Friday, December 3, 2010

Atheist Pastors

So, a couple of weeks ago, there was an article (here) about a couple of pastors who, despite having become atheists, remain in ministry because they don't know how else to make a living. Here's a lengthy excerpt from the article, including quotes from the men themselves
..."I spent the majority of my life believing and pursuing this religious faith, Christianity," Jack said. "And to get to this point in my life, I just don't feel like I believe anymore."

"The more I read the Bible, the more questions I had," Jack said. "The more things didn't make sense to me -- what it said -- and the more things didn't add up."

Jack said that 10 years ago, he started to feel his faith slipping away. He grew bothered by inconsistencies regarding the last days of Jesus' life, what he described as the improbability of stories like "Noah's Ark" and by attitudes expressed in the Bible regarding women and their place in the world.

"Reading the Bible is what led me not to believe in God," he said.

He said it was difficult to continue to work in ministry. "I just look at it as a job and do what I'm supposed to do," he said. "I've done it for years."

Adam said his initial doubts about God came as he read the work of the so-called New Atheists -- popular authors like the prominent scientist Richard Dawkins. He said the research was intended to help him defend his faith.

"My thinking was that God is big enough to handle any questions that I can come up with," he said but that did not happen.

"I realized that everything I'd been taught to believe was sort of sheltered," Adam said, "and never really looked at secular teaching or other philosophies. ... I thought, 'Oh my gosh. Am I believing the wrong things? Have I spent my entire life and my career promoting something that is not true?'
Where shall I begin? I guess with the last quote, "everything I'd been taught to believe..." I assume 'Adam' was taught what to believe both during his upbringing in the church and by his subsequent seminary education. It's pretty clear that he wasn't also taught (either at church or at seminary) how to think. Those 'new atheists' whose arguments he found so persuasive trade in logical fallacies, historical inaccuracies, and rhetoric that embarrasses real philosophers, even atheist ones. And it is very likely that Adam was taught a lot of nonsense that has nothing to do with historic Christianity. ('Jack' referred specifically to the 'story of Noah's ark.' Yes, as told by many modern evangelicals, that story is quite absurd, involving as it does a global flood and pairs of every species of animal that has ever lived. But that, of course, is not what the Bible teaches, but only a modern, superficial interpretation of the passage.)

Yes, many of our churches and seminaries are failing us, both by teaching bad hermeneutics and bad theology and by failing to teach people how to think. But there's a more basic problem that surfaces in this article. And it has to do with the nature of Christian belief.

For these men, belief in God and Christianity seems to be a weighing of the evidence, which is (apparently) only slightly tipped either in favor of or against the Christian worldview. These men of the cloth seem to accept the idea that belief in God is a purely academic exercise. In truth, Christianity claims that the Creator has revealed Himself to us throughout the creation, through history, through Scripture and His Son come to Earth, and in personal experience. That is, true believers are not those who merely weigh all the available evidence to see if God's existence is the slightly likelier option. Those of us who are followers of Christ are such because we have encountered--and fallen in love with--our Creator and Redeemer.

To be sure, saving Christian faith is reasonable and based in evidence. The evidence of God's existence, design, and love are all around us, and it is the task of the apologist to point these out. But may God save us from pastors who have never had a personal encounter with the living Lord, and who moreover don't have the critical thinking skills to spot the absurdity of the arguments of the likes of Richard Dawkins.*

*I understand that true followers of Christ can go through periods of doubt, times at which God seems far from them and they question for a period the reality of His presence in their lives. But when such times come upon pastors who have truly experienced a relationship with God, the response is not to carry on in secret but to go on sabbatical, having first honestly shared with and asked for prayer from one's elders and mentors. The cases of 'Jack' and 'Adam' are like those referred to in I John 2:19, "They went out from us, because they were not of us" except that, for reasons purely of self-interest, 'Jack' and 'Adam' have not gone out from us but shamefully remained as leaders of their congregations.


Oldstyle said...

I am always surprised when anyone chooses to doubt the existence of God. But first, let me say that our logical mind is a better servant than a master, and that our heart is a better master than a servant. (Given that the human heart is composed of up to65% neuron cells and is a centre for intelligence, albeit, quite different from logic)

Give any reasonable person a choice...

Choice #1 - You can have a physical reality, as we know it, without the existence of spirit.


Choice #2 - You can have a reality that exists beyond the physical realm, right now, that offers eternal life and creative powers not bound by physical reality.

There is no proof that can be offered for either existance, which seems to be the case. And in either choice all you have is your faith in one belief or the other.

What would an unbiased and logical mind choose?

What would an unbiased and heartfelt choice be?

It seems to me that a logical and heartfelt choice would be the latter as it offers so much more. And yet people argue for their limitations.

Go figure!

Rick Gerhardt said...


Thanks for reading!

I agree that the heart ought to be integral to decision making and belief forming. I disagree strongly, however, that there is no proof (for a spiritual reality); rather, I find overwhelming proof for it, and, indeed for the whole Christian worldview.

And I'm in good company here, as saving faith has always been understood by theologians as involving right knowledge (which comes from evidence and reason), agreement with that knowledge (as about, God, man, our separation, and its solution in Jesus the Messiah), and our only reasonable step of trust in Him.

You're right though, both heart and mind are involved. To quote a great Christian apologist from the past, "The heart has reasons that reason cannot know." At the same time, however, "The heart cannot love what the mind cannot accept."