Thursday, January 31, 2008

When Atheists Teach Sunday School

In general, it is not wise to take Bible instruction from atheists. Those who reject the very existence of God lack the Holy Spirit in their lives and are therefore incapable of understanding the spiritual things of God, much less teaching others about them. "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14) In other words, atheists make poor theologians.

Nevertheless, some truths in scripture are so blindingly obvious that only the obviously blind can fail to see them. In some such cases, some "blind" atheists prove themselves more capable of sight, limited though it may be, than some "believers" who, though claiming the gift of sight, apparently still can't see.

One such atheist is Sam Harris. In the first chapter of his Letter to a Christian Nation, he lays out the stakes far better than many Christians can:
"Before I point out some of the problems with these beliefs, I would like to acknowledge that there are many points on which you and I agree. We agree, for instance, that if one of us is right, the other is wrong. The Bible is either the word of God, or it isn't. Either Jesus offers humanity the one, true path to salvation (John 14:6), or he does not. We agree that to be a true Christian is to believe that all other faiths are mistaken, and profoundly so. If Christianity is correct, and I persist in my unbelief, I should expect to suffer | the torments of hell. Worse still, I have persuaded others, and many close to me, to reject the very idea of God. They too will languish in 'eternal fire' (Matthew 25:41). If the basic doctrine of Christianity is correct, I have misused my life in the worst conceivable way. I admit this without a single caveat."1
Yet despite this remarkably clear understanding of the issue, Sam goes on to say that
"The fact that my continuous and public rejection of Christianity does not worry me in the least should sugest to you just how inadequate I think your reasons for being a Christian are."2
Here is a man who totally and completely rejects the Bible and even the idea of God. According to biblical terminology, he is (spiritually) blind, as becomes quite obvious as you read the rest of his book. Yet he sees the essential truth of the exclusivity of Christ more clearly than a lot of professing Christians do. As he himself points out,
"Of course, there are Christians who do not agree with either of us. There are Christians who consider other faiths to be equally valid paths to salvation. There are Christians who have no fear of hell and who do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus."3
He rejects this middle ground position
"Let us be honest with ourselves: in the fullness of time, one side is really going to win this argument, and the other side is really going to lose."4
If only more preachers would proclaim that message from the pulpit! Yet many of them are actively promoting the same ideas this avowed atheist rejects as false! Many who profess Christianity deny the essential doctrines of the faith, yet they still call themselves the church, and much of Christendom accepts them as such.5 How far has the "church" fallen when "militant" atheists can see and understand biblical truth more clearly than many pastors and spiritual leaders? I am reminded of God's rebuke to the Laodicean church:
"Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent." Revelation 3:17 - 19 (emphasis mine)
Truly, we are in need of repentance.

Another atheist who at times sees more clearly than some Christians is Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is not by any stretch of the imagination a friend of the Bible. Quite the opposite, in fact. Yet in the middle of his tirade against the doctrine of redemption, he clearly and forcefully exposes the fundamental flaw of compromising on the accuracy of the book of Genesis. Let's listen in as Dawkins "teaches Sunday School."
"Progressive ethicists today find it hard to defend any kind of retributive theory of punishment, let alone the scapegoat theory - executing an innocent to pay for the sins of the guilty. In any case (one can't help wondering), who was God trying to impress? Presumably himself - judge and jury as well as execution victim. To cap it all, Adam, the supposed perpetrator of the original sin, never existed in the first place: an awkward fact...which fundamentally undermines the premise of the whole tortuously nasty theory. Oh, but of course, the story of Adam and Eve was only ever symbolic, wasn't it? Symbolic? So, in order to impress himelf, Jesus had himself tortured and executed, in vicarious punishment for a symbolic sin committed by a non-existent individual? As I said, barking mad, as well as viciously unpleasant."6 (emphasis in original)
As I said, Dawkins is obviously no friend of the Bible. Yet he realizes what a symbolic or just plain false Genesis does to the Gospel story, something many Christians either fail to think about or choose to ignore. In their efforts to marry biblical history to comtemporary science, they reject, distort, explain away, "correct," and otherwise mutilate the Genesis account of Creation and the Flood.7 But in doing so, they destroy the very foundation of the gospel itself, not to mention trust in the Bible as the inerrant, inspired Word of God.

Both of these atheists see right through the inconsistencies in these unbiblical positions. They can read their Bible too, and while they might not have the spiritual insight of someone indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they see things in black and white, and can tell when something contradicts what the plain words of scripture teach, even though they reject the authority of scripture. On the other hand, those who try to reconcile white with black end up in shady gray, unable to see clearly and subject to Satan's deception. Remember, compromise blinds. Stand firm upon the Word of God. Even those who disagree with you outright can at least respect you for consistency in adhering to your professed Authority.

1. Harris, Sam, Letter to a Christian Nation, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), 3 - 4.
2. Ibid, 4.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid, 5.
5. Take, for example, the Emergent Church movement.
6. Dawkins, Richard, The God Delusion, (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), 253.
7. Take, for example, the Framework Hypothesis, Progressive Creation, and other old earth creationist positions.