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This began as a response to Ryan’s comment on the post the simple answer.  After failing to answer his questions, it turned into something else and I set out to do more of what I do best: complicate the obvious and reinvent many wheels.  My explanations are roundabout, but this is the way my mind works, and this blog, after all, is a record of my thinking.

*Edit:* Make sure you read the comments, where my conversation with Ryan continues.  I think it’s pretty fascinating.

First I’ll answer the easy question.  I have read a few works by Ravi Zacharias but not the book you mentioned.  From his other works, I remember thinking that his apologetics was uninspired because he lacks the ability to understand the atheist’s lack of Christian presuppositions.  Actually, every work or message of Christian apologetics I’ve ever seen has answered completely the wrong questions, and is not on the same wavelength as any of objections to Christianity that I could conceive.  This was true for me even when I was a Christian.  This is also true of every type of apologetic found in the bible itself.

I should also note that unless otherwise stated, when I say “God” I mean the Christian God, the triune God as he is described in the bible and by orthodox Christianity.  I admit that my objections to Christianity don’t themselves completely preclude a deistic god or something resembling the Force in Star Wars, and my reasons for not believing in those types of gods are a whole other discussion entirely.  (I think I touch on it at the end.)

When I said that I could see the edge of God, I didn’t mean any of the things you suggested in your comment.  I definitely did not mean that God became real to me.  I wanted that.  I wanted God to become bigger and clearer, no matter how he manifested himself.  This is where my powers of explanation fail, because I’m a very visual person, and I think in pictures and diagrams that are hard to translate into words.  The best explanation of what I mean by the “edge” of God (and this is itself an analogy) is that I began to see God as an idea rather than a person.  Another analogy that comes to mind is my understanding of Descartes’ ontological argument for God’s existence: God is completely perfect, and existence is a part of perfection; therefore God must exist.  When I was contemplating this argument in freshman philosophy class, I had a lightbulb moment when I realized the reason why this argument didn’t work.  At the most, all that could be determined from the ontological argument is that any idea of God must include the idea of existence.  Sorry, but this explanation is the best that I can do to turn pictures into words.  Maybe if you marinate in the analogy for a good long while you’ll understand what I mean by seeing the edge of God.

The existence of God and the truth of Christianity as a whole are predicated on a set of antecedent assumptions.  The most important assumption, in my view, the one without which the entire thing would fall apart, is that the world is Fallen and in need of a Savior.  Christ didn’t come to add to the world, he came to fix something that was broken.  I stopped believing in the brokenness.  I’m not saying that the universe is perfect, or that people don’t mess up, or that the world isn’t shitty.  But the way I see it, the philosophy of Christianity digs a pit for the universe to fall in so that it can rescue us from it.  I realized that I didn’t want to base my life on the righting of a wrong.  It was already becoming harder and harder for me to believe that my sinfulness was such a big deal to God that I had to spend my life mourning over it and thanking him for rescuing me from death.  You know what that reminds me of?  It reminds me of what abusers do to their victims to keep them from seeking something better.

The gospel is predicated on a negative– sin.  Christianity first creates a system in which God is necessary, then satisfies its own dilemma.  It’s a closed system, a system with no net change.  I wanted something better, something more than the Gospel could give.  I wanted an open system.  If Christianity were the supreme Truth, it shouldn’t have to dig a hole in order to fill it.  It should be able to be good news without being bad news first.  It should be able to do more than save us from the wages of sin.

For those who have suggested that I consider postmodern, emergent, or any related version of Christianity, I already have.  During my last year of being a Christian (when I was still trying fervently to save my faith) I read every single book by Brian MacLaren, Rob Bell, Don Miller, and probably a few others I’m forgetting.  I found none of them even remotely intellectually satisfying, rather insulting to my intelligence.  In my opinion, the God described in those books was much smaller than the God of orthodoxy.
I’ve never wanted God to merely help me live a better life.  I know there are a lot of people who believe in God for that reason, who follow him for that reason.  I commend you.  But Pascal’s wager does nothing for me.  I wanted to follow a true God.  I wanted to follow a powerful, omniscient God.  I realized that he wasn’t there.  And I would rather not have anything to follow, than follow a God who may or may not be there, who may or may not perform miracles, who saves me from thinking too much.
(I know a lot of readers of this blog are postmodern Christians who follow the theology of Brian MacLaren and company.  To them, I’m sorry, sorry, sorry, if I have offended anyone.  Those Christians are the ones who have been the most gracious and loving towards me all along.  You are a credit to your faith, but that doesn’t make it true or any more appealing to me.)

I’m a scientist.  I believe in objective truth.  I believe that God either exists or he doesn’t.  I wanted nothing more than for God to exist.  I wanted nothing more than for God to be immeasurably huge and powerful, capable of satisfying and astounding the most voracious intellects.  But I found that he was not.  All God could do was fix what he told me was wrong with me, and if that small savior god existed, I didn’t think him worthy of dedicating my life to.  But that small savior god probably doesn’t exist, just like all the other savior gods of myriad cultures.  Since Christians like to recommend books for me to read, I will recommend one that extremely enlightened my perspective on the uniqueness of Christianity.  “Religion Explained” by Pascal Boyer.  It’s anthropology, psychology, evolution, and just so fascinating that I keep re-reading it and haven’t actually gotten to the end yet.

So I will echo what Richard Dawkins said in closing his debate with Francis Collins.  All the evidence points against the veracity of Christianity– but I’m willing to keep an open mind.  My mind is open, but not to mere parochial gods who save.  My mind is open to things that are beyond what anybody can dream.

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This is the story of how I got to Wheaton and my first year there. This is all Christianity; not even an inkling of atheism yet, but every story has to start somewhere.

I did not actually spend my entire college career at Wheaton. I transferred there at the beginning of my sophomore year, after spending my freshman year at an elite secular liberal arts college that I loved.

I went to Wheaton for one reason only: because God told me to go there. I remember it quite vividly. I was sitting in my dorm room at my desk, and suddenly the idea popped into my mind: I’m going to transfer to Wheaton. Like all ideas that popped into my mind in those years, I attributed it to God. I was convinced that this was God’s will for me, but, as always, you have to give a little test just to be sure. So I told God I would apply to Wheaton, and if I was accepted, I would go. I prayed that if God didn’t want me to go to Wheaton, then I shouldn’t get in.

I got in, as I knew I would academically– but I had hoped for some fluke by which I would be rejected. As my freshman year ended, I really didn’t want to leave my beloved school. I didn’t want to go to Wheaton, and I started a series of mental gymnastics by which I tried to reason out a loophole to disobey God. Because, no matter what I felt about going to Wheaton, I never doubted that God wanted me to go there. To me, it was exactly like the commandments God gave to people in the Old Testament to leave their homes and go to a place where he would lead them.

By the end of the semester, I had done enough reasoning that I could have stayed where I was and been fairly confident that God wouldn’t smite me. For awhile there, it looked like I could go either way. I sought the counsel of my Christian friends and mentors, and all of our discussions seemed to weigh in favor of me staying.

I sent in my deposit, figuring that I could stand to lose $200 if I decided not to go to Wheaton. But I knew, all along, that I was going to go. I couldn’t stand disobeying God. So against all my better judgment, against all my desires to stay with my friends and professors in a thrilling academic environment and a part of the country that I felt connected to, I withdrew from my school and committed to going to Wheaton, sight unseen.

Luckily, when I first saw Wheaton I thought it seemed an idyllic place. At the time, going to a college on a hill with a big sign in front that declared “For Christ and His Kingdom” was a dream come true. I missed my old school, but Wheaton was so different and challenging in its own way that I didn’t feel the loss too severely. My first semester, I took Introduction to Christian Education with Jerry Root. To be honest, I now can not remember a single thing about that class, besides the fact that Jerry quoted C.S. Lewis a lot. But at the time, and for several semesters afterwards, I regarded that class and its spiritual insights as the highlight of my Wheaton life. For awhile, I was enamored with the idea of majoring in Christian Education.

There was no shortage of spiritual highlights at Wheaton. By spiritual highlights I mean both highs and lows, because struggles and anguished fights with God were as important to my spiritual development as the days of spending all my free time reading the bible or praying for hours in the chapel while fasting. The amplitude and wavelength of my spiritual highs and lows were intense enough to keep me occupied during my first year at Wheaton, making me ignore completely all academics aside from religion-oriented classes, which were the only ones in which I learned anything anyway. I grew a lot as a Christian that year, and I even had time to go through sophomore cynicism, a stage that most Wheaton students experience of being disenchanted with the church and with Christianity. It’s the spiritual version of sophomore slump. I fell deep into cynicism and then emerged from it, my faith stronger.

Wow, I wasn’t planning on telling this much of my story. Still, there’s a long way to go before hitting atheism. To be continued, maybe…

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Thy will be done

I read this in an article at the Christianity Today website (which I read regularly) on praying more effectively. It’s a fantastic example of typical vacuous Christian logic:

I spent endless hours in the hospital waiting room while Mom sat on a cold metal hospital table just beyond the waiting room doors. In those hours I prayed—or at least I tried to.

I didn’t quite know what to say: “God, please take these growths away from my mother”? But what if he didn’t? Or how about, “God, please don’t let there be any cancer cells”? But what if there were? Or, “God, just let this be treatable”? But what if it wasn’t? So here’s what I prayed: “God, I don’t want to go through this. And I don’t want Mom to go through this. Yet you must have Mom and our family here for a reason. Help us depend on you during this difficult time. Now, God, I really don’t want to lose her. But since I truly want your will above my own, I leave my mother in your loving hands—as difficult as that is to do. Amen.”

One of the first answers to that prayer was a peaceful calm in myself and in both my parents. The second answer was the good report from the doctors: The growths were benign. But even if they hadn’t been, my trust in God had been challenged to mature as a result of the prayer I’d learned to pray for Mom.

The logic of that is wonderfully transparent: uh, what if God doesn’t give me what I pray for? I’d better ask for something that will have to be answered, so no matter what happens, I can say that God answered my prayer! But what use is God if you can’t petition him for anything specific? What use are specific prayers if, when your prayer is not answered, you conclude reluctantly that what you’d asked for was not God’s will? Of course there’s a psychological benefit to prayer, as there is to meditation and many types of wishful thinking. But if all prayer gives you is a sense of peace and acceptance, God isn’t even necessary.

Christians will never tire of giving God more opportunities to be right. That’s why they have to create questions with no wrong answer. That’s the beauty of “Thy will be done”. It creates a world where God can never be wrong.

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