Russell and Duenes

The Best Argument for Christianity…and the Worst

with 2 comments

I’m thoroughly enjoying my reading of A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken. This truly is a Christian classic, and I’m only sorry I’ve waited this long to read it. I’m in the section of the book where Sheldon and his wife, Davy, are students at Oxford, though they are not yet Christians. Vanauken writes at length, however, about the winsome witness of the Christians he came to know at Oxford, which took me back to conversations I’ve had with non-believers. When I’ve had occasion to speak to them about Christianity, I often ask them the question: “When you hear the word ‘Christian,’ what comes to your mind?” I don’t always get a negative answer, but I do routinely hear things like “hypocrite,” “judgmental,” “narrow,” and the like. Indeed, it is common to hear Christians these days disavowing the name “Christian,” because we don’t want the negative connotations. We call ourselves “Christ followers” or some such. I have adopted this kind of thing myself, but Vanauken wrote something on this topic in his journal as he was being confronted with the reality of Christ in the Christians he knew. He said,

“The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians–when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths. But, though it is just to condemn some Christians for these things, perhaps, after all, it is not just, though very easy, to condemn Christianity itself for them. Indeed, there are impressive indications that the positive quality of joy is in Christianity–and possibly nowhere else. If that were certain, it would be proof of a very high order”

Dallas Willard has echoed this same theme when writing about the exclusivity of Christ, stating,

Let the reality of Christian spiritual formation come to its fullness, and exclusiveness [of Christianity] will take care of itself. If the witch and the warlock, the Buddhist and the Muslim, can truly walk in holiness and power equal to that of Jesus Christ and his devoted followers, there is nothing more to say. But Christ himself, and not Christianity as a form of human culture, is the standard by which “we” as well as “they” are to be measured. (The Great Omission, 79)



Written by Michael Duenes

November 27, 2010 at 3:00 pm

2 Responses

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  1. It seems to me that 1 Peter 3:15 is saying the same thing. Perhaps the best apologetic is the gospel centered life, not the ontological argument.


    December 8, 2010 at 11:18 am

    • Agreed! Though I would never set one off against the other. I know your dichotomizing the “gospel-centered life” and the “ontological argument” is innocuous enough, but try making that dichotomy for, say, 200 years, and lo and behold you no longer have gospel-centered lives because for those who want to have a robust intellectual life, the Scriptures come to be seen as “myth,” and those who want to keep the Scriptures retreat into private, anti-intellectual, devotional notions about the Scriptures. This is a bit off-topic, I know, but I would say that Christians who live in radical allegiance to Christ, and who can, as part of that allegiance, clearly articulate things like the ontological argument, will be the most winsome kind, in my opinion.



      December 8, 2010 at 7:13 pm

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