Greg Gilbert, pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky (full disclosure: Third Avenue is where I am a member), wants you to “get” Christianity. That’s why, for example, he has a Masters in theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor’s degree from a little New England school called Yale. It’s also why Greg has written, to date, three short, easy-to-read volumes on the basics of Christian belief: What Is the Gospel, Who Is Jesus, and now, Why Trust the Bible.
Greg’s latest work Why Trust the Bible? is a brief primer on why and how the Bible stands up to even the most strident criticism and examination. I asked Greg if he’d be willing to answer 5 questions about Why Trust the Bible, and he graciously did so.
How did doing an undergraduate at an Ivy League school help you prepare for articulating the kind of arguments you’re making in “Why Trust the Bible”?
People ask me sometimes if I experienced any “culture shock” coming from a small town in East Texas to Yale. Other than eventually forcing myself to love coffee, the main thing was that all of a sudden, essentially no one approached Christianity with the same deference and presupposed acceptance that was normal for basically everyone in my home town. All of a sudden, every proposition of my faith was under question by peers and professors alike, and so I had to do the really hard work of figuring out not just what I believed, but why. At first, I think I took a fairly defensive posture in the conversations I was having. My main goal was just to be able to say, “I believe this, and that’s intellectually defensible.”
But over time, I think I finally got frustrated with that approach and decided to go on offense. I didn’t want to end the conversation just having shown that it was okay for me to be a Christian. I wanted to show people that the pressure really was on them, not me. They needed to defend themselves for not believing that Jesus rose from the dead.
That was an intellectual revolution for me–to realize that the evidence for Christianity is actually so good that a Christian can go on offense with a non-believer and challenge them to defend their unbelief.
In your own ministry context, do you tend to see more people doubting the trustworthiness of the Bible due to intellectual/logical issues or due to personal/existential crises?
It’s almost always a tangle of issues. Intellectual questions can introduce the kind of doubt that leads to personal crisis, and personal crisis can lead people to doubt the Bible on an intellectual level. So it’s important always to deal with both sides at the same time; you have to get the wheel turning, and it’s impossible to make half of it turn if the other half isn’t turning as well. Does that make sense?
3. What’s one common mistake you see Christians making when it comes to dialoguing with non-Christians about the trustworthiness of the Bible and Christianity?
I think the most damaging mistake is accepting the world’s assumption that we don’t really have good reasons for believing what we do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Christians get backed into a conversational corner and finally just throw up their hands and say something like, “Well I can’t prove it to you! You just have to accept it on faith!” And of course when we do that, the unbeliever just chuckles and walks away thinking, “That’s what I thought.”
But the Christian faith isn’t like that at all. We don’t accept it on an empty “leap of faith.” No, there are solid reasons for believing what we do about Jesus. There are reasons for believing the Bible is trustworthy, for believing that Jesus really did rise from the dead, and for believing that he really is who he said he is. And the thing is–they’re not just reasons that will be convincing only to those who are already convinced! They’re reasons that, if we understand them and use them well, can challenge an unbeliever to rethink his unbelief. I think that’s what Peter meant when he said, “Always be ready to make a defense for the hope that is in you.” That word “defense,” doesn’t mean “defense” as we hear that word. It means “case.” Make a case. Have reasons that will not only make you feel better, but will make an unbeliever feel unsettled.
What author(s) has been particularly helpful to you in thinking about these questions? Specific books?
There are a lot, and many of them are mentioned in footnotes and also in an appendix in Why Trust the Bible. None of the arguments I make in that book are original to me (well, maybe one or two!). The idea was just to take the massive, detailed case Christians have made for centuries about the reliability of the Bible and put it in a form that Christians can read and grasp and use quickly and (I hope) easily.
If you had time to say only one sentence to an atheist to provoke them to consider Christianity, what would that sentence be?
“Did Jesus really rise from the dead, and how can you be so sure?”
Be sure to pick up pastor Greg’s new book Why Trust the Bible, available everywhere.