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By Larry Short
Pastor Martin asked me to share about a recent experience I had interacting with two “non-theist” (which I guess is kind of like atheist) friends, and others, on my Facebook wall and then on my blog. I’m still processing what I learned through this experience, but I’m hoping it can be an encouragement to others.
The Young Adults Ministry is currently studying Romans, and when we were in Romans 4 I posted to my Facebook wall a quote I liked from a Bible teacher, Jon Courson, on the nature of faith:
You go to a doctor whose name you can’t pronounce. He has degrees on his wall that you have never yourself verified. He gives you a prescription that you can’t read, and you take it to a pharmacist that you have never met. He gives you a chemical, a drug that you …don’t understand. And he puts it in a bottle you can’t open!
It’s faith, man! People practice faith continually, every day.
The question is, if you can have faith in the doctor whose name you can’t pronounce, and take without hardly thinking about it the medicine he prescribes, then why can’t you exercise faith in the God who created the universe (and you in it), the One who loves you so much that He came to this earth and died in your place … who simply asks you to accept that historical, verifiable, undeniable fact and its implications?
A great quote, right? Well, I have two Facebook friends, both avowed “non-theists,” who began responding immediately. Both say they were once Christian. Friend A is a 40-something friend from Darlene’s and my high school days, who attended our church youth group. He later had a falling away after marrying a Mormon (even though he knew it was wrong to do so), then experiencing a divorce. He says he had doubts all along, but the experience led him to re-examine the Bible. He said that in doing so he determined that it was inconsistent, and he drew conclusions about the character of God that made him decide to reject Him.
Friend B is a 30-something woman who used to be a Christian radio talk show personality in the Chicago area. Her falling away coincided with a pretty significant personal trauma and moral crisis in her life (well documented by Chicago newspapers and bloggers), but she now claims as well that her “deconversion” was the result of research and intellectual re-examination.
Basically, the debate started when Friend A responded to my “faith” posting, saying that God was not trustworthy and that if he was really there and really cared for us, he would prove himself to us beyond a shadow of a doubt. Friend B then responded to that and challenged his reasoning (basically saying there were better reasons than he was giving to be a non-theist). Their back-and-forth went on for some time and grew quite uncivil at points, I thought.
Other friends (including some Elimites) jumped in at various points and asked questions or raised objections. Pretty much anyone who contributed was subjected to harangue by the woman in Chicago.
At first I kept out of it, but after the wall posting grew to an unwieldy size, and in an effort to change the venue, I promised I would respond to the various objections raised, but would do so in a more thoughtful way on my blog. Then for a week or so after that, I posted a 7-part series on my blog seeking to respond to the various supposedly intellectual objections to faith raised on my Facebook wall, as well as to address what I saw as some of the real issues buried beneath the objections.
By the way, much thanks is due to my “real” friends (as opposed to Facebook friends), Mike Hellum and Larry Nelson, for helping me frame my response!
The debate intensified even further on my blog. Those seven postings generated a total of 62 responses, mostly from my two friends. (Friend B was responsible for a majority of those. Darlene asked me, “Doesn’t she have a job or anything better to do?” I still don’t understand why people who repudiate a belief in God seem so invested in getting others to do the same.)
You can read the original Facebook wall post (and its 49 comments), if you dare (you may need to be my Facebook friend to do so, but I think most of you already are) … and anyone can read the equally scintillating subsequent conversation on my blog.
The exchange was a healthy one for me, challenging me to be better equipped in order to meet the mandate of 1 Peter 3:15-16: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
Our faith, while it is faith, must be rationally-based and supported by a foundation of trustworthy evidence. Too many Christians simply believe because they’re expected to, because they were told to (perhaps at a young age), or because everyone else they know does. But there are compelling empirical, philosophical and rational bases for Christian faith, and each of us who interacts with non-Christian friends and neighbors should understand what those are. Not only will it be encouraging to us in our own faith journey, it will help equip us to respond to the challenges of the world in which we serve as ambassadors.
(I can recommend a few great authors, for those of you who are interested in more: C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller, Lee Strobel, John Piper and Josh McDowell are a great place to start.)
Continued next week: Conclusions I have drawn from this experience.
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