A Reasoned Believer
Words: Jackie Wallentin
When I became a Christian, I didn’t actually know that I could trust the Bible,” said Dena Bennett of Walnut Creek Downtown. “I knew that God was real. I knew that His son was Jesus Christ. I knew that I was trusting him as my Savior.”
Dena had moved from the position of a staunch atheist to a woman won over by the grace and love of Jesus. Having never read the Bible before, she doubted its reliability. To her, believing in the Scriptures compromised intelligence and reason.
“Here I was, actually understanding the weight of what the Gospel meant personally, but I was concerned that I couldn’t trust the Bible at all,” Dena said.
Dena wrestled with Scripture as she began to find answers for her doubts. Her struggle is not an isolated account. As believers face a culture less and less associated with godliness and truth, the Bible’s reliability is more in question now than ever.
State of Mind
In a 2015 survey conducted by the Barna Group and the American Bible Society, Iowa claimed some of the most resistant cities in the country to the Bible. Waterloo was 96 out of 100 on the list, with 15 percent of its population Bible-minded. Of Des Moines’ 600,000 residents, 26 percent self-identified as Bible-minded.
The survey defined “Bible-minded” as individuals who report reading the Bible weekly and strongly agree that the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches. The definition includes both action and attitude — not only esteeming but also engaging with the Scriptures.
Apologist and author Dr. Sean McDowell has dedicated his life to examining the evidence for the Scriptures. Sean helps young believers find answers for their Biblical objections and doubts.
“The more I have studied the reliability of the Bible and tough questions in my life, the more confidence I have that it is really true,” Sean said. “It doesn’t mean I have all my questions answered. Sometimes I find myself with more questions, but my confidence that it is true grows.”
Apologetics derives from the Greek word “apologia,” meaning answer. “Apologetics is simply an offering of a defense for what we believe and why we believe it, giving reasons for the hope that we have,” Sean said.
This defense of the faith through logic led Dena to seek God in the first place. However, the reasoned defense didn’t come from a friend or someone in the church but rather through the pages of a book.
While in undergrad, Dena checked out Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis from the Drake University library to impress a boy. She set out to prove Christianity wrong. As Lewis progressed from a point of agnosticism to a belief in God, he proved to Dena that God was worth her time.
“C.S. Lewis was explaining to me what he believed, and it was like I was listening to him have a conversation with me,” Dena said. “I just needed someone to explain to me how it could be reasonable to believe in God.”
The intellectual reasons she had against God and religion crumbled. “I could see these logical arguments that I had built up, and it just seemed like a wet paper bag,” Dena said. “That’s how solid it was when I was confronted with the truth and actually thinking about it and considering it.”
For years, Dena fought against religion. Now Lewis confronted her with the face of God. And God met her right in the midst of her fight.
“He knew everything about my life. I just knew that he knew,” Dena said. “It was God speaking to me: ‘I know who are you. I know what you’ve done. I know that you hate me, but I love you.’”
Slowly her paper bag was being revealed. God did exist. He wasn’t an illogical idea. She could be reasonable and believe in Him.
“God wasn’t forcing me to believe in Him, but at the same time, He made it so abundantly clear that I couldn’t say no,” Dena said. “He was really patient with me.”
The originality and beauty of the Bible then shown clear as she devoured all 66 books within nine months of her salvation. She read four to five Bible translations to test if they were saying the same thing. And they were. She began to trust what the Bible had to say.
“I directly saw my life change as a result of reading the Bible. No other book that I’ve read has compelled me to find out more about God and become more like Him,” Dena said. “The way you see things. The way you start hearing from God. How he speaks to you. Nothing else can do that.”
A Reasoned Hope
Acts 17 tells us that the Apostle Paul “reasoned” with the Jews in the marketplace, talking to those around him about Jesus. And Peter commands believers to always give a reason for the hope that they have in 1 Peter 3:15, a key verse to help define apologetics.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is seen reasoning and making arguments with individuals and crowds. He was an apologist. The Bible not only models apologetics but commands that believers always be ready to give an answer for their hope.
“When people start understanding why they believe and what they believe, it gives a real confidence to start living and sharing their faith,” Sean said. “Apologetics is critical for the life of the church.”
As a high school teacher and college professor in California, Sean’s goal is to train his students so they can intellectually battle the culture ready to attack their faith. Students need to be ready before they step foot on a college campus.
“A lot of young people today are being challenged in ways that they have never been challenged before,” Sean said. “Students who, when they get to university, disengage their faith and stop practicing it, stop believing it, and don’t come back.”
Sean says the difference between the students who abandon their faith and the students who stand firm, is that one group faces their questions about truth while the other ignores them. Sean challenges his students to not fear their doubts but to tackle them head on.
“Those questions can be a good thing that foster you to go deeper in your understanding of God, your understanding of scriptures, your confidence that Christianity is true and that it can make sense of the big questions of life,” Sean said.
For Evan Stewart of Walnut Creek Windsor Heights, those questions came months after his profession of faith. His first semester at Drake University, Evan witnessed the genuine love of believers, on one hand frustrated by their joy, and on the other, attracted to the hope that they had. Evan heard the Gospel, and the truth that Jesus died for him resonated.
“I was looking for something with my heart, but my head wasn’t necessarily in the game. Because of the way God made me, that can persist for a long time but it can’t persist forever,” Evan said.
Evan wondered if there was actually good reason to believe in God, the Bible, and his new relationship with Jesus. Skepticism and doubt threatened to overpower his knowledge of truth.
“I knew from experience that emotion was a very poor gage of what was true or not. Emotions themselves didn’t mean that it was actually legitimate,” Evan said.
Evan’s biggest objection to the validity of the Bible was the death and resurrection of Jesus. He entertained the suspicion that Jesus hadn’t actually died but just fainted. Through months of reading books, examining the Scriptures, and talking to other believers, Evan discovered convincing evidence that answered his doubts and calmed his suspicions.
The more Evan looked into his questions, the more he was convinced that Jesus’ words were legitimate. “If Jesus was raised from the dead, then it demonstrates in my mind that what He said was true,” Evan said. “If that, what I think is the hardest of His sayings to accept, was proven true, then surely in the smaller things He talks about — forgiving of sins, being the son of God, being the way to righteousness — He is trustworthy as well.”
The Rise of the “Nones”
The percentage of adults (ages 18 and older) who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in seven years, from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated — describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” — has jumped more than six points, from 16.1 percent to 22.8 percent. These findings come out of a national survey done last year by the Pew Research Center, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape.”
Before finding Christ, Dena identified with atheists–their anger and hostility. She admired their attacks on Christianity and their use of logic. But at the heart of things, she wanted to believe something.
“I didn’t want to say God existed or admit that he didn’t,” Dena said. “I had a lot of questions, but I didn’t do any research. I didn’t give the Bible a chance.”
The same survey found that nearly one-in-five adults were raised in a religious faith and now identify with no religion, further contributing to the rise of the “nones” among the Millennial generation.
Dena felt hurt, offended, and abandoned by God. Therefore Dena turned her back on him, like many of the religious “nones” she has met. “I hear myself in a lot of people. I hear the same questions I was asking, and I know now that there are answers,” Dena said.
During his undergrad, Evan encountered skeptics, atheists and everyone in between.
“While I was learning about apologetics and the arguments for God’s existence, I was also talking with people who believed otherwise. It really forced me to do my homework, to think hard about the arguments that I was presenting and the arguments that they were bringing against mine,” Evan said.
Evan has decided to pursue his masters degree in astrophysics, and in the process, love his classmates. He began classes last month at Iowa State University. “It’s a burgeoning field, one where there’s still a lot of new ground to cover,” Evan said. “Physics has a lot of intersections with theology and philosophy. I can place myself on a platform to deal with those intersections.”
In a society where the veracity of scripture, the existence of God, and the deity of Jesus are constantly being called into question, Sean has found himself more compassionate toward people who have a different belief system. Each time he has a question, God has an answer.
“I’m confident enough to listen to them, let them share, try to understand. I don’t feel threatened by that,” Sean said. “Listen to their story. And then ask questions.”
“He has infinite wisdom, and He gives it generously.”
Sean says that as Christians learn what they believe and why, they have a renewed confidence to share their faith rather than get defensive when people ask questions and raise challenges.
“One reason Christians often get defensive in conversations is because they don’t know what they believe,” Sean said. “When someone starts challenging them, and they don’t have a good answer, they get insecure and lash out.”
Since that first conversation with C.S. Lewis, Dena continues to gather evidence for the reliability of the Bible and help others do the same. She is confident that the answers for life are within its pages.
“There is always an answer in the Bible,” Dena said. “There’s nothing that God doesn’t know. He has infinite wisdom, and He gives it generously.
© 2015 Walnut Creek Church