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One Puritan prayer calls sin “the dark guest.” In this prayer, the author is brutally honest with himself, admitting, “I am not yet weaned from all created glory, honour, wisdom, and esteem of others, for I have a secret motive to eye my name in all I do.” He prays for “a discovered sinfulness, to know that though my sins are crucified they are never wholly mortified [or, put to death].” He confesses Christ has paid for the sins that hunger for approval and applause and that though they are forgiven, they continue to rise in his heart. He finishes the prayer with an appeal for grace to combat the sin which threatens to rear its ugly head in his life.

Rarely are prayers as self-aware or as humble, freely admitting not only fault but the struggle with sin. Many of our prayers are filled with petitions for good health and requests for strength, peace, or material blessings. We pepper them liberally with first-person pronouns like “I” and “my”—thus revealing the self-centered nature of our communication with God. We may call upon God for help in defeating our sins, but it seems that this petition usually comes last and only after admitting that we sin “occasionally” or “from time to time,” as if sin is more a rarity than a regularity.

It takes a concerted effort on the part of the believer to look deep inside to discover our faults. We are more than adept at finding them in others, but how easily do we see them in ourselves? Further, how often are we more than happy to pretend they don’t exist rather than face the hard truth that we aren’t nearly as perfect as we’d like to be?

Sin is a universal problem for humanity. We will struggle with it from now until our last breath on earth. We have to be willing to admit whenever the dark guest has taken up residence in our souls and evict it with extreme prejudice.

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Theologians describe God as omniscient, meaning “all-knowing.” But the biblical authors occasionally state that God remembers someone or that he will not remember our sins (Isaiah 43:25; Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12; 10:17). Does this mean God can make himself forget something?

Scripture sometimes depicts God as remembering someone, such as Noah (Genesis 8:1), Rachel (Genesis 30:22), and Hannah (1 Samuel 1:19). Here we must be careful to understand the term as the Hebrew writers intended, not as 21stcentury Westerners do. It does not mean to remember factual information that he has forgotten, but rather to consider someone and then move to take action on that person’s behalf. In each case, God “remembers” a person, then fulfills something he has promised to them. The act of remembering is not purely a recall of information but is more like consideration combined with action.

We can say the same for other biblical figures who ask God to remember them, such as Samson (Judges 16:28) and Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:3), both of whom want God to do more than recognize them. They want him to act on their behalf in some way. Samson wanted to regain his strength so that he could avenge himself, while Hezekiah desired God’s mercy.

Human beings are commanded to remember things in such a way as that action is necessary. Remembering is connected with keeping the Mosaic Law (Numbers 15:40) and observing the Sabbath and keeping it holy (Exodus 20:8). Remembering is also connected to repentance (Psalms 22:27). Elsewhere, failing to remember is synonymous with breaking a treaty (Amos 1:9).

Countless ministers have preached sermons consoling believers with the idea that God does indeed forget their sins. I find this idea profoundly disturbing. The very message is self-centered because it diminishes God at the expense of our comfort. If God were to forget the sins of the redeemed, wouldn’t billions of little gaps in his memory ever bother him? Wouldn’t he spend all of eternity wondering what it was that Jesus was doing on the cross? What could stop him from suddenly remembering them again?

When the biblical writers state God remembers something, it means much more than simple recall of information. Likewise, when they say God does not remember sins, it is equivalent to saying he has forgiven them. Hebrews 8:12 is the most obvious here. It says, “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (cf. Isaiah 43:25) These lines are written in parallel, where the second line is simply a restating of the first thought. We have to recognize the difference between “not remembering” (as the biblical authors phrase it) and “forgetting,” which is a different concept.

Can God forget our sins? Not at all. But he can and does refuse to act upon them when we repent. He chooses to overlook and forgive them based on the righteousness we have through faith in Christ’s work on the cross. A merciful God is much more comforting than a forgetful one.

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All of us have concerns about things that happen in our world. The apostle Paul had them in his day. His ministry included numerous hazards. He also expressed deep concerns about the churches under his care (2 Corinthians 11:28). But later he says, “be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6). Is Paul contradicting himself? And was disobeying Jesus, who said, “do not be anxious about your life” (Matthew 6:25) and “do not be anxious about tomorrow (v. 34)?

We can express concern without being anxious. But how do we tell the difference between the two? Legitimate concerns—which we all have—are generally realistic, temporary, involve other people, and are often motivated by love. Anxiety is usually unrealistic, long-lasting, selfish, and driven by fear. Here’s how they differ.

Legitimate Concerns Unhealthy Anxiety
Motivational; promotes action and prompts us to create and accomplish goals and resolve conflicts. Paralyzing; has no purpose and locks us into a cycle of worrying, often about things beyond our control.
Healthy concerns about important life events such as paying bills in a timely fashion, finding and maintaining employment, or being affected by sudden changes in relationships. Frequent or constant worries about life events that impact our professional and personal functioning from day to day; may result in difficulty sleeping.
Natural uncertainty in new situations, possible embarrassment or discomfort in a moment of social awkwardness. Overly self-conscious in social situations, and may cause us to avoid them so as not to be judged, embarrassed, or humiliated.
Nervousness before stressful events such as exams, presentations, performances, or a situation where we may reasonably anticipate bad news or an adverse outcome. Excessive worry before significant events that could affect our health or lead to a panic attack; may manifest itself as a fear of not being perfect.
Appropriate fear when facing a serious threat to self or someone else. Irrational fear of a situation, place, person, object, or circumstance that poses little or no actual danger.
Sadness, or difficulty sleeping for an appropriate amount of time after having experienced a traumatic event. Nightmares, traumatic flashbacks, or paranoia stemming from a traumatic event occurring years before.

Mark Twain once said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” This is often the case. We tend to worry about things better classified as possibilities than realities.

Christians are called to have hope and be able to tell others why (1 Peter 3:15). Biblically speaking, hope is not a desire for a future possibility; it is the joyful expectation of a future certainty. Biblical hope is the very antithesis of anxiety. Both of them look to the future, but while hope delights in the future; anxiety dreads it. Hope is filled with certainty; anxiety is filled with uncertainty. Hope is focused on God; anxiety is focused on self.

It is a good thing to be concerned with daily needs, challenges, troubles, and uncertainties. But to be overwhelmed by them or live in dread of such things goes far beyond a reasonable concern. This is the kind of anxiety Jesus forbids because it is not only irrational; it is beneath us. God designed us for much more than fretting over things that might never happen.

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People come in all shapes and sizes with many different kinds of dispositions. Some encourage; others criticize. Some build up; others tear down. Some will go the extra mile for you; others couldn’t care less. We all know people from many different parts of the spectrum.

We learn how to observe and evaluate people early in life. Our perceptions become more refined as we age and have more experience dealing with others. A few who come into our lives will be especially difficult. For the very worst, we might use the word, “toxic.” We’ve all seen one, even if we might not use that word. It’s the person who never seems satisfied, who complains about everyone, and who undermines other people. These individuals are best avoided. So how do we recognize one?

They blame others and don’t apologize. Toxic people rarely admit fault or apologize, unless there is something to be gained by it (e.g., looking magnanimous in front of other people they hope to influence – see the next point). They will concoct explanations for failure to absolve themselves of any responsibility and point the finger at someone else. Occasionally, this kind of person will even project their failures onto other people, blaming others for things of which they are guilty. They will not take responsibility for their errors.

They are manipulative. Toxic individuals use manipulation to further their agenda. They understand the principle of dividing and conquering. For instance, a person may try to manipulate an eldership by individually getting each elder on his side separately to ensure he gets what he wants. It is essential to understand that manipulative people serve themselves, and there is probably nothing to be gained by trying to help these individuals achieve their goals. Other people are nothing more than a means to an end.

They are uncaring and unsupportive. Toxic people will not often go out of their way for others unless it is beneficial for them. These people usually do one of two things: play the victim, or grab for power and control. Both are manipulative. The plight of others has minimal impact on them. They don’t care for others. They will tell you about themselves but will show an interest in the life of someone else. They do not like to hear the word, “no.”

They are judgmental and critical of others. Toxic people often criticize other people (it could be any number of things, but often seems to stem from narcissism and jealousy). This is one of the most obvious signs of toxicity. If a person complains about everyone else to you, you can bet they’re going to complain to everyone else about you. If you meet someone who likes to criticize, complain, and badmouth other people, he or she is toxic. 

They often lie. A toxic person is manipulative, and the best tool for manipulation is deceit. I’ve seen toxic people lie about colleagues to get them fired (usually motivated by jealousy – see the next point), and then lie about the person afterward to make their firing appear legitimate.

They crave the spotlight. Toxic people are narcissistic and self-serving. They expect special treatment, especially if they have exceptional gifts or talents. A brilliant person may expect everyone else to accept his opinion because of his intelligence. A preacher may think he is better than every other preacher because he has studied rhetoric or teaches classes in homiletics. They expect to be applauded for their work and will go out of their way to diminish the contributions of others. They may abuse a position of authority by getting talented colleagues fired to remove any competition for the praise they desire. Generally speaking, these individuals talk more than they listen. 

They interrupt you during conversation. Toxic people care very little about others or their needs. This includes the need for expression. They do not engage in conversation to listen. They are more interested in having you see the merits of their opinion and ultimately agree with them. They like to lecture and give unsolicited advice. This is one symptom of a more significant problem that toxic people usually have: the need for control.

So how do we deal with toxic people? We have to understand that no one is perfect (Romans 3:23). I don’t believe people are born toxic. They either become that way through experience or discover that toxicity can benefit them somehow. We have to realize that there comes a time when we have to “shake the dust off our shoes” (Matthew 10:14) because the person will not respond positively no matter what we do. We can’t wave a magic wand to stop someone from being negative, selfish, and self-serving. But we can pray for them, and we should do precisely that (cf. Matthew 5:44).

If someone makes you feel bad about yourself, criticizes you to other people, and is generally disrespectful and defensive in conversation, you’re dealing with a toxic person. You may not be able to help them, but you don’t have to sit back and take the abuse, either. It’s best to distance ourselves from them.

Here we have to do something that is very, very difficult: give up not only the need to have an apology but also the need to be right. If a toxic person has hurt us, we may need to be willing to accept the fact that we’ve been wronged and move on. This is especially difficult if the wrong involves back-biting, slander, criticism, and malicious gossip. I know how hard it is to walk away after being unfairly maligned. Alas, it has to be done. We have to find peace in knowing that God knows the truth, even if no one else does.

If you are emotionally drained after dealing with someone and dread seeing them, you are probably dealing with a toxic person. The best thing to do here is to minimize your contact with them. If he or she is a significant other, get out of the relationship. If it is a working relationship, reduce your time with him or her. Nothing can be gained by throwing pearls before swine. Eventually, you run out of pearls, and the pig has no interest in being anything other than a pig.

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Aristotle once said, “one cannot love whom he fears.” The Bible claims that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7), yet also that, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). So which is it? Do we love God, or fear him? Basic reason says that it cannot be both. Or can it?

Modern critics often like to pounce upon passages like these, usually pitting two verses taken out of context against each other. Some of the best examples of this kind of irresponsible criticism appear in Self-Contradictions of the Bible by William Henry Burr (a book endorsed by militant atheist Sam Harris). Published in 1860, this book offers over one hundred examples of alleged contradictions in the Bible, much like the one I’ve provided here. Most of these examples grasp at straws, while others ignore the context of the passages considered. All of them can be reconciled by investigating the passages under consideration.

We all know what it means to love God, but what is it to fear him? Biblical authors used the word “fear” (Hebrew yare’) in a variety of ways. Some of its uses include reverence or awe (Psalm 33:8), which is how we should interpret the passage in Proverbs. It is connected to righteous living (Exodus 1:17, 21; Deuteronomy 10:18-20; 25:18; 31:11-12). It describes the respect given to one’s parents (Leviticus 19:3) and also applies to religious worship (Joshua 22:25, where the ESV translates the term as “worship”).

While we often think of “fear” as a negative emotion associated with apprehension and terror, this is not how the term in the Hebrew Bible should be understood. When examined in context, the term means to offer respect, honor, reverence, or worship. A great example is the opening verse of Psalm 112, which says, “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments.” Naturally, a person cannot delight in something that induces fear and dread.

To fear God in the biblical sense is to give him the honor and respect he deserves. It means to have a deep reverence for him and his awe-inspiring majesty and holiness. This does not conflict with the love we have for him. If anything, it deepens it. That such a God would choose to love such minuscule and error-prone creations is something to celebrate.

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Marijuana has been legalized in over thirty states. Many users tout its alleged benefits, while others denounce it as harmful and even dangerous. While the legal debate is over, how should Christians treat the use of marijuana? Is it just a harmless recreational drug, or is it sinful to use?

The Bible has many prohibitions against excess and drunkenness (Romans 13:13; Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Peter 4:3). Even if something is legal, it is not beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23-24). We might say this is especially true for substances that cause us to behave in ways that can endanger others. Nevertheless, some have tried to use the Bible to justify marijuana use by using the following texts:

Genesis 1:12 – “The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.”

Genesis 1:29 – “And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”

The plants described in these passages are those used for food, which not describe the cannabis plant. No one eats marijuana leaves because they’re a tasty snack. Even in brownies, marijuana users consume it for the effect it has on the human body, not for its flavor.

The Bible denounces the kind of behavior produced by intoxication, whether by alcohol or by marijuana. But is it bad for our bodies? Proponents of marijuana use often argue that there is nothing physically harmful about using it. They tout the numerous benefits of the drug, particularly for the economy in terms of tax revenue. It is not uncommon to hear users claim that it poses no health risk, has no adverse side effects, and that its misuse—unlike that of alcohol—does not result in hospital visits, life-threatening emergencies, or car crashes. According to some, marijuana is a miracle plant with no ill effects.

How accurate are these claims? Not very. Now that marijuana has been legal in Colorado, we have a few years to look back with perspective. What has marijuana done for this state since its legalization in 2013?

Similar statistics can be found for the states of Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Outside of Colorado, the health and psychiatric risks of marijuana use are clear, especially for youth:

  • A study by the University of Montreal found that marijuana had more damaging effects on teenager’s long-term cognitive abilities than alcohol. Even after the students stopped using marijuana, their abilities did not improve. The impairment they suffered from marijuana seems to be permanent (partially, at least).
  • Another study published in JAMA Psychiatry by scientists from the University of Pennsylvania found that youth who used marijuana were more likely to have lower scores on tests involving memory, learning new information, problem-solving, and processing information.
  • France, which has the highest usage of marijuana in Europe, saw a 133% increase in ER visits for children for marijuana intoxication from 2004-2014. The number of calls to poison control centers for exposure to cannabis increased by 312% in the same period.

Health problems resulting from marijuana use include psychosis, depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, and cardiovascular problems of various kinds. Despite claims that marijuana is not addictive, studies have shown that changes in the brain resemble those of addicts. Also, heavy users may go through withdrawal symptoms. Studies have also shown that marijuana users are much more likely to use opioids and that teenage suicide victims testing positive for marijuana has increased.

Any substance that poses such risks to users cannot be considered good. Non-harmful derivatives such as CBD oil have proven very effective at treating a number of things from anxiety to epilepsy, but recreational use of marijuana is dangerous to one’s health, can lead to the endangerment of life, and is ultimately denounced by Scriptures forbidding the use of substances that cause us to lose control of ourselves.

No, marijuana isn’t that bad. It’s worse.

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In Luke 19:1-10 we find the well-known story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus. Unable to see because of the crowd, the tax collector climbs up into a sycamore tree to get a better look at Jesus. To the surprise of the people gathered there, Jesus tells Zacchaeus that he must spend time at his house that day. The crowd grumbles in response. Zacchaeus then tells Jesus that he will offer restitution to those whom he has defrauded, up to four times the original amount. Jesus responds, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” Did Zacchaeus purchase his salvation?

Because of the promise he makes, some might be tempted to interpret the text to mean that Zacchaeus’ monetary gifts saved him. By donating his goods to the poor—and perhaps also to Jesus’ ministry—Zacchaeus’ charity has put him in good standing with God (cf. Luke 18:24; 1 Timothy 6:18-19). But is this what Zacchaeus intended?

The text seems to be telling us that Zacchaeus promises to remedy his past wrongs. The minimum for restitution included an additional 20 percent penalty (Leviticus 5:16; Numbers 5:7), with a maximum of 400 percent or 500 percent when the theft involved sheep and oxen, respectively (Exodus 22:1; see also 2 Samuel 12:6). Zacchaeus is offering many times more than the recommended amount of restitution, nearing the maximum level the law prescribed.

It appears that the reason for Zacchaeus’ commendation from Christ is not due to the value of the possessions he would give away, but the change in his heart. We gather this from Jesus’ own words: “the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Scholars see this story as one of genuine conversion. We might interpret Zacchaeus’ promise to return his ill-gotten gain as a public repudiation of the past wickedness that would have separated him from God (see 1 Timothy 6:6-10).

A despicable man, his life changed by Christ, makes a public confession and promises to rectify his past wrongs. Zacchaeus—whose name means “clean” or “pure”—
offers us a great example to imitate.

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In a famous story in the Synoptics, a rich young ruler comes to visit Jesus. He asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). Jesus responds, “Why do you call me good?” (Mark 10:17; Luke 18:19). At first glance, it appears as if Jesus is creating a distinction between God and himself. Does he deny his goodness here?

Critics have long interpreted this passage to mean that Jesus not only denies his deity but contradicts other passages showing the connection between God and himself (Matthew 22:41-45; 28:18-20; John 10:30), as well as Trinitarian beliefs that date back to earliest days of the church. Muslims interpret this passage to mean that Jesus denied any divinity, claiming he makes it clear that he is not as good as God—meaning that the two must be different persons. Many other non-Christians hold the same view.

The most natural reading of the passage is to see Jesus testing the man because he has too simplistic an idea of what goodness is. The rich young ruler is not ready to address Jesus as “Good Teacher” until he has a more thorough understanding of both goodness and Jesus’ deity. This becomes clear when we observe that the man states that he has kept the law of Moses from his youth (Luke 18:21). It appears the young ruler believes being good is so simple that a child could do it. Jesus rightly challenges the man’s rather simplistic satisfaction with his achievements.

It would be a mistake to interpret Jesus’ words as a denial of his deity. First, no one in the early church would have put these words into Jesus’ mouth. The first Christians taught the deity of Jesus, a fact supported by all of the earliest available Christian writings we possess. No one would have invented a story that contradicted other biblical authors.

Second, the story of the rich young ruler is found in the same documents in which Jesus expresses his divinity in other narratives. Numerous passages depict Jesus receiving worship and making no attempt to stop the individuals from revering him (Matthew 28:9; John 9:35-38). The Gospels portray Jesus receiving worship even when he was a small child (Matthew 2:11). After his resurrection, Thomas flatly states that Jesus is both Lord and God (John 20:28). Earlier, Jesus said that anyone who had seen him had seen the Father (John 14:9). Why would the ancient authors fail to harmonize their work?

The episode between Jesus and the rich young ruler is one in which the master teacher questions his subject to get past the assumptions the latter is bringing to the conversation. To read this as Christ denying his deity is to miss the natural interpretation of the passage.

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The early chapters of Exodus are some of the most exciting in the Bible. Not only do they record the action-pack story of the Hebrew departure from Egypt, but they also feature numerous connections between ancient Egyptian culture and the Hebrew Bible. Let’s explore some of them.

The Pharaoh who Knew Not Joseph. The pharaoh who lived close to the time of the exodus—who name we will never know—saw the Hebrews as a threat, and for a good reason. The Hyksos (mostly Semitic invaders from a couple of centuries before) had taken over and ruled Northern Egypt for about a century. With the Hebrews living on the northeastern border, they could have easily aided potential invaders from Canaan. The king was right to be worried.

The Presence and Absence of Names. Egyptian sometimes refused to record the names of enemies. This was a way of magically destroying or annihilating their foes. By leaving out the pharaoh’s name from the text, Moses is not using magic (as it is denounced later in the law), but rather following a custom of not naming enemies. This highlights the names of three others: the two Hebrew midwives and God himself. The midwives are remembered for their righteousness just as the king is “forgotten” on account of his villainy. Refusing to name the pharaoh further highlights the disclosure of God’s name, particularly in Exodus 3.

The Birth Story of Moses. Many critics claim that some unknown biblical writer plagiarized the birth story of Moses from that of Sargon of Assyria. It is true that the stories bear some similarities, but that is to be expected. In riverine cultures like Egypt and those of Mesopotamia, families who could not afford another mouth to feed might put a newborn in a basket and set it adrift upon the river and pray that the gods watch over the safety of the child. In the West, it would be something like putting a baby on the doorstep of a church or an orphanage.

The Serpent Sign. The transformation of Moses’ staff is highly significant. First, it plays upon Egyptian stories of transformation. The message is that Moses could do what the Egyptian magicians could accomplish only by sleight of hand (they could make it appear that they had transformed staves into serpents—a trick depicted on the backs of ancient Egyptian scarabs). There is another message here, however. When the staff swallows up those of the magicians, it was sending a specific message to the king. To consume something in Egypt meant to claim its magical power. The swallowing of the other two staffs communicated the superiority of God’s power in a way that would make sense primarily in an Egyptian context.

The Ten Plagues. Each of the plagues targeted areas that the Egyptian gods were thought to control. Osiris and Hapy cannot keep it from turning to blood. The frog-headed fertility goddess Hekhet cannot keep the frog population from raging out of control. The powerful sun gods could not keep the sky lit. Finally, the pharaoh—who believed himself a god among men and called himself the “Living Horus”—could not even protect his son. God exposes the deities of Egypt as non-existent creations of human imagination. He also humiliates the arrogant and evil pharaoh who supposedly had the power to keep peace and order in the country.

Parting the Red Sea. This miracle provides the escape route for the Hebrews but is also reminiscent of a famous story about a lost necklace. A pharaoh goes out sailing one day with beautiful women to entertain himself. One of the women accidentally drops her necklace into the water. To keep the pleasure cruise from being soured, a priest named Dja-Dja-em-ankh parts the waters to retrieve the lost item. The difference between this story and the Red Sea crossing is the sheer power of God can accomplish in reality what could only be done in a fictional tale.

One a final note, we have to be wary of the sensationalism generated by amateurs who claim to have discovered evidence related to the Hebrew exodus. Movies like Patterns of Evidence have duped many viewers into adopting a fringe view of history and the Bible. Others have attempted to find the real Mount Sinai by looking in Saudi Arabia. Recent examples include the thoroughly-discredited Ron Wyatt and also the Doubting Thomas Research Foundation, the latter of which was recently featured briefly on the Glen Beck Program. Their efforts contradict the Bible and ancient Egyptian evidence and should be given no consideration whatsoever. Even more outrageous are the contentions that chariot wheels have been discovered on the bottom of the Red Sea, which appears to be a total fabrication as no such evidence exists.

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In looking at materials produced by atheist apologists, it is fascinating how many of them repeat the same old objections that have been around for years. According to these writers, the Bible endorses slavery, subjugates women, teaches an anti-scientific view of the world, and commands the faithful to wage holy war against the unbeliever. In spite of untold numbers of articles, books, web pages, blog posts, podcasts, lectures, seminars, and other sources produced by Christians refuting these allegations, criticisms persist. The Christian’s job is never done.

Jude 3 states, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” This charge applies to Christians today just as much as it did nearly two millennia ago. Throughout history, critics of the Christian faith have done very little work in trying to understand the subject of their criticism. They feel that Christianity is a naïve, simple-minded faith not worth understanding. Examples are legion, but we’ll take one specific example: Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion.

In the London Review of Books, Terry Eagleton said the following about Dawkins’ work:

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster.

Unfortunately, this is often the case with the irreligious. But, I will quickly add that it can be true for almost anyone. Even Christians tend to spend very little time learning about other views that we criticize. We learn just enough to start making attacks and leave it at that. This cannot be the case for faithful Christians. If we are going to contend for the faith, then it is incumbent upon us to do our homework. I have seen too many caricatures of other religions or non-religion made by believers in the attempt to defend biblical Christianity. Unfortunately, these efforts usually wind up looking more like an Achilles’ heel.

Critics who fail to do their research will continue to flounder in their misunderstanding of Christianity. They may even win over others who are just as incapable of applying critical thought to the issue. This does not mean that Christians should shrink back, try to score cheap points, or create strawmen to knock down. We cannot honor Christ with half-hearted efforts or dubious arguments. Christ deserves better, and so do our critics.

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