Matt Oxley describes himself as a “former Christian helping others work through the battle of a lost faith.” One aspect of his mission is “to promote intelligent discussion.” So he won’t mind my probing a bit concerning his claim, “I’m a former Christian.”
Recall Scripture states, “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) Recently a professing Christian cited this verse for Matt. The implication is that Matt was never a Christian. Matt’s response was, “I know what the Bible says…this isn’t the place to quote scripture at people that know it better than you. It’s arrogant and unkind.” I’m not sure how it is arrogant or unkind to quote Scripture. I can’t say the same for Matt’s snappy boast about his knowledge of Scripture, but I’d like to set that aside, especially since Matt later apologized for his initial reply.
Matt explains, “the thing is – that verse has only been thrown at me about a thousand times now…not to mention the nights it kept me up. I understand your prerogative is to believe the Bible – but please understand that we don’t all believe it.”
Now, the things Matt writes here are by no means unique to him. I’ve read and heard plenty of atheists raise the same sort of objection. But this response puzzles me a great deal, and I’d like to invite Matt to provide some clarification. As it stands, Matt does not strike me as a very self-critical individual. He does not seem aware of the consequences of his own thinking. And that is a problem, especially when it comes to discussions about religious belief and doubts and the like. Of course I may be missing something. I may be mistaken. If I am wrong, then I would like to know in what way I am wrong. So, why am I puzzled?
First, atheists often have this notion that when Christians quote Scripture it is because Christians think everyone else believes Scripture. Of course, that’s nonsense. Christians are well aware that not everyone believes the Bible. In fact it is often because people do not believe the Bible that Christians quote from it. Christians believe the Word of God brings about faith. (Romans 10.14) But another reason Christians quote Scripture to unbelievers is because they are attempting to explain their view to non-Christians. For example, I just cited Romans 10.14 in an effort to explain a Christian practice to unbelievers who may read this blog. Not because I think those unbelievers believe what the text says, but in order to explain the biblical motivation for why Christians do what they do. Does Matt think that Christians quote Scripture because they think everyone else believes it?
Second, the verse cited does; in fact, explain the Christian view concerning Matt’s experience. It is not that Matt was actually a Christian. Rather, Matt professed to be a Christian, and it became evident over time that he was not. It is not that Matt was a Christian and became a non-Christian, but that Matt was never a Christian at all. For whatever reason, many non-Christians who claim to have once been Christian are offended by the aforementioned claim. I do not know why. But I do know that it is the Christian view on the matter, and, whether or not one accepts that view, it must be acknowledged that it is a coherent view. Does Matt think the Christian view of apostasy per 1 John 2.19 is coherent?
Third, Matt claims that he does not believe the Bible. I agree. He does not. And having spent many years studying under and around other unbelievers, including plenty of atheists and agnostics, I realize that many others do not believe the Bible either. That’s not an incredibly profound insight, though I’ve had more than one person try to impress it upon me as such. But here’s what should be an equally weighty statement for the unbeliever: not everyone agrees with you in your rejection of Scripture. No reason to give the atheist an unfair advantage here. Does Matt think everyone disbelieves the Bible like him?
Fourth, Matt does not believe 1 John 2.19 concerning apostates in particular. But what is his alternative? Is Matt claiming that he really was a Christian? That God actually saved Matt from his sin? This would be an odd idea for Matt to believe, given his claims that he lacks belief in both God and sin. How can God have once saved Matt from his sin if neither God nor sin exists? Perhaps I am missing something, but Matt’s thinking appears to me extremely confused on this point. Does Matt think that God saved him from his sin?
Presuppositional categories can be made explicit in this instance by pointing out that the Christian is operating within the confines of his or her own worldview in working out a theology of apostasy from Scripture. Alternatively, the atheist is operating from within the confines of his or her own worldview in rejecting a theology of apostasy from Scripture. Within the Christian worldview, quoting or citing Scripture to unbelievers, the defensive response of unbelievers, and apostasy all make sense. In an atheist worldview, taking offense at the quotation or citation of Scripture and identifying oneself as a “former Christian” make little to no sense. Of course, the unbeliever might define what he or she means by “Christian” here differently from the way a Christian would define the term, but then the unbeliever is simply equivocating on the term for the sake of popularity.
I’ve written on this topic here as well – http://www.choosinghats.com/2012/04/conversion-stories. I hope Matt will not take unnecessary offense at my questioning his thinking on this matter, and that he will clarify or rethink his claim that he is a “former Christian.”