Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


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Another deconversion story

Warning: while grown-ups will find this an unintentionally comical demonstration of how deeply apostates think before abandoning their faith, Christian children below the age of 8 may want to steer clear.

I find deconversion stories fascinating, although not for the reasons atheists would hope. They fascinate me because of how they reinforce the Christian worldview, while demonstrating what passes for thinking among atheists—particularly apostates.

Today I came across Why I am not a Christian by a fellow named Aaron, who starts off:

I recently renounced my Christian faith, after years of doubt, and months of serious study. I had been a Christian for all of my life, and the decision didn’t come easily or lightly.

Note how Aaron has considered himself a Christian all his life. And he reached this decision to renounce his faith after “months” of “serious study”. So we should expect a pretty thoughtful, intelligent, careful case here…right?

Well, I don’t want to spoil anything, so let’s just see how he does. In his own words, “Specifically, this is Biblical Christianity, summarized:”

For reasons unknown to us, this God, who lacked nothing, needed nothing, and had no reason to want anything, nevertheless decided to create humanity. Man was a creature which He (being God,) knew would reject Him almost immediately, thanks to the deceitful snake which He would place in the garden alongside man (the snake was also created by God.)

In terms of a sophisticated rejection of Christianity, this isn’t a promising start. How could someone who studied this issue “seriously” for “months” think that we have no idea why God created us, and that indeed the idea is inexplicable given God’s own nature? Any Christian with even a passing knowledge of systematic theology would know that God created man, and everything, for his own glory. (His “glory” is simply his revealed greatness; or, in more theological terms, the manifestation of his perfection.) Isaiah 43 hardly makes a secret of this. Neither does Ephesians 1 (notice verses 6, 12, 14). Revelation 4:11 ties God’s creation to his glory. So does Psalm 19:1. And Romans 11:36 couldn’t be more clear.

And it’s not as if you have to scour the Bible to discover this. Even if you can’t be bothered acquainting yourself with the historic confessions, a cursory search on Google immediately yields two articles that discuss the topic and give a clear answer—Bible.org’s For what purpose did God create the world? and John Piper’s God Created Us for His Glory.

This is what passes for the “serious study” behind the difficult, weighty decision of apostasy.

Notice also the childish characterization of the serpent as a “snake”. This is par for the course from village atheists, but not from people who have done serious study on the topic. See for example my sermon notes on the serpent in Genesis 1.

When man inevitably sinned by accepting the snake’s advice, God cursed man and all of humanity, and sentenced them to everlasting torment in hell fire – (though the idea of eternal hell fire wouldn’t quite solidify in the minds of humans for a few thousand more years.)

Even when he gets things basically right, Aaron puts a simple-minded sarcastic spin on his description. As someone who has studied and thought deeply about this, and not made his decision lightly, you would think he would be more even-handed in presenting the Christian narrative. It’s almost as if there is a heavy undercurrent of contempt and incredulity actually driving his decision, which he can’t quite filter out of his post. He wants to look like he made a rational, carefully-deliberated choice, but it’s such a thin pretext that the charade is obvious by the third paragraph.

At this time, God set a plan in place to send his own Son, Jesus, to redeem mankind. In the meantime, he noticed that mankind had become mostly evil, and so decided to do a reset by drowning nearly every living being on the earth in a great flood. The few remaining humans then began to continue their evil ways almost immediately.

It was not “at this time” that God instituted the plan of redemption, but “before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20; cf Ephesians 1:4; Revelation 13:8). Does Aaron not know his Bible at all? How could he really have been a Christian all these years without getting even the basic components of the Christian narrative right? The timing of God’s redemptive plan isn’t exactly a minor detail—it thoroughly informs our understanding of his purpose in creation, and his relation to the fall. If we know that he planned to redeem mankind before he even created the world, and we know that he created the world to reveal his perfection, then we can naturally conclude that he intended the fall precisely to set up the world in such a way that it could be redeemed and reveal his manifold perfections—whether in vessels of mercy, or in vessels of wrath (Romans 9:22-23). Mind you, this is hard to hear if you are a vessel of wrath—but that’s no excuse for not at least getting it basically right.

Moreover, God didn’t “notice” that mankind had become “mostly” evil. Applying terms like “noticed” to an omniscient being who knows all things from eternity is just petulant strawmannery. Why is Aaron strawmanning the Christian narrative he claims to be summarizing? And mankind was not “mostly” evil by any stretch; the Bible takes some pains to emphasize that “every inclination of the thoughts of his mind was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5).

Additionally, He instructed and blessed his chosen people to pillage and plunder neighboring nations, killing men, women and children. This was presumably to help preserve the line of his chosen people who would eventually give rise to Jesus.

That’s one reason. Another is that the neighboring nations, as even Aaron acknowledges, were more than just a little evil. I’m not sure why Aaron seems to treat Israel putting women and children to the sword at God’s command as worse than God himself drowning women and children, but that’s the kind of confused moral reasoning you tend to expect from apostates who have rejected the source of morality itself. (If you’re going to respond to this comment, btw, you’d better be damned sure you understand the distinction between moral ontology and moral epistemology, because I’m not referring to the latter.)

Now, Jesus would arrive as a charismatic Jewish leader, among many other charismatic Jewish leaders, and like many others, would perform miracles to show his power. He would then die a criminal’s death after angering the local Roman authorities, after a 3-year traveling ministry. A small group of his followers would claim to have seen him after his death (he conveniently slipped off to Heaven before any skeptics saw him.)

Firstly, Why does Aaron think Jesus was charismatic? Where is that in the Bible? On the contrary, Isaiah 53:2-3 says that “he had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention, no special appearance that we should want to follow him. He was despised and rejected by people”. Doesn’t sound very charismatic to me. Maybe Aaron is projecting his perception of modern evangelical rockstar pastors onto Jesus? Can he not tell the difference between a 21st century stage and a 1st century rooftop? His continual inability to describe the Christian narrative which he is supposedly summarizing might give us a hint as to why he defected. Indeed, Aaron is just one in a long line of apostates I can name who is convinced he understands the religion he rejected, yet can’t even get the basics right when asked to summarize it.

Secondly, I can’t help wondering where these other miracle-working Jewish leaders came from. Can Aaron provide documentation of their existence? Did any of them rise from the dead?

Thirdly, Jesus didn’t anger the local Roman authorities. He angered the Sanhedrin. That might seem like splitting hairs, but at this point it is just further evidence of Aaron’s chronic inability to get basic details right about the position he supposedly studied, and has so carefully rejected.

Fourthly, a “small group” of his followers claimed to see him after his death? 1 Corinthians 15:5-9 observes that, “he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve, then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive (though some have fallen asleep), then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles; last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.” Remembering that there were probably uncounted women and children present, is 500 men a “small group” in Aaron’s estimation? And is he not aware that James and Thomas were both skeptics? Maybe they don’t count because they weren’t “real” skeptics, since they allowed themselves to be persuaded by evidence?

Fifthly, and not to nitpick, but isn’t Aaron here describing the skeptical narrative? He said at the beginning he was going to summarize the Christian narrative—but here we are treated to his pet views about Jesus. An apostate’s incompetent handling of the historical record is hardly representative of the Christian narrative. Why does Aaron have so much trouble keeping this basic distinction clear in his mind? Is it because he doesn’t actually know the Christian narrative? Or is it that he is so prejudiced against it that he can’t even describe it when he sets out to do exactly that?

I wonder what Aaron’s explanation is for the rapid rise of Christianity, if in fact those 500+ eyewitnesses were all just lying? Why did so many of them, not least the apostles, choose to die in imaginative ways rather than admit they told porkies about Jesus? Does Aaron have a plausible explanation for this—or does he just consider any explanation more plausible than a miracle, because, you know, “miracles don’t happen”?

Now, God’s plan for mankind’s redemption (from the sinful nature he inherited thanks to the snake which God put in the garden) is this: Jesus’s death would be the atonement for man’s sins, but to receive the benefit of this atonement, man must believe in Jesus and his works, and commit to serving and loving him.

Aaron still can’t resist lacing his description with snark, as if we should take the Christian view as inherently ridiculous—but at least he is basically right about this. I feel a slow clap coming on.

Of course, God would not communicate this requirement directly to all of humanity in a way we could all clearly see – instead, he would inspire dozens of other men to write these requirements in various books and letters to each other. Some of these books would then be bound together after a couple centuries, and then argued about among a church of believers who had started dividing into various sects almost immediately after Jesus’s death.

Once again, this isn’t the Christian narrative. Apparently Aaron has simply given up the pretense at this point and slipped straight into skeptical mocking mode. But aside from his own sense of incredulity, which is not exactly good evidence for anything, why should we think that the Bible is not a form of communication which anyone can clearly understand? And what do divisions among Christians have to do with this? Does Aaron think the gospel is not clear in the Bible? Does he think we cannot determine the meaning of anything? Perhaps he is a postmodernist. I guess he won’t mind me “bringing my own meaning” to his blog post and interpreting it as a wholesale endorsement of Christianity then.

During these centuries of church splitting and segmenting, God would not set the record straight among his followers about which set of beliefs and doctrines were the true ones. For that matter, he would not make himself known at all to humanity going forward, beyond the occasional report of minor miracles. For the most part, God would operate in the minds of his followers from this point forward, through the Holy Spirit.

Why should God “set the record straight” when he has already given us a fully sufficient record in the Bible? Aaron presupposes that God did not want the church exactly the way it is. Does he have any evidence of this? Obviously he can’t appeal to the Bible without cutting the legs out from his own objection. So his argument seems to boil down to the same thing that I hear constantly from apostates: “Well, that’s not how I would have done it.” Thanks for clarifying that the real reason you abandoned Christianity is that you think you’re smarter and more moral than God.

I also have to point out how silly this representation of “God not making himself known at all to humanity going forward” is. Not only has God made himself known in the person of Jesus, recorded publicly for everyone, but he repeatedly makes himself known by miraculous power whenever his gospel is brought to unreached groups (how does Aaron think Christianity is spreading in China?) and of course by indwelling his chosen people as Aaron himself admits! In other words, God is doing the opposite of not making himself known, by Aaron’s own admission. Maybe the problem Aaron has is that God has not made himself known to Aaron. That’s unfortunate, of course, but hardly an excuse for Aaron’s contradicting himself within the space of a paragraph.

Given the circumstances of Jesus’s arrival, the lack of any actual visible evidence of this living God in the world, the lack of knowledge of him in remote corners of the world, the lack of historical evidence surrounding his miracles, the contradictions between the various books of the Bible, and the fact that many of the Bible’s claims about history and the nature of reality seem to be at odds with practically every other field of science and inquiry, the majority of humanity has not accepted Jesus, and is therefore doomed to suffer for all of eternity.

For someone who has studied so hard and thought so deeply, Aaron is surprisingly good at imitating the facile objections of new atheists like Dawkins and Harris. Let’s just quickly assess his claims:

Finally, he concludes…

But being all powerful and all-knowing, this was God’s plan all along. He loved his creation and desired to be with it, but chose to weed out all but the few who decide to follow on faith.

Notice how Aaron isn’t even objecting to election or predestination. His understanding of Christianity is so jejune that after all that deep study and careful thinking he can’t even rise to the level of critiquing it on its own terms. He has to resort to kindergarten Christianity. He spent his serious study time poring over a bad children’s picture-Bible. God just wants to wuv evewywun, but lots of people don’t wuv him, and it makes him saaaaad, even though he could help them out by being their fwend.

It’s like Ricky Gervais. He loves to talk about how he became an atheist at age eight. He boasts about it, as if it’s a point of pride. Yet most people don’t tend to trust the judgments of eight-year olds on much of anything, let alone religion and philosophy. For skeptics, however, fourth-grade religious studies is as good as it gets. That’s the mental age they operate at. Suffice to say, although people like Gervais and our new apostate Aaron, might give a primary-schooler pause for thought…grown-up Christians just aren’t quite as impressed.

10 comments

  1. Andrew

    “I’m not sure why Aaron seems to treat Israel putting women and children to the sword at God’s command as worse than God himself drowning women and children”

    Thank you for bringing this up. Whenever people start claiming that it was morally outrageous for the Israelites to kill at God’s behest, I first ask them to consider whether it is morally outrageous for God himself to kill, by natural disaster or individually. I have never yet had someone take up this discussion.

  2. Andrew

    That was an outstanding post. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard or read a “de-conversion” story and thought that the person telling it could have saved himself some pain by giving the thing just a little more thought. Which is to say,. they should have given it some thought to begin with. The list goes on and on with the likes of Dan Barker, Ricky Gervais, Rachel Slick, etc…What I notice about most of these stories is it seems if you read between the lines, they didn’t really want to be Christians in the first place, in spite of the common protests to the contrary.

  3. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Andrew #2, you’re exactly right. I have never seen a deconversion story where it wasn’t obvious, reading between the lines, that intellectual reasons were a flimsy pretext to conceal the real issue: the person just hated God and his rules. Rachel Slick is a fine example. Indeed, her intellectual pretext, the question that brought her worldview “crashing down around her”, was so weak that I literally lolled when I read it.

  4. Blake Reas

    Bnonn,

    I appreciate your blog the more I read it. Keep up the good work. Oh, I also think I get what you are saying about inerrancy now. Keep up the good work, brother!

    In Christ,
    Blake Reas

  5. Bret R

    I liked this article very much. I have noticed the following two things when reading about conversion and deconversion stories or talking to Christians and Apostates:

    1. The converted always express how the truth of God’s word, the Bible, moved them to believe.

    2. The deconverted always express their disbelief in God’s word, the Bible.

  6. Andrew C.

    Hey Bnonn,
    I really enjoyed your sermon notes on Lucifer, Eden, etc. Do you have more of these resources available online? I run into simplistic or ‘face value’ explanations of ideas like this all the time (sadly, often from Christians), and would love to dig a lot deeper into the historic context and views as you presented.

    Are there any studies or resources you can recommend that deal with these contextual topics?

    Many thanks,
    -adc

  7. Andrew C.

    Oh, and by “face value,” above I was referring not to your writing, but to people who just take verbatim statements from Genesis in a modern point of view (exactly what you dismantled in your sermon notes.)

    Reread and that sounded confusing.

  8. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hey Andrew, I’m glad you liked it. The first place I would start would be with Michael Heiser. He seems to be at the forefront of conservative Old Testament studies when it comes to marrying the Bible with its ANE context. He has a website at http://www.drmsh.com. He also has a couple of books coming out very soon which I think you will really, really like if you enjoyed my sermon, called Unseen Realm and Supernatural. You can get sample chapters at http://drmsh.com/2014/07/02/unseen-realm-and-supernatural-sample-chapters/

    I’d also recommend grabbing a copy of The Bible Among the Myths by John Oswalt, and Against the Gods by John Currid. Both complement Heiser’s work very well, and delve into a lot of important worlview issues that most Christians are simply unaware exist.

  9. Andrew C.

    Fantastic. Thanks. I will pick these up.

    It is surprisingly difficult to find solid theological teaching in the States. A great deal of “*Christian” teaching skims the surface, as if preachers are afraid to scare off their congregation by asking them to think. . (And my wife used to work for a Christian publishing house. Most of their books were borderline heretical rubbish like ‘5 keys to a walking like Jesus’.) My wife and I had to move away (because of work) from a wonderful tiny church that really moved slowly and deeply through the scriptures. Though we are in a much larger city now, we have had depressingly little luck finding the quality of teaching which we had before (though we continue to listen to online sermons).

    *I use quotes, as much of what is taught under the canopy of Christianity in the US, might be Christian in form, but is largely puritanism/self-help with Jesus language added in.

  10. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    It is surprisingly difficult to find good teaching in most places, I’m afraid. Particularly in the Western world. Preachers tend to assume that if their churches are full, they are successful—but that belief is belied by the fact that they know if they preach deeply and faithfully, most of their congregations will leave.

    The sheep hear his voice. There are lots of fancy-dressers in pews these days.

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