I’ve Been Called Out by an Atheist…And He’s Right

I’ve been engaged in an online discussion of my religious views on the blog site of a friend of mine, Nate, who happens to be an atheist.  The discussion was not with him, of course. He has (probably wisely) remained silent during most of the back-and-forth commentary.

No, my conversation has been with another—more hard-line if you will—non-believer.

‘Ark’, as I call him, short for his online handle Arkenanten, points up apparent fallacies within many traditionally held religious, primarily Christian, beliefs. He has done a ton of academic and statistical research and is well-versed in biblical and religious writings, and also in the historical, archaeological, and scientific research used to debunk most all of those religious writings. If you ever want a lively debate, my dear Christian, on any of your firmly-held beliefs or doctrines, Ark’s your guy. I respect his knowledge on the subject if not always his “comment-side” manner…but that’s nuance, and I digress.

Ark called me out on a couple points of my beliefs in a recent exchange, wanting to turn the conversation to more of an evidence-based discussion, even though on repeated occasions I’ve told him I’m not nor have I ever been a fan of apologetics. Some Christians are and I’m fine with that, but I’ve never been a fan of trying to “argue” someone into belief. But, in short order, that’s exactly where I ended up, and I got frustrated.

My last comment on Nate’s site was not something I was particularly proud of, yet with it I thought I’d let it go and move on.

But I went back. One last time. And Ark had answered my semi-tirade. And he asked some rather critical questions. And he pointed up some apparent hypocritical statements I had made, countering what I had said in previous comments to what I had posted (admittedly, four+ years ago) on my own blogsite.

And, most frustratingly, he was right.

His first question was, “If you don’t blog about Christianity to inform the world of your god belief and the command to proselytize, then why are you blogging about Christianity? Ego?”

That got me thinking.

I don’t think there can help but be a little ego involved in our online commentary—be they Facebook posts, comments, memes, or a host of any other tools we Christians use to get across our “point”.

I’m no different actually, and I’ve soon got an almost 200 page book coming out on my own faith journey and beliefs to prove it. I do it to clarify a few of the positions I hold to as a believer, positions that might differ from my Christian brothers and sisters, and I do it to answer why I write what I do in the fiction realm, and why some of my characters say things and act as they do. But, could there also be a bit of ego in it?

Without the added aspect of relationship in any kind of dialog, be it a FB post, a blog entry, or an entire manuscript, there probably is a certain amount of ego involved. Aren’t we all, to some extent, trying to prove a point? To “make our stand”? To point up where someone else might be “wrong” while we have the “right” answers? How differently are our conversations over a cup of coffee or a couple beers compared to what we feel emboldened to write across the relative anonymity of a computer screen?

Ark’s next question was: I am simply curious as to why someone who is so “in bed with god” would continue to visit an atheist site? Are you looking to challenge the views of a former fundamentalist turned atheist or are you not quite as sure about your position as you try to make out?

You know, I’m not sure. And I’m comfortable with that uncertainty. If we Christians are honest with ourselves, none of us can fully be sure. That’s why our belief in the Son of God is called “faith”, and not “certainty”, though we like to put up a good front that we are.

I’d also say that my visiting Nate’s and other atheists’ sites is for much the same reason that I appreciated his commentary on my own blog (which is actually where he and I first “met”). The topics I read there give me cause to do my own research and studying, furthering my understanding of this elusive Deity I’ve chosen to worship. And, though the conclusions I’ve come to are often differing to those of Nate, and Ark, and others, I still respect and appreciate their knowledge as well as their own conclusions. And I will continue to visit them from time to time.

Concerning a few of my conclusions Ark finished his comments with this: And I say you’re a hypocrite of the first order… your site is replete with Christian posturing and posts, including the self-effacing way in which you casually ”announce” you are also a Christian. Just what is that if not apologetics?

He then uses my own words “against” me when, during the running commentary I said:  “As far as my own views, I don’t put much stock in a literal hell but, as you know from my books…” and yet from my own “About Me” page Ark pulled this: “I believe in Hell. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, and no second chances. (Sorry, Mr. Bell)”

And Ark summed it up with these questions: You note your use of the capital H, I hope? Did I misquote you, Kent?

Yes I did note that, Ark. And, no, you didn’t misquote me. In fact, you are absolutely right.

Oh, I could say—and accurately so—that some (okay, quite a few) of my beliefs within the umbrella of Christianity have evolved over the years, but that truth doesn’t belie the fact that I was doing and being exactly what I’ve hated about the public perception of Christianity all along. Yeah, I was being a hypocrite. And yeah, a lot of it was ego-fueled.

Words are powerful. Especially written words, thrown up to the ethereal cloud of anonymity we like to call the internet. People are looking into the windows of our glass houses and seeing rampant inconsistency: Our saying one thing, and then later saying another; saying one thing and doing another; driving aggressively while proudly displaying our fish bumper stickers; yelling at our kids in the grocery store while wearing our cross necklaces.

Guys like Ark have a very valid argument. Yes, we’re going to have inconsistencies in our lives, and yes, it’s going to look a lot like hypocrisy. Whether it is or not really isn’t the point, Christians. We are being held to a different standard, a higher one, whether we want it or not, whether we deserve it or not, and whether we like it or not.

And, you will be called out on occasion, and rightfully so. How you react will either perpetuate that stereotype, or dispel it. And I think we’ve found the answer to the majority of ‘reactions’ written by Christians across any given Facebook page.

We can do better.

I can do better, and the first example that came to mind in this instance was admitting that I was wrong. Wrong in my approach. Wrong in my delivery. Wrong in my hypocrisy, if not wrong in my beliefs.

Yes, if you peruse my site you’ll probably run across posts and pages that I’ve written over the course of almost five years now which may no longer be an accurate representation of who I am, or what I believe. I’ll change a few of them. But some I’ll leave—as mile markers and sign posts if nothing else, of where I’ve been, where I’ve come from, and, hopefully, points along a trajectory of where I’m going.

So, for that Ark, I apologize, and I thank you. And, in the future, I’ll try to do better.

Image Bearers

image courtesy of Firwood Church
image courtesy of Firwood Church

When God says “let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26a) what does that mean? Why is He intentionally using the plural? It’s this elusive, impossible reality called the “Trinity”, right?

And even more, could it be that God not only created Adam and Eve in His (Their) image, but created them with the imprint of Jesus already on them? And, with the Holy Spirit already dwelling within them? God goes on, ending the Genesis creation account by calling all He had made, most especially mankind, “very good” (Genesis 1:31)

But back to the point: if you’ve ever read the Genesis creation account, have you ever noticed that Adam and Eve, specifically, are the only two beings created in God’s image? Ever? Not even their offspring bear that image…

“When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image…” ~ Genesis 5:3, emphasis added.

So, does that mean we are no longer “very good”? Well, like everything else dealing with scripture, the answer is both yes, and no. No, we no longer naturally bear the imprint of Jesus Christ. No, we no longer are born with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But, what if…?

What if the gospel of reconciliation is true?

In the very first recorded sermon following Jesus’ ascension, Peter admonishes the crowd for missing the clear signs that the Messiah had come among them. Then he says, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away…” – (Acts 2:38-39a, NLT)

Who was he talking to, and what was their sin?

The crowd was primarily Jewish, but this was the Festival of Pentecost (50 days after Passover), so there were also other people from many of the surrounding nations. As Barnes’ Notes on the Bible states, “(After Peter’s sermon), these persons whom Peter addressed had been merely alarmed; they were afraid of wrath, and especially of the wrath of the Messiah. They had no true sense of sin as an evil, but were simply afraid of punishment (for disregarding Jesus as Messiah). He told them to repent, to turn from sin, to exercise sorrow for it…”

Peter pleads with them to be “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ…”, acknowledging their understanding that Jesus was who He said He was, and did what He said He would do, so that they “will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”, essentially returning God’s people to their pre-fallen state.

The coolest part of Peter’s entire sermon is that he, essentially, addresses us as well: “For the promise [of the Holy Spirit] is for you and your children and for all who are far away [including the Gentiles], as many as the Lord our God calls to Himself” (Acts 2:39-40, Amplified Bible)

For all who are far away [including the Gentiles]—that’s us!

Peter is inviting all who were listening on that day, and even us today, to reclaim our rightful name as image bearers of the one true God, imprinted with the reflection of Jesus, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Another random bit of Biblical thought for your day. Thanks for reading.

 

Metanoia

image courtesy of Fontbonne Campus Ministries

Metanoia: (from the Greek, μετανοεῖτε, literally μετά, or meta—with, after, or beyond, and νοέω, also noeó, or noia—think, consider, realize): to think or consider beyond what you may already know;
to think differently.

Metanoia is the same word poorly translated in most English language bibles as “repent”, as in—

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” ~ Matthew 3:1-2, NIV, emphasis added

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” ~ Matthew 4:17, emphasis added

Metanoia is a very interesting word to me. For years I’ve always considered the Biblical word “repent” to mean “a change of direction”, and though I don’t necessarily think this definition is wrong, I’m beginning to wonder if it might be inadequate, or at the very least, incomplete. Continue reading Metanoia

What is All This Life-on-Life Stuff?

What the typical model of “church” and “relationship” has devolved into today is more akin to disciple-making through imparting information. In other words, if I tell you something, Biblically speaking, that is “true,” I am discipling you. Doing life together means that we know each other well enough that we can speak truth to one another, regardless of time, regardless of distance, and regardless of circumstance. This truth does not have to be doctrinal, though it will be Biblically based. This truth can be social, it can be relational, and it can be speaking into a struggle, an addiction, or a conflict. It can be any number of things, spoken honestly and, at times, courageously, into the life of another person.

Courage flows both ways though in this type of relationship. Of course there is the courage to say what may need to be said rather than what the other person wants to hear. But there is also courage within the heart of the listener in order to be receptive and responsive to what may be said in love and honesty. We may not agree with what is being said, but we also don’t automatically lash out in anger or defensiveness simply because the person is speaking to us what may be difficult for us to hear. There is a certain level of superficiality that permeates a good amount of today’s church culture. I may see you in church and know you well enough to say, “Hi,” or maybe ask, “How’s it going?” You would likely respond, “Fine, praise God!” Then our families might sit with one another during the service, and afterward we would go our separate ways. And we would call this interaction “friendship,” maybe even “relationship.” Turning that into a life-on-life relationship, or for us to “do life” together, means that you and I know each other to the point where we’re actually going to be honest with each other about how we’re doing in our marriage, how we’re doing with our kids, how I’m doing in my walk with the Lord, how my prayer life is going, and what am I struggling with. We’re going be honest enough to be able to talk with each other about these issues and help each other through them by pointing each other to Biblical truth and holding each other accountable. It means when my wife is physically sick or mentally down, your family might bring us a meal. It means when your child is injured and in the hospital, we come and visit you there, consoling and praying, offering help or whatever it takes to usher you through this crisis. It also means having fun together, going to dinner, or going to ball games or to a concert, whatever our shared, common interests may be. It means that if you have to call me at 3 a.m. because of something that has come up, you can do that. In fact, I would want and expect you to do that. In other words, this deeper form of relationship means helping each other through this journey called “life,” and focusing on how we are doing at being disciples and how we are doing at making disciples.

~ from “Disciples Unleashed”, my first venture into non-fiction, co-written with Dave Campbell, World Missions pastor for Real Life Ministries, AVAILABLE NOW FROM AMAZON.COM, PAPERBACK HERE FOR $11.99, OR E-BOOK HERE FOR $2.99!

The spiritual life and random musings of a part-time novelist and Spiritual Drifter…"the trouble is not with the law, for the law is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human…"

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