Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

not just a river in Egypt

"Imagine there's no heaven, It's easy if you try, No hell below us, Above us only sky, Imagine all the people living for today..." from John Lennon, "Imagine"

Perhaps someone would view the blog entry posted last Tuesday [1/3/13] and think of an objection- Perhaps someone could be surfing the 'net and somehow come across this blog who considers themself to be an atheist or agnostic, or perhaps someone reading this blog knows someone who claims to deny the existence of God. In this case the question would be, 'how can you claim to speak to everyone in that last entry? certainly an atheist or agnostic cannot be thought of as a theologian!' But it is my assertion that there is no one who can honestly say that they are an atheist or agnostic. That is, anyone claiming to be an atheist or agnostic is committing an act of intellectual dishonesty. How so? Because the complexity and beauty of nature testify to the Sovereign Creator. Because of the fact that there is a knowledge of 'right' and 'wrong' inherent to every individual to the extent that even the most outspoke professor of moral relativism will have situations in which they tell people what they 'should' and 'should not' do, and this fact testifies to the reality of the Holy Lawgiver. These matters are perfectly explained in the Bible, in Romans chapters 1 and 2.

So why are there people who claim to be atheists or agnostics?

The Bible gives us a clear answer to this question as explained well by Peter Masters, the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, in his book Biblical Strategies for Witness:

The root cause of atheism is expressed by the Lord in John 3:19-20: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved” (KJV).
Three crucial facts are taught in these words:
1. Sin is the basis of atheism.
2. The fear of reproof leads people to [deny their belief in] God. They cannot stand the pangs of conscience.
3. Proud independence hates light (that is, instruction and guidance from outside self).

Love of sin, then, is the prime motive for adopting atheistic views. People reject the existence of God because they want to indulge their pride and be free to do what they like. The atheist [or agnostic] gains (so he thinks) tremendous liberation the moment he repudiates the restraints of a God-ordained moral system.
Here is the real motive underlying the attitude of the atheist [or the agnostic]. First and foremost he is determined to be unhindered in the conduct of his life. He wants to be morally free to follow the dictates of his heart, his ambitions, his opinions, and his whims. He may well adopt some cultural refinements and a moral system of his own if it suits his purpose. But all his intellectual objections to God are produced from a mind acting under orders from the heart, where lusts reign.

The second fact taught in Christ’s words is that the atheist [or agnostic] has come to his position because he hates the pangs of conscience. He positions himself as far away from God-given standards as he can because he cannot bear the stab of shame, accusation, or awareness of his fallen ways. One of the chief purposes of his [agnosticism] is to protect himself from the movings of conscience.
The third fact taught by the Lord about the atheist [or agnostic] is that he is proud, and does not want to be dependent upon God for anything. He does not want to feel indebted to God for life, help or grace, nor does he want to obey him in anything. He likes to think that he is competent, self-sufficient, and capable. The idea of being a dependent being offends his ego. He wants to be the master of his life; the captain of his ship. He will not be a mere servant of God.
These three factors are all matters of the heart rather than of the head, and while the atheist must have his intellectual unbelief challenged, his real problem is a moral one: namely, rebellion. And the rebellion is seen in the three symptoms described by the Lord: sinful behavior, hatred of conscience, and pride.

IF YOU have happened upon this blog and have claimed to be an atheist or agnostic, then these are the facts you must deal with before God. (YOU ARE a theologian.)

If you are a Christian, then the truth presented above is crucial to your witness, for there are so many people today claiming to be agnostics. Their problem is not one of intellect: it is one of sin. You must be faithful to point this out and to declare their need for repentance and faith in the Savior.

[This was originally published on 6/9/05; some of the formatting has been changed.]

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Blogger Tommy Jones said...

I replied to this on my blog. I apologize that it turned into a 2500 word thing. And it's not my intention for you to point-by-point reply back. I did leave it in the form of a reply, even though I'm not speaking only to you, because your post did inspire me to write and helped me put into (lots of words) how I feel.

3:43 AM  
Blogger Andrew Lindsey said...

It seems that you only want God on your own terms, man.

4:42 PM  
Blogger Tommy Jones said...

Can you explain why you say that? I was trying to write my response to specifically avoid that being your conclusion. I'm obviously still trying to ask the right question, because that answer doesn't help me - it just helps you.

I tried to explain that we know we disagree on many topics based on our differences of belief in the truth of the bible and its claim of the existence of God, but that THAT isn't my problem. If I believed God existed, and I believed that the content of the bible was His direct revelation, then I'm sure I would agree with you on many of the things we disagree about currently. I promise I don't choose to not believe God exists because Christianity and abortion are incompatible, or that God's will and gay marriage are incompatible. The reason I don't actively fight against giving other people the rights to those things is because I don't believe God exists, and because I don't believe the claims about these social issues made in the bible are relevant because I don't believe the God it claims to have commanded these things actually exists. I'm frustrated because you respond tersely as though I'm trying to make a point that you are refuting. But actually I'm trying to show you my frame of mind, as an atheist, so that we have a better foundation for a fruitful discussion.

All I'm saying is, if I don't believe God exists, and therefore don't believe God wrote the bible, your end game cannot be "You're wrong because the bible says God exists." That doesn't help anyone. And I'm not saying "I think women should be allowed to be preachers, therefore the bible is wrong, therefore God doesn't exist," I'm just saying I first need a reason to believe God exists before even worrying about whether or not I agree or disagree with what was written in the bible. This is why I practically begged you to not respond to my disbelief with scripture, and why I don't understand why that's exactly what you did. There were five scripture references in your reply, which is why I feel like you don't understand that I don't understand how "the bible existing and containing words" equals "the words in the bible are true," and why I don't believe "the bible saying the words in the bible are true" is even your foundational reason for believing in the reality of God. (continued)

3:54 PM  
Blogger Tommy Jones said...

(continued from above)

Maybe I'll never be able to help you move past the assumption that I simply "only want God on my own terms", but I hope we can float the conversation along regardless. There is much more I want to discuss in the future, much more I want to challenge you about, and much more I want to be challenged about. It's not that I believe I disagree with God - it's that I don't believe He exists to disagree with. It's not that I think the things written in the bible do not shape or reflect a God that I like or dislike, it's that I have not found a reason to believe a god exists to even consider that the bible speaks about or on behalf of one.

I really appreciate you engaging in conversation with me both here and on my blog. I do feel the probability is that I will not change my mind and you will not change yours. But the reason I enjoy the ongoing discussion with those who believe differently than myself is the exciting chance that I will learn something new about reality or myself, or learn that I might be wrong about something. But if you just tell me I'm wrong, the conversation is over. If you tell me the bible tells me I am wrong, the conversation is over. I don't want to know that you believe Paul was a witness to God, I want to know that you are a witness to the presence of God. I want to believe that you believe God is real because he is present in your life, not because you own and study the bible. Can you level with me? Even though you don't believe that I can honestly disbelieve in the existence of God, can you at least accept that I believe I don't believe, and start from there? Disagreeing that atheists disbelieve, no matter how supported in scripture, does not enlighten the atheist.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Andrew Lindsey said...

There's a specific passage from your blogpost that prompted my comment, namely,

"Finally when I was tired of waiting, I told someone I still couldn’t hear God, or see God, or feel God. I was advised to read the bible more and spend more time with other people who believed in God."

According to the way you present the order of events, it was not until *after* that you were given the advice mentioned above that you decided you do not believe in God. Previous to receiving that advice, you still wanted God, in a sense, but you rejected the advice you were given. From the Christian perspective, you rejected the Bible, which is the vehicle of the Holy Spirit, and the Church, which is the mystical body of Christ in this world. You rejected these terms because they were not acceptable to you. So you still-- at least up until that time-- wanted God, but you decided You wanted Him on terms that were acceptable to You. You wanted God on your own terms.

So it seems that you were offended by my statement, but-- aside from the idea that I may have used the wrong verb tense-- I don't see where you find room for offense.

12:21 AM  
Blogger Tommy Jones said...

I don't mean to be writing any of this in the tone of someone who is offended, in that my words are not intended to be heated, reactionary, angry, or defensive, though I am trying to defend my position. I'm not upset that we disagree or that we believe differently, but I am frustrated that many Christians believe that many atheists are merely making an anti-God claim before starting the conversation or approaching life at all. What many atheists do believe, however, is that many Christians make a God claim before starting the conversation or approaching life at all. Of course you're going to find evidence to support the existence of God if you decide he exists before looking for the supporting evidence. Atheists are simply evidence-first people, and the bible, for instance, is only evidence if you already believe God wrote it. I also feel like I'm going out of my way to explain my framework and foundation with, to my fault, what may be too many words, and you are going out of your way to find, on your terms, what you believe to be technicalities that render all of my input worthless. That's not what I'm trying to do to you or your blog, or to anyone who holds differing beliefs.

I began this discussion because your post made claims, based on the bible, about atheists and agnostics, and about the reality of their non-belief. I know we disagree about many things because we don't both believe the same things. But what I am trying to do, as an atheist who reads your blog, is not prove to you that I am right, but suggest that if you are right, I hope you can do better than tell me I'm wrong. I understand that you believe that we are created to believe, but I struggle to comprehend why you don't only deny that anyone actually doesn't believe, but you seem to deny that I believe I don't believe. I really do believe that I don't believe! When you say "perhaps someone reading this blog knows someone who claims to deny the existence of God," it may work for you internally, but when you're actually witnessing to people who "claim to deny the existence of God," why would you threaten them with consequences they don't believe are true and expect an open, honest conversation? Or for that matter, when you have this atheist sitting in front of you telling you that the book "Biblical Strategies for Witness" does not provide a good strategy for witnessing to an atheist, why, speaking in terms of evangelism, is you believing you are right way more important to you than why I don't believe you are? I feel like you're actively putting more obstacles in the way instead of honestly trying to remove them.

It may also be that we aren't seeing eye to eye on atheism itself or agnosticism itself. I'm not going to speak for everyone here, nor am I going to tell you that if your definition is different that mine is more correct, but I realized it may help for me to align myself with my beliefs rather than the squishy words that represent them. The best explanation, that I identify with, is one proposed by Penn Jillette; I mention him merely to say I am not taking credit for this myself. (continued below)

2:11 PM  
Blogger Tommy Jones said...

(continued from above)

Agnosticism is my answer to the question "is there a god," or "does God exist?" I have no personal knowledge or experience that one does, but I do not deny that it may be possible for a god to exist regardless. Does God exist? I don't know. I am agnostic.

Atheism is my answer to the question, "do you believe God exists," which is "no." If I can't tell you I know God exists, then it is logical I wouldn't believe he did. And what I mean is, I assume you believe God exists because if asked the question "Does God exist," you would answer "yes," not "I don't know." I don't mean "I refuse to ever believe God exists," or "I have too much pride to change my mind." I simply mean that until I believe God exists, I am an atheist, and I will not believe God exists until I am no longer agnostic on the subject.

But again, you have to at least throw me a bone and accept that "You have the bible - now you know God exists" is not something that I, nor any other atheist or agnostic, finds compelling in the least.

I don't think you can believe God exists unless you know he does, but I'm not going to sit here and tell you I know he doesn't - all I can do is say that I don't believe he does. When I say "I don't know God doesn't exist" it IS NOT EQUAL to saying "I admit God exists," I'm just admitting that you believe he does. When I say "God might exist, but I don't believe he does," it IS NOT EQUAL to me saying "God exists, but I don't believe he does." This isn't a limit of theology, this is a limit of language. I'm not starting by making an anti-God claim, I'm making an anti-belief claim. And I'm making the claim that you aren't simply making a God-claim, you are making a belief claim, and I can't help but feel there must be a knowledge claim rooted down there somewhere.

How do you know? That's what I don't know.

When I said "that's when I knew it wasn't just the bible I didn't believe anymore," it was because my suspicion was confirmed that I only believed God existed because I believed the contents of the bible was the truth and I spent most or all of my time with other people who believed the same thing. This is where you're going to say I only want God on my own terms again, but I don't feel like God represents himself in the bible as a God who is only evident if you go to church and read the bible. I always thought I was going to church and reading the bible because I believed in God, not the other way around. It turns out I was wrong and apparently I believed in God solely because I was reading the bible and going to church. And yes, I happen to think that's true for everyone, but I'm willing to be wrong, which is how I ended up in this position in the first place. Not because I wanted to be wrong, but because I accepted I probably was.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Andrew Lindsey said...

re: "Atheists are simply evidence-first people,"

-I understand that is the claim, but what counts as evidence? Do personal testimonies of spiritual experiences count as evidence? Do accounts of miracles count as evidence? Do the words of Jesus counts as evidence? Does irreducible complexity count as evidence? Does conscience count as evidence? I believe that our presuppositions determine what we accept as evidence and that some presuppositional positions are more internally consistent than others.

11:03 PM  

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