At a July 15 conference in Asheville, North Carolina, evangelist Josh McDowell (a man who has pretentiously gone by the title “America’s Dad”) told the people who paid $200 to come hear him speak that the Internet is killing Christianity:
The fact is, a relationship between irreligion and the Internet was bound to happen. Religion has long enjoyed a culturally accepted free space in which to share rhetoric—the Church. Atheism has suffered the exact opposite. America’s wariness of (or its outright antagonism toward, in its greatest excesses) irreligion has forced atheism to the fringes of its society. What the Internet has provided is a free space for atheists in this nation to connect with those across the globe whose cultural milieus are more inviting of all brands of irreligion; indeed, some in which secularism is a majority viewpoint.
It is no wonder, therefore, that atheism is gaining steam in the U.S.
What McDowell and others who lament the rise of the Internet fail to realize is a that Christianity that caves in response to criticism and scrutiny is toothless, spineless, and, quite frankly, no Christianity I’d wish to be a part of. If the Christianity McDowell believes in can’t offer answers to the questioning agnostic or withstand an assault by the militant atheist, then perhaps that Christianity isn’t the faith we’re called to by Christ. If his Christianity can’t hold up to thoughtful examination in an intelligent discourse, then Josh McDowell can keep his “Christianity” and I’ll go with the real stuff. By his logic, Paul never would have debated the philosophers in Athens or made his famous speech on Mars Hill.
As the writer of Acts 17 revealed, Paul wasn’t one to shy away from a debate:
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.
He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” Others said, “He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.”
Then they took him to the high council of the city. “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said. “You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.” (It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.)
So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.”
Acts 17:16-22, New Living Translation
Of course, Paul went on to educate the council about the God they worshiped without knowing. And what was the interesting result? Oddly enough, Paul didn’t cave in the face of a debate or renounce his faith because the ensuing discussion exposed insecurities in his faith. Quite the opposite in fact:
When they heard Paul speak about the resurrection of the dead, some laughed in contempt, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.” That ended Paul’s discussion with them, but some joined him and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the council, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Acts 17:32-34, New Living Translation (emphasis added)
The Church has proven time and time again to be hostile to questions that challenge its authority or the inerrancy of its beliefs; furthermore, it has made common practice of making ad hominem attacks against the people who ask the questions or the mediums through which the questions are raised instead of addressing the substance of what’s said. Instead of seeking to make the case for Christ in the midst of the enemy’s camp, there are those within the Church who would be content to set up “family friendly” Christian copies of these things or avoid them altogether.
While Josh McDowell and his ilk sound the alarm that the Internet is killing Christianity by exposing children to ideas outside the Church’s ability to filter, the Church should really be focused on equipping its members to answer the questions the world is asking. A Church that can’t answer the world’s questions has become irrelevant and not worth the money people donate to it.