“I just don’t believe that the Bible is inspired.”
“I could never believe that the Bible is inspired.”
Are these two statements the same? On the surface they may seem to communicate the same message, but do they? Can you spot a subtle difference, other than the different word choices?
A Christian who has a lot of experience talking about the Gospel may have learned to discern the difference between the two. The first statement expresses a certain belief, or lack thereof. The second statement expresses the inability or unwillingness to believe. You should see by now that the two statements do not in fact say the same thing, but rather they are saying very different things.
When speaking with non-believers, it is important to discern for yourself whether their objections are intellectual objections, or objections of belief or knowledge, or if they are personal objections, or objections due to a deeply held emotion or prejudice. While there is much crossover between the two, it is useful to take a look at each type and see how best to discern and deal with them. We will first broadly deal with the two types by looking at some examples from Scripture. Later we will examine how to handle them.
In John 20:24-29, we see the story of Thomas. Jesus has died and resurrected, but Thomas is a little behind in his knowledge. The disciples, others of whom were also skeptical like Thomas, have encountered just encountered the risen Christ, and are trying to tell Thomas about it. Thomas, for whatever reason, is unwilling to believe them. He says in verse 25, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” Thomas has an intellectual objection!
It is worth our time to pause a moment and see the world from Thomas’s perspective. He has spent many months on the road with Jesus. He has lived with Jesus closely, and has seen many wonders. He has seen people healed, the dead raised, and sinners forgiven. He has seen Jesus outsmart the Jewish authorities time and again. He has come to love Jesus dearly, and even see Jesus as an invincible ruler. Now, a few days earlier, the very people Jesus has outsmarted for so long have killed Jesus. Thomas’s good friend is gone, and he is hurting.
So what does Thomas do? He creates a defense in his mind that he will no longer get his hopes up unless he has some hard evidence. It is a totally natural response, one for which Thomas should not be faulted by us. Several days later Jesus appears to the disciples, and first addresses Thomas with the proof Thomas had required. Jesus even calls Thomas ‘blessed’ for seeing and then believing.
This interaction between Jesus and Thomas shows us that an intellectual objection to the Gospel is something to be understood and addressed. As long as a person wants to believe, and is responsive in the face of contrary evidence, we should gently and purposefully expose them to facts and arguments tailored to address their concerns. We will deal more with a specific strategy in a later section.
Contrast Jesus’ response to Thomas, which while firm, was also loving and meaningful to Thomas, with Jesus’ response to the Pharisees. In Matthew 23, Jesus has nothing but woe and warning for the Pharisees. In fact, from earlier interactions between Jesus and the Pharisees, one might notice that Jesus rarely answers the questions of the Pharisees directly. Rather, Jesus answers with other questions, or with parables, or with words of woe! Why is there a difference between Jesus’ answer to Thomas and Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees?
The difference may be found in the nature of the Pharisee’s objections, versus the nature of Thomas’s objections. Both Thomas and the Pharisees saw Jesus at his most powerful and most inspiring, but they came to very different conclusions about who Jesus was. In the end, Thomas doubted because he lacked knowledge. The Pharisees doubted because they refused to believe.
Why did the Pharisees refuse to believe? What was their objection? They were in positions of power and influence and were used to the perks and admiration that comes with such power. This blinded them to who Jesus was. In short, their objections were not intellectual, although some Pharisees masked it as such. They knew the Scriptures and its prophecies well; they witnessed Jesus’ wisdom and power; they saw people healed. And yet, in the end, their personal reasons for doubting Jesus won the day.
That is the nature of personal objections. Put simply, they are objections that arise from some experience, belief, or opinion that are not subject to rational scrutiny. They are probably emotional in nature, making them very difficult to counter with reason. They may be the result of a deeply help bias or prejudice. The Pharisees objected based on fear of losing their power, and a contempt of those not educated in their tradition, demonstrating both emotion and prejudice.
Test Questions to Consider
Think of one example of an intellectual objection and one example of a personal objection that you have faced. What things were useful in countering each one?
Read John 4 and the story of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well. Write two pages on her objections to Jesus, both intellectual and personal, and how Jesus countered those objections.
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