Pop Atheism and the Power of the Gospel
by Dan DeWitt
“Meanwhile, I am left with the Atheist on my hands,” Dorothy Sayers once penned to C.S. Lewis in a letter in which she sought some practical advice from the popular Oxford apologist. She went on to write, “I do not want him. I have no use for him. I have no missionary zeal at all.”
While many Christians likely attempt to project a little more enthusiasm for evangelism, I’m not sure they do not, deep down, resonate with Sayers’ sentiment.
With the relentless barrage of new atheist bravado over the last decade, believers are liable to grow weary in well-doing. Much of the contemporary anti-God campaign now serves as a mirror image of religious fundamentalism, with iconic leaders such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris standing guard as dogmatic defenders of a secular orthodoxy. Many students have imbibed their sacrilegious sound bites, adopting a brand of pop atheism that makes rational discussion seem virtually impossible.
But, as one theologian recently quipped, “It’s easy to hate atheists until you find one to love.” And we can be certain that in an increasingly secular society, they will be much easier to find. Our real challenge will be to find pathways into charitable conversations.
As conservative Christian convictions continue to be marginalized, I fear the evangelical response might be something other than courageous love. We could be tempted to shrink back in fear if we aren’t properly propelled by the power of the gospel. Like Sayers, we may wish they all would just leave us alone.
This is a good reminder that apologetics is simple and uncomplicated until you actually try it. It’s much easier to caricature skeptics and write them off as unreachable than it is to nurture a mutually respectful dialogue. We can find more intellectual affirmation if we hunker down in our Christian echo chambers and delight ourselves in hypothetical conversations that always end in conversions.
But if we want to be faithful to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, we will be motivated by love to step across the threshold of our security and enter into a meaningful relationship with someone who might think our deeply held beliefs are delusional. Love for God and neighbor compels us to sit down with those who are far from grace. I think Jesus did something very similar. And He bids us to do the same…
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