#439

September 13, 2015

Christian Pessimism?

Dear Dr. Craig

Hi I'm an Australian who converted to Christianity about a year ago after reading Richard Dawkins’s book 'The God Delusion'. Ever since I read the book I became interested in Christianity and so after 3-4 months of research I came to the conclusion that Christianity is the most probable worldview, hence this is why I'm a Christian.

Over the last year I have continued to search for answers to my greatest questions by reading the works of people like you, Ravi Zacharias, Alvin Plantinga, John Lennox, Hugh Ross, Timothy Keller and many others. In all my many hours of research I have yet to find a direct answer to the question I'm about the pose.

What is the ultimate purpose of Christianity and the human race?

I have read some of your indirect responses to this question such as 'to know and love god', although these as I state do not directly answer my question.

I'm asking this because I believe I'm ready to truly follow Christianity at this moment in time but I must have this answered before I can dedicate my will to doing Gods will. More importantly though I'm asking this question because I have a problem with the theological fatalistic/deterministic opinion of this question answer.

From what I'm aware, some people in the church believe that there will inevitably come a day when humanity inevitably falls into darkness and at that moment God comes to save us and bring us into a new world. This view though I find very contradictory and flawed. If true then God’s promise that he will be with us through our journey to "make disciples of all nations" is a plain lie as this mission is inevitably doomed to fail. In addition this view makes all of human endevour meaningless since we are once again doomed from the very start. Contrary to this I’ve been getting the impression that it is possible that we will "make disciples of all nations". Unfortunately though if this opinion is true then I will leave Christianity period, no buts. Don't get me wrong, I do love God, but I love humanity more. This is why I can never accept a religion with such views. I sincerely hope your response does force me to leave Christianity.

Regards,

Edward


Australia

I couldn't help but smile, Edward, when I read your opening paragraph! I certainly hope that you have dropped a line to Richard Dawkins to let him know of his influence in your life!

In your letter you have not always expressed yourself as clearly as one might hope (for example, your final sentence!), but I’ll do my best to interpret you rightly.

You want a direct answer to the question: “What is the ultimate purpose of Christianity and the human race?” This is really two questions. As you note, I have directly answered the second part of your question with the words of the Westminster catechism: the chief end (ultimate purpose) of man (the human race) is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. You can’t get much more direct than that!

It seems to me that what troubles you is the first part of the question: “What is the ultimate purpose of Christianity?” But it’s hard to know what that question even means. From your letter, it seems to me that what you’re asking about is the movement in the world that goes by the name Christianity. This is in accord with the usage of the great church historian Kenneth Scott Latourette in the title of his monumental seven volume work A History of the Expansion of Christianity. Latourette details how Christianity has in 20 centuries spread from its inauspicious beginnings in first century Palestine to a movement that has filled the world, making it the single greatest movement in the history of mankind, bringing incalculable good to the world. You would be greatly uplifted by reading this work.

What I gather is bothering you is the pessimism of some Christians about the final outcome of this movement. You report, “some people in the church believe that there will inevitably come a day when humanity inevitably falls into darkness and at that moment God comes to save us and bring us into a new world.” I suspect that what you’re referring to is the doctrine of the rapture: that prior to the final return of Christ, he will come to snatch faithful Christians out of this world, as it plunges into war and apostasy. As I explain in my Defenders lectures on “The Last Things,” this view is a relatively recent novelty in church history, which, though widespread in evangelical churches, does not represent the majority view among Christians. I argue that the Bible knows nothing of a preliminary return of Christ prior to his final return.

But a word of correction seems to be in order here: you’re troubled by the “fatalistic/deterministic” nature of this view, a worry that comes to expression in your using the word “inevitably” twice in one sentence to characterize this doctrine. I think that’s unfair. There’s no reason to think that these events, though purportedly prophesied, will occur inevitably or are fated or determined to occur, any more than prophesied events like Judas’ betrayal or Peter’s denial of Christ were fated or inevitable. These events could be avoided if the persons involved were to freely choose to do differently, as they are capable of doing. God just knows that they won’t and so prophesies the outcome of their free choices. If that’s your misgiving, then your concerns are groundless. You would in that case benefit from reading my treatment of theological fatalism in The Only Wise God.

So people who believe that there will be a falling way from the faith at the end don’t necessarily believe that the Church’s mission to make disciples of all nations “is inevitably doomed to fail,” nor is it correct to say that “this view makes all of human endevour meaningless since we are once again doomed from the very start.” This language of being “doomed” (whether yours or your friends’) is just inappropriate. Whatever will happen is foreknown by God, but that does not make it inevitable or doomed to occur. It will occur and occur contingently.

But maybe this doomsday language is just a rhetorical flourish on your part. Maybe your concern is really with the pessimism about the future represented by such a view. You believe that the Church will be successful in fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. If so, then you will find yourself attracted to a view called post- millennialism, which has a very optimistic view of the Church’s mission. Again, see my Defenders lectures on “The Last Things.” The point is that Christians have differing views on the last things, so that you need not think that Christianity is a religion which has just one available view.

Like you, I’m cautiously optimistic that the Church will be successful in her mission to bring into the Kingdom a great harvest from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Revelation 5.9). Right after his pessimistic saying about “the narrow door” that leads to salvation, Jesus went on to issue this optimistic caveat, “And men will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13. 29). Jesus’ pessimistic statement about those who failed to enter seemed to have been directed at his contemporaries (Luke 13.26).

In all fairness, too, proponents of the rapture view also think that the Church will be successful in her mission of making disciples of all nations. They just believe that at the very end there will be a falling away. That hardly renders “meaningless” the conversion of the billions of people who will have come to faith in Christ and found eternal life along the way before the end comes.

What worries me about your letter, Edward, is your assertion that “if this opinion is true then I will leave Christianity period, no buts.” Now wait! “If it is true. . . !” You are willing to oppose the truth based on your personal preferences? If you don’t like a religious view, then even if it is the truth, you will turn away from it? I find that incredible. Why should the truth be held hostage to our personal likes and dislikes? Why should Christianity have to conform to what I like?

Your assurance that “I do love God, but I love humanity more” doesn’t reassure me. Edward, that is literally an expression of idolatry. According to Jesus the two greatest commandments are: “First, you shall love the Lord your God with all your strength and with all your soul and with all your heart and with all your mind, and, second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12.30-31). We must get the order right because if we stand things on their head, our priorities and our loves are disordered.

Fortunately we don’t need to make a choice between loving God and loving humanity. As Jesus taught, we are to do both. A genuine love of people will flow from a heart which loves God and knows God.

The bottom line, Edward, is that there’s plenty of room in Christianity for someone who is optimistic about the Church’s mission. But more important is bring our loves into order and our minds into submission to the truth.