Is Christianity Growing or Declining?

World Christianity
World Christianity
World Christianity

Is Christianity growing or declining?  Most people would give an answer to that question based on partial information.  Here is a bigger picture of what is happening with Christian faith on a global sale.  As of 2017, there were approximately 2.2 billion Christians in the world.  This figure includes all groups that fall within the traditional understanding of Christianity, including, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and various groups of Protestants.  Compare Christianity with its closest rival, Islam which is approaching 2 billion.  There are significant groups of Christians on every continent and in every country in the world.

Where Christianity is growing

Approximately 2.7 million people convert to Christianity each year from some other religion.

  • For example, since the year 2000, Muslim converts to Christianity have averaged more than 100,000 per year.
  • Another example is found in the 1.6 million Americans of Jewish background who identify themselves with some form of Christianity.
  • Since 1945, Christianity in China has grown from more than 1 million to perhaps 70 million.
  • Also since 1945, Christianity in South Korea has increased from around 2% of the population to around 30%. The largest congregation in the world, Yoido Full Gospel Church has more than 200,000 members and is located in Seoul South Korea.

Roman Catholicism has grown by approximately 11% worldwide since 2000, with the largest gains in Africa.   Since the mid-20th century, Protestant groups have grown 300% faster than the world population rate, and 200% faster than the rate of growth for Islam.  Protestants of all groups now account for 40% of all self-identified Christians.  For example:

  • There are 300 million Protestants in Africa, apart from the Muslim majority regions of North Africa.
  • Even so, there are more than 2 million Protestants in North Africa and the Middle East.
  • North and South America combined account for 260 million Protestants, with countries like Brazil, Guatemala, and Haiti experiencing impressive growth in the past 50 years.
  • Europe currently has around 100 million Protestants.

Where Christianity is declining

Since 2000, the United States has seen a 7% decline in people who identify as Christians of any kind.  Experts believe this decline has resulted from the increasing climate of skepticism in general, and a growing hostility toward Christian faith in various influential sectors within society.  An even steeper rate of decline has occurred in Canada and Europe, with the exception of portions of Eastern Europe, where Christian faith has been on the upswing since World War II.

Overall, Christianity is doing very well around he world.  Contrary to the predictions of many in the Western world, Christianity is not in any danger, but continues to be the largest single religious family and is steadily gaining ground in many parts of the world.  American Christians can be encouraged by this fact, while finding new and creative ways to stop and reverse the decline we are seeing in our own culture.

Sources: World Christian Encyclopedia, Pew Research Center.

Why Atheism Doesn’t Work

Atheism is flawed
Atheism is flawed

A very simple argument can show why atheism doesn’t work.  Atheism doesn’t work simply because, without God, there can be no hope, no joy, no goodness, no justice, and no truth.  How can I say that?  I can say that because without God, ideas of truth and justice depend upon people’s thinking about them.  Hope, joy, and goodness depend upon people being able to rightly experience and practice them.

The only standard in atheism is power

But people differ from one another in how they think and practice these qualities.  They argue about what they mean and what they look like in real life. One person can argue another out of their concept of goodness, or justice. One group of people can gain enough power to enforce their version of truth on everyone else.  Under atheism, these qualities are defined and enforced by those with the most convincing arguments or the strongest will to dominate. This is why societies that give way to atheism tend to become totalitarian dictatorships.

Atheism cannot allow real freedom and choice

Most people hate dictatorships.  They sense that one group of people telling everyone else what it means to be good, or to have hope, or what what they can and cannot believe to be true, is a very bad thing.   Most people understand that true belief and genuine behavior cannot be forced.  In other words, human choice is a very real and very precious thing that atheism as a system cannot tolerate.

Atheism falsely claims that belief in God restricts freedom

Some might argue that Christian people and Christian organizations have sometimes tried to force people to believe and act in certain ways.  While that may be true, the bad or mistaken behavior of people who claim to believe in God doesn’t change the truth that God is the one from whom flow the qualities of justice, truth, and goodness.  God made people to be creatures who can make considered choices for or against these qualities.  People’s responses to God and to the qualities that flow from his character determine their experience of hope or joy.  The fact that people long for these qualities and desire to experience them seems to argue that God exists, since people can’t experience them fully without some outside source.

Here is the link to a related video from Prager University which makes a very similar argument.  I hope you enjoy it.

Christianity’s Spread: 1000 – 2016 AD

Check out this video: Christianity’s Spread: 1000 – 2016 AD!

Christian Cross
Christian Cross

In a previous blog, I posted this graphic map of Christianity’s spread from its beginnings around 30 AD to the year 1,000.  This sequel video shows its continued global spread until the present time.  Note that the maker of this video (Ollie Bye) includes all branches of Christianity in the video, including Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Christianity as well as Protestantism.  He does this by using different colors.  Of course the video is simplistic, but it does a great job of showing how Jesus’ words about preaching to all nations is being fulfilled!

The map gives a global perspective

So often we think of Christianity as a European or North American thing that was exported to other parts of the world.  This video showing Christianity’s spread over the past one thousand years gives perspective on that idea.  The truth is that Christianity only reached most of Europe around 400 years after the time of Christ, and spread to eastern Europe just before the year 1,000 (see the previous video).  Christian Faith came to North America with the European colonists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Share your thoughts

Tell me what you think about this visual representation.  Feel free to share the video with your friends, but don’t forget to give credit to Ollie Bye, its creator.

Advanced Bible Quiz

Bible Quiz
Bible Quiz

This 100-point advanced Bible quiz is designed to measure your knowledge of the key people and facts in Bible’s storyline and motivate you to dig deeper into the Bible itself.

Basic Information

The Old Testament contains (1) ______ books. The New Testament contains   (2) ____ books. Together they form the entire canon of Christian scripture. The Old Testament was written primarily in the (3) ________________ language; the New Testament was written in the common (4) ______________ language of the First Century.

 The Old Testament

Genesis begins with God creating the earth in a complete cycle of (5) ____ days. The first man and woman (6) _________ and (7) ________ lived in the Garden of (8) ­___________, but chose to turn away from trusting in God and embrace the wisdom of the (9) ________________. For this, they were banished from the garden and forbidden to eat from the (10) __________ of Life. Their first two sons, (11) ___________ the firstborn and (12) __________, quarreled and the elder murdered the younger. A third son, (13) ________, was born afterward to continue the godly line.

The following generations saw humanity sink deeper into sin and degradation. God planned to send a (14) ___________ to judge the human race. He chose a man described as “righteous in his generation” to survive this disaster by building an (15) ________ and saving his family as well as pairs of all types of (16) _______________. This man’s name was (17) ____________. His three sons, (18) __________, (19) __________ and (20) ______________ are the ancestors of the current nations of the earth.

After the restored human race rebelled against God again by building the (21) ___________ of Babel, God chose (22) _______________ to begin a new line of faith. This man’s son (23) _______________ was born when his mother, (24) _________ was too elderly to bear children naturally. God blessed this child of faith and his wife, whose name was (25) ________________ with twins, Esau and (26)__________. God later changed this man’s name to (27) _____________. He became the father of (28) _____ sons and a daughter, primarily through (29) ___________ his beloved wife and (30) ___________, her sister. These sons were the founders of the tribes of Israel. Among this sons, the one with the greatest faith was named (31) _____________. He was sold as a slave by his brothers and sent to the land of (32) ___________ but later saved them from a devastating (33) _______________, which afflicted the entire region.

The story of Israel’s escape from slavery is told in the book of (34) __________. After their escape, Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry ground. Their leader, (35) ____________, met with God on Mount (36) _____________ and received the law binding Israel in covenant with God. (37) ___________ is the book which recounts Israel’s conquest of Canaan. To defeat foreign enemies and rescue his people, God later gave them a succession of leaders called (38) ______________. At the end of this period, in response to the people’s demands, God gave them kings through a man named (39) _______________.

The three kings who ruled over all Israel were: (40) ________, (41) ____________, and (42) _________________. The second of these kings is famous for loving God deeply. His killing of a mighty Philistine warrior named (43) _______________ earned him the reputation as a hero of faith. However, his affair with (44) _________________, the wife of a trusted soldier, brought lasting shame and disgrace. The third king over a united Israel was renowned for his great (45) _____________: so much so that the Queen of (46) ___________ traveled a great distance to learn from him. During the reign of the fourth king, the kingdom split in two. The northern kingdom was known as Ephraim or (47) _____________, while the southern kingdom was called (48) ____________.

Ministering in the north were prophets whose role was to call the nation back to faith in God. One of these people who spoke for God, a fiery prophet named (49) ___________, met with the false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and demonstrated through his faith that the LORD was the true God. His successor, (50)___________, is sometimes called the helpful prophet. Due to their unfaithfulness to God, the northern kingdom was eventually conquered and scattered by the (51) ________________ Empire.

Just over a hundred years after this, the southern kingdom was exiled to the land of (52) _______________.   The two prophets who ministered in this land were the priest, (53) _______________ and (54) _______________, a member of the nobility. The fact that many of the Jews in exile were able to return to the Promised Land after (55) _______ years is recorded in the books of (56) __________ in which proper worship was restored and (57) _________________, in which the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt.

(58) ________________ is the book that served as the hymnal of ancient Israel. This book is followed by two books of wisdom: (59) ________________, a collection of practical truths for daily living and (60) ______________________, which explores the meaning of life. Included in this wisdom and poetic collection is a love song, entitled               (61) ____________________________. It expresses the devotion of a king for his lovely bride. Also in this collection, the book of (62) ______ deals with the issue of suffering which seems to be undeserved.

The prophetic books of the Old Testament are divided into two groups: the (63) ____________ prophets and the (64) ___________ prophets, which are distinguished purely on the basis of length, not importance. The prophet whose book contains the most messianic prophecy is (65) _____________. Jerusalem’s destruction was witnessed and described most fully by the prophet (66) ________________. The prophet (67) _____________ attempted to run away from God’s calling, but repented after he was swallowed by a fish and ended up fulfilling his task. Another prophet, (68) _____________ was told to marry a wayward woman to demonstrate God’s commitment to his unfaithful people.

The group of books, not accepted in Protestant versions of the Bible, but which is included in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox versions of the scripture is called the (69)   ____________________.

 The New Testament

The period between Malachi in the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament era lasted roughly (70) _______ centuries. The New Testament begins with the record of Jesus’ life and ministry by the gospel writers: (71) _________________, (72) ­­­­­ __________,   (73) ___________ and (74) ____________. In the first verses of the fourth gospel, Jesus is described as the eternal (75) __________ which was with God and was God, and through whom all things were created. He was incarnated in the womb of a virgin named (76) ____________ and born in the city of (77) ______________________. He was later raised to maturity in the northern region of   (78) __________________. Jesus taught truths about the Kingdom of God through a kind of story or illustration called (79) ______________. He spent the approximately three years of his earthly ministry focusing on the training of his (80) _____________ disciples. He also performed many (81) __________________ to validate his claims of being the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God. Jesus was put to death by the Roman governor, (82) __________ ___________, during the Jewish festival of (83) __________________, but afterward rose from the dead on the (84) _________ day.

The book of (85) _____________ is the inspired history of the early church. The majority of the letters of the New Testament letters were written by one man: the Apostle (86) ____________. Next to him the most New Testament books were written by the Apostle (87) _____________, who wrote a total of (88) ­­­______.   Two short, but powerful letters, found near the end of the Bible were written by the disciple who once denied Christ. His name is (89) ___________. The theme of the letter to the (90) _________________ is that, though everyone is guilty before God, anyone may be saved through faith in Jesus.   It is often thought to be the most systematic explanation of the gospel in the New Testament.

(91) ___________________ is the book which encourages Jewish followers of Jesus that Christ is greater than Moses or even angels. The letter whose key word, “joy” is found throughout its four chapters is (92) _________________. Two letters were written to a church known for its immaturity and worldly living. This church was located in the ancient city of (93) _________________. (94) __________________ is written to a man whose escaped slave had become a Christian and was now returning home.

The letter stating most fully that we are saved by faith apart from the Law is (95) ___________________. However, the letter of (96) ______________ makes it clear that faith without works is dead. Three books were directed to two young church leaders named         (97) ________________ (98) and ____________. The pair of letters, which most emphasize the “man of sin” and Christ’s return were addressed to the church in                                         (99) ______________________. The book of (100) __________________ fittingly climaxes the New Testament, closing with Christ’s second coming and kingdom.

How did you do?   I know this was a challenging test.  Even some Christian leaders might struggle on parts of it.   A good grasp of the main facts and themes of the Bible is a great foundation on which to build an unshakeable faith!

Intermediate Bible Quiz: Answer Key

Answer key
Answer key

How did you do on the Intermediate Bible Quiz?  Here are the answers.

Basic Information

The Bible commonly used by Protestants contains a total of (1) 66 books. It is divided into two main sections: the (2) Old Testament and the (3) New Testament. The first section was written mainly in the ancient (4) Hebrew language; the second section was written in the (5) Greek language of the First Century.

 Bible People and Storyline

The book of Genesis describes the first humans as living in a garden named (6) Eden. There they fell into (7) sin by eating forbidden fruit. To prevent the complete corruption of the human race, God later sent a devastating flood while saving a remnant under the leadership of (8) Noah. Later, the restored human race rebelled against God again by building the Tower of (9) Babel. After this, God called a man named (10) Abraham to begin a line of chosen people who would represent him to the rest of the world. The great-grandson of this man was sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers. His name was (11) Joseph.

After several generations of slavery, the descendants of this former slave and his brothers became known as the nation of (12) Israel. They were delivered from their slavery under a lawgiver named (13) Moses. Although God promised them the land then known as (14) Canaan in which to establish themselves, they showed a lack of faith and many of them died in the wilderness. After forty years of wandering, God raised up a man called (15) Joshua to lead them into this Promised Land.

In this new land, the nation was at first ruled by servants of God called   (16) judges, one of whom was a woman named Deborah. Later the nation was ruled by a series of (17) kings, the best known of which was David. When this line of rulers became foolish and disobedient to God, he divided the nation in two, with the northern capitol in Samaria while the south had its capitol in (18) Jerusalem. Though they were warned to cease worshipping idols and devote themselves to the true God, the people continued to disobey, with the south eventually suffering exile in (19) Babylon. A book of 150 musical poems, some of which were written during this time, was used by God’s people in worship. It is entitled (20) Psalms. Though called to represent him in the world, God’s people often needed correction by men and women speaking on God’s behalf. These people were called (21) prophets.

The second main section of the Bible begins with the life and ministry of (22) Jesus. He was incarnated in the womb of a virgin named (23) Mary and born in the city of (24) Bethlehem. He performed many (25) miracles to validate his claims of being the Son of God. After being accused of blasphemy, he was condemned and put to death by the cruel method of (26) crucifixion. After (27) three days in the tomb, he rose from the dead. The book of (28) Acts is the history of the early Christians. They formed a new people of God, known as the (29) Church. The basic Christian message, called the (30) gospel is the good news that, though people are guilty before God, anyone may be forgiven and reconciled to God through faith in God’s Son.

The associate of the Lord and main spokesman for the earliest Christians had been a simple fisherman. His name was (31) Peter. The majority of the letters in the second section of the Bible were written by one man: the Apostle (32) Paul. Other letters were written by various Christian leaders. One of these letters makes it clear that faith without works is dead. It was written by (33) James, who was probably a brother of the Lord. Several other letters were written by the Apostle (34) John, who was especially close to the Lord during his lifetime. The book of (35) Revelation fittingly climaxes the Bible, closing with the promise of the Lord’s return and the establishment of his Kingdom on earth.

Never be discouraged.  A good grasp of the main facts and themes of the Bible is a great foundation on which to build an unshakeable faith!

 

Intermediate Bible Quiz

Intermediate Bible Quiz
Intermediate Bible Quiz

This 35-point intermediate Bible quiz is designed to measure your knowledge of the key people and facts in Bible’s storyline and motivate you to dig deeper into the Bible itself.

Basic Information

The Bible commonly used by Protestants contains a total of (1) ______ books. It is divided into two main sections: the (2) _______ _____________________ and the (3) _______ _______________________. The first section was written mainly in the ancient (4) _________________ language; the second section was written in the (5) ______________ language of the First Century.

 Bible People and Storyline

The book of Genesis describes the first humans as living in a garden named (6) __________. There they fell into (7) ________ by eating forbidden fruit. To prevent the complete corruption of the human race, God later sent a devastating flood while saving a remnant under the leadership of (8) __________. Later, the restored human race rebelled against God again by building the Tower of (9) ___________. After this, God called a man named (10) _________________ to begin a line of chosen people who would represent him to the rest of the world. The great-grandson of this man was sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers. His name was (11) _________________.

After several generations of slavery, the descendants of this former slave and his brothers became known as the nation of (12) ______________. They were delivered from their slavery under a lawgiver named (13) ____________. Although God promised them the land then known as (14) _______________ in which to establish themselves, they showed a lack of faith and many of them died in the wilderness. After forty years of wandering, God raised up a man called (15) _____________ to lead them into this Promised Land.

In this new land, the nation was at first ruled by servants of God called                           (16) ____________, one of whom was a woman named Deborah. Later the nation was ruled by a series of (17) ___________, the best known of which was David. When this line of rulers became foolish and disobedient to God, he divided the nation in two, with the northern capitol in Samaria while the south had its capitol in (18) _______________. Though they were warned to cease worshipping idols and devote themselves to the true God, the people continued to disobey, with the southern kingdom eventually suffering exile in (19) ______________. A book of 150 musical poems, some of which were written during this time, was used by God’s people in worship. We know this collection as the book of (20) _______________. Though called to represent him in the world, God’s people often needed correction by men and women speaking on God’s behalf. These people were called (21) _______________.

The second main section of the Bible begins with the life and ministry of                (22) _____________. He was incarnated in the womb of a virgin named (23) _____________ and born in the city of (24) __________________. He performed many (25) _____________ to validate his claims of being the Son of God. After being accused of blasphemy, he was condemned and put to death by the cruel method of (26) ____________________. After (27) _____________ days in the tomb, he rose from the dead. The book of (28) __________ is the history of the early Christians. They formed a new people of God, known as the (29) _________________. The basic Christian message, called the (30) _____________ is the good news that, though people are guilty before God, anyone may be forgiven and reconciled to God through faith in God’s Son.

The associate of the Lord and main spokesman for the earliest Christians had been a simple fisherman. His name was (31) ____________. The majority of the letters in the second section of the Bible were written by one man: the Apostle (32) _____________. Other letters were written by various Christian leaders. One of these letters makes it clear that faith without works is dead. It was written by (33) _______________, who was probably a brother of the Lord. Several other letters were written by the Apostle (34) ____________, who was especially close to the Lord during his lifetime. The book of (35) __________________ fittingly climaxes the Bible, closing with the promise of the Lord’s return and the establishment of his Kingdom on earth.

How did you do? You can access the answers in a separate blog–Intermediate Bible Quiz–Answer Key.  A good grasp of the main facts and themes of the Bible is a great foundation on which to build an unshakeable faith!

 

Basic Bible Quiz

Basic Bible Quiz
Basic Bible Quiz

This 15-point basic Bible quiz is designed to measure your basic knowledge of the overall storyline of the Bible .  Fill in the blanks to see you much you know!

The Christian Bible is divided into two main parts, the (1) ______ Testament and the (2) _____ Testament. This first book in the Bible, called (3) ________________ tells the story of the origins of the universe and of human civilization. This book describes the first humans as living in a place called the Garden of (4) __________.   They disobeyed the command of God and followed the temptations of the (5) _______________.

 After a devastating flood in which humanity was preserved through the family of (6)__________, the Bible continues with the establishment of a chosen people known as (7) _____________. These people were delivered from slavery and received God’s Law under a leader called (8) __________.   Though this nation was to represent God in the world, it often needed correction by people who spoke for God. This type of corrective leader is called a (9) ______________.

The second section of the Bible begins with the record of the life and ministry of  (10) __________. His followers were later organized into a new people of God called the (11) ____________. The first leaders of this new people of God were called (12) _________________.   One of these leaders named (13) ____________ was a former fisherman, who had denied his Lord in a moment of weakness. Another of these leaders preached the Christian message in many places and wrote at least twelve letters to various groups of believers. History knows him by the name of Saint (14) __________. The book of (15) ________________ closes the Bible by promising the coming of God’s Kingdom at the end of the Age.

How did you do? You can find the answers in the key to this Level 1 Quiz posted as a separate blog.  A good grasp of the main facts and themes of the Bible is a great foundation on which to build an unshakeable faith!

Basic Bible Quiz: Level 1 Answer Key

Answer key
Answer key

How did you do on Basic Bible Quiz: Level 1?  Here are the answers:

The Christian Bible is divided into two main parts, the (1) Old Testament and the (2) New Testament. This first book in the Bible, called (3) Genesis tells the story of the origins of the universe and of human civilization. This book describes the first humans as living in a place called the Garden of (4) Eden.   They disobeyed the command of God and followed the temptations of the (5) Serpent (or Devil).

 After a devastating flood in which humanity was preserved through the family of (6) Noah, the Bible continues with the establishment of a chosen people known as (7) Israel. These people were delivered from slavery and received God’s Law under a leader called (8) Moses.   Though this nation was to represent God in the world, it often needed correction by people who spoke for God. This type of corrective leader is called a (9) prophet.

The second section of the Bible begins with the record of the life and ministry of (10) Jesus. His followers were later organized into a new people of God called the (11) Church. The first leaders of this new people of God were called (12) Apostles.   One of these leaders named (13) Peter was a former fisherman, who had denied his Lord in a moment of weakness. Another of these leaders preached the Christian message in many places and wrote at least twelve letters to various groups of believers. History knows him by the name of Saint (14) Paul. The book of (15) Revelation closes the Bible by promising the coming of God’s Kingdom at the end of the Age.

If you missed some answers, don’t be discouraged.  A knowledge of the Bible is something that comes with time.  Keep reading!

 

Can I Trust the Bible? Yes you can!

We can trust the Bible
Study the Bible with confidence!

Many so-called experts claim that we cannot trust the Bible.  They assert that the written documents of the Bible were not well preserved and that the copying process resulted in many mistakes.  Yet Christianity and Judaism have traditionally claimed that the Bible we read and study today represents the Word of God faithfully handed down through the centuries by God’s people. But which claim is true?  How can we be sure that the Hebrew and Greek copies scholars use for translation into English are faithful to the original documents?  In other words, can we really trust the Bible?

Where did our Bible come from?

Let’s begin with how the Bible came to be preserved and passed down.  As far as anyone knows, none of the manuscripts of the Bible that were written by the original authors are still in existence. This fact leads to the legitimate question of whether what we read in the Bible today accurately represents what was written down by Moses or Isaiah or Paul.  Because of the lack of original material, scholars must rely on early copies of the original manuscripts.  Experts in the discipline of manuscript study can compare the various early copies available in order to sift out the small percentage of variations in the text and synthesize the original content. Over the years, this process has yielded a very high degree of confidence in the texts of both the Old and New Testaments.

Evidence for the Old Testament

The manuscript evidence for the Old Testament is quite strong.  It might seem obvious that most of the books of these Hebrew scriptures were written in the ancient Hebrew language, but a few of the later portions were actually composed in a related language, called Aramaic. These books were probably written over a nearly 1,000-year span between 1400 and 400 B.C. by several dozen different authors, including Moses, Ezra, David, Solomon and others. Until 1947, the best and earliest manuscripts for the Old Testament were known as the Massoretic Texts. The Massoretic Texts were copies of still earlier manuscripts (now lost) made by Jews in eastern Europe between 800 and 1000 A.D.  Many critics of the Biblical text argued that the accuracy of these manuscripts, which date from the Middle Ages, was probably very poor due to the more than 1, 200 years between the original documents and these copies.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

But in 1947, through the providence of God, the accuracy of the Massoretic Texts was confirmed by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  This large collection of miscellaneous writings dating from 200 B.C. to 100 A.D. included dozens of much earlier copies of Old Testament books. The scrolls were found carefully preserved in desert caves in the Qumran area of the Dead Sea. What scholars have discovered in studying them is that, apart from a few very minor differences, there had been virtually no change in the text of the Hebrew Scriptures for more than 1,000 years. So, almost overnight, doubts about trustworthiness of the Old Testament suddenly became much less convincing.

The Septuagint

In addition to the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is also an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament made around 200 B.C, known as the Septuagint.  The Septuagint also confirms the copying accuracy of the Old Testament.  So, based upon the evidence of the extreme care with which the Jews copied their scriptures, as well as the insight provided by the Septuagint, we can have confidence that the material of the Hebrew Scriptures is highly accurate.

Evidence for the New Testament

When it comes to the New Testament portion of the Bible, the evidence is even better. The books of the New Testament were probably written in Greek between A.D. 45 and 100.  The very earliest copies we have of the original books date from just after A.D. 100.  For example, there is a fragment of chapter 18 of the Gospel of John, which dates from around A.D. 110. Since the Gospel of John was probably originally written around A.D. 90, that puts the time from original to earliest known copy at about 20 years. An even earlier manuscript portion, known as the Chester Beatty Papyrus, dates from around A.D. 100. Since Paul probably wrote this portion in the years A.D. 55-65, that puts the time lapse from original to copy at less than 50 years. These examples illustrate the very strong evidence for the reliability of the New Testament compared with other works of ancient literature.

All told, there are something like 5,000 early Greek copies of the New Testament in existence today, as well as hundreds more in Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic and Armenian translations. With the aid of computer software, scholars are able to do intensive comparisons of the available copies in order to “weed out” any copying mistakes and synthesize the original text of the New Testament.  More evidence for the trustworthiness of the New Testament comes from the writings of the Christian Church before 400 A.D., called the Patristic writings.  These early Christian works quote so extensively from the New Testament that it can be virtually reconstructed from these writings alone.  One expert estimated that only one half of one percent (.05 %) of the New Testament is now in any doubt as to its original wording.  Most of this small percentage of uncertainty has to do with word order, rather than content.  For example, there are a few passages that are unclear as to whether they said Christ Jesus or Jesus Christ – hardly a reason for doubting the reliability of the New Testament.  So, just as with the Hebrew Scriptures, the text of the New Testament has been shown to be highly accurate.

Conclusion

All of this evidence points to the conclusion that the Bible we use today is extremely reliable and can be trusted.  It has lost very little, if anything, in the copying process from the original writings of the authors.  While none of this by itself proves the Bible’s inspiration, it does support Christianity’s ancient claim that the Scriptures are the word of God, fully inspired and authoritative for the ages.

The Benefits of Christianity

The light of the world

What are the benefits of Christianity?  The days when most people saw the Christian Church as a necessary part of Western Culture are long gone. Studies of how North Americans and Europeans make choices in the early twenty-first century show that when making important decisions, most people think in terms of personal fulfillment and well being, rather than of Christian values.

This is a significant shift away from the thinking of much of the twentieth century, when Christian values were the template for decision-making. Christian believers may bemoan this trend but, like it or not, it would appear that this way of thinking will be around for the foreseeable future.  So maybe Christianity should be evaluated from a new, more pragmatic perspective.  What, then, are the benefits of Christianity in society? Let me suggest a few of the positive outcomes of Christianity in society.

Better marriages

The presence of churches that teach biblical family values results in more couples staying together.  I am not just talking about husbands and wives who agree to remain married under difficult circumstances, but also about couples who discover a deeper and more lasting love for one another because of their relationship to God.  Many Christians can attest that a commitment to one’s spouse, a willingness to work though issues, and a dependence upon God for wisdom and strength has saved marriages that otherwise would have ended in divorce court.

Better family life

Along with husbands and wives staying together, there tend to be fewer problems raising children when families are involved in church. “Parents– don’t exasperate your children, but bring them up in the teaching and discipline of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), is a valuable principle at a time when families are breaking down in record numbers. Churches that teach the Bible by precept and example tend to have a higher percentage of intact and reasonably healthy families.

Lasting relationships

People are moving so fast in our century that it is difficult to form deep, long-term friendships.  Again, churches that teach the Bible’s perspective on relationships tend to produce people who know how to befriend others and work through issues.  Churches also provide venues for meeting people who desire lasting friendships.  In many Christian circles, it is a rather routine thing to meet people who have remained friends over many years and weathered some pretty difficult circumstances together.

Personalized care

One of the best kept secrets is the fact that churches regularly provide free counseling, not only to their members, but often to virtually anyone who desires it.  Many churches have pastors or staff members who are trained and gifted in the art of listening to people, helping them understand the dynamics behind their situation and offering practical, biblical advice toward a solution.  Obviously the more people who receive this care, the healthier a community becomes. This is especially refreshing in a time when people are sometimes seen as figures on a spreadsheet, rather than as persons who are valuable in themselves.

Character-building

While it is not the only voice in society encouraging people to become more than they are, the Christian Church performs this role as well. Not only does it encourage people to dream large dreams and achieve great things, but it also builds character in ways that few others are: correction.  Where can you go in twenty-first century Western Culture to have someone tell you the honest truth about yourself?  I know that this sort of thing seems out of fashion these days. I also know that constructive criticism can be abused.  But when a person is involved in things that are self-destructive and harmful to others, isn’t it a good thing that there are venues where people can be lovingly confronted and helped to find a new path in life?

Finding God

When people get tired of the rampant materialism and the pursuit of personal fulfillment, many crave something more substantial. Christianity promises that if anyone desires to find God, God is willing to be found. In fact, the truth is even better than that. God has made himself very accessible by becoming one of us, living as we live and doing what was necessary for us to have full and abundant relationship with him.  Of course I am speaking of Jesus Christ as the Son of God made human.

I am aware that some people reject this basic Christian belief. Other religions teach that people must attain some ultimate spiritual goal through hidden knowledge, austere self-denial, or the offering of something precious to win God’s favor. The core Christian message is so simple and so accessible that some people object that it is too good to be true.  A person may be welcomed into relationship with God simply by putting their trust in Jesus. Trusting in Jesus means believing that he is who he claimed to be: the Son of God; accepting his self-sacrifice in payment for your wrongdoing; and embracing his offer to join with you in making you new from the inside out.

The irony is that faith in Jesus actually brings the personal fulfillment that has eluded many people all their lives. Far from being a narrow or exclusionary faith, Christianity is incredible inclusive.  Faith in Jesus is something a small child can do. It is something a mentally disabled person can exercise. The basic message of Christianity is truly trans-cultural, finding those in every ethnicity who resonate with its good news.  It embraces both men and women.  It reaches every strata of society. The good news of Christianity changes lives when nothing else can.

All this and more come with an active Christian presence in society. Those who are concerned with the welfare of their communities would do well to make certain that churches are free to do what they do so well: benefit communities and positively change lives, one by one.