Exploring the reasons why evangelicals will not be able to reach many atheists with the Gospel. Drawing upon my knowledge of evangelical Christian culture, exploration of atheism, and my faith crisis in writing this post. Examining how current evangelical culture of anti-intellectualism, living in the “bubble” and how atheist high value of science and knowledge will inevitably clash. How opportunities will be lost unless evangelicalism can correct itself. Note this post will be drawing upon quotes and clips from George Carlin, Christopher Hitchens and Greta Christina so there will be explicit language.
“The Bible has noble poetry in it… and some good morals and a wealth of obscenity, and upwards of a thousand lies.”
“Something is wrong here. War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong. This is not good work. If this is the best God can do, I am not impressed. Results like these do not belong on the résumé of a Supreme Being. This is the kind of shit you’d expect from an office temp with a bad attitude. And just between you and me, in any decently-run universe, this guy would’ve been out on his all-powerful ass a long time ago. And by the way, I say “this guy”, because I firmly believe, looking at these results, that if there is a God, it has to be a man. No woman could or would ever fuck things up like this. So, if there is a God, I think most reasonable people might agree that he’s at least incompetent, and maybe, just maybe, doesn’t give a shit. Doesn’t give a shit, which I admire in a person, and which would explain a lot of these bad results.”
Dan Barker (Freedom From Religion Foundation) on God, where he asks, “Do you want to go down to my basement…”
Many evangelicals often talk about how important it is to evangelize and share the Gospel with those outside the faith. I can’t tell you how many times when I went to evangelical churches I heard a lot of talk, sermons, and programs about evangelism and how it was going to proceed. Some evangelicals love to evangelize while others don’t. However, later on I plan on writing a post as to what it was like to show up at differing churches in my faith crisis and the issues I encountered. That post alone could almost be a book. In reflecting back on the evangelism that I encountered after my faith crisis I want to shake my head with frustration and angst because in all likelihood just the opposite will happen when it comes to evangelizing. There is something that has been on my mind that I wanted to explore in this particular post. That issue is how unlikely it will be that many evangelical Christians will be unable and unwilling to reach many atheists and those outside their evangelical bubble. There are many factors that come into play and with that let’s commence looking at the reasons.
- The biggest obstacle that evangelicals have against them when it comes to working with and speaking to atheists is the following. Evangelicals often lack love in their interaction and beliefs. Actually its no surprise that many evangelicals are today known for what they are opposed to instead of what they are for. But love can move mountains if it is practiced, I explored that in a couple of posts already here. You can read those here and here.
- Another factor is many evangelicals come from a culture that is anti-intellectual. Let’s be honest…people like CS Lewis and Philip Yancey are the exception and not the norm. I often wonder privately if the reason why people like CS Lewis and Alistar Beg became intellectual giants becuase they bring that intellectual background with them from atheism when they became Christians. Many parts of evangelicalism lack intellectualism. When I read Philip Yancey’s work one comment that kept popping up over and over is how he has spent his lifetime in recovery from the evangelical Christian church. Its in areas like this that the evangelical Christian approach of hostility to science, academia, etc.. comes back to haunt them, and just backfires Many atheists and people on the outside of evangelicalism have a high approach to intellectualism, science, and other educational disciplines. When the spokesmen for evangelicalism are questionable individuals like Ken Ham or David Barton…do we honestly think that we are going to be able to engage the outside world? Now in raising Ken Ham please note I am not saying that a personal belief in Young Earth Creationism is the issue. It can be made an issue when it becomes primary doctrine as the way some evangelicals do, but there are others who don’t do that at all. What I am saying is that when your spokesman is questionable and wrapped up in needless controversy it becomes another needless issue. Ken Ham has no scientific credentials and no Biblical scholarship. I have often been puzzled as to how did he became the go to person for the creationist issue? When it comes to David Barton I’ve been following from time to time Warren Throckmorton’s covering of the issues surrounding him. The issues are too numerous and deal with an outrageous twisting of history to include Barton’s claim that Jefferson could never free his slaves to justifying the destruction of the Indians in King Philip’s War in Colonial American history. There is so much distortion by David Barton that I would say his work ceases to be history and instead is mere propaganda. I’ve done graduate work in history and I’ve been taken back by the pseudo approach to history that David Barton has had. His work wouldn’t past the muster at many universities and academic programs. So why do I write this? I spend some time to illustrate how we shoot ourselves in the foot when we create and support individuals like David Barton or Ken Ham and others. Due to the people we uphold evangelicals will be unable to academically engage those in atheism especially since many atheists have a high view of science, education, etc…
- Many evangelicals are too sensitive, easy to offend, and trigger happy in response to the next issue I want to raise. Many evangelicals worry too much about violence, language, sex, and so many other issues, in other words many evangelicals are too sensitive. This is the primary reason why when discussing how to deal with a person in a faith crisis why I wrote about growing thick skin. I get a good laugh in reflecting upon this issue because many atheists are not that sensitive in so many ways. They can be abrasive, rough, intellectual, or course in engaging with a Christian as they can be abrupt. This is the reason why I put the quote by George Carlin as the lead into this post. But that is just the beginning of this issue, for example Christopher Hitchens was known for his “Hitch Slaps”. It goes beyond that with Christopher Hitchens whose language was strong, provocative and brazen. Don’t believe me? Watch this clip of Hitchens talking about Abraham and Isaac. Now did you listen to that? Hitchens says that if God told him to gut his kid, and that we are admire the man who would sacrifice his child, he’d say in response; “Fuck you…” (I’m just quoting from Hitchens) Or consider Greta Christina, when one of the top atheist bloggers who is loved and appreciated publishes a book called Why Atheists Are Angry…99 Things That Piss Off the Godless it leaves me with the following question. How are many evangelicals going to be able to move beyond Greta Christina’s title? Many will be unable to as they will get stuck on one particular word. This is just part of atheist culture in many ways. Don’t believe me? Think I am just quoting the more well known? Spend some time at exChristian.net. Read the stories there and see how people react. I think this is one of the reasons why Dee Parsons was able to engage me. She was not hung up on this issue where as many Christians are, in addition she knew she had to go to another playing field and engage me. Many evangelical Christians are not going to be able to engage because they are too sensitive to things like language, violence, sex, etc… On a side note this doesn’t justify Mark Driscoll. Driscoll’s biggest problem is Driscoll.
- The “bubble” traps and keeps many evangelicals in their own comfort zone. Lets be honest… many evangelicals have created their own bubbles where they have opted to disengage and remove themselves from the culture. While many claim they do this often with the goal of keeping things safe and protecting people from the world, and staying pure the exact opposite is that many people are entrapped in the bubble. This is part of the reason why when people go to high school, college, etc… their faith implodes and they can’t deal with competing thoughts or ideas. Some ministries which had a good start I feel have unintentionally fallen into this trap. I’m thinking of ministries like Cru that have created safe havens at universities and have led Christians out of the world instead of into it. The problem with the bubble is that many evangelicals have surrounded themselves with like minded people, limited their contacts, and controlled their world to the point that they have made their faith impotent. This is a major issue that has become a factor. Many evangelical Christians living inside the bubble have become so withdrawn from the world that they can’t engage the world.I think its profoundly sad….
- Many evangelicals have crated their own enemies and taken people who maybe were neutral, or had not thought of these faith issue significantly and had been turned against Christianity by evangelical Christian behavior. Many evangelicals must have an enemy, as such there will always be some form of culture war with some segment of evangelicalism needing and creating conflict. On a side note I personally wonder if this is a legacy of the Cold War. In the 19th century the evangelicals waged a war against alcohol, which eventually led to prohibition. These are some of the enemies that evangelicals have claimed, I would suggest:
- Mainline Protestants
- Many forms of musical entertainment
- The poor
- Another issue is that many evangelicals remove themselves by embracing, and encouraging corruption in Christianity. Listen to this clip by Hemant Mehta, who blogs as The Friendly Athesit. At about the 2 minute mark he talks about how encouraging it is that some Christians have called out Mark Driscoll and challenged him. Its refreshing to hear Christians – from his point of view – that challenge unhealthy pastors, and I would say corruption and so much more. Christians who embrace organizations like Mars Hill Seattle or Sovereign Grace Ministries amidst all the corruption and child sex abuse are giving atheists reasons to stay away. This is the reason why I firmly believe that blogs like Julie Anne Smith’s Spiritual Sounding Board, Todd Whilhelm’s Thou Are the Man, and Dee and Deb’s The Wartburg Watch are some of the most healthiest and robust Christian blogs that exist. They are so desperately needed.
The Greatest Tragedy…
The greatest tragedy comes with the following…and I am thinking of the big picture. Many evangelicals have stereotyped atheists and non-believers. They have been labeled, identified and routinely dismissed. The problem is that many atheists are willing to discuss faith and religion. Some long for discussions that they can have especially if the discussions are intellectual. Jesus once taught that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few (Matthew 9:35-38). There are many atheists closer to Christianity than many Christians know or care about. Since many Christians shut the door and close it they don’t realize how close to the Christian faith some atheists are. The reason why some atheists don’t cross over is because evangelical Christians cannot engage them in their current culture. Its a tragedy and it deeply distress me because its so needless. With that I would like to leave you with XTC’s “Dear God,” its a song about atheism.