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23 October 2008

Agnosticism and the Church - Part II

You need to read this post first, if you haven't already.

To summarize, in the event that you don't read or re-read it , I've seen a number of people leave the fellowship of the church and turn to agnosticism or atheism. In most cases it's because the Church never addressed what seem to be apparent difficulties in resolving the Scriptures with real life. I offered some hypotheses as to why it is that these things are not addressed many times, and I believe it boils down to fear.

I'm not suggesting that my church fellowship or yours is guilty of this. If it fits you, however, you'll probably know it. Also, be aware that not everyone feels the need to have these difficult questions answered. I'm not particularly suggesting that we need to make people start questioning things that they've never questioned before.

I said this in the post: "I'm asking for practical, real-life things that I can do in Madison or Huntsville, AL. And I'm asking for your participation, if you desire."

I got one specific response to that solicitation, by friend and fellow blogger Preston N. He said, "I have also been thinking and praying about doing some 'Open Air Evangelism'. This is where Christains go out to college campuses, public events (concerts, fairs, etc) and engage people about the gospel. Instead of having people come to us - we go to them!"

Anyone else interested in pursuing something like this?

I've found that while Preston and I differ on some theological issues, that does not hinder our relationship as brothers in Christ, or our love for Christ and for people. And it doesn't scare me that he has a different viewpoint. What does alarm me is that often Christ-followers are more interested in arguing with one another about the theological implications of our beliefs rather than representing Jesus Christ to the world. (I suppose I should note that I'm not saying, "We're all part of God's great big family, and it doesn't matter what someone believes as long as they're genuine!" -- that's a false statement.)

Since I like cans of worms, here's a question I'd like for you to address in the comments -- I want to hear your perspective. As agnosticism goes, this is probably The Big One:

Why would a good God allow natural disasters and destruction in the world?

It's not a short answer, but you can be as brief or as long as you like. For Pete's sake (whoever Pete is), people have been discussing this one for thousands of years. I'll bet we won't find the perfect satisfactory answer in the comments of a blog. But I'm interested in how you'd answer that if an agnostic asked it of you. If you offer a counter-point to another commenter, please be respectful.


Anonymous said...

Why would a good God allow....? This is the wrong question to ask to try and understand the "Why" about God. First of all it set us up to judge God, a very dangerous proposition; Second, we don't ask the surgeon 'why' he has to cut to remove the cancer; Cutting causes pain - so isn't that 'Bad'? I know I didn't answer your question, but I think the real question should be 'How'. How could he sacrifice His Son to die for me? Ted Stroup

Dean Lusk said...

Woot! Nice answer.

Many times a question is staged such that by its very asking, it establishes a precedent and a conclusion.

Man, I like that answer.

But... in talking with someone who doesn't believe there's a God at all, there would be no apprehension in their "judging" this God. Are we still on good footing to reply in this way? I think so, but once we get here we start digging down into some deeper (or maybe they're rudimentary) questions.

How do we define "good"? "evil"? How about the agnostic/atheist -- how would they define those words? Do they even have a basis for defining them?

These can be rhetorical questions for the sake of this post. I'm just noting that this is a multi-level kind of question.

Christy said...

Dean, you know I'm always saying that I make things too simple, or at least I think I do. If someone were to ask me this question, I would direct them to Genesis where God created everything and called it "good", except when it came to man and woman, which He called "very good". Then because of Adam and Eve's WILLFUL choice to sin against God, sin entered the world and changed everything. If there were more questions asked after this (and I'm sure there would be) I would rely on the Holy Spirit's prompting. I try not to stage my answers. Studying God's word to know the truth and to be able to give an answer to anyone who asks me the reason I believe, is all I can do. I also have to remind myself that I cannot convict anyone, that's the job of the Holy Spirit. As far as the "Open Air Evangelism" challenge goes, I'm up for it. Of course, every time I go out I try to be aware of opportunities. And concerning the questioning/judging God question, I think God is big enough to handle the hard questions. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, so anything that we come up with I think He understands where we're coming from. I know from personal experience that asking hard questions does not change His love for me. He does, however, put me in my place and gently remind me of Who HE IS! "I AM THAT I AM!", He said to me. "You're not always going to understand, you just have to believe and trust Me."

Preston N said...

Let me say this without being arguementative. :) God desires relationship. Relationship requires knowledge of each parties Character and Nature. If God is seeking to have man reconciled into a loving and benevolent relationship then don't we think its imperative that we present the Nature and Character of God in a way that doesn't make God out to be some type of arbitrary monster, but rather we present God as he presents himself - in the form of his Son Jesus Christ.

To use Ted's analogy here - God just doesn't walk up to us and start cutting without first giving you the reason why He's needs to cut on us and that he is also the most qualified surgeon to cut out that cancer (that btw me and you caused!). Man must see and understand why they need Jesus,

As to the answer to the "Big One": The short answer is love. God has given man the freedom to chose to either love God or hate God. Why does God give us freewill? Love. God desires to have a relationship with his crowning creation - man. Real genuine love requires freedom. Freedom implies risk. God allows risk in efforts to have man truly and genuinely love Him. Love that is robotic or coerced is not real love. As a result of the risk God has taken, mankind has sadly chosen sin (self) over loving God. The end result is pain and suffering has also entered into the world. The Good News however is we can be reconciled back to God through His Son Jesus Christ.

That's my short answer. If you want a really good treatise on the subject read Greg Boyd's "Is God to Blame" or CS Lewis "Problem of Pain".

Leroy said...

You said... "But... in talking with someone who doesn't believe there's a God at all, there would be no apprehension in their "judging" this God. Are we still on good footing to reply in this way? I think so, but once we get here we start digging down into some deeper (or maybe they're rudimentary) questions."

One thing I learned many years ago, you can get to a point of "wasting your breath" if whoever you are talking to does not recognize: 1) God, 2) the Bible. A Christian's beliefs are based on the Bible and that is our foundation. But if I talk to "Joe the atheist" (heh, heh), it will turn into an argument almost every time because he doesn't believe #1 and #2. Same goes for cults, while they may think they believe in the correct God, their distortion has created their own version of the Bible to match those distortions. It's easy for us to tell them "your just wrong", but if they were trying to convince us of their "truth" would we believe them? We would, hopefully, evaluate what the Bible says and point out where they are wrong.

I'm in no way advocating we shouldn't preach/reach/teach others for Christ, by all means we should. But when the head-butting begins based on the recognition or not of God and the Bible, we serve Christ better, I would say in most circumstances, to agree to disagree with that person and walk away. If not, the friendly discussion turns into a heated debate and "innocent bystanders" think that's how all Christians act. We have to be careful...2 Timothy 2:24-25 says, "And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition..." NKJV.


beth said...

I never feel qualified to engage in these discussions, but having just had a similar conversation with a friend who is wavering on the fence of jumping into a relationship with Jesus, I'll throw in my two cents.

I am with Preston on the subject of relationship, and I think that what we do as humans ought to mirror the example set for us. When an individual has those really big questions - like 'why is there suffering', among others - I think that the key is in our willingness to listen. I passionately believe that it is often more about LISTENING than providing answers.

I think sometimes people ask those big questions because it's safer to go there first, before they can take it to a place where they'll have to be more vulnerable. Like, "Why did God allow something terrible to happen to ME?" "Why did MY father have to die?" As believers, when we give them permission to ask those questions and have a serious exploration of the possible answers (because, truly, I don't think ANY of us can give definitive answers), we open the door to a human relationship that can morph into a spiritual one.

And ultimately, because of the fall, we're all so stinking selfish. We wonder how God can allow children to starve in India, but we become deliriously passionate about our own personal challenges. Our perspective on the big issues changes when our relationship with a God who desires personal involvement with us deepens.

Life isn't fair. Nobody owes you anything. God loves you anyway.

I think most every human understands the first two statements. The last part is the part we get to live out...

Not very theological, but my two cents.

Dean Lusk said...

Wow; these comments are phenomenal. (I think that as the host, I'm probably required to say that, but I really, really mean it...) :)

I loved the way Beth encapsulated things with these statements:

"Life isn't fair. Nobody owes you anything. God loves you anyway.

"I think most every human understands the first two statements. The last part is the part we get to live out..."

I've found that most of my agnostic friends expect people in the church to put up a brick wall and offer either non-sensical or at best, non-thought-out statements. I've found that when I listen (that's sort of a little "proof" of love; I actually care about what they have to say and how they view things) and offer a Christ-follower's perspective, it is almost always warmly received. And God has used these situations a number of times to bring people back to Himself.

beth said...

Credit where credit is due; 'Life isn't fair. Nobody owes you anything. God loves you anyway.' came from a message written by my former pastor, Jamie Rasmussen. I've never forgotten it.

Jonathan said...

Hey dean,

I just went back and read these 2 posts for the first time and thought they were absolutely excellent. Its funny reading this today, beacause a close Christian friend of mine and I had what I would consider a very deep and transparent conversationa bout what he believes, and the truth that Im searching for. I honestly was never more effectively "witnessed" to in my life. I myself being one who questions the world view of Christianity, could not help but see something genuine in what he believed, because its similiar to what I am currently going through.
Lately Ive bee realizing more and more the spiritual dimension of life. This is a dimension that does exist and can be experienced I believe. Ive had a couple of very "spiritual" experiences as of late and all have come by coming in touch with another part of life, one that seems other worldly, but is here and always has been. Ive begun to learn that there is some sort of spirit in me that can in a much deeper sense of these words, "be my compass." Now whether this is the God of the Bible or not, Im not so sure, but Im more open to that thought recently than I have been in a while. That is what my friends believes, and his life experiences make sense of that. He shared his beliefs with me that were caused by EXPERIENCE and not a set of solutions or rules. Ive heard many a pastor say that Christianity is based on faith, not rules and regulations. Then they turn around and tell us to say a prayer for salvation, or trust in a step by step solution for happiness...and thats simlpy not how life works. I know incredibly few people who understand that Christianity is an experience, not a prayer you chose to say. You have faith that God is real because of your experience, (some will have a spiritual experience and not know what it is, this leaves them room to put faith in a God to explain this) not because somebody said there is a God.
So if you guys do go to colleges and witness and stuff like that, I would like to say if you encounter individuals who have thought past the surface of this external world, you will not convince anyone with a sinners prayer or even the story of Christianity. You have to somehow convey an experience with the the spiritual side of life, and that you believe that experience to be attributed to Jesus Christ. How do you do that? You do this by living in the real world and not building a little "Christian" bubble because than you have limited your experience, and you may never be able to communicate your ideas to the lost because it doesnt mesh with what theyve gone through in life. Back to my friend, he has gone through tons of real world challenges in his life, and has struggled through the deeper ideas of Christianity, in this we found a connection and I let my guard down and heard what he was trying to say with my spirit and my experience rather than just words with my ears. Once again, Ive never been "witnessed" to in a more convincing or loving way. It beats the crap out of what most pastors have tried to convey to me from a pulpit, and maybe that means a large amount of Christians dont even understand Christianity at all. If it hasnt been experienced, I dont believe it ever happened.

Dean Lusk said...

Jonathan said, "Ive heard many a pastor say that Christianity is based on faith, not rules and regulations. Then they turn around and tell us to say a prayer for salvation, or trust in a step by step solution for happiness...and thats simlpy not how life works."

Without picking that apart, I know what you mean. I believe people say it and don't understand it: "Christianity is not about rules; it's about a relationship." That's a difficult thing to believe when we've actually been conditioned to believe otherwise.

I was watching a show on "20/20 on We" the other night and the host was interviewing a woman who's husband had been busted for trying to hire a hitman to kill her -- she'd had an affair and confessed it to him. They were both church-goers.

I thought it was telling that each time she answered a "Why?" question from the interviewer, like, "Why would you tell your husband about the affair in the first place?" she would preface her statement with, "In my religion it says..." and none of her answers had anything to do with Jesus Christ.

Paul wrote letters and more letters about this.

Hey, did I get off-topic at my own blog??

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