14The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14
I don’t know if it’s the gloomy weather or the fact that there really is not much to do in Minnesota that I have retained the habit of intensive reading (and thinking!!) and writing. I was strolling through Barnes & Noble today with a starbucks coffee in hand as I was struggling against jetlag when I stumbled across a book entitled “Why I became an Atheist”. I was instantly intrigued. I picked up the book and started reading through it. Upon half an hour of reading I was inclined to purchase it, and I have to say so far, I thoroughly enjoy it.
I believe it’s very important as Christians to see and understand opposing worldviews. Not just that, it is also important to learn about such worldviews from first-hand defenders of that worldview, not just from Christian authors. Its one of the reasons I enjoy studying philosophy so much.
I enjoy this book a lot because unlike other atheistic books written by Dawkins or Harris, this book did not consist of just a bunch of Ad Hominem arguments that tries to appeal to your emotion. Those books could’ve been written by an angry 13 year old for all I know. Instead, this book was very charitable to the Christian worldview, and though I disagree with the author’s conclusions, I respect his reasoning and honesty. In fact, a lot of his arguments are valid arguments. Norman Geisler even mentioned that this book has a lot of things to say that every Christian ought to wrestle with.
The author started his book by explaining his “de-conversion” from Christianity. He was very honest. He was once a preacher, zealous for the cause of Christ, and admitted that his decline against Christianity was not triggered by intellectual doubts, but by psychological and sociological causes. Intellectual doubts instead became the fuel that continued the fire of doubt to burn. He had admitted that the cause was a struggle in his marriage – he had committed adultery with another woman and as he was recovering from it, the church was not very helpful to him. Instead of seeking to help him out, his local church condemned him. Instead of trusting that he was truly wanting to repent, his church doubted his very motives. What a profound reminder that as Christians we have no excuse to not help and love one another, seeking to build each other up. (Now don’t get me wrong here, i dont believe you can lose your salvation, and I will affirm that he fell away because of the reasons of 1 John 2:19, and he was never “there” in the first place…)
Now here I was tempted to say that his subjective experiences is not a good reason to doubt his faith (or should I say, his unwise choices to begin with). However I believe the author was right to argue that a lot of Christians begin their conversions with some sort of subjective experience too, and if we are to disregard this deconversion on the basis of that argument, then to be consistent, we would have to disregard the arguments of many Christian testimonials. I loved his reasoning. From here on he proceeded to make a case against Christianity.
What intrigued me the most from the author’s arguments is that they consisted mainly not in formulating his own arguments against Christianity, but in using the popular Christian arguments that we know and love and turning it against itself. This obviously comes because of his Christian background. He was taught by Dr. James. D Strauss, and studied WITH Dr. William lane Craig. His arguments are challenging, logical and indeed valid.
This reminds me of the passage above from 1 Corinthians, and to the fundamental truth of the doctrine of Election as taught in Scripture. The author has studied Christianity along with one of the world’s most zealous and popular Christian apologists today. Went through the same classes, learned under the same professor – and yet one ended up with an entirely different conclusion than the other. Why?
I believe this brings us back to the thing that I have been arguing for: that it is the Holy Spirit’s regeneration and preservation, God’s unique revelation to an individual which is the effectual cause and determinant of our faith, and it’s perseverance. We can argue for the existence of God, the rationality of Christianity, the reliability of the Scriptures all we want, but the natural man simply will not accept them without the working of the Holy Spirit causing him to believe. Apologetics and reason can only take us so far. This causes me to think back of my life in the past and of the people I know.
I grew up in a Christian school. I was exposed to the Gospel for a long time before my conversion. But these didn’t affect me. In fact, a lot of times it warded me away from God instead of to him. Yet I also know that many of my peers enjoyed and were spiritually nourished by the Christian teachings of my school. Why?
Let me bring this back as to the trigger of the author’s de-conversion. He asked a rhetorical question “If God knew that I would end up the atheist I am today, and would be writing this book to lead others astray, why didn’t he do something in my life that was far different than what actually happened?” I’ve asked myself a very similar question. In fact, many others have asked myself a very similar question. When I tell them about my conversion, people ask me: “Gray, why did God reveal Himself to you, spoke to you in such a personal way and yet chooses not to reveal Himself like that to me? And not to everyone else?” Anytime this question was posed, I could only respond with “I don’t know. It was all of grace.”
Why is it that one is born into a family of non-believers, and will live his life never ever having heard of the Gospel? Why is it that one is born into a family of puritans? Why is it that the Gospel is preached, and one is drawn towards God and the other finds it repulsive? I believe simply it is because God chooses one and not the other, and this choice is made purely out of grace. The author of the book was right that many times our conversion is caused by a sociological event, and not an intellectual enlightenment. So why are some people bombarded with opportunities and spiritual experiences while others get none? The answer, I believe, is simple. The grace of God is not extended equally to each person. He gives it to whom He pleases.
A lot of the author’s arguments take the form of arguing that the biblical God flies in the face of our common senses. Why does God do this instead of that? Doesn’t it make more sense if God had done this? The book is filled with arguments like that. And I have to say, a lot of what the author argues makes a lot of sense, and is appealing to me. I have to agree that a lot of what Scripture says will be completely alien to our human reasoning. In fact, a lot of it won’t make sense to us. And when things seem funky to our reasoning, we come back to say that this is why faith is required. But again the question persists, why does one choose to say “This is what the Bible says, I’ll accept it even though I can’t understand it.” And another reads the Scriptures and concludes with “The things said here are absurd, how can I ever believe in such a thing?!”
In fact, the author argues that it makes no sense that Jesus only chose to reveal himself to such a few people. If Jesus really was God, after His resurrection, He would’ve made a huge entrance, revealing Himself to the whole earth. Plus a “real” God would’ve chosen to resurrect His son at a different, more convenient time. But here it seems to me that the Sovereignty of God and election must be affirmed for faith to retain itself. Why did Jesus only reveal Himself to a select few of people post-mortem? Well, because He only wanted to reveal Himself to those people. Why was Israel singled out as a country? Why was Jacob singled out? Why was Moses chosen? Any why did Jesus choose to reveal Himself to those particular people. Why didn’t He choose to reveal Himself to the emperor instead? Well, because God chooses whomever He chooses. Once again, apologetics and human reasoning can only take us so far. Faith is required here. And Faith can only be caused and sustain by the election of the Spirit. And the Doctrine of the Sovereignty of God, it seems to me, is an essential doctrine given to us by the Spirit as a means of preserving His elect.
The author continued to proceed that even IF God existed, in the face of the many religions we have today, which God is the right one? Once again, I believe the electing grace of the Spirit is needed here. Many Christians have preached that man is sick in sin and is in need of a Savior. All man has to do is to take the hand of God who is already there ready to save him. But this analogy does not go far enough. With so many religions today, the analogy must include that more than ten hands are being offered to help the sick man. The sick man must first desire to seek God, desire to reach out his hand in reciprocation to God, and then figure out which “God” is the right one for him to choose. The new age God says “Take my hand and you will receive spiritual enlightenment.” Jesus says “I am the way the truth and the life.” And so forth and so on. I have to say, that for a sick man to reach out his hand, and to pick the correct God, that would be one sharp sick man. And surely it would give him some sort of grounds on which to boast on. Instead, the biblical view says that the man is not just sick, but instead is dead in sin. And among all the hands offered to him, God makes sure the man is saved by grabbing him from the grave, giving him life, and reveals to him the Truth. The Gospel is not just a mere offer. It is a certainty. Not by our works, but by His grace and doing alone.
Let’s take this thought even further. If the Gospel is a mere offer, and it indeed is seen for what it truly is, then who, in the right mind, would choose to reject it? Offer a beggar water and food and he will gladly accept. The problem is not in the thing that is offered, the problem is in how people perceive of it. The beggar who rejects the water and food perceives that he is actually being offered poison. The person who reject the Gospel perceives that he is actually being offered folly and wretched falsehood. Just as a beggar would never reject food and water, when the Gospel is seen for what it truly is, it would never be rejected. Yet what causes a man to see the Gospel for what it truly is? What reveals this to a man? What causes the “natural man” is described in 1 Corinthians 2:14 to see the message of the Spirit as the sweet fruit it truly is, and not as folly? Well, it must be none other than grace, and grace alone.