Why does secular America reject Christianity? They certainly have a right to do so. The inquisitive mind, however, asks why.
To find out, I have talked to many people over the years and asked them the reason why they reject Christianity. There are two consistent answers I hear most often.
Sometimes it is because of the behavior of Christians, like the attitudes they see from the Christian right, or the way they see parts of the church treat gays, lesbians and transgendered people or even hatred they see expressed toward Muslims.
While I share those concerns, I wholeheartedly embrace Christianity. Thus, is this a legitimate rationale for rejecting Christianity?
Perhaps there is another motivation.
Maybe they just want to do their own thing and don’t want Christianity inhibiting what they can and cannot do. This was the case of Aldous Huxley.
He voiced his motivation for rejecting God when he said, “I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently, assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption.” Huxley’s motivation resembles what the prominent philosopher Charles Taylor calls the subtraction theory.
According to Taylor, “the core of the subtraction theory consists of this: that we needed to get these perverse and illusory condemnations off our back, and the value of ordinary human desire shines out, in its true nature, as it has always been.”
Thus, the motivation is that Christianity inhibits one’s autonomy. This motivation falls in line with a postmodern framework, which says that all claims to truth are masks of power.
The New York Times best-selling author Tim Keller labels these types of motivations as spiritual inoculation. He describes this condition as follows: “Inoculation introduces a mild form of a disease into a body, thereby stimulating the growth of antibodies and rendering the person immune to getting a full-blown version of the sickness.
“In the same way, post-Christian society contains unique resistance and ‘antibodies’ against full-blown Christianity. For example, the memory of sustained injustices that flourished under more Christianized Western societies has become an antibody against the gospel.”
In other words, they reject a belief out of hand without a comprehensive understanding of what they are rejecting.
The mild form of the disease represented by the two illustrations just mentioned is bad behavior of Christians and the hindrance of personal autonomy. What’s interesting is what’s missing from their decision, namely the rejection of the central core teaching of the Christian faith. Oftentimes, the central core teaching is not even understood.
This teaching can be located by discovering the overall narrative of the Bible. This requires that one read the Bible as one story, communicated through four motifs that unfold chronologically. The motifs are creation, fall, redemption and restoration.
The Bible begins by letting us know that God created the world and that everything that he made was good. There was no pain, no corruption, no death and no disease. The perils that we know today in our human experience did not exist. There was no racism, killing or sexual exploitation.
Also, Adam and Eve, the first human beings, enjoyed perfect fellowship with God.
This changed the day Adam and Eve rejected God’s rule by rejecting his command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of good and evil. Because of their disobedience, all parts of God’s creation, once perfect, were suddenly corrupted. Adam and Eve went from being morally innocent to living in a state of sinfulness. They responded by covering their nakedness by sewing fig leaves together to make loin clothes to cover their shame, fear, self-consciousness and guilt that had experienced for the first time.
It is the same reason why you and I struggle with these same feelings. We were born disconnected from God. Thankfully, right after the fall, God began a process of salvation to correct this disconnect, a plan that will culminate when Jesus returns.
Most of the rest of the Bible, up to the very end, covers the third motif, redemption. Redemption is how salvation is carried out. The plan called for Jesus to pay the ransom that needed to be paid for the sin of mankind. According to Mark 10:45b, Jesus “came … to give his life as a ransom for many.” His duty was to be the sacrifice that paid the ransom to restore what was lost in the fall.
The story of redemption unfolds in both the Old and New Testament beginning with the patriarch Abraham and ending with the person of Jesus Christ. It shows that God so loved people, despite their rejection of him, that he sent Jesus to endure the wrath that their sins deserved on the cross so that they might restore everything that was lost in the fall and enjoy everlasting life.
The scope of Jesus’s ministry involves looking at the four different functions he served. Each function illustrates who he is and what he has done for us.
First, Jesus serves as “the Savior” and not just “a savior.” Thus, Jesus alone has the power to rescue men and women from the due punishment of their sins.
Second, he is the lamb of God because he served as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. No human sacrifice would do.
Third, he is our high priest because he offered himself to serve as the perfect sacrifice to satisfy the demands of God’s law. Unlike the previous priests who had to offer endless sacrifices, Jesus’s death on the cross represents the one and only sacrifice needed to atone for mankind’s sin. As high priest, Jesus also serves as a mediator between God and man.
Last, Jesus is the king of all, meaning that he alone reigns supreme as King and Lord of all, making him supreme over all other kings.
Thankfully, the ramifications that came about through the fall are not eternal. The last motif involves a complete restoration of all things.
The reason why evil can be eradicated is because justice was served by Jesus on the cross. The promise to renew the world will be fully realized. Christ will return and usher in peace, where Jesus “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
Mankind and creation will be restored to what it was meant to be before the fall.
So, to reject Christianity, at least with some integrity, requires that one find solid reasons to reject the Christian salvation story.
Tim Orr is an adjunct faculty member is religious studies at IUPUC, where he has served for nearly 10 years. He is the author of two books, and will release his third book, “Letters to My Daughter,” in November. In the book, he shares the story of how tragedy was turned into triumph after he lost his wife. You can visit his website at timorr.net.