As I approach the conclusion of my undergraduate studies, I have gathered from both my own experience and the experiences of friends that skepticism is all the rage, especially when it comes to Christianity. Skepticism is particularly abundant in American colleges, universities, and even some seminaries. The biggest culture shock that a Christian high school graduate will face is not life in an outdated dorm room, realizing cafeteria food will be a part of his life for the next four years, or being away from home for the first time.
No, the biggest culture shock for the Christian college freshman comes when an intelligent and overly confident professor shatters every Sunday School lesson the green student has ever heard. Things the student has always assumed. Things that are crucial to his worldview. These things are locked into the professor’s scope and are about to be blown to smithereens. And if the Christian college freshman is not careful and/or prepared to defend the faith, it will only take a few subtle questions and statements to destroy his confidence in the faith he has stood on for years.
In Truth Matters, two biblical scholars (Kostenberger and Bock) and one youth pastor (Chatraw) seek to give high school and college students a resource to show them that the skeptics do not have all the answers and that in fact many of the skeptical accusations they face are much more groundless than they appear. For anyone confronted with skeptical claims about Jesus and the Bible, Truth Matters stands as a unique and valuable apologetic resource.
Truth Matters seeks to respond to skeptical criticisms of Christianity, Jesus, and the Bible. The authors specifically respond to New Testament scholar and New York Times bestselling author, Bart Ehrman’s skeptical scholarship. The authors respond to Ehrman’s criticisms, but in doing so address the most common doubts regarding Christianity. In all, the authors approach six skepticisms: suffering (chapter 2), canon formation (chapter 3), alleged contradictions in Scripture (chapter 4), textual variants in Scripture (chapter 5), orthodoxy and heresy (chapter 6), and the resurrection of Jesus (chapter 7).
Great Guide for Students
However, the book is much more than a response to Ehrman. Ehrman directs his skeptical arguments to college students and while many responses have been given to Ehrman, none of them have been sympathetic to college and university students. Truth Matters stands as a guide for students navigating competing theories that seek to undermine their Christian faith. The book is much more than combative information. While the authors engage and rebut Ehrman’s claims, the book’s greatest strength is found in how the authors teach their readers how to listen to, approach, and respond to skeptical claims.
Truth Matters not only encourages, but teaches students how to ask the right questions about skeptical claims. Essentially, the authors urge students to borrow punches from skeptical religion and theology professors by doubting their doubts. As the authors write, “[Y]ou just need to be careful, listening, thinking…[D]igging for the deeper meaning of what’s being said is such a vital skill and exercise” (24).
Breaking Down he Skeptics
Truth Matters is one of the most practical apologetic books available for the college student. The authors carefully dissect the nature of the arguments of skeptics like Ehrman. Essentially, they show how the kind of language Ehrman and others like him use is crucial to their movement. They magnify the natural doubts of young Christians by creating their own version of Christian history, and asserting a confident level of authority all the while ignoring alternate perspectives. “That’s because to express doubt can sound subtly like the truth when it’s fashioned to speak the language of our hearts and of our common experience” (24).
The authors also break down skeptical arguments by showing just how forced many of them are. It sounds attractive and is even the rising trend to doubt and question the reliability of the Bible. It is quite popular to view the development of the canon and orthodoxy as a scandalous conspiracy. But when these skeptical claims are sifted for truth, the sifter comes up empty. Speaking to the claim that the Bible is unreliable because of text variants and the fact we only have copies of the original manuscripts, the authors write of skeptics:
Strange how some skeptics can be so assured of things like motives in the long-deceased mind of a second-century scribe, about whom they know nothing except what his handwriting may have looked like. Yet they can remain so unconvinced at what hundreds of ancient manuscripts offer as physical evidence for what the original Bible text said—manuscripts they could pull up and view on their computer tablets at home this very night (132).
Faith and Reason
One of the crucial premises of skeptics is that they are relying on reason while Christians rely on faith, which is why men like Ehrman just had to abandon the faith (and is why you should too!). They create an “artificial, scholarly boundary beyond which faith is not strong enough to travel” (14). However, the authors solidify the truth that faith and reason are not at odds in Christianity. This is demonstrated in their rebuttal of Ehrman’s “problem” with supposed contradictions in Scripture. Kostenberger, Bock, and Chatraw write,
Similarly, both the scholar and the student’s encounter with Scripture at times can feel discordant, unwieldy, hard to manage and understand. And yet by inviting truth into our exploration, we can find much peace in our struggle, both with ourselves and with others—not by believing just because we believe it but believing because it is entirely reasonable to do so (104-105).
The authors argue for a “reasoned faith” that “never asks anyone to believe something that’s not true just for the sake of believing” (174).
A Book for Youth Groups…And Any Doubting Christian
Truth Matters teaches younger Christians how to discern the skeptical claims of professors they will no doubt encounter, either directly at universities or indirectly and practically through the culture at-large. Truth Matters is a book for high school youth groups. Some of the most culture-shocking questions are about to be fired like missiles at the worldviews and belief systems of the young people in youth groups across America. This book will serve as a helpful buffer and will teach students how to go on the offense to break down claims from even the most ardent of skeptics.
After reading Truth Matters, students will see that the Christian faith is not blind belief, but entirely reasonable and has and will stand against the attacks of fierce skeptical arguments. For the college student, high school senior, and Christian struggling with serious doubt, grab Truth Matters and allow these authors to walk you by the hand through the wilderness of skepticism so that you may find yourself in the promised land that is confidence in the faith.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.