How many memes like the one above have you seen pop up on Facebook or how many statements have you overheard about all of the violence and injustice perpetrated by Christianity?
First, we have to set the record straight. “Taken together, the Crusades, the Inquisitions, and the witch burnings killed approximately 200,000 people. Adjusting for the increase in population, that’s the equivalent of one million deaths today. Even so, these deaths caused by Christian rulers over a five-hundred-year period amount to only 1 percent of the deaths caused by Stalin, Hitler and Mao in the space of a few decades.” (See What’s So Great About Christianity by Dinesh D’Souza). The great progressive atheist regimes of the 20th century killed close to 100 million between 1919 and 1976.
Moreover, any serious student of the Bible and history knows that the Crusades were politics wrapped in faux Christianity. As Ravi Zacharias is fond of saying, “never judge a philosophy by its abuses.”
As for the witch killings that took thousands of lives? Let’s consider that one for a moment. What stopped the witch killings was knowledge. People learned that witches generally did not exist and that those who called themselves witches had no “black magic.” But if you really believed that there was someone who casting spells that really hurt or even killed people, you might take drastic action too!
The problem is the “Christian violence” narrative resonates with a lot of people because many think of Christians they have met who they consider “fanatics” or people who are overbearing, self-righteous, opinionated, insensitive, and harsh. The problem with these folks is not that they are too Christian but not Christian enough. Tim Keller writes, “They are fanatically zealous and courageous, but they are not fanatically humble, sensitive, loving, empathetic, forgiving and understanding—as Christ was.” (see Reason for God).
Once a person truly understands the Gospel, it is impossible for anyone’s heart not to be softened. But one of the distorted understandings of Christianity is that it demands a person become perfect overnight. The Christian process of sanctification, growing into the image and likeness of Christ thanks to the work of God’s spirit, takes a very long time! A skeptic who does not understand the process of sanctification regularly objects that he meets atheists who are nice, moral people and Christians who are grumpy and struggling with values like honesty.
C.S. Lewis tackled this question near the end of his classic Mere Christianity. Lewis wrote, “Christian Miss Bates may have an unkinder tongue than unbelieving Dick Firkin. That, by itself, does not tell us whether Christianity works. The question is what Miss Bates’s tongue would be like if she were not a Christian and what Dick’s would be like if he became one.”
Moreover, thanks to the doctrine of common grace, we can expect to encounter likeable, moral unbelievers. James 1:17 reads, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” “Every good gift” includes likeable, moral skeptics like Penn Jillette (my favorite atheist!).
It is important remind skeptics that “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” We are all growing from different places but true faith never produces violent people who delight in injustice. True faith produces men like William Wilberforce, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and women like Mother Teresa.