My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.
We’re nearly at the end. I was planning to collect all the final sections together and blast through them in one post, but Katie did have quite a few thoughts on these and so I might take two posts to cover them properly. I still want to blast through, though; I have loved doing this, but I have two shiny exciting new projects waiting for me and I am ready to put this one to bed and move on. Let’s get cracking.
Postscript: Belief THAT or Belief IN?
We’re still in the cadet academy frame story (don’t worry, this really is the last cadet academy scene; hang on in there). Everyone except Jason, Jeffries, and Insert Character has left the room. Jason’s hung back because he has a question. (Insert Character has apparently hung back for reasons of plot necessity.)
Jason has now, apparently, concluded that he believes the Bible is telling him the truth about Jesus. (Oh, Jason, my skeptic, I had such hopes of you. It’s such a shame you didn’t get to hear a different viewpoint.) Anyway, the question he has is whether this conclusion means he’s a Christian?
In response, Jeffries tells him that Jesus said there’s a difference between belief that and belief in. No, Jeffries, I believe you’ll find that Jesus is not, in fact, quoted anywhere as saying that. It’s a perfectly reasonable statement, but that doesn’t mean you can just attribute it to Jesus. Jeffries reads out John 3:16, which, as many of you will know, is the verse about anyone who believes in Jesus getting eternal life.
“I guess that means I’m never going to believe in Jesus,” Katie told me. “Because… eternal life? That sounds good on paper, but come on! It would get really boring! Just going on and on, not able to die… I just want some peace!”
Probably not the effect that the author of gJohn was going for, but a very valid point.
“Plus,” Katie continued, “being put into heaven is kind of a way to be reborn – reborn as a perfect form in heaven – and my interpretation of reborn is, as you know, terrifying.”
That was a twist on things that I hadn’t expected. What Katie was referring to was an idea she’d come up with in her drawings a little while ago; the Reborn, a group of zombies. I pointed out that, despite Christianity’s flaws, it was fair to say that it does not actually teach that going to heaven involves becoming a zombie.
“I know, but it still seems awful,” Katie told me. “I hate the prospect of being reborn. I just hate it.”
Although Katie, I found out in the ensuing discussion, apparently thinks that hell involves becoming a zombie. “The thing with my religion,” she told me, “is it doesn’t matter what you believe and it doesn’t matter what you think, as long as you’re nice to other people and accept them. But, if not, then you get condemned to the other life, the land of the Reborn. And there isn’t a way out, you just become a bloodthirsty monster.” Due to the lateness of the hour at this point and my desire to get on and get finished with the book, I did not, I regret to say, explore in greater detail how this fits in with Potatoisum. Must ask her about this another time.
Anyway… back in the book, Jeffries tells Jason that if you read what the Bible says about Jesus, you’ll end up believing that Jesus worked miracles, rose from the dead, etc. (except, of course, for all those of us who don’t, who are conveniently ignored at this point), but belief in is a different matter. To have belief in, Jeffries tells us, you need to see what the Bible says about you. He doesn’t back this up with any actual examples of what he thinks the Bible says about you, but then, when I had a look at Wallace’s blog to find out more, it seems that what he had in mind was the we-are-all-terrible-sinners lectures from Paul and similar rants from Jesus, so I actually think he made a good call not including those in a children’s book.
The points Wallace/Jeffries wants to make here are:
- You’re not perfect.
- God is perfect. Or, at least, if God is all-powerful and create everything from nothing, then God ‘could be’ perfect, which apparently counts as the same thing in Wallace/Jeffries’ chain of logic. (I did at this point flash back to Katie’s rather more interesting logical deduction in Chapter One, where she hypothesised that a god might potentially be really good at creating universes but not so good at, say, sports.)
- We can’t live in eternity with a perfect god when we’re not perfect, because our imperfection would spoil his perfection.
- Our mistakes, ‘whether large or small’, must be punished.
“Except,” Katie objected, “if God really was so perfect, he would accept everyone for what they are instead of saying ‘I’m sorry, you’re not perfect, you don’t get to be with me, you’re contaminating me, eugh, gross’. I can imagine that in one of those teenage girl voices,” she added.
Right on, kiddo. Nicely put.
“Also,” Katie continued, warming to her theme, “you have to be punished for your every mistake. I mean, if you deliberately choose to do something wrong, then fair enough, but your mistakes? If you accidentally stumble and fall into someone, then you have to be punished? I mean, come on, he’s a huge jerk! I realise I’m condemning myself to hell by saying all this, but, hey, whatever, I don’t care. God, I’ve decided you’re a huge jerk and I hate you and I hate Jesus too.”
Score one for Wallace’s evangelical efforts, folks! Sounds like they helped Katie make her mind up, anyway!
Anyway, back to Jason, who’s looking understandably worried at what Jeffries is telling him. Fear not, Jason! Despite the Christian God’s apparent utter inability to plan a decent afterlife for His own creations, there is a solution! God came to humans as Jesus, lived ‘the perfect life’, and ‘willingly accepted the punishment we deserve’. This means that, if we ‘accept what Jesus did for us on the cross’, God will now forgive us, despite being apparently either unwilling or unable (it’s not clear which) to do so without his version of self-harm being involved (which, among other things, makes me wonder what exactly was supposed to have happened after death to the souls of all the people who lived and died in the thousands of years before Jesus’s birth). We aren’t told how any of this is supposed to solve the problem of God being unable to tolerate imperfect people in his presence for eternity, but it’s kind of vaguely handwavingly implied that this is somehow solved, so… don’t think about it too hard, I guess.
Jason says he thinks he gets it, which is more than I do. Oh, well, never mind the problems with the ethics or logic of this theology; let’s get this done. I hoped Wallace wasn’t going to end with some horribly awkward scene of Jeffries leading Jason through reciting the Sinner’s Prayer, and this hope at least was granted; Jeffries tells Jason that this is a decision everyone has to make on their own and that he should think about it and tell God what he’s decided. So that bit, at least, I liked a lot better than the scenes I’ve seen in Christian books where impassioned missionaries lead a tearful new target through praying and converting on the spot. Jeffries tells Jason and Insert Character that he expects to see both of them at the police station sometimes (I assume he meant for visits rather than because they’ve been arrested), and the story ends with Insert Character thinking ‘deeply’ about what they learned from Jeffries.
Still not quite it, as there are a few final sections; these should be quick to deal with, so my next post really should be the final one. Nearly there!