Grace and Love Essential for Apologetics
by Alan Myatt
Deconversion stories from Evangelical Christianity are a staple of New Atheist propaganda. Many of these stories are moving and reveal a painful personal history. They can have significant influence on leading people away from the faith, especially when they involve the story of a family member of someone prominent in Christian ministry. One such story is told here. One can easily sympathize with the pain and struggle clearly shown.
I cannot comment on the girl’s family life, since I have no personal knowledge of it. I have always respected their public ministry. However, I can say this. In 30 years of doing and teaching apologetics I have almost never seen anyone who converts or deconverts because of purely intellectual motives. Most of the time people change worldviews when for personal and emotional reasons, their old view is no longer seen to be working for them. While intellectual issues play a part, usually they are far outweighed by emotional factors. The particular question she raises that derailed her faith, concerning the question of morality and sin in the Bible, can be reasonably answered from a strictly intellectual standpoint. But I doubt that this is, or was, the main issue. I suspect there is much more to this story than what she is telling us, and I do not doubt that some of what she declined to share as being irrelevant, is in fact related.
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What this story brought to my mind was the need for taking seriously the Bible’s teaching on grace and applying it to all areas of life, especially in our families and in our intellectual pursuits. I think it boils down to this: one of the key pathologies of contemporary Evangelicalism is the profoundly unbiblical notion that the main point of discipleship is obedience. I have heard this touted by leaders in the denomination where I served for many years. They ought to have known better. However, it is widely promoted in many Evangelical circles anyway, but I believe that it is dead wrong. It is, in fact, a virtual gateway to legalism and repressive religiosity.
So let me be clear as to what I mean. Being a Christian is first and foremost about BEING not DOING. Otherwise, the entire Reformation was a waste. Being a Christ follower is about KNOWING Him. It is about cultivating intimacy and being transformed inwardly. The point is GRACE. Many of us Evangelicals have a pitiful understanding of grace, even though our best theologians have spoken well on this subject. Unfortunately, much of this teaching remains unknown or ignored. We tend to focus on rule keeping, as if that were the essence of our faith. It is no wonder that people abandon Christianity, if all they get is years of guilt after failing to meet impossible standards. Guilt and shame are the result of legalism and law keeping. True Christianity frees us from this. To teach that the point of discipleship is obedience is to simply promote salvation by works.
Christians desperately need to understand who they ARE in Christ, what it means to be a NEW CREATURE in Christ, and how to get to KNOW the Lord. I am convinced that those who comes to know Christ in an intimate way will never be talked out of their faith by any number of pseudo-intellectual atheistic arguments, regardless of whether or not they can answer the questions posed at the time. If you know someone personally, it is difficult to imagine how anyone could convince you that he does not exist…
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