What Do I Say Now?

Responding to the slogans of critics.

True for You, But Not For Me

Since the church began, objections have been raised to the faith. They have varied according to the beliefs and mindset of the day. To be effective in taking a stand for the truth, Christians have had to know the current questions and objections. Maybe you've heard some of the more common objections today such as "Jesus never claimed to be God," or, "What gives you the right to say other people's morals are wrong?" Or how about, "That might be true for you, but it's not true for me." Sometimes these objections are well thought out, but often they sound more like slogans, catch-phrases the non-believer has heard but to which he or she probably hasn't given much thought.

If objections such as these have brought an abrupt end to any of your conversations because you weren't sure how to respond, a book published last year might be just what you need. The title is "True For You, But Not For Me": Deflating the Slogans That Leave Christians Speechless, and it was written by Paul Copan, an associate with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Copan's goal in this book is to provide responses for Christians who find themselves stumped by the objections of critics. To that end he deals with objections in such areas as knowledge of truth, morality, the uniqueness of Christ, and the hope of those who've never heard the Gospel. In this article, I'll pull out a few of these objections and give brief answers, some from Copan, and some of my own.

Before doing that, however, I need to make an important point. If non-believers are doing nothing more than sloganeering by hurling objections that they really don't understand, rattling off memorized answers that we don't understand, Christians can be guilty of the same behavior of our opponents. Even though the objections might sound recorded, our answers needn't. Thus, I strongly suggest that you get a copy of Copan's book or obtain some other books on apologetics which will fill in the gaps left by our discussion.


Let's begin with a brief look at the issue of relativism and what it means for discussions about Christianity.

Relativism shows itself primarily in matters of truth and morality. When we say that truth is relative, we mean that it differs according to the times, or to particular circumstances, or to differing tastes and interests. It is the denial that objective truth exists; that is, truth that applies to all people and for all time. Now, most people will probably agree that there is truth in matters of scientific fact, but with respect to religion and morality, each person is said to have his or her own truth. Such things are matters of opinion at best, and are true only relative to particular individuals.

The implications of this are enormous. The claim to have the truth about a person's relationship with God is considered arrogant or elitist. Tolerance becomes the "cardinal virtue."

Relativism with Respect to Knowledge

Let's consider the objection represented in the title of Copan's book: that is, "Well, that may be true for you, but it's not for me." Here the non-believer is essentially saying that it's okay for you to adopt Christianity if you choose, that it can be your truth. But as far as he's concerned, he has not chosen to believe it, so it isn't true for him.

This objection would make better sense if the critic said, "Christianity is meaningful for you, but it isn't for me." Or, "Christianity might work for you, but it doesn't for me." These are reasonable objections and invite serious discussion about the meaning of Christ for every individual and how Christianity "works" in our lives. But the objection voiced is that Christianity is true for some people, but not for others. How can that be? Truth is that which is real or statements about what is really the case. "True for you, but not for me" can only be a valid idea if truth is relative to persons, times, circumstances, or places.

The Christian should question the person about this. We can point out that if there's no objective, fixed truth, all meaningful conversation will grind to a halt. If nothing a person says can be taken as true or false in the normal sense, the listener won't know if the speaker really means what he says. What would be the value, for example, of reading the cautions on a bottle of pills if the meaning and truth of the words aren't set? Trying to communicate ideas when truth and meaning fluctuate like the stock market is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. There's no way to get hold of any idea with which to agree or disagree.

The non-believer might object that not all matters are relative, only matters of religion and morality. However, the burden is on the relativist to prove that matters of religion and morality are relative, for it isn't obvious that this is so. Why should these matters be treated differently with respect to truth than others? The fact that one can't debate morality on the basis of evidences as one would, say, a scientific issue doesn't mean that the truth about it can't be known. More important, however, is the fact that Christianity in particular is tied very tightly to historical events which are matters of fact.

Christianity can't be true for one person but not for another. Either it is true and all should believe; or it isn't and it should be discarded.

Moral Relativism

One objection we hear is "Your values might be right for you, but they aren't for me."

First, we need to understand the historic Christian view of morality. According to Scripture, morals are grounded in God. As God is unchanging, so also is his morality. As Paul Copan notes, such morals are discovered, not invented. They are objective; they do not come from within you or me, but are true completely apart from us.

Having abandoned God as the standard for morality and replaced him with ourselves, some say there is no objective morality. When told that a certain individual believed that morality is a sham, Samuel Johnson responded, "Why sir, if he really believes there is no distinction between virtue and vice, let us count our spoons before he leaves." Johnson's quip doesn't prove that morals are objective, but it indicates how we'll have to live if they aren't. If matters of morality are relative, how can we trust anything another person says about moral issues? For example, if a person says that you can trust him to hold your money for you because he is honest, how do you know whether what he means by "honest" is what you mean by it?

But is it true that moral standards are culturally relative? Or perhaps the better question should be, Is it really likely that the non-believer believes this himself? You might recall the Women's Conference in Beijing several years ago. Representatives from all over the world gathered to plan strategies for gaining rights for women who were being oppressed. Could a cultural relativist support such a conference? It's hard to see how. Cultural relativism leaves a society with its hands tied in the face of atrocities committed by people of other cultures. But we know intuitively that some things are wrong, not just for me or my culture but for all peoples and all cultures. To take a firm stand against the immoral acts of individuals or cultures one needs the foundation of moral absolutes.

Religious Pluralism

Christians today, especially on college campuses, are free to believe as they please and practice their Christianity as they wish—as long as they aren't foolish enough to actually say out loud that they believe that Jesus is the only way to God. Nothing brings on the wrath of non-believers and invites insults and name-calling like claims for the exclusivity of Christ.

Religious pluralism is in vogue today. Many people believe either that religions are truly different but equally valid since no one really knows the truth about ultimate realities. Others believe that the adherents of at least all the major religions are really worshipping the same "Higher Being;" they just call him (or it) by different names. Religions are superficially different, they believe, but essentially the same.

Let's look at a couple of objections stemming from a pluralistic mindset.

One objection is that "Christianity is arrogant and imperialistic" for presenting itself as the only way. Of course, Christians can act in an arrogant and imperialistic manner, and in such cases they deserve to be called down. But this objection often arises simply as a response to the claim of exclusivity regardless of the Christian's manner. The only way this claim could be arrogant, however, is if there are indeed competing religions or philosophies which are equally valid. So, to make a valid point, the critic needs to prove that Christianity isn't what it claims to be.

As Copan notes, it can just as easily be the critic who is arrogant. Pluralists who reinterpret religious beliefs to suit their pluralism are in effect telling Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc., what it is they really believe. Like the king of Benares who knows that the blind men are really touching an elephant when they think they are touching a wall or a rope or something else, the pluralist believes he or she knows what all the adherents of the major world religions don't. The pluralist must have a view of truth that others don't. That is arrogance.

The Uniqueness of Christ

The idea that Jesus is the only way to God has always been a stumbling block for non-Christians. Even people who have made no commitment to Christ as Lord hold him in very high regard. Jesus is usually at or near the top of lists of the greatest people who ever lived. But as odd as it seems, people find a way to categorize Jesus so that they can regard him as one of the greatest humans ever to have lived while rejecting his central teachings! Thus, one way to deflect the Christian message isn't so much an outright rejection of the faith as it is a reduction of it. Thus, a slogan often heard is "Jesus is just like any other great religious leader."

One has to wonder, however, how a man can be considered only a great religious teacher (or to have a high level of "God-consciousness", as some say) who made the kinds of claims Jesus did, or who did the works that he did. Consider the claims he made for himself: that he could forgive sins, that he would judge the world, that he and the Father are one. None of the other great religious teachers made such claims. Furthermore, none of the others rose from the dead to give credence to what he taught.

Although Christians can't be expected to have satisfactory answers to all the possible objections people can throw our way, with a little study we can learn some sound responses to some of the clichéd objections of our day. Phrases little understood and tossed out in a knee-jerk fashion can still have a profound influence upon us. We need to recognize them and defuse them.

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