Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Natasha Crain: how Christian parents can teach their kids about atheism

Natasha Crain

Natasha Crain

A must-read post for parents from Christian super-mom Natasha Crain.

Intro:

In today’s post, I want to give you some very practical ideas for teaching your kids about atheism. The first seven are appropriate for kids of all ages, while the second seven are appropriate for middle school and older kids.

So I’ll choose one from the first seven, and one from the second seven.

4. Discuss Jesus’ miracles in the context of proving his identity.

When I was growing up, my sole understanding of miracles was that Jesus did a lot of cool stuff when He was on earth – stuff I had to color pictures about. It never occurred to me that there was a reason He did miracles until I was an adult. What a huge point I had missed: Jesus performed miracles in large part toprove He really was God’s Son.

The reason this point is so important to make with kids is that it solidifies an understanding that God never asked us to have a blind faith, where we just have to guess about His existence. Jesus didn’t walk around on earth merely claiming a heavenly authority. He demonstrated his power with visible evidence. When kids get a bit older, they will be ready to start learning the specifics of the evidence we have today (e.g., the cosmological argument, the design argument, the moral argument and historical evidence for the resurrection).

One of the most awesome things about the Christian faith is that the founder is constantly appealing to evidence in order to win over skeptics and enemies. He never says to people “just have faith” or “just be more moral” or “just believe me without evidence”. He’s all about the evidence. Jesus was an evidentialist.

And from the last seven, I chose this one:

11. [Older Kids] Challenge your kids with a role play.

Want to see how prepared your kids currently are to address challenges to their faith? Try a role play. You be the atheist. See how your kids respond. Here’s an example for you to say: “I don’t believe God exists. There’s no evidence! I believe in science. Why do you believe in a God you can’t prove exists?” This is the most basic of claims – see what your kids do with it. Keep pushing back on them after they respond. Use what happens as an opportunity to look for learning opportunities in the areas that come up.

12. [Older Kids] Watch debates between a Christian and an atheist.

There are many debates available to watch online (for free). Sit down as a family to watch one and encourage everyone to take notes on the points that were strongest and weakest for both sides. Use it as a springboard for discussion when the debate is done, and follow up with study on any new points. Here are a couple of examples to consider:

William Lane Craig vs. Christopher Hitchens – Does God Exist?

Mike Licona vs. Bart Ehrman – Can Historians Prove Jesus Rose from the Dead? (I should note Ehrman is an agnostic, not an atheist.)

Yeah, I know that’s two. But they are both awesome.

I think the bigger point about this post is that parents ought to have a plan for raising Christian kids. So many kids who are raised in the church by “Christian” parents fall away as soon as they hit the university, but there is almost no concern about the university in most churches. Why is that? And can you really outsource the teaching of your kids to pastors who don’t prepare them for college? There is a definition of faith in conservative churches that is not Biblical. It seeks to make faith about emotions and spirituality. Confirming what the Bible says using logical arguments and evidence is frowned upon, even if the parents are smart enough to learn apologetics given their success in other areas (like their careers). In church, it’s seen as “more pious” to just believe what the Bible says without evidence, and try to make Christianity about love instead of truth. That’s what churches teach, but it’s not in the Bible. The Bible is all about presenting evidence to non-believers.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , ,

A popular reason why people leave Christianity: disappointment with God

Part 2 of a brilliant series by Bradley Wright. This time he explains how people leave Christianity because they expect God to meet their needs and he doesn’t.

Excerpt:

In a study of religious deconversion, we analyzed 50 on-line testimonies posted by former Christians, and in these testimonies we found four general explanations for deconversion. The first explanation, which I wrote about last week, regarded intellectual and theological concerns about the Christian faith. The second, which I elaborate here, regards a failed relationship with God. Almost half (22 of 50) of the writers expressed sentiments that in some way God had failed them by His not doing what they thought He should.

God’s perceived failure took various forms, most of which fall under the general heading of “unanswered prayers.”

One way that people felt that God had failed them happened when He did not respond to requests for help during difficult times. A young man raised in a Baptist church epitomized this feeling of failure when he wrote about God not answering his prayers about family difficulties. He wrote: “The first time I questioned the faith was when my grandmother shriveled up in front of me for 6 month’s due to cancer. I was 13 & my mother & father [were] getting a divorce. My father told me I should have been aborted. I prayed to God but nothing fails like prayers.”

So you can see here where people have this expectation that it is God’s job to give them good health. But is that anywhere in the Bible? Is it God’s job to make us healthy so that we can have a happy life, even if we are busy spending that happy life ignoring him and not knowing his character. When you ask a serious Christian what it is like to be a Christian, we will tell you that what God is about is NOT making us healthy or happy, but instead giving us time and peace to study him, to make plans to serve him, to execute those plans, and to have (sometimes unhappy) experiences that cause our sympathies to change as we feel what God feels. In short, life is about getting closer to him, and suffering and sickness is one of the tools God uses in order to get us to know him as he is and to participate in the relationship.

Likewise, a woman raised in a Methodist household described her step-father as “cruel and abusive” to her, and she could not understand why “if God loves me, why won’t he protect me instead of letting this happen to me?”

I think the reason why God allows suffering like this is to create people who take his rules about sexual morality seriously. When I was growing up I had front-row seats to the divorces of many of my friends. I remember vividly talking to children who cried to me about how they felt when their mothers invited new men into the house after the divorce. Pain and suffering like this is a reminder to us that the moral law is real, that God expects us to follow it in order to prevent harm. One of the reasons why I am chaste is because I listen to the stories of men whose girlfriends aborted their babies, the stories of women who cohabitated and then were betrayed, the stories of the children of divorces. And from this I learn that morality is real and it matters.

In a variation of this theme, some deconverts lamented God’s inactivity amidst spiritual difficulties. A man in his forties, a former elder at a charismatic church, wrote: “In my own life, no matter how much I submitted to ‘God’ and prayed in faith, ‘sin’ never seemed to leave me. Well, what’s the point of being ‘saved’ if you aren’t delivered from ‘sin’?”

This is why accurate theology matters. No serious Christian thinks that you stop sinning after you become a Christian, and no serious Christian thinks that prayer alone is a solution to sin. To stop sinning, you need to engage more than the spirit, you need to engage the mind. Most people want to spiritualize things because prayer is easier than study. But if you want to stop sinning, the best way is a combination of prayer and study. If you want to stop premarital sex, study how premarital sex affects STD infection, risk of divorce, future marital stability, oxytocin, quality of marriage, and so on. Study the risks of divorce. That’s how you stop sinning. Some people want to dumb Christianity down to the level of superstition then they complain that it doesn’t work. But Christianity is better when you learn more and work harder.

A former Southern Baptist described the various good things that God failed to give him: “God promises me a lot in the bible and he’s not come through. Ask and it shall be given. Follow me and I will bless you. I promise you life and promise abundance. Man should not be alone. I have a plan for you. Give tithe and I will reward you. All broken promises. This god lacks clarification. This god lacks faith in me. He wants my faith. I want his too.”

Do you know what I expect from God after reading the Bible? I expect what Jesus got: pain and suffering during obedience. What kind of simpleton reads the Bible and thinks that it is about getting goodies from God? That is NOWHERE in the Bible. It’s projecting Santa Claus onto God and that isn’t going to work – God has other plans for us, and those plans involve work and pain. People become Christians because they want to be like Jesus, and they understand that Jesus was not having fun. He was doing a job, and he wasn’t happy or appreciated.

Other writers took a different approach to God’s failures. They too sought God’s help, but when they did not receive it, they simply concluded that God did not exist. A former member of an Assemblies of God church explicitly linked unanswered prayers and the existence of God: “How many humble and totally selfless prayers offered up to and ignored by the imaginary skydaddy does it take for the average person to finally throw in the towel and say [God doesn’t exist]!!!!” His answer: “Too damn many.”

It’s so strange to me that people think that the best way to see God interfere is to pray. The way I see God working in my life is when I go home and listen to some debate about the problem of evil, and then the next day some atheist asks me out to lunch to talk about why God allows evil. Maybe instead of doing easy things, we should actually invest in our relationship with God and then see if he responds by giving us work to do. Maybe a relationship with God is about serving him, and the joy is about seeing him reward those efforts by working with us and through us. Maybe God has more for us than just entertainment.

Still others sought a tangible sign of God’s presence. A former Pentecostal exclaimed: “There were many nights while in bed I would ask God to show me the truth, or give me some type of sign to show that he or she existed. These prayers would never be answered. So I would just go on with my life having doubts.” Likewise, a former Baptist missionary wrote: “I’ve begged God to show himself to me and put an end to my inner torture. So far it hasn’t happened and the only thing I know for sure is that I have unanswered questions.”

I think this paragraph is interesting, since I consider things like church, praying and singing hymns to be less practical when compared with practical and difficult things like chastity, apologetics, charity, studying hard things, getting a good job, committing to caring for others who have special needs, etc. If you want to feel the presence of God, then do the right thing and take the punishment for doing it. That’s what Christianity is really about.

The example of Dan Barker

I’ve actually written about this before in the context of Dan Barker, a charismatic fundamentalist praise hymn singer and writer who expected God to validate all of his irresponsible ministry decisions. Eventually, he fell away from the church because he had this ludicrous Santa Claus caricature of God that didn’t match reality. Dan Barker is the complete opposite of everything I consider a manly Christian to be. He is the polar opposite of what I recommend to men when I recommend that they study math, science, engineering and technology, avoid music, singing and dancing, and prefer apologetics and conservative politics over speaking in tongues and apocalyptic fiction. This man, when he was a “Christian”, was the complete opposite of the WK Christian man model. Men should be practical.

I think that Christians should protect themselves from the Dan Barker outcome by being aware of how emotional experiences and praise hymns warp your view of God. God is a person, and he has a goal for you – to know him. To achieve that goal, it may not be effective to just give you everything you want. It may be the case that God has to allow you to experience some suffering, to form your character and to bring your goals in line with his character. Children have to grow up, and shielding them from pain and responsibility doesn’t allow them to grow up.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why do atheists like Dan Barker abandon their faith?

Unbelievable’s latest radio show featured a discussion with former Christian Dan Barker, the founder and co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The MP3 file is here. (60 minutes)

I thought that I would make some general comments about why I think that many people leave the Christian faith, and what you should be careful of in order to avoid following in Dan Barker’s footsteps, specifically.

Basically, there are four major reasons why people leave Christianity.

  1. They want to do something immoral with impunity. This type of person wants to do something immoral that is forbidden by Christianity, like pre-marital sex. They dump Christianity in order to feel better about seeking happiness in this life, apart from God and his moral duties.
  2. They want to pursue happiness in irresponsible ways. This type of person thinks that God’s job is to save them when they act irresponsibly while pursuing happiness. When God disappoints them by not giving them what they want in order to be happy, they leave the faith.
  3. They want to be loved by people, not by God. This type of person thinks that Christianity is a tool that they can use to become popular. When they first try to articulate the gospel in public, they find that people don’t like them as much, and they feel bad about offending people with exclusive truth claims that they cannot back up using logic and evidence. So, they water down Christianity to get along with atheists, liberal Christians and other religions. Finally, they jettison Christianity completely and focus on making everyone feel good about whatever they believe.
  4. They don’t want to learn to defend their faith. This type of person is asked questions by skeptics that they cannot answer. Usually this happens when people go to university after growing up in the shelter of the Church. The questions and peer pressure make them feel stupid. Rather than investigate Christianity to see if it’s true and to prepare to defend it in public, they dump it so they can be thought of as part of the “smart” crowd.

Now listen to the discussion and see if you can identify some of these factors from Barker’s own carefully-prepared words. He is trying very hard to make himself look honest and moderate, because he wants Christians to be sympathetic with his story and his motives for leaving Christianity. But I think that there is enough in his statements to construct a different hypothesis of why he left Christianity.

I’ve grouped the data by risk factor. (These are not his exact views)

Non-rational, emotional approach to Christianity

  • he was raised in a devout Christian family where he probably wouldn’t have faced skeptical questions
  • he converted to Christianity at age 15 as a result of a religious experience, not a serious investigation
  • his idea of God was probably idealized and uninformed, e.g. – a loving God who wants us to be happy
  • he wandered around from church to church preaching, with no fixed address or source of income
  • he earned money by collecting “love offerings” from churches where he performed his music
  • he wrote Christian songs and Christian musicals, but nothing substantive on apologetics and theology
  • he worked in three churches known for being anti-intellectual and fundamentalist
  • there’s no evidence that of any deep study of philosophy, science and history during this time

Desire to gain acceptance from non-Christians

  • he began to notice that some people were uncomfortable with sin and Hell
  • he began to avoid preaching about sin and Hell in order to make these people comfortable
  • he watered-down the gospel to focus on helping people to be happy in this life
  • his manic approach to Christian ministry was challenged by the “real life” needs of his growing family
  • he met liberal pastors while performing his music in their churches
  • he found it difficult to disagree with them because they seemed to be “good” people
  • he watered down his message further in order to appeal to people across the theological spectrum

Ignorance of Christian apologetics

  • he began to think that if there are many different views of religion, then no view can be correct
  • he was not intellectually capable of using logic and evidence to test these competing claims to see which was true
  • he decided to instead re-interpret Christian truth claims as non-rational opinions, so they could all be “valid”
  • he became a theological liberal, abandoning theism for an impersonal “ground of being”
  • he embraced religious pluralism, the view that all religions are non-rational and make no testable truth claims
  • he began to see God as a “metaphor” whose purpose is to make people have a sense of meaning and purpose
  • he jettisoned God completely and focused more on helping people find meaning and morality apart from God
  • seems to think that religion is about having a “great life”, and felt that you can have a “great life” without religion
  • seems to think that religion is about being “good”, and felt that you can be “good” without religion
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them what to do instead of letting them do anything they want
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them what is true, instead of letting them believe whatever they want
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them that God will hold them accountable for their beliefs and actions

So what do I think happened?

I think he abandoned his faith because he wanted people to like him and because he needed to be invited to liberal churches in order to make money to pay for the “real life” needs of his family.

He seems to have thought that Christianity is about having his needs met and being liked by others. I think he wanted to feel good and to make people feel good with his preaching and singing. He seems to have become aware that the exclusive claims of Christianity made other people feel offended, so he cut them out. He hadn’t studied philosophy, science or history so that he would have been able to demonstrate to other people whether what he was saying was true. It’s hard to offend people when you don’t really know whether your claims are true or not, and when you don’t know how to demonstrate whether they are true or not.

I also think money was a factor. It seems to me that it would have hurt his career and reduced his invitations from liberal churches if he had kept up teaching biblical Christianity. In order to appeal to a wider audience, (like many Christian singers do – e.g. – Amy Grant, Jars of Clay, etc.), he would have felt pressured to water down the unpleasant parts of his preaching and singing. Lacking apologetics skill, he instead abandoned his message. He needed to account for his family’s needs and “real life”, and exclusive truth claims and Hell-talk would probably have reduced his ability to do that. It seems to me that he should have scaled back his extreme schedule of preaching and singing, and instead gotten a steady job so that he could afford “real life” and a family without being pressured into altering his message.

Life isn’t a fairy tale. God isn’t there to reward risky behavior. We need to be more shrewd about financial matters so that we have the ability to not care about what people think of us. Look at this blog. I work all day as a senior software engineer with two degrees in computer science so that I can refuse donations. I save most of what I make in case a tragedy strikes. Since I am financially secure, I can say what I think, and disregard anyone who wants me to change my message because they are offended. Becoming a Christian isn’t a license to behave irrationally and immaturely with money. For some people, (like William Lane Craig), stepping out in faith works. But if it doesn’t work, it’s better to retreat and re-trench, rather than to compromise your message for money.

Barker didn’t seem to make any effort to deal intellectually with typical challenges like the existence of Hell and religious pluralism. He just wanted to be liked by people instead of being liked by God. He seemed to have thought that being a Christian would make him happy and that other people would all respond to him and like him without having to do any work to explain why Christianity is true. But that’s not Biblical. When the singing and preaching is over, you still have to know how to give an answer to non-Christians. But Barker couldn’t give an answer – not one that allowed him to retain his beliefs. He had not prepared a defense.

What does Dan Barker think about Christianity today?

Many atheists today are interested in eradicating public expressions of Christian beliefs in the public square, because they hate Christianity and believe that Christians should not be allowed to make them feel bad by exercising their rights of free speech. Is Dan Barker one of these militant atheists?

Well, take a look at this video, in which he objects to a nativity scene and demands that an atheistic denunciation of theism be posted alongside it. In the video, Barker explains that the nativity scene is hate speech, and that the baby Jesus is a dictator. He seems to be totally oblivious to the the idea that if Christianity is true, then it doesn’t matter whether it’s mean and exclusive. And this seems to me to have been his problem all along, from the day of his “conversion”.

So the real question is this: is it true? Barker seems to be much more interested in asking “is it nice?” and “will it make me happy?”.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What is the “unforgiveable sin” in Mark 3 and Matthew 12?

Take a look at these two puzzling passages from the New Testament.

Mark 3:28-29:

28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter,

29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

Matthew 12:30-32:

30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

31 And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

What can it mean?

Well, here’s a post by Dr. Paul Gould to shed some light on it.

Excerpt:

Taken in isolation, it is hard to make sense of this passage—how is it that all kinds of sins can be forgiven but one sin will not be forgiven? What is going on here? Well, here is a principle of sound biblical interpretation:

Principle #1: In order to correctly understand a passage, we must always look at it within its context.

And what is the passages context? The broader context can be found in Matthew 12:22-32. In this broader context we read of Jesus performing a miracle (he performs an exorcism and heals a blind and mute man), we read of the crowd’s amazement and wonderment over the identity of Jesus (“Could this be the Son of David?”), we find the slanderous (and murderous) charge of the Pharisees, and we find Jesus’ response to the Pharisees charge (both his reasoned response to their explicit charge that he drives out demons by Satan’s power as well as his warning to the Pharisees if they continue to attribute to Satan what is in fact the work of God’s Spirit).

After looking at this passage in context, we find that the “unforgivable sin” is (basically) attributing what is in fact the work of God’s Spirit to His ultimate enemy, Satan.

Fair enough, you say, but there are other problems passages that talk about the unforgivable sin—Hebrews 6, 1 John 5, and Hebrews 10 come to mind. What about those passages? Well, here is our second principle of biblical interpretation:

Principle #2: Always interpret unclear passages in light of the clear teachings of Scripture (as a whole).

And what is the clear teaching of Scripture related to sin and forgiveness? It is this:

Forgiveness of sins is a consequence of man’s repentance, and repentance is a consequence of the activity of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. So in the end, it seems that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is nothing more or less than the unrelenting rejection of His advances.

So, the only unforgiveable sin is the sin of deliberately rejecting God’s efforts to draw you into a saving relationship with him. What does this mean for you? It means that if you are a Christian and you believe the essentials of the faith, then you aren’t going to be able to lose your salvation by performing sinful actions. You can’t sin your way out of God’s forgiveness, because if you accept Jesus’ death as payment for your sins, then it covers all your sins. I do think that the Bible is very clear that you can lose your salvation by “the unrelenting rejection” of God’s advances. But that’s not a description of any Christians, it’s a description of someone who does not believe in Jesus.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , ,

New study: college students becoming less religious, more depressed

Just how much honor and meaning is there in binge drinking, hooking up and talking about who is the biggest victim?

Campus Reform reports:

According to research conducted by University of California-Los Angeles, 27 percent of college freshmen no longer identify with a certain religion—the highest this trend has seen in 40 years.

According to the study conducted in 2014, among college freshman, 30 percent of men and 25.4 percent of women responded with “none” when asked a religious preference. This is an increase from a 1971 study that recorded 17.3 percent of men and 13.5 percent of women who responded with “none” as their selection.

[…]The same study also showed a profound increase in depression among college freshmen. There is an epidemic of “emotional health issues” within the same students, the study also found.

In speaking with Christians who left their faith in college, I have found that it’s typically not cognitive. They wanted to have a good time after escaping from the nest, and they just dropped Christianity and started drinking a lot and having a lot of sex with a lot of people they barely knew. “Everyone” was doing it – it was fun and thrills, and who cares how it impacts your future and your ability to serve God or get married?

Now I want this to be a positive post, so I’ll link to J. Warner Wallace who has the solution to the problem.

He writes:

In my last post, I summarized the studies and publications that describe the flight of young people from the Church. A compelling cumulative circumstantial case can be made to support the fact that young college aged Christians are walking away from Christianity in record numbers. What can we do about it? What can be done? Whenever people ask me this question, I always say the same thing. STOP TEACHING YOUNG CHRISTIANS. Just stop it. Whatever Christendom is doing in its effort to teach it’s young, the effort appears to largely be a failure. In fact, Ken Ham (in his book, Already Gone:Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do To Stop It) found that young Christians who faithfully attended Bible classes were actually more likely to question the authority of Scripture, more likely to defend the legality of abortion, same-sex marriage, and premarital sex, and more likely to leave the church! What’s going on here? I think I know. It’s time to stop teaching ouryoung people; it’s time to start training them.

There’s a difference between teaching and training. Training is teaching in preparation for a battle. Boxers train for upcoming fights. In fact, boxers are sometimes known to get fat and lazy until the next fight is scheduled. Once the date has been signed, fighters begin to train in earnest. Why? Because they know that they are going to eventually get in the ring and face an aggressive opponent. We train when we know we are about to encounter a battle. Imagine for a moment that you are enrolled in an algebra class. If the teacher assured you that you would never, ever be required to take a test, and that you would pass the class regardless of your level of understanding, how hard do you think you would study? How deeply do you think you would come to understand the material? How committed do you think you would be to the material?

The problem we have in the Church today is not that we lack good teachers. There are many excellent teachers in the Church. The problem is that none of these teachers are scheduling battles. Make no mistake about it, there are battles looming for each and every young Christian in the Church today, but church leaders are not involved in the scheduling of these battles. The battles are waiting for our sons and daughters when they get to University (or enter the secular workplace). The Church needs to be in the business of scheduling battles and training our young people for these battles. Teaching without a planned battle is little more than “blah, blah blah.” This is the problem with traditional Sunday School programs. They are often well-intended, informative and powerfully delivered. But they are impotent, because our young people have no sense of urgency or necessity. There is no planned battle looming on the horizon and the battle of University life is simply too far away to be palpable. It’s time to address the problem not with our classes but with our calendar. It’s time to start scheduling battles so our teaching becomes training.

Just stop it!

I think that’s good advice – but I don’t think that Christian parents or Christian pastors are following it as much as we need to be.

Filed under: News, , , , , ,

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