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.
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:
6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 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. 9 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:
- Nobody likes pushy people – especially pushy Christians.
- Authoritarian control has no place in the church, and
- 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.