I was directed on Twitter to an article in The Atlantic by Larry Taunton of the Fixed Point Foundation titled, “Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity“. There are some interesting statements made in the article by college-age atheists that need to be noted and examined.
Mr. Taunton begins his piece, stating,
Christianity, when it is taken seriously, compels its adherents to engage the world, not retreat from it. There are a multitude of reasons for this mandate, ranging from care for the poor, orphaned, and widowed to offering hope to the hopeless. This means that Christians must be willing to listen to other perspectives while testing their own beliefs against them — above all, as the apostle Peter tells us, “with gentleness and respect.” The non-profit I direct, Fixed Point Foundation, endeavors to bridge the gaps between various factions (both religious and irreligious) as gently and respectfully as possible. Atheists particularly fascinate me. Perhaps it’s because I consider their philosophy — if the absence of belief may be called a philosophy — historically naive and potentially dangerous. Or maybe it’s because they, like any good Christian, take the Big Questions seriously. But it was how they processed those questions that intrigued me.
It is a good point to make that the largest portion of people who claim to be Christians often demonstrate little or no care for exactly what it means to be one. They go to church, more than likely have been baptized, but are not confronted by the realities of the gospel, often demonstrated by the choices they make and the attitudes that they maintain.
Taunton described a survey, of sorts, that he has been conducting by interviewing college students who present themselves as atheists. And he asks certain questions, such as:
What led you to become an atheist?
The answers tend to be revealing.
They had attended church
The mission and message of the church was vague
They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life’s difficult questions
The article continues and needs to be read, but the highlighted topics clearly indicate the problem: it was the church.
As a believer, church is very important to me, but I realize that it is not the answer. How the church relates the answers and how to get them is what is important. If Scripture and it’s sufficiency isn’t taught
, and emphasized
, then the church isn’t doing its job, because it is
Scripture that reveals God to us and, more than that, teaches us what our true problem is and what has been done to fix it. It is God speaking, and we often have to be taught how to listen through the use of sound interpretation using hermeneutics and exegesis
of the text because it is through the “foolishness of preaching
(1 Corinthians 1:21)” that the gospel is spread. But what the article demonstrates is that most of these young atheist are atheists, not because of the message of Christ, but because they saw the church abandon the message. Taunton describes such an event through a discussion with an atheist named “Phil”:
Listening to his story I had to remind myself that Phil was an atheist, not a seminary student recalling those who had inspired him to enter the pastorate. As the narrative developed, however, it became clear where things came apart for Phil. During his junior year of high school, the church, in an effort to attract more young people, wanted Jim to teach less and play more. Difference of opinion over this new strategy led to Jim’s dismissal. He was replaced by Savannah, an attractive twenty-something who, according to Phil, “didn’t know a thing about the Bible.” The church got what it wanted: the youth group grew. But it lost Phil.
I think back to an event in my own life, where I was forced out of a growing youth ministry because a trustee wanted his daughter-in-law to have the position. Lies were told about me, lies that were easily exposed, but a new pastor believed the trustee over me and I was dismissed. Needless to say, when the daughter-in-law showed up the next Sunday morning, the class that I had grown through building relationships and careful Bible study from 3 regular attendees to average attendance of 8-10 with as many as 15, with no parties and no games (it was a small church); it was friends bringing friends, getting their questions answered, getting the Word presented to them, that Sunday morning they walked out of class and never came back. I tried to get the kids back, but many said that by the church’s disrespect of me, they were not interested any longer in what anyone had to say. So, I can testify, first hand, to Phil’s experience.