Added to the “. . . And Other Stupid Statements” series

I was discussing religion with a gentleman not long ago. It was a very interesting conversation in which he recounted to me how he used to be a Christian in a Baptist church. But he left Christianity for Buddhism not too long ago. He explained that the reason why he left Christianity was because of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. In short, he felt that Christians were on the wrong side of this issue.

This is representative of so many in our cultural Christianity. This gentleman’s argument was simple:

Christianity is determined as valid or invalid upon the character of its adherents.

In other words, if Christians do not act a “good” way, then Christianity itself is discredited. In this man’s mind, Christians were on the wrong side of the conflict, therefore he left Christianity for something more suitable in keeping with the character that he supposed should accompany those who follow the true God.

I am going to make a statement here that I suppose is going to make many of my readers upset. Here it goes:

Christianity is not validated upon the character of its adherents.

Did you get that? Let me repeat.

Christianity is not validated upon the character of its adherents.

So many times I hear people give excuses why they are not Christians. They will refer to Christian so-and-so who did this or that terrible thing. They will look to the character of Christians and judge, based on this character, whether Christianity is true. Not only this, I often hear Christians who affirm such a validation method. I have heard Christians say that Christianity is validated by how we treat one another.

This simply is not true.

Thankfully, God did not confine the validation of his message to the character witness of sinners. If he did, we are all in trouble. Why? Because your character is grossly lacking. The character of the Christian community is weak at best. The character of Christian leaders is shaky and brittle. The history of the church, no matter what tradition, does not always have a pretty track record.

I often tell people not to look to me for confirmation of their Christian belief. This is important. If, for some reason, I was to renounce my faith, leave my wife and family, and take up the banner of atheism, I am certain that many people would be discouraged. Rightly so. My students would ponder how this could be seeing as how I seemed so convinced of the truthfulness of Christianity before. They would be discouraged and many would be disillusioned. But even if I were to renounce the faith, this is no real reason for anyone to give a second thought to whether Christianity is true or not. Christianity is not based upon my character. While the spead of the Gospel is somewhat dependant on Christians (as God has made it so), it’s veracity is not dependent on the faithfulness of its followers.

Many people refer to this passage in support of such a view:

John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The idea would be that so long as we love one another, then Christianity is validated. Therefore, we should not do theology or apologetics, but just set an example and Christianity will be evidence through our character. As much as I appreciate the desire for Christians to act like Christians, this is a dangerous misunderstanding of this passage. It places the validation of Christianity upon our character witness. But the passage does not suppose the truthfulness of Christianity is dependent on our character. It does, however, suppose the truthfulness of our Christian confession is dependent on our character. If we don’t love one another, it does not make Christianity any less true. It only makes our profession to be Christian less true. Likewise, if we do love one another, Christianity is no truer than before.

Christianity is based solely on the historic person and work of Christ.

Let me repeat.

Christianity is based solely on the historic person and work of Christ.

As I told this gentleman, “Christianity is true if Christ rose from the dead. If he did not, it is false. That is it.” It does not matter how Christians respond to the conflict in Palestine, Iraq, or any other place. It does not depend on whether you are nice to your neighbor or a murderer. It does not depend on whether all Christians are unified or divided. It does not hinge on your character or mine. It does not even depend on our perseverance in the faith. Its truthfulness is solely a matter of history. Is Christ who he said he was?

Paul tells the Corinthians,”If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (1 Cor. 15:14). Notice he did not say “If you Corinthians don’t promote peace and justice and be nice to one another, then our faith is in vain.” Its about what Christ did, not what you do. It is about the incarnation. While our character might make Christianity more attractive, our character does not have a vote in truth. It is about history first, the rest will follow.

We need to be reminded of this as our country is increasingly becoming  “post-Christian.” If we ever give the impression that Christianity is validated by our character witness, God forgive us for misleading so many. We are poor, weak, and broken, but the foundation of Christianity—the historic God-man Jesus Christ—is forever strong.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    57 replies to "“Christianity is Dependant on Your Character Witness” . . . And Other Stupid Statements"

    • Carol

      Good point!

      What was the gentlemen’s reply?

    • Aaron

      This is something I’ve been thinking about lately, and I respectfully disagree. I think the character of Christians does speak to the validity of Christianity. I thought of an analogy. Consider a trial of an experimental medicine that is supposed to cure some disease. If the group that receives the medicine has the same results as a group that gets a placebo, then the medicine doesn’t actually work. You shouldn’t blame the patients, but the medicine.

    • The problem here is Christianity is not a patent medicine. The results it has in a person’s life depends on that person’s choices. Many may profess it outwardly and not really believe it. None of us actually put it into use to the extent we should. I agree with G. K. Chesterton that the shabby record of Christianity proves what Christianity has always claimed that all of us, including Christians, are sinners.

    • Becky

      I can see where your coming from and agree to a point. We are sinners and so it is impossible for us to represent Christ perfectly all the time and it is true that GOD is GOD and the same always regardless of how we act.

      Still the Bible I think has a verse that covers this topic. Jesus himself says in John 13:35 “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

      So it would stand to reason that while we do make mistakes Jesus knows it is possible to live a life where we love each other as neighbors, family and community that it is a witness to Him. This also would suggest that our lack of love would speak volumes about where our true trust really is.

      I also don’t believe Jesus said anything to be trivial. He spoke those words about the standard we are to live by so I feel we should attempt to follow His guidance, not say it is the person watching who is not getting it.

      The people that you talk to that make the excuse that they don’t believe in Christ because of all the bad things Christianity does can be annoying. It is really a lame excuse but I think the problem is more that they see things like politics and Christianity in the same bed, or wars fought in the name of religion but they don’t know enough people who are living in loving Christian communities that are dying to self daily as individuals and a group.

    • Susan

      Amen and Amen! I love this post.

      Aaron, in the case of Christianity the disease is sin, and the cure is Jesus, through whom we can be forgiven and allowed a relationship with our creator. The ‘result’ is that at the time of the bodily resurrection (future) of all mankind we will be made new…without sin, without sickness, without sorrow and we will live visibly in His presence in a renewed and restored Earth. Until then, we will still be sinners. But the fact of the matter is, even here and now Christians are being transformed by the power of God’s indwelling Spirit. It’s a process…not instantaneous. Yes, there will be change…but not perfection (yet). So, if you see a Christian sin and decide that Christianity must be false, I suppose you would have to call all religions invalid for the same reason. Also, there are always plenty of people who call themselves Christians who are not. A person is only a true Christian if they are indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit. It is God who knows the true state of a person’s heart…

      “The witness is this that God has given us eternal Life and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son, has life. He who does not have the Son of God, does not have life.” 1 John 5:11-12

    • Boz

      “Christianity is true if Christ rose from the dead. If he did not, it is false. That is it.”

      This claim goes too far.

      Christianity is a collection of hundreds, perhaps thousands of individual truth-claims, or beliefs.

      assuming that the bodily ressurection is a true historical event, this event provides no evidence to support:
      -the existence of souls
      -the existence of hell, heaven
      -the structure of the trinity
      -special creation
      -virgin birth
      -the mythical events in the Pentateuch

      • Pierre

        1 Corinthians 15:17 ” And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins”

        Christianity stand on the physical resurrection of Jesus. If he did not rise from the tomb in the body, there would be no Gospel, no Christianity, no matter what else it’s adherents claim.

    • Delwyn X. Campbell

      Soem great comments here; I hope that my words are up to them. To me, it isn’t’either /or.” It is “both/and.” Our love for one another DOES testify to the reality that “the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to EVERYONE who believes…” At the same time, “if Christ is not risen, you are still in your sins.”

    • Buks van Ellewee

      I fully agree that Christianity is not validated by the character of its adherents. The true believer should bear the fruit described by Scripture so if any validation should occur in this life, it is rather that the adherent should be recognized by his fruit – not by his claims.

      Also keep this statement in mind when looking at other religions. Should we use terrorism and violence of some of its adherents as an argument against Islam? Surely not – we should look at the core beliefs and claims it makes and rather argue from there.

    • Steve

      I tend to favor Michael’s position. I mean, think of the various cults. Mormons are some of the “nicest, most moral” people in the world. The same can probably be said for Jehovah Witnesses, Buddhist, New Age adherents, etc. Truth rests upon the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. I think everyone will agree that the church in Corinth was filled with people who’s character was sorely lacking. Paul never calls into question that they are new creations in Christ. Just that they were immature Christian babies (who’s lives’ were NOT markedly different from the unsaved, unregenerate of the world). But Paul states at the beginning that they are sanctified “in Christ Jesus….called to be holy” (i.e., BECOME what you ARE in Christ Jesus). Make sense?

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      CMP: “I often tell people not to look to me for confirmation of their Christian belief.”

      I haven’t told people that… yet. But I will. They really need to look to Christ, not at my uneven sanctification of two-steps-forward-one-step-back herky jerky brokeness that takes up his cross one day and leaves it behind on other days.

      I’m a work in progress too. I live by grace.

    • Gammell

      This claim goes too far.

      Christianity is a collection of hundreds, perhaps thousands of individual truth-claims, or beliefs.

      The heart of the Christian faith is not a set of logical propositions or a collection of moral advice, but the proclamation that God has reached into human history and accomplished something revolutionary. It is the Resurrection that is the sign and seal of this good news, this Gospel. If you take away the Resurrection, then Christianity is no longer about what God has done, and thus it loses its unique character. If you take away any of the other claims of Christianity, then the Gospel makes less sense or is harder to respond to properly, but the fundamental nature of Christianity remains intact.

    • Paul Wright

      Gammell: in mathematician talk, we’d say that the Resurrection is necessary but not sufficient for Christianity to be true (for example, if Jesus was raised, but the universe was created by a committee of gods, Christianity is false). As Boz says, Christianity as a religion makes many other claims, and these are burdensome details: they make Christianity less likely at first sight, so it needs more evidence to back it up than a religion which didn’t make these claims.

      On the main point, a couple of reponses:

      First, it seems to me that Christians often want to use Christian niceness as a selling point, but to disclaim the bad things done by Christians. If a non-Christian spends time in a church and says “wow, you’re all so kind to each other” are you really going to point out that this is no evidence for Christianity’s truth? If not, what distinguishes this case from the one where someone thinks Christianity is less likely to be true because of bad things done by Christians?

      Secondly, it seems that this feeling that good things done by Christians count as evidence for Christianity arises from within Christianity. While evangelicalism claims that people are corrupt, it also claims that God has the power to transform them if they become Christians. Does Michael reject that claim, or merely hope that people won’t be so rude as to test it?

    • […] off from Michael of the thoroughly excellent Parchment and Pen blog: “Christianity is Dependant on Your Character Witness” . . . And Other Stupid […]

    • Carol

      So are some of you saying that if you saw Jesus Christ, right now…today, with the nail prints in his hands and the sword wound in his side that that alone would not be enough to convince you that everything else Christ said was true? Doesn’t the resurrection verify EVERYTHING written in the Bible?

    • Cadis

      Good (or bad) things that are practiced by Christians do not validate the truth of Christianity anymore than the good things which are practiced by Buddhists (or atheists) validates Christianity. Christ validates Christianity and our testimony and witness is to point to him. My character a-effects my ability to testify and witness about Christ. If I purposefully live against what I say is true , who will believe my testimony. But my bad or good testimony does not change the truth of Christ it only makes me a bad or good testifier of that truth. And in part , as has already been said, part of the truth that we are proclaiming is that we are sinners not fully transformed, but we have and are being saved.

    • Gammell


      My point is that the Resurrection makes a radical historical claim that gives unique weight to the work and teachings of Jesus. It is a testable claim at the center of the Christian faith. I understand that it does not necessarily prove, say, monotheism, but it gives abundant credibility to Jeus being and doing what he said he was and did. From there the other claims of Christianity provide a coherent framework. The Resurrection remains unique among the claims of Christianity in our ability to investigate it and the credibility it provides to most people.

      If a non-Christian spends time in a church and says “wow, you’re all so kind to each other” are you really going to point out that this is no evidence for Christianity’s truth?

      Sure. I would point out that this is a proper response to the Gospel, but it is important for one not to put their hope ultimately in their community or their moral performance. Even the best Christian community will at some point let you down, and even the most obedient Christian will sin at some point.

      While evangelicalism claims that people are corrupt, it also claims that God has the power to transform them if they become Christians.

      It also claims that such transformation is progressive and will not be completed in this life. Transformation is expected, but it is also expected that some people will have a lot of ground to cover, some will change slowly, and others may claim the name of Christian but have unchanged hearts. This limits the expected extent of moral conduct as validation for Christianity.

    • Rich H

      It seems to me that two things are being confused here.

      Truth is not dependent upon anything external to itself. Truth remains truth even if there is no evidence to back it up. The truths of Christianity would remain true, even if there were no Christians left to bear witness to the truth.

      However, as Christians we are called to bear witness to the truth. And we are given gifts and graces that enable us to be credible witnesses.

      We fail. We make decisions based on sinful motives. We sin. These sins tend to ruin our Christian witness. But they do not have any bearing on the truth.

      And the reality is, there are people who will judge the truth of Christianity based on the behavior of Christians.

      Therefore, we as Christians must strive to be imitators of Christ; so that our witness to the world is strong, and because we are called to do so.

    • EricW

      So are some of you saying that if you saw Jesus Christ, right now…today, with the nail prints in his hands and the sword wound in his side that that alone would not be enough
      1. to convince you that everything else Christ said was true?
      2. Doesn’t the resurrection verify EVERYTHING written in the Bible?

      1. Probably.
      2. No.

    • Scott F

      I have always thought that if Christian’s are no different from other people then What’s The Point? God raised Jesus from the dead? Yea, God! While the resurrection proves that all the things said about Jesus’ death are true and that God has the power to do such a thing it in no way proves that the resurrection has any effect on Christians. If God has the power to change lives then we should those changes in action. Only the evidence of Christian Love and action can prove that.

      It is certainly possible that the majority of those carrying around Bibles are not Christians in any real sense. In fact I would assume that to be the case given how many are raised in the church and how fashionable WWJD bracelets can be in certain parts of the US. That produces a dilemma in even figuring out what the behavior of the real Christians is. Is it what the folks in the pews are doing? Certainly not. Is it what the really nice people at church do? That is a circular argument. If i squint my eyes maybe I can discern a pattern but not with any kind of certainty.

    • starbreez


    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Obviously, followers of Christ aim to reflect Christ in their walk and behavior. Hopefully, our lives are a positive witness to the Gospel. But on occasion, they are not. We don’t want to be like Peter who denied Christ 3 times, but we do fall short at times.

      And when we fall short, we rely on His grace, and we would like for folks to understand what Michael said:

      Christianity is not validated upon the character of its adherents.

      Christianity is based solely on the historic person and work of Christ.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      I’d like to submit the following for consideration based on what CMP has written:

      o “Christianity is not validated upon the character of its adherents.”

      (a) Christianity is not invalidated by the poor conduct of its adherents.
      (b) Christianity is not validated by the wonderful conduct of its adherents, either.

      o Let’s hypothetically say that as a generalized whole, Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, etc. have “better” conduct than professing Christians (a term that’s somewhat lost its meaning given the huge spectrum and divide between conservative Christians and liberal Christians) in the subjective view and perception of some people.

      Let’s focus on Mormons. Let’s say that a lot of people think Mormons live more exemplary lives than professing Christians.

      Does this mean that Mormonism is true? And Christianity is false? Or that Christianity’s claims are not as true as Mormonism’s claims?

      There are probably a lot of people who’d think so. But they’d be wrong!

      Mormonism is false and Christianity is true.

      And I submit this example as an argument in support of Michael’s argument.

    • Cannie

      michael, you don’t have to put this comment on the page. i just wanted to tell you that your title has an important misspelling. it should be “dependent” with an e in every syllable.

    • Amy Jo Garner

      CMP, I agree in principle. However, I also think that, even though our behavior/character does not validate Christianity, we will be held accountable for our actions. If anything I do causes someone like the man you were speaking with to turn away from the faith, then I fully expect that I will be called to account for that on the day of judgment. I may even discover that I am knocking and knocking asking to be let in and saying, I did all these things in your name, only to hear, “I don’t know you.”

    • JS Allen

      Christians don’t help matters by making the absurd claim that society cannot be moral without being Christian.

    • Scott F

      “Mormonism is false and Christianity is true”

      Don’t tell the Mormons!! ;^)

      Of course Christians take this position but don’t expect outsiders to come to the same conclusion. Mormonism teeters mainly on their customs which lie outside the mainstream – their “other-ness” – but mainly on their history of polygamy and the fringe groups still practicing it. Polygamy is just too far beyond the pale (unless you are an OT patriarch!) In this way I think they are viewed like the Jews, a group which often purposefully marks itself as separate.

      So, in the Niceness brackets, evangelicals may not grab the top seed but I think in reality few people choose a religion based on that. Doctrine and style play a larger part in influencing religious membership. In as far as these influence action, perhaps we are on to something.

    • Boz

      Paul Wright, thanks for that link about burdensome details and the conjunction rule. This leads me to ask the reader of this thread: What is the minimum list of events that must be true for you to say that “my version of christianity is true” ?

      Can you still say that “(your version of) Christianity is true if”:

      -the earth is ~4.5b years old
      -the garden of eden is not a real historical event
      -adam, eve, methuselah are not actual historical people
      -abraham, isaac, Jacob are not actual historal people
      -the exodus did not occur
      -the bible contains many errors and contradictions
      -jesus did not walk on water
      -jesus said and did almost none of the words/actions attributed to him in the NT
      -jesus did not get crucified
      -jesus did not exist – he is a myth
      -jesus was not bodily ressurected
      -jesus was just a normal person – he was not related to yahweh
      -jesus did not visually appear to anyone after he died
      -heaven/hell does not exist
      -souls do not exist
      -no miracles have ever occured in human history
      -the deity named yahweh does not exist
      -the holy spirit does not exist
      -the idea of sin has no basis in reality it is false.
      -yahweh was not involved in writing and compiling the bible; it was done by men.
      -Zeus exists

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Boz, #27,

      If somebody died while believing the list of things you wrote…

      (nice way) they’d be separated from God.

      (direct way) they’d be hellbound.

      If it was a family member that believed that list and they died, it would be very sad for the honest Bible-believing, Jesus-following Christian. They’d kinda know where their family member is gonna end up.

      Of course, denial is more comforting. At least a lot of times it is.

    • Michael T.

      The answers

      -the earth is ~4.5b years old

      Christianity would be fine

      -the garden of eden is not a real historical event

      Christianity would be fine – this would require rethinking how original sin works in the Western Church (Roman Catholics and Protestants) and to a lesser extent in the Eastern Church

      -adam, eve, methuselah are not actual historical people

      Same as above

      -abraham, isaac, Jacob are not actual historal people

      Christianity would be fine even if the entire OT wasn’t historical Christianity would need to rethink some doctrines such as inerrancy, but the Core of Christianity would still be there

      -the exodus did not occur

      Same as above

      -the bible contains many errors and contradictions

      This would make things more difficult, but there is no requirement that God communicate through inerrant means. The question is one of whether the New Testament accounts are generally accurate in the sense that other ancient historical documents are.

      -jesus did not walk on water

      Same as above

      -jesus said and did almost none of the words/actions attributed to him in the NT

      This would probably destroy Christianity. If we really have absolutely no idea who Christ was in even a rough errant sketch kinda way one must wonder what the point is.

      -jesus did not get crucified
      -jesus did not exist – he is a myth
      -jesus was not bodily ressurected
      -jesus was just a normal person – he was not related to yahweh
      -jesus did not visually appear to anyone after he died
      -heaven/hell does not exist
      -souls do not exist
      -no miracles have ever occured in human history
      -the deity named yahweh does not exist
      -the holy spirit does not exist
      -the idea of sin has no basis in reality it is false.
      -yahweh was not involved in writing and compiling the bible; it was done by men.
      -Zeus exists

      For all of the remaining ones listed above these would be fatal to Christianity for the most part.

    • Boz

      Thanks for the detailed response on each item, MichaelT.

      Bringing this back to the OP, where CMP said: “Christianity is true if Christ rose from the dead. If he did not, it is false. That is it.”

      This should be expanded to say:

      “(your sect of) Christianity is true if:
      (1) Christ rose from the dead; and
      (2) Jesus died by crucifixion; and
      (3) Yahweh exists; and
      (4) Jesus is the son of Yahweh; and
      (5) Jesus visually appeared to his disciples after he died; and
      (6) Jesus said/did most of the things attributed to him the 4 canon gospels; and
      (7) heaven/hell exist; and
      (8) every person has a soul; and
      (9) the holy spirit exists; and
      (10) sin is a real concept; and
      (11) yahweh was directly involved in writing and compiling the bible; and
      (12) No other deities exist; and
      (13) Some other things I have probably missed.

      Is this a fair statement?

    • […] “‘Christianity Is Dependent On Your Character Witness’… And Other Stupid Sta… by Michael Patton over at Parchment and Pen. […]

    • Yohan Perera

      Michael, may be you are right – may be you are wrong…

      I don’t agree with the man who left Christianity because of the war between Palestinians and Israeli (that’s a different story).

      But I don’t want to give unbelievers the advantage of finding excuses for not believing from my less than standard Christian life??

      I am less than perfect, but I always depend on God’s grace to live a model life…

    • Michael T.

      I must’ve missed some of your points in the first post that aren’t neccessary so I’ll respond to the numbers on you’re last post

      I would agree wholeheartedly that in order for Christianity to exist (at least as historically understood) 1,2,3,4,6,9 and 10 have to be true.

      Some of the other’s I would agree with, but with some qualifications

      5. Jesus didn’t “have” to appear to his disciples for Christianity to be true. If for some strange reason someone believed the core points of Christianity (one of which being that Christ bodily rose from the dead), but didn’t believe he appeared to his disciples that person would still be a Christian.

      7. Heaven and Hell have to exist, but not necessarily as traditionally understood for Christianity to be true (for instance though I believe annihilationism is wrong someone who believes this is still a Christian).

      8. There are many different ways of viewing the human being in Christianity some believing in 1,2, or 3 parts. Thus one can make a system where we don’t have soul per se and still have Christianity be true.

      11. Depends on what you mean by “directly”. This goes to inspiration. The Bible could not be inspired in the way it is classically understood and Christianity could still be true. I would say though that the Bible has to be generally reliable in order for Christianity to be true. This should be merged with point 6 and state “The Bible is generally reliable”.

      12. Depends on what you mean by “deity”. I think the correct statement would be that no other greatest possible beings exist. Lesser deities of some type (angels and demons in some ways fit this category) could still exist and not falsify Christianity.

    • Michael T.


      Thought about it some more. Remove number 6 and 11 from you’re list and replace it with this. “The Bible is generally reliable concerning the events of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ”. I think this would be all that is necessary for Christianity to be true as far as inspiration and accuracy is concerned. Inerrant inspiration is certainly not necessary for Christianity to be true though I personally affirm the inspiration of the Bible as well as a nuanced form of inerrancy. General reliability is necessary though because otherwise there is really not much to base statements about Christ on.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Think about the dangers of doctrinal minimalism.

    • mbaker

      I totally concur that Christianity is about Christ, and what He did on the cross. That establishes our credibility with God.

      However, as those who carry His name, we are called to be imitators of Christ, in ALL our ways. When our own opinions of what we think the Bible says (or not) about history, the age of the earth, evolution vs creationism, etc; become more important than what it actually teaches about Christ, and how HE wants Christians to behave, then we are not giving Christ due credit.

      I can, for instance, stand outside and call myself a tree if I so desire, but others can readily see that I am not one. Same with calling myself a Christian. I can act any way I personally choose, and call it being under grace, but that doesn’t mean I am modeling the same grace God has extended to me, through Christ, to others.

      If we are turning folks off by our own egotistical need to be ‘right’ before men, and we attack folks cruelly for daring to even question us,
      then are we full of the grace and truth of Christ or full of something else?

    • Michael T.

      Think about the dangers of the opposite as well. One must realize that many of the particular beliefs of people on this site, including myself, are fairly modern inventions. For instance the Penal Substitution Theory of the Atonement was first articulated by John Calvin in the 1500’s. Prior to that people believed the Satisfaction Theory articulated by Anselm around 1100, and prior to that people believed the Ransom/Christus Victor Theory which dates back to some of the earliest Christian writings. Another example is exclusively practicing believer’s baptism which only dates to the 16th Century. I’m simply not going to declare a doctrine central to the Christian faith when doing so declares every Christian prior to “X” date a non-Christian.

      In the end in responding to the this list I’m simply saying that if X is true I would not find it fatal to my faith and would still believe. There are simply some things which completely destroy the Christian Faith if true (i.e. if it turns out that Zeus is the true GPB) and others which would just require some rethinking of how we see things (i.e. if inerrancy isn’t true).

    • Lynn


      No one has ever attacked me cruelly for daring to question them, but I did have an acquaintance who set me straight using all caps and lots of exclamation points. I had dared to ask questions-very respectfully-of her faith. She got very offended and de-friended me-FOR ASKING QUESTIONS VERY RESPECTFULLY.

      I was just reading about someone on a mission board daring to question baptism numbers. Things got smoothed by the questioner agreeing to “speak positively only.” Scary stuff!!

    • I want to be a Father…

      I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

    • Greg Long

      Michael T,

      You’re quite wrong about the Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory.

      Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, in their book Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution, write:

      “In truth the weight of the evidence is quite overwhelming, and it is worth reflecting on the extracts cited in the following pages to feel the full force of it. The myth of the ‘late development’ of penal substitution has persisted for quite long enough. It is time to lay it to rest for good” (p. 163-164).

      They go on to cite writings from the following people who affirm or assume PSA:

      Justin Martyr (100-165)
      Eusebius of Caesarea (275-339)
      Hilary of Poitiers (300-368)
      Athanasius (300-373)
      Gregory of Nazianzus (330-390)
      Ambrose of Milan (339-397)
      John Chrysostom (350-407)
      Augustine (354-430)
      Cyril of Alexandria (375-444)
      Gelasius of Cyzicus (5th cent.)
      Gregory the Great (540-604)
      Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

    • stan

      The prophet said to King David: ” Your sin as also been “taken away”.

      But then he said this: ” Because you have given the enemies of the Lord a chance to blasphem, your child will die”


    • Michael T.

      Every person on you’re list other than Aquinas (who actually developed the Anselmian Satisfaction into official understanding of the Roman Catholic Church in Summa Theolgica and in fact goes out of his way to make it clear that his theory should not be thought of in legal terms) held to the Ransom Theory. This is disputed by exceedingly few historians Christian or Secular, though of course you can always find someone to support just about anything.

      Now did some of the author’s make statements which can be read as penal substitution? Of course. This is because substitution is a part of virtually all theories of the atonement including Ransom. Yet forcing penal substitution on these quote is in most cases the result of trying to force our preconceptions on these writings and taking them out of context. We all, whether it be regarding atonement or believer’s baptism (both of which I affirm), want to find support for our case in the Early Church. This can sometimes lead us to see something where their is nothing. The truth is many of the quotes in question (I haven’t read the book, but I have seen people try to defend this position before with quotes from the people you mention so I’m guessing the quotes in the book are similar) fit just fine with a proper understanding of Ransom Theory.

      One also must note that many of the quotes in the cases of the people you list above are small snippets rather than systematic treatments of the issue of atonement. By far the most extensive and clear treatment of the issue was by Iranaeus and this clearly advocated ransom theory. Even the Roman Catholic Church which largely holds to the Satisfaction Theory as modified by Aquinas (which is a precursor to Penal Substitution and contains many similarities) admits the theory wasn’t articulated until Anselm. Now no offense, but I can’t figure out why a institution which prides itself on “never changing” would admit this.

    • Michael T.

      Was just searching and found this published article in Evangelical Quarterly on the claims of that book. It pretty much says what I just said, but goes more in depth looking at some of the specific claims and quotes.

    • JRoach

      When I became a Christian twenty-something years ago I did not have any close friends or aquaintences that lived a Christ-like life. It was the Holy Spirit that convicted me and basically roped me in to repentance and in receiving Christ. Just as reasoning with people, in itself, will not lead someone to be born again neither will bad Christian-examples lead people away from Christ. I do believe that a life of godliness, especially when they see you go through trials, is an opportunity to explain why you have a peace and joy in your heart.

    • […] Von C. Michael Patton – Parchment and Pen […]

    • […] It is, as you might suspect, an hommage to your own provocatively titled series, last seen here.  Besides, you start your part three by admitting that its argument is (a) not a very good one and […]

    • Rueben

      I just finished watching the “Jesus Camp” documentary and thanks Mike, this is very refreshing. Hit it right on the spot.

    • Tony Jones

      I just read your comment on the validity of Christianity not being determined by the character of its adherents. I see your point but I am not totally convinced. I mean, it does not seem unusual to judge a belief sysem by those who claim to follow it. The arguments for and against any system of ideas are complex and never black or white. Some say the Bible says this, others say ‘no, it says that’. Some say ‘this is what this passage means’ other say, ‘no, this is what it means’. How are we to decide? One way is to look at the actions of the followers. An argument I have with a friend goes like this: he says Marxism is the only real way to interpret the world, and I say, for heaven’s sake over 100 million people have died because of it and he says, maybe, but that is because people have interpreted it wrongly, and I say; if over 100 million people have died because of ‘wrong interpretation’ when is enough going to be enough? How many have to die before someone says, ‘hang on this idea just aint worth it?’ So, in conclusion, I do not think it silly to judge a system of ideas by the action of the followers.

    • […] now, back to the reputation issue. I totally agree with what Michael Patton wrote: “thankfully, God did not confine the validation of his message to the character witness of sinners… If God did, Christianity would be long gone. Epic fail. Now of course that does not mean that […]

    • Isha

      True stuff. Christianity is an objective truth. Whether or not our actions show Christ is in our lives has nothing to do with the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. If it were the case that the validity of ANY “religion” rested on the character of its adherents, then we need to figure something else out O_o

      And no one denies the fact that our fruits are a WITNESS to the world. But they are only that: a witness, not validation.

    • […] have spoken about this before, but it is important to realize that Christianity is not dependant on the character witness of its […]

    • Cynthia

      It seems irrelevant to post to say this, but I agree with the Buddhist convert that, at the very least, most Christians are ill-informed of the complexity of the israeli/palestine conflict and often cast support to the wrong side- the side committing the most unjust acts.

      However, I would agree with Michael’s assessment that the validity of Christianity does not rest alone on the character witness of it’s adherents. To be sure there are plenty of examples of exemplary Christians and christian groups in history and today, but the problem for the individual, at least in my life, is the paradox of true freedom in Christ verses the real call to discipleship and all that entails. This is part of what makes Christianity truly unique. God does not ask us to do any good works to receive the gift of salvation. this is in contrast to other cults and religions that do rely on external works for salvation and, therefore, that heavy burden of doing good is placed on the individual. It becomes fear based system of good works rather than simply doing good out of the love in your heart. Humans have a hard time dealing with true freedom and become lazy when this is the motivation from which we are to act (freedom in Christ to loving Him and others fully in daily life). I am guilty of this and I know many others are as well and this does have an appearance to the outside world. But the more I learn about Christianity, the more I realize that it is not about me and my failures or successes for that matter, but it is about the answer to the question “who do you say that I AM”? that matters. While I do understand the validity of the question “how could a Christian/Christians behave that way”, it is deflection from the real question the individual should be asking and answering.

    • jeremy

      I agree that salvation is solely the work of God, and it’s not dependent on anything or anybody else. Nobody gets the glory but God alone. It’s His work. But just to balance this out, it also doesn’t mean that we don’t follow the commands to love one another, etc. sanctification still has to have a place in a christian’s life. Christians too are God’s workmanship

    • richnhe

      sorry if imay ask. Are christians not epistles? who said Israel and palestine is about christianity? what is a christian character? help me let find our stand and that of God.

    • P James

      Great post Michael. Very helpful. The Israel/Palestine thing is by no means a deal breaker, but it might be helpful to post something about it, clearing up the confusion as many people, Christians and non-Christians cannot come to terms with how many evangelical and charismatic Christians are so gung ho for an apparent bully. In my experience I find that many Christians on both sides of the argument often hold their positions for emotional reasons and as a result tend to hold extreme views either way. It’s natural for Christians to champion the underdog. 60 years ago, it was obvious who the underdog was. Today it’s not so clear cut. Christians who express even the mildest sympathy for the Palestinians are often quickly hooted down as ‘anti-Semitic’ and Christians who express any sympathy for Israel are likewise unreasonably criticized by the other camp. I realize you’re probably not about tell us which side to support, but I think some kind of clarification, perspective or explanation would be helpful. Thanks.

    • Donna Boone

      Wow can’t tell ya what a comfort this was. I have many times been reluctant to share Christ because of my times of being a poor follower. If I tell someone Christ changes us and brings joy, then I feel obligated to try to act different and exude joy. Being a nurse I can relate to the fact if I tell someone wrong about a medical/scientific fact then that does not negate that fact.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.