Ryan Bell, a former pastor and adjunct professor at a Christian college and seminary, is giving atheism a try:
“I’m making it official and embarking on a new journey. I will ‘try on’ atheism for a year. For the next 12 months I will live as if there is no God. I will not pray, read the Bible for inspiration, refer to God as the cause of things or hope that God might intervene and change my own or someone else’s circumstances.”
Bell is interviewed about the experiment here. He even has his own website to document the journey: YearWithoutGod.com. Unfortunately, I think Bell’s journey is misguided.
First, it seems obvious that raising doubts and questions about one’s Christianity is not the same thing as actually trying on and living out the beliefs of an entirely antithetical worldview. It’s like having struggles in my marriage, and rather than go to counseling, I decide to “try on” bachelorhood for a year. “Honey, for the next 12 months I will live as if there is no marriage here. I will not talk to you, I will not go out on dates with you, refer to you as the cause of home-cooked meals or clean laundry or hope that you might intervene in any of my affairs.” Guess where that journey ends? In divorce. Similarly, does anyone think Bell’s experiment will have any other ending but God expelled from his life?
Our approach to doubt should be one of openness, but also of caution. We should create safe spaces for people to get their doubts out on the table and grapple with them. However, we must not doubt God lightly or haphazardly. Doubt can lead you into deeper waters of trust in God, but doubt can also drown all remnants of faith too. And if Christianity is true, the consequences are eternal. Therefore, when it comes to our views about fundamental reality, our questions should cause us to think them out and reflect deeply before we start living out an entirely different worldview. Thankfully, God has equipped us with a rational mind to do just that.
So, is Bell going all the way in this journey? Will he lean fully into the absurdity of life without God? Or will he do what many atheists do and live on borrowed capital from a Christian worldview, which has the intellectual resources to sustain objective meaning and morality? If Bell doesn’t attempt to live out the logical consequences of atheism, he won’t really get the full taste of life without God, and thus, his assessment will be inadequate.
Well, if Ryan Bell is misguided in his journey of doubt, are there other ways of doubting that are better or more helpful? Yes, I think we can actually doubt well. Think about it, what’s the purpose of doubting? The end goal should be the discovery of truth. And there are better ways to find the truth than trying on atheism. If you struggle with doubt, don’t follow Ryan Bell’s lead. Gary Habermas is a much better guide. His free online book, Dealing With Doubt, will give you greater insight into the nature and causes of doubt and offer wise counsel as you travel your own journey of doubt.
Well, our Rethink Conference preregistration numbers suggest we do. With over 400 students, youth leaders, and parents already signed up, we have further evidence that youth are hungry for this kind of conference. Why? Because it's not the typical youth camp or conference, where students may be entertained, may have a lot of "fun," may be wowed with bells and whistles, but who may not walk away equipped with anything more than a temporary hyped-up experience.
Students want parents and church leadership to step up their training. The Center for Parent & Youth Understanding (CPYU) conducted interviews with students who had grown up in the church and were now in college. This is the kind of thing CPYU heard again and again:
CPYU: As you reflect on your church youth group experience, what are some things you wish your youth group would have done more of to prepare you for college?
Gabrielle: I was in several youth groups in high school and unfortunately found that youth group was too “soft”—we played a lot of games and had a lot of fun retreats, but rarely learned about the fundamentals of faith, why we believe what we believe, and what it is that we do believe. Now that I am in college, my faith is under constant scrutiny and always being tested by scientific concepts and the secular slant of most universities. I wish I had been equipped with a more solid justification for my faith: knowing how to answer the tough questions, how to respond to arguments, and how to stand firm in what feels like a storm against my spirituality.
Students want us to raise the bar of expectations and that's what Rethink does. This conference on October 25-26 will equip students with knowledge of the truth and the ability to defend the truth. There will be 8 hours of training on topics like abortion, the problem of evil, worldviews, intelligent design, tolerance and more. So what are you waiting for? Sign up today and plan to bring your students. You don't live in Southern California? That's not stopping others, as people will be traveling from out-of-state for Rethink.
Not convinced students need this kind of training? Check out these videos that might help persuade you and others.
Here is True U's "The Toughest Test in College" promo video:
I’ve never had someone
cry after my atheist role-play. Until now.
In September, I
had the opportunity to speak to a group of parents from Village Academy
Christian School in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Earlier in the day, I taught the junior and senior high
students at chapel and spoke to three different twelfth grade classes. I role played an atheist with the seniors,
to give them a glimpse of the intellectual challenges awaiting them at college,
and decided to give the parents, who had come out for an evening lecture, a
glimpse in the same way.
There was no surprise factor. The parents knew who I was and the Christian organization I
represented. Indeed, I told the
audience what I was about to do, turned my back on them for just a moment, and
then turned round again in full atheist character. I jumped into my role and they jumped into theirs,
attempting to defend the faith against atheist professor “Dr. Kunkle.” Sadly, they were ill equipped to handle
my challenges. I was glad to see
their fighting spirit, but their responses were only vigorous in style, not
substance. After half-an-hour,
many parents were exasperated and I ended the role-play.
“How was that for you?” I asked. “Extremely frustrating,” was the immediate parental
“Why was it so frustrating?” I pressed. One mom blurted out, “Because I didn’t
have any good answers.” As soon as
the words left her mouth, tears began streaming down her cheeks. It was a painful recognition of her own
inadequacy, and she knew what was at stake. As I glanced around the room, other parents were nodding in
agreement, eyes moist with their own tears.
Caught off guard, I began to tear up, too. I felt such compassion for these
good-hearted yet unequipped parents. Quickly gathering my emotions, I looked that mom in the eyes and gently
replied, “I know exactly how you feel.
I felt that way, too, when Dr. David Lane was dismantling my
Christianity in front of my peers, in my college philosophy class.” I told the parents my story and
encouraged them to prepare themselves so, in turn, they can prepare their own
Afterward, parent after parent thanked me. They expressed their deep appreciation
for the wake-up call, despite the accompanying painful realizations. And the mom who burst into tears? She walked up and gave me a big
hug. Then she shared how her
21-year old son, a student at Duke University, had turned his back on Christ
while at college. She was
convicted to begin a dialogue with him, as well as with her second son, a
junior at Village Academy. I
encouraged her, shared some resources, and gave her my email address with an
open invitation to contact me anytime.
Oftentimes, we don’t take the necessary steps toward growth
until we’re made to feel uncomfortable. That night, parents at Village Academy Christian School felt very
uncomfortable and they were motivated
to make changes. But what about you? If you were confronted by the claims of an atheist or skeptic, how would you answer? Could you answer? And can you prepare your kids to answer? If you're unsure or if the answer is "no," we hope to be your ally.
Join us at the end of this month, October 25-26, for the Rethink Student Apologetics conference. For students who are in junior high all the way through college, Rethink will equip them "to give a reason for the hope" they have in Christ (I Peter 3:15). We'll cover topics like evil, tolerance, Islam, the resurrection of Jesus, abortion, worldviews, and more. Adults are welcome, as long as you bring at least one student with you!
Let me put my cards on the table. J. Warner Wallace (Jim to those who know him
personally) is one of my best friends.
For almost 10 years, we’ve been invested in each other’s life. We’ve done ministry together. We’ve served in the local church together. We’ve led student mission trips
together. Our families have spent time
together (my teenage daughter regularly crashes at his house and gets spoiled
by Jim’s wonderful wife, Susie). And now
we’re speaking together, as colleagues at Stand to Reason. Jim is a close friend, partner, and ally.
So yes, as I offer a review of Jim’s book, Cold-Case Christianity (CCC), you could
argue that I’m biased. However, if you
dismiss my book review as unreliable on the sole basis of bias, then you need
to read Jim’s book! In chapter 14, he
deals with a similar charge of bias against the disciples. And had you read it already, you’d know bias
does not preclude one from being
reliable, as Jim’s “Mark Hillian” illustration demonstrates (see page 246). So, don't dismiss this review before you
consider the reasons why I think you need to read Jim’s book.
The secular university is a huge mission field. We need smart Christians who will earn their Ph.Ds.
and go on to do high-level apologetic work in a multitude of academic
fields. To this end, I thank God for the
William Lane Craigs, Alvin Plantingas, and J.P. Morelands of the contemporary
apologetics movement. However, this is
just one point of what should be a multi-pronged strategy. Not only do apologists need to make
incursions into the Academy, but we must continue our infiltration of the
church. The average church-goer needs to
be equipped with “the weapons of our warfare” (2 Cor. 10:3-5) in order to fend
off the secularism of our culture, to protect the impressionable hearts and
minds of our children, and to advance the gospel with unbelieving friends and
family. To this end, I thank God for the
Lee Strobels and now, with his writing of CCC, the J. Warner Wallaces of the
contemporary apologetics movement. To
this latter strategy, Jim makes an extraordinary contribution.
In this book, Jim does four key things as he defends the
reliability of Gospels, that will appeal to the non-specialist masses sitting
in our churches:
#1 – Cold-Case
Christianity is accessible. If we
don’t make apologetics accessible to the average Christian, we run the risk of
making it seem irrelevant. I’ve talked
to that man or woman with the deer-in-the-headlights look after attending one
of their first apologetics conferences.
I’ve heard their “if-this-is-what-apologetics-is-then-it-isn’t-for-me”
dismissals. Thus the contemporary
apologetics movement is in need of more translators and Jim steps up with this
No, no, no, he does not put the cookies on bottom
shelf. Hear me carefully; I’m not saying
we need to dumb down things. No, Jim
actually raises the bar—just check out his historical work in chapters 11
through 13—but does so without blowing people out of the water. And because of this, CCC is also a tremendous
tool for Christians to use with their skeptical friends. It’s the kind of book you can confidently
give to an unbeliever, knowing they’re in good hands with Jim.
#2 – Cold-Case
Christianity is interesting. As far
as I know, Jim is the only man on the planet who could’ve written this
book. He’s a cold-case homicide
detective and a first-rate
apologist. The combination allows Jim to
weave gripping stories and illustrations into his apologetic. It’s one of the most engaging apologetics
books I’ve ever read. Seriously.
#3 – Cold-Case
Christianity teaches the reader how to think, not just what to think. This could be the most valuable aspect of the
book. Jim doesn’t lay out a laundry list
of apologetic pat answers. Using his
training as a detective and experience in the courtroom, Jim teaches the reader
how to think well through the first ten chapters. Yes, ten whole chapters. Indeed, it takes up the entire first half of
the book, but it’s indispensable. Jim
lays down a foundation for thinking carefully not just about the Gospels, but
for all areas of truth.
#4 – Lastly, and most
importantly, Cold-Case Christianity is backed up by a writer who lives what he
writes. Any bias I may have toward
Jim is actually a benefit, not a barrier.
I’ve seen Jim, outside of the limelight.
I’ve been on mission trips where he and I have shared sleeping quarters
with a bunch of foul-smelling high school boys.
I’ve watched Jim go head-to-head with advocates of atheism. And through it all, I’ve seen a man who loves
Christ, loves people, and whose life overflows with integrity.
Thankfully, Jim’s life has also spilled out onto
the pages of CCC, giving the reader a small glimpse of what I’ve observed for
years. It’s only after seeing this man
practice what he preaches that I became a J. Warner Wallace-onian (again see
page 246!). Go buy the book and read it,
and your bias for Jim and his work will grow as well.