While on a campus at the University of Maine, my friend Oliver and I spoke to a college student (Jenna, I think). She was energetic, passionate, and a bit incensed. What had her so upset was that we seemed to be saying that religious claims could be false. In answering “no” to the question of, “Can religious claims be false,” I think she was objecting on three levels.

First was in the category of being. She seemed confident that religious claims were not of a “True or False” nature. For her, they reside in an experiential realm that can only be true.

The second level was in the category of knowing. Who are you to SAY that the religious claims of another are false. There is no way for any of us to know anything with certainty. When I challenged her on this point, she doubled down and affirmed that absolutely nothing was knowable. I should have asked her if she “knew THAT with certainty.” But I didn’t.

The third level was in the category of morality. This part was the least coherent to me, though the punch line was clear. It is immoral for you to oppress another human being by saying they are wrong or hold to false ideas. Again, when pressed, she doubled down on this. She adamantly oppressed us with her statements that we were wrong. I didn’t mention this, either. I did ask her if she would warn a friend that was doing something dangerous. “No. They’re an adult. They can make their own choices.”

Conversations, especially somewhat energetic ones, are never as linear as a storybook dialogue. The topic is never handled with the focused attention of a formal debate. It moves around, jumps ahead, backtracks, and sometimes disappears altogether. In another conversation I had last week, I came to a point, after asking some probing questions, where I said to myself, “well, where do I go with this?”

So, here is my opportunity to take the conversation with Jenna and point out some things I was unable to at the time or expand on things that I only partially covered. I hope you don’t mind me bringing you along as we consider the question, “Can religious claims be false?”

In the first place, I really appreciate Jenna’s fire. Youthful zeal can be a refreshing antidote to the forgetful pessimism that can come with age. I’m ashamed to admit it, but we can begin to forget the radical transforming power of the Gospel. Our memories of how Jesus saved us becomes almost commonplace. We forget that it was dark once, very dark, but now there is light! This is where young people can bless the older. And the older can bless the younger by adding wisdom to their zeal because zeal without wisdom is not good.

Regarding her three-fold objection, the ontological level of the objection might be the most important. Are religious claims such that they even CAN be right or wrong? Most emphatically, yes. In fact, they must be of that sort. Consider this: some forms of Buddhism say there is no god, Christianity says there is a God. Can there be a God and not be a God, at the same time and in the same sense? Obviously not. Either there is a God or there is not. It cannot be both. Either God made man, or He did not; either Jesus died for the sins of the world, or He did not.  Either Christ rose from the dead, or He did not; either He will return in power, or He will not. Do you want to talk more about your faith? Find out if it is actually true. See what that does to you. Two things motivate me to talk about Jesus. One is the firm foundation that we have for (and in) the Bible. The other is Jesus, Himself. As I see His glory, I talk about Him more. My heart overflows (but that’s for another discussion).

Taking this from another angle, I remember hearing Larry Blythe describe using a helpful method and have used it myself with good result. I asked a Buddhist student to help me with a dilemma. I have a Mormon friend who wants me to become a Mormon, on the one hand. And she, my Buddhist friend, wants me to become a Buddhist, on the other hand. How can I discern which path I should choose? Who is right? What comes out of their mouth next is at times some reason (I can’t remember ever a fully formed argument). Often, there is no reason offered yet rarely do they fail to see the need for some way to adjudicate between competing religious claims. This example shows that we must say, “Yes, religious claims can be false!”

How can I adjudicate between Christianity and all other world religions? Jesus rose from the dead in space/time history. That is an objective and verifiable claim that you and I can stake our eternal destinies upon.

On the order of knowing, very little needs to be said except to highlight that her objection proves too much. If you can’t know anything objectively or authoritatively, then even that statement is unknowable. We are left with the possibility of knowing SOMETHING about SOMETHING, which is all we need to make the case. But beyond this, she had it the wrong way around. We are not claiming that we have authority to say that other religions are false. We are saying that Jesus has that authority. We don’t know. He does know. We trust Him to be right, not ourselves.

Lastly, in the order of morality, I want to say something rather firmly. It may come off as sounding mean or unloving. But I assure you, it is meant with sincere love. If you will not warn your friends from real dangers, you are a false friend. You do not love your friends, you love YOU. You refuse to speak to their good because it might disrupt your enjoyment of their company and conversation. Or worse, it may disrupt your peaceful vibe. The appropriate moral mandate here is to love your neighbor as yourself. If you were about to drink prussic acid, would you want someone to warn you? Yes. You would. So do that for them.

Here’s the takeaway from all of this. The Gospel is an objective set of propositions that are either true or false. You can know they are true because God confirmed the message by raising Jesus from the dead. A fact for which we have accurate records from credible witnesses. Because Jesus lives, you can have assurance that all of God’s promises will come to fruition. My friend, I want you to trust completely the One who died for our sin according to the scripture, was buried, and was raised from the dead according to the scripture. This happened in the real world, this world, not some mystical world somewhere else.

Now that we have answered “yes” to the question, “Can religious claims be true,” you might enjoy this post on the question, “Is evangelism judgmental?”

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