I am always amazed at where my writing shows up on the internet. My posts have been widely discussed and cussed. I am grateful for the exposure, even when my words are being dissected, abused, misused, and taken out of context.
My post, How to Witness to An Atheist, made its way to the Sermon Index. The About page describes the Sermon Index as:
Sermonindex is not an attempt by man to build something for God. It began as God gave the burden and only will continue as He is guiding the work being fully trusted. It began by a work of God’s Spirit and for His glory: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty.’ – Zechariah 4:6.
The work and ministry of SermonIndex can be encapsulated in this one word: Revival. Concepts such as Holiness, Purity, Christ-Likeness, Self-Denial and Discipleship are hardly the goal of much modern preaching. Thus the main thrust of the speakers and articles on the website encourage us towards a reviving of these missing elements of Christianity. This biblical balanced Christianity is something needed desperately today. ‘Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.’ – Psalm 127:1. The desire for a Spiritual Awakening (revival in a larger-sense) is close to the heart of this ministry. That we would see God working in such a way that sin would be forsaken, restitution be made, Christ honored and the morality of society even changed.
One commenter had this to say about my post:
…That being said, the author of the article did make a few statements that I suspect are not true; of course it may not be possible to PROVE he is wrong; nonetheless:
1. It is doubtful that many atheists were Christians prior to their “conversion” to atheism. Perhaps there was some connection to Christianity, which is a far car from being a true follower and disciple of Christ. It is very unlikely that they had a genuine love for the Lord and were truly followers of Him at some point in their lives.
2. Atheists almost always appeal to intellectual reasons to support their non-belief. While I believe they really do have these intellectual reasons, it is my suspicion that there is almost always some bad past experience behind their choice to not believe. Further, there are ‘cultural’ reasons are practically synonymous with ‘intellectual’ reasons since it is our culture that poisons people’s thinking in erroneous ways which make Christianity seem unbelievable.
3. I disagree with his statement that atheists “probably aren’t God’s ‘elect’ anyways.” Jesus Christ is God’s elect One and every person is invited to share election through Him.
4. I agree with most of his list of the methods that generally don’t work with atheists, but “friendship evangelism,” if done in love and not just to ‘convert’ them as a means to an end can be effective IF (and it’s a big if) the witness is truly living a Christ-like life.
The commenter starts out by saying that I make some statements in my post that he “suspects” are not true. Of course, he can’t prove that I am wrong, but as we all know, that has never stopped a Christian from saying whatever they wanted about atheists. (and some atheists are just as bad)
Atheists, homosexuals, and liberal Christians, are routinely attacked and disparaged by Evangelical Christians. Usually, all they know about the aforementioned evil doers comes from what a talking parrot, also known as a pastor, regurgitated from an apologetics books he has recently read.
I preached for years against atheists, homosexuals, and liberals and never personally knew anyone who wore those labels. Preaching about them was like preaching about people who didn’t faithfully attend church. Those who didn’t faithfully attend church weren’t there to hear me preach about them, and neither were the atheists, homosexuals, and liberals.
This kind of preaching was meant for the choir. It was meant to let the faithful know that they were on the right side, God’s side. As long as people live in the Evangelical bubble they will continue to believe things about atheists, homosexuals, and liberals, that are no true. The only hope of changing their mind will come when they actually meet and get to know the evil doers their pastor rages against. Once a real flesh and blood face is put to the point in the sermon, suddenly, things change.
It is evident the commenter on the Sermon Index doesn’t really know any atheists. If he did he wouldn’t have written the ill-informed, foolish things that he did.
Granted, there are some atheists who were nominal Christians before they deconverted. However, most of the atheists I know were not nominal Christians. They were active in their church. Many of them taught Sunday School or led worship. More than a few of them were pastors, evangelists, Christian school teachers, or Christian college professors. These people, like myself, were anything BUT nominal. They were sincere, devoted, committed, faithful, followers of Jesus Christ.
Of course, I understand WHY the commenter disparages atheists like he does. If we were just nominal, sit in the pew Christians who didn’t take the Christian faith seriously, it is much easier to dismiss us.
I have stated many times, and I will state it again here. I was a sincere, devoted, committed, follower of Jesus Christ. I was saved, baptized, and spent most of my life in loving, faithful devotion to Jesus. I was orthodox in doctrine. I was a dedicated student of the Bible and I took seriously my calling to preach the gospel. No one, in twenty-five years, out of the thousands of people who heard me preach, ever said, I don’t think Bruce is a Christian.
Of course, it is easy to judge me never a Christian now. My current life is proof that I never was a Christian, or so they think. All I know is this, either I was deceived for fifty years and I deceived thousands of people for twenty-five years, or I was a Christian and now I am not.
The commenter goes on to suggest that atheists are not honest about their reasons for deconverting. He writes:
it is my suspicion that there is almost always some bad past experience behind their choice to not believe.
No matter how many times you tell them the reasons, they still insist that behind the intellectual reasons is anger or hurt.
So what if a person like me was angry or hurt? Does a person being angry or hurt mean they can’t make a decision for intellectual reasons? Must our choice to deconvert be for passionless reasons?
Let me turn this around for a moment. Imagine if atheists said “I don’t believe you became a Christian for intellectual reasons. You didn’t become a Christian because of the gospel message. There was some psychological or emotional reason.”
I can only imagine the outrage. Is there an emotional or psychological component to a person’s conversion? Absolutely. However, I would hope that a person became a Christian because they intellectually believed what the Bible taught about Jesus and the good news of the gospel.
Again, it is far easier to dismiss atheists when their deconversion is attributed to psychological or emotional reasons. Once it is admitted that they deconverted for intellectual reasons then they are forced to deal with the actual evidence that led to the atheist’s deconversion.
The commenter would have us believe that atheists deconvert because culture (and I am not sure exactly what he means here) presents Christianity as unbelievable. Actually, it is Christians themselves, along with the Bible, that presents Christianity as unbelievable. Culture is not to blame, the church is.
Evangelical Christianity excels at turning people into atheists. Instead of trying to fault the atheist or blame the culture, how about Christians owning up to their own culpability in turning people away from the faith?
Look at Evangelical Christianity. What do you see? Hateful, mean-spirited, judgmental, right-wing, homophobic, bigots. (and yes, I am deliberately painting with a broad brush) Why would ANYONE want to become an Evangelical Christian?
The truth is the Evangelical Christian church has little or nothing to offer. Go ahead and blame the atheists, homosexuals and liberals. Go ahead and blame Richard Dawkins or Bart Ehrman. Blame anyone and everyone but who should be blamed.
The Southern Baptist Convention is dying on the vine. Instead of taking time to reflect on why that is…they busy themselves passing resolutions stating that same-sex marriage is not a civil rights matter. Who is the target of this resolution? Not Southern Baptist gays. What openly gay person would want to be a part of a homophobic denomination like the Southern Baptist Convention? Resolutions like this are meant for the culture at large. They want us to know they intend to be the moral arbiters for everyone, not just Southern Baptists.
The newspapers have regular stories about Evangelical pastors who do despicable things. And what to Evangelicals do? Forgive, often hide, and forget. Those of us in the worldly culture so despised by Evangelicals are not so quick to forgive and forget. When people with power rape, molest, steal, and abuse we hold a grudge. We demand justice. We don’t give them a time out or move them on to another church. Quite frankly, many of us godless heathens are sickened by how the Godly dismiss the peccadillos of their leaders. (and this includes the child abuse scandal in the Catholic church)
The best thing Evangelicals could do is get off the internet, shut the hell up, stop trying to turn America into a theocracy, and get their house in order. Return to the good works of the Jesus they say they follow. Then, just maybe, they might have something to offer to the rest of us.
The commenter, in his fourth point, suggests that Friendship Evangelism can be an effective way to evangelize atheists if:
done in love and not just to ‘convert’ them as a means to an end can be effective IF (and it’s a big if) the witness is truly living a Christ-like life.
Over the past five years, I have had a number of Christians try the Friendship Evangelism approach with me. They friend me on Facebook. They send me invitations to lunch or dinner. They ask if I “just want to hang out.” They assure me their motives are pure…they just want to be my friend.
Either they are deluded or lying. What is the grand end-all for the Evangelical? The conversion of sinners. It is all about making new Christians. The friendship offer is predicated on the belief that, if they are nice, they will be given the opportunity to share the gospel.
I have no problem with this. I know what the Bible says and Christians SHOULD be witnessing at every opportunity. However, they shouldn’t hide behind wanting to be my friend.
Now, if they really just want to be my friend…how about we get together with the church deacons and go and drink some beers at the strip club? Come on, just us guys, hanging out, doing guy stuff.
Or how about we will be friends but you can’t mention your religion, pray, invite me to church, or do anything that remotely smells like an attempt to evangelize me?
No takers? I thought so.
Someday, somewhere, I just might actually meet an Evangelical Christian that really wants to have a no-strings attached friendship. Like the ivory-billed woodpecker, I am sure there is one out there…s-o-m-e-w-h-e-r-e.
reposted, revised, updated