An Atheist Explores Evangelical Christianity in Its Own Words: Interview w CRU Leader Matt Baehr

As far as I can tell, a fundamental tenant of Humanism is an agreement on the inherent equality of all people. For me, this means a responsibility to realize that equality–not an easy nor a simple task. But a good place to start is to attempt to understand the lives and point-of-views of people who are different from us. For many Humanists, the belief divide is a difficult place to find understanding. To make a foray across one such belief divide I talked with Matt Baehr, a CRU (formally Campus Crusade for Christ) leader in NJ and Evangelical Christian. I wanted to attempt to see the world from his point of view– to give him an opportunity to explain his beliefs and tradition unfiltered.

Before we started, Matt wanted to frame his words with a few stipulations. As in this endeavor we are attempting to bridge one of the statistically largest of belief gaps, I think that’s not only fair, but worthwhile.

 

Matt Bhaer is

Matt Bhaer is the Missional Team Leader for CRU, a national Evangelical Christian campus ministry, in southern New Jersey

Matt Baehr: I need to say 3 things at the outset of my attempting to answer these questions.

  1. My opinion has no bearing on what is true. What’s true is true regardless of my opinion on it. I will try to communicate what is true in my responses. (John 8:32)
  2. Volumes have been written on most of these questions.  There is no way I will be able to give satisfying answers for the majority of them. I welcome dialogue on any of the answers I have given.
  3. The Biblical author Paul says in I Corinthians 2:1-5 “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”  Me too.

 

Wendy Webber: What is CRU and what is your role in it?

MB: Cru is the largest Christian missions organization in the world. We are a caring community passionate about connecting people to Jesus Christ. We long to see movements everywhere so that everyone knows someone who truly follows Christ. I am the Missional Team Leader for southern New Jersey. Cru is my employer, more importantly Jesus is whom I serve.

 

WW: What is your religious history? Were you raised in your current denomination? Or did you have a conversion experience?

MB: I was raised in the Plymouth Brethren denomination.  My wife and I were married by the pastor of the Calvary Chapel we attended while in college.  Currently we are members of an Evangelical Free church and I work for an interdenominational organization.  Denomination doesn’t matter when considering salvation through faith in Christ.  I first acknowledged my sin and put my faith in Christ to save me when I was 5 years old.  In college I went through a season of needing to make sure my faith was my own and not just my parents’.  I studied other religions and compared them to Christianity.  I found one key difference that served to strengthen and solidify my Christian faith, but that’s a conversation for another time.

 

WW: What is the core of your Christian beliefs?

MB: God created people in His image. People are under God’s authority and it is good. (Genesis 1:1,27, 31)

People rejected God and chose self-rule. (Genesis 3, 6:5-6, Romans 1:25)

As a result people became sinful and separated from God (death ultimately means spiritual separation from God) (Genesis 2:16-17, Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:23-25, Romans 6:23) We are deserving of God’s just and righteous wrath. (Romans 1:18)

Though we betrayed God, He did not abandon us. Through the prophets God promised to send a savior who would restore and rescue us from the consequences of our sin and betrayal. (Isaiah 7:14, 25:7, 62:11-12, + over 90 specific prophecies regarding the coming Messiah that were all fulfilled in Jesus Christ!)

Jesus Christ is our savior God (Messiah). God came to earth as a man and lived the sinless life we can’t live…life as it was meant to be. (John 3:16-17, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 5:8, all of chapter 8, Titus 3:3-7, I Peter 3:18)  He was put to death and buried to pay the price of our sin (remember Romans 6:23?) then defeated death and sin by rising again from the dead. (I Corinthians 15:3-8)

It is not just enough to know these truths (James 2:19). We must each individually receive God’s free gift of salvation and forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. (John 1:12, 5:24, 6:40, Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9, Ephesians 2:8-9, 1 John 5:11-12)

The Holy Spirit empowers the Christian to live a life that glorifies God. (Galatians 5:16-26)

God will also one day return to judge all with perfect fairness, restore the brokenness of this world and abolish death and sin forever. (Revelation 21:3-4) Those who have chosen to reject God and not accept his free gift of salvation, whether through active rebellion or passive indifference, will be separated from Him for eternity.  The Non-Christian will essentially experience eternal death as opposed to the Christian’s experience of eternal life. “Now this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3

 

WW: What the most important activity you engage in as a Christian? How do your Christian beliefs manifest in your daily life?

MB: Strive to glorify God in all I do. (Colossians 3:17)  Make Jesus known. (Matthew 28:18-20, John 17) Give my life in service to others. (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45) There are also spiritual disciplines I take part in such as reading/studying the Bible, praying, sharing the gospel with others, etc.

 

WW: From your perspective, how do we reach world peace?

MB: Because we live in a broken world I don’t believe world peace is possible.  That doesn’t mean we don’t strive for it. (Philippians 3-4:1) From a Christian’s perspective, if God made the world and it is my aim to glorify Him in all I do and give my life in service to others (see question 4), it only follows that I would make it my aim to heal the world’s brokenness however I can.  Also, as I mentioned in question 3, I look forward to the day when Jesus Christ comes back, restores the brokenness and sets things right again.  On that day the Bible says people from every tribe, tongue, nation and language will be united in perfect, holy and eternally satisfying worship of Jesus! (Revelation 7:9-12) If that isn’t a description of world peace, I don’t know what is.

 

WW: How do you understand innocent suffering and the existence of evil?

MB: There is just way too much to say on this subject.  I won’t do it justice in this paragraph. I encourage you to read chapter two of Timothy Keller’s book The Reason For God. Succinctly, the existence of evil and suffering is, if anything, evidence for God. How would you know something was evil or someone was suffering if there wasn’t an ultimate standard of goodness and pleasure set by a personal God who is characterized by those perfect attributes? Without God, evil and suffering are truly pointless and leave us hopeless.  To take it further, the fact that God was willing to empty himself of his glory, become a man and subject Himself to evil and suffering beyond our comprehension in order to redeem us gives us an incredible amount of hope when facing evil and suffering. (Philippians 2:5-8)  That inspires the Christian to follow Christ’s lead to take action and fight against evil and suffering in this world as we anticipate our future hope. What is our future hope?  In The Reason For God, Timothy Keller says while quoting C.S. Lewis

They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. This is the ultimate defeat of evil and suffering. It will not only be ended but so radically vanquished that what has happened will only serve to make our future life and joy infinitely greater! (see Revelation 21:1-4)

 

WW: Does God ‘intercede’ in human lives? Do modern day miracles happen?

MB: Yes God intercedes in human lives.  The very act of salvation is Him interceding in our lives. He sovereignly holds the world together. He has even the hairs of our head numbered! (Matthew 10:26-33)

In regards to modern day miracles:

“And if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” I Corinthians 15:17-19

“And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.’…And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’” Luke 1:30-31, 34

Clearly I need to believe in miracles as a Christian.  The Christian faith is based on the reality of certain miracles and the evidence surrounding the fact that they actually happened (i.e. the resurrection, the immaculate conception, etc).

However the word “miracles” comes with some baggage because people claim that miracles happen all the time. For instance people refer to “the miracle of child birth” however it is a process that has occurred countless times throughout the course of human history.  Or, “It was a miracle that I passed that test without studying!”  Was it? Probably not.  In his book The Artful Dodger, Dr. Alan Scholes defines miracles as “temporary interruptions or suspensions of the working of nature” and further, “Christians believe that the creator who made the system can also, if He wishes, invade the system and temporarily suspend or supercede one or more of the laws He put in place.”  There is so much more to say on this subject, but yes I do believe modern day miracles happen.  However, not everything that people call a miracle is actually a miracle.  And I am extremely skeptical of the “miracles” you see on Christian television.

 

WW: Is the Bible inerrant?

MB: I affirm what the first paragraph of the Cru Statement of Faith says regarding inerrancy.  It reads as follows:

The sole basis of our beliefs is the Bible, God’s infallible written Word, the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments. We believe that it was uniquely, verbally and fully inspired by the Holy Spirit and that it was written without error (inerrant) in the original manuscripts. It is the supreme and final authority in all matters on which it speaks.

Most Christians across varying denominations would affirm that statement.

 

WW: Is the US a Christian nation? In what way or why not?

MB: No. I think the way our society is structured and the things we value makes our nation look a lot more Secular Humanist than Christian.  There is no such thing as a Christian nation. Ask Constantine.

 

WW: Can non-Christians go to heaven?

MB: There is no Non-Christian who is ineligible to receive God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.  No one, regardless of how much they’ve sinned, is beyond the saving power of the gospel.  If someone chooses to reject the free gift of salvation that is offered to them through Christ, whether by an act of the will or passive indifference, they will not go to heaven.  Also the goal of Christianity isn’t even going to heaven, but that’s a conversation for another time.

 

Have more questions you'd like to ask?  Put them in the comments below!

Wendy Webber (Yale University)

Wendy WebberWendy is a graduate of Yale Divinity School, where she was a founding member of an atheist, agnostic, and multifaith community that continues to foster interbelief dialogues and initiatives. Currently she’s traveling the world with Pathfinders Project, which aims to create a permanent Humanist Service Corps. Wendy writes about religion, atheism, and interbelief primarily for her blog and State of Formation. When she is able, she plays tennis, takes photos, and enjoys offbeat museums.

8 responses to “An Atheist Explores Evangelical Christianity in Its Own Words: Interview w CRU Leader Matt Baehr

  1. Matt this is an outstanding apologetic for your faith. Praise God! Wish I had known Wendy Webber while she was at Yale

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  2. Matt, there are thousands of religions in the world today, and thousands that existed before Christianity, plus thousands more will probably arise in the future. This means that any one religion has a one in several thousandths (i.e., far less than 1%) chance of being the right one, if there is one. What reliable, objective, and unbiased process would you suggest a person follow to determine which religion, if any, is true?

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    • Hi Craig. Thanks so much for reading and responding! Your question is multifaceted. I will do my best to answer succinctly.
      1. If you refer to my answer on “What Is The Core of Your Christian Beliefs” you’ll see that the Christian faith goes all the way back to the creation of the world, specifically God creating man and woman in His image. We claim faith in the one true God who created the world and center our beliefs on His relationship with mankind. Christianity is not a faith that was made up after Jesus Christ walked the earth.
      2. As far as which religion, out of the thousands, is true we need to examine their differences rather than their similarities. Every world religion, except for Christianity, teaches that you need to follow a certain set of rules or standards in order to reach its goal (5 pillars, 8 fold path, reincarnation, “good without God”, etc.). The ownness of one’s acceptance is based on his/her ability to perform or “be good enough”. Christianity is the only religion that teaches that God knew we couldn’t meet His standard of perfection so He became a man, lived a perfect and righteous life according to heart of the law, yet took the blame of our sin on Himself and died in our place. He then defeated death and sin by resurrecting from the dead, so when we put our faith in Him, it is not our own righteousness that we’re claiming to make us acceptable before a holy God, it is His. It is not about my ability to be good enough. Jesus already was. That’s why He can say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
      3. That raises all sorts of questions about “reliable, objective and unbiased” processes of determining whether or not what Christians claim is true. There is a lot of undeniable evidence that Jesus was a real historical man and that he rose from the dead. I don’t have the space here to go into all of that, but I’d be happy to discuss those things with you further. Look me up on Facebook.

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      • Matt, your second point about the differences of religion is factually false.

        In Islam most Muslims believe salvation isn’t based on works but ultimately left to God and his mercy/compassion. Sufi Islam is about creating a personal relationship with God. Most Muslims explicitly say that their faith is not ‘works based’ but that works are a sign/product of faith. In fact, they see the lack of comparative works in Christianity as a sign of your lack of faith!

        And you apparently haven’t heard of Bhakti Hinduism, the most popular form of it by far, in which you devote yourself to a deity whose love and grace alone provides salvation.

        Christianity is certainly not unique in this way.

        And concerning Jesuss ‘unique’ selfless sacrifice he made for the world’s salvation, you should check out the two most popular forms of devotional Buddhism about Avalokitesvara and Amitaba. The former of the two, btw, made a vastly larger sacrifice for us than Jesus.

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        • Hey Paul! My question is, as you were finding these things out and walking away from Christianity, why didn’t you choose one of those religions over Christianity instead of deciding there is no God and becoming a Secular Humanist?

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          • Actually, I did seriously consider converting to Islam for a bit. During my last bouts with theism I really enjoyed Hinduism. I still have a lil shrine to Saraswati, goddess of education, in my room. And even now I believe Buddhism is basically Eastern Humanism. I have an article on that on this site, actually.

            In the end, however, Humanism answered intellectual, ethical, emotional, and social problems that the others could not.

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            • Right. The reason I asked is when people pose the question, “How do you know your religion is true out of the thousands upon thousands of religions and all their teachings?” they generally aren’t concerned with finding the true religion. They view themselves as sort of above religion in a way. Like they’ve arrived at an intellectual space that is beyond the oppressive confines of religion. Would you say that’s accurate?

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  3. Pingback: Reflections on being an honourary Jew..shālôm ʻalêḵem, or peace be upon you | Let me tell U a story·

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