The emperor has no clothes. You all know the story. When people have an influential belief, there are reasons why it is influential, right? Of course, or it would not be influential. But the “what” of these reasons is always a case of hit or miss apologetics where consideration of their view is either asked for based upon the evidence, or demanded by a passionate appeal. Those who use the latter to argue their case have little recourse other than emotions.

To those of you who are influential teachers and have a platform of communication, if you have doubt about what you are saying, I have some advice to be followed in this order. 1) Speak louder! 2) And if that does not work, speak deeper. 3) And if that still does not work, do all this with an British accent! The problem with this methodology is that eventually you will be shown to have no clothes. In other words, your arguments (or lack thereof) will be revealed to be naked and unworthy of consideration.

In truth, the real advice should always be to speak with intellectual honesty. If your position is not strong, present it as such. If you have not studied the options, don’t speak on the issue with authority. If the evidence goes against your persuasion, you must follow the evidence, not your presuppositions – no matter how noble they may be. If you don’t, your only argumentative recourse is the dishonorable three-step method that I described above.

I was reading an atheist web-site the other day and noticed a “top ten list for why Christianity is wrong.” I like to read these. Sometimes you will encounter some arguments that are more difficult than we would like to admit, but for the most part you find misrepresentations and question-begging arguments that do more to increase the veracity of the Christian faith than they do to take away from it. Below is an illustration of a question begging argument. It is one of the ten.

Christianity Cannot be the Religion that Jesus Preached: The story of Christianity is the story of the beliefs that Jesus professed developing into the religion that professes Jesus. In other words; dogma. It is pure folly to believe that Simon Peter, Thomas, Mary Magdalene followed Jesus because, when he died, they would be able to absolve their sins by believing in him. This later theological construction was created by believers who were searching for a meaning to the seemingly pointless execution of their leader and teacher. Those who originally followed Jesus did so because of his life—because he was an exemplary teacher who radically reinterpreted the Law in favor of inclusion rather than exclusion. Those who now follow Jesus do so because of his death. They turn a man’s poignant teachings—his life’s work—into a secondary and near meaningless preface to the panacea of his death. We primarily have Paul and John the evangelist (two people who did not know Jesus in his life) to thank for this inexcusable dumbing-down of Jesus’ life. With Paul and John’s help, what Christianity would become is embodied in the Nicene Creed. Take a look at it. Dogmatic fiat has expurgated everything the man stood for.

I am not going to take the time to refute this accretions simply because it has no substance to refute. I use it as an illustration of a question begging argument. For those of you not familiar with this argumentative fallacy, it is relatively simple. It is an argument that assumes its proposition in order to argue for the proposition.

Here is the essence of the argument above:

Proposition: Christianity cannot be the religion that Jesus preached
Reason 1: It is folly to believe that Christianity is preserved by the disciples
Reason 2: People made up the stories of Christianity in order to find meaning in Jesus’ death
Conclusion: Christianity cannot be the religion Jesus preached and is therefore wrong

Reason 1 and 2 assume the proposition to be true and therefore “beg the question.” There is a reason why this is a fallacy – it does not put forward any real argument. It is based upon the assumption and presuppositions of the adherent. Here is another example:

Proposition: God does not exist
Reason 1: People make up religion because they have to make sense out of the world
Reason 2: Without religion, God is not needed
Conclusion: People made up the idea of God

Again, you should quickly be able to spot the fallacy here. Reason 1 assumes the proposition, but does not argue for it. This argument has no real substance and therefore demands no assent.

In conclusion, my advice to those out there who desire to put forward such arguments is this: 1) Speak louder! 2) And if that does not work, speak deeper. 3) And if that still does not work, do it with an English accent.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon 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. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    5 replies to "Why Christianity Cannot be the Religion that Jesus Preached: An illustration of question begging"

    • Vance

      I really like the point that we should all limit our areas of dogmatism and present our position with the exact degree of certainty that the evidence and reasoning process supports.

      And, if our belief is based, even in part, on faith rather than entirely on the “objective” evidence, then we need to make that an “up front” proposition.

      I always have a great deal of respect for Christian scholars who admit that “but for my faith, the evidence when viewed entirely objectively would tend to point in another direction.” That takes guts.

    • C Michael Patton

      Vance, I agree. Those who have truly studied the options with the degree of objectivity that is available to them, can speak with honest and therefore gain quite a bit more authority. Again, it is an issue of irenics. The funny thing is that people who speak with the most baseless conviction, normally have the least amount of real confidence.

    • Vance

      I have always found that people can accept and even respect a claim to faith in uncertain areas much more than dogmatic, but weakly supported, “factual” confidence. And, in the end, it will be more persuasive. The latter they can dismiss, and usually rightly so, because it is an assertion of something that isn’t there: absolute proof. The former they can not dismiss, other than to dismiss matters of faith outright, so that leaves the door open, even if only a crack.

    • kolabok21

      I would offer this; it is okay to presuppose it is a misguided attempt to create a religion, even in the mind of an atheist. But I would point out that even as Christianity is concerned, we can go the historical route and discover many things that make Jesus truly come to life, even for some one that would argue otherwise with absurdities that well, only an Atheist would presuppose.
      Here are some books that beg further digesting,

      1. Try any of Dr. Robert H. Steins, well worth the read and they are usually less than 200 pages, (Introduction to the parables of Jesus, The Method & Message of Jesus Teachings and quite a few more.
      2. Try Joachim Jeremias, the Germans really set the standard in the beginning of the 20th century
      3. And Matthew Black, an Aramaic approach to the gospels and acts

      It may not be Christianity that Jesus preached, but it surly set a standard to follow!
      IMO when one can break the barriers of dogmas and see all sources, and then truly this individual will be rewarded inwardly by the spirit.
      I have a much greater appreciation of the historical Jesus after checking these guys out!

    • Kipp

      Mmmm I see what you’re saying, but it only works if the bit after the colon is a logical defense of the bit before the colon. That’s an assumption on your part. More likely, the bit after the colon is an elaboration of the bit before, with no proof intended. To say it a different way, does the colon mean “because” or does it mean “in other words”?

      Don’t get me wrong, either way the author is not supplying any content to refute.

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