Tag Archives: Church

How does church appear to someone raised in a non-Christian home?

Church sucks, that's why men are bored there

My friend Wes posted an article about how communication is set up in the church, and why it’s not effective at equipping Christians to defend their worldview in hostile environments. The article describes what I encountered in church, after I was raised in a non-Christian home and become a Christian on my own by reading the New Testament. The view presented in the essay is how I viewed the church, and is probably how most outsiders view church. I think it explains why young people leave the church in droves once they move out of their parents’ houses.

The author writes:

On the Internet, one soon discovers that many respected church leaders are quite unable to deal directly with opposing viewpoints. In fact, many of them can’t even manage meaningful engagement with other voices. Their tweets may be entirely one-way conversations. They talk at their audiences. They can talk about other voices, but fail to talk to them, let alone with them. Their representations of opposing viewpoints reveal little direct exposure to the viewpoints in question.

[…]Around this point, it can start to dawn on one that many church leaders have only been trained in forms of discourse such as the sermon and, to a much lesser extent, the essay. Both forms privilege a single voice—their voice—and don’t provide a natural space for response, questioning, and challenge. Their opinions have been assumed to be superior to opposing viewpoints, but have never been demonstrated to be so. While they may have spoken or written about opposing voices, they are quite unaccustomed to speaking or writing to them (not to mention listening to or being cross-examined by them). There are benefits to the fact that the sermon is a form of discourse that doesn’t invite interruption or talking back, but not when this is the only form of discourse its practitioners are adept in.

Many church leaders have been raised and trained in ideologically homogenous cultures or contexts that discouraged oppositional discourse. Many have been protected from hostile perspectives that might unsettle their faith. Throughout, their theological opinions and voices have been given a privileged status, immune from challenge. Nominal challenges could be brushed off by a reassertion of the monologue. They were safe to speak about and habitually misrepresent other voices to their hearers and readers, without needing to worry about those voices ever enjoying the power to answer them back. Many of the more widely read members of their congregations may have had an inkling of the weakness of their positions in the past: the Internet just makes it more apparent.

One of my friends who comments here as “Wintery’s Friend” actually did his M. Div, and I think it was he who told me that his seminary had dropped the lone course in apologetics that had been part of the curriculum. Now seminary grads don’t learn any opposing views. They just pre-suppose that the Bible is true in the same way that Mormons pre-suppose their Bible is true. It’s a Mormon epistemology that’s been adopted by Christian seminarians.

More:

If one’s opinion has never been subjected to and tried by rigorous cross-examination, it probably isn’t worth much. If one lacks the capacity to keep a level head when one’s views are challenged, one’s voice will be of limited use in most real world situations, where dialogue and dispute is the norm and where we have to think in conversation with people who disagree with us.

The teachers of the Church provide the members of the Church with a model for their own thinking. The teacher of the Church does not just teach others what to believe, but also how to believe, and the process by which one arrives at a theological position. This is one reason why it is crucial that teachers ‘show their working’ on a regular basis. When teaching from a biblical text, for instance, the teacher isn’t just teaching the meaning of that particular text, but how Scripture should be approached and interpreted more generally. An essential part of the teaching that the members of any church need is that of dealing with opposing viewpoints. One way or another, every church provides such teaching. However, the lesson conveyed in all too many churches is that opposing voices are to be dismissed, ignored, or ‘answered’ with a reactive reassertion of the dogmatic line, rather than a reasoned response.

You can imagine that the first questions that you’ll be asked by a non-Christian co-worker would be things like “why think God exists?” and “why think the Bible is history rather than legend?”. What I’ve learned from listening to pastors is that very few are equipped to answer those questions. Most just assume that God exists and that the Bible is inerrant. And they don’t show their work, because they haven’t done the work. Moreover, they actively oppose apologetics as “divisive” and “prideful”. And so their flocks can attend church for 20 years and never learn a single useful piece of information that can be used in a real-world discussion. If you’re wondering why kids raised in married Christian homes start getting drunk and shacking up with atheists the minute they hit college, then look at the pastors who mocked their honest questions instead of preparing to answer them with evidence.

More:

I believe that there are various problems in the Church that are exacerbated by this. Where they are led by voices that can’t cope with difference or challenge, churches will tend to become fissiparous echo chambers, where people are discouraged from thinking critically about what leaders are saying and doing. The integrity of the Church’s theological conversation will not be tested through criticism and challenge. Churches that are led by such leaders will habitually develop polarized oppositions with their critics.

The best sermon series I ever heard that took an evidential approach was by Andy Stanley. In the series, it was apparent that he had read a lot of non-Christians, and that he had thought about how to present Christianity with evidence to non-Christian seekers.

Unfortunately, he was attacked by anti-intellectual fideists, including John Piper, Denny Burk, Russell Moore and Al Mohler. These pious pastors oppose the use of evidence in apologetics, especially scientific and historical evidence. Their approach to Christian teaching is to parrot Bible verses and hope that it has a magical effect of compelling faith in unbelievers. I call this the magic-words view of the Bible. For example, these pastors would not use peer-reviewed evidence from the social sciences when discussing moral issues like premarital sex, they would just cite the Bible’s teaching on it – to non-Christians!

I don’t know about you, but I think that a peer-reviewed paper on the dangers of premarital promiscuity has far more weight than something like this from Denny Burk:

If the Bible is the word of God, then it merely needs to be proclaimed. It has intrinsic power that cannot be nullified by the most hardened of skeptics. For that reason, we can have confidence in proclaiming it to anyone. And we can say “the Bible tells me so” without blushing.

If you had to pick a single passage that explained the decline of Bible-based Christianity in America, you couldn’t find a better passage. What’s most surprising is that this fideistic view of Christianity is not even Biblical. The Biblical view of faith is that faith is trust in God, based on evidence. This is why Jesus offered his own resurrection as evidence to a generation of unbelievers. His miracles were also evidence offered to unbelievers. And the Old Testament is filled with examples of people like Isaiah presenting evidence to unbelievers. The fideist view sounds more like the Mormon “burning of the bosom” view.

I think the Mormon / fideist camp is just imposing their own man-made views onto the text in order to get out of the hard work of having to actually study and prepare to have debates with non-Christians. The motivation is laziness, and piety is just how they dress up their laziness to make it seem positive. Unfortunately, the product of this pious laziness is ignorance, and ignorance costs young people their faith. It doesn’t seem to bother these pastors at all that they can’t have meaningful engagements with non-Christians, or that they don’t equip young Christians to defend themselves. They’re oblivious to the world outside of the church doors.

In conclusion, we really need to stop giving respect to fideist pastors, if we expect to train up a generation of young Christians who are able to retain their faith and have an influence. We would never accept Mormon fideism as a sign of competence in any other real-world area of our lives, e.g. – auto repair, software engineering, surgery or tax law. We shouldn’t accept Mormon fideism as a sign of competence in teaching the Bible, either.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

New study: decline in mainline church attendance linked to progressive theology

Church attendance for progressive denominations in free fall
Church attendance for progressive denominations in free fall

This study was reported in the Weekly Standard, of all places.

Excerpt:

A literal reading of scripture and faith in an interventionist God strengthen church attendance. According to a new academic study of what drives a mainline Protestant church to die out or succeed, preaching these two theological precepts makes all the difference.

The forthcoming article, entitled “Theology Matters,” confirms a truth universally acknowledged, or reasonably intuited anyway. The Christ-optional, Gospel-as-metaphor, liberal-progressive mainline Protestantism borne of our secular age keeps so loose a lock on wandering souls that they wander away—choosing boozy brunch, perhaps, over pew-sitting.

The authors, Drs. David Haskell, Kevin Flatt and Stephanie Burgoyne, used five years’ data gathered from 2,255 attendees of Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and United Church of Canada parishes across the province of Ontario. (The United Church of Canada boasts an ongoing, unsurprising self-parody in an atheist minister no one seems to have ginned up the nerve to defrock.)

Approximately half of the authors’ subjects belong to growing parishes within these three mainline denominations, the other half to shrinking ones. Their most striking survey result finds churchgoers at shrinking parishes more doctrinally committed than their ministers.

That’s true about the atheist woman who is leading one of the denominations into decline:

An ordained minister with the United Church of Canada is resisting efforts to oust her from the pulpit because she is an atheist.

“I don’t believe in … the god called God,” Gretta Vosper told the Globe and Mail. “Using the word gets in the way of sharing what I want to share.”

She said that she believes the Bible is “mythology,” and denies that Jesus is the Son of God.

The United Church of Canada has majored in progressive politics . Progressive politics is more important to them than apologetics and theology. From what I’ve read, their ministers are more likely to affirm the writings of progressive atheists like John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg as “infallible” than the Christian Scriptures. We have similar problems in the USA with ELCA, PCUSA, ECUSA, and other far left denominations.

Church attendance by denomination, ages 23-35
Church attendance by denomination, ages 23-35

Mainline Roman Catholicism, which focuses less on the Bible and more on political goals like Obamacare, climate change alarmism and amnesty is also in decline. They are declining faster than any other denomination.

Here’s a quote from the study that breaks down the theology by change in church attendance:

When asked to agree or disagree with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real, flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb” 93% of growing church pastors agreed, 83% of growing church attendees agreed, 67% of declining church attendees agreed, and just 56% of declining church pastors agreed.

When asked if “God performs miracles in answer to prayer” 100% of the growing church pastors agreed, 90% of the growing church attendees agreed, 80% of the declining church attendees agreed, and just 44% of the declining church pastors agreed.

I think the problem is that when a minister quotes the Bible and espouses traditional theology, people can sense that this teaching is from God, because it is at odds with their selfish desires. They understand the authenticity of it, because it calls them higher. Progressives like Greta Vosper tell people that their current sinfulness is just fine, since the goal of spirituality is to look inside yourself for guidance so that you feel good. But does sinfulness really deliver results over the long term? We were designed by God for righteousness, not selfishness. I am pretty sure that Jesus knows a little more about human nature than Greta Vosper does.

Consider the words of Daniel 2:

1 In the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his mind was troubled and he could not sleep.

2 So the king summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they came in and stood before the king,

3 he said to them, “I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means.”

4 Then the astrologers answered the king, “May the king live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”

5 The king replied to the astrologers, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble.

6 But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.”

7 Once more they replied, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”

8 Then the king answered, “I am certain that you are trying to gain time, because you realize that this is what I have firmly decided:

9 If you do not tell me the dream, there is only one penalty for you. You have conspired to tell me misleading and wicked things, hoping the situation will change. So then, tell me the dream, and I will know that you can interpret it for me.”

10 The astrologers answered the king, “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer.

11 What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.”

12 This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon.

13 So the decree was issued to put the wise men to death, and men were sent to look for Daniel and his friends to put them to death.

14 When Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, had gone out to put to death the wise men of Babylon, Daniel spoke to him with wisdom and tact.

15 He asked the king’s officer, “Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?” Arioch then explained the matter to Daniel.

16 At this, Daniel went in to the king and asked for time, so that he might interpret the dream for him.

17 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.

18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.

19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven

20 and said:

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.

21 He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.

22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.

23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

24Then Daniel went to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to execute the wise men of Babylon, and said to him, “Do not execute the wise men of Babylon. Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him.”

25 Arioch took Daniel to the king at once and said, “I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can tell the king what his dream means.”

26 The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?”

27 Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about,

28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these:

29 “As Your Majesty was lying there, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen.

30 As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than anyone else alive, but so that Your Majesty may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind.

People can see right through progressive “spirituality”. They see that this is man-made humanism designed to make people feel better. They know that this is just one person’s opinion, and not from God. The blind leading the blind, as the Bible says. Greta Vosper isn’t deriving her worldview from a truth-centered investigation of science, history or logic. It’s feelings all the way down, and that’s not useful to people who are looking for objective truth and purpose.

Study: early sexual activity has negative impact on relationship quality and stability

 Do young women understand how to get to a stable marriage?
Do young women understand how to execute a plan to reach a stable marriage?

I’ve posted before about how premarital sex affects the stability of marriages by making divorce more likely. But there has been more research published since. Let’s take a look.

Here a good study on relationship tempo and relationship quality.

Abstract:

Rapid sexual involvement may have adverse long-term implications for relationship quality. This study examined the tempo of sexual intimacy and subsequent relationship quality in a sample of married and cohabiting men and women. Data come from the Marital and Relationship Survey, which provides information on nearly 600 low- to moderate-income couples living with minor children. Over one third of respondents became sexually involved within the first month of the relationship. Bivariate results suggested that delaying sexual involvement was associated with higher relationship quality across several dimensions. The multivariate results indicated that the speed of entry into sexual relationships was negatively associated with marital quality, but only among women. The association between relationship tempo and relationship quality was largely driven by cohabitation. Cohabiting may result in poorer quality relationship because rapid sexual involvement early in the romantic relationship is associated with entrance into shared living.

The authors are from Cornell University and University of Wisconsin – Madison. Prestigious schools, and very far to the left.

Here’s another recent study that shows that if a woman has more partners than just her husband as a premarital sex partner, the risk of divorce increases.

Conclusion:

Using nationally representative data from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, I estimate the association between intimate premarital relationships (premarital sex and premarital cohabitation) and subsequent marital dissolution. I extend previous research by considering relationship histories pertaining to both premarital sex and premarital cohabitation. I find that premarital sex or premarital cohabitation that is limited to a woman’s husband is not associated with an elevated risk of marital disruption. However, women who have more than one intimate premarital relationship have an increased risk of marital dissolution.

Here’s another study that makes it even more clear.

Findings:

Data from the 1988 US National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) were utilized to assess the impact of premarital sexual activity on subsequent marital stability. Among white NSFG subjects first married in 1965-85, virgin brides were significantly less to have become separated or divorced (25%) than women who had not been virgins at marriage (35%).

[…]The lower risk of divorce on the part of white women with no premarital sexual experience persisted even after numerous intervening and background variables were controlled.

And I am going to save the best study for last. This marvelous PDF is from August 2014, and is put out by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. It is comprehensive, and links to many papers from decades ago to the state of the art today. It seems like people are really rushing into sex these days, without much thought. They want to have fun, feel accepted, be like their friends, conform to the culture. But sometimes, it’s better to be practical than to be governed by the desire for fun and thrills. If you want to do something, look at the research and find out what the consequences are before you do it. That’s what a sensible person does.

When it comes to discussing the Bible’s rules on sex, evidence is very important. Evidence is what convinces even non-Christian people to take the Bible seriously when it comes to putting sex in its proper place. That’s why we need to know what the Bible says, and we need to augment that with real-world evidence so that it is applied to our own decision-making, and so that we can be persuasive when discussing it with others.

The Thoroughly Rational Conversion of Michael Minot

C.S. Lewis has some words to live by for you
C.S. Lewis has some words to live by for you

One of the things I’ve noticed hanging around in church on and off the last 20 years or so is that it often seems to be the case the church leaders seem to value some people as leaders more than others. Specifically, it seems to me that church leaders prefer to put athletes and cheerleaders into leadership positions, and they tend to be skeptical of people who have intellectual conversion stories, and intellectual interests. I think I actually got the phrase “jocks and cheerleaders” from Dr. John Mark Reynolds when describing who churches tend to prefer, so I’m not just making this up.

But not everyone sees things that way. Of all the people I’ve met or read, I probably agree with Terrell Clemmons the most. And if I disagree with her, then I usually find out that she is right later on. Pretty much everything she writes about is not only relevant, but practical, which is amazing for a person who writes about topics related to Christian belief and practice. One of the things she likes to write about is the background stories of people who were intelligent and successful as non-Christians, who then went on to become Christians through a careful study of the evidence, and then went on to make a difference through outward-focused enterprises.

Let’s start with this article from Salvo Magazine about a successful atheist lawyer named Michael Minot.

Terrell writes:

Never in his 28 years did Mike Minot imagine he would entertain this unthinkable thought, yet lately of an evening he might easily be found pacing around his house like an awestruck research scientist muttering things like, “It just can’t be! . . . Can it?”

The seismic shift had started quite unexpectedly just a few months prior. He was three years out of law school, and life was great. After years of living on beans and weenies as a student, he had arrived on the scene of success. He had a growing law practice, money in his pocket, and a teeming social life. The world was his oyster.

Then he had received an odd phone call. Normally confident and well-spoken, Jim, whom he’d met while studying for the Florida bar exam, spoke awkwardly, struggling uncharacteristically to get his message out. Finally he got to his point. “Sharon and I have been watching what’s been going on in your life. And we decided we would give you a call and invite you to do something. We believe the Scriptures are very important. They’re very important to our lives, and they’re helpful to us. We know what you think about spiritual matters, but we want to challenge you to take some time at this point in your life and reexamine these things.”

To say Mike was taken aback would be an understatement. He was a perfectly contented atheist, and he had no interest in interrupting his prosperous life to look at anyone’s answers to questions he wasn’t even asking. But he did value the relationship he had with Jim, Sharon, and their two adorable kids. If he were to summarily dismiss this suggestion, what would that do to their friendship? It seemed he should at least put forth a cursory effort, if for no other reason than for the health of the relationship.

First thing to note is that the people who ask Michael to give Christianity a look are successful and intelligent themselves. Not only is Jim studying for the Florida bar exam (so that he has credibility to another lawyer), but Jim’s wife has also given him more credibility by marrying him. Married couples are typically more “grown-up” than singles, and I’m saying that as a chaste single myself who has been successful in education, career and finances. Marriage requires a whole set of behaviors from people that singles don’t have to perform. The point is, though, that Michael is being approached by people from the same professional and social background. He is not being approached by a missionary or a street preacher, but by someone who has been effective in their education, career and marriage.

This really does matter – Christians are often perceived (rightly) as over-emotional, irrational, impractical, and driven more by community than by truth-seeking. It’s very important for Christians who want to produce a return that they not be living with their parents in their 20s, have gap-filled minimum-wage resumes, have $20,000 in student in outstanding student loans from an easy, unused non-STEM degree, and no achievements except zip-lining, skydiving, surfing, and fear-of-missing-out travel.

The journey starts with science:

With no predetermined plan, he delved into both the Scriptures and science. The Scriptures felt intimidating, though, and he was more comfortable with science. Not two weeks in, he found something that totally blew his mind. Ironically, it was something that had been there all along: the solar system—and the mind-boggling precision by which it operates. He marveled at the elegant complexity of it. It appeared way too precise, statistically speaking, to be an accident.

Suddenly, this was no longer a casual exercise. He had to find the natural explanation for the solar system. If he continued on his merry life without it, he would forever live plagued by lingering thoughts that he could be living a lie. Never did he want to go in for a lie, and intellectual honesty demanded that he keep searching.

So he put on his miner’s lighted helmet, so to speak, and went to work. But instead of locating the natural explanation for the solar system, he found himself turning up all manner of equally troublesome phenomena—the fine-tuning of the earth for supporting life, with its balance of nitrogen to oxygen ratios and plate tectonics; the information content of DNA; and the complexities of animal and human life, to name a few. The perplexities mounted, and the whole project snowballed. He would go looking for the explanation for one natural marvel, only to encounter two more crying out for explanation.

If I could communicate one thing to the church, it would be this: whether you agree with the old universe and old Earth timelines or not, everyone who attends church for a decade should be able to state the kalam cosmological argument, the fine-tuning argument, the intelligent design argument, the fossil record argument, and the habitability argument, to the degree where they are naming scientists, discoveries and specific books where the evidence for these arguments are laid out.

Unfortunately, thanks to the “leadership” of many prominent fideist pastors, many Christians have adopted an attitude of outright suspicion to science, preferring instead to pre-suppose the truth of the Bible by blind faith (“the burning of the bosom”, as the Mormons say), and refusing to study anything outside the Bible that might establish the necessary prerequisites to taking the Bible seriously. Successful non-Christian professionals looking to evaluate Christianity, this blind-faith approach is rightly seen as anti-intellectualism.

More:

Other complications did follow, though. He had trustingly believed teachers and authorities who had taught that everything could be explained naturalistically. What else, now, needed to be reexamined? This went beyond science and philosophy to sociology, psychology—everything had to be rethought according to this completely new paradigm. He would later liken it to being planted on a whole new planet.

And his entire social life collapsed in a matter of weeks. But he joined a church, and it became his new social center as well as his spiritual lifeline. He volunteered to serve as a jail chaplain in the evenings, a post he filled to great satisfaction for fifteen years. He met his wife Nichole at church, and they went on to adopt five children. Life settled into a richly rewarding concert of family, jail ministry, and law. Nothing he’d ever envisioned back in his atheist days could match the prosperity of these blessings.

At first glance, it may seem ironic that an atheist committed to seeing everything through the “lens of science” would come back around to see God through the lens of science. But the truth is, it wasn’t science per se that had hidden his Creator from view. Rather, it was the lens of philosophical naturalism imposed onto science—both in education and throughout the broader culture—that had fostered and fueled Mike’s unchallenged atheism.

Naturalism is a philosophy – a philosophical assumption. It’s not science. The origin and design of the universe are science. DNA is science. Habitability constraints are science. The sudden origin of major body plans in the fossil record is science. There are no scientific arguments for atheism. There’s just speculation driven by naturalistic philosophy.

In the end, Minot turns his life around 180 degrees, and puts his intellect and professional abilities to work for the gospel. You can read about all the ways he is making an impact in Terrell’s article in Salvo Magazine. Always remember stories like these when you are making decisions about your own education and career. God is still working, still reaching out to people through science and history, appealing to their minds for a fair hearing, and then asking for their best efforts for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Why did Dan Barker leave Christianity for atheism?

A conflict of worldviews
A conflict of worldviews

Unbelievable’s  radio show featured a discussion with former Christian Dan Barker, the founder and co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The MP3 file is here. (60 minutes)

I thought that I would make some general comments about why I think that many people leave the Christian faith, and what you should be careful of in order to avoid following in Dan Barker’s footsteps, specifically.

Basically, there are four major reasons why people leave Christianity.

  1. They want to do something immoral with impunity. This type of person wants to do something immoral that is forbidden by Christianity, like pre-marital sex or getting drunk in clubs with friends. They dump Christianity in order to have freedom to seek happiness in this life.
  2. They want to make decisions based on their emotions, rather than wisdom. This type of person thinks that God’s job is to save them when they act irresponsibly. When God disappoints them by not make their recklessness “work out”, they leave the faith.
  3. They want to be loved by people, not by God. This type of person thinks that Christianity is a tool that they can use to become popular. When they first try to articulate the gospel in public, they find that people don’t like them as much, and they feel bad about offending people with exclusive truth claims that they cannot back up using logic and evidence. So, they water down Christianity to get along with non-Christians. Finally, they jettison Christianity completely. This happens to a lot of young Christians the moment they hit college / university.
  4. They don’t want to learn to defend their faith. This type of person is asked questions by skeptics that they cannot answer. Usually this happens when people go to university after growing up in the shelter of the Church. The questions and peer pressure make them feel stupid. Rather than investigate Christianity to see if it’s true, they drop it, so they can be thought of as part of the “smart” crowd.

Now listen to the discussion and see if you can identify some of these factors from Barker’s own carefully-prepared words. He is trying very hard to make himself look honest and moderate, because he wants Christians to be sympathetic with his story and his motives for leaving Christianity. But I think that there is enough in his statements to construct a different hypothesis of why he left Christianity.

I’ve grouped the data by risk factor. Some of this is my interpretation of his real motivations, based on my experience dealing with former-Christians.

Non-rational, emotional approach to Christianity

  • he was raised in a devout Christian family where he probably wouldn’t have faced skeptical questions
  • he converted to Christianity at age 15 as a result of a religious experience, not a serious investigation
  • his idea of God was probably idealized and uninformed, e.g. – a loving God who wants us to be happy
  • he wandered around from church to church preaching, with no fixed address or source of income
  • he earned money by collecting “love offerings” from churches where he performed his music
  • he wrote Christian songs and Christian musicals, but nothing substantive on apologetics and theology
  • he worked in three churches known for being anti-intellectual and fundamentalist
  • there’s no evidence that of any deep study of philosophy, science and history during this time

Desire to gain acceptance from non-Christians

  • he began to notice that some people were uncomfortable with sin and Hell
  • he began to avoid preaching about sin and Hell in order to make these people comfortable
  • he watered-down the gospel to focus on helping people to be happy in this life
  • his manic approach to Christian ministry was challenged by the “real life” needs of his growing family
  • he met liberal pastors while performing his music in their churches
  • he found it difficult to disagree with them because they seemed to be “good” people
  • he watered down his message further in order to appeal to people across the theological spectrum

Ignorance of Christian apologetics

  • he began to think that if there are many different views of religion, then no view can be correct
  • he was not intellectually capable of using logic and evidence to test these competing claims to see which was true
  • he decided to instead re-interpret Christian truth claims as non-rational opinions, so they could all be “valid”
  • he became a theological liberal, abandoning theism for an impersonal “ground of being”
  • he embraced religious pluralism, the view that all religions are non-rational and make no testable truth claims
  • he began to see God as a “metaphor” whose purpose is to make people have a sense of meaning and purpose
  • he jettisoned God completely and focused more on helping people find meaning and morality apart from God
  • seems to think that religion is about having a “great life”, and felt that you can have a “great life” without religion
  • seems to think that religion is about being “good”, and felt that you can be “good” without religion
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them what to do instead of letting them do anything they want
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them what is true, instead of letting them believe whatever they want
  • religion makes people feel bad by telling them that God will hold them accountable for their beliefs and actions

So what do I think happened?

Barker was generating an income from donations from churches where he entertained them. Gradually, his family grew to the point where conservative churches were not enough to support him. He had to change his message to appeal to liberal churches in order to cast a wider net.

He seems to have thought that Christianity is about having his needs met and being liked by others. I think he wanted to feel good and to make people feel good with his preaching and singing. But Christianity is not a feel-good religion. It’s not a tool to make people like you. He seems to have become aware that the exclusive claims of Christianity made other people feel offended, so he cut them out. Christian apologists learn how to provide evidence for claims that non-Christians find offensive or hard to believe, but Dan hadn’t studied philosophy, science or history so he couldn’t defend it. It’s hard to speak unpopular truths when you have nothing to back it up except your music composing. Eventually, Dan just quit making the truth claims entirely.

I also think money was a factor. It seems to me that it would have hurt his career and reduced his invitations from liberal churches if he had kept up teaching biblical Christianity. In order to appeal to a wider audience, (like many Christian singers do – e.g. – Amy Grant, Jars of Clay, etc.), he would have felt pressured to water down the unpleasant parts of his preaching and singing. Lacking apologetics skill, he instead abandoned his message. He needed to account for his family’s needs and “real life”, and exclusive truth claims and Hell-talk would have reduced his ability to do that. It seems to me that he should have scaled back his extreme schedule of preaching and singing, and instead gotten a steady job so that he could afford “real life” and a family without being pressured into altering his message. The Christian life requires a certain amount of wisdom that Dan did not have.

Life isn’t a fairy tale. God isn’t there to reward risky behavior. We need to be more shrewd about financial matters so that we have the ability to not care about what people think of us. Look at this blog. I work all day as a senior software engineer with two degrees in computer science, so that I don’t have to rely on donations. Additionally, I save most of what I make in case a tragedy strikes. Since I am financially secure, I can say what I think, and disregard anyone who wants me to change my message because they are offended. Becoming a Christian isn’t a license to behave irrationally and immaturely with money. For some people, (like William Lane Craig), stepping out in faith works. But if it doesn’t work, it’s better to retreat and re-trench, rather than to compromise your message for money.

I actually met someone like Dan Barker recently. She grew up in an anti-intellectual hippy Christian home. Her mother came from a good family, and decided on a whim to marry a non-Christian. Like Barker, the family exalted feelings and irrational expectations of miracles from God for “fearless” acts. She got herself into trouble with alcohol and promiscuity in her 20s, by making emotional decisions and mixing with the wrong crowd. Her way of fixing this was to fly off on a one-year missions trip, wrecking her resume and finances. Now, she is in her late 30s, unmarried, and literally blaming Jesus for putting too many demands on her that she doesn’t have time for, e.g – morning quiet time. This causes her to feel guilty, and make her want to reject Christianity. She had no intellectual conception of basic core doctrines like God’s existence or Jesus’ resurrection, which might have acted as a bulwark against her emotions. When I explained to her how I had structured my education and career so that I could have an influence without testing God, she seemed bored and said that I was too “fearful”.

This is apparently widespread, especially among anti-intellectual denominations. Another ex-Pentecostal atheist woman I heard about from people who knew her when she was young decided to drop out of college to travel around North America doing pro-life work. When she found herself penniless, unmarried and without children in her mid-30s, she decided to have a baby out of wedlock. The government will pay for it, she said. Rather than trying to justify this decision as a Christian, she blamed God for not making her madness “work out”. She is now an atheist, because God did not reward her decision to live fearlessly for him with a husband and children. It was all God’s fault. There is a whole subculture within Christianity, where the pursuit of fun and thrills can be masked with pious language, and all talk of prudence and restraint is seen as cowardice and lack of faith.

The Christian life requires a certain level of intelligence, a certain level of practical wisdom, and a certain level of self-control and discipline. Make sure that you don’t walk away from God because of your own bad choices.