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What’s your experience?

Here are my rough notes on ten classic routes from non-theism to theism/Christianity. I’ve put them in the order I’ve experienced them (both in terms of time, and relevance).

Yours? All ten? What order? Why?

And if you’ve drifted away from Theism/Christianity, which factors were relevant, in what order? Better keep it all more brief than I have, if you can!!!



If you had to summarise in a sentence or two a ‘Theory of Everything’ which guides your life, what would it look like?

Here’s mine:

1. JESUS OF NAZARETH is who he believed he was: the unique ‘Son of God.’

2. MISSION: I am committed to ‘following’ Jesus, doing in my world in a small way what he did in his: living a lifestyle of ‘radical discipleship’ in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount. And to agreeing with Jesus’ summary of ‘The Key to Knowledge’ (Luke 11:52) – Justice and Love (Luke 11:42) – where Jesus endorsed the sentiments expressed by the Hebrew prophets, summarised by Micah’s headline (Micah 6:8: Acting justly, loving mercy, walking humbly with our God).

3. COMMUNITY: The Church is Jesus’ plan – via four ‘spiritual’ (rather than simply ‘religious’) activities – to change the world (through Worship, Community, Formation, and Mission). IOW (in other words) I opt for the ‘Bruderhof option’ (serving Christ/others in the world), rather than the ‘Benedictine option’ (retreating from the world).

Note: the ‘Benedictine option’ is not limited to Catholic or Orthodox eremitical retreatants: it is also pervasive in Protestant and sectarian groups, which have often formed quasi-religious clubs which have no – or little – influence in their world. Certainly the Benedictines – and other Orders which sponsor retreats – perform a necessary service for the whole church, and even people with no connection to a church. (And all the biblical leaders spent a disproportionate amount of their lives in deserts). Perhaps Facebook and other ‘Social Media’ are contemporary vehicles of ‘mission’ which in some respects may influence more people for God/good than any church.

So this chapter is essentially about ‘what I’m on this planet for’, rather than simply ‘ticking boxes in a belief system’. You can tick boxes but not change anything. (The two creatures in the Gospels who were known for ‘ticking boxes’ were the Pharisees and demons).

But ‘beliefs precede behaviour’, so we must start there.

I like this:

Common exchange in Israel: 

‘I’m an atheist.’

‘Are you a Muslim atheist, a Jewish atheist, or a Christian atheist?’

(Where else on this planet could a conversation like that happen?).


Sydney Anglican scholar Rev. Dr. Michael Jensen, author of My God My God – is it Possible to Believe Anymore? describes the ‘no religion’ option in the Australian census as ‘a lie.’ There’s no such thing as a non-religious human being… ‘“Religion” names the things to which we are ‘bound’… And there is something in the human being that seeks out these bindings in the things that transcend us. John Lennon was simply kidding himself when he asked us to “imagine no religion”. The question is not “religion yes or no”, but which religion’?



How do committed atheists – like, say, C S Lewis – become committed to ‘following Jesus’? (For the moment we’ll leave a discussion about the greater integrity of an agnostic rather than an atheistic stance for ‘Divine Phenomena’ which are ‘beyond our ken’.)

[Footnote: I came across an excellent list of eight factors recently (http://www.wordonfire.org/…/why-atheists-change-their…/4729/).] 

Atheists have their own unique journeys, but some or all of these factors are involved somewhere:

–> My main reason for (a) believing in the existence of God and (b) defining my understanding of that God in a particular way? Simple: I believe in the existence of God – and have a view about what kind of God we are talking about – because I am committed to Jesus. Now all the questions about the historicity of the events recorded in the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – and whether we can agree with the Jesus described there especially when he talks about himself – will have to wait for another chapter. Let me just mention two formative influences in my thinking: [1] I trust the scholarly work of people like the Evangelical theologians F F Bruce a generation ago, and [2] the contemporary historian/ theologian Bishop N T Wright; and [3] popular writers like the lawyer Lee Strobel. Example: “I’ll admit it: I was ambushed by the amount and quality of the evidence that Jesus is the unique Son of God… I shook my head in amazement. I had seen defendants carted off to the death chamber on much less convincing proof! The cumulative facts and data pointed unmistakably towards a conclusion that I wasn’t entirely comfortable in reaching.”[Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ p. 264].

And even more important than questions of historicity and polemics is the compelling attraction of the person of Jesus (in the words of the ‘Jesus Freaks’ of half a century ago): “If God is like Jesus, nothing is too good to be true!”

–> However, when people summarise their experience of coming to faith, most are Christians because they’ve met one. And being born into a Christian family/church provides a strong likelihood of one’s later adult commitment.

–> Then there’s the influence of (respected) Christians/theists. For example In his autobiography Surprised by Joy C S Lewis says G K Chesterton and George MacDonald deeply influenced his journey towards surrendering to Jesus Christ.

–> Extending this further, I’ve met several academics for whom the clincher was their conviction that Jesus’ resurrection actually happened. New Testament scholars like Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, and N T Wright, have made the case for Christ’s resurrection more airtight than ever. Wright’s magnum opus, the 700-odd page The Resurrection of the Son of God, is the best contemporary book about why Jesus’ resurrection is the best explanation for what really happened on that Easter morning. And yes, of course, the Jesus Seminar and other scholars have alternative views, some of which may be summarised ‘Resurrections of dead people don’t happen, so it didn’t happen in this instance.’

[Visit N T Wright’s books discussing Jesus with John Dominic Crossan and with Marcus Borg: brilliant summaries of a conservative and liberal view of Jesus and the Resurrection]. See also Alister McGrath’s book, Surprised By Meaning]

–> A short step further is the powerful Christian testimony of scientists who are experts in their field: like Galileo and Kepler (astronomy), Pascal (hydrostatics), Boyle (chemistry), Newton (calculus), Linnaeus (systematic biology), Faraday (electromagnetics), Cuvier (comparative anatomy), Kelvin (thermodynamics), Lister (antiseptic surgery), and Mendel (genetics). [http://www.wordonfire.org/…/why-atheists-change-their…/4729/).] I remember when I was a staffworker with the Australian InterVarsity Fellowship being impressed with the fact that there was then a higher proportion of Science than Humanities graduates who were committed Christians.

–> In the humanities field, ‘there’s Edith Stein, a brilliant 20th century philosopher. As an atheist, Edith was shocked when she discovered the writings of Catholic philosopher, Max Scheler. As one account of her conversion puts it: ‘Edith was enthralled by Scheler’s eloquence in expounding and defending Catholic spiritual ideals. Listening to his lectures on the phenomenology of religion, she became disposed to take religious ideas and attitudes seriously for the first time since her adolescence, when she had lost her faith and and given up prayer.’ Edith Stein would eventually convert to Catholicism and die a martyr. She is now known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.’ [http://www.wordonfire.org/…/why-atheists-change-their…/4729/]

–> Then, with some there’s a yearning for ‘God-if-God-exists’ which leads to a study of the Christian Scriptures, and a ‘prayer of surrender’. [Here’s a good description of C S Lewis’s ‘journey to faith’: http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/node/48 ]. At age seventeen, Lewis wrote to longtime friend Arthur Greeves, ‘I believe in no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them’. But later while riding on a bus in Oxford, Lewis surrendered to God – the most ‘dejected and reluctant convert in all England’. Later, Lewis wrote to Arthur, ‘Christianity is God expressing himself through… the actual incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection’ [of Jesus Christ].

–> Another route some follow towards a Christian commitment involves their own exploration into prayer and the reading of the sacred Scriptures. One example:
Author Devin Rose on his blog writes: ‘I began praying, saying, “God, you know I do not believe in you, but I am in trouble and need help. If you are real, help me.” I started reading the Bible to learn about what Christianity said…’

Once Rose began to read the Scriptures and talk to God, even as a skeptic, he found himself overwhelmed by something very real: ‘Still, I persevered. I kept reading the Bible, asking my roommate questions about what I was reading, and praying. Then, slowly, and amazingly, my faith grew and it eventually threatened to overwhelm my many doubts and unbelief.’

And the rest was history for the now rising Catholic apologist and author of The Protestant’s Dilemma. [http://www.wordonfire.org/…/why-atheists-change-their…/4729/]

–> Exploring the ‘Classical Proofs’ for God’s Existence.

Honest philosophers follow the best arguments wherever they may lead.

Philosopher Dr. Ed Feser (The Road From Atheism), recounts the shocking effect of opening himself to the arguments for the existence of God: ‘As I taught and thought about the arguments for God’s existence, and in particular the cosmological argument, I went from thinking “These arguments are no good” to thinking “These arguments are a little better than they are given credit for” and then to “These arguments are actually kind of interesting.” Eventually it hit me: “Oh my goodness, these arguments are right after all!”’

Feser concludes: ‘Speaking for myself, anyway, I can say this much. When I was an undergrad I came across the saying that learning a little philosophy leads you away from God, but learning a lot of philosophy leads you back. As a young man who had learned a little philosophy, I scoffed. But in later years and at least in my own case, I would come to see that it’s true.’

More: Edward Feser, The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism. Also see Kevin Vost’s From Atheism to Catholicism: How Scientists and Philosophers Led Me to the Truth.

Order in the Universe. Antony Flew was one of the 20th Century’s most famous atheists. He debated William Lane Craig and others on the existence of God. But eventually his recognition of the profound order and complexity of the universe, and its apparent fine-tuning, was a decisive reason for the renowned atheist to change his mind about God’s existence.

In an interview with Dr. Ben Wiker, Flew explains: ‘There were two factors in particular that were decisive. One was my growing empathy with the insight of Einstein and other noted scientists that there had to be an Intelligence behind the integrated complexity of the physical Universe. He concluded that it was reasonable to believe that the organisation of space, time, matter and energy throughout the universe is far from random.

‘The second was my own insight that the integrated complexity of life itself—which is far more complex than the physical Universe—can only be explained in terms of an Intelligent Source. I believe that the origin of life and reproduction simply cannot be explained from a biological standpoint . . . The difference between life and non-life, it became apparent to me, was ontological and not chemical. The best confirmation of this radical gulf is Richard Dawkins’ comical effort to argue in The God Delusion that the origin of life can be attributed to a “lucky chance.” If that’s the best argument you have, then the game is over. No, I did not hear a Voice. It was the evidence itself that led me to this conclusion.’

[For a more in-depth account of Flew’s change of mind on God’s existence, read There Is A God: How The World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.]

–> BEAUTY. The great theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, wrote:

‘Beauty is the word that shall be our first. Beauty is the last thing which the thinking intellect dares to approach, since only it dances as an uncontained splendour around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another.’ Father von Balthasar held strongly to the notion that to lead non-believers to belief in God we must begin with the beautiful.’

Dr. Peter Kreeft calls this ‘the Argument from Aesthetic Experience’. The Boston College philosopher testifies that he knows of several former atheists who came to a belief in God based on this argument (for more from Dr. Kreeft, see his Twenty Arguments For The Existence Of God). In classic Kreeftian fashion, he puts forward the argument in the following way: ‘There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Therefore there must be a God. You either see this… or you don’t.’
[More to come]


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