October 17, 2017

Better to be an honest unbeliever than pretending it’s easy to believe: Spencer’s Ten Point Argument for Faith Revisited

atheist.gifA few days ago, I received an 81 page manuscript from a person who reads my work, describing his recent conversion to atheism and how my writing played a role in his “de-conversion” from Christianity. This is the second time an atheist has told me I’ve played some part in his desertion of Christianity. I have another e-mail in the box right now telling me that the writer is flirting with abandoning the faith and believing nothing.

I could say that it’s just my luck to be turned into a kind of anti-evangelist, with people sending me donations for helping them see the light of unbelief. The fact that I am a professing Christian doesn’t seem to matter. In fact, one fellow wrote me last year and said that I was exactly where he was in his spiritual journey a year before he left the pastorate and became an atheist. So stay tuned.

This is all because I am honest. Or, at least, more honest than most evangelicals about some things. (I think my honesty also allows me to see the extent to which I am dishonest with myself and others, but that is another story.) At least two of my correspondents were in Charismatic churches where, in my opinion, experience is elevated to a huge and inappropriate place precisely because unbelief has to be fended off so regularly. It is as if God must be brought out to prove His existence every few days by way of miracles or divine interventions. This isn’t healthy on any level, and it isn’t the sola fide that is so crucial to healthy Christianity. Once we are part of a system that promises high levels of confirming experiences, we are not talking about faith as resting in all that God is for us in Jesus. We are talking about faith as proof; faith as the power that proves God is right here, right now.

Then there is the matter of honesty about the Gospel itself. If I understand the Bible correctly, many of God’s favorites lived vast tracts of their lives with no sense of God’s presence at all. Abraham lived decades between divine encounters. David and the other Psalmists are crying “Where are you, Lord?” The Bible tells us that depravity has not removed all evidences of God from the universe, but it has rendered our perception and appreciation of God’s presence highly erratic and undependable. It frequently appears that God isn’t there. The believer can legitimately say “Why have you forsaken me?” in the same life that affirms “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”

There are long dark nights of the soul. C.S. Lewis said that God gives evidences of his presence to us in the early years of our faith, and then withdraws those sensible evidences later, leaving us to walk great tracts of life on our own. Lewis suggested that God was working towards a kind of Christian who would continue to pray and obey when all traces of God had vanished from his universe. This is totally against the kind of Christianity my correspondents are abandoning; a sort of growth in experience and getting zapped by the Spirit that leaves you with no doubts at all.

So don’t be shocked when I say that, in the cases of many of the people who write me, I consider their atheism to be more spiritually healthy than the hothouse of pretentious Christian experience they were living in before. For the first time, they are deserting human prophets and gurus and looking inside and out with honesty. They are abandoning lying, exaggeration and manipulation for realism, and I agree with Lewis again: Whatever is most real is on the side of God.

What is necessary now is to understand just what faith affirms. Faith isn’t saying that you can throw a switch in the personality and God is perceived like a flashing neon sign. Far from it. Faith takes hold of the following truths, in some form and in some order. (We can argue about that one.)

1. The possibility of God’s existence isn’t irrational. The evidence may appear ambiguous, but the notion isn’t irrational.

2. Given all we see and know about human nature, there is at least, again, some rational argument for human beings being made by God, quite possibly “in his image,” i.e. different from anything else in the universe.

I believe honesty compells these two admissions, and it is dogmatism to say otherwise. NOT to go on and admit God’s existence, but to say God’s existence is reasonable. Now, if that is the case, I think we honestly go looking for clues. Why?

3. Given how human beings live and relate, it is also reasonable that this possible God may be a communicating, relating being. The highest behaviors of human beings are in relationships and communication, particularly with those we love. It is reasonable that we are this way because God is also this way.

Of course, now we have a real quandary, because finding how God might communicate and what God could be communicating is certainly not going to be an objective matter. It is going to be subjective and chaotic. I will, however, make two assertions inthe chaos:

4. It is reasonable that God would communicate to us verbally, since this is a uniquely human capacity.

5. It is also reasonable that God would present himself to us personally, in a fully human form, and in the flow of history.

I realize that I have walked further away from cautious reason and closer to full-blown faith assertions than ever, but I will stand by these suggestions as still reasonable. We ought to look for a personal, creating, communicating God in both these ways, particularly for an appearance of God in history that removes us from debating the “voices in our heads.” Subjectivity isn’t going to be escaped, but if God makes a historical appearance we are on much different ground.

6. I would suggest that out of all the humans who have ever lived, Jesus is the most likely person to be this kind of clue, and his life and words, if transmitted to us with any measure of historical accuracy, are congruent with what reason would expect if God visited our world.

In fact, one could say, what would happen if God became incarnate for 30 years, and lived on earth? I know we wouldn’t be led precisely to Jesus in every version of that story, but it is remarkable how much of Jesus’ life and words line up with how that question would be answered. The fact that all world religions claim Jesus is significant in that respect.

7. The Resurrection is the crucial piece of evidence in determining if Jesus is, in fact, this divine clue I am looking for. Since the Apostle Paul, In I Cor 15:14 and I Cor 15 17 says that Christianity stands wholly and entirely on the resurrection and collapses without it, then I am comfortable coming to this as the crucial point.

This is the threshold of faith and reason. It is a proclamation of the faith that must be received in faith, even though I believe it is consistent with reason in point after point. This is what must be believed. Any form of compromised Christianity that rejects the resurrection is a lie.

Then, of course, once the threshold of faith is crossed, the rest comes relatively easily.

8. The Resurrection establishes who Jesus really is. Because of Jesus own words about the Bible, I believe the Bible is, in some way, the verbal communication from God I have been looking for. The Bible proclaims the Gospel of faith in Jesus.

9. The real world matches the world as described in scripture: A fallen world, a ruined world, but a world that God has not abandoned and a world that God has entered and rescued in Jesus. My experience as a human, a sinner and a Christian matches what is described in scripture, as well.

10. No absolute proof of faith is available in this life. Not in experience. Not in any institution or argument. The final proof is on the other side of the door of death. To that extent, I believe Pascal’s Wager is relevant in its implications, though very imperfect.

I think it is far better to wipe the board clean and start the process of considering the meaning of life from point zero, than to be in the extreme religious-experience cults and be looking for proof every week in the miracle testimonies of Christians. There is no faith without honesty. I believe there is no honesty that does not consider faith reasonably, and consider Christ especially, as the clue to what it’s all about.

Comments

  1. What a stunning response, Michael.

    I just found your blog today and it will be added immediately to my feeds. You have a refreshing take in a world of blow-hard Christian self-righteousness.

    Mark T

  2. You always have such a really neat way of expressing truth. I especially loved the idea that atheism is at least more of an honest endeavor (if researched and not just slid into) than the Charismatic cultism we are seeing today. And I am saying this as a Pentecostal/Charismatic (C/P’er). There are many of us in that camp that are just sick of this stuff.

    I hope you get around in Christian blogland to reading many of us who are crying out in the wilderness for a return to a more Reformed Pentecostal sanity based upon the five solas.

    Adrian Warnock, 21st Century Reformation, TotemtoTemple, Crossroads, etc. are just a few of the many of us out there who are C/P’ers but determined to change the current nonsense.

  3. To give a word of encouragement, your blog, and other blogs moving in much the same direction, have done a great deal to _bolster_ my faith.

    I’ve been sitting over here trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. My pastor is saying that if I’m not hearing God’s literal voice in my head, then I’m not right with Him. If I’m having trouble staying awake in church, I have a demon. Everyone in church is making decisions without the input of their brothers and sisters because, “We feel it’s what God is leading us to do.”

    So I’m sitting over here not hearing God’s audible voice, having trouble staying awake during the sermon that’s telling me how messed up my faith is, and wondering just what the heck’s wrong with me. Obviously, God seems to be talking to everyone but me, so I must be really messed up.

    What _freedom_ it is to hear others strong in the faith admit that they have doubts and failings. To hear someone stand up and say, “God speaks to us through the Bible,” and not as a voice in our head… to hear someone be _real_ about what they’re experiencing. It is a cool, refreshing stream in the wilderness of my faith journey.

    There is something wrong with the Church today, but nobody seems to want to admit it. We claim helping the sick and poor as our priority, but we raise thousands of dollars to send the youth to Mexico for three days where they can paint a church, while we give fifty bucks to one poor family. (Neverminding that mailing fifty bucks to Mexico would have gotten the church painted, put food on some poor painter’s table, and given _us_ a few thousand dollars to send the youth out to help the poor of our city.) We claim fellowship and discipleship as a priority, but we spend our lives in isolation from each other and fail to hold one another accountable. We pride ourselves in our transparent relationships and hide our feelings of inadequacy and failure behind masks.

    But the Church will not wake up and recognize the problem unless people like _you_ (and me) speak up.

    I applaud your courage.

  4. Clint the Cool Guy says:

    Michael,

    I’m one of the Atheist guys. Thank you for reading some of what I sent you and responding. I have read through all of your response here. What you are saying is not unreasonable.

    Maybe there could be a God. I don’t know. But I know that if He is out there, a person is not going to find him by going to a Benny Hinn crusade or watching Kenneth Copeland on TV. And He won’t be found by tithing so you can get what God owes you or trying to get someone who is “anointed” to pray for you.

    Your writings seem to show that what you are talking about is the kind of faith that I can respect. Faith that doesn’t require you to abandon your brain or follow the crowd for some “double blessing, double-portion, year-of-breakthrough” shenanigans. But the thing is, I just don’t know if I can believe in God.

    There are lots of things in the Bible that just don’t seem to make any sense to me. Why would God do some of the things he did in the Old Testament? Why would God create a hell to punish those who do not worship Him? “Because he is Sovereign” is kind of a hard pill to swallow. It is for me, at least.

    In Luke 14:28, Jesus says to “count the cost.” He says that whoever does not forsake all that he has cannot be His disciple. In Matthew 10:39, Jesus said that “he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” Christianity carries a heavy cost. It is clear to me from the Bible that Christianity is not a Sunday morning pasttime. It is a way of life meant to be taken very seriously. Until it makes more sense to me, I can’t commit myself as the Bible says that Jesus requires.

    There are bad Christians and there are bad unbelievers. There are good sides to Christianity, such as when people are truly kind and loving to others. That is not unique to Christianity however. And some Christians (and unbelievers) can be quite ugly too. But beyond my personal experiences with the ugly side of some Christians, who I realize are just imperfect people like everybody else, I have serious problems with the Bible that I cannot come to terms with. I don’t just want to BELIEVE; I want to UNDERSTAND.

    In any case, I am not completely ruling God out, and I will continue to read your website with an open mind.

    Yours truly,
    Clint

  5. Dear Michael Spencer,

    You may not find a topic more relevant than how Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life, selling an astonishing million copies per month (now near 20 million sold), is destroying the Church in the U.S. and Canada. Most media coverage on Rick Warren, whether secular or religious is giving Rick Warren a free pass without scrutiny or even presenting an opposing view. I certainly confident that we share the same view and I believe that Rick Warren’s teachings are a clear and present danger to the church.

    In this regard, I invite you to consider my book just published by Southwest Radio Church Ministries entitled:

    Who’s Driving The Purpose Driven Church?

    In it I devote extensive research to Rick Warren’s evolution/occultist Carl Jung based Personality Theory embedded in Warren’s SHAPE Program (the “P” in SHAPE).

    Chapter 11 Discusses Rick Warren’s SHAPE Personality Profiling. Here is an excerpt of my book Who’s Driving the Purpose Driven Church?

    http://www.abrahamic-faith.com/James/personality-profiling.html

    Thank you for your consideration!

    Kindest regards in Christ,

    James Sundquist
    Director
    Rock Salt Publishing

    PRESS RELEASE AND ANNOUNCEMENT:

    November 1, 2004

    Dear Friends, Family, Colleagues,

    I just got back from speaking at Southwest Radio Church Ministries East Coast Prophecy Conference on Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church & Life.

    I am finally pleased to announce that Who’s Driving the Purpose Driven Church? is now available from Southwest Radio Church
    Ministries.

    http://www.swrc.com

    If you are interested in learning more about the title, you can also hear my radio interviews on their nationally broadcast Watchman on the Wall also available on their website at:

    http://www.swrc.com/broadcasts/2004/october.htm

    (Scroll down to Oct 25 & 26, Nov 22, 23, 34)

    Thank you all for you ongoing support, encouragement and prayers for all of you who have been waiting for this announcement and even to my opponents who have entertained opposing arguments before finally making up your minds!!!

    Kindest regards,

    James Sundquist
    Director
    Rock Salt Publishing