I recently engaged in a light Twitter exchange with a few atheists after I posted the following tweet:
Christians love atheists and adherents of other religions, not because we accept their worldview, but precisely because we don’t.
— Derek Brown (@DerekBrown24) April 12, 2016
A few self-described atheists didn’t think this statement sounded too loving. One suggested that I needed to “open my heart.” Another said that “Christian love” is a joke over which no one is laughing anymore.
My point in the tweet was to highlight the truth that the Christian worldview, when truly embraced, enables a person to love those with whom they disagree. For example, as a Christian I believe the biblical doctrines about God, humanity, Christ, heaven, hell, and salvation to be true. Because of this, I do not accept worldviews like atheism, agnosticism, Buddhism, Hindusim, Islam, to name a few, because these belief systems are contrary to biblical Christianity and therefore not true. Yet the Christian worldview, while simultaneously requiring me to reject contrary worldviews as false, enables me to love atheists and those who adhere to other religions for two basic reasons.
All Men and Women are Made in the Image of God
First, the one with whom I disagree is made in the image of God. Even though adherents of other religions reject the God of the Bible, they are, nevertheless, God’s image bearers (Gen 1:26). For this reason they are worthy of love and dignity. I can treat them respectfully while listening to their position and making sure that I can articulate their beliefs in a way they would find satisfying.
And despite our vast differences in worldview, Christ calls me to love my neighbor, to feed my enemy, to do good to those who hate me, and gently correct those who oppose the truth of the gospel (Matt 22:39; Rom 12:20; Luke 6:27; Tim 2:24-26). Now, if you’re not a Christian, you may not like that last statement. To say that your opposition to Christianity needs correcting is to imply that your worldview is wrong, an implication you may take as tantamount to rejecting you as a person. But the two actions (rejecting your worldview and rejecting you as a person) are not the same. But more on this point in a moment.
Salvation is All of Grace
The second reason the Christian worldview enables believers to love others is because it teaches us that our ability to embrace Christ is not the fruit of any moral or intellectual superiority. In fact, the Bible teaches that Christians are Christians entirely because of God’s grace. For no reason other than sovereign love and kindness, God has opened the eyes of believers to behold the glorious reality of Jesus Christ. When Christians are living consistently within a biblical worldview, they will sense a deep compassion and love for those with whom they disagree because they know that it is only grace makes them differ (1 Cor 4:6-7).
I suspect, however, that one reason we have come to equate the rejection of our worldview with personal rejection is because our contemporary intellectual climate has disabled us from withstanding and responding to rigorous debate and disagreement. Frankly, our feelings are easily hurt, and when people disagree with us, point out our inconsistencies, or tell us–gasp–that we’re wrong about something, we take their opposition to our ideas as a personal attack.
But Scripture gives us insight into the real root of the problem.
Hiding from God
Ever since Adam and Eve’s first sin, mankind has been hiding from God. Due to their real and perceived guilt, their failed attempt at self-atonement to cleanse the conscience, and the fear of impending judgment, God’s first humans sought refuge among the trees. They hid from God because he knew he was worthy of death. And Adam and Eve’s progeny are still hiding.
The natural and predominant motion of the human heart to hide itself from God. When confronted with the reality of God’s majesty and holiness and the reality of our condemnation, we hide, and for good reason: we, like Adam, deserve death. But unlike Adam, we no longer hide among the trees. Rather, we find refuge in sophisticated philosophical arguments, religious duties, outright denial of our sin, good works or a combination of all of these. We will do anything we can to cover our shame and keep God from discovering our sin.
But God has provided a refuge infinitely better than trees and philosophical arguments or good works. On the cross Jesus Christ bore the punishment and death that we deserve and now calls out to all men to hide in him. And Jesus is ready and willing to accept the worst of sinners if they will turn from their sin and trust in him.
Why Christians Hold the Line
Like my tweet implied, in order for a Christian to truly love others, we cannot accept worldviews that are contrary to Scripture. Why? Because we believe that a person’s eternal destiny is dependent upon whether or not they embrace the truth about Jesus Christ and what he has done on behalf of sinners. To yield to worldviews that oppose biblical truth is not loving or open-hearted or kind, but hateful. Christians hold the line on biblical truth, not because they love opposition, but because they love people and want them to understand the gospel. Allowing the lines to blur between Christianity and other worldviews only promotes confusion and obstructs people from beholding the good news.
To reject your worldview, therefore, is not the same as rejecting you as a person. How can this be? Because rejecting your worldview may be the means by which I am able to introduce superior knowledge to your heart and mind. Indeed, rejecting your worldview may be one of the most profound ways I can express my love to you, for I am willing to oppose what is eternally harmful to your soul and tell you the best news in the universe. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.