Does Christianity ‘Work’?
Replying to those who claim Christianity does not work:
In order to properly answer a question such as found in my title, one needs to ask a few other questions. And they can be asked of other things as well – not just faith matters. To ascertain if something is working properly, one first must ask what it was designed to do. Knowing the actual purpose and function of something will help determine if it is working or not.
Consider one silly example of this: I happen to have a whole lotta books. Suppose I decided to build a house out of all my books – at least a smallish one. I gather them all up, lay them all out, and eventually I have a little house-like dwelling. So far so good.
But if some wild windy and wet weather comes along, quickly undoing all my hard work, I suppose I could complain about the books ‘not working’. Well, duh, it all depends on what the purpose of a book is. Actually, books were designed to be read – they were NOT designed to become building blocks of durable structures, be it a house or whatever.
Take a different example: Suppose you buy one of those do it yourself kits from IKEA where you are provided with detailed instructions on how to assemble something so that it works properly. But you throw out the manual and just try to figure things out on your own. Chances are really good you will make a mess of things, and it will not function as promised. Something will only work if it is done according to the terms and conditions of the product – of the product’s creator.
So it does no good to complain about something not ‘working’ if it was never meant to work in that particular way in the first place. Let’s apply all this to Christianity. Some folks claim that it does not work. Well, it depends of course on what they mean by ‘work’.
In this regard let me share a comment which recently came into my website. Here is the actual short comment: “What grates on me is the assumption that christianity works for everyone. In my case it does not. Evangelize if you must, but if i ever catch you evangelizing in person i will not hesistate to punch you. I consider it harassment. I also think christians are ignorant repugnant and deserve my ire.”
Hmm, a few things can be said in reply. Leaving aside the spelling mistakes and the like, this person might need to take a short stint in some sort of anger management class. Like many Christophobes and misotheists, they often will talk a lot about love, tolerance and acceptance, but they seldom actually demonstrate these virtues in real life!
But let’s focus on the claim that Christianity did not work for this rather irate and triggered commentator. I know absolutely nothing about this person of course, and I am not even sure if I am dealing with a he or a she – so let me randomly pick the latter. She seems to be making the claim that she perhaps tried Christianity at one point, but it failed to work for her.
Once again, it all depends on what she means by ‘works’. And it also all depends on what her expectations of Christianity were in the first place. Was she expecting it to do something for her which it never promised to do? Was she told it would be about certain things, but they never eventuated?
I can flesh this out a bit more with a few possible scenarios. Perhaps this gal was sold a bill of goods by some rather unhelpful and unbiblical Christians. That is, perhaps she was told that if she comes to Christ all her problems would be solved, and she would always be healthy and wealthy.
If the dodgy health and wealth gospel was presented to her and she bought it hook, line and sinker, no wonder she eventually could claim it did not work. Of course it did not work, because biblical Christians never make those bogus sorts of claims. Christianity never says everything will be just peachy for the Christian.
In fact, it says quite the opposite: Jesus himself made it perfectly clear that his disciples would be persecuted, hated, despised and rejected. That was certainly the lot of Jesus, and the disciple, as he said, is not about his master. As he said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).
So any sort of rosy picture of the good life if you come to Christ is ruled out by what the Bible actually teaches. And perhaps this gal was under the impression that if she ‘tried’ Christianity, she would end up having her own personal divine butler who exists simply for her every beck and call.
She may have thought she could have a heavenly Jeeves fully at her disposal to grant her every wish and fulfill her every desire. But once again, that is NOT how Christianity works. Quite the opposite: God is the boss and we are the servants. We exist to do his bidding. He does not exist to do our bidding.
And there could be countless other things that may have occurred that resulted in her rather presumptive and silly claim that Christianity does not work. Perhaps she got to know a young Christian male and was hoping it would all develop into a neat romantic relationship, only to all fall to bits in the end, leaving her hurt and devastated.
Perhaps she came to know some rather unloving and nasty folks who claimed to be Christians, and that turned her off to Christianity. Well, sadly, some Christians WILL disappoint us and let us down. But the good news is that Christ never will.
I am of course simply speculating here. Who knows what got her so upset? But I have known of far too many others in the same boat. They claim to have tried Christianity, and for whatever reason they felt it did not work for them, so they just walked away from it all.
As I say, it all comes down to what Christianity actually promises. Its truth claims are often far from what the average Joe pagan is hoping for. Indeed, if I were to have posted her comment, the main thing I would have told her is that we should accept Christianity because it is true, not because it ‘works’ – whatever that means.
This is something we need to get straight. Truth is not simply that which happens to work. This is the view known as pragmatism. But an idea is not true because it works; it works because it is true. There are plenty of things in life that seem to work – but they may not at all be true.
As but one example, back in my wild hippy days, various things seemed to work, because of the hallucinogenic drugs I was taking, or because of the Eastern esoterica I was involved in. We hippies could have all sorts of experiences and all sorts of things happening which seemed real enough – they seemed to work.
But let me offer a philosophical explanation of this. The renowned Christian apologist Norman Geisler once put it this way:
Truth is not “what works.” One popular theory is the pragmatic view of William James and his followers that truth is what works. According to James, “Truth is the expedient in the way of knowing. A statement is known to be true if it brings the right results. It is the expedient as confirmed by future experience.” That this is inadequate is evident from its confusion of cause and effect. If something is true it will work, at least in the long run. But simply because something works does not make it true. This is not how truth is understood in court. Judges tend to regard the expedient as perjury. Finally, the results do not settle the truth question. Even when results are in, one can still ask whether the initial statement corresponded to the facts. If it did not, it was not true, regardless of the results.
So it is the truth of Christianity that should be our main concern. Yes, because Christianity IS true, it will work – but again, it will work according to what it is designed to do. Christianity is NOT about meeting all our needs, desires and wants. Yes it will meet our deepest spiritual needs, but on God’s terms, not ours.
Most people desire some sort of meaning, fulfilment and sense of belonging. Christianity does provide these things, but not as we might like them to be realised. We will never be fulfilled as long as we think we are the centre of the universe, and not the one true living God.
We will not be fulfilled living a selfish and sinful life. We will find fulfilment and peace when we acknowledge we are sinners and that we need to repent and put our trust in Christ. So if we have a wrong view of what Christianity actually offers us, and how those offers must be received – then sure, we will always find that Christianity ‘does not work.’
But books used as bricks in a house will not work either – that is not what they were made for. All human beings are made for eternity, and to have a relationship with God. But the Fall has ruined all that, and we all go our own way seeking to find peace, happiness and fulfilment in ourselves or in things – anything but God.
Christianity will give us those goods, but only if we agree with God, and submit to his way of doing things, not our own. So in the case of this gal, all we can do is keep her in prayer. If she is really seeking truth, and not just trying to satisfy her own desires and wants, Christ is still there, waiting with open arms.
Two closing comments by C. S. Lewis in which he speaks about related matters (both found in the book God in the Dock), are well worth featuring here:
“As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
“The great difficulty is to get modern audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity solely and simply because you happen to think it true; they always suppose you are preaching it because you like it or think it good for society or something of that sort. Now a clearly maintained distinction between what the Faith actually says and what you would like it to have said or what you understand or what you personally find helpful or think probable, forces your audience to realize that you are tied to your data just as the scientist is tied by the results of the experiments; that you are not just saying what you like. This immediately helps them realize that what is being discussed is a question about objective fact — not gas about ideals and points of view.”
3 Replies to “Does Christianity ‘Work’?”
Thank you, Bill, for yet another insightful article. In the New Testament itself, people who chose not to accept Jesus as their Messiah and Savior did so because they sought an earthly king who they believed would overcome the ills of that time, namely domination by the Roman Empire. In a sense, Jesus Christ did defeat the philosophy and methods of the Roman Empire by proclaiming that each person is loved by God and can be saved through faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection.
The teaching of love for others also was counter to the “Me First” philosophy of the Romans and the secular world of any era, and it was this love and concern taught by Christ that brought about the early church, charities, the beginnings of orphanages and hospital systems, and democratic governments and societies. The “Me First” philosophy embodies the worldly view of success that so many people of today seek through the “Health and Wealth” gospel, something that clearly is not taught in the Bible. How can anyone claim Christianity does not work when the teachings of Christ laid the very foundation of Western Civilization?
Some years ago I noticed the still-primitive parts of the world never progressed beyond the Iron Age, which existed when the Tower of Babel led to confusion and the scattering of originally Middle-Eastern people throughout the world. With the exception of Asia, these primitive places did not progress until Christianity, with its linear view of time and the Judeo-Christian ethic, was introduced. Again, when one thinks of the good brought about by Christianity, how can anyone say, “Christianity does not work?” Rather, the individual’s misapplication of ideas and lack of faith and wisdom have led to the disappointment. God does not change and does not move, and it is mankind that has moved away from God.
True for HAPPINESS a bunch of booze and a bunch of bimbos would get you that. But for meaning and purpose that is different. Christians are not the richest and most well off – in fact for many Christianity is a hard life unless you are a charlatan or use people. Sure some Christians do have riches and a good life but few do as mammon tend to corrupt. Christianity isn’t a SAD life but one full of meaning and purpose. The hedonists maybe be happy to some extent and seem to have a good life but lack meaning purpose and direction. I can, and mostly have, live without the former but it is difficult to live without the latter. Christianity isn’t all “sunshine lollipops and rainbows” but with purpose you can survive any rough patches and hard times. The Christian looks to the next life for happiness comfort joy the thing many insists they must have know.
Another thing is so many are taught YES is the only answer to prayer and when they ask for things and don’t get them because God’s answer is NO they feel Christianity doesn’t work. So many verses are taken out of context that people don’t understand anything. “seek and ye shall find ask and it shall be given unto you”. The Bible isn’t Aladdin’s lamp and God is not a genie. Nor is he a cosmic sugar daddy giving you anything you ask for.
We are so used to treating God as our buddy or just one of the family we don’t give him the reverence he is due. We see him as almost equal just slightly higher that us. Look at sci-fi how many godlike beings in there become friends with humanity and are talked to just like anyone else?? That is how we, humans, treat God often as the same as us only more evolved. (Which is similar to the Mormon approach).
It is often part of the reason I feel so unworthy of Jesus’ time when I get to heaven as he is a infinite holy just God and I am a sinful clump of flesh. I don’t see myself worthy of him. So many talk about the times they will have with him in heaven but I can’t even imagine that. I sometimes wish I could but right now I can’t think of such a great God “hanging” with me. I have a reverence for him and I can’t stop having that. I was brought up in a traditional denomination not a contemporary one maybe that is part of it but don’t picture buddy buddy time with him. But in any regard we need to see God more HOLY and less BUDDY!
To Paul Wilson: I agree with you 100 percent. I tried to describe the general changes Christianity has made throughout history, and I appreciate your explanation on the personal or individual level.