This month I had a couple of on-line encounters with atheists, one commenting at a guest post on my blog and later in some comments over at Amy Julia Becker’s place. I should say too that these folks were not at all as nice as the atheists I’ve spoken to face to face over the years.
It isn’t their tone that stayed with me though. It was their expectant demands that I found puzzling. For instance, Amy Julia was talking about how to be respectful in our interactions with those who don’t believe in God and I commented:
People attribute things to God and then say they could never believe in that version of God. I tend to agree with them; I’d never believe in that version of God either. Believing in the one true God is quite another thing entirely.
It was as if I threw down a gauntlet. One commenter in particular demanded that I prove God’s existence. Now come on, who made up the rule that any time a Christian expresses belief in God the Christian is then obligated to prove God’s existence to their satisfaction upon demand?*
For the commenter at the guest post on my own blog, it was even weirder. He essentially demanded proof and when I did not even try he said it just proved his point that Christians cannot back up their beliefs with evidence. He then hijacked the comment section and got so virulent I ended up deleting his comments entirely. (After all, this blog does have some basic standards!)
Apologetics Has Its Place
The verse most people cite on apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15 –
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
I’ll certainly go along with that. But nowhere does it say we must come up with philosophically airtight logic, incontrovertible evidence, or anything else to prove the validity of the hope we have. This verse merely says we should not shy away from talking about our faith. Here are some ways I see it playing out from day to day.
A cashier gives us too much change, and we hand it back. The cashier asks why we would do that and we say, “I’m sure God does not want me to keep money that doesn’t belong to me.”
We park too close to a car and later when pulling out scrape the car’s fender. No one is there to see it, but we leave a note with our name and other information. Someone asks why, and we say, “Well, Jesus did say we should treat others the way we want to be treated.”
At work, a colleague asks if we did anything good over the weekend and we say, “There was a great speaker at the marriage retreat we went on. It was really good to get some new insights on what the Bible says about loving our spouses.”
And if someone asks the big question – why we believe in Jesus – I still don’t think we are obligated to come up with some perfect argument that proves Christianity to be true. I think we are to talk about our faith and what God has done in our lives. We can talk about how Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (John 3:16-17, 1 Timothy 1:15.) We can talk about how we are free from trying to make ourselves good enough because Jesus the perfect One has done it all for us. (Galatians 2:19-20.) We can talk about how Jesus now calls us friend. (John 15:15.) We can talk about so much that gives us hope in the one true and living God.
But, as Laura pointed out at Enough Light last week, we don’t have to prove anything. That’s up to God.
When it comes to understanding spiritual truths, 1 Corinthians 2:14 says –
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.
The atheists with whom I was engaging earlier this month see that verse as a cop-out, but it’s not. In fact, it’s no different than what we see in families every day.
My family does things in certain ways. To a casual observer those ways might seem inexplicable, no matter how much I try to explain. Eventually, I’d probably tell the person that the only way they could understand is if they were a member of our family. No one calls that a cop-out, because the same thing applies to their family dynamics as well. It’s how all families are.
Including the family of God.
Can You Relate?
Leslie Keeney over at The Ruthless Monk posted a set of excerpts from some apologetics sources, and one in particular caught my eye. Here’s Leslie’s introduction, followed by the excerpt itself –
Holly Ordway is probably the most prominent voice in Literary Apologetics in the United States. Her review of Imaginative Apologetics is a good introduction to some of the core ideas of the new apologetics and is well worth reading:
“When I was firmly in the ‘New Atheist’ mode, I wouldn’t have listened to even the best Christian philosophical and historical arguments. It wasn’t until I had imaginatively engaged with the Christian faith through poetry and literature – when I had a sense of what it was that this ‘faith’ thing might be, even though I didn’t understand it – that I was able to consider the apologetic arguments and ultimately find them convincing.”
Ordway started engaging the faith relationally before getting a glimpse of the truth. That makes sense, since God is relational. And after all, our faith isn’t about convincing atheists of anything; it’s about God.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14.)
I can relate to that.
*I realize that putting the word “atheists” in the title of this post may attract people who aren’t Christians. I’d love to host their comments, and invite constructive and irenic insights from all comers. But this post is not about convincing atheists, whether in the sense of convincing them my beliefs are valid or them convincing me theirs are. This post is about recognizing that not every conversation on belief has to turn into a formal debate.