Apologetics: Answering the Coffeehouse Questions
- 2008 18 Nov
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Paul Copan's new book, When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics, (Baker Books, 2008).
Coffeehouses are natural places for people to discuss life’s deepest questions. The relaxing atmosphere and sense of community in coffeehouses can encourage lots of enriching conversations. So take advantage of the opportunities you have to talk with your non-Christian friends about God while you’re enjoying coffee, tea, or brownies together.
Here are some answers you can give to questions people often ask about God in coffeehouses:
"Why not just look out for yourself?" Focusing just on what you want is ultimately an empty and trivial desire. Also, your own desires are bound to conflict with what other people want. What will you do then? God’s commands have your best interests in mind; they’re for your good. You harm yourself when you pursue your own agenda apart from God.
"Isn't it okay to do what you want – just as long as you don’t hurt anyone?" Your choices don’t affect just you; they impact everyone around you. If you choose to act against basic moral standards, you’re bound to hurt other people. When you deny moral standards in this way, you contradict yourself because you’re insisting on the moral standards of tolerance and not hurting others while still claiming that moral standards aren’t important.
"Is it okay to lie to Nazis?" While all lying is deceiving, not all deceiving is lying. The Bible mentions several areas where deception is permissible: criminal activity and ruthless oppression, warfare, and light social deception. Certain acts (like adultery, rape, and torturing for fun) are always wrong. But you should also consider the motives, context, and consequences of an act to discern whether it’s right or wrong.
"Why is God so arrogant and egotistical?" God doesn’t demand that people worship and praise Him; He simply inspires them to do so. God is actually so humble that He was willing to leave heaven and come to our fallen world as Jesus to pay the price for our sins. God’s loving acts demonstrate His desire to serve.
"Aren’t miracles unscientific?" Miracles aren’t violations of natural law. They’re direct acts of a personal God that can’t be predicted or explained by merely natural causes or processes. They reveal God’s intervention in the world He has made. No matter how impressive a particular miracle is or how much evidence exists about it, people may still choose to resist it. But miracles do occur, and they’re always possible. Natural law doesn’t control what happens in the world; it simply describes how naturally generally operates. The One who created nature can always choose to override those general principles to accomplish certain purposes.
"Only gullible people believe in miracles, right?" Although extraordinary claims don’t demand extraordinary proof, there’s a wealth of evidence for many of the miracles God has chosen to perform – like Jesus’ resurrection. Miracles shouldn’t be evaluated just on the basis of your own experience, because that would require that you reject anything you haven’t experienced before. Throughout history, many thoughtful people have carefully evaluated miracles and come to accept them as true.
"Don't people from all religions experience God?" People of any faith or no faith can experience God at some level, such as having a profound sense of God’s presence, holiness, or transcendence. But Christians can know God in deeper ways – ways that lead to their transformation and salvation. While people of other faiths may claim to have encountered God, Christians have the benefit of the Holy Spirit to help them discern what’s true from what’s false.
"Does the Bible condemn loving, committed homosexual relationships?" God takes people where they are but loves them too much to just leave them that way. So He loves homosexual people, but not their sinful, destructive lifestyle. Christians should welcome gay people without affirming their lifestyle. The Bible condemns homosexual acts as wrong because they violate the healthy order of creation that God designed. But the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexual inclinations, which can come about in our fallen world. God offers the promise of real transformation to gay people who ask Him for healing.
"Aren’t people born gay?" While people may be born with tendencies toward sin of one kind or another (from alcoholism to homosexuality), this hasn’t been conclusively determined by science. Even if it turns out to be true, biology isn’t fate. People are much more than simply biological beings; they can choose to pursue healing for whatever issue they’re struggling with and begin to live in freedom.
"What’s wrong with gay marriage?" If you cast aside the biblical model of marriage as a union between one male and one female in favor of however people choose to define it, you open yourself up to any marriage arrangement, including group marriage, incestuous marriage, bestial marriage, pedophilia, and a host of other bizarre scenarios. Moral relativism undermines any appeal to rights. If rights exist, relativism is false. If rights exist, where do they come from? Homosexual people’s civil rights concerns can be addressed without having to change the definition of marriage.
"How can the psalmists say such vindictive, hateful things?" The outrage expressed in the Psalms is an honest expression of anger at injustice and oppression. The psalmists remind you to name the evils you witness and call perpetrators to account. That’s the first step in making matters right and finding healing. Biblical curses always allow for repentance; if those threatened with judgment change their ways and/or turn to God, God will have mercy on them.
"Aren’t the Bible’s 'Holy Wars' just like Islamic Jihad?" The Bible portrays God as compassionate and gracious, unlike the way the Qur’an, which portrays Him as an arbitrary unmotivated by moral character. Even when bringing punishment to morally depraved people in the Bible, God’s purposes are ultimately to bring about salvation. God has the right to both give and take life, and His holiness requires that He deal with people who are stubbornly unrepentant. The military campaigns of Muhammad weren’t conducted in the redeeming spirit of Christ.
"Was Jesus mistaken about an early second coming?" Some people misinterpret Jesus’ comments foreshadowing the fall of the temple in Jerusalem – which occurred around 70 AD – with references to His own second coming. Jesus said that there is no sign to look for to predict the day of His own second coming; it will be a surprise to all people. However, He called His followers to be morally and spiritually prepared for when it does happen.
"Why are Christians so divided? Why so many denominations?" Not all professing Christians are genuinely Christian; nor do those who are consistently act in Christian ways. Jesus calls His people to unity in love, but not everyone answers His call. The many denominations that are truly connected to Christ share the same essential beliefs and differ in non-essential doctrines and practices. Since no single denomination will fully capture the totality of the faith, Christians from different denominations can learn from each other and grow closer to God as a result.
Adapted from When God Goes to Starbucks: A Guide to Everyday Apologetics, copyright 2008 by Paul Copan. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.bakerbooks.com.
Paul Copan (PhD, Marquette University) is the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida. He lives with his wife and five children in Florida.