The above question was the gold standard in my fundamentalist Baptist denomination whenever attempting to “share the Gospel of Jesus Christ” with a non-believer (non-Christian). So how would I answer this question today?
Christian: Gary, if you die tonight, do you know where you will spend eternity?
Gary: Probably in the ground.
Christian: The Bible tells us that death is not the end. Our souls will continue to exist for all eternity after we each die.
Gary: Why should I believe the Bible?
Christian: Because it is God’s Word.
Gary: How do you know that the Bible contains God’s words?
Christian: Because the Bible says it does.
Gary: So you know that the Bible contains God’s words because the Bible says it contains God’s words? Isn’t that a circular argument?
Christian: The choice is yours, Gary. You can choose to believe God and his Word and be saved, or, you can stubbornly persist in rejecting God and his Word and when you die you will suffer eternal punishment in Hell.
Gary: Wait a minute! I asked you for proof that the Bible contains God’s words. At first you responded by giving me a circular argument, that X is true because X says it is true. When I pointed out that this is illogical thinking you then resorted to threatening me. What’s up with that??
Christian: I’m sorry that it comes across as threatening you, but what I am doing is actually in your best interest, Gary. I am attempting to rescue you from a terrible fate, similar to someone standing on a road and waving down motorists who are about to drive over a bridge that has been washed out.
Gary: I appreciate the fact that you are genuinely concerned about my well-being but that doesn’t change the fact that you have not provided me with any good evidence whatsoever that “the bridge really is washed out“. So even if it is well-intended, your scare tactics are inappropriate if you do not have better evidence for your claim.
Christian: You must believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior to avoid an eternity in Hell, Gary. It’s that simple.
Gary: Sorry, but modern science has proven that brain-dead people do not come back to life. Jesus is still dead. “Believing” in him isn’t going to do me one iota of good.
Christian: But Jesus’ grave was found empty!
Gary: I don’t care if his grave was empty or not. There are many natural explanations for an empty grave.
Christian: But over five hundred people saw Jesus alive again. Many of these five hundred people suffered terrible persecution, torture, and even death in their belief that they had seen a resurrected Jesus.
Gary: You can’t prove that. We do not have even one verifiable eyewitness testimony from any person (including Paul) who claims to have seen a literal, walking, talking, fish-eating corpse. For all we know, they all saw a bright light and thought they had seen Jesus, just like some Roman Catholics today see a cloud formation and think they have all seen the Virgin Mary.
Christian: But the four Gospels are four independent, eyewitness accounts of Jesus life and resurrection written by two of the disciples of Jesus and two associates of his disciples. How could these four eyewitness accounts be wrong?
Gary: The majority of modern scholars no longer believe that the traditional authors wrote the Gospels or even that eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels. And this majority opinion of modern scholars is not limited to atheist and liberal Christian scholars who reject the reality of the supernatural. Mainstream Christian scholars such as Raymond Brown and NT Wright also doubt the traditional authorship of the Gospels. In truth, we have no idea who wrote these four books or how much of their stories is true.
Christian: All that may be true, Gary, but do you really want to take a chance and end up in Hell? Wouldn’t it be smarter to believe and be wrong than not believe and be wrong?
Gary: If Christianity and atheism/agnosticism were my only two choices, then yes, it would be smarter to “hedge my bets”. But Christianity is not the only exclusivist belief system. There are many others, including Islam. There is no “safe bet”, Mr. Christian. I have to choose one belief.
I choose reason and the scientific method because reason and the scientific method indicate to me that your fear-based belief system is nothing more than an ancient superstition. As an educated person living in the modern era in the 21st century I do not believe in invisible spirits, devils, and other ghouls. They are imaginary boogeymen, and boogeymen do not exist. Belief in such entities belongs in our scientifically ignorant past. They should not be acceptable beliefs in modern, educated society.