Why Christian Theology Needs (Former) Atheists

A lot of prominent 20th century Christian thinkers used to be skeptics.

by John Woodbridge

Walter Hooper, C. S. Lewis’s personal secretary, once commented to the great Christian writer about a clever inscription engraved on an atheist’s tombstone: “Here lies an atheist. All dressed up with no place to go.” Not bemused, Lewis quipped: “That atheist probably wishes now that were true.”

Impertinent as Lewis’s one-liner might first appear, it was not a malicious verbal barb. Lewis was deadly serious. After all, he viewed atheism as having deadly serious consequences. Rather he sought to woo and warn atheists they faced a desperate future apart from Christ.

Lewis’s specific apologetic endeavor to thwart atheism possesses an intriguing backstory: Lewis had been a convinced atheist himself. He knew very well of what he spoke. He had “been there, done that” credibility. In Surprised by Joy, Lewis recounts his conversion to theism, a sinuous path from childhood belief to atheism to theism and finally to Christian faith.

My personal “surprise” in reading the book was caused by the discovery that Lewis’s account contained experiences with which I could loosely identify. The simple reason—one for which I am not proud—is that as a young person I, too, had rejected the Christian faith. It was reassuring to learn that Lewis had experienced an unconventional journey of faith similar to the one I had experienced. Not everyone becomes a Christian by going forward at an evangelistic altar call in a church or camp. God sometimes chases people down in very surprising ways…
Why Christian Theology Needs (Former) Atheists