Background article, to accompany “Pastors, Elders, Teachers, Leaders: Are You Bold Enough to Take a Good, Hard Look at the Challenges We’re Up Against?”
Non-Christians have always raised challenges against Christianity. Now, though, in the 21st century, they’ve upped those challenges enormously. This list has more than 110 of those new challenges. It is a long list, though still merely a partial one. You can study it thoroughly or you can skim through and pick out the items that stand out to you. Either way, please take whatever time it takes to feel the gravity of it.
That’s why I’m posting this here: So we can all begin to feel the weight of what we’re facing.
It’s a barrage: Long, loud, noisy, intimidating. It’s easy to want to cower under it, or even run away. A lot of people have left the faith on account of these things. That’s a shame, because it’s a barrage of blanks. There isn’t a single question here that poses a real problem, if you know how to answer it. I mean really answer. It’s possible, not just for a few, but for every skeptical challenge. We don’t have to resort to glib, easy, “just believe” sorts of answers. We can give solid, substantive, rational, faith-full responses. Because the way of Christ is still true. But we can only give these answers if we equip ourselves for it.
Two Sets of Unprecedented Challenges
I have two lists on this page. Part 1 is a long list of new, yet very common challenges outsiders raise against Christianity. These challenges are real, and they really cause Christians to wonder about the faith, and non-Christians to stay away from it. They all have good answers that could keep people from thinking/feeling the issues should lead to doubt, but they won’t know those answers if no one teaches them.
Part 2 is a slightly shorter list of new issues Christians have to navigate now, that we never had to deal with before. The world is putting tremendous ethical pressure on Christians, besides challenging us over the truth of the faith. God gives us all we need to stand up to these challenges, through His Spirit, His word, and His people. His people are crucial to that, and if we don’t do our part, it won’t get done.
Both lists cover new, unprecedented issues. Both lists tell us the Church has new responsibilities now. Your own local church has new responsibilities. Things are different now! We have to prepare to answer these challenges! If we don’t, we’re going to keep on bleeding people — and those people are going to face spiritual death. Will we stand up to stop the bleeding
I’ve done my best to limit these lists to the newest challenges only (plus a few older ones that have caught on fire lately with the help of social media.) Older, more well-known challenges haven’t gone away — for example, “How can a good God allow evil and suffering?” for example. I’m just showing how massively the challenges have grown lately.
I’ve worded the issues in Part 1 the way a skeptic would.
- Why do Christians care so much what people do in their bedrooms?
- Why are Christians opposed to equality in marriage?
- Christianity preaches love, so why don’t Christians want gays to love each other?
- Christ says he came for all, so why do Christians want to exclude LGBTQ+ people?
- Christians are intolerant bigots.
- What’s the problem with people living the gender they identify as?
- Why do some Christians think they can have as many children as they want, when the world’s ecology is crushing under the weight of too many humans?
- Why are Christians so hawkish?
- Why do Christians believe guns are good? Guns kill!
- Why do Christians want to control women’s bodies?
- Why are Christians so stuck on believing their Bibles instead of science?
- Hasn’t evolution been proved? Why do Christians insist on believing Genesis is true?
- Religion evolved, just like everything else. That includes Christianity. None of it is real, it’s just how humans adapted to survive together in groups.
- The Bible says the universe is just a few thousand years old, but science says it’s actually billions of years. The Bible is wrong!
- Psychology says evolution has wired people to find “agency” – a personal cause – in everything, even when we know it’s not true. If they think the world and what happens here has a personal cause, it’s just another case of imagining agency when it isn’t really there.
- Intelligent design theory is just a way to get creationism in public schools, right?
- You say everything needs a creator, so who created God?
- Hasn’t science proved miracles aren’t real?
- Why do all the scientific studies on prayer say it doesn’t do anything?
- Science tells us how to build airplanes, religion tells people to fly them into buildings.
Christian Beliefs and Values
- How can Christians think their way is the only right way?
- Is there really any such thing as truth?
- Isn’t God so distant and different he’s unknowable to humans?
- What about all the other religions? They think they’re right, too. What makes Christians think they’re so special?
- Faith is believing without evidence, right?
- Faith is a force that leads people to do awful, irrational things.
- Christianity is anti-intellectual. I’d be embarrassed to say I believed any of it.
- What’s up with all these denominations? If you have the truth, why can’t you agree on it?
- How could God send anyone to eternal torture?
- Why believe in any religion, when the real reason almost anyone believes is because of where they grew up?
- Teach a child about hell, and you’re committing child abuse.
- There’s so much sexual sin among pastors. Hypocrisy on steroids!
- Why does God hide? If God wants us to believe, why doesn’t he give us more evidence?
- People with real courage will face up to the cold hard realities of a godless universe.
- Christians only do good because they’re expecting to get paid for it in heaven, so they’re not as moral as they think they are, they’re just taking care of themselves.
- You say God the Father had his son killed on a cross. That’s child sacrifice!
- Only morons would believe in an invisible magic sky-daddy like God.
- You can believe in your god, I can believe in a flying spaghetti monster. What’s the difference?
- What’s wrong with your God’s ego that he needs people praising and worshiping him all the time?
Challenges Specifically Directed Against the Bible
- If the Exodus really happened we’d see more sign of it in archaeology. We don’t, so it’s not believable.
- Didn’t Constantine tell the bishops what to put in the Bible?
- What about all the contradictions in the Bible?
- No one has any idea who wrote the four gospels.
- The gospels weren’t written by eyewitnesses or anyone close to any eyewitnesses.
- The gospels were written too long after Jesus’ life for us to believe any of the details in them.
- The gospels were created by a “telephone-game” process that turned a real person named Jesus into a god.
- Jesus was a “failed Messiah,” and his followers made up the miracles and resurrection so they wouldn’t have to face their own failure and disappointment.
- Paul only wrote about half of the letters that were attributed to him.
- The other “letters of Paul” were written by other people, and they got Paul’s name attached to them only so they’d have more pull.
- Those four gospels were included in the Bible for political reasons (or some other arbitrary reason), not because they were more true than the other gospels that got written around that time.
- The Bible we have now has been changed over and over again in the centuries since it was written.
- Why does the Bible condone slavery?
- If Jesus was really God, why didn’t he come right out and say it’s wrong to buy and sell a human being?
- If Jesus was really God, why didn’t he at least alleviate some suffering by telling people to boil their bandages before they put them on a wound? Why would God tell people not to wear clothing made of mixed fabrics? That’s just ridiculous!
- Why does the Bible support genocide? (The Amalekites in the Old Testament, for example)
- God is a moral monster, all through the Bible. So much war! So many people killed
- Jesus gave a racist answer to the Syro-Phoenician woman.
Politics and Christianity
- Why should Christians get “subsidized” with tax exemptions? That’s a violation of the separation of church and state!
- Christians keep trying to use the law to impose their privately held beliefs on other people.
- Religion shouldn’t give anyone the right to refuse service to people just because they disagree with them.
- What you call “biblical” is really just your way of manipulating people for power.
- Christians hide behind their religion, using it as a mask to cover up their bigotry.
- Christianity? No, what you’re practicing is Christian nationalism?
- Hypocrite! If you love like you say God tells you to love, why don’t you immigrants coming in?
- Hypocrite! If you loved the poor, you’d support a universal basic income.
- What’s your problem with supporting climate change mitigation efforts?
- Why won’t you go along with Covid vaccinations like everyone else?
- Why would a church put everyone at risk by staying open during the pandemic?
Other Public Issues and Questions
- Why don’t Christians believe in science? (This is the multi-edged version of the question covering just about everything: COVID, evolution, global warming, anti-vaxxers, and more.)
- Why do Christians think they should have a right to school vouchers? Why can’t they just send their kids to school?
- Isn’t Christianity sexist? Patriarchal? Racist? Nationalist?
Besides external challenges to Christianity such as the above, Christians have a host of new issues to sort out in order to live faithfully as disciples. I will not include the timeless ones here. I’m leaving out important questions about everything from pain and suffering to communism to New Age, cults, and even Wicca. The questions here are either more recent or they’ve developed important new implications recently. Questions of politics, for example, have escalated considerably lately, as religious freedom has come under attack, and as we’ve entered an age when “everything is political.”
These aren’t challenges against the faith, but questions that may very easily come up among believers. Like the list above, this one could be a lot longer than this. It’s a further sign of how much the world has changed, and how much the church needs to ready itself for.
- Why should politics matter for Christians?
- Why is that question controversial?
- Should we just “concentrate on the gospel”? Why or why not?
- What can I/should I do about possibly running for local office?
- What about Christians who say being involved in politics harms our witness?
- How do we deal with the necessary imperfections in our political choices?
- How on earth could Christians ever have supported Donald Trump?
- Washington is more corrupt than ever. What are we doing about that?
- The government seems so corrupt. Can we trust them for anything anymore?
- What is our church planning to do if the government issues new pandemic restrictions, mask mandates, etc?
- Is there even any point in voting?
- What is institutional/structural racism? Is it real? Is it sin? Shouldn’t we be teaching how to overcome it?
- Is a border wall really moral? Why do so many Christians seem to think it is?
- Does standing up for ethics at school make me a book-banner? How do I answer that charge?
- What if I speak out at a school board meeting, and the DOJ puts me on a “domestic terrorist” list?
- They’ve legalized marijuana in my state. Is it immoral to use it?
- We have two children, and people are telling us already that’s too many. Should we really try for more?
- Do we need to buy guns and get ready to defend ourselves from our own leaders?
- Should I send my children to public school?
- Should I send them to college?
Sex, Sexuality, and Gender
- What do I do if a family member comes out as homosexual, transgender, or any of the other new sexual variants?
- What should I do when my school or employer asks for my pronouns?
- What if they demand I comply with others’ pronouns?
- My company (or school) says they’re going to fire me (or expel me) if I refuse to be an “LGBTQ+ ally.” Now what? Can my church help me figure out how to change their minds?
- Can my church help me figure out how to make a proper exit, leaving a good witness as I go?
- Can my church help with financial aid if ethical considerations force me to quit?
- My son is marrying a man. Should I go to the ceremony? The reception? Both? Neither?
- What’s the problem with marriage equality? Don’t we believe inequality?
News Media, Big Tech, and Social Media
- How much social media should I be involved in? Which apps? How do I monitor my kids there?
- What’s going on with artificial intelligence? Some churches have started using it to plan their music, write their bulletins, even their sermons. Is that okay? If not, why not?
- Facebook, Google, and the rest seem to know everything about me. Is that real? Are they manipulating us? What should we do?
- How do I know the truth about current affairs in this age of fake news?
- Is artificial intelligence the Beast of Revelation?
- I’ve been hearing about WorldCoin, the World Economic Forum, and other globalist things. Does it mean we’re on the verge of a one-world government now? Should we be worried about how it might be fulfilling end-times prophecy?
Clash of Beliefs
- How do I best understand (and teach) the truth about today’s constant, near-universal belief in radical personal autonomy – where they believe they can rewrite reality to suit?
- My (or my child’s) favorite Christian artist has just “deconstructed” and left the faith. What does that mean, and what does it mean to me?
- My co-workers say I’m a conspiracy-theorist nutcase. I think they’re not getting all the news. But am I ruining my witness with this?
- The Enneagram is getting really popular among Christians, but I’ve heard it has pagan/occult roots. Who should I believe?
- Can I invite my transgender friend to church? Why or why not? How do you think the church would respond to them?
- Why do so many churches seem to want to cover up their leaders’ sexual sins?
- How much of our message and message do we change to adjust to this changing world, and how much of it stays non-negotiable?
- Other churches around us (probably including our own denomination) are going “woke,” progressive, etc. What should we do with that here in our church?
- The whole world seems afraid — there’s an epidemic of fear out there. What can we do to help?
- There’s an epidemic of loneliness, too. What do we have to offer?
- How can we teach truth to a culture that doesn’t believe truth is real?