In a video posted on The Gospel Coalition’s website last week, theologians Don Carson and Tim Keller discussed two key objections that college students have concerning Christianity and the Christian faith as a whole.
Although they believe university evangelism is easier today than it was 20 years ago, they feel that “exclusive claims of Christ” and “anything that makes sin really offensive” are the two most prominent objections to the Christian faith used by students.
In the very first episode of TGC Q&A podcast, Dr. Don Carson explained why he believes “it’s probably easier to do university evangelism today than it was 20 years ago.”
“Partly because 20, 30, 40 years ago, a lot of university students were still fighting off the background of their own history in Judeo-Christian thought. They were still rebelling,” Carson explained.
“Nowadays, they’re so bone ignorant about classic Christianity that they don’t know enough to rebel. You approach them courteously and they’ll respond with a certain degree of courteous interest.”
Dr. Keller chimed in confirming Carson’s analysis, saying, “I used to get heckled [but] I’m much less likely to get heckled today.”
Dr. Carson claimed that the most offensive thing to college students in regard to Christianity is the exclusive claims of Christ. “The question shows up in many different forms: ‘How can you say that unless you’re a Christian, you’re going to Hell? Or, what about all the Hindus or Muslims or Buddhists or whatever?’”
Carson mentions the best way to respond to this objection is to ask a few follow-up questions: “Surely you don’t think that nobody goes to Hell, do you? Then what are the criteria for who goes to Heaven?”
Dr. Keller jumped in to emphasize that those who claim only “bad” people go to hell are being exclusive themselves. “Everybody’s exclusive in some way. And I actually like, I feel like my exclusivity is a more inclusive exclusivity than yours.”
People do not like that Christianity has an objective assessment of what constitutes sin. Dr. Carson said, “Most people today in a university environment think of sin as sociologically defined. It’s a cultural definition and has no eternal status, no fundamental repulsion.” At the very core, humans do not like that the Christian faith makes sin offensive.
Dr. Keller presented a helpful illustration of a woman who worked extremely hard to put her son through college. The mother told her son that she wanted him to always work hard and care for the poor once he comes into his career.
Dr. Keller explained that he obeyed his mother’s wishes but never spoke with her again. He just ignored her despite all she had done for him.
Dr. Keller says that after this illustration has been presented to an individual you should ask, “What do you think about that? After all, that person is right and he’s being very moral…”
He says they would more than likely respond by saying, “But he owes her his whole life, and the relationship has got to be there,” or, “Even though he’s a nice guy and he’s a moral guy, he’s actually still in a sense sinning.”
“I think with illustrations like that,” Dr. Keller said, “people begin to say, ‘Oh, if there is a God, then sin would have to be an offense against Him because He keeps us alive every second. We owe Him everything,’”
The full video discussion can be found here.