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God's Feast: Debunking the Greatest Argument Against the Truth of Christianity


Jesus at Last Supper



The Passing of a Pastor


On May 19, 2023, after an arduous battle with pancreatic cancer, the esteemed Presbyterian pastor and best-selling author Timothy Keller returned home to the Lord. That very day — after reading article after article about Keller’s legacy and his profound impact on modern Christian thought — I decided to turn to YouTube to watch the late great pastor speak.


I came across a video from over a decade ago, where Keller was being interviewed at Columbia University. (This intrigued me especially, because I was a student at Columbia at the time of the interview. However, Keller was not yet on my radar.) As Keller was questioned by Martin Bashir and other iconoclasts, it became painfully apparent that Keller was not in friendly territory. I do not mean that Keller was not treated with graciousness and respect (that is Columbia’s modus operandi after all), but rather, it was clear that he was not in “friendly territory” in the sense that this humanistic institution of learning was clearly not trying to promote Christian dogma in any way.


The Ignorance of the Highly Educated


Let us pause here for a second and ask ourselves why that is exactly? As I just pointed out, Columbia emphasizes a peaceful and respectful environment for scholarly discussions to transpire. This all seems paradoxical at first glance. Peace and respect for others can be summed up in the Christian value of loving one’s neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), so why then would this university seemingly place itself in opposition to Christianity? I believe that the answer to this question can be found in what I found to be the most interesting thing that Keller said during the interview.


Amidst a barrage of the same old questions skeptics typically espouse against the faithful – why do bad things happen to good people, is faith in God reasonable, isn’t God just a man-made invention, etc. and so forth – Keller kept his cool and even at times won his interviewers over, using his clear-headed logic, unwavering calm, and disarming self-effacing kindness. He reduced the interviewers’ stony faces of indignation to laughs and unforced smiles.


False Christians


There was one point of contention, however, that gave Keller pause in his defense of God, and this highly divisive issue is what too often separates the intellectual (and pseudo-intellectual alike) from the steadfastly faithful. Bashir cited an argument from atheist author Christopher Hitchens. Keller agreed with Hitchens’ point, saying it is indeed “the greatest argument against the truth of Christianity.”


What was this point with which Keller was agreeing with a renown atheist? It is that the behavior of so-called “Christians” oftentimes flies right in the face of the Christian value of love. We all know exactly what he means. There are far too many judgmental, self-righteous “Christians” who pervert the teachings of the faith through Biblical selectiveness, which they use in order to mask their hatred of others behind a shroud of religion. In so doing, they do incredible harm to the proliferation of the faith.


The Metaphor


I want to look at this point more in depth, and I want to do so through an extensive (yet simple) metaphor I have constructed. It is my goal to frame this so-called “greatest argument against the truth of Christianity” in such a way that it can be understood more clearly by believers and non-believers alike, so that it is no longer a stumbling block for the faithful and other would-be followers.


The Best Restaurant in the Neighborhood


Let us imagine that the whole world is one average sized neighborhood. In this neighborhood, there are half a dozen restaurants. There is one restaurant, however, that is clearly the best. It is the busiest restaurant in town. The reason it is so busy is because it has the best chef in town. His meals are without a doubt the tastiest and most nourishing. They are truly out of this world. He uses only the very best ingredients, and he makes each meal with love. What is more, the menu prices are comparable with all the other restaurants in town.


So, the question becomes, if this restaurant has the best chef, he makes the best food, and the prices are comparable to the so-called competition, why would anyone ever go to another restaurant? There are a few reasons for this.


Some restaurants in the neighborhood are of a certain ethnic variety, and because of that, people of a particular background think that they will be treated better at that establishment. Some, just live closer to certain restaurants, so they go there out of convenience. And others just don’t believe in going out to eat at all. But above all – beyond cultural appeal, proximity, or an aversion to restaurants – there is one main reason that many people avoid the most popular restaurant in town.


The problem with the so-called best restaurant in town is it has so many bad reviews. Every bad review says the same thing. “The servers are terrible.” That is, the wait staff at this restaurant leaves a lot to be desired. The chef makes the perfect meal but getting it to your table without any issues seems to be quite difficult for much of the staff. All critics of this eatery say that these poor service workers are the greatest argument against going to this restaurant. (You see where we are going with this metaphor?)


It makes sense that one would rather get a worse meal somewhere else if it is served up better. What people should know is that there are many very capable servers at this restaurant, it’s just that most of the reviews are written about the poor service of an ever-present few. What is more, people tend to completely ignore the good reviews. The reviews that say “it is the best meal [they] have ever had” are dismissed out of hand as mere hyperbole or as if they come only from those ignorant of what good food actually tastes like.


Admittedly, the good and bad reviews are both telling the truth. The food served at this restaurant is the best food imaginable, but much of the staff is inept at their job. Not only are there those servers who are not good at meeting the needs of the customer, but there are also those who steal others’ tips and take from the register; both types of poor service workers (which are by no means mutually exclusive) are in fact the greatest argument against going to this restaurant.


The Explanation of the Metaphor


Let us unpack this metaphor now. In so doing, I hope to find a defense that Christian apologists (like Keller) can levy against atheists (like Hitchens) who try to use false Christians as an argument against the truth of Christianity.


So, as we said, the whole world is one average sized neighborhood. The half a dozen restaurants in town each represent a major religion. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. To say that the prices of the restaurants are comparable, is to say that the requirements of each religion — prayer, alms, sacraments, etc. — are similar in terms of what they ask of their followers (generally speaking). Nonetheless, Christianity with its more than 2 billion followers is the most popular religion in the world. This is alluded to in the metaphor by referring to it as the “busiest” restaurant in town.


The metaphor continues: there are some who only go to the restaurant in town that is ethnically geared to them, there are some who only go to a restaurant because it is closest to them, and there are others who don’t go to restaurants at all. The first is an allusion to those who are born into a particular religion. For instance, when someone is referred to as “Jewish” – it sometimes has to do with religion, other times it is used to describe ethnic background. Others, who only go to whatever restaurant is closest to them, is an allusion to those who are born in a nation that is defined by its religion. For instance, those born into Islamic countries who are subsequently practicing Muslims. And as for those who don’t go out to restaurants at all, that is a reference to atheists and agnostics who don’t subscribe to the tenets of any religion.


Furthermore, even if one could get through to all these different groups of people who don’t subscribe to Christianity for whatever reason – background, location, education — it doesn’t help the cause that those who they do see as “Christians” are a poor representation of what it means to be one. It should go without saying by now that these so-called “Christians” are tantamount to the terrible servers at the best restaurant in town. This part of the metaphor works on a couple of different levels. It is not only meant metaphorically, but also quite literally. A true Christian is in fact “a good service worker,” so to speak. As Jesus said in the Gospel of Mark, “whoever would be great among you must be your servant … The Son of man did not come to be served but came to serve” (Mark 10:44-45). In other words, when a waiter or waitress is a poor server, they are bad for business. Likewise, when a Christian is not there to serve others, they are detrimental to the faith. This is the point about which Keller agreed with Hitchens.


As a matter of fact, good Christians have conceded this point to skeptics for as long as Christianity has been around – false Christians are a major problem for the faith. As the fourth century church historian Eusebius writes, “they fasten onto the church like a noxious and scabby disease, destroying all whom they succeed in smearing with the dreadful, deadly poison hidden in them.” (Eusebius 54).


Poor Service Workers


To put it back into metaphorical terms, if a waiter drops your meal on the way to the table, it really doesn’t matter how well the chef prepared it does it?


And as for those service workers who steal the tips of others and take from the register — they’re equivalent to those money-grubbing preachers who selfishly promote some variation of the prosperity gospel – using the name of Jesus for their own avaricious means.


The Solution is Within


What are we to do about all this? As I alluded to earlier, the answer can be found within the metaphor itself.


Remember the good reviews of the restaurant? The ones that said it was the best meal they ever had. As we noted, those reviews are too often dismissed as hyperbole or as coming from a place of ignorance.


This dismissal is an allusion to when a true Christian — bearing witness to the glorious power of Christ — is dismissed by skeptics as delusional.


This point of contention must be addressed directly. The opponents of Christianity seem to be arguing in bad faith (no pun intended). If we are going to give credence to the bad reviews, then we must also give equal voice to the good reviews. The skeptic cannot have it both ways — that would be intellectually dishonest. Keller, Eusebius, and many other Christian faithful concede the point that false Christians are detrimental to the faith. As such, skeptics should likewise concede the point that true Christians do exist and what they bear witness to is the very real power of God in their lives.


Let us reframe this point in a way where the skeptic can better understand from where the believer is coming. The true Christian, as a witness to the power of Christ, tells his or her own personal story of triumph over whatever was causing them suffering in their life. Or to put it in more colloquial terms, the believer was wrestling with their own “demons” — be they an addiction, anxiety, guilt, etc. This phraseology, which is commonly used by believers and non-believers alike, is the perfect example of how the mysterious power of spirituality is hidden just beneath the surface of our secular world. This is emblematic of how the power of God is hidden just beneath the surface of what skeptics would define as “reality.”


The Question that Remains: How Can We Tell a False Christian from a True Christian?


At the very beginning of this, I noted how Bashir and others were attacking Keller just for being a believer — as if he were one of the false Christians they repudiated. Keller, however, did not fight back. Instead, he won over his interviewers and reduced their prideful grimaces to genuine smiles, using humility as his weapon. Or to put it in more Christian terms, Keller turned the other cheek.


So how can we figure out if someone is a true Christian or just a Christian in name only? As Jesus says in the Gospel, “people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Keller thought he would defend God using his words, instead it was his loving actions — the kindness he showed his opponent —that spoke volumes for his faith.


Let us conclude by connecting the teachings of scripture with our culinary parable. As we said, the chef at our restaurant makes the best meal in town. It is truly out of this world. That is, our God — the Trinitarian God of Christianity — nourishes us like no other god ever could. He sacrifices everything He has to fill us up. He doesn’t just make the meal; He is the meal. As scripture teaches, God is the “bread of life” (John 6:35). False Christians, Paul explains in his letter to the Romans, “do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites” (Romans 16:17-18). So, the point is, even though we may have a lot on our proverbial plates, Christianity is not a buffet — we are here to serve others not ourselves.


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