The late Christopher Hitchens was fond of saying that “religion poisons everything,” and, in a sense, this may be true. The God-given religious impulse can be twisted into a destructive force.
But Hitchens didn’t mean that religion—-an inherently good thing—-can be twisted into a monstrous evil, but that religion, by its very nature, is a monstrous evil. And unlike some critics of faith, Hitchens was consistent, training his rhetorical fire even on Jesus of Nazareth. If Jesus could heal a blind person he happened to meet, then why not heal blindness? What was so wonderful about his casting out devils, so that the devils would enter a herd of pigs instead? That seemed sinister, more like black magic.
Jesus, Hitchens seemed to be saying, was nothing special, perhaps a mere conjurer, certainly not the God-Man who came to deliver us from our sins. Christian faith, Hitchens maintained, has opened a Pandora’s Box of ill on the world.
Challenges from the New Atheists, such as the late Christopher Hitchens, can seem daunting. Far too many of us are intimidated by their in-your-face approach. We fret that they’ll bowl us over or present an unanswerable objection. We think they’ll make us—-or worse, our faith—-look foolish.
I’ll be the first to stand up for the need for intellectual rigor and biblical faithfulness to answer the objections of skeptics. Jesus told us to love God with our minds, and Peter prepared us to give a credible answer for the hope within us. The particular approach we take, however, will look different depending upon our particular personality and calling.
As the Word teaches us, the Spirit distributes different gifts in the church. Some Christians may be called and equipped to defend the faith publicly. Others, however, demonstrate that faith through a variety of ministries aimed at those in physical need.
A church where I previously served on staff has a marvelous commitment to global missions. But the senior pastor often said that he suspected that the church’s most significant ministry, from God’s perspective, might well be its service to those with developmental disabilities and their over-stressed parents. It’s hard to disagree.
Ministries aimed at life change—-especially mercy ministries—-put flesh and blood on the arguments of able Christian apologists. They fulfill Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:16: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Something about Christ’s body visibly manifesting divine life leads onlookers to lift their eyes above the horizon in search of its source.
What an opportunity, and what a profound need. At this moment when, for instance, Harvard Divinity professor Karen King casts aspersions upon Jesus’ deity with her Mrs. Messiah papyrus and scoffers sing their Ode to Skepticism, Jesus continues to advance his kingdom. And how humbling to think that we followers of Christ, in our feeble attempts to love God and serve others, are in fact the means by which divine love touches the world.