What I mean by that is, they are looking to engage you and I with their skepticism. Not too long ago I had a local pastor call me and told me he was visited by someone taking up the clarion call to draw people away from the faith. He was visiting his church during the morning worship service.
In this posting, I want to share with you three highlights of my time with "Glen" (no quotes following hereafter). We talked about several things in the half hour to forty five minutes, but they all hinged around these three highlights. I will share more subjects as they emerge in future postings.
Glen likes to call himself an "evangelical atheist." When he told me this, I asked him what he meant by the word 'evangelical.' He told me that it was his goal to get the message out that people do not have to follow a blind faith, but can move toward a more reasonable way of life. Of course I asked him for his definition of "faith" and got the typical answers that come from those embracing the "new (popular) atheism."
But when he told me that he was an 'evangelical' atheist, I wasn't surprised for two reasons. The first reason is that there is a book that has come out this past November. It was written by an 'evangelical atheist' named, Peter Boghossian entitled, "A Manual for Creating Atheists." Boghossian is taking a higher road than Richard Dawkins, by following a more cordial path. Boghossian's book is what I call, using a military term, the modern "smart book" of the popular atheism. The intent of this book by Boghossian is to get the atheists out, to engage Christians about their "faith" with a goal to turn them away from their Christian faith by raising doubts and trying to convince them to take the path to "reason" (atheistic rhetoric). From what my colleagues are telling me, is that Boghossian is having some success because of his tact, and demeanor, but not because of his argumentation and rhetorical gymnastics.
When I asked Glen if he knew about Boghossian's book, he told me he hadn't even heard of it. I guess that is a good thing. He did say that he would look into it though. So far, none of the others in this little huddle of four on Sunday had heard of Boghossian's book either. But an 'evangelical atheist' gives me the impression that Glen and others are serious about communicating their message. This is a clarion call for the church: WE HAVE TO BE READY.
"Nones," the typical college casualty
Many of us have heard of the statistics from LifeWay, the Barna Group and other data/survey groups who are telling us that 75-88% of the kids are leaving home and walking away from their faith during their first or second years of college or on their vocation. Glen being around my age, was no different. What does this say about the condition of the church? To me it says that we are well behind the eight ball, and this fall out has been going on for at least four decades.
When I asked him about his journey into atheism, he told me that he was raised in a "Christian (Methodist) home" and went off to college. In college he became enamored with the philosophy of Hume, Descartes, and some of the ancient philosophers. His studies in philosophy and science led him to look away from "faith" and look to his new favorite disciplines. And we wonder why a movement like Ratio Christi was started.
However there was something else in this part of our conversation. That is the issue of the professing "Christians" that Glen and others in the Fredericksburg Coalition of Reason have recently spoken to; calling them "Nones."
What is a "None"? It is someone who is a non-believer or one who has no preference to a particular religious faith, claiming no religious affiliation. But Glen has also tried to broaden the scope of this term, referring to professing Christians who have not taken ownership of their faith. This made it a little personal for me. He stated that he made his atheism personal and he stated that he can explain it and defend it. Of course I don't believe the last part of his being able to defend it.
But this does bring up a sobering point. Let's grant that the word, 'Nones' in reference to those who have not taken ownership of their faith. In light of this now, allow me to entertain that thinking for a couple of rhetorical questions giving us food for thought. My first is what does this say about the intellectual condition of the church? If we think that the answer to this first question is troubling, my second question would be, what does this say about the need for apologetics in the church as part of discipleship?
If people are having a difficult time communicating their Christian faith, then I believe it is time for church pastors to re-evaluate how they are communicating the application of their sermon texts. Are they sharing reasons "why" the believers' faith can stand firm with solid answers in the culture? I'll stop my ranting here. However it is sobering that the atheists are coming and possibly sitting next to folks in the pews of churches on Sunday mornings. What do I personally think about that? Let them come!
We're All Atheists???
Alongside all the other subjects that we touched on, this one was interesting. When I shared with him that I was a former skeptic, and why I am no longer where he is, he told me that he was an atheist to one more 'god' than myself. To me that was lazy and dodging the issue about the reality of atheism.
This is also an escape hatch that atheists use in order to create a way to identify with people they are trying to "convert." Sure, in his thinking, I will grant that I don't believe in Allah being the same as the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible. I don't even believe in Buddha or any of the deities of India. This was Glen's reasoning to claim that everyone is atheistic to some deity and he is an atheist to one more, the God of the Bible.
How did I counter that? I countered very simply, by saying, let's talk about the God he doesn't believe in, the God of the Bible. Does that God exist or not exist? I will touch on this again at a latter time. I believe there are good reasons to believe that God does exist. We need to be able to communicate those reasons to those who think that faith is a blind leap into the dark. Christianity is not a leap into the dark, but a step into the light.
In summary, we talked about the meaning of faith, and other little issues. I will touch on the meaning of faith at a later time, since it is a subject that warrants its own posting. All in all, my visit with Glen was a cordial one and we parted on friendly terms. We agreed that it would be good to meet again some time. Maybe I will go to one of their coalition "meet ups" or a rally that they may have locally. The next time, I will not be going alone, but hope to take some other budding apologists with me.
As I mentioned in my first posting, we need to go out prayerfully, and be attentive to the culture, listening, and being observant. You will never know what ministry opportunities will arise and you will find yourself in a place where you will be able to make a case for your Christian faith.
Thank you for reading this post. If you have any questions about this series or another question, please feel free to shoot me an email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be more than happy to correspond with you.