I purchased a copy of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion* the other day. I teach an apologetics class at my church and wanted to actually read what one of the so-called "Four Horseman of New Atheism" had to say on the matter. My wife was horrified when I opened the package and held the tome aloft--she accused me of enriching a godless heretic who seems content to remain on a path leading inevitably to the fires of hell. I supposed she had a point, so I retreated to pragmaticism--how can I know what the man says unless I buy the book? My wife reluctantly agreed but was still suspicious, and ordered me to banish the text to a distant bookshelf, far from the reaches of our children.
Reading the first few chapters, I stumbled across a disturbing passage written by a well-meaning but ill-informed Christian to Albert Einstein. The missive was a response to a paper Einstein wrote in 1940 about why he did not believe in God. Dawkins evidenced contempt and scorn for this little letter, and I must agree he is justified in doing so. Here it is:
We respect your learning, Dr Einstein; but there is one thing you do not seem to have learned: that God is a spirit and cannot be found through the telescope or microscope, no more than human thought or emotion can be found by analyzing the brain. As everyone knows, religion is based on Faith, not knowledge. Every thinking person, perhaps, is assailed at times with religious doubt. My own faith has wavered many a time. But I never told anyone of my spiritual aberrations for two reasons: (1) I feared that I might, by mere suggestion, disturb and damage the life and hopes of some fellow being; (2) because I agree with the writer who said, "There is a mean streak in anyone who will destroy another's faith."...I hope, Dr Einstein, that you were misquoted and that you will yet say something more pleasing to the vast number of the American people who delight to do you honor. (38)
This is a sad, pitiful little letter. Dawkins observed, "every sentence drips with intellectual and moral cowardice" (38). What struck me was the astounding biblical illiteracy displayed by the writer. We often look back on the pre-1960s era as a better, more noble time--a time when Christian values flourished and God was worshipped in spirit and in truth. People knew their Bibles, preachers stood for the truth, and everything was simply grand! That illusion is shattered by this letter, which could have been penned by the average Christian today. Dawkins hit the nail right on the head--it literally oozes with intellectual and moral cowardice.
God is a spirit and cannot be found through the telescope or microscope, no more than human thought or emotion can be found by analyzing the brain.
What about the glories of God in general revelation? Has the writer never read Psalm 8, where David extolls the glory of God and marvels that He condescended to even notice man and care for him? Or has he ever contemplated David's statement from Psalm 19:1: "the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork."? Has the author never considered that all common blessings which God bestows on the just and unjust alike, this common grace, testifies to the glory of God? Christians can look round about them and see evidence for God everywhere; indeed, God's common grace common to all testifies to both His existence and character (Acts 14:14-17).
Paul observed that his readers presumed "on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance," (Rom. 2:4). This statement is even more powerful because it directly follows his masterful exposition of man's true state before God--all men are in willful rebellion and utterly without excuse (Rom. 1:18-32).
This principle is not confined to the New Testament; God's humbling of King Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4) over his refusal to give glory to God for Babylon`s successes is the most definitive example of common grace I've read in Scripture. Likewise, in Hosea, God equates Israel with an adultress who leaves her husband for the promise of trinkets and luxury in the arms of another lover. "And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal" (Hos 2:8).
The longsuffering and grace of God is truly impossible to fathom--and we haven't even reached the gospel yet! We're just looking out at the world and making some random observations from Scripture on God's goodness toward mankind in general!
"But wait," the chorus cries, "you're in ministry. It's your job to know things like this!"
Wrong. Dead wrong. The man who penned this unfortunate letter typifies the average Christian from nearly 80 years ago. He is a window into the state of biblical literacy during the halcyon days of Roosevelt, Churchill and The Maltese Falcon. I fear, however, that the average Christian in these days of Obama, Cameron and No Strings Attached lags far behind even this poor example.
I agree with the writer who said, "There is a mean streak in anyone who will destroy another's faith."
The watchword of Christian apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15b, "always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect." This command is prefaced by a vital precondition that too many Christians hew off, perhaps considering it irrelevant (which itself is a rather damning testimony to serious Christianity). The preface is "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy" (1 Pet. 3:15a).
The letter writer, along with the seeming majority of contemporary Christian apologists, misses the point that there is one, single objective truth--God is real. In our quest for tolerance, too many well-meaning Christians embrace de facto religious pluralism out of a fear not to "offend anybody." If Christ is truly sanctified in our hearts as Lord, the practical outworking of this sanctification is a willingness to stand in the gap and proclaim, "Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him." That a man, 80 years ago, would display an unwillingness to "offend" someone by proclaiming God is real and all pretenders are false is sad. Things have not improved since then.
Dawkins is quite right to sneer contemptuously at this silly, sad dispatch from days gone by. It is intellectually and morally cowardly. However, how many Christians today would write a similar letter? How many believers are too unenlightened about their faith to fashion a response to a "God doesn't exist" challenge? How many Christians are too timid or wary to take a stand for the Truth, however small and seemingly "insignificant" it may be?
The feeble recourse of referring all "deeper" questions to our Pastors seems noble, but is ultimately pitiful and betrays a startlingly dangerous spiritual apathy. Knowing our faith is the responsibility of every believer. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them," (Eph 2:10). We were each individually redeemed for a purpose--a specific purpose. Part of our reasonable service is to sanctify Christ in our hearts so that we may be able to give an answer for the hope that is within us, wherever we may be in the world and whenever the opportunity arises. It is not simply the Pastor's job to be Biblically literate--it is every Christian's job.
God chose to allow sinful men and women like you and me to participate in His unfolding plan to redeem His creation; how seriously do we take this privilege?
* Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. New York, NY: Mariner, 2008.