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.”