In looking at materials produced by atheist apologists, it is fascinating how many of them repeat the same old objections that have been around for years. According to these writers, the Bible endorses slavery, subjugates women, teaches an anti-scientific view of the world, and commands the faithful to wage holy war against the unbeliever. In spite of untold numbers of articles, books, web pages, blog posts, podcasts, lectures, seminars, and other sources produced by Christians refuting these allegations, criticisms persist. The Christian’s job is never done.
Jude 3 states, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” This charge applies to Christians today just as much as it did nearly two millennia ago. Throughout history, critics of the Christian faith have done very little work in trying to understand the subject of their criticism. They feel that Christianity is a naïve, simple-minded faith not worth understanding. Examples are legion, but we’ll take one specific example: Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion.
In the London Review of Books, Terry Eagleton said the following about Dawkins’ work:
Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be. If they were asked to pass judgment on phenomenology or the geopolitics of South Asia, they would no doubt bone up on the question as assiduously as they could. When it comes to theology, however, any shoddy old travesty will pass muster.
Unfortunately, this is often the case with the irreligious. But, I will quickly add that it can be true for almost anyone. Even Christians tend to spend very little time learning about other views that we criticize. We learn just enough to start making attacks and leave it at that. This cannot be the case for faithful Christians. If we are going to contend for the faith, then it is incumbent upon us to do our homework. I have seen too many caricatures of other religions or non-religion made by believers in the attempt to defend biblical Christianity. Unfortunately, these efforts usually wind up looking more like an Achilles’ heel.
Critics who fail to do their research will continue to flounder in their misunderstanding of Christianity. They may even win over others who are just as incapable of applying critical thought to the issue. This does not mean that Christians should shrink back, try to score cheap points, or create strawmen to knock down. We cannot honor Christ with half-hearted efforts or dubious arguments. Christ deserves better, and so do our critics.