Letter: Hello professor, I was just wanting to reach out to you and ask you for some guidance. I recently came across a post of the computer that stated this. Do you identife with a specific religion? If you do, ask yourself these questions: 1. Why did so many Gods and beliefs predate your own? 2. Why didn't your God choose a global revelation instead of a culture specific one? 3. Why were you born in the "right religion"? Now I am kind of stumped by these questions. Do you think, if you have time, could you give me your thoughts on them? Thanks, Billy
Response by Jonathan Pruitt
Thanks for writing to us at Moral Apologetics! Dr. Baggett has just left on vacation and so I’ll be responding to your letter. Let’s take these one at a time. The first question is “Why did so many Gods and beliefs predate your own?” The question as stated is imprecise, but I think the heart of the question is something like this: “As a Christian, what do you say about the fact that there are religions older than yours?” That’s a fair question and one we can offer several responses to.
First, we might ask what the problem is supposed to be. If there are religions older than Christianity, does that suggest Christianity is not true? I am not sure how an argument for that position might go. The age of the religion has little to do with the likelihood of it being true; what’s more important is the sort of evidence that gives credibility to the claims of the religion. Say, for example, that tomorrow all the stars moved in space so that from earth they spelled out, “Scientology is true.” That would make Scientology much more plausible than, say, Baal worship, even though the Baal religions are much older.
Second, if what the Bible teaches about God’s interactions with mankind is true, then the Christian God has been revealing himself to mankind since the beginning. Worship of the Christian God was the original religion, according to the Bible. So the first question presumes a certain view of the development of religion and of world history in general that Christians deny. Worship of the Christian God is as old as mankind itself and so, in a sense, Christianity is the oldest religion.
The second question concerns the kind of revelation that the Christian God provides. The questioner seems to think that if a religion were true, then it ought to have “global revelation” pointing to its truth. I take it that this is a critique of the resurrection of Jesus, which happened at a specific time and place in history. This sort of revelation is what I suspect the questioner means by “local” revelation—sometimes this goes by the name “the scandal of particularity.”
In response, I will first say that I share the questioner’s concern. If God exists and he is good, then we should expect that he provides everyone with adequate reasons for believing in him. Of course, what the skeptic thinks are adequate reasons and what actually are adequate reasons are not always the same. As Paul Moser points out, we are often presumptuous when considering the evidence for God. We ask, “What evidence would satisfy me?” And we expect God to personally tailor the evidence to fit our expectations. We do not usually ask, “If God exists, how would he like me to know him?”
That said, I think God has given universally accessible reasons to believe in him. Let me give some examples. First, even if we take the resurrection which is supposed to be an example of a “local” revelation, the fact of the matter is that most people in the world are aware of the Christian claim to the resurrection of Jesus. Most people in the Western world even have the resources to conduct serious investigation into the veracity of these claims. So even though the resurrection is a localized event, it is open to investigation by a very large number of people.
The Bible also teaches that God does reveal himself universally. For example, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, God’s righteousness, and the coming judgment (John 16:8). Paul says, “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). In his speech in Athens, Paul proclaims,
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ (Acts 17:24-28).
So the Bible clearly teaches that God reveals himself on a global scale and that he specifically arranged the world so that people would have the best chance at knowing him. The Bible teaches that God is intimately concerned with the salvation of the whole world and that he has actually revealed himself to every human being.
We also have highly intuitive theistic arguments which are universally accessible. If there is a moral law, there must be a moral law giver. If there is a universe, there must be a cause to the universe. If the universe appears intelligently designed, then likely there is a designer. Those are just very brief and rough summaries of only three of the theistic arguments, but the point is that they rely on common sense and basic empirical observations; they are open to investigation by any human person. In that way, they provide a kind of universal (or global) revelation of God.
The third and final question is “How do you know you were born in the right religion?” Clearly, if a person inherits their beliefs from their parents, this does not make them true. But the fact that I learned Christianity from my parents does not make it not true, either. If the questioner intends to say that, he would be committing the genetic fallacy. But if we answer the question as asked, we can provide two kinds of responses. The first answer is that I know that Christianity is true on the basis of my encounters with the Christian God. The Holy Spirit has provided the conviction of the truth of the gospel to me. And I have direct awareness and relationship with the Jesus of the Bible. These provide good reasons for me to believe in Jesus. But I also know that Christianity is true on the basis of critical thinking and the use of evidence. I mentioned some of the theistic arguments earlier, but there are also good arguments that Christianity in particular is true. There are philosophical arguments, like the one provided by Moral Apologetics contributor Brian Scalise that says a Trinitarian (and therefore Christian) conception of God makes the most rational sense. And there are empirical and historical arguments, like the minimal facts case for the resurrection employed by scholars like Gary Habermas and Mike Licona. So I know that I was born in the right religion because I have encountered the living Jesus myself and because careful and fair analysis of the evidence leads me to that conclusion.
In sum, it seems that the questioner is concerned about why we should think Christianity is true given the many religions in the world. The bottom line is that Christianity is better evidenced and more plausible than any other worldview.