Pushing People Out of the Church – Part 8

A while back, I read an article on Alternet.org, the anti-religion, left-wing, “news”-and-commentary website, entitled, “8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert — to Agnosticism or Atheism,” by skeptic Valerie Tarico.

Valerie Tarico

While I personally find most of the articles on this site to be little more than irrational liberal blathering, this article caught my interest, because it contains some truths that Christians need to understand.

Ultimately, those who reject Jesus Christ do so because they choose to suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19). Unfortunately, there are also many things that those in the church do to push people away. As Tarico states, “if you read ExChristian testimonials you will notice that quite often church leaders or members do things that either trigger the deconversion process or help it along.”

I’ve found that I can often learn a lot by listening to what skeptics say about their perceptions of Christianity. This series looks at the eight reasons Tarico highlights.

Reason #8: Intrusion

Australian comedian and atheist John Safran flew to Salt Lake City for a round of door-to-door devangelism after Mormons rang his doorbell one too many times on Saturday morning. More serious intrusions, in deeply personal beginning- and end-of-life decisions, for example, generate reactive anti-theism in people who mostly just want to live and let live.

Catholic and evangelical conservatives have made a high-stakes gamble that they can regain authoritarian control over their flocks and hold onto the next generation of believers (and tithers) by asserting orthodox dogmas, making Christian belief an all-or-nothing proposition. Their goal is a level of theological purity that will produce another Great Awakening based largely on the same dogmas as the last one. They hope to cleanse their membership of theological diversity, and assert top-down control of conscience questions, replenishing their membership with anti-feminist, pro-natalist policies and proselytizing in the Southern hemisphere. But the more they resort to strict authoritarianism, insularity and strict interpretation of Iron Age texts, the more people are wounded in the name of God and the more people are outraged. By making Christian belief an all-or-nothing proposition, they force at least some would-be believers to choose “nothing.” Anti-theists are all too glad to help.

Tarico starts off by making a good point: Barging in on people turns them off. Nobody likes having the Gospel – or anything else, for that matter – shoved down their throat. Nobody likes being intruded upon. This is a point that almost everyone would agree with.

She then does a bait-and-switch by equating “intrusion” with conservative Christianity. She asserts that Christian leaders who teach a literal Bible do in order to “assert top-down control” and “regain authoritarian control over their flocks.”

While it is true that some conservative churches are highly authoritarian and almost cultish in their control over their membership, this is neither Biblical nor typical. To imply that because some conservative churches are controlling, all conservative churches are controlling, is to commit the logical fallacy of the hasty generalization.

Tarico also begs the question when she argues that evangelical conservative Christians are wrong because we make Christianity an “all-or-nothing proposition.” She assumes absolute truth does not exist; therefore, Biblical Christianity is wrong, because it teaches absolute truth. This is nothing more than a circular argument. Her argument merely assumes what it is trying to prove.

Here’s the point: The Bible itself teaches that Jesus Christ is an “all-or-nothing proposition.” “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me'” John 14:6. It’s not a matter of churches exerting “authoritarian control” or “top-down control.” It’s a matter of teaching the Truth. As the Apostle Peter, referring to Jesus, said, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Sounds like an “all-or-nothing proposition” to me.

What Tarico is advocating is compromise. And while she is probably correct that compromise will gain and retain more converts, the question becomes, converts to what? If we teach and preach a compromised Gospel, it’s not Gospel at all. As Paul wrote:

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:6-9

When Tarico denounces “theological purity” and “strict interpretation,” she is denouncing the truth. She is absolutely correct when she states, “By making Christian belief an all-or-nothing proposition, they force at least some would-be believers to choose ‘nothing’.” What she doesn’t realize is, believing in “nothing” is no different than believing in a false gospel. Both lead to Hell; neither leads to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Too many churches preach a compromised, false gospel, and are filled with compromised, false Christians, who think they are headed for Heaven, but are bound for Hell. As Jesus said:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” Matthew 7:21-23.

Tarico makes 3 valid points:

  1. Nobody likes pushy people – especially pushy Christians.
  2. Authoritarian control has no place in the church, and
  3. Teaching the truth will turn people away.

The church should have nothing to do with the first two points, but must be uncompromising in its insistence on the truth. God’s truth leads to eternal life; falsehood leads to eternal death.

Tarico and other non-believers cannot understand the things of God, because they choose to suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19). Yet, they often provide insight that Christians can use to further the Kingdom of God and lead people to Jesus Christ. As we listen to what non-Christians say, we need to filter their words through the Word of God, and glean those things that can help us to reach them with the uncompromised Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pushing People Out of the Church – Part 7

Some time ago, I read an article on the left-wing, anti-religion, news-and-commentary website Alternet.org entitled, “8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert — to Agnosticism or Atheism,” by skeptic Valerie Tarico.

Valerie Tarico

While I personally find most of the articles on this site to be little more than irrational liberal ranting, this article caught my interest, because it contains some truths that Christians need to understand.

Ultimately, people who reject Jesus Christ do so because they choose to suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19). Unfortunately, there are also many things that those in the church do to push people away. As Tarico states, “if you read ExChristian testimonials you will notice that quite often church leaders or members do things that either trigger the deconversion process or help it along.”

I’ve found that I can often learn a lot by listening to what skeptics say about their perceptions of Christianity. This series looks at the eight reasons Tarico highlights.

Reason #7: Political Meddling

If you look at religion-bashing quote-quip-photo-clip-links that circulate Facebook and Twitter, most of them are prompted by church incursions into the political sphere. A spat between two atheists erupted on my home page yesterday. “Why can’t ex-Christians just shut up about religion and get on with building a better world?” asked one. “Why can’t we shut up?!” screeched the other. “Because of shit like this!” He posted a link about Kansas giving doctors permission to deny contraception and accurate medical information to patients.

I myself give George W. Bush credit for transforming me from a politically indifferent, digging-in-the-garden agnostic into a culture warrior. He casually implied that, when going to war, he didn’t need to consult with his own father because he had consulted the big guy in the sky, and my evangelical relatives backed him up on that, and I thought, oh my God, the beliefs I was raised on are killing people. The Religious Right, and now the Catholic bishops, have brought religion into politics in the ugliest possible way short of holy war, and people who care about the greater good have taken notice. Lists of ugly Bible verses, articles about the psychology of religion, investigative exposes about Christian machinations in D.C. or rampant proselytizing in the military and public schools –all of these are popular among political progressives because it is impossible to drive progressive change without confronting religious fundamentalism.

Before I move on to the valid points Tarico makes, let me point out some of the logical problems with her arguments.

First, she presumes that the religious beliefs of Christians should have no bearing whatsoever in American politics. She implies that George W. Bush’s beliefs should have been left outside the White House gates, and that the Religious Right and Catholics have no business bringing their beliefs into the realm of politics. Yet, at the same time, she argues that her religious view – that God does not exist – should be the foundation of the American political mindset. What Tarico and others like her are arguing for is not the removal of religion, but the establishment of Secular Humanism as the state religion.

Besides the liberal use of question-begging epithets (ugly Bible verses, fundamentalism) and fear mongering (holy war), the other glaringly illogical line of reasoning is in the statement, “…and I thought, oh my God, the beliefs I was raised on are killing people.” First, it’s ironic that she thought, “…oh my God…,” since she says she doesn’t believe in God. Perhaps she was just trying to be funny. Or perhaps it is an indication that, subconsciously, she knows that God does exist, although she fights to suppress that truth. More important that the slip in theology is the irrationality of claiming that the reason we went to war in Iraq was because Bush thought God told him to. First, the fact that Bush prayed about it before making a decision does not mean evangelical Christianity was the cause of the war. And second, if one compares the number of deaths caused in the name of “christianity” versus those committed by atheistic or secular humanistic regimes, there is no comparison – hands down, atheism and secularism have taken far more lives in war than “christianity.” The evangelical Christian beliefs Tarico was raised on are not what caused the wars in Iraq and Iran; sin is what causes wars. If people all became Christians, and actually followed Biblical teaching, there would be no wars.

What can I as a follower of Jesus Christ learn from what Tarico says here?

First, we need to be careful how we mix our relationship with Jesus Christ with our political views. During the recent election season, this became quite evident. I must confess, at times I let my political disgust with President Obama tarnish my Christian witness. As one meme put it, “God does not want us to bring DEMOCRACY to people. He wants us to bring CHRIST to people.” Unfortunately, I now realize that some of my political postings on Facebook offended many of the people God has called me to reach with the Gospel. Regardless of whether we have a syncretistic humanist like Obama as President, or a Mormon like Romney, or even an evangelical like Bush, government is inherently secular and temporary. The Gospel has eternal implications. Political regimes will come and go, but human souls are eternal. The choices we make about which person becomes the President are only relevant for a brief time, but the choice we make about Jesus Christ affects us for eternity.

Secondly, Tarico’s thoughts point out how our underlying presuppositions define our worldview and actions. Because she rejects God, she must logically reject anything associated with God. She must believe that human beings are the ultimate authority in politics, morality, and every other aspect of life. In order to bring people to Jesus Christ, Christians cannot simply attack the symptoms of unbelief – abortion, socialism, evolution, homosexuality, and so on – but need to attack the underlying presuppositions that the unbeliever’s worldview is founded upon. We must help unbeliever understand why their foundational beliefs don’t make sense, and why Biblical Christianity is the only rational worldview based on reality. Focusing on the external symptoms doesn’t change hearts and minds. Only by building on the foundational truths of God’s Word can hearts and minds be turned to Jesus Christ.

Christian, be careful how you mix the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the gospel of your political views.

Pushing People Out of the Church – Part 6

Valerie Tarico

A while back, I read an article on the left-wing, anti-religion, news-and-commentary website Alternet.org entitled, “8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert — to Agnosticism or Atheism,” by skeptic Valerie Tarico.

While I personally find most of the articles on this site either tasteless or just plain nonsense, this article caught my interest, because it contains some truths that Christians need to understand.

It’s important to recognize that people who reject Jesus Christ ultimately do so because they choose to suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19). Unfortunately, there are also many things that those in the church do to push people away. As Tarico states, “if you read ExChristian testimonials you will notice that quite often church leaders or members do things that either trigger the deconversion process or help it along.”

I’ve found that I can learn a lot by listening to what skeptics say about their perceptions of Christianity. This series looks at the eight reasons Tarico highlights.

Reason #6: Science Denial

One of my former youth group friends had his faith done in by a conversation with a Bible study leader who explained that dinosaur skeletons actually are the bones of the giants described in early books of the Bible. Uh huh. Christians have come up with dozens of squishier, less falsifiable ways to explain the geological record: The “days” in Genesis 1 were really “ages.” Or God created the world with the fossils already in place to test our faith. Or the biblical creation story is really sacred metaphor. But young-earth creationists who believe the world appeared in its present form 6,000-10,000 years ago are stuck. And since almost half of the American public believes some version of this young-earth story, there are ample opportunities for inquiring minds to trip across proto-scientific nonsense.

Like other factors I’ve mentioned, science denial doesn’t just move believers to nonbelief; it also rallies opposition ranging from cantankerous bloggers to legal advocates. It provides fodder for comedians and critics: “If the world was created 6,000 years ago, what’s fueling your car?” It may produce some of the most far-reaching opposition to religious belief, because science advocates argue that faith, even socially benign faith, is a fundamentally flawed way of knowing. The Catholic church, perhaps still licking wounds about Galileo (it apologized finally in the 20th century), has managed to avoid embarrassing and easily disproven positions on evolutionary biology. But one could argue that its atheism-fostering positions on conception and contraception similarly rely on ignorance about or denial of biological science — in this case embryology and the basic fact that most embryos never become persons.

From my experience, the creation vs. evolution debate is the topic that is most likely to get a skeptic’s dander up. This is because atheism is utterly impossible unless evolution is true. If God or gods don’t exist, there must be a non-supernatural mechanism to explain how life came to be. The only remotely plausible explanation is evolution.

answersingenesis.org

I’ve always found it ironic that when most creationists discuss evolution and creation, they tend to focus on the observable scientific inconsistencies of evolutionary theory and the observable science supporting the Biblical creation model, while most evolutionists simply state evolution as dogma and ridicule the Biblical model – without bringing up actual scientific evidence. Tarico is no different. Granted, two paragraphs isn’t enough space to lay out any real scientific evidence one way or the other. Yet, she does manage to state her dogmatic faith in evolution, and throw out a few question-begging epithets against Biblical creation (“proto-scientific nonsense,” “science denial,” “denial of biological science”). She also throws out a huge straw-man argument: “… young-earth creationists … believe the world appeared in its present form 6,000-10,000 years ago.” Wrong. The 6,000-10,000 years ago part is correct. The “appeared in its present form” is absolutely wrong. Biblical creationists generally believe the earth was created “very good” (Genesis 1:31), but that it was radically changed because of sin (Genesis 3). It was tremendously altered by the global flood of Noah’s day (Genesis 6-8). Furthermore, natural processes such as erosion, weathering, natural selection, and mutations have continued to change the earth and the organisms live here. But, then again, it’s easier to argue against a straw-man with dogma and name-calling than it is to argue logically against actual Biblical creation.

answersingenesis.org

The fact that some naïve Bible study leader ignorantly thought that “dinosaur skeletons actually are the bones of the giants described in early books of the Bible” isn’t an argument against Biblical creationism. It does, however, point out the fact that too many Christians are ignorant of both science and the Bible. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.” Unfortunately, most Christians are not ready, and cannot give a defense of the Biblical account of Creation. The un-Biblical compromise positions Tarico mentions, such as the day-age theory, Genesis as a metaphor, or any number of other theories, cause as much confusion about the Bible as atheistic evolution. All origins theories other than the straight-forward Biblical account of six literal days a few thousand years ago take mankind’s fallible ideas and hold them in higher authority than God’s Word. All of these other theories question the authority of the straight-forward teaching of the Bible.

Christians, especially Christian leaders and teachers, need to educate themselves. We need to understand science and evolutionary theory. In fact, Christians need to understand evolution better than most evolutionists do. We need to understand what evolution teaches, as well as the scientific, logical, and theological problems with evolution. We need to understand how various dating methods arrive at ancient ages for the earth, and the arbitrary assumptions behind these methods. We also need to understand what the Bible actually says – and doesn’t say – about origins and the age of the earth. What we actually observe in the universe solidly confirms the Biblical account of creation, and show the millions-of-years-of-evolution dogma to be utterly impossible.

I would argue that it’s not the young-earth position that drives people away, as Tarico believes; rather, it’s ignorant Christians that are unprepared to explain how science confirms the Bible that cause confusion and doubt. Too many Christians appear ignorant of science, not because they embrace the Biblical creation, but because they actually are ignorant of both science and the Bible. Incidentally, most skeptics are just as ignorant – but that’s no excuse. If we want people to realize the absolute truth of the Bible, and embrace faith in Jesus Christ as the only rational reality, then we need to take 1 Peter 3:15 to heart, and stop being so ignorant and unprepared to defend the authority of Scripture.


Numerous resources are available to help the Christian understand Biblical creation. I recommend starting with the Answers Book 1, 2, and 3 available from Answers in Genesis. Ministries such as Answers in Genesis, the Institute for Creation Research, Creation Ministries International, and many others have thousands of articles, books, DVDs, and other resources available – many for FREE.

Pushing People Out of the Church – Part 5

A while back, I read an article entitled, “8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert — to Agnosticism or Atheism,” published by skeptic Valerie Tarico on the left-wing, anti-religion, news-and-commentary website Alternet.org

While most of the articles on this site are either offensive or just plain silly, this article caught my interest, because it contains some truths that Christians need to understand.

People who reject Jesus Christ ultimately do so because they choose to suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19). However, there are also many things that those in the church do to push people away. As Tarico states, “if you read ExChristian testimonials you will notice that quite often church leaders or members do things that either trigger the deconversion process or help it along.”

I’ve found that I can often learn a lot by listening to what skeptics say about their perceptions of Christianity. This series looks at the eight reasons Tarico highlights.

Reason #5: Disgusting and Immoral Behavior

The priest abuse scandal did more for the New Atheist movement than outspoken anti-theists like Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great) , Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) , Sam Harris (The End of Faith ) or Bill Maher (Religulous) ever could. To make matters worse (or better, depending on your point of view) Bill Donohue of the Catholic League seems to be doing everything possible to fan those flames: On top of the abuse itself, followed by cover-ups, he is now insisting that the best defense of church property is a good offense against the victims, and has vowed to fight them “one by one.”

The Freedom from Religion Foundation publishes a bi-monthly newspaper that includes a regular feature: The Black Collar Crime Blotter. It features fraud, drug abuse, sex crimes and more by Protestant as well as Catholic clergy. The obvious purpose is to move readers from religion isn’t true to religion isn’t benign to religion is abhorrent and needs fighting. Moral outrage is a powerful emotion.

The Fallacy of Using Morality as an Argument Against God

answersingenesis.org

For the atheist, life exists purely as the result of chance mutations occurring within a chemical soup. People, trees, bacteria, and frogs are nothing more than complex chemical reactions. Morality is nothing more than just another biochemical process. Within an atheistic worldview, there is no basis for determining value for anything aside from human opinion. Morality cannot logically exist for the atheist. Good and evil cannot possibly exist within a universe that defines everything by chance. In an atheistic belief system, only human preference can define standards of right and wrong and such preferences may shift from person to person and culture to culture. For an atheist to argue that anything is immoral is irrational from an atheistic worldview.

Yet, atheists do believe in absolute morality. They do believe that certain actions are absolutely wrong, and others are absolutely right. Why? Because that’s how reality works. In the real world, absolute right and wrong do exist. The atheist must accept the existence of moral absolutes in order to function in reality, despite the fact that absolute morality cannot logically exist in their worldview.

Morality can only exist if there is an absolute standard of right and wrong. Atheism has no such absolute standard. Such an absolute standard can exist only because the absolute God exists. Atheists cannot acknowledge this; they must believe in absolute morality without acknowledging the Absolute basis for such a belief. Such a belief is irrational and illogical, yet they cling to it, because they refuse to acknowledge God.

Christian Immorality

Although the argument is irrational from the atheistic worldview, Tarico makes a valid point. Immoral behavior by Christians is a serious roadblock for many to receive the Gospel. Although it’s true that many of the examples cited by atheists involve people who aren’t true Christians, many examples do involve true believers. When Christians sin, non-believers notice. And, since all Christians sin, non-believers are going to see Christians do some horrible things.

How should Christians respond to this?

  1. We need to understand that what makes us Christians is not our superior morality. What makes us Christians is reconciliation with God through the blood of Jesus Christ. Our sin separates us from God; the righteousness of Jesus Christ restores our relationship. It’s not our morality; it’s all Jesus. Not only do we need to understand this truth, but we need to make sure both the non-believers and other Christians in our lives understand this as well.
  2. We need to live our lives in obedience to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. When we do sin, we need to repent. We need to be transparent about our sin, and sincere in our repentance. Those around us will see our sin; they need to see the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we overcome the sin.
  3. We need to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters, especially those in leadership roles. We need to pray for strength to avoid temptation and sin, and we need to pray for sincere repentance when sin occurs.
  4. We need to hold each other accountable, especially our Christian leaders. When sin becomes known, we need to hold each other accountable for that sin, and for repentance.

Nobody likes a hypocrite. Christians claim that Jesus Christ makes a difference in our lives. When non-believers see Christians embrace sin, it seems reasonable to see the hypocrisy as negation of the claim that Jesus Christ changes lives. We need to be honest about our shortcomings, and absolutely not view sin as acceptable. We need to allow others to see the Holy Spirit working in our lives. We will never be perfect; but when we fall short, we need to humbly do whatever is necessary to remedy the situation.

There are many people, both inside and outside of the church, who are undecided about where they stand in relation to Jesus Christ. Our job is to allow the Holy Spirit to use us to draw people toward Him, not to push people away. How we respond to sin is a major factor in whether we push people away, or draw them toward Jesus Christ.

Pushing People Out of the Church – Part 4

Valerie Tarico

I recently read an article published by skeptic Valerie Tarico on the left-wing, anti-religion, news-and-commentary website Alternet.org entitled, “8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert — to Agnosticism or Atheism.”

Most of the articles on this site are either offensive or just plain ridiculous, this article caught my interest, because it contains some truths that Christians need to understand.

People who reject Jesus Christ ultimately do so because they choose to suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19). However, there are also many things that those in the church do to push people away. As Tarico states, “if you read ExChristian testimonials you will notice that quite often church leaders or members do things that either trigger the deconversion process or help it along.”

I’ve found that I can often learn a lot by listening to what skeptics say about their perceptions of Christianity. This series looks at the eight reasons Tarico highlights.

Reason #4: Hypocrisy

Christians are taught – and many believe—that thanks to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit they are a moral beacon for society. The writer of Matthew told his audience, “You are the light of the world.” That’s a high bar, and yet decent believers (along with many other decent people) try earnestly to meet it.   But the added pressure on those who call themselves the “righteous” means that believers also are prone to hiding, pretending, posing, and turning a blind eye to their own very human, very normal faults and flaws.

People who desperately want to be sanctified and righteous, “cleansed by the blood of the lamb” – who need to believe that they now merit heaven but that other people’s smallest transgressions merit eternal torture—have a lot of motivation to engage in self-deception and hypocrisy. High-profile hypocrites like Ted Haggard or Rush Limbaugh may be loved by their acolytes, but for people who are teetering, they help to build a gut aversion to whatever they espouse. But often as not, the hypocrisies that pose a threat to faith are small and internal to a single Bible-study or youth group. Backbiting and social shunning are part of the church-lady stereotype for a reason. They also leave a bitter taste that makes some church members stop drinking the Kool-aid.

Tarico’s comments show both considerable insight and a fundamental misunderstanding of what Christianity is all about.

The comment that Christians “believe that they now merit heaven but that other people’s smallest transgressions merit eternal torture” shows a very common, yet very fundamental, misconstruing of the Gospel. The Bible does not teach that Christians merit heaven. Christians will spend eternity in Heaven despite the fact that we do not merit Heaven. Because of our sin, we deserve Hell. Yet, through the blood of Jesus, those who receive Jesus Christ as Savior will spend eternity in Heaven despite the fact that our sins merit Hell. Christians are not more moral than non-Christians; we are just forgiven of our immorality. A Christian’s righteousness is not a result of our superior behavior or character; it is because Christ’s righteousness is credited to us.  We are saved solely by God’s grace!

Unfortunately, there are many who call themselves Christians who have the same basic misunderstanding of the Gospel. Many of these so-called Christians are actually false converts; they have never placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and have never received Him as Lord and Savior. As 2 Timothy 3:1-5 puts it:

1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

Or, as Jesus put it in Matthew 7:21-23:

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

There are also some true believers – those who have a saving faith in Jesus Christ – who do not understand that Christians don’t “deserve heaven.” Many of these Christians have simply been taught falsely. For others, their pride and arrogance lead them to think that they are morally superior to others, and that this moral superiority somehow makes them more acceptable to God. One of the problems I have with Calvinism is that many Calvinists teach that God love the elect, but hates the non-elect; that the elect somehow deserve Heaven, but the non-elect deserve Hell. This belief is nothing more than pride and arrogance run amok, and comes straight from the devil.

Tarico is right on the mark with her charge that hypocrisy drives people from faith in Jesus Christ. Numerous studies have confirmed that one of the main reasons cited by those who leave the church is the hypocrisy of Christians. Numerous high-profile Christian leaders have been exposed as adulterers, thieves, liars, or outright frauds. Tarico is correct in stating that “backbiting and social shunning are part of the church-lady stereotype for a reason.” The Bible teaches Christians to “love your neighbor,” but too often churches are filled with factions, condemnation, and hatred. It’s not just the Westboro Baptist Churches of the world; it’s also a problem in almost every church. Churches are filled with sinners, and sinning is what comes naturally to us, even as Christians. We teach one thing, but live another. Our pride and arrogance fuel this hypocrisy.

Christians need to get real with themselves, real with God, and real with the people around them. We need to understand that we are fundamentally sinners; our righteousness is not our own; we are saved, not because God loves us more, but because we received His forgiveness, which is offered to all. We need to quit trying to convince ourselves that we are morally superior to others; rather, we need to fall on our faces before our holy God and repent of our pride and conceit. Paul tells us to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

Pride and arrogance lead to hypocrisy, and hypocrisy drives people from the church. Tarico is right on the money when she states that, “believers … are prone to hiding, pretending, posing, and turning a blind eye to their own very human, very normal faults and flaws. ” Christians must learn to acknowledge our faults, both before God and before others, and not allow pride and vanity to turn others from Christ. There is no room in the church for snobbery, smugness, or self-importance. Rather, humility, genuineness, and unpretentiousness should rule our lives. Humility and genuineness will draw people to Christ; pride and hypocrisy will push them away.

Pushing People Out of the Church – Part 3

The anti-religion, left-wing, news-and-commentary website Alternet.org published an article by skeptic Valerie Tarico entitled, “8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert — to Agnosticism or Atheism.” While I find most of the articles on this site either offensive or just plain ignorant, this article caught my interest, because it contains some truths that Christians need to understand.

Ultimately, people who reject Jesus Christ do so because they choose to suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19). However, there are also things that many in the church do to push people away. As Tarico states, “if you read ExChristian testimonials you will notice that quite often church leaders or members do things that either trigger the deconversion process or help it along.”

As a Christian, I can learn a lot by listening to what skeptics say about why people leave the church. This series looks at the eight reasons Tarico highlights.

Tarico’s third reason:

3. Misogyny. For psychological and social reasons females are more inclined toward religious belief than males. They are more likely to attend church services and to insist on raising their children in a faith community. They also appear more indifferent than males to rational critique of religion, like debates about theology or evolutionary biology. I was interested to notice recently that my YouTube channel, Life After Christianity, which focuses on the psychology of religion gets about 80 percent male viewers. Women are the church’s base constituency, but fortunately for atheists, this fact hasn’t caused conservative Christians to back off of sexism that is justified by – you got it – prooftexting from the Old and New Testaments.

Evangelical minister Jim Henderson recently published a book, The Resignation of Eve, in which he urges his fellow Christians to take a hard look at the consequences of sexism in the church. According to Henderson, old-school sexism has driven some women out of Christianity permanently, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For those who stay, it means that many are less enthusiastic and engaged than they would be. Churches rely on women to volunteer in roles that range from secretary to director of children’s programs to missionaries. That takes a high level of confidence in church doctrines and also a strong sense of belonging. Biblical sexism cultivates neither. Between 1991 and 2011 the percent of women attending church in a typical week dropped by 11 points, from 55 to 44 percent.

Definitions

First, let’s define some terms:

Misogyny
is the hatred of women.

Sexism is:

1: prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially
: discrimination against women

2: behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex

Prooftexting means to pull a Bible passage out of context and to use it to justify a doctrinal position.

Misogyny and sexism in the Bible

Does the Bible promote misogyny, the hatred of women?

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28 So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. 31 “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. Ephesians 5:25-33

There is no verse in the Bible that teaches the hatred of women. God does not hate any person. It is not in His nature to hate people. God hates sin, but loves everyone in the world (John 3:16). Because He loves all people, including women, He has commanded His people to love women, not to hate them.

Does the Bible teach sexism? The answer depends a lot on semantics. The Bible does not teach prejudice or discrimination; nor does it teach stereotyping. It does, however, teach that men and women have different roles and functions within the Church.

And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Genesis 2:18

To the woman He said:

“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.” Genesis 3:16

From the beginning, God created women and men to work together, but with differing roles. Those roles were in perfect harmony until sin entered the world. After the Fall, the roles of men and women changed for the worse, not because of God, but because of human sin.

Many atheists like to point to verses such as Leviticus 21:9, Leviticus 12:2, or Leviticus 15:19-23 to claim that God hates women. First, the atheist does exactly what they accuse Christians of doing when they prooftext – pull passages out of context to support their view. The Old Testament Law was never about making a person acceptable to God, but all about pointing to the need for a Savior. Men and women were uniquely created to be different from, but complementary to, each other. The Fall effected men and women differently – compare Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 3:17-19. As a result, the Law, which is all about demonstrating God’s holiness and our need for Jesus Christ, has variations for men and women.

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:27

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

God created both men and women in His image. Men and women are of equal value to God. In Jesus Christ, men and women are equally loved, equally valued, equally accepted by God.

And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. 1 Timothy 2:12

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. Titus 2:1-5

Again, atheists and skeptics point to these verses, and others like them, to claim the Bible teaches misogyny. The problem is that such an assertion presupposes that differing roles implies superiority, that God values men more than women. This presupposition does not come from the Bible; rather, it is a sinful, man-made idea. One must cherry-pick verses out of context, and ignore other passages completely, to claim the Bible teaches that women’s roles are inferior to men’s roles. Granted, some in the church have done exactly this for centuries; but this doesn’t mean the Bible teaches it.

The Church and Sexism

What should the church’s position be on the roles of women in the church, the family, and society? Tarico is correct when she says that Christians need to take a hard look at the consequences of sexism in the church. Women should never be put down because of their God-given roles; rather, men need to value women above themselves, as Christ valued us above Himself. God created men and women to fill different roles, but human sin has corrupted the harmony and complementary nature of those roles. The church must make sure they are not prooftexting passages about the roles of men and women, but looking at all of Scripture to balance understanding. The Bible clearly teaches that women and men have different roles, and that men are to be the leaders; but, it also says that men are to love women as Christ loves the church. Tarico is correct when she states that misogyny and putting down women is wrong, and drives women from the church. But, she’s wrong in assuming that different God-given roles means that the Bible teaches that men are more important than women.

Is the Bible misogynist? Absolutely not.

Does the Bible teach sexism? In the sense of teaching that men are better than women, absolutely not. But, the Bible absolutely does teach that men and women have different, yet equally valued, God-given roles. Some will ignorantly call this sexism and misogyny. I call it God’s design for balance and diversity. As Christians, we need to make sure we have God’s Biblical perspective on this issue, not mankind’s perspective. If the Church has a correct Biblical view of women, then women will be drawn to the church, not pushed out, because the Church will show God’s love, respect, and honor toward them and their Biblical roles.

Pushing People Out of the Church – Part 2

Skeptic Valerie Tarico wrote an the article, “8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert — to Agnosticism or Atheism,” for the left-wing, anti-religion, news-and-commentary website Alternet.org. While I find most of the articles on this site either offensive or just plain ignorant, this article caught my interest, because it contains some truths that Christians need to understand.

While people who reject Jesus Christ ultimately do so because they choose to suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19), there are also things that many in the church do to push people away. As Tarico states, “if you read ExChristian testimonials you will notice that quite often church leaders or members do things that either trigger the deconversion process or help it along.”

As a Christian, I can learn a lot by listening to what skeptics say about why people leave the church. This series looks at the eight reasons Tarico highlights.

Tarico’s second reason:

2. Prooftexting. People who think of the Bible as the literally perfect word of God love to quote excerpts to argue their points. They often start with a verse in 1 Timothy: All scripture is given by inspiration of God (as if this circular argument would convince anyone but a true believer). They proceed to quote whatever authoritarian, anti-gay or anti-woman verse makes their point, like, Whoever spares the rod hates their children…Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being or Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. In doing so, they call into question biblical authority, because the Bible writers so obviously got these issues wrong. Literalists who prooftext are a tremendous asset to those who would like to see Bible worship fade away – because prooftexting on one side of an argument invites the same in return, and it is easy to find quotes from the Bible that are either scientifically absurd or morally repugnant.

Many liberal or modernist Christians see the Bible as a human document, an attempt by our spiritual ancestors to articulate their best understanding of God through the lens of imperfect human cultures and minds. Suppose such a Christian is confronted with a verse that says, for example, Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man (Numbers 31:17-18), or No man who has any defect may come near [to God in the temple]: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed;  no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect,…(Leviticus 21:17-23). He or she can simply shrug and say, “Yeah, that’s ugly.” A couple of years ago a group of liberal Christians even kicked off an Internet competition to vote on the worst verse in the Bible. Their faith doesn’t stand or fall with the perfection of the Bible. Biblical literalists, on the other hand, give someone like me an excuse to talk about sexual slavery or bias against handicapped people in the Bible – in front of an audience who have been taught that the good book is uniformly good. For a wavering believer, the dissonance can be too much.

First, let’s define the term Prooftexting. Prooftexting means to pull a Bible passage out of context and to use it to justify a doctrinal position. Unfortunately, Tarico is correct; many Christians grab verses out of context to justify bad theology and sin. The ironic thing is that Tarico pulls the verses she quotes out of context to justify her conclusion that “the Bible writers so obviously got these issues wrong.” Prooftexting works both ways; skeptics are at least as bad about ignoring context as the Christians they rant against.

It’s also ironic that Tarico gives the answer to the problem of prooftexting: All scripture is given by inspiration of God… (1 Timothy 3:16). All scripture means ALL scripture. It means we can’t just grab the verses that seem to support our pet belief while ignoring the rest of the Bible. At various times in its history, the church has used prooftexting to justify slavery, inquisitions, and witch hunts. Today, some Christians use prooftexting to justify protesting the funerals of United States servicemen, racism, and hating homosexuals. Tarico is right – many Christians latch onto Leviticus 18:22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination, but ignore John 8:11, “…And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.'” And, Tarico is also correct in pointing out that such bad theology and quoting the Bible out of context is “are a tremendous asset to those who would like to see Bible worship fade away.”

In my blogs, I make it a point to link to the Scriptures I quote, usually on BibleGateway.com. I do this in order to make it easier for my readers to check out the passages, in context, looking at multiple translations. I want to give my readers the opportunity to check out the context for themselves, to see that, in context, the passage agrees with the point I’m trying to make. And, if the reader disagrees, and feels I’m prooftexting, I want them to point out my error. Context is the most important element to correctly understanding God’s Word. One must not only look at the immediate context of a passage, but also how the passage fits with other related passages. When we fail to do this, we risk believing bad theology, and in turn, we risk living our lives contrary to God’s will. We risk sin, and sin will destroy us. Bad theology can destroy a church, and can drive away those who are teetering between belief and unbelief.

Tarico compares the approaches of “liberal or modernist Christians” and “Biblical literalists.” She concludes that the “liberal” approach is better, because the Bible contains errors, and those errors don’t create problems for Christians whose faith doesn’t “stand or fall with the perfection of the Bible.” She believes that for “Biblical literalists,” the “dissonance” of conflicting passages drives people away from the faith.

The problem with her argument is that she presupposes that the Bible contains errors and contradictions.

It’s true that there are many Biblical passages that, on the surface, seem to contradict each other, or seem to make God into an evil being. The problem is that most people – Christians and non-Christians alike – tend to prooftext these passages, pulling them out of context. The reason Bible passages seem to contradict each other is because people ignore the context in which they are given. Using Tarico’s example, when confronted with a verse like Numbers 31:17-18, “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man,” one needs to look at the immediate context of the entire chapter of Numbers 31. In this case, the Israelites had ignored God’s command to destroy the Midianites. Digging deeper, one would need to look at 1) why the Israelites disobeyed God; 2) why God wanted the Midianites destroyed; and 3) how this event fits into God’s overall plan of the redemption of humankind. When I look at a passage like this in the context of God’s love, holiness, omniscience, and sovereignty, I conclude that God had reasons I cannot fully understand for commanding the destruction of the Midianites, and that those reasons were based on His mercy and love. Perhaps in His mercy, He didn’t want more Midianites to be born, knowing that all of them would reject Him and choose Hell instead – leading others away from Him as well. When I look at the whole context of Scripture and the nature of God, I can begin to understand how a loving God can hate sin, and why He would use genocide to keep more people from ending up in Hell. I arrive at a different conclusion than the skeptic or the liberal Christian about this passage because I presuppose the Bible is true and take the passage in the context of the entire Bible.

The answer to prooftexting is not to simply ignore apparent contradictions. The answer is to begin with trust in God’s goodness, love, and mercy; to examine difficult passages in context, starting with the assumption that the Bible is the true Word of God; to allow the Holy Spirit to give insight and wisdom; and to dig deeper into the Bible to understand the big picture of God’s plan for the redemption of humanity. For a person teetering between belief and unbelief, the answer is not to water down the Bible; the answer is to dig deeper into the context and “give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

Pushing People Out of the Church – Part 1

I found a link to an article entitled, “8 Ways Christian Fundamentalists Make People Convert — to Agnosticism or Atheism,” on Facebook. Alternet.org is a left-wing, anti-religion, news-and-commentary website. While I disagree with the vast majority of their conclusions and find much of their content to be just plain irrational, I find some of the articles fascinating, because they help me to understand the thinking behind why many non-Christians reject the Truth.

Ultimately, those that reject the Gospel do so because they suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19). Yet, there are also things that Christians do that reinforce people’s sinful natural desire to reject God. The article’s premise is that Christians push many people to leave Christianity because of what they say or do. As the author, skeptic Valerie Tarico, states, “If the Catholic bishops, their conservative Protestant allies, and other right-wing fundamentalists had the sole objective of decimating religious belief, they couldn’t be doing a better job of it.”

While I disagree with the premise that the stupidity of some Christian leaders is a rational reason for rejecting Christianity, I found that Tarico makes some valid points about behaviors and attitudes that are too frequently found in Christianity that indeed do push people away. In this series, I will be examining each of the 8 issues Tarico discusses to see what Christians can glean about our own attitudes and behaviors that should be changed.

Reason 1: Gay Baiting

Tarico writes:

Because of sheer demographics, many gay people are born into religious families. The condemnation (and self-condemnation) they face if their families see homosexuality as an abomination can be excruciating, as we all know from the suicide rate. Some emotionally battered gays spend their lives fighting or denying who they are, but many eventually find their way to open and affirming congregations or non-religious communities.

Ignorant and mean-spirited attitudes about homosexuality don’t drive just gays out of the church, they are a huge deconversion issue for straight friends and family members. When Christians indulge in slurs, devout moms and dads who also love their gay kids find themselves less comfortable in their church home. Young people, many of whom think of the gay rights issue as a no-brainer, put anti-gay churches in the “archaic” category. Since most people Gen X and younger recognize equal rights for gays as a matter of common humanity, gay baiting is a wedge issue that wedges young people right out of the church. That makes Fred Phelps a far better evangelist for atheism than for his own gay-hating Westborough Baptist Church.

There are a couple of fallacies with the argument. First, Tarico states that gay people are “born.” She implies that homosexuals have no choice but to be homosexuals. There is no scientific evidence that I am aware of that anyone is born gay. Rather, the evidence I’ve seen is that becoming homosexual is either a choice made later in life, and/or is environmentally influenced. Despite the intense search to identify a “gay gene,” none has been found. Many former homosexuals have completely changed and are happily married heterosexuals. Secondly, she equates Fred Phelps and Westborough Baptist Church with Christianity. It is a logical fallacy to assume that because Fred Phelps calls himself a Christian, all Christians are therefore hate mongers. If this is true, then all Democrats must also be hate mongers, because Phelps is a life-long Democrat, having run in various Kansas Democratic Party primaries five times, although never winning.

Despite the fallacies, Tarico makes several valid points. Most importantly, Christians should not hate homosexuals. Rather, we are to speak the truth in love. Jesus did not come to condemn sinners, but to save them (John 3:17). When a Christian hates gays, it is a symptom of the sins of pride and arrogance in their lives. Some Christians believe God hates homosexuals. God doesn’t hate anyone; He hates sin, but loves people. He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross to save sinners, including homosexuals. The idea that God hates some people, but loves others, is theology without Biblical basis, and is straight from Hell.

Christians should not agree with homosexually as acceptable behavior, but neither should they think that being gay makes a person worse than other sinners. True, the Bible calls homosexuality an abomination (Leviticus 20:13), it also uses the same word (תּוֹעֵבָה “toebah”) to describe other sexual sins; idolatry (Deuteronomy 27:15); pride, lying, murder, planning evil, and sowing discord (Proverbs 6:17-19); and using false weights (Proverbs 11:1). In other words, the Bible uses the same word to describe homosexuality that it uses to describe a liar or one who sows discord – a person who causes disagreements. In reality, all sin is an abomination to God; that’s why we all need a Savior, to remove the curse of our abominable sin and restore our relationship with a holy God.

Tarico is also correct that many homosexuals feel excruciating condemnation from others and often from themselves for their homosexuality – the suicide rate is much higher for homosexuals than for others. I would also add that many feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Our goal as Christians should not be to add to the condemnation, but to help gays come to a relationship with Jesus Christ. There is no Biblical basis for the belief that gays cannot be saved until they quit being gay; in fact, they cannot change without the power of the Holy Spirit, and they cannot receive the Holy Spirit until they are saved. True, the Bible calls for repentance; but, repentance doesn’t mean to stop sinning – it means “to change one’s mind.” Our goal is to share the truth “with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15), and to allow the Holy Spirit to work to bring about salvation. Once the homosexual comes to the knowledge of Jesus Christ and is saved, our goal is to help the new believer to grow in their faith and relationship with Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of sin, not ours. As the new believer grows in their faith and relationship with God, at some point, the Holy Spirit will convict them of the sin of homosexuality. At that point, our job is to lovingly help the person trust in the Holy Spirit’s power to overcome the sin.

Christians must learn to treat homosexuality the same as they would treat any sin. Sin is to be expected of the non-Christian. Once a person is saved, overcoming sin is a life-long process. Homosexuality is a deep addiction that can be a long, painful process to overcome. While the church cannot ignore continued, deliberate sin, it also cannot condemn non-Christians and new believers because they have not yet matured spiritually. Rather, our place is to minister to them, come alongside them, and help them to become mature in Christ. When this happens, the sin of homosexuality will eventually be dealt with by the Holy Spirit, and those of us in the church can help the person overcome their homosexual addiction.

Listening to what non-Christians and skeptics have to say about Christians can give us insight as to where we need to change in order to better reach them with the Gospel. Many non-Christians perceive Christians as hating homosexuals. In order to overcome this perception, we need to allow the love of Christ to flow through us. While we cannot accept the homosexuality, we must accept the sinner. God’s love demands it of us.

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The Conversion of Patrick Greene

Numerous news sources have recently reported the story of Patrick Greene, the former atheist who converted to Christianity.  Greene grew up Catholic, but became an atheist as a young man.  According to the Christian Post,

He says he used to believe in God as a child too, but that ended one Christmas Eve when the members of his family became drunk. He went outside to play with the family dog, and afterward he looked up at the sky and began to wonder why nothing in nature – the dog, the trees – seemed to treat Christmas as a special day.

“That’s what got me…nothing in nature was acting any differently than any other day of the year,” he said.

He also became disillusioned with the Catholic Church when he discovered there were other viewpoints than the ones he had been taught by the church. He says the church taught him they held the only correct view of things, which he disagrees with.

Patrick Greene

Why did Greene become an atheist?  He had questions about his Christian beliefs that apparently nobody could answer reasonably.  1 Peter 3:15 tells Christians to “…always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”  Apparently, the Christians around Greene either could not or did not do this.  December 25 is in all likelihood not the actual date on which Jesus was born; it is merely the date His birth has traditionally been celebrated.  Even if it were the actual date, there would be no rational reason to expect dogs or trees to act any different on that date than on any other.   As for viewpoints that differ from the teaching of the Catholic Church, I would actually agree somewhat with Greene’s disillusionment.  Neither the Catholic Church, nor any other denomination, has a monopoly on truth; only the Word of God, the Bible, is 100% accurate regarding the truth.  Human interpretations and understanding of God’s perfect truth contained in the Bible are sometimes flawed, because humans are sinful, and have fallen, limited minds.  Perhaps if Greene’s questions had been answered in a reasoned manner, based on Scripture, he might not have become an atheist in the first place.

Greene has been known as a long-time atheist and somewhat as a militant atheist activist.  He hosted an “intro to atheism” show on a local television station in North Carolina, and has sued several cities for their Christmas displays.  He recently threatened to sue Ray Comfort because of  a bumper sticker from Comfort’s ministry suggesting April Fool’s Day should also be called “National Atheist’s Day.”  He received considerable notoriety for threatening to sue Henderson County, Texas, over a Nativity scene that was placed on public land outside the county’s courthouse in Athens.

A short time later, Greene was diagnosed with cataracts and glaucoma, and discovered he was going blind.  Because of his condition, he had to quit his job as a taxi driver.

A local church, Sand Springs Baptist Church, organized a fund-raising campaign for Greene’s medical expenses and other bills.  This caught Greene completely off-guard; why would the very Christians whose beliefs he had ridiculed and threatened to sue over do this for him?  Because of that act of kindness, Greene reconsidered his beliefs.  Again, according to the Christian Post:

“There’s been one lingering thought in the back of my head my entire life, and it’s one thought that I’ve never been able to reconcile, and that is the vast difference between all the animals and us,” Greene told The Christian Post on Tuesday, as he began to explain his recent transformation from atheist to Christian. The theory of evolution didn’t answer his questions, he says, so he just set those questions aside and didn’t think about them anymore… He eventually began to realize that evolution would never have the answer to his questions, he says, and it was at that time he began to believe in God.

Two things seem to have brought Greene to Christ:  Christian love, and the irrational presuppositions of Atheism.  I’ve written about the irrationality of Atheism in other blogs, so I won’t address it again here.  However, when we look again at the end of 1 Peter 3:15 – “…with meekness and fear” – we get a better understanding of what happened to Greene.  Rather than having a prideful superior attitude toward Greene, local Christians showed gentleness and respect toward him, and demonstrated God’s love in a tangible way.  The Holy Spirit then used these actions to melt Greene’s hardness of heart toward God.

Reactions have varied to Greene’s conversion, both from atheists and Christians.  Some say the only reason he converted is because he wants more money.  Atheist PZ Myers ridicules him and calls him a “crank” and an “idiot,” which is pretty much what Myers calls anybody who disagrees with him.  Many Christians are thanking God for his conversion.  A few atheists are blaming themselves for not helping him more in his time in need, and allowing Christians to show more compassion than they did.

What can the Christian learn from the story of Patrick Greene?  First, we should never give up on anyone.  The Holy Spirit can draw anyone to faith in Jesus Christ – even a long-time militant Atheist.  Second, Christian love and compassion will draw more people to Jesus Christ than criticism and condemnation.  And third, Christians must be able to rationally defend the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 5:43-44 (NKJV):  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church Part 6

The Barna Group, a leading Christian research and resource company that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture, published the article last September entitled, “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church.” This is the sixth and final in a series of articles in which I give my take on Barna’s conclusions.

Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts. They do not feel safe admitting that sometimes Christianity does not make sense. In addition, many feel that the church’s response to doubt is trivial. Some of the perceptions in this regard include not being able “to ask my most pressing life questions in church” (36%) and having “significant intellectual doubts about my faith” (23%). In a related theme of how churches struggle to help young adults who feel marginalized, about one out of every six young adults with a Christian background said their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems” they experience (18%).

Let’s face it; there are many difficult to believe things in the Bible:

  • Talking snakes and talking donkeys.
  • The parting of seas and walking on water.
  • The creation of the entire universe in 144 hours.
  • People being swallowed by a fish and thrown in an oven, and surviving
  • A world-wide flood that wipes out everything except for one large lifeboat.
  • Virgin birth.
  • Resurrection.
  • God becoming a man.

The list can go on and on.  The claims of Christianity often defy our senses and experiences.  Our limited, fallen minds are going to naturally question the validity of the fantastic accounts of God’s miraculous interventions recorded in the Bible.

How does the church respond when young people express doubts about their faith?  One unfortunate response is to reinterpret the Bible to try to explain away the difficult parts.  Some teach that the Genesis creation account is some sort of allegory or story that contains spiritual truth, but no historical facts.  Others teach that Hell doesn’t actually exist, that the virgin birth never actually happened, or that the flood of Noah’s day was just a local event.  The problem with these types of responses is that they undermine the authority of the Bible as the Word of God, and they make God out to be a liar.  If some parts of the Bible aren’t actually true, then why trust any of it?  If the Bible is the Word of God, but the Bible isn’t completely true, then God is either a very poor writer, or else He hasn’t told us the truth.  Most young people are smart enough to figure out that if the Bible isn’t accurate, then there is no rational basis for Christianity.  No wonder so many are leaving the church!

The second common response is to give a shallow, superficial answer.  “Why?  Because the Bible says so,” or “Good Christians don’t ask such questions” are typical responses.  Many, if not most, Christian teachers and leaders have not equipped themselves to adequately defend the Christian faith.  They can’t explain the difficult things in the Bible and in life because they don’t really understand the issues themselves.  In 1 Peter 3:15, believers are commanded to “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”  Too many Christian leaders have not sanctified the Lord God in their hearts; their relationship with Jesus Christ is not the true focus of their lives.  Too many Christian leaders have no idea how to give a defense of the Gospel.  They have not diligently prepared themselves to give reasoned, rational explanations for the truth of God’s Word.  And, too many Christian leaders do not approach these issues with “meekness and fear,” but with pride, arrogance, and indifference.  Then, they wonder why young people leave the faith!

What should the church’s response be to the doubts expressed by young believers?  Over a third of the young people surveyed in the Barna study said they can’t ask the “most pressing life questions” in church.  We need to encourage questioning!  But, we also need to be prepared to give solid, insightful, Biblical answers to the difficult issues facing young people today.  When young believers express significant intellectual doubts about the Bible or their faith, we need to listen.  We need to be able to help people work through their doubts and struggles, pointing them toward understanding and reasoned answers.  God tells Isaiah in Isaiah 1:18, “’Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord…”  God encourages us to use our minds to find reasoned understanding of the difficult issues of life.  The church has the responsibility to help young people to reason out the answers, based on the Bible.   When young Christians say their faith “does not help with depression or other emotional problems,” the church needs to listen!  Too often, we tell people suffering from depression that their illness is because of a spiritual problem, which only makes them feel guilty, and serves to reinforce the depression and doubts, rather than resolving the issues.  Rather than judging people for having emotional issues, we need to help them work through their doubts, fears, and depression by providing support, love, and solid Biblical answers.

The church must never compromise the authority of the Bible.  Nor should we give superficial or judgmental answers when young people express doubts or ask difficult questions.  Rather, we need to listen carefully and empathetically to the issues young people bring up, and provide solid, Biblical answers.  If we fail to provide answers to the questions young people have, they will seek answers elsewhere, and the answers they find outside of the Word of God will only lead them to destruction and despair.