Recently I’ve been frequently faced with the fact that some people face a death in their own faith.
Before I start ranting about it, I should point out that everybody has some form of faith, whether it’s faith in the overall meaning of the universe, or the ability of their own intellect to accurately understand reality, or faith in God, or specifically in my case, faith in Jesus Christ.
So when I say a death in faith, I can’t mean a death in the faith that everybody has, but rather the faith that people used to hold to. Indeed, my once atheism was a faith in the regularity of the universe eliminating the necessity of God, and it died a cruel death which I happily celebrate.
Others have been moving the other direction, and as with most, it leaves me sometimes wondering if I’m nuts. After all, I believe that the ground of all reality, and the ultimate ruler of the universe was incarnated in a human being who died for my sins, allowing me to stand faultless before the glory of God. Seems a little nutty if I focus on the rationality of the belief without looking at the underlying reasons to actually believe it, such as the historic reality of the resurrection.
But more commonly, I’ve found that people have turned away from faith in Jesus for the same experiential reasons that others have turned to the faith. Namely, something has happened in their own life that makes their former faith in God untenable. This is usually coupled with artistic expression that resonates with them and essentially causes an emotive conversion to the loss of faith. Don’t believe me? Try being an evangelical Christian hanging around a few drunk atheists or agnostics, you’ll see what I mean.
Of course, the people involved somewhat choose the atheism, but more often than not, they were helped, most notably by the Church. No, I do not mean by the Church’s hypocrisy (were that the reason, nobody would believe anything; hypocrisy is based on lies, and as Dr. House says, “everybody lies”), nor by the evils of the Church (again, were that the case Marx, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Hitler would have put paid to Atheism). More often it is by the church’s failures to act like a church in the realm of discipleship.
Discipleship is the means by which a convert to Christianity is brought to a mature faith in Christ. It is most importantly based on the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit (Phil. 1:6), but is also aided through the instrument of Church in teaching and discipline.
That the Church generally fails in these needs hardly be argued. While in academia, Mark Noll’s battle cry (in “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”) of a decade or more ago has been somewhat answered by a plethora of intelligent and erudite Christian thinkers, this has largely not moved to the general congregation. This is evidenced by the purile and illogical arguments levelled against Christianity by the present batch of popular Atheists. That some of this sounds intelligent (or even intelligible) as attacks on Christianity is based on the fact that most Christians have gotten no further in their faith than “Me and Jesus”. Few, if any, have reflected on Pascal’s wager, or on Anselm’s inaccurately named ontological proof for the existence of God, or even know what a presuppositional apologetic would look like, much less know how to use one.
Even deeper, few Christians know what it means to be being sanctified, where the basis of our justification lies, or even basically what the central fact of the good news is, instead believing that the ultimate reason for Christ’s incarnation was to save me from sin (because I’m such a lovable guy…… despite that original sin thing).
This is compounded by the failure in Church discipline. I hate to say it, and many former Christians would debate me on this one, but the other common cause of atheism, after a failure to grow in the faith, is the embracing of open sin in the Church. Why does this cause atheism? Simple. People have the law of God written in their hearts, and as they act against it, they become less likely to look to God; out of sight, out of mind.
This is compounded when the Church spends its time pretending that the Bible is inaccurate as a reflection of God’s will, and thus eliminating parts of the scripture in practice (like pretending extramarital sex is okay, or that women clergy are accepted by scripture, or that homosexuality is a good and noble expression of God’s will).
On the other side of the divide, we have charismatics failing to test every spirit and pretending that the Spirit of God is some kind of vending machine, or that it gives fortunes, or worst of all, that it gives “new revelations” of God’s will in contradiction to the written word of God.
Thus I believe that in large measure, the present atheism we see is partially to be blamed on the Christian Church, we have done that which we ought not to have done, and have not done those things we ought to have done, and there is no health in us.
Our only hope now is that it is always God’s property to have mercy. May He have mercy on us now.