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"I Kissed Faith Goodbye:" What to Make of Those Who Renounce Jesus Christ

"I Kissed Faith Goodbye:" What to Make of Those Who Renounce Jesus Christ

The Village Atheist

Dr David Berlinski, Ph.D. from Princeton University, is a secular Jew, now residing in Paris. A world-renowned mathematician and a public intellectual, Dr. Berlinski has been welcomed into the rarified atmosphere of the highest echelons of global scientists. However, this remarkable man is as unimpressed by the accolades of the global scientific community as others are envious of his prodigious intellectual capacity. Berlinski was elected as senior fellow at the Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and the Institute Des Hautes Études Scientifiques, to name but a few of his numerous prestigious associations. Dr. Berlinski has authored numerous scientific peer-reviewed papers, as well as several bestselling books such as A Tour of the Calculus, Newton‘s Gift, and The Devil’s Delusion.

But here is the thing: David Berlinski is exceedingly cranky about fellow scientists sporting their starched-white lab coats, stuffy signs of self-bestowed authority, to sell atheism as undebatable fact. Berlinski rejected Darwinism years ago. He also has criticized scientists’ hubris in supposing that random genetic activity across thousands (“millions”) of years can produce, for instance, the human brain. Recently, something else has bothered him. You see, Berlinski is one ticked-off math professor over the uptick in scientific “militant atheism,” Remember: Dr. David Berlinski is a non-practicing Jew. However, he has written that Judeo-Christian explanations for the origin of the universe are coherent and consistent through the 66 books of the Bible. Darwinism is not. Atheism is built on ideology rather than logical, coherent, and cohesive evidence. This curmudgeonly academic holds particular disdain for scientists behaving like fascists. He views the pronouncements of the new atheists like Richard Dawkins, Stephen Atkins, Steven Weinberg, among others, as smug “comical declarations.” Their pseudoscience is all the more repugnant because “assent is demanded.” But Berlinski is not buying it. He sees their campaign to make atheists on the basis of their ability to memorize the Periodic Table as an incorrigible act of scientific malpractice. Their campaign to disavow Jude’s-Christian Scripture, in particular, is Darwinian McCarthyism. To make sure there will never be “a Divine Foot in the door” these men of science have closed the door on God and in doing so have become peddlers of “absurdity.” Dr. Berlinski, wrote:

"Some of this represents nothing more than the reappearance of that perennial literary character, the village atheist, someone prepared tediously to dispute the finer points of second Corinthians in time taken from spring planting. A little philosophy, as Francis Bacon observed, inclined with man's mind atheism. A very little philosophy is often all that is needed. In a recent BBC program entitled a brief history of unbelief, the host, Jonathan Miller, and his guest, of the philosopher Colin McGinn, engaged in a veritable orgy of competitive skepticism, so much so that in the end, the viewer was left wondering whether either man believes sincerely in the existence of the other." (The Devil's Delusion, pp. 2-3)

Such are the antics of this ubiquitous creature, the village atheist.

The role of the village atheist is sometimes portrayed by one who was once the village vicar. Whatever irony might exist in such a role reversal is irretrievably lost in visceral pity. The Vicar-Atheist part is admittedly disturbing. Indeed, such a disturbing transformation appears to make his venom all the more poisonous, his sarcasm all the more sharp, and his wit all the more cutting. Such disabuse of holy orders to assume a newfound militant atheism makes his presence seem dangerous. The vicar’s "conversion” to unbelief frightens the villagers into thinking that such could happen to their own children, their own pastor, or, God forbid, to themselves. What strange powers are at work which would capture even the most notable Christian in the hamlet? I don’t think Frank Baum would mind us borrowing his character’s surprising scene to answer that question. For there is no strange enchantment at work in the Vicar-Atheist. Pull back the curtain of fear and mystery and you will see: the mighty Wizard of Oz is just a pathetic little figure pulling levers and turning dials. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

All of this upheaval in the village is quite profitable for the mission of the village atheist. He trades on the coinage of fear. He owes his existence to self-doubt. However, the role of the village atheist is unattractive, even grotesque. The great and powerful figure laughs with cavernous echoes in his wake but the little fellow behind the curtain is invariably and enormously depressed. Somewhat like the village joker, the village atheist plays tricks, uses sleight-of-hand, pokes fun at Faith and the Faithful, but he is, in truth, merely a desperately lonely man. In the end, the village atheist is nothing more than the village idiot.

Now, I am reflecting on the character of the village atheist and the unmasking efforts of Dr. David Berlinski because I think the ideas and metaphors are relevant as we think through a top story in the evangelical Christian press. The recent public disavowal of faith in Jesus Christ by a noted author who once famously wrote that he "kissed dating goodbye," should neither frighten you nor surprise you. The Bible is replete with such examples. Whether Dimas, who denied the faith, or Alexander the coppersmith, who did St. Paul's much harm, or Judas Iscariot himself — the quintessential village atheist — the Word of God is unquestionably transparent about the fact that there are those who were among this who are now departed for they were never truly a part of us. This, the Scriptural anchor for this reality:

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19 ESV).

We might also say that there are those among us who depart from us, swept away by the folly of their ways, and are drawn by the Holy Spirit back into the fold. Our Lord Jesus wrote of those who had ostensibly fallen away, but who needed to repent and return:

“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).

Those Who Depart and Those Who Return

So, there are those who depart from the Faith because they never truly had it. And there are those who fall for a season but are returned to the Flock. There are no other categories. If you tell me that someone has left the faith because she has encountered hypocrisy or duplicity among those who follow Jesus Christ I would say that she might be part of the second group: those who leave, but are genuinely believers, and who suffer a season of doubt or a dark night of the soul, and they return. If you tell me that someone denounces Jesus Christ and goes away and lives a life of hedonism, I might be inclined to place that individual in the first group: they went out from us because they were never a part of us. Time will tell. We must not judge too soon.

I would urge all to be in prayer for the individual in question. It may be that this one-time mega-church pastor is experiencing a tremendous amount of pain, or he has been seduced by devilish lies, or one of the other million possible reasons that a human being would enter such a season of doubt — and I believe the doubt in such cases is most-often self-doubt, not doubt of God. I say again, leave the matter with the Lord.

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:1-2).

Pray for the individual. The whirlwind of fame, money, and sensuality is a terrible triad that can leave believers and entire Christian communities scattered and dismembered. But you must not be surprised that such things happen. Neither should it shake your own faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The presence of unbelief in the Church is admitted throughout the Bible. There are those who call themselves Jews who are not. There are those who call themselves followers of Christ who are not. It is not our business to go around pulling up weeds among the good stalks of wheat, because we simply cannot know. This is God's business and not ours. You abide in Christ Jesus and nothing will harm your soul.

“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6).

I once knew a young lady who departed from the face after her father committed suicide. I told her that my pastoral assessment and diagnosis was that she was suffering from an existential pain that was understandable and would be cured by the Lord. She told me that I was crazy. I told her,

"I know that you can't believe now. But sinceI don't believe your unbelief, you just hold on to me until the storm is over. I will pray with you and for you. I will seek in a sense to believe for you until you can believe again. I sense that you are hurt, confused, and trying to make sense of God’s grace in the dark coulda of despair. I will wait by the door of the church until the fog of hurting dissipates enough for you to find your way home."

Now, I could have been mistaken. It could very well have been that this young lady never knew the Savior. And I must say that I don't know the spiritual contours of the young man whose name is in the headlines for denouncing his faith in Christ. But I know what the Bible says. I know that the vicissitudes of this life can bruise the human soul so severely that it creates tumors growths that appear malignant but are not. And I know that John told us that there were some among us who and never really a part of us. We attempted to assign an answer to the case before us. We want to analyze and suppose we know for sure. But we don't. We only know that both of these categories exist, and that God’s grace is greater than all our sins.

Let us pray that the Almighty God who converted one like St. Paul and can just as easily transform the village atheist into the village vicar, or the village idiot into the “fool” for Jesus.

author image for Michael MiltonMichael A. Milton, PhD (University of Wales; MPA, UNC Chapel Hill; MDiv, Knox Seminary), Dr. Milton is a retired seminary chancellor and currently serves as the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at Erskine Theological Seminary. He is the President of Faith for Living and the D. James Kennedy Institute a long-time Presbyterian minister, and Chaplain (Colonel) USA-R. Dr. Milton is the author of more than thirty books and a musician with five albums released. Mike and his wife, Mae, reside in North Carolina.

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