Sharing the Good News Story – and how atheists are often fundamentalists too

But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.

Romans 8:37-39
– me, talking to a small crowd in the place Paul stood and Agrippa was “almost persuaded…”

I have been struggling with this post for a couple of days. Not with the content so much as the tone. Then, this morning – while walking Max – I had a bit of an epiphany. It has been exactly ten years since I stood in the amphitheater in Caesarea, talking to a small crowd about Paul’s famous “Defense of the Gospel,” and that memory is a great context for what I want to say today.

This is how I wrote about that moment in my 2015 book, Pilgrim in Progress:

Standing in the ancient amphitheater to speak, with the deep blue of the Mediterranean behind me and the towering clouds billowing, the scene struck me as surreal. I could feel the gravitational pull of history, the insistency of Paul’s commitment to the Gospel, and my own constant search for the right words at the right time tugging at my spirit.

p 171, Pilgrim in Progress

It is always this way, the pull of the truth and the tug of my responsibility to live in the spirit of, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

I went on to write the following:

We meet people like Festus and Agrippa every day. We work alongside them, worship together, live in the same house, share the highway, stand in line at the store, volunteer with the P.T.A…. And I’m wondering what kind of story my life tells them?

Does my life tell a story of love and clarity and light? How persuasive is the narrative? Do the twists and turns of the plot-line support – or call into question – the foundational premise of the Good News? Does my life story articulate with eloquence how startlingly wonderful it is to know and to love Jesus?

p 172

Listening without Judgement:

– sharing the Good News story

One of the values I try hard to practice is that of listening without judgement. This comes along with thanking people for their ideas, respecting differing points of view, learning from people I disagree with, engaging rather than reacting, and entering into dialogue with people who are oppositional.

This doesn’t always work, especially when people practice “hit and run” tactics, troll, have no interest in learning anything, are actually “bots”, or are like that hate-filled guy with an ax to grind who launches personal attacks and then runs away!

Regardless, I typically own the fact that I am often wrong, I acknowledge that I have a lot to learn, I try to understand where other people are coming from, and I point out that we all can grow through an honest exchange of ideas.

But. Some people not so much.

Here is something I have noticed.

Sometimes, when it comes to a willingness to invest in authentic conversation, my fundamentalist detractors sound a lot like the atheist critics – and the atheists come across sounding just like the fundamentalists they purport to eschew.

Here is what tends to happen:

  • First, I write something that points to the invitational, inclusive, wide-ranging love of God.
  • Then, someone drops a snide, dismissive, or oppositional comment.
  • Next, if I have the time/energy, I respond with something along the lines of, “I understand where you are coming from. Your point of view is shared by many people. But let me share something of my journey and maybe we can talk about it.”
  • But it is, evidently, difficult for those who have built their convictions around negative past experiences, reactionary ideology, emotion, or the opinions of other people (talk show hosts, celebrity preachers, politicians etc) to engage with mutual respect. So they resort to talking points, clichés, name-calling, false equivalencies, distractions etc.
  • Or, in the case of the hit-and-run folk, nothing at all, because they have no interest in conversation.

Your God is too small!

What strikes me most about this is how close atheism seems to be to fundamentalism; it’s just one more inflexible dogma, prone to digging in, uninterested in give-and-take dialogue, essentially a belief system hiding behind a set of preemptive conclusions. Surely if you advertise being “a free-thinker,” shouldn’t there be some interest in an exchange of ideas and a commitment to learning? Why close the door on honest, authentic, learning-oriented conversation?

For both the obdurate fundamentalist and the rigid atheist, the phrase “Your God is too small” absolutely comes to mind.

But then – and it is important to understand that I am thinking out loud here (and using far too many generalizations) – I find myself back in Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean Sea, channeling the apostle Paul:

Paul stood here – in this place – at the crossroads of history, and what he said was supported by the authority of a life lived as if everything Jesus promises is true. And it reminds me of something he wrote – later – to his friends in Philippi:

“Shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life. That way I can boast on the Day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.”

I have this image of Paul, standing right here, holding out the Word of Life to Agrippa, and to Festus, and to anyone else listening. And here we are, today. Is the world we live in even close to persuaded that what we’re holding out to them is the real thing?

p 172

So What?

– Rebekah and I, trying to live the story

I have no interest in arguing the Good News of Jesus – just in sharing the story. I am not trying to develop an apologetic designed to prove anything – just to live an authentic witness to Jesus. I am not interested in judging – but inviting. Not so much pie in the sky when we die – but, as Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is already among us.”

Pharisees asked Jesus when God’s kingdom was coming. He replied, “God’s kingdom isn’t coming with signs that are easily noticed. Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ Don’t you see? God’s kingdom is already among you.”

Luke 17:20-21
– click here to read

8 thoughts on “Sharing the Good News Story – and how atheists are often fundamentalists too

  1. Ray Evans

    Derek,

    Thank you for an uplifting message. Uplifting in that we are not alone in trying to communicate with many “dug in” folks that are not interested in what anyone else has to say. What a lonely and desolate life for those not willing to listen.

    I particularly like your last paragraph, the Good News needs no arguments.

    Keep up the good writing and we hope to see you soon.

    Ray

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Jere

    Thank goodness there are people like you that are willing to simply share. I get so much more out of that than being “sold.” Maybe some of those folks referenced will be more receptive. They’ll probably never let you know it, but you can be comforted that you are influencing even them!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. do tell what is “fundamentalist” about concluding that there isn’t a god.

    I also am amused by the attacks that go between Christians. “Your god is too small”, is nothing more than a Christian insisting that his version is the only right one, and having no more evidence for that than the next Christian. You offer apologetics like all Christians.

    Like

    1. That’s a good question.
      Like I said, I am often prone to overgeneralizing, but the presentation of an atheistic belief system can often come across – just like fundamentalism – as inflexible dogma, a set of preemptive conclusions. Especially when someone is dismissive or derisive. As to insisting my version is the only right one… I know that could not be true. But it is true that many people limit their understanding of the possibility of God to the limits of their own ability (or willingness) to conceive. Their God is small to the extent they have narrowed the framework and the definition. Same is true for me, but my awareness of it helps a little. And, no, I do not offer apologetics in the traditional sense. There is no benefit to “proving” faith via argument – all that does is win (or lose) the argument, not invite someone to explore faith for themselves. C.S. Lewis almost lost his faith when he was soundly defeated in a debate about God. He realized he needed to communicate the truth in a different way – hence the Chronicles of Narnia. Humility is always more useful than hubris.

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      1. Atheism is not dogma, inflexible or not. It is a conclusion based on the utter lack of evidence for any gods. I’m curious if you would consider the conclusion that there are no fairies to be “inflexible dogma” too.

        I also wonder if you would consider someone pointing out an adult who thinks fairies exist as wrong to be “dismissive or derisive”.

        Every Christian claims that their version is true. If it weren’t true, then you wouldn’t hold to the version of Christianity you do.

        Every Christian also invents their god in their own image aka their ability to concieve. That you think you aren’t one of those that you accuse of “limiting” their understanding of the possiblity of god demonstrates again how you are sure your version is the only right one.

        You want to claim you are more “aware” than others. No evidence of that at all.

        Apologetics is no more than making up excuses for your god and your religion’s failure.
        I also note that you don’t like that you lose the argument if someone does discuss faith. That is a problem. It’s an even worse problem if you accept false things just because you want them to be true, ignoring when you do lose.

        C.S. Lewis is quite notorious for advocating for people not be told of the disagreements and contradictions within Chrsitainity when they are a potential convert. That’s quite deceitful. That you find it necessary to hide your supposed truth is notable.

        There is nothign humble in thinking your best friend is the creator of the universe and agrees with no one but you.

        Like

  4. Ah, but I do admit my conception of God is limited by my own understanding. And – like I already said – I am very sure that I do not have the only correct view.
    And I do not claim I am more aware than others – just possibly more aware of my own limitations than some!
    Plus I did not say I have issues with losing arguments; I am often wrong and that’s part of learning. I seldom argue, and I believe we all lose when we base our “rightness” on winning arguments!
    As I said, humility is the best way to engage knowledge and especially our conversations around truth.
    It’s possible that you made a few errors in your analysis of my response. But that’s okay, it’s why we have dialogue.

    Liked by 1 person

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