The Problems with Christianity

Chris Price Articles, Book Reviews 2 Comments

Christianity can be controversial. The claims of Christ can be uncomfortable, to put it mildly. G.K. Chesterton once wrote something like, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” Following Jesus in any culture, in any time period is difficult for a multitude of reasons. In the western world one of these reasons is that our collective reason, as a culture, resists certain Biblical teachings as foolish, oppressive, unenlightened and downright harmful. This is a problem for Christianity in the western world.

Enter Barton Priebe and his book, The Problem With Christianity, or as it could more accurately be titled, the problems with Christianity. Barton identifies six unsettling questions that people within and without the church frequently ask:

  • Why does God seem to be against Gay people?
  • Why should I believe in miracles in an age of science?
  • Why should I worship a God who commanded genocide?
  • How can there possibly be only one way to God?
  • If God is good, why is there so much evil in the world?
  • How can a loving God send people to hell?

These are great objections and Barton is not shy about tackling them head on. Throughout the book, Priebe is to be commended for the clear, unadorned nature in which he presents his ideas. Positions are accurately summarized and objections are fairly stated before the author provides the reader with a sound, thought-provoking response that is theologically robust, ecumenically sensitive, and profoundly faithful to the metanarrative of scripture. This, to me, may be one of the greatest strengths of this book. It is so easy to digest even though the ideas presented are complex and the arguments compelling. Because of this, for someone who is investigating Christianity, or for the layperson who has sat under sound Biblical preaching for decades, serving Christ with gusto, these pages will prove to be an invaluable resource.

For Pastors

The book is theologically sound, Gospel-saturated, devoid of straw men arguments and filled with helpful analogies to illuminate the ideas presented.Chris Price
I read this book as a preacher and teacher of Scripture. I just recently finished a sermon series dealing with every topic that Barton addresses so I was curious to observe how his approaches differed from my own. Though our thinking is similar on many accounts, what impressed me about this book is the manner each objection is unpacked: first by providing a big picture, foundational response or perspective, and then building on that perspective chapter-by-chapter, layer-by-layer until, as the reader, you are provided with a robust and persuasive response to the initial objection. Barton’s most successful use of this method, in my mind, is in the chapters addressing whether or not God is anti-gay, and the section of the book that tackles the violence of God in scripture.

I firmly believe that a preacher must do his own work in the text and on his knees, preaching the sermon that God has given him for the people. Still, this book equips the teacher of God’s word with a helpful, theoretical framework for addressing these controversial topics in a manner that is culturally accessible and Biblically faithful and, as such, this book deserves a spot on the bookshelf of any teacher or preacher of Scripture.

Any Complaints?

I don’t have any significant complaints to unceremoniously dump at the feet of the author. The book is theologically sound, Gospel-saturated, devoid of straw men arguments and filled with helpful analogies to illuminate the ideas presented. Obviously, each question deserves a book (or more!) to fully deal with the nuance and complexity inherent in each issue. This might be most apparent in the chapters dealing with homosexuality, which happens to be a hot-button topic in the church, giving birth to all kinds of practical questions that Barton doesn’t have space to raise or address. This is not a complaint as much as it is a statement about the necessary constraints that a project of this nature imposes on the author. I only mentioned it because I don’t wish any reader to believe the illusion that this book will answer all their questions on these topics, thereby becoming thoroughly disillusioned when it inevitably does not. Rather, receive this book as a great starting point for both the skeptic and the saint who publicly or privately wrestle with these perennial and popular criticisms of Christianity.

I will, however, register one complaint, though you may decide, as I’m sure you will, how seriously you should take it. In the opinion of this reviewer, some of Barton’s best writing comes at the end of his last chapter dealing with the topic of suffering and evil. Not only does he write a clear, helpful presentation of the moral argument for the existence of God, he writes movingly on the Gospel and the promise of a New Heavens and a New Earth. Allow me to quote him at length:

“All the great stories contain echoes of God’s big story. There is a Prince who, like in Sleeping Beauty, has slain a dragon that holds us captive. There is a place where, like in Peter Pan, we will never grow old. There is a Hero, who like in all the superhero stories will utterly vanquish evil. There is a Prince who, like in Cinderella, has taken us from rags to the riches of being his bride. There is a day coming when, like Frodo in the Lord of the Rings, we will end our journey in the east and the ships will come to carry us home to the undying lands in the West, where white shores call and all turns to silver glass. Christians can enjoy these stories and, when they are done, say to each other, ‘Because of what God has done for us in Jesus, we will get all of this and far more.’ Christians believe that our longing for the world to be put right is more than mere wishful thinking, or, worse, naïve thoughts of children living in a fantasy world. We believe these longings are the ancient echoes of Eden within our souls – that through Jesus, God is working everything together toward a day when his kingdom will restore – even exceed – what was lost in this world so filled with evil.”[1]

Forgive the extended quotation, but even reading these paragraphs again I am deeply moved. The ghost of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien haunt these beautiful words, though Priebe fairly gives credit to Timothy Keller for inspiring the above paragraphs. For me, the book crescendo’s at this moment and I am left inspired, moved, profoundly impacted by the truth of the Christian worldview and the hope it provides in the midst of hardship. I think it was Blaise Pascal who advised Christian apologists to make people wish an idea were true and then show them that it is, in fact, true. For this reader, the author has achieved that in the above words.

So, what was my complaint? Well, simply stated, the book didn’t end there. Instead there was another few chapters on hell. The writing in these pages was certainly orthodox, profound at places, well-paced and well-written but, for me, anti-climatic. My only suggestion is that when it comes time for a second edition the order of the topics be switched around to allow the book to end on the ringing note of God’s great renewal project that extends to all who trust in Christ in the present and to all of the cosmos in the future.

But, regardless of whether or not this humble suggestion is taken into consideration when it comes time for a second edition, the first edition of The Problem with Christianity, is worth reading. I recommend it wholeheartedly to you. The book can be bought from the Apologetics Canada Store. Find it under the “Books” tab.

Check out the book’s website at www.theproblemwithchristianity.com

 

About the Author

Chris Price

Chris Price is the lead pastor at Calvary Baptist church and the author of Suffering with God, published by Apologetics Canada. He lives in Port Coquitlam, B.C. with his beautiful wife Diandra and his two children Kaeden and Mila.

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[1] Barton Priebe, The Problem with Christianity, p. 160

Comments 2

  1. The problems with Christianity are not the claims of Christ that make people uncomfortable.

    The problems with Christianity are internal. Like Historicity and the near complete erosion of any bearing on reality and the actual universe we live in. If, taken as a literal text and not a mystical tradition.

    I would say that the biggest problem with Christianity is it takes normal people and twists them into immoral monsters with a veneer of morality on the surface. I say this from experience as a believer and bible teacher for many years. As someone with experience within different church families and organizations.

    Any Man who believes and accepts the basic doctrines of Christianity as it is understood today by most fundamentalists, is internally morally corrupt and evil yet convinced they are the righteous of the earth based on the belief in blood atonement.

    This kind of Christianity blinds the eyes and stumps the ears and deceives the soul into belief that they are open wide. It solves only superficial problems and covers over the deep issues of the person. All the while encapsulating the person in a cult mentality separating them from family and friends with invisible mental and emotional walls.

    The truth is the person has to believe and accept completely immoral and depraved ideas like Eternal Torment or Blood Atonement because if you reject them you yourself might end up in eternal torment (fear) and the guilt that has been injected into your mind and subconscious for years. It is classic mental programming (brainwashing) from perhaps infancy. So you really cant even help yourself, for to be honest, to step back and question would be psychological suicide in many ways.

    The ironic thing is, If the text of the Bible is analyzed in many ways it really doesn’t reflect the theological traditions that have been forced on it by the ensuing generations of believers.

    The Bible is a collection of writings by men. Much of it by unknown authors with traditional names attached to them based on religious belief and not evidence.

    The Bible does not sit over man, man stands over the Bible. It was written by him, read by him and interpreted by him. If it is looked at in the correct light it can be helpful if not it can be extraordinarily harmful and destructive to the individual, the community and the world. It has been so in the past and it might be in the future if men and women don’t begin to embrace the universe they actually live in and the earth they actually come from.

  2. Eternal Torment is a critical issue, a very big problem for Christianity. Think of renowned people for whom Hell was a big factor alongside others like Evolution and Evil (Charles Templeton -Farewell to God, Brian Baker -From Faith to Reason, ex-atheist Anthony Flew -There IS a God). Although Creation convinced Flew, like so many, he could not believe in Jesus because of eternal conscious torment. What is Eternal punishment? Although an oversimplification, please consider :
    1-How long do you believe the judging goes on in the “eternal judgment”? Heb 6:2
    A- Basically Judged & Re-Judged each & every day every moment Forever, for the rest of eternity
    B- Or finally judged just once…but last judgment is permanent, eternal, for the rest of eternity
    2-How long do you believe the saving goes on in the “eternal salvation”? Heb 5:9
    A- Basically Saved & Re-saved each & every moment Forever, for the rest of eternity
    B- Or fully/finally saved once…but it is permanent/irreversible, for the rest of eternity
    3-How long do you believe the redeeming goes on in the “eternal redemption”? Heb 9:12
    A – Basically Redeemed/re-redeemed each and every moment Forever, for the rest of eternity
    B- Or fully Redeemed once… but it is permanent, irreversible, for the rest of eternity
    4- How long do you believe the destructing of Hell goes on in “eternal destruction”?2Th1:9
    A – Basically Destroyed/Re-destroyed each & every moment Forever, for the rest of eternity?
    B- Or finally DESTROYED ONCE… but it is permanent/irreversible/for the rest of eternity
    5- How long do you believe the condemnation goes on in “eternal condemnation”? Mk3:29
    A – Basically Condemned/Re-Condemned each & every moment Forever, for the rest of eternity
    B- Or finally CONDEMNED ONCE… but it is permanent/irreversible/for the rest of eternity
    6- How long do you believe the punishing of Hell goes on in the “eternal punishment”? Matt 25:46
    A – Basically Punished/Re-punished each and every moment Forever, for the rest of eternity?
    B- Or finally PUNISHED ONCE… but it is permanent/irreversible/eternal/for the rest of eternity

    Were you consistent? Think! Unless you can answer A to #1-3, you are inconsistent to answer A to #4-6 because these sentences with word “eternal” are exactly the same. So, if B to #1-3, then you should at least consider B for #4-6. If not, why not?

    The point of 6 questions is to show that our view/understanding of eternal comes from outside ideas/texts. Now, note powerfully that the DURATION can be exactly the same – i.e. all 6 imparted ONCE (redeemed/destroyed once) but all permanent, irreversible, for the rest of eternity, hence all ETERNAL. Wow! Further, could this be the plain consistent meaning of eternal for entire scriptures, including for Mt 25:46 and especially for “eternal life“. I`d have to say Yes! Although we have a measure of life now, many Scripture says life is fully GIVEN ONCE at the applicable resurrection/judgment… when mortality is swallowed up, when we will be MADE ALIVE (finally/fully ONCE but only) at His coming (1Cor 15:22-23), when we receive (once)… in the AGE TO COME, ETERNAL LIFE (Luke 18:30). It’s all the same. So for Mt 25:46

    “And these shall go away into eternal punishment (a just and complete permanent destruction imparted once at the just judgment exactly like at Flood and at Sodom), but the righteous into eternal life” (a permanent life also imparted once at his coming, in the age to come).

    Again, WOW! Once it is understand that eternal life is basically imparted ONCE in the age to come (per John 6:40 at last day when raised to life from the dead), we can see that the eternal punishment is an everlasting destruction FROM GOD’s glory, a Second permanent death, and also that eternal conscious torment is not really found in Mt 25:46 – and it is usually the #1 verse quoted in support of eternal torment.

    Since Hell is such a big issue for many people like Flew, I think we should make sure it is fully re-studied. Think about it: Just like before Flood, evil is now everywhere and God will have once again to restrain us by destroying this earth and make it completely new, where there will be no more pain, suffering, evil, death. There is again only one way out. So get on with Christ and come!

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