Last week, my mom invited my uncle over for dinner so that he and I could continue our four-part debate on God, Christ, and the Bible. One of the more frustrating aspects of our debate was that he would conflate many issues. We would start out discussing free will and foreknowledge, and suddenly my uncle would start complaining about the “stupid” beliefs that Christians hold regarding the Bible, evolution and hell.
When I pointed out that many Christians don’t believe the Scriptures are inerrant , a great number of Christians do believe in evolution, numerous Christians don’t believe in original sin, some Christians don’t believe in hell, and even more Christians believe in conditional immortality, my uncle was just flabbergasted. To each one of my points, he would say, “well, most Christians do believe that.”
Granted, I don’t know how many Christians hold these unorthodox positions. I haven’t done a survey on them. Over the past two millennia of Christianity, these are undoubtedly minority opinions. However, the fact is that Christians disagree on these issues. The unifying feature of Christianity is in it’s very name – Christ. It is by our faith in Christ that we are saved, not our faith in creationism or the Bible or hell or the apocalypse. One cannot reject the Christian faith based on their distaste for any one of these doctrines. So these are not the issues that we should argue with atheists.
If Joseph Porter had argued with me about the earth being 6,000 years old, I would have never become a Christian. I’ve done extensive reading on the subject and would have probably laughed in his face if he had brought the subject up. Instead, we argued about Christ and sin and redemption – the key doctrines of Christianity, the essentials of the gospel. I know of people who have left church entirely because their peers sneered at their beliefs regarding one of these disputable matters. (Granted, the person who left was probably in error for leaving over such an issue, but imagine what a difference it would have made if they were reminded of Christ’s love instead of berated for valuing science.)
That is what Christ commands us to do: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We are supposed to teach people to obey what Jesus’ commands, not insist upon particular doctrines that don’t affect one’s life as a Christian. Of course, these are all issues worth discussing and debating among Christians, and which are fun to debate in forums like blog posts and pub nights! But we cannot let these disputable matters take precedence. When we preach these things instead of the gospel, we are putting other doctrines above Christ. If we are talking to atheists, we should preach sola evangelium – the gospel alone.