Can Christianity Be Trusted Given All Its “Sins”?

The world well knows the sins of the church, among them the Inquisition, witch-hunts, the Crusades, and modern-day sexual abuse. Clearly, the church has fallen short of the ideals Jesus proclaimed. Many dismiss the Christian message not because they have examined the evidence and found it wanting, but because they are personally disappointed with Christians and churches. As pastor Timothy Keller has observed, we need to address “the behavior of Christians—individual and corporate—that has undermined the plausibility of Christianity for so many people.”[1]

The fact that Christian behavior so deeply undermines the plausibility of the gospel in the minds of many people should be a wakeup call for Christians. We need to ask ourselves some tough questions: Have I failed to live as Jesus taught me to? How responsible am I for the negative perceptions many have of the church? We would each do well to look at our own lives and seek God’s grace and forgiveness.

If you are a non-Christian, it is important to ask yourself a few tough questions as well: Does the moral failure of Christians undermine the claim that Jesus is truly God? Have I had a negative experience with some Christians that clouds my view of the entire church? Am I really evaluating Christianity and the church fairly?

In the updated Evidence that Demands a Verdict, my father and I offer two reasons the character flaws of the church should not surprise us. First, the Bible speaks of human nature as gloriously made in God’s image, but profoundly fallen in sin. Human nature is deeply flawed (Rom. 3:9–18; Mark 7:14–23). Even true Christians are capable of wretched acts. The Bible does say we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), but this is only fully realized in the next life.

Second, many who claim to be Christians have not placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ and therefore do not truly know him. Jesus taught that both believers and non- believers would be part of the institutional church, but that their true identity would not be revealed until the end (Matt. 13:24–30). He also taught that there would be people who thought they were acting in his name—even doing “many wonders,” but they will not enter the kingdom of God (Matt. 7:21–23). Just because someone claims to be a Christian, then, does not mean he or she really is. Could it be that the church is often indicted for the actions of people who are not even Christians? This is why the standard of Scripture is so important. Ultimately, we need to compare the actions of both individuals and the corporate church with the genuine teachings of the Bible.

And it is also important to place the sins of the church in perspective. Yes, the church has done some bad things. This is undeniable. But the reality is that the good far outweighs the bad. Consider just ten positive contributions of the faith:

• Hospitals, which essentially began during the Middle Ages

• Universities, which also began during the Middle Ages

• Literacy and education for the masses

• The separation of political powers

• Civil liberties

• The abolition of slavery

• Modern science

• The elevation of women

• Benevolence and charity; the Good Samaritan ethic

• High regard for human life

If you dismiss the Christian faith because of the bad things the church has done, I hope you will consider three things. First, I am truly sorry if Christians have hurt you. It pains me every time I hear the wounds of the church. Please accept my apology on behalf of the church.

Second, put the bad in perspective by comparing it to the good. As we have seen, the good far outweighs the bad.

Third, make sure you are not dismissing the teachings of Jesus because of the poor representation of those who claim to be his followers. People in the church may let you down, but Jesus never will. And yet even though Jesus turned the world upside down for good, the most important question he asked was, “Who do you say that I am?”(Mark 8:29).

Sean McDowell is a gifted communicator with a passion for equipping the church, and in particular young people, to make the case for the Christian faith. He connects with audiences in a tangible way through humor and stories while imparting hard evidence and logical support for viewing all areas of life through a biblical worldview. Sean is an associate professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University. He is the Resident Scholar for Summit California. Sean still teaches one high school Bible class, which helps him have exceptional insight into the prevailing culture so he can impart his observations poignantly to fellow educators, pastors and parents alike. In 2008, he received the Educator of the Year award for San Juan Capistrano, Calif. The Association of Christian Schools International awarded Exemplary Status to his apologetics training. Sean is listed among the top 100 apologists. He graduated summa cum laude from Talbot School of Theology with a master’s degree in theology and another in philosophy. He earned a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Worldview Studies in 2014 from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Traveling throughout the U.S. and abroad, Sean speaks at camps, churches, schools, universities and conferences. He has spoken for organizations including Focus on the Family, the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Backyard Skeptics, Cru, Youth Specialties, Hume Lake Christian Camps, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and the Association of Christian Schools International. Sean has also appeared as a guest on radio shows such as Family Life Today, Point of View, Stand to Reason, Common Sense Atheism and the Hugh Hewitt Show. Sean has been quoted in many publications, including the New York Times. Sean is the author, co-author or editor of over 18 books including The Fate of the Apostles (Routledge, 2015); A New Kind of Apologist (Harvest House, 2016); The Beauty of Intolerance (Barbour, 2016); Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, with John Stonestreet (Baker, 2014); Is God Just a Human Invention? with Jonathan Morrow; and Understanding Intelligent Design, with William A. Dembski. Sean has also written multiple books with his father, Josh McDowell, including The Unshakable Truth, More Than A Carpenter and an update for Evidence that Demands a Verdict (2017). Sean is the general editor for The Apologetics Study Bible for Students. He has also written for YouthWorker Journal, Decision Magazine and the Christian Research Journal. Follow the dialogue with Sean as he blogs regularly at seanmcdowell.org. In April 2000, Sean married his high school sweetheart, Stephanie. They have three children and live in San Juan Capistrano. Sean played college basketball at Biola and was captain his senior year on a team that went 30-7.

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