Tell Me Why I Should Become a Christian

The village atheist was never a threat to people of faith. He—and it was always a he—never amounted to being more than a gadfly. That was the case with the 19th century master of the craft, Robert Ingersoll, and Richard Dawkins of the 21st century has not been any more successful. People are not ideologically threatened by their enemies, be they religious or secular. (Which is probably why fundamentalists tend to view people outside their ranks as enemies.) The threat always comes from friends who find your faith irrelevant—friends such as myself.

People like me are the ones you talk to over the fence, friendly neighbors who lack faith but who are not in your face about it. We don't like calling ourselves atheists because we are not strident, nor are we offended by what you believe; we simply lack faith and we don't see what Christianity has to offer us beyond what we already have. And that is the greatest challenge that you who are Christians will ever face: convincing the world that your faith is relevant in the 21st century.

We are a mixed group of well-meaning people. Some of us, who can look back at more decades than we care to appreciate, know all about Christian beliefs—or so we think—while newer cohorts confuse angels with fairies and think the Bible says that Noah's Ark was built by fallen angels with bodyparts made out of rocks. But what we have in common is the tuned-out ear and the glazed-over eye when we happen to hear ministers hawking their spiritual wares on the radio or on TV, or even in real life. Asking us if we are saved is like being asked what our thoughts are about the Roman Empire or World War I—as puzzling as it is annoying.

The problem with us is that we have read too much about human evil in the past and the present to even consider the possibility that God, should he exist, would be trucking in genocide and torture. It is so unthinkable to us that we dismiss out of hand any implicit or explicit threat of such metaphysical horrors. The only people who fear hell today are your children. Nor are we drawn to the dream of living in a celestial version of Trump Towers for all eternity. Many of us, me certainly included, doubt if we would want to live one hundred years more, let alone an eternity, especially if it would be an eternity caught up in a cosmic personality cult.

What we, your friends without faith, desire is relevance and meaning in life. We are far less concerned about the meaning of life, and so, incidentally, are a great many of you. The world is full of Christians dying from existential and personal despair related to such things as bad jobs, awful marriages, cultural desolation, isolation in old age and lack of meaningful human contact. An overarching meaning of life will give you pleasant ideological quarters to live in, but ultimately, it is the life you lead there that matters.

Which brings me to the challenge I have for you: how would you, as people of faith, lay out a meaningful version of the Christian faith to your friends on the other side of the fence, especially to those of us who have found meaning in life. Or can that even be done? Is faith an experience, a rapture, that can only be had apart from from any rational pitch? And if so, without a rational pitch, how do you get people to expose themselves to such an experience?

I hope you will use the commentary field to lay out the case for faith in the 21st century and tell me what I and my non-ideological friends are missing. Or is Christianity doomed to be irrelevant to a culture such as ours?

Aage Rendalen is a retired foreign language teacher who has served the Richmond Public School system in Virginia and is a frequent participant in conversations on SpectrumMagazine.org.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7642
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I’m curious too.

Adventism and Christianity have shaped my life and I’ve moved beyond them. I have used the best of their values as part of my life foundation. I have appreciated the best and been wounded and alienated by the worst.

The calls back to them have little relevance to my life and my meaning making. The accusations against people who don’t believe the fundamentalist way or who have moved on show they don’t understand where I/we are at. Tthey are whistling in the dark, and we are not around to take much notice!

I’d love to hear people’s responses. Please help me understand those who remain and think they have something I seek.

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First answer this question yourself…If what you describe is the case then why do you hang around? Why do you debate various remnants of something that holds no meaning sway or relevance for you or your life?
Perhaps your starting premise is flawed.

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Jump the Fence
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Aage:

1.I knew you 40 years ago at Newbold College and Andrews University. You were the walking EGW machine. ‘Mrs White said’. At Andrews University you discovered the 1919 Bible Conference report that blew the lid on the hagiographic ‘official’ view of the early Adventist church. You probably know all the dirt, secrets and corruption of the early Adventist church and its development. Then you ended up in the Adventist Bible Belt only to see how the Adventist world really is. Full of nut cases and fanatics all quoting scripture, all claiming special revelation from God and at times defying the law of non contradiction. Then you work for the Norwegian church as an editor and no doubt are exposed to more corruption, politics and the demeaning of people.

2.I knew you were an Adventist. But were you ever a Christian? Because that is important if you are the neighbor over the fence asking the question. Should you become a Christian or return to the Christian way?

3.I cannot think of any good reason why anyone should become an Adventist. I am more convinced it is a cult, corrupt to the core, run by gravy train con men, that keeps the 4 th commandment but breaks the 9 th. ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness’ full of church members who could benefit from a course in critical thinking but see no need smug in their ignorance.

4.I cannot think of any good reason why you should become a Christian? Jesus apparently wasn’t. The Adventist church is just an image of the millennia corruption of the Christian church.

5.So what to do? Just stay on your side of the fence and be a polite neighbor or jump the fence and come and have a chat over a cup of tea. In some ways you do that by staying in the Spectrum forum. I would suggest you jump the fence with no expectations. If nothing else you might learn as to how others have struggled with defining, maintaining and for many discarding their faith. Nothing will satisfy that sense of certainty one had in the past that many have lost. But chatting over tea is still better than being just a polite neighbor or a nasty neighbor going to war over the fence on how you interpret Daniel 8:14.

6.Aage. We will be dead in 20 years or less. I still think living an ethical and virtuous life informed in my case by the Christian tradition is the way to go. It is hard for me when I live and work in a troubled ‘dog eat dog’ world. I think drinking tea with my neighbor with no expectations is the way to go. Best wishes, Edgar

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If I am correct in my understanding, he is not saying that a rejection of modern Christianity means disengagement. Christianity is simply another idea in the marketplace, but it is not the only one. Disengaging with Christians makes no sense unless they are abusive or disrespectful. Then it is a matter of personalities, not religion.

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True evangelism is showing a non-believer that their lives would be enhanced by believing. We don’t do that. We take Christians and try to make them Seventh-day Adventists. I never understood this. Still don’t.

I know a lot of people who have no religious affiliation at all, yet they lead very happy, fruitful, meaningful lives. They give to good causes, do charity work, have good children, good jobs and happy homes. What do we have to offer them? Not much. We talk about offering hope. They are fine, and everyone doesn’t long for hope. We need to change our thinking and our evangelistic focus. Would their lives be enhanced by joining my local congregation or yours? I wish I could say a resounding “YES” but I would be lying to myself.

Oh, how I wish we truly had the love of Jesus ingrained in our minds and our mission so that others would see us as people worth joining and emulating. As the granddaughter of two pioneer SDA pastors and the daughter of missionaries, I too have seen the best and worst of Adventism, so I know whereof I speak. Lord, help us to be like Jesus and demonstrate His love to all people.

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Christianity is one of the religious disciplines instituted by God to guide mankind in his quest for survival and achievement of “immortal” life spans , many thousands of earth years, in a scientific paradise. Man is one of the INTELLIGENT genetic experiments set up by God and other scientific creators in the universe, and he gets immense personal satisfaction from guiding us through years of primitive expression of our dual nature(savagery and compassion) to be like himself and the heavenly cohorts. God guides us also by means of our human love of ritual and symbolism in church rites and so on.No one human understands, or can understand the universe in my opinion; we only know we live in it , and that it is possible to gain immense satisfaction from doing so, IF we choose the right pathways. GOD is not a Tyrant . The atrocities committed by Homo sapiens are a learning curve of experiences on the pathway to fulfill our full potential of transcendent lives. Atrocities testify to the fact that we have free will and are not ruled by a dictator. It is entirely up to us to heed the many assistances given to us by God as in prophets and teachers the best we, as Christians, feel to be Jesus. But other traditions have Icons who worked miracles also and taught love and forbearance and how to eschew violence and so on. Sathya sai Baba comes to mind.This icon had nuclear scientists, psychologists, and medical doctors even kissing his feet in gratitude for his enlightenments and miracles such as causing one tree to bear different fruit during a walk with scientists who had different preferences when asked what fruit they preferred. He turned river water into gasoline when his chauffeur told him his car was out of gas and so on. He raise the dead , even one Indian government official, and another devotee in an Indian hospital just before the nurses took the body to the morgue. He claimed to have recovered an image of Jesus from “Time” through the mundane means of an automatic camera of a devotee. This “photo” appears in my book The Politics, Science, and Mysteries of Creation(Amazon). Of course he was also villified much like Jesus by humans who hated him. When he died he predicted the date and time and place of his next incarnation. Christianity has indeed a chequered history( religious wars, crusades, murders for disbelief, slavery and so on)but so has other religions. I see in these pages the best of Adventist Christianity, that is a ferment of ideas old and new and the freedom of expression at least within acceptable limits. May God continue to bless this church.

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I would ask “What is the meaning you have found in life?” If you say “it’s not the purpose it’s the journey” then that means to me that any road I take will get me there…whether it’s an “ethical” road or a “narcissistic racist” road. You may ask me “Why should I be a Christian”; I respond “Why should I be an atheist?” The answer to either leads to the ultimate answer.

After G. View, I resigned all my posts in the Adventist Church as well as my membership. At the years following we attended the major Presbyterian church… The pastor invited us to join. we agreed. He said you will have to answer three questions. 1. Do you believe you are a sinner? 2. Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Redeemer? 3. Will you be obedient to the elders of the Church? We said we will answer yes to the first two, but no way to the third, we have already had too much of that! The pastor said, no problem, we can handle that. I said, don’t surprise us, because We will surprise you. so the day came and the Pastor had his intern ask the questions. he flubbed the third and we had only two to answer for. we have now been members for decades and love the fellowship and the sermons on assurance. The Christain life is grand, the denominational life is the pits.

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Hey, I can only try to explain why I am a Christian - I mean, why I follow Jesus (I do not care much for denominational borders). For me, nothing compares to the idea that the great Creator of the Universe loves me, and that Jesus was willing to give His life to save me. Just imagine, a great being willing to become small and helpless for my sake. I simply would not want to miss out on a God like that.

Yes, there still are lots of questions in my mind. Stories of abused children, men and women tortured and killed, often make me wonder how God can stand to see all the atrocities happening in this world and not do anything about it. Then I remember the dark times in my life, when God was there (and I absolutely felt He had not left me alone). The pain did not go away immediately, but I felt sheltered by Him. And I (try to) trust that if He cares for me, he surely takes care of all other men, women and children too.

The meaning of eternal life or life after death or the new earth (whatever you want to call it) for me consists in finally seeing Jesus, being able to talk to Him, ask all the questions I have, and live in God’s presence. That’s almost all I expect- well, never having to say goodbye to a loved one seems quite attractive to me, too.

Why you should become a Christian? Because you should not miss out on a God like that. A God who loves you more than you can ever imagine. Just the way you are. Who wants to be your Father, your Friend, the One you can always come to, no matter what. Won’t you give Him a chance?

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Why fear atheists if one is secure in his faith? Evidently, there is much fear in collegiate quarters demonstrated by the Pacific Union College President refusing to allow an atheist to speak to the psychology students and answer questions. Critical thinking is antithetical for college students in a religious institution and what they may have been taught.

What is there to fear? It bothers me not at all whether my neighbor is a Hindu, Sikh, Muslim or animist (and there are those and many more varieties within a few miles. They are secure in their beliefs and do not proselytize; while that’s the main objective of Christians who feel their religious belief is superior to all others. But the demonstration is lacking.

Whether Christians fear both atheists and agnostics is irrelevant. But for those of us who simply say “I don’t know” whether there is a god and he hasn’t told me his plans, I am still content that my life here is far better judged by family and friends than any set of doctrines of any religion. The closer one gets to the end of the journey, there is peace at whatever the future may hold.

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There is quite a large body of different types of evidence, with varying degrees of verifiable likelihood, for spirit entities interacting with people from time to time, on a relatively limited basis. (SDAs, and Christianity in general, would label these entities “demons.”) The basis is limited enough that a person living in mainstream North American culture would have to go looking for it to find it. But an individual living a life after a Christian church affiliation, or never having a belief in the first place would likely never cross paths with the concept (outside of entertainment media, famous movies like “The Exorcist” come to mind), let alone actually experience these non-corporeal intelligences.

But (assuming) the existence of demons (more convenient term to write), and proving their existence, does not make a case in and of itself for faith or becoming a Christian. It should give an atheist pause to consider a reality that includes more than just humans.

I believe the only valid case I can make for Christian faith is that of sharing my own experience. I do NOT refer to the intellectual knowledge and experience accumulated over more than five decades as a third generation SDA who attended SDA schools from first grade through a bachelor’s degree and who has worked for a variety of denominational institutions at all levels. In my experience, Adventists are really good at things of the mind.

The experience I would share is a matter of the heart. Yes, my mind was involved; I come as a package deal. I would talk about “hearing” God’s voice in a variety of ways, occasionally in routine day-to-day existence, but more often in specific activities that have a large spiritual impact on other people. Examples include: mentoring another man in a small group setting (where he later told others about very wise things I said to him that I do not recall hearing myself say), or materials I happen to be reading that become “just the thing” for a Collegiate Quarterly Teachers’ Guide writing assignment that I didn’t know I was about to receive, and similarly with a sermon I delivered a week ago. There are more examples from other areas of my life as well.

All of these experiences occurred in the context of my belief in the special nature of the Bible, knowledge and use of it, as well as my belief in, and experience of a relationship with, a living Jesus of Nazareth as described in the Gospels.

That’s it. That’s the strongest case I can make, my experience of a relationship with a living Being.

Jesus is quoted saying, “For God so loved the world.” There are no limitations at all whatsoever in that statement. He is also quoted in John 17:2-3, “I have come bearing the plentiful gifts of God; and all who receive Me will experience everlasting life, a new intimate relationship with You (the one True God) and Jesus the Anointed (the One You have sent).” There is no mention here of religious affiliation, or denominational membership, or doctrinal adherence. Only relationship. It’s all about relationships, living relationships.

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When I read your request, I thought, “This is a pretty tough thing.” I have read your posts here for some years. And then I read Babz’s comments, and found that you were quite devoted in your youth. So it is a doubly tough thing.

I also found it interesting that many of the commenters, instead of giving reasons to become an Adventist again, more or less encouraged you to skip it.

But then, I thought, why is this man asking such a question? Then it occurred to me, especially after Babz’s comments, that you must have had a wonderful experience before the days of disillusionment, and that perhaps there might be a longing for that former intimacy…

I was born into an Adventist family, that was nominally so. We attended each Sabbath, but my parents were not passionate Adventists. Two things happened. We were required to read DofA in the ninth grade, and I decided to attend some meetings by Vanndaman. The DofA was most important. As we began going through the book, I met Jesus, the one altogether lovely. I fell in love. My father even spoke to me one evening, saying, “Allen, you look like you are in love!” And I was, with Jesus. I looked froward to reading each day. As Mrs. White said of her early experience, “There was not a cloud in the sky, for 6 months” (Early Writings somewhere). But one day, I felt I should confess my faith to my family and was afraid, and became discouraged as EGW did as well. I have since learned that our failures need not separate us from Jesus unless we let them.

i am old now, almost 70. My walk has been imperfect. But Jesus invites me each day to follow him, as I did in my youth, and I give myself to him anew.

I would recommend the Christian life for three reasons.
!. Jesus loves like no other.
2. My life is full of purpose, that has an eternal tint to it, and has this even when I don’t sense it.
3. It is wonderful to be surprised by God. He sends blessing and delights completely unexpectedly, you know like lovers do sometimes. It is a pleasure to be loved like that.
4. There is a reason that Adventists present first the Book of Daniel while doing evangelism. The book shows that God is in control in spite of evil FREELY chosen by men. Nebuchadnezzar was not prevented from setting up the golden image, nor Darius from writing the edict (and by implication, Hitler from founding the Third Reich): that is what THEY wanted. God does not always rescue his people, but he is behind the scenes, working his will. It is a very life-stabilizing and comforting idea. (this was added later)

So, if you want to give it a try, get out the ol’ D of A, or some other good book on Jesus, or just read the gospels. God will get in touch with you.

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Ed, I came to Christianity through the winding backroads of Adventism, but my commitment to the Christian faith was real enough. And yes, I was well versed in EGW’s writings, chapter and verse. But I knew my Bible just as well. My problem was not that I was too committed to Adventism and not enough to the Christian faith; rather it was the fact that I was a Christian rationalist, like the majority of my coreligionists. I was committed to the idea that Christianity was rooted in history and reason and that faith only meant that you believed beyond the evidence.When that rational underpinning was knocked down, my faith collapsed. I could not abide the idea of believing against the facts. Beyond the facts, yes, but not against them.

As for jumping over the fence to chat with believers over a cup of herb tea, that’s what I have been doing here on Spectrum since 2008. As always there are those on that side of the fence who are both miffed and puzzled that I’d do so. Why am I skulking about on the periphery of faith, they mutter. Must be because I nurture a secret longing for the faith I abandoned. Well, the truth is simple: the mystery of life does not belong to religious people. Questions of ultimate concern are shared by all humans. To me these things are important, but there are unfortunately few people who are willing to “waste time” on such apparently insolvable questions when you can have a conversation for nothing about the virtues of the Chevy 1957 coupe and the prospects of the Oakland Raiders. Since we here have a shared background and a common language it’s natural for me to raise such issues with you, since you are used to address such concerns. I could have talked to philosophers, who also delve into questions of ultimate significance, but I don’t have an adequate background in philosophy and I dislike their obtuse language which, as far as I can tell, only serve the purpose of excluding the intellectually unwashed from entry into their dark temples. Nor do I want to take my concerns to the Hindu community of faith, as somebody suggested, because I am not sufficiently familiar with their language of faith and religious concepts.

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One reason could be because when you have a life of making friendships and connections with people they still mean something and are part of your life. Yet some of those who are still in the church and belief system think it is their duty to rescue and reclaim and be concerned and try and “save” us. It can be frustrating, annoying and disrespectful - if not worse.

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Thanks for this essay, Aage.

Why did you write it?

HA

Like a Good Neighbor…
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Aage:
1.When I knew you, especially at Andrews, I held you in high regard and was awed by your knowledge of Adventist history and your ability to communicate. At Spectrum decades later, I came to enjoy your posts

2.We are probably quite close on many positions. My sense is that you are not just a good neighbor to those that have ultimate concerns but also to the many that struggle in this troubled world. I wish you well in your retirement. Good luck. Best wishes, Edgar

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I love ideas; more so when tangibly connected to real life. One of the most potent ways I saw this was at Something Else Sabbath school in Lincoln, NE, where religion was given context by being intimately involved in the logical conclusion of the ideas being discussed.

Serving others is the way I experience God. If you have time, come over, it’s a blast.

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Aage, as you know, I grew up as an Adventist, and in my early thirties I found myself in a religious ‘midlife crisis’ – to pharaphrase Dante at the beginning of The Divine Comedy: ‘in the middle of life’s journey, having lost one’s way’. Paradoxically, my loss of traditional SDA faith started at Newbold, as a postgraduate theology student. Like you, I believed that Adventism was «rooted in history and reason», and when I discovered that its rationalistic apologetic architechture crumbled, I lost my SDA faith.

The classical Christian notion of truth, typical of SDA apologetics in the 70’s and 80’s, was based on a claim to objectivity, self-evidence; a theology of the ‘naturally given’ – a kind of untenable religious positivism of claimed demonstrable and verified truths, but, as you say, against empirical evidence. Today, in our postmodern world, this kind of religious objectivity has gradually, and little by little, consumed itself.

This kind of faith is certainly not the faith «that shall make us free». Instead, our experience of being an existing ‘I’ in the world has become more like the ‘story’ we share with each other – a return from the object to the subject; an emancipation from truth as control and domination, what Nietzsche named the ‘metaphysical violence’ of the inquisitors. And it is a fact, as the Italian philosopher Vattimo claims, «although not all metaphycis have been violent, I would say that all violent people of great dimensions have been metaphysical».

Therefore, in contrast to Aristotle’s claim, «Plato is a friend, but truth is a greater friend», I side with Dostoevsky, «If forced to choose between Christ and the truth, I choose Christ». All inquisitors, and that include SDA inquisitors at top levels in the church hierarchy, have all sided with Aristotle, rather than Dostoyevsky. This is a kind of religious foundationalism that does not promote freedom, but consolidates its authority through coersive control.

So, as for your «jumping over the fence to chat with believers over a cup of tea», I agree, ‘truth’ happens in dialogue. As I’ve learned in my life, to quote Vattimo, «the truth that Christ came to teach the church is not an already accomplished truth». A Christianity, or for that matter a secular humanism, that ‘happens’, based on ‘pure love’ is much more appealing than inquistive (untenable) ‘pure doctrines’.

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Harry, I wrote it in the hope that somebody might be able to present a version of Christianity that would challenge people like myself. Back in the day I turned to Christianity because I was lead (I won’t say “mislead” because my mentors really believed what they preached) to believe that it was buttressed by history and reason. I was hoping to to find out if it is possible to formulate the Christian faith in such a way that it will appeal to people with rationalism in their blood without resorting to the false proofs that traditional apologetics rely on. In other words, is it possible to speak faith to the 21st century? I don’t know the answer to that question, hence my challenge.

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