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The Serious Challenges to Christianity13 min read

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Every metaphysical system with any cogency and appeal has some points of strength, and all have weaknesses. The question is which have more strengths and fewer weaknesses than others. (Millard Erickson in Christian Theology, 3rd Edition)

I was raised in an agnostic home before becoming Christian for a decade. I then abandoned the faith for 8 years while exploring other perspectives, only to return to Christianity 20 years ago. A catalyst in my return was realizing all worldviews have difficulties comprehensively answering complex philosophical questions; none provides absolute explanatory satisfaction. The primary question is which view offers the most cogent overall framework despite unresolved peripheral issues.

Committed ideologues of any worldview, be it religious, agnostic or otherwise, must acknowledge that their chosen ideology contains inadequacies. Intellectual integrity obliges serious wrestling with and admission of these limitations, even when providing our best tentative defenses. These ideologues frequently critique rival worldviews’ while failing to address weaknesses within their own. Regarding metaphysics and morality, some degree of mystery seems inescapable. Wisdom is accepting that no single perspective achieves absolute theoretical fulfillment, yet still being willing to compare and rank them, recommending some or one over others.

So here is my analysis of the ACTUAL serious challenges to the Christian faith. As I said, what seems indisputably true and valuable to me in Christianity is enough for me to commit to it, declare it as true, and suspend my judgment on unanswered questions – so despite these weaknesses, I am still a believer. YMMV.

1. The Bible’s mixed stance on slavery

It’s at least unclear. There are some standard defenses, but even with these, it is true that Christianity does not explicitly refute slavery. However, the main defense is that there are different types of servitude, but they are rarely distinguished. There are differences between slavery via kidnapping (chattel slavery, prohibited in both old and new testament), slavery from wartime conquest, serfdom of the non-landed, and the indentured servitude associated with debt. These latter arrangements are often conflated with slavery, but they were not slavery – they were part of the how those economies and political systems worked – not free markets or governments, but not chattel slavery either.

“He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21;16)

The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders (literally “kidnappers”), liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching (1 Timothy 1:10)

2. Eternal Conscious Torment in Hell

The disproportionate and perhaps unethical doctrine of eternal conscious torment is a stumbling block, often mentioned by notable atheists as the most egregious of doctrines and a primary reason for rejecting Christianity.  As a subscriber to Conditional Immortality (a.k.a. “annihilationism”), I think this problem is easily addressed. 1

I have written and spoken on this subject, but my basic answer to the problem of eternal torment is:

  1. Eternal Torment is unethical, disproportionate, and cruel
  2. The Bible does not teach it – the main error is that traditionalists start by taking the figurative passages of Revelation and take them literally, then go back to the rest of scripture and try to redefine death, destruction, perishing, and being consumed like chaff as “torment.”
  3. The Bible does teach that those who fail to receive eternal life through Christ simply are destroyed irreversibly.

If you are interested in more on this topic, you can see my latest lecture on it, and visit

3. The conquest of Canaan seems like genocide

Here are a few approaches to justifying the Israeli conquest of Canaan. I have also provided links to three of Paul Copan’s books, which are well done, scholarly, but easy to understand.

3.1 Canaan: Ethically, not Ethnically Problematic

We see many examples of God allowing Israel to be conquered and even taken captive in the Old (and New) testaments. Are those attacks always considered genocidal or otherwise unethical? No, God declares being conquered as a judgment against a nation’s sins, even Israel. So when God commands that Israel conquer Canaan, it has nothing to do with ethnicity, but rather, a sinful culture and people. For example, God says to Israel

And if by these things you are not reformed by Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I will punish you yet seven times for your sins.  And I will bring a sword against you that will execute the vengeance of the covenant; when you are gathered together within your cities I will send pestilence among you; and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. (Lev 26:23-35)

With respect to Canaan itself, God declares His reasoning, and threatens to displace Israel if they practice the same moral abominations:

You shall therefore keep all My statutes and all My judgments, and perform them, that the land where I am bringing you to dwell may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the statutes of the nation which I am casting out before you; for they commit all these things, and therefore I abhor them. (Leviticus 20:22-23)

So the conquest of Canaan is not simply ancient tribalism or ethnically-based, but rather, part of how justice works among nations.

Of course, we should not overapply this principle as valid for every conquering nation, giving them automatic moral high ground (might makes right). God despised the wicked nations that He used to discipline Israel. But in his providence, he brings justice through allowing a nation to be conquered.

3.2 Little genetic or cultural difference between Middle Eastern peoples

Most of the peoples of the middle east were descended from Abraham, including the other nations that often fought against Israel such as the Amorites, Hittites, Kenites, and others. When Israel was failing morally, they even worshipped the same pagan gods instead of YHWH. Additionally, there was quite a fluidity in who was allowed to include themselves as an Israelite. For example:

  • Genesis 38 (Judah marries a Canaanite woman)
  • 1 Kings 11:1 (Solomon marries foreign women)
  • Joshua 6:25 (Rahab the Canaanite assimilates)
  • Ruth (Ruth the Moabite assimilates)
  • 2 Samuel 24:1-9 (census includes non-Israelites)
  • 1 Kings 9:20-21 (conscription of Canaanites)

So accusations of genocide are not really accurate due to the huge overlap of genetics and culture between these peoples, considered separate mostly by political leadership, not ethnicity.

3.3 Herem (destroy) is hyperbole and idiom

Scriptures that use Hebrew words like “herem” (totally destroy/devote to destruction) and “lo thechayyeh” (do not leave alive) in commanding the Israelites to completely exterminate the Canaanites seem like a genocidal command.

However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them…as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 20:16-18)

Such a soft interpretation of this doubly-emphasized totality of destruction may seem a laughable soft-pedal, but it actually may be how the Israelites actually took it. However, there is significant scholarly work that supports the idea that hyperbolic and idiomatic language about total destruction was quite common in ancient Near Eastern texts and rhetoric of that time period and cultural context. Here are some examples of scholarly sources that discuss this:

  1. “The Seven Pillars of Biblical Authorial Intent” by John N. Oswalt (professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary): Oswalt argues that the language of “utterly destroying” populations (“herem”) was a standard ancient Near Eastern rhetorical idiom that did not necessarily imply complete and literal extermination.
  2. “Did God Really Command Genocide?” by Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan: This book examines the hyperbolic nature of warfare rhetoric in ancient texts, providing examples from other cultures like the Assyrians using similar absolutist language that was clearly not carried out literally.
  3. “The Bible Unbabled” by Michael D. Coogan: Coogan, a Harvard Semitic philologist, discusses how language of total destruction was an accepted literary convention and rhetorical hyperbole rather than a literal account.
  4. Articles in journals like the “Journal of Biblical Literature” and “Vetus Testamentum” by scholars like Kenneth Kitchen, Richard Hess and Ralph Klein have explored this idiomatic understanding prevalent in ancient Near East sources.
  5. The “Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary” entry on “War, Ideology of” discusses the rhetorical use of “ban” language or “herem” as an idiomatic part of legitimizing warfare ideology, not meant literally.

So while the biblical language seems extreme to modern readers, there is a significant scholarly consensus that this type of hyperbolic rhetoric claiming total victory was quite typical of that era’s historiography and warfare accounts in the ancient Near East. The reality was likely more nuanced than the rhetoric suggests.

4. Inerrancy

The fact remains that even if the original autographs were inerrant, we don’t have them, and manuscript preservation and translation is not without error. So certainly, our English Bibles are not word-for-word inerrant (“plenary inerrancy”). We do have what many scholars believe to be a 95% or greater accuracy compared to the originals, and for some, this makes the Bible feel unreliable.

Needless to say, this doctrine is not explicit in scripture, and inerrancy is not required for the scriptures to be considered authoritative, inspired, and trustworthy. Why? The illumination of the Holy Spirit overcomes any gaps. That is, while individual words matter in study and understanding of Biblical content, the scripture’s main use is to transform us inwardly and guide us into conscious contact and dialogue with God. And anyone who has been regenerated will tell you ow the scriptures come alive with power, life, and wisdom beyond mere intellectual apprehension.

See my overly academic taxonomy for and explanation of inerrancy in A Useful Taxonomy for Inerrancy. 2

5. Conflict with science, especially the age of the universe and the origin of life

The so-called conflict thesis proposes that faith and science are logically and historically in opposition to one another. However, this is also called the conflict myth, and for good reasons. Read more about that at The Mythical conflict between science and Religion. 3

Additionally, I think evolution is a terrible model and does not fit the data or predict very well, yet many people do believe it. I also think that proposed long ages for the earth and universe conflict with scripture, and I think a young earth and young universe interpretation of scripture is the most accurate.4 So you could say that I hold a Young Earth Creationism position, one often considered the most literal and in conflict with science.

The way I solve this dilemma is that just like scientists were entirely mistaken about the static and eternal universe, they are still totally confused about cosmology and how to estimate the age of the universe and the earth. Just last year they doubled their estimate of the universe, demonstrating the instability and probable poor assumptions.  Their assumptions of uniformitarianism are nonsensical. 5

6. The hiddenness of God

I don’t think you can prove the resurrection nor can you demonstrate unequivocal miracles, answers to prayer, or the existence of God with empiricism. Unanswered prayer is a serious challenge to faith, as is the perceived and felt absence of answers or the presence of God during certain seasons. These times of “abandonment” even have a name, the dark night of the soul.

For more see The Hiddenness of God ( 6

7. The problem of evil (POE)

The POE is the greatest challenge to just about any worldview, and Christianity is no exception. I appreciate the theodicies of free will and soul making, and I think they are adequate, but I can see why others may find them inadequate, especially to address the evidential problem of evil.

Sure it’s logically possible that God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil, but the evil that is allowed is often so heinous it’s hard to see how that could be a probable approach. Certainly, the debates over this issue will not be resolved sufficiently for most people. You either conclude that God does not exist, is not good, or must be trusted. But proofs are hard to make in this subject.

  1. A New Testament Defense of Conditional Immortality (wholereason)[]
  2. A Useful Taxonomy for Inerrancy (wholereason)[]
  3. The Mythical conflict between science and Religion. ([]
  4. The New Testament Teaches a Young Universe (wholereason)[]
  5. 10 Reasons Why I Doubt Evolution (wholereason)[]
  6. The Hiddenness of God ([]