One Way to Make an Atheist

Recently the religion website Patheos carried a guest post with an intriguing story. It was written by Rachael Slick, whose father runs a Christian apologetics ministry. She relates the rigorous and perhaps, at times, extreme training that her father used to make certain that she thought through and knew the all right answers. You can read her entire post here.

Rachael was a model student, from appearances a true believer. But in her words, “This changed one day during a conversation with my friend Alex. I had a habit of bouncing theological questions off him, and one particular day, I asked him this: If God was absolutely moral, because morality was absolute, and if the nature of “right” and “wrong” surpassed space, time, and existence, and if it was as much a fundamental property of reality as math, then why were some things a sin in the Old Testament but not a sin in the New Testament?

“Alex had no answer — and I realized I didn’t either. Everyone had always explained this problem away using the principle that Jesus’ sacrifice meant we wouldn’t have to follow those ancient laws. But that wasn’t an answer. In fact, by the very nature of the problem, there was no possible answer that would align with Christianity. I still remember sitting there in my dorm room bunk bed, staring at the cheap plywood desk, and feeling something horrible shift inside me, a vast chasm opening up beneath my identity, and I could only sit there and watch it fall away into darkness. The Bible is not infallible, logic whispered from the depths, and I had no defense against it. If it’s not infallible, you’ve been basing your life’s beliefs on the oral traditions of a Middle Eastern tribe. The Bible lied to you. Everything I was, everything I knew, the structure of my reality, my society, and my sense of self suddenly crumbled away, and I was left naked.”

You might see some logical problems with Rachael’s question and with the answer that she had been given. One would think that with her upbringing, she would have seen some Biblical gaps as well. It’s surprising that in all the grilling by her father, the question of the law in the Old Testament compared to the New Testament had not been asked and answered in a more careful way.

But was her defective logic the reason that her faith collapsed? Probably not. Having wrestled with many similar questions myself, I know that no matter how reasonably one problem is resolved, there always seems to be another ready to take its place. But I can’t recall ever being shaken badly, even when a satisfying answer was not obvious. Much credit belongs to the grace of God through my father. He was never threatened by my questions. Dad has always seemed to know God well enough to realize that He was not threatened either.

A better question might be this: in what did Rachael Slick trust? If she had a living relationship with God in which she came to trust His personal credibility, why would a single question cause her to lose her faith in Him? Her story suggests to me that the object of her faith was not the Bible or its Author, but rather her own ability to have the right answer to every question.

This unsettling story does not negate the high value of teaching young people to know why they believe the Bible. Nevertheless, the way that we teach them matters. If our faith is in our ability to know the right answer to every question rather than in God Himself, that faith is dangerously misplaced. Our questions and answers should reflect a trust coming from our relationship with Him.

But wait. When we claim a personal relationship with Jesus, what does that mean?  How can we tell if it is really a relationship? An upcoming guest post will suggest a provocative answer to that question. Interested? Watch for “My Invisible Friend.”

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