planned to talk about this, but the way Keith positioned it was just so helpful, and so let me give you some examples of what I’m talking about. Justice, social justice, equality, fairness, those sorts of things, are very popular topics today, and while sometimes we all mean different things by them, at the root of it is this idea that we should treat people well. I think you can distill all of that down to, we have an obligation to treat people not just as we would want to be treated, though I think that that’s probably part of it, but we should not treat people differently because of what they have, because of their skin color, because of their sexual orientation. Fill in the blank on those things. We should just treat people well. We have an obligation to do so, and people have a right to be treated well, but here’s the big question, and this is where all of it comes together. How can you ground this idea and support this idea that people have a right to be treated well if God does not exist? From where do I have this obligation put on me?
From whom does this obligation come that I should treat someone else well if God doesn’t exist? Some people want to say, and I just had a conversation with an atheist about this on Sunday night, some people want to say, “Well, it’s society that puts those obligations on us. It’s society that does that.” People get together, and we agree. Then my question to this person was, so was the Holocaust right? Because the German society agreed, “this is what we’re going to do.” Maybe some people in their heart didn’t want to go along with it, but they did it nonetheless, and so society agreed. Does that make the Holocaust right? No. It doesn’t. Can we look back at slavery, when slavery was legal, and it was illegal to free a slave, and say, “Was slavery right, because society agreed together?” No, that doesn’t mean it was right. There’s this intuitive knowledge in us that those things are wrong, and we don’t just believe they’re wrong because now we agree as a society that they’re wrong. We actually would think they were wrong back then, when it was legal. People know this, deep down, in a part of them, that they can’t explain often times, because it’s just intuitively known.
As Christians, we can explain this. Romans tells us that the law of God is written on even the hearts of the gentiles that did not explicitly have revealed to them the oracles and law of God, so we all know that God exists, Romans 1, and two, that the things we do against Him are actually wrong. We know that, and so when someone cares about justice, when someone cares about equality, we need to help them see that these things they care about only make sense if Christianity is true. If atheism is true, and I’m just one biological bag of recycled stardust, why should I treat another bag of recycled stardust any differently than I treat a rock? Why should I? What obligation do I have to, and why would it be wrong if I didn’t? You can’t say because we agree as a society, because at some points, we have all agreed that it’s okay to treat other people very unfairly and poorly, and yet we would say that was wrong, because we know that intuitively.
If there is an overarching standard of morality that makes something right and something wrong, it means that we have obligations to one another, then that means Christianity is true. Christianity explains why I know that: created in the image of God, moral law written on my heart, but more than that, it actually explains where a moral law comes from, where this overarching moral paradigm comes from that says I must treat other people well. In order to have a moral law, there has to be a moral law giver, and that’s God, and so what’s really ironic today is some of the people who are most opposed to God are the ones that cling to things that only make sense if Christianity is true and God exists. Some of the most ardent and passionate social justice warriors who are not Christians are very convinced that justice exists, right and wrong should be done, and yet they deny the only grounds for making sense of that, which is God. In this conversation I was having on Sunday night, as these conversations often do, it turned to the problem of evil. I had brought up the Holocaust before as an example of something that everyone should be able to agree on is wrong.
I knew I had opened the door to talk about the problem of evil. You can’t bring up the Holocaust in a conversation with a non-Christian, and not expect the problem of evil to come up. I was not surprised when the person said, “Well, can you explain to me how you say your God is all loving, and all powerful, and yet the Holocaust happened.” I said, “Was the Holocaust wrong?” This person said, “Yes,” and I said, “Well, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll answer your question if you can demonstrate to me that the Holocaust was actually wrong. I’ll explain to you how I understand God’s relationship to evil, and I’ll say, forewarning here, it’s not gonna answer all your questions, but I will answer your question to the best of my ability if you can show me how the Holocaust was wrong.” Because all of these things people are convinced of today where there are miscarriages of justice only make sense if morality is objective, if things are actually right and wrong, and it doesn’t depend on how I think about it, or how society thinks about it, or what’s written in a law book.
This individual who I was talking with, who believed in social contract theory, or at least would have said he did, if he were to be consistent, he couldn’t actually hold to the view that the Holocaust was wrong. If it’s not wrong, then why do we need to ask what God had to do with it? That’s the irony here with a view of social contract theory, where things are only right or wrong because we agree as a society, and then people bring up the problem of evil. Basically what they’re saying is, God shouldn’t let things happen if we’ve decided as a society that those things are wrong. Because they’re only wrong if we agree as a society, and isn’t that interesting, that the person sees some tension between something that they affirm is wrong, and the existence of God, when they only think it’s wrong because we agree as a society. Why is God beholden to somehow behave, and judge according to the standards of His creation? That actually doesn’t make sense, but most people have not thought about it at all.
I’m not saying that the non-Christian can’t know what is right and wrong. I actually am saying they can know it, and that only makes sense in my worldview, because the law’s written on their heart, but all of that to go back to where we started. Only in Christianity does it make sense that these causes that people rightly care about, yet sometimes are often misdirected in, where they care about justice, and equality, and fairness, that only makes sense if there’s a transcendent law, and hence, a transcendent law giver. I will be taking Keith’s advice in conversations with people who seem apathetic, especially as Christians, and I will be asking them what they care about, and I’ll be using that as an opportunity to make a path to how Christianity-this thing that they’re maybe not as interested in, actually explains why this justice cause that they are concerned with even makes sense. It’s the grounding, the mooring. It can actually give them a greater, fuller orbed understanding of what true justice is. Because we only understand true justice through the cross, and also through the word of God, but here’s the flip side of that.
If we’re going to talk about justice with people out in the world who aren’t Christians, we need to make sure we have an accurate understanding of justice, not one that is culturally determined, or determined by the academy today, or higher “academic thought.” We need to have a biblically informed sense and concept of justice, but we don’t just need to have that.
We have to have that first, and so as we talk about justice, let us also talk about what all of us deserve in light of the law of God. It’s really easy to talk about a social justice consideration out in the world, and we should talk about those, and what they are, and be clear on our terms, but let’s not do that to the exclusion of talking about the justice that all of us rightly deserve before God. If you’re going to talk with a non-Christian about justice, it’s a great opportunity to then make a path to the justice that I deserve, that that person deserves, in light of breaking God’s law, the same law, the only law that allows them to actually understandably campaign for their justice concern.
The same law of God that says don’t discriminate against someone because of the color of their skin, is the same law that says every man has fallen short of the glory of God, and the wages of that sin is death. That understanding of justice leads us to talk about the grace of God. Let’s get justice right, so that then we can have a clear view of grace. In summary, ask people what they care about, and show them how Christianity supports that idea, assuming it does, but for many causes today, it actually does. Then use that understanding of justice to also show that all of us justly would be punished by God, but there is grace that is available in the person and work of Jesus Christ, as received through repentance and faith.