Thanking the God of Fortuitous Moments

In the days after the 9-11 attacks, I remember thinking, “This could be our new normal.” I wasn’t alone in this. Everyone expected that terrorists would eventually mount another successful effort and strike again. In the early days after 9-11, it was inconceivable to think that we wouldn’t be hit again by a terrorist attack on the homeland.

Nearly ten years later, however, we still haven’t had another major terrorist attack. All of that could change tomorrow, but it is nevertheless remarkable that we still haven’t been hit. Instead what we have seen is a series of failed attempts to attack the homeland. From the shoe-bomber to the Christmas day bomber to this most recent Times Square bomber, none of them has succeeded.

As Americans, we would like to take all of the credit for ourselves and attribute the failed attempts to our nation’s superior intelligence and law enforcement capabilities. It struck me today—as I was reading about how the Times Square bomber nearly got away—that we are not nearly as clever as we would like to think. In nearly all of these failed attempts, there were “fortuitous” moments in which things easily could have gone another way. Would it not be, therefore, the height of arrogance not to thank God for these foiled plots?

God is the God of fortuitous moments. And for whatever reason, He’s allowed us to avert another 9-11 type of disaster over all these years. How long will this last? I do not know. As I said, it could all change tomorrow. But in the meantime, let’s be humble enough to thank God and make kingdom use of the peace that He has given us for as long as it lasts.

Isaiah 45:5-7
5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; 6 That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun That there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, 7 The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.

Lamentations 3:37-39
37 Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, Unless the Lord has commanded it? 38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That both good and ill go forth? 39 Why should any living mortal, or any man, Offer complaint in view of his sins?

Psalm 118:1 Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

42 Responses to Thanking the God of Fortuitous Moments

  1. thatjeremyguy May 5, 2010 at 9:45 am #

    Thanks for sharing this article and reminding us that our protection does not come through armies or police, but ultimately through the Lord God.

    I pray that we would not consider ourselves “lucky” but would repent and petition the Lord for help.

  2. Derek May 5, 2010 at 10:10 am #

    The Fort Hood attack pretty much went off as planned. He killed only 1 less person than the 2 Columbine killers did (12) and injured 31 others.

    Still a lot of unanswered questions on this attack too. It seems that a lot of red flags were ignored with this respect to Hasan.

  3. Doug May 5, 2010 at 10:33 am #

    Wow! Denny! Those scripture passages at the end, strung together like that. Powerful!

    Thank you for the reminder.

  4. Greg May 5, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    I would agree with Derek. Ft. Hood would qualify as being hit for sure. I am sure that the relatives of the victims would agree as well.

  5. David Vinzant May 5, 2010 at 1:43 pm #

    The longer I’m out of the Christian bubble, the harder time I have understanding this type of “reasoning.” You can’t have it both ways. If God is to be credited with foiling terrorist attacks, helping planes and cars operate safely, and bringing us good weather, he must also be blamed for every successful terrorist attack, every plane or car that crashes, and bad weather that kills hundreds of thousands.

    If it is God protecting us from terrorists, then it was God who failed to protect those killed when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center. Supporters of Osama bin Laden believe that God fortuitously helped the 19 martyrs in order to fulfill his will.

    If armies and police aren’t the ones protecting us, why don’t we just disband them?

    Our freedom from serious terrorist attacks is due to the incompetence of the terrorists, the success of our offensive operations against Al Qaeda, and the vigilance of law enforcement and intelligence operatives.

  6. Denny Burk May 5, 2010 at 1:50 pm #

    Derek and Greg,

    After I wrote this post, I too thought about the Fort Hood attack. You are correct that it was a successful terrorist attack. In my post, however, I had in mind attacks on the homeland that are planned and directed by foreign agents. I know Hasan sought spiritual guidance from Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, but Hasan remains the sole suspect in that incident. The Fort Hood incident, therefore, is in a different category (as horrific as it was).

    Thanks for raising a good point.

    Denny

  7. Denny Burk May 5, 2010 at 2:13 pm #

    David (#5),

    Your comment raises two questions:

    (1) Is God in control of calamities? Or does He sovereignly control even the bad things that happen to us?
    (2) Is God to be “blamed” or considered in the “wrong” for His sovereign control over the bad things that happen to us?

    Your comment reflects the conventional wisdom that if the answer to question 1 is “yes,” then the answer to question 2 has to be “yes” as well. But that is not the logic of the scriptures. The Bible answers question 1 with a “yes,” but with an emphatic “no” to question 2.

    Over and over the Bible teaches that God sovereignly directs all that happens in the world. For example, take a close look at the two texts that I quoted above (Isaiah 45:5-7; Lamentations 3:37-39). Also, consider Ephesians 1:11, which says that God “works all things after the counsel of His will.” Note that it’s all things. God controls and directs everything that happens so that it works out with His plan and Providential will. Along with this, the Bible is equally clear that God is holy (Isaiah 6:3; John 17:11; Revelation 4:8), righteous (2 Chronicles 12:6; Ezra 9:15; Psalm 7:11; 11:7), and good (Matthew 19:17).

    The Bible clearly affirms that God is both sovereign and good. In fact, I would summarize the Bible’s teaching in this way. God from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass, and perpetually upholds, directs and governs all creatures and all events; yet so as not in any wise to be the author or approver of sin nor to destroy the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures.

    Thanks,
    Denny

  8. Matthew Staton May 5, 2010 at 2:14 pm #

    David, would it be correct to say that on your reasoning, the whole notion of “Psalms of Orientation” and “Psalms of Disorientation” would be unnecessary?

  9. Derek May 5, 2010 at 2:16 pm #

    Denny,
    I still agree with your overarching message here, so point well taken.

    Remember how traumatized the nation was after Columbine? It was a major event for many months. Yet only weeks after Hasan killed just one less person than Dylan and Klebold, he was practically yesterday’s news. And there is apparently no urgency to understand how this happened or to examine Hasan’s Islamic beliefs, influences and connections, here and overseas.

    A great illustration of how powerful the media is – if the media doesn’t consider it a major event, it isn’t.

  10. David Vinzant May 5, 2010 at 3:38 pm #

    Matthew,

    I’m not familiar with those terms.

  11. David Vinzant May 5, 2010 at 3:45 pm #

    Denny,

    You are probably not surprised to hear that I think your statement that “God . . . directs and governs all creatures and all events; yet so as not . . . to destroy the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures” to be self-refuting.

    Furthermore, if the bad things are just as much God’s will as the good things, then why don’t you write a column thanking God for September 11 and abortion. Do you just thank him when it seems good to you? You are not that far from Fred Phelps.

  12. Mitch May 5, 2010 at 5:00 pm #

    David,

    Another great set of comments from you. Please keep them coming so that we heathens can look out for one another in the blogosphere. As a fellow unbeliever, I couldn’t agree more with most of your comments. For me, there is no way the bible or any other text is going to square the proposition that “god controls everything, good and bad, but bad things that happen aren’t god’s fault.” So, I’m 100% with you that Denny’s statements in #7, while eloquent, are essntially conclusive double talk intended to soothe those faithful but weak-minded christians who can’t stand to think about anything that might cast their deity in anything but a flattering light. As to your last point though, I think it’s important for you and all of the other readers here to know that Denny is most certainly no Fred Phelps. He may share Phelps’ deep seated hatred of gay people but Denny would never, in a million years, engage in the disgusting activities of the notorious Phelps clan. I know this because I have known Denny for 25 years. We grew up together and I know him to be an good man and loyal friend. Aside from the Phelps comparison, I have to give you an “amen” much to the lament of the readers here who are obligated to pray for our wretched souls irrespective of the fact that they despise us (though there are sure to be numerous comments from christians saying they don’t hate us blasphemers but that they love us and are praying for us).

  13. Brian Krieger May 5, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

    David:

    We don’t pray and thank God for sin. We thank God that His plan is ordained and that good comes despite sin. We are sorrowful when we lose a loved one to . But we thank God that His plan works so that the pain is not wasted. While I mourn the loss of my uncle, I rejoice because he was driven from his self-sufficiency. I mourn that my wife left me but I rejoice that my pride was proven to be the poison that it was. I mourn the loss of a young family member, but I rejoice not in know exactly how God worked out His promise in Romans 8, but that I know He is faithful to work out Romans 8. God’s love is not something that words can convey. It is something that is steadfast in a world that is rife with a lack of assurance. And I know, to you, perhaps, it is a crutch. To many who have been beaten down by life, it may be an impossibility. To those who have been in church and been hurt by those who claim Christ it is all but a disappearing vapor. I say this because, well, mostly, my guess is that is how you view it. But I would also implore you to seek someone out who really knows God. Dr. Burk, as well as he can articulate the characteristics of God (and he does so in a far superior manner than I!) can not, through his website, put his arm around you to ask what’s going on in your life. As well as Derek (or Darius or Don or whomever) may be able to give an apologetic for the assurance of God’s promises, but through his comments he can’t look you in the eyes and weep with you because you lost your wife. So seek out that relationship and watch on a personal lever as someone trusts in God in all things.

    Meanwhile, I’m sure many (including me) will continue to engage you in your questions, but flat static words only convey a tiny portion of what is to be said about God and his love.

    Also, I would suggest you listen to Piper’s words on 9/11. Powerful.

  14. Brian Krieger May 5, 2010 at 5:32 pm #

    Mitch:

    Though you perhaps find it hard to believe, I doubt anyone here despises you or David. You did hit the nail on the head as yes, I presume that I along with many keep you in our prayers. That is the most powerful thing we can do. And those who love Christ would also engage you in conversation as best as we can (which, in my case is definitely on the low end of the totem pole). So, just an observation. Dr. Burk never said anything about “fault”. He did state that Over and over the Bible teaches that God sovereignly directs all that happens in the world. In a totally inadequate manner (but, I think, still applicable), I would posit my experience as a father. I may let someone take that lead-laden Chinese toy away from my little one. That makes him terribly unhappy. If he were to articulate it, I dare say that he would say it’s a sin for that person to take a toy away. And yet it worked out for his own good. God’s working isn’t always apparent to us. Sometimes it is, sometimes not. We don’t know why He allowed a sinful circumstance to wreak sorrow in my life (or anyone else’s). And too often I wail and bemoan beyond what I should. But I know I should trust in His promises. Doesn’t make it easy, mind you.

  15. David Hamilton May 5, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

    Thanks Dr. Burk,

    and Amen!

  16. David Vinzant May 5, 2010 at 6:37 pm #

    OK – I was over-the-top on the Fred Phelps comparison. My apologies. I did not mean to suggest that Denny would do the things that Phelps and his clan do. My point was that the notion that God sent the 9/11 attack as a punishment on America (for homosexuality, abortion, MTV, Disney, the Bush election) derives from a very similar theology. Perhaps the comparison should have been made to Falwell or Robertson.

  17. David Vinzant May 5, 2010 at 7:40 pm #

    Thanks for the concern, Brian, but my unbelief has nothing to do with any personal misfortune or bad treatment by Christians. Indeed, I was as happy, blessed and confident a Christian as anyone I knew for thirty-some-odd years. For the last twelve of those years, I was a full-time minister. My deconversion was entirely related to the realization that Christianity simply was not true. I am glad that your beliefs bring you comfort, but I found it impossible to make myself believe something I no longer thought was true.

  18. Brian Krieger May 5, 2010 at 10:38 pm #

    As you would expect, I find great sorrow in that. And I am surprised to hear that is how you came to your unbelief (as my comment gives away, of course!). I still say seek someone out as above. If for no other reason, you can have an occasional sparring partner ;-).

    Just out of curiosity, what drives your unbelief?

  19. Stephen May 5, 2010 at 11:13 pm #

    The Wall Street destruction of our financial system doesn’t count?

    The BP oil spill doesn’t count?

    The Arizona attack on ethnic minorities doesn’t count?

    Terrorists can be white too.

  20. andy May 6, 2010 at 11:42 am #

    David, Mitch, and others:

    (No sarcasm intended here) I have wondered before, and am wondering again if, in your case, someone was able to refute your every objection to belief in Christ, proove him (empirically, through clever reasoning, or otherwise) to be the only Savior of the world, make his love, mercy, wrath, justice, etc. exceedingly clear, and adequately explain your personal need for him, would you then believe in Christ? If not, why not? Who do you want Jesus to be?
    Again, no sarcasm intended here; I would appreciate your honest response. Thanks.

  21. David Vinzant May 6, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

    Brian,

    I’m driven by an almost obsessive desire for truth.

    Andy,

    Yes, I absolutely would. I would love to be able to believe those things. I certainly did not become an atheist because it was an easy or attractive path. It cost me my career, many friends, and almost my family. I came to the position where I had to choose between what I saw to be a comfortable myth or the uncomfortable truth. I went with what I believed to be the truth.

  22. Micah May 6, 2010 at 1:29 pm #

    David – I understand and respect your pursuit of truth.

    From my observation it is interesting how people can be driven just as urgently by this same desire and yet come to many different conclusions.

    Would you agree that people driven with the same level of obsessive desire for truth as you could come to a different conclusion?

  23. andy May 6, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    David,

    Thanks for being candid. I admire the strength of your convictions.

    Three more questions, then I’ll be done:

    If you would be swayed by arguments and evidence, then what now prevents you from coming to Christ? Do you think you are too settled in your atheism to turn back (again, as it were)? Have you just not met anyone who is able to articulate their Christian faith in a persuasive way?

  24. David Vinzant May 6, 2010 at 2:50 pm #

    Micah,

    I do agree. I was a very convinced believer as are almost all of my relatives. I grew up in Austin, Texas just down the street from Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s headquarters and was convinced that I could convert her if she’d just give me 30 minutes. I also thought that I could reason with Catholics, Presbyterians and even Southern Baptists to bring them to salvation. Later I realized that they and even Mormons and Muslims were just as convinced as me that they had the truth.

    One of the main things that drove me to re-examine my beliefs was the realization that so many sincere and intelligent people had such different and mutually exclusive beliefs. Clearly they couldn’t all be right, but why would God not reveal himself and his will in a way that was clear and convincing to everyone who sincerely sought to obey him? I eventually decided that people’s beliefs were a very complex thing, based on the family and country they grew up in, the influences around them, the resources available to them and their own willingness to learn. Most people IMO just don’t have the resources, time or inclination to seriously question what they have been taught and to examine all aspects of their belief system. I am now convinced that anyone who has the intelligence, determination and courage to do these things will eventually become an atheist.

    Andy,

    The lack of such arguments and evidences prevents me from returning to Christianity. I would willingly and eager return to the Christian faith if I thought it were true. I have known and read hundreds of Christians who can articulate their faith very persuasively. I grew up in a missionary family. My dad and many relatives are preachers, church leaders or missionaries. I have a BA in Bible, and M.Div. and a D.Min from Christian universities. It’s certainly not a matter of not being exposed to Christian arguments. It is my conviction that those arguments ultimately fail. I am further convinced that if Christians would read just a few books pointing out the weaknesses of Christianity, most of them would deconvert. The success of Christianity is not based on its rational superiority, but its emotional appeal (fear of hell, promise of a better life here and heaven for eternity, community of nice people, pressure to conform to family desires). Most Christians (and those of other religions, for that matter) I know are very nice people who sincerely believe what they have been taught.

  25. Derek May 6, 2010 at 3:13 pm #

    David, you said:

    I am now convinced that anyone who has the intelligence, determination and courage to do these things will eventually become an atheist.

    There are more than a few intelligent, educated former atheists who would disagree with you, including C.S. Lewis and Malcolm Muggeridge. I live in Illinois and we have a couple of well known Chicagoan authors who converted from atheism, Mortimer Adler and Lee Strobel. Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s own son William became a Christian a number of years ago. He’s written at length about how and why he cannot believe as his mother did.

  26. John Holmberg May 6, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

    David,

    Just curious, did you grow up fundamentalist? I only ask because the way you describe things lead me to think that you’re reacting more against a fundamentalist Western Christianity rather than Christianity itself. Were you ever exposed to a guy like C.S. Lewis or N.T. Wright?

  27. andy May 6, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

    I guess it’s safe to say that the things of God are foolish to the unbelieving man (2 Cor 2:14).

    And,
    The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18).

    If we Christians are mistaken, then, indeed, we are to be pitied more than all men.

    Thanks for your time and honesty, David, you have been helpful.

  28. Micah May 6, 2010 at 5:06 pm #

    David – Thanks for your response! I’d like to consider myself an obsessive truth seeker as well. Throughout my life i’ve gone through many peaks and valleys with respect to belief.

    I disagree with your final assesment as stated below:

    I am now convinced that anyone who has the intelligence, determination and courage to do these things will eventually become an atheist.

    I could imagine being an agnostic…afterall, there is a lot of data out there…it’s easy to make compelling arguments one way or another. At the end of the day, though there is no way to prove god exists or doesn’t exist. It seems that by choosing the athiest position you are taking a similar “leap” of faith to the “leap” i’m taking in being a Christian.

    It’s difficult for me to look at the cosmological evidence and come to the conclusion that there is definitely no god. Obviously, this doesn’t necessitate belief in the Christian God. I’ve considered the evidence and made a a separate decision to become a Christian.

    Why would you describe yourself as an athiest instead of an agnostic?

  29. David Vinzant May 6, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    Micah,

    I would agree that being an agnostic is a tenable position. For me, I have seen no evidence that a god exists. Some make the following distinction:

    weak atheism = lack of belief in god

    strong atheism = belief that there definitely isn’t a god

    Using this definition, I would be a “weak atheist” – though I don’t like that term since it suggests a weakness in one’s conclusions.

    I have heard – even recently on this blog – some suggest that it is arrogant to say a god doesn’t exist since one would need to be omniscient to know that. Yet, every Christian I know insists that no gods exist besides theirs. That seems to me equally arrogant. Christians are atheists (and were called such in the 1st century) with regards to every god but one. I just go one god further than they do.

    It doesn’t really doesn’t take any more of a “leap” than disbelieving that the inside of the moon is made of dark chocolate or that leprachauns and unicorns are dancing playfully in some hidden forest. Those things are possible but so improbable as to be commonly regarded as impossible. Can I be 100% sure that no god exists? No, but then I don’t think anyone can be 100% sure of anything. I would say I’m 99.99% sure that no god exists, with an even higer degree of confidence that a personal God (including the Christian God) does not exist. Does that make me an agnostic? If so, I can live with that.

    Derek,

    Instead of “anyone,” I should have said “most people.” I have noticed that many of those who do make adult conversions from atheism to Christianity or another religion are often people who weren’t necessarily well-grounded or knowledgeable about the arguments for atheism. In the cases of CS Lewis and Lee Strobel, for instance, I get the impression that they weren’t exactly experts on atheism when they decided to abandon it for Christianity. Strobel, in his books at least, only interviews conservative Christians – he doesn’t seem to seek out the top critics of Christianity for their counter-arguments. He gives the “Case for Christ” but he never presents the “Case Against Christ.” It’s sort of like being a juror in a case in which only one side gets to present its case. That’s fine – he’s selling books to Christians – but he shouldn’t pretend that he’s objectively presenting both sides of an argument.

    By contrast, I know of many people who were deeply committed and knowledgable Christians – preachers, Bible professors and such – who have become atheists. These are people who knew both sides of the argument very well.

    The only case I know of (there are, I’m sure, others) where someone deeply knowledgeable about atheism converted to theism is Anthony Flew. In his case, he became something like a Deist. He maintained his strong conviction that a personal god did not exist.

  30. Micah May 6, 2010 at 11:48 pm #

    David – I’m betting that you believe ‘Does God exist?’ is a more transcendent and important question than your moon and leprechaun questions?? Let’s be honest…no serious person would consider the questions you mentioned but plenty of serious people will discuss the God question and will fall on all sides of the issue (case in point – this blog discussion).

    For you to say that you are 99.9% confident that God does not exist is a pretty bold statement. I’m not sure what data you could be drawing upon to come to this conclusion. For many years I’ve worked as a strategic analyst for a technology company. In all my time on the job I’ve never come close to answering any question with 99.9% certainty…and the questions that I’m dealing with are much less weighty than the God question. I really find it difficult to believe that you can honestly say that you are 99.9% certain that god does not exist.

    I’m a Christian and i don’t think i could say that I’m 99.9% sure that God does exist. In my opinion, the data just isn’t there to be so certain in either direction (i think I’m a natural skeptic).

    I guess belief and certainty are two different variables in this equation. We can each believe something (you that there is no God and me that there is a Christian God) and have varying levels of certainty with regard to our belief (you seem to be taking a bigger leap than i am given your higher level of certainty). So I’ll grant that you can be an atheist without 100% certainty since I’m a Christian without 100% certainty:)

    I’m really enjoying this discussion and look forward to your thoughts on the above.

  31. Derek May 7, 2010 at 1:17 am #

    David,
    Considering your repeated appeals for others to keep an open mind, you’re painting with an awfully broad brush, by categorically dismissing atheists who convert to Christianity. Seems to me that you’d be more honest and credible proponent of atheism if you’d simply admit that people will come to their own conclusions as opposed to claiming “only the smart people will end up where I am”.

    Now, I happen to agree with you that Christians can and do fall into a sort of dogmatism that doesn’t allow honest inquiry or doubt to penetrate our minds. This is a mistake. People who seek to shut off dialogue are not paying attention to Scripture, where we see real people struggling with real issues, real pain and yes… doubt. Actually, one of the things that draws me to Scripture is that we confront real people, not mannequins.

    One note about Strobel- I’ve only read one of his books, but I do remember the centerpiece of “The Case for Christ” was an interview with Charles Templeton, a friend of Billy Graham’s who abandoned the faith. So you’ve exaggerated/misrepresented him here (by saying he only talks to conservative Christians) and I think this should be pointed out.

  32. David Vinzant May 7, 2010 at 1:45 am #

    Micah,

    I used the 99.99% figure just to represent that I have a very high level of confidence that there are no gods. If you want to make it 99% – that’s fine.

    Derek,

    I just checked and Strobel did indeed interview Templeton – not for “The Case for Christ” but for “The Case for Faith.” However, the interview was the introduction for the book’s real meat: a vigorous apologetic for conservative Christianity. Strobel reveals that Templeton was 83 years old and very sick – he had been suffering from Alzheimers for three years already. After talking to Templeton, Strobel says he “resolved to track down the most knowledgable and ardent defenders of Christianity . . . I wanted to give them ample opportunity to spell out their reasoning and evidence in detail so that, in the end, I could evaluate whether their positions made sense.” (p. 23)

    I think my main point stands – Strobel did not seek out the most knowledeable and ardent atheists. He decided to look for expert witnesses on only one side of the debate.

  33. Micah May 7, 2010 at 11:08 am #

    David – I don’t think there is enough information for you to be so confident that god does not exist.

    Obviously, coming to decisions is more complicated than simply analyzing the data. Your experiences, biases, emotions play a large part.

    I’ve observed that people that are so confident about something are typically influenced by these ‘unmeasurables’ more than they are willing to admit.

    Are you willing to elaborate on your decision process…maybe hit some highlights? In other words, what made you come to a realization that Christianity simply was not true?

  34. David Vinzant May 7, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    Micah,

    I could (and someday might) write a book about the process of my deconversion and the various issues I wrested with. Here’s a very short summary.

    I first began having serious questions in graduate school over three issues: the canon, hell and evolution. My classes in apologetics, doctrine, and church history awakened me to the fact that our confidence in the integrity of the canon is based on the views of the church fathers and councils of the 2nd to 4th centuries. I learned that there were serious disputes over the canon among various factions of Christianity (Gnostics, Marcionites, Ebionites, etc.) and even among the Orthodox group after the others were eliminated. It struck me as odd that we relied on the word of men such as Origen and Tertullian to determine the canon, yet we completely rejected their views on other key issues (hierarchy, baptism, miracles, you name it). We even rejected their views on another part of the canon: the Apocrypha. I was told that we just had to accept the current Protestant canon and “have faith.” I was troubled that our faith was not in God, or even in Paul or Luke or John, but our faith was in the men who decided which books should be included because they believed them to be authoritative. Despite these serious misgivings, I put the entire issue of the canon on my “back burner,” to be dealt with later.

    A second issue which I shelved had to do with evolution. I had been an ardent creationist in my high school days. I read many of the creationist books by Henry Morris and others. I even called a talk radio show once and expounded on why the second law of thermodynamics precluded evolution. Bit by bit over the years I came to realize that the evidence for evolution is pervasive, consistent and massive. It is a theory (in the same sense that gravity, relativity, and heliocentricity are theories) based on facts. Creationism is neither a cohesive scientific theory nor is it based on facts (even the Supreme Court understands this). In fact, it is impossible to speak of a Creation Theory, since the creationists themselves are sharply divided among Young Earths, Old Earths and Progressive Creationists (not to mention the creationist views of Hindus, American Indians and other religions).

    The third issue, and the one that I couldn’t put on the back burner, concerned hell. Until graduate school I was a dedicated believer in the reality of an eternal hell for every person who did not believe. That conviction fueled my ardent attempts at soul-winning in junior high, high school and college. I was convinced that nothing else mattered in comparison to their eternal destiny. As a teenager I went on a tear about all the possessions we owned that were unnecessary and could be sold to finance evangelism. Do we have to have a couch? Is this lamp really essential? I must have been a joy to live with. It took me a while to realize that one could be just somewhat concerned about hell and still enjoy ice cream, cappuccinos and movies with only a small amount of guilt over the damned.

    By graduate school, I was no longer able to keep this matter on the back burner. I realized that our view condemned the very men we were studying (Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, even the church fathers who determined the canon!) to hell. I couldn’t imagine C.S. Lewis in hell, even the mild and unorthodox one he created in The Great Divorce.

    It’s difficult to pinpoint a single event or issue that triggered my eventual decision to abandon Christianity. There were many issues that all seemed to coalesce: those mentioned earlier (inspiration, evolution, hell), plus others such as the ineffectiveness of prayer, biblical contradictions, the immorality of God in the Old Testament, absurd statements of Jesus, and the fact that so many sincere believers disagreed on so many fundamental doctrines.

  35. Micah May 7, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

    Thanks David! Many of these issues are similar to the ones i’ve struggled with over the years. I think i’ve taken a similar journey to yours.

    Here are my thoughts on the main 3 topics you mentioned:

    Evolution
    I believe this is the most probable biological process for the ascent of mankind. I don’t believe that this is in conflict with teaching in the Bible. I believe that God created in a different way than some Christians are comfortable believing. There are many followers of Christ who would be considered “evolutionists”.

    Canon
    I don’t believe that one’s definition of the Canon helps determine whether they are a Christian or not. I believe Roman Catholics and protestants can be Christians. I would also suggest that there are probably many people who are Christians that don’t know they’re Christians (maybe i have some Inclusivistic tendencies).

    Hell
    In my opinion the ratio of theology to scripture on this topic is pretty high:) In other words, i acknowledge that the Bible says a few things about Hell but i would find it hard to draw the conclusions that have been drawn over the centuries on this topic. I don’t have a strong opinion on hell but i don’t believe having the right theology in this area is essential to avoiding hell 🙂

    If i’m to summarize the common thread among your objections, it seems that they all relate to things you’ve been taught…many of things dictating that there is only 1 way to believe in order to be considered a Christian and avoid hell. When bouncing many of these teachings off the message of Jesus, most of the ideas don’t really hold water.

  36. Derek May 7, 2010 at 7:32 pm #

    I’ve known several friends who have turned away from Christ. I realize we don’t draw our final conclusions from anecdotes, but I have noticed a pattern among those who turn away – that they tend to use intellectual doubts as a smokescreen to mask an underlying problem with sin in their life. They always say that the moral problems were not the issue, but having observed their lives years later, I don’t think they were being honest with themselves or other people. I’ve also noticed that they don’t seem to really be at peace with themselves and the world. Reading David’s comments here and in many of Denny’s other blog entries, I see a similar anger and bitterness. I’m sure David will disagree and I don’t know him so that increases the likelihood that I might be wrong here – but his demeanor, lack of objectivity and dogmatism does seem to fit a pattern I’ve seen play out in my own circles and experience.

  37. David Vinzant May 8, 2010 at 12:11 am #

    You are wrong Derek. From my perspective, I am always amazed at how many Christians cannot accept that someone has deconverted for intellectual reasons. They always want to believe that it was really because they were dying to commit some sin. Perhaps that makes them somehow feel more secure about their own faith. Anecdotal evidence is indeed unreliable, but in my experience, it is the Christians who display poor demeanor, lack of objectvity and dogmatism.

  38. Derek May 8, 2010 at 12:31 am #

    Yes, David- you are clearly an exception to the rule. I’ve noticed that from the hundreds of your posts – on this blog alone – that you are very objective and free of dogmatism. 🙂
    Glad to hear that your atheism has brought you such a tremendous sense of peace and tranquility with others and the world. We really appreciate you taking this time to bless us with some of the serenity you have to share.

  39. David Vinzant May 9, 2010 at 12:21 am #

    I have my opinions about you too, Derek, but I find that ad hominem attacks, besides being incredibly rude, are also usually ineffective.

  40. Derek May 9, 2010 at 9:37 am #

    David,
    You mean ad hominem attacks, for instance where you categorically dismissed the credibility of any adult who converted from atheism to Christianity (29)?
    Or like how in post #11, where you linked Denny and basically all Reformed believers with Fred Phelps?
    Yeah, I see what you mean. That is a pretty ineffective way to make a compelling and winsome argument.
    In post #36, I specifically stated that we cannot make categorical statements about all atheists. But I’ve had many months to observe your demeanor and I was simply noting how consistent it is with what I’ve personally witnessed. I even said that I could be wrong about my beliefs, because I do not know you personally. Would it have been ad hominem if I had made such a connection without observing dozens of your posts to see a pattern of tone and perspective? Sure. But I didn’t. You can go back through all of Denny’s posts and see that I have not made such assertions.

  41. David Vinzant May 9, 2010 at 5:52 pm #

    Derek,

    In post #16, I apologized for comparing Denny to Fred Phelps. In post #29, I modified what I said about Christians converting:
    “Instead of “anyone,” I should have said “most people.”

    If there are other places where you think I have made ad hominem attacks, please point them out. I try not to make judgments about any individual’s character or integrity. I am sure I have sometimes failed, but I do try to correct those instances whenever possible.

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