The post I am about to write needs to be understood in the correct light. I have just finished reading a short book written by Barney Adler titled, Save Me: An Atheist’s Letter to the Christian Church. I have been trying to read these types of materials lately because I think we all need to be aware of what the non-Christian world is saying about our faith. We have to have a better understanding of how an atheist or agnostic feels in order to better converse within their worldview understanding. Knowing their hangups concerning our faith can help provide a bridge in the conversation or can help us to determine the best way to help them to remove obstacles or false impressions of our faith. It can also serve to strengthen and challenge our own faith and convictions.
I have to say at the start of this that Adler really convicted me in many areas of my life. Yes, some of his statements were too generalized and had a tendency of blanketing Christianity as a whole. I have tried to stop being reactive in my reading. It just doesn’t benefit me to get defensive by what I read. I try to see where the person is coming from and I try to learn from what is helpful and just dismiss the rest. The quotes I present in this blog are some of those that caught my attention. I hope they capture yours and that conviction takes place where and if it is needed.
There is an overwhelming sense of despair coming from Adler. He often alludes to the emptiness and meaningless that life has apart from there being a God. He admits to that. He has just come to the conclusion for whatever reason that there is no God. He even states that he misses Jesus. But to him that means he misses the idea of Jesus. So in this way, Jesus becomes some ideal or desire for something out there that created, loves and has a purpose for mankind. I hope you can see the pain that this writer lives with. So fellow Christian, how would you respond to such a person? Have you thought it through. Do you have an answer for him. He sure wishes someone did. That is why he titled this letter Save Me.
When speaking of the Bible, Adler states, “Why do I enjoy reading it more than they do? It seems to me that if Christianity was true, the average Christian would take the religion a lot more seriously than they do.” Now don’t get offended by his statement. Ask if it is true of you. What Adler is saying is that some Christians that he has observed live as if the Bible wasn’t all that important. If it is so life changing and is the Word of God then why is it so ignored? Ouch! I have often said that there are many indicators of our religious convictions and the strength of those convictions. This is one of them. He is correct. If this is true of us and we truly read the Word so infrequently then what is the real strength of our conviction? This is a stopping point here. Take the time personally to evaluate yourself based on his statement. Prove him wrong.
As pertaining to the Christian community he states, “The Bible describes followers of Christ that love in an extraordinary way, that change the world they live in for the better. The Christians in the Bible were different from anything I have ever seen…Why don’t I find that in the modern church? Where are all the Christians at?” Now I agree, in this statement there is too much generalization going on. There are plenty of amazing Christians ministering out in this world. They give their lives in service. They are out there. The question then would be, are you one of them? Am I one of them? Don’t get offended…evaluate and adjust where needed.
We can get so caught up in the things of this world that we enter into what could be called an identity crisis. We forget who we are. We grow our business. Raise our families and live our lives without doing so in the framework of a Christian worldview. I don’t know of too many things more important that constantly evaluating our lives, and the success of those lives, using the framework of Scripture. We can so easily fall prey to what this secular culture tells us to do that we don’t even realize our worldview has been contaminated. Call it tolerance. Call it being progressive if you want. But it really is just us buying in to a lie and we lose the distinctives which set us apart as the Christian church.
Now this one may cause some to take offense but Adler addresses the church service and how sometimes it to him is boring and lacking any passion. I want you to listen to this statement clearly. “The people who met Jesus were anything but bored. No one ever rejected him because he was dull. If anything he was too charismatic, too passionate- passionate even to the point of his own death.”
I am a Bible teacher and a youth pastor. I teach or preach all the time and this one spoke to me. I do not believe our goal is to entertain or to mold ourselves after the secular media and neither does Adler. He mentions that sometimes the worship service looks like “a show, a Sunday production of what church would look like if people actually cared.” I think what he is referring to is a sense of true passion for what we are preaching or teaching. He seems to think that some services are just going through the motions and hoping the light show will compensate for the lack of passion. I personally pray that if I even begin to teach or preach without passion that God would convict me immediately. People see through that very quickly. If I lose my passion then it is time for me to remember again just what I have been saved from. I do believe we can become so distanced from our conversion experience that we lack the fuel of passion to share it with others with fervor and strength. Maybe it is time to revisit what God has done and to renew that passion.
I want to close out this blog with this final statement from Adler. He was speaking about a Christian group that he once came into contact with that caught his attention. He said concerning them, “I don’t think I ever would have left the faith if I had been able to find another group with such sincerity and passion after that. There was beauty there. And I’m not sure that I ever could have abandoned that.”
We must ask ourselves if others see such beauty in the local church that we are a part of. Do they see passionate people who love the Lord and each other? Do they see people who love His Word and who live it? If that is not convicting, I don’t know what is. So please listen to the words spoken by an atheist who was having problems seeing a true God represented by the people who are called by His name. I know that there are great Christians out there who represent Him well. This message is for those areas that need to be addressed and in which we may struggle. There is too much at risk to not evaluate ourselves.
And if something else has replaced God as your focus for your passion then realize that that is exactly what is meant by an idol. Worshiping anything less than God in the place of God is idolatry. Again I will say that the world is distracted by things that don’t really matter. To be continued…..