There are a lot of issues when it comes to Christianity and truth - which is a little weird, when you think about the whole "thou shalt not bear false witness" thing in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) - and I'm going to take them on here in the Grapevine over the next couple of weeks. Let's get started... We had a great week (well, 4 days) with Dr. Allen Troxler & the book of Mark. (For me, it was really cool to work through the layers of meaning behind the triumphal entry... that was new territory for me.) On Sunday morning, Allen started out his message with a rather famous story: There was a professor of philosophy who was a deeply committed atheist. His primary goal for one required class was to spend the entire semester attempting to prove that God couldn’t exist. His students were always afraid to argue with him because of his impeccable logic. For twenty years, he had taught this class and no one had ever had the courage to go against him. Sure, some had argued in class at times, but no one had ever really gone against him because of his reputation. At the end of every semester on the last day, he would say to his class of 300 students, "If there is anyone here who still believes in Jesus, stand up!" In twenty years, no one had ever stood up. They knew what he was going to do next. He would say, "Because anyone who believes in God is a fool. If God existed, he could stop this piece of chalk from hitting the ground and breaking. Such a simple task to prove that He is God, and yet He can’t do it." And every year, he would drop the chalk onto the tile floor of the classroom and it would shatter into a hundred pieces. All of the students would do nothing but stop and stare. Most of the students thought that God couldn’t exist. Certainly, a number of Christians had slipped through, but for 20 years, they had been too afraid to stand up.
Well, a few years ago there was a freshman who happened to enroll. He was a Christian, and had heard the stories about his professor. He was required to take the class for his major, and he was afraid. But for three months that semester, he prayed every morning that he would have the courage to stand up no matter what the professor said, or what the class thought. Nothing they said could ever shatter his faith...he hoped.
Finally, the day came. The professor said, " If there is anyone here who still believes in God, stand up!" The professor and the class of 300 people looked at him, shocked, as he stood up at the back of the classroom. The professor shouted, "You FOOL!!! If God existed, he would keep this piece of chalk from breaking when it hit the ground!" He proceeded to drop the chalk, but as he did, it slipped out of his fingers, off his shirt cuff, onto the pleat of his pants, down his leg, and off his shoe. As it hit the ground, it simply rolled away unbroken. The professor’s jaw dropped as he stared at the chalk. He looked up at the young man, and then ran out of the lecture hall. The young man who had stood, proceeded to walk to the front of the room and shared his faith in Jesus for the next half hour. 300 students stayed and listened as he told of God’s love for them and of His power through Jesus.
Great story, eh? But just as Allen said Sunday morning... it's not true. It's an urban legend. (For more background on the story, see truthorfiction.com.) Allen went on to focus on "urban legends" in the story of the woman anointing Jesus... but I want to deal specifically with the college class story for a minute. What is it that causes us as Christians to forward these kind of stories, even though the vast majority of them are bogus? I've got some ideas... but for this week, I'll just focus on one. We are, unfortunately, pragmatists. A pragmatist bases his decisions, beliefs & behaviors on "what works"... and while there's a temptation to follow that kind of logic, that can easily lead us to allow a Machiavellian "ends justify the means" attitude to creep into the way we share the faith. We deplore when cults use techniques like "flirty fishing" (sending attractive young women to seduce/indoctrinate young men into a cult) - but this kind of "bait & switch" method is not ethically very far from justifying telling stories with no basis in fact (i.e., lies!) in order that people will believe in Jesus. You could well point out that Jesus told stories (parables) that may or may not have been "true" stories. Here's the difference: Jesus doesn't claim that these parables, used to illustrate & illuminate particular points of theology, were actual events. You could also point out that people have been saved under the ministry of some world class liars (Mike Warnke springs to mind). But the fact that God allowed someone to cross the line of faith in this manner doesn't justify the behavior - it simply highlights the grace of God. Here's the deal... truth is important. If a seeker finds out we're willing to make up/spread stories because of their emotional effect, then it's a hop, skip & a jump to wondering what else about the Bible & Christianity is "made-up." So, what should we do?
- Check out stuff that's forwarded to you against those sites - and have the courage to let people know when they've forwarded you "junk".
- Tell real stories... stories you have personal knowledge of. God has done so many amazing things in our hearts & lives - we don't need to make stuff up!
Proverbs 12:17,19,22; 14:5,25; 16:13