Lessons From An Atheist: Toward A Better, Truer Christianity
Two years ago, I wrote a book about how I’m tired of taking sides. But sometimes taking sides is unavoidable. When faced with Jesus’ claim that He is “the way, the truth, and the life” and that no one comes to God the Father except through Him, we have to choose. Do we believe Him or not? When it comes to Jesus, everyone will ultimately take a side.
That is not to say that those who have chosen to side with Jesus won’t ever have doubts. Most of us do at one time or another. Several years into his career as a Presbyterian minister, Francis Schaeffer began to have serious doubts, triggered by a growing concern over how poorly the Christians he knew treated one another. He witnessed negativity, faultfinding, backbiting, gossip, manipulation, power plays, and underhandedness among his fellow ministers. How could these ministers be so uncompromising about the Bible’s teachings about grace, love, kindness, and forgiveness, yet be so not those things in their personal lives?
Schaeffer committed to suspend belief and return to his agnosticism to examine Christianity from the beginning. He spent several months reading and rereading the Bible, immersing himself in philosophy and other world religions, scrutinizing it from every plausible worldview. In the end, he concluded that there is only one reason to be a Christian – because it’s true. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to as well.
We are in good company. The list of intellectual titans who are Christians is not merely two or three. Jonathan Edwards, an early president of Princeton University and a Christian minister, was identified by the Encyclopedia Brittanica as one of the brightest minds ever to set foot on American soil. There are many throughout history who, having looked seriously and with an open mind into the claims of Christianity, became Christians themselves.
Simon Greenleaf, chief founder of Harvard Law School, set out to demonstrate that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a made-up fairy tale, a hoax that could be believed only by ignorant, unenlightened fools. After looking into the facts, he, like Schaeffer, concluded that it was true.
Oxford historian C.S. Lewis, once an atheist who in his own words was “angry with God for not existing” became a Christian when his close friend J.R.R. Tolkien convinced him that the story of God’s redemption of the world is the Story behind every good story.
More recently, Jordan Monge, a political science major at Harvard, committed her life to Christ. Monge had gained a reputation for tearing down “poorly constructed arguments” that defended religion. Over time, however, thoughtful responses from Christian friends pressed her to begin doubting her doubts. As she considered the cross of Jesus, Christianity became not only plausible but beautiful.
Kirsten Powers, a political news analyst, wrote about how she was converted from atheism to Christianity after discovering the overwhelming body of evidence for biblical truth.
Malcolm Gladwell, journalist, author, speaker and staff writer for The New Yorker returned to Christianity after seeing the incredible power of faith in other people’s lives while researching a book: The billions of lives that have been changed through Jesus is even more convincing evidence for Christianity than any intellectual argument. Crooks returning what they have stolen, dying people finding peace, hurtful people asking forgiveness of those they have hurt, business people doing the less profitable thing because it is right, spouses staying committed to each other through the hard seasons, bereaved parents forgiving their beloved daughter’s murderer.
God’s power – the same power that spoke the galaxies into being, that parted the sea, that caused a blind man to see, and that raised Jesus from the dead – accounts for billions of people who have become better versions of themselves.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Perhaps you have been turned off to Christianity because of intellectual roadblocks. Are you willing to investigate the works of theological masters? Or the four biographies of Jesus in the Bible? Or at least to embark on the journey that Harvard legal Simon Greenleaf once made, to give it your best shot to prove Christianity is false?
Perhaps your faith has taken a hit because of the behavior of Christians around you. In the midst of your questions, doubts, and disappointments, are there any Christians you know whose lives have shown you glimpses of something different? Something beautiful, lovely, even admirable?
Any of these things could be Jesus speaking to you, reaching out to you, inviting you to come live outside the lines with Him.
To remain true to living outside the lines, I want to share some advice from someone on “the other side” – an atheist, Daniel Fincke. The following are Fincke’s “Top 10 Tips for Christian Evangelism (From an Atheist).” Ironically, I actually find his advice to be quite Christian.
- Be like Jesus: Hang with the Sinners and Judge the Judgers
- Form Genuine Relationships with People, Don’t Treat Them as Projects
- Actions Speak Louder Than Words
- When Talking about Religious and Philosophical Matters, Ask More Questions and Do Less Preaching
- Don’t Give Unsolicited Advice or Judgments. Support People and Wait for Them to Ask for Your Input if They Want It.
- Appreciate that Nominal Christians are Christians Too
- Don’t Try to Force Others into Christian Participation
- Understand Atheists and Embrace the Opportunity Confrontational Atheists Afford You
- Respect Other Religions Even as You Evangelize Their Members
- Love Your Enemies, Not Just Your Tribe (13)
Love your enemies, not just your tribe.
Once we draw a line and side with Jesus, we can no longer draw lines with our fellow human beings.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female. You are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28).
If we want to be like Jesus, we will love all people.
“I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in Heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” Matthew 5:44-46.
Are we on board with this? I sure want to be.
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