A Letter Evangelicals Might Use to Apologize to Atheists

Dear Atheists,

On behalf of evangelical Christians* everywhere, I would hereby like to apologize for ever, in any way, insisting that atheists should become Christian.

The reason it’s wrong for us to insist upon that isn’t because we don’t think it an excellent idea for atheists to convert to Christianty. It’s wrong because (we now see) communicating that to atheists cannot help but be righteously offensive to them. And offending people isn’t exactly the shortest path to in any real way communing with them, is it?

We see that now. Forgive us for not seeing it sooner.

We certainly get angry enough when you atheists tell us Christians why we shouldn’t believe in God, don’t we? So of course it’s unreasonable for us not to expect you to get angry when we tell you that you should believe in God. Of course that’s how you’d respond to that. What were we thinking?

Please understand that what we were, in fact, thinking, is that we love you. We want you to become Christian because we don’t want you to go to hell. As you know, we believe an eternity in hell is the fate awaiting anyone who dies without first believing in Jesus Christ. We don’t want you to go to hell. We don’t want anyone to go to hell. Hell’s the worst ever. So we try to save you, see, by … well, being pretty completely obnoxious to you.

Again: sorry. Our bad.

Please don’t think of us as intolerant, shallow, egotistical, intrusive, overbearing, smug, judgmental, hypocrites. Try instead to think of us as people who genuinely care about you, and are only trying to stop you from suffering in a way that we believe you will if you don’t open up your heart to the joys and realities of what we very definitely believe is God. That’s all it is. We sincerely apologize for all the times and ways that we’ve turned what we only ever really meant as an expression of love for you into something that we now understand you couldn’t have possibly received as that.

Furthermore, we’d like to extend to you our true and deep respect for the way you’ve utilized and shown your respect for rational thought, which (believe it or not) we too consider a paramount value. We’re actually huge proponents of rational thought—a fact that we know too often gets lost in those media storms occasioned by our, shall we say, less personally constrained brethren. We apologize for not often enough making clear the degree to which we value rational thought—and for how much we appreciate why anyone would want to make it the primary vehicle they use to wind their way through this decidedly bizarre series of experiences we call life.

Thanks for reading this letter. Hope it helps start making things better between us.

With all the love in the world,

All the Evangelicals

 

* I personally am not what is commonly referred to as an evangelical Christian. See, for instance, my Unfundamentalist Christians. Or just about anything else I’ve ever written. 

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Rebecca

    Good letter… apology accepted (from random make believe evangelical) but I’m gonna stick with answering the door in my unmentionables when the Evans come knocking… it works, they ALWAYS leave.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      You answering the door in your underwear makes people want to LEAVE?

      Are you sure that’s a good thing?

      : – )

  • Heather

    You had me up until “We’re actually huge proponents of rational thought”. Sorry, lost me completely, since I have known hundreds of evangelicals and not one of them has been a “huge proponent.”

    Although if you do happen to find that evangelical who’s a huge proponent of rational thought, plus tell me where they are, so I can travel to them and look upon them with awe and wonder at so rare a sight.

    • http://rinmmkay.blogspot.com Mariah

      Heather, I can kind of see where you are coming from . . . . . . but!

      We have a dream, and hope never dies. For the sake of supporting the life of these hopes and dreams, we must continue clinging to the belief that somewhere in the world – possibly closer than we think – such an Evangelical exists; and that he is not as insufferable, obnoxious, and unreasonable as his brethren.

      Jus’ sayin’.

  • http://rinmmkay.blogspot.com Mariah

    LDS missionaries came to my home and (completely accidentally) saw me in my underwear; they kept coming back to my apartment at rather odd hours of the day and night for weeks after, even after I expressed my lack of interest in being converted to their faith. The Evans must either be very very prudish, or else nowhere near as desperate to save your undying soul as those two LDS missionaries were, Rebecca.

    I’m not an atheist, but it does so offend me when people try to tell me that my non-denominational, strongly-held, and carefully thought-out (and prayed-over) spiritual beliefs are paving my personal road to hell.

    So this letter was rather nice for me, too.

    • Don Rappe

      I know at least one Mormon man who, when young, was very fond of seeing ladies in their underwear (or less). The Lord Christ gave us the mission to proclaim good news to everyone, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I think the questions discussed here are over the methods and their effectiveness.

  • connie

    Sorry- not accepting it. You have written a blanket apology to a diverse groups of non believers that justifies the bad behavior we have had to tolerate.

    1. We Atheists arent a “group of same type thinkers” that Christians have been attacking for centuries. We are not some Army of Atheists who all think like religious drones do. We dont have a sacred book we quote from or follow. So they cant apologise to us like that. They dont get to “blanket” us, as tho that will absolve them of their insane and irrational behaviors towards us as their fellow human beings.

    2. Saying: “Please don’t think of us as intolerant, shallow, egotistical, intrusive, overbearing, smug, judgmental, hypocrites. Instead to think of us as people who genuinely care about you, and are only trying to stop you from suffering in a way that we believe you will if you don’t open up your heart to the joys and realities of what we very definitely believe is God” is no more convinving than “We are going to tell you its raining while we piss and spit on your back. We piss on you because we love you. We spit on you because we care about you.”

    3. An apology doesnt explain WHY the offense has taken place and then use it as an excuse. Just because you didnt use the word “But”, ie “Im sorry BUT….” doesnt mean that isnt what you have done here in long form.

    And the the casual “My bad”…… is really not a heartfelt way of apologizing. Kind of a trivializing attitude, to be honest.

    They should man- up and apologise for the harm they have purposefully inflicted upon others. And ask for forgiveness from the people they have harmed with their ignorant behavior. Period. THAT is an apology. Ask your nearest 12 step program how to handle harming others and making amends. I’ll post 12 steps for them so they can practise and try again later.

    4. When exactly do we atheists tell THEM why not to believe in God and get them so angry? Most athests dont have a whit of interest in talking to others about what they should believe. I dont know ANY who do. Have you ever had an atheist knock on your door to tell you your beliefs are wrong? Didnt think so. When exactly does that anger happen- before or after they have attacked us for having a different belief? (Usually on our doorstep. On our property. Or in our mailbox or the phone.) And why, if their beliefs are so sound do they get so angry when we do take the time to argue with them.

    5. Where, exactly, does “rational thought” come in to their beliefs or arguments. That means being agreeable to reason. Look it up. It is the antithesis of religious rapturous belief. You cant have it both ways. Sorry. I do not believe that rational thought is part of their program.

    6. Personally, I say thanks and nice try, but go back to the writing desk.

    1.We admitted we were powerless —that our lives had become unmanageable.

    2.Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

    3.Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

    4.Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

    5.Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

    6.Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

    7.Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

    8.Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

    9.Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

    10.Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

    11.Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

    12.Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

    • Ken Barnard

      Oh, look. An angry atheist filled with bitterness. What a rarity.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        Yikes, Connie. Angry much?

        • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com/ Shadsie

          And I made my first reply before even seeing this – confirms it. Nope, still not apologizing for existing.

          As far as personally apologizing to atheists in my life, let’s see:

          1. Random people on online message/news article boards I’ve had arguments with. I don’t think I can apologize to them for three reasons, one – I can’t remember all of them. Two – I tendeded to fight only when shot first, and three – much like the population of Fandom Wank only laughed and tore me a new one when I tried to apologize to them for being a fandom-d-bag, I expect the same results from newsite trolls and angry-nicks. Well, maybe a fourth reason – I’ve always tried to handle myself with grace, so I don’t think I did anything wrong. “I believe in God” offends some people. They need to deal with it since I’m not apologizing for it.

          2. Hardcore Atheist art teacher I knew in high school. Can’t apologize to her for two reasons: one – I’ve lost contact with her, have no idea where she is now, and two: despite my being in my obnoxious conservative days back then, we both loved art and cats and because of that, we got along beautifully! We did no wrong to each other, and I remember being a shoulder to cry on when she’d lost one of her pets. I have a little portrait she drew of me in one of my yearbooks. So… yeah.

          3. I have an athiest-leaning agnostic online friend who’s been my friend for years. We met through a mutual love of an anime and she suggests awesome video games to me. Nothing to apologize for that hasn’t already come up at some point. I’ve agreed with her on a lot of things regarding how other Christians treat non-believers, too, how unfair and annoying it is, with the whole “We aren’t all like this” thing. She knows because she doesn’t particularly like how a lot of athiests “represent” her, either.

          *My* personal amends have been made, where they’ve been needed. I don’t expect any apology from anyone who’s hurt me, though, and I’m fine with that.

    • Don Whitt

      @Connie: Like.

      The other piece of this that strikes me is that, John is not exactly what I’d call an evangelist. Apologizing for that group is a bit like me apologizing for bad technology. I do work in high tech, but I’m not the one that horked your operating system or your cellphone (probably :-)

      Being raised in the church (not evangelical, but still rather intense) I have to struggle with the concept of God everyday and the fact that almost NONE of the Christian religion makes sense to me except at an emotional level – at the level of desiring answers to the unanswerable and hoping against hope for good things to replace bad things. But reason rears its head every time and I’m forced to confront what’s really real versus what’s man-made.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        Don: Where did I suggest I was an evangelist?

        • Don Whitt

          You didn’t, John. I was trying to point out that evangelicals should be apologizing for all that stuff, not someone like you. Which may be missing the whole point, I realize. Your’s (?) was an example of what an evangelical SHOULD say in an apology. But coming from YOU, the actual author who is a loving, forgiving, sensible and open-mindedly righteous dude, it, well, doesn’t count as an apology of any sort. But I get what you’re trying to say.

          • Don Whitt

            And I didn’t interpret Connie’s writing as angry and bitter. I read it as direct and clear and reasonable. She put honest thought into what she wrote and I appreciate that.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            Yeah, we read Connie’s little tirade with really different eyes. I appreciate your kind words. Sorry for lightly harshing you, which I did out of surprise that you “liked” Connie’s thing, which to me was kind of absurdly vitriolic. But no worries over you and me. We cool.

          • Don Whitt

            Si, senor!

      • Don Rappe

        John is a non-Evangelical evangelist. In Europe Evangelical was the better name for Lutherans just as Catholic was the better name for Papists. I think that Christian, Arian, Hussite, Lutheran, Papist and others began as derogatory terms.

    • DR

      I’m confused, explanations of intent and “why I acted like I did” are threaded throughout. Unless you’re simply choosing to not see them or believe them to be sub standard which is certainly your choice.

      H Connies of the world are good. Reminders that apologies are offered and remorse is felt. Attempts at repair are made, all to the best of one’s ability. But some like Connie will simply hold Christ ians in general to a standard that is particular to her specific needs. If they aren’t met, then none of it counts which is what she’s stated here.

      I’ve learned in dealing with people like Connie that I can apologize. I can explain why I treated her in the ways I did. I can point to the education I chose to receive, the ways I allowed the church to do my thinking for me. I can try to earn her trust. But at a certain point, trust is given and the Connies of the world often refuse to take that step, in m experience. it’s quite possible that Connie never intends to accept any of it. She wants to stay angry, she wants to hold her collective view of Chrisins, because it serves her to do so. Which. I absolutely her choice and if it’s produce e for her and doesn’t do sny harm to anyone else? No problem. But that’s also her issue alone.

      • Matthew Tweedell

        Very insightful comment, DR!

    • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com/ Ric Booth

      My biggest regret is not seeing Connie’s comment first and then immediately posting, “Yeah, John.”

      Connie is such a sweet name.

    • http://www.hillsideslide.blogspot.com TinaC

      @Connie- i appreciate your sharing that.

      @John- i appreciate what you’re trying to do

      When we Christians apologize, I hope we get that it’s b/c we’ve hurt people. If they respond in a way that seems harsh, then maybe one thing we could do is listen more.

      Anyway, not knocking you John, but hurt people have a right to be upset, angry, etc. At least Connie is being honest and providing feedback. She is participating in the conversation.

      I’m grateful and a big fan of the folks who are willing to take it (unpleasantness) when things get tense and push through. Keep going! It’s important.

    • Don Rappe

      I see no reason to make fun of an atheist who has just been reminded of the things

      Christians may have done or said to her personally which have angered her. There are a lot of straw men in the discussion which follows, not least of which is that John was more satirizing an apology then making one. The apology is not real because it does not come from an Evangelical and is half concerned with soothing the Evs. for making fun of them. This is the part that most bothers Connie IMO. She looks at the writing as though it were a literal apology. She points out why it doesn’t pass muster. She points out correctly that amends might be better made without all the self justification. It does not seem to be Connie’s job to sort out the type of Christian making the apology. I think she brings a, perhaps unexpected, critique of the apology.

      • http://www.hillsideslide.blogspot.com TinaC

        well put, Don.

    • Susan H

      @ Connie. I’ve been keeping company with athiests to gain a better perspective on what seemes to be an intense anger I kept coming up against. I must say, I’ve learned much and have a far better insight into what in most cases is a justified anger. I’m sorry for a self-righteousness that hindered my ability to view with seeing eyes.

      I am, however, a little perplexed by your suggestion to visit the 12-steps as believing in a God is a key precept. One that you seem to consider illogical.

      Best,

      Susan

  • Tammy Lubbers

    Golly. Was I the only one who found this article funny?

    • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com/ Ric Booth

      “Hell’s the worst ever” got me laughing, Tammy. The italicized “ever” was it I think.

    • Mindy

      Nope, Tammy, you weren’t. I’m with Ric on this one – that was the line that stuck it for me, too!

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        Me too!

  • Mindy

    Nicely done, John. Because unfortunately, we know that very few evangelicals would take you up on this. And yes, any one that would might actually be capable of rational thought. To a point, of course, then all bets are off.

    Two women came to my door yesterday to share the Jehovah’s Witness message with me. I told them I was not interested, and they proceeded to ring every doorbell in my building. And I wondered why they thought this was a better use of their time than, say, helping out the Red Cross help our recent tornado victims, or hold babies at our crisis nurseries, or a million other activities that might actually be meaningful to the community? No, they’d rather wander the neighborhoods trying to find that one random person that might actually let them in.

    I don’t get it. And I’m thinking they would entirely miss the point of this apology you have tried to share.

    • RayC

      Sorry for the double post. I just realized that I didn’t post this in a direct response to Mindy!

      Mindy,

      As a former brainwashed Jehovah’s Witness I can tell you why they prefer to ring doorbells rather than volunteer for the Red Cross.

      JWs are told that the preaching work is their primary cause (based on Matt 24) and long ago it was organizationally established that preaching from house to house was a biblically sanctioned way of gaining converts. Their entire system of salvation depends on this work without which they will be counted among every non-Jehovah’s Witness as condemned to eternal nothingness in the grave (as they don’t believe in hell or an afterlife consciousness).

      Not sure about the Mormons, but I imagine it’s relatively the same with them.

    • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com/ Shadsie

      Something I posted on the forum for Zelda Dungeon (a website for the Legend of Zelda videogame series) , on a topic titled “Memories of Your First Time Playing Ocarina of Time”

      “I only played it for the first time around two years ago. Borrowed the collector’s disk from a friend (I still have it and he hasn’t dared to ask for it back)!

      Let’s see… I remember just completing the Shadow Temple and feeling victorious because Bongo Bongo was harrowing, had just been transported to the Chamber of Sages to talk with Impa and a knock came on my door. Grumbling, I answered it. Jehova’s Witnesses.”

      *Ocarina of Time being the most fandom-revered game of the Zelda series and Bongo Bongo being a rather frightening and difficult-to-kill boss monster, so I answered the door all tense! Was nice to my JWs, though, because I believe in being nice.

      • RayC

        Yeah, the Witnesses are infamous for inopportune timing. The darlings of early Saturday morning.

  • DIck Cain

    John,

    Isn’t your statement ‘As you know, we believe an eternity in hell is the fate awaiting anyone who dies without first believing in Jesus Christ.’ contradicting #9 from the The Thruway Christians Founding Document?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Dick: It certainly would be if I were an evangelical Christian.

      • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com/ Shadsie

        Fred Clark (The Slacktivist) labels himself “Evangelical” but has been promoting the “Rob Bell” view of Hell recently. Maybe it’s just labels?

  • RayC

    Mindy,

    As a former brainwashed Jehovah’s Witness I can tell you why they prefer to ring doorbells rather than volunteer for the Red Cross.

    JWs are told that the preaching work is their primary cause (based on Matt 24) and long ago it was organizationally established that preaching from house to house was a biblically sanctioned way of gaining converts. Their entire system of salvation depends on this work without which they will be counted among every non-Jehovah’s Witness as condemned to eternal nothingness in the grave (as they don’t believe in hell or an afterlife consciousness).

    Not sure about the Mormons, but I imagine it’s relatively the same with them.

    • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com/ Shadsie

      I don’t think it’s that way with Mormons. I could ask my father – he’s a convert. I know they do a lot of mission-work and door-to-door stuff, but I don’t think their salvation hinges on it. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, I read somewehre that Mormons think that very few people go to Hell in the end.

      There’s also the really interesting Mormon belief (not sure it’s all Mormons, but from what I hear, it’s the mainstream) that Jehova was actually once a being like us who achieved godhod, and that once we proove to be righteous, we will, as well, with the ability to create our own worlds. And no, they don’t practice pologamy – there were folks in their history who did and there are some fringe-cult Mormons in remote parts of the country who do, but they’e considered as fringe by mainstream Mormons as the Westboro Baptist Church are considered by… well, Baptists.

      • RayC

        I do find the Mormons interesting, especially some of their more esoteric beliefs. Am I mistaken if they share some of their more cosmic beliefs with the Scientologists, such as cosmic wars, God-like figures like Xenu, and highly expansive powers of personal being in the afterlife?

    • Mindy

      So if they don’t believe in an afterlife consciousness, how do they see salvation? And being doomed to nothingness seems relatively painless . . . , no?

      • Matthew Tweedell

        Probably what she means, or what Jehovah’s self-professed Witnesses mean, is that the independent self, indentified by mind it relies upon consciousness, having it’s locus in the brain, ceases to have functional reality—the mortal, rational soul is put permanently to rest with the death of the natural body (as such is the transformation by which some body is determined dead).

        Salvation, however, comes in the resurrection of the spiritual body, assuming one is grafted into the Tree of Life.

        I see nothing unorthodox about such of their beliefs, assuming I’m correct that this is their understanding of it.

        • Matthew Tweedell

          *indentified by the mind it relied upon for consciousness, having its…

          (I guess I should translate my thoughts to words more slowly.)

          • Matthew Tweedell

            *relies (that one’s just an honest slip of the finger. No, not THAT finger!)

      • RayC

        Mindy,

        They believe that salvation will manifest itself in deliverance from a wicked world on Earth to a reformed, perfected, Edenic world again on Earth sans all non-Jehovah’s Witnesses. They believe they will live eternal life on Earth in a pre-Fall Adamic existence. Those who are not “saved” will die utterly with no consciousness as if they were never born. The only incorporeal existence available to a Jehovah’s Witness is for the literal number of 144,000 chosen or “anointed” who will rule with Christ in Heaven hand picked by God or Jehovah. Pretty much this is it in a nutshell.

        In other words, there are two classes of believers. They also believe that the Bible was only written for the 144,000 anointed who thus are the purveyors of “Truth” that the Earthly class are to accept as doctrinally pure and incontrovertible. In other words, those non-anointed do not have the divinely ordained capability of understanding Biblical Truth unaided by the Anointed. And so on and so on…

        Ray

    • Don Rappe

      I’ve known and respected enough Mormons and JWs to know they have very little in common theologically or historically. Even Lutherans will go door to door if pushed sufficiently. However all three will confess that Jesus is Christ and Lord. They have three different ideas about who Jesus is. During the war, German JWs were known as Bible Students (Bibel Studenten) and put to death in droves because they would not salute the swastika and say Hail Hitler. This makes them Christian martyrs to my mind and settles the question of whether they are Christian for me. They will not pledge allegiance to the American flag either. So far, we have not begun to martyr them. Mormons have been persecuted for their faith in this country. While the main body of them has adopted the European practice of monogamy now, they provide us a reminder that the scriptures do not speak against polygamy, with the possible exception of “Blessed are the poor” (Luke) since poor men can seldom afford more than one wife.

  • Danny

    Well….I guess I read this as good “satire”….along the same lines as “The Onion” and “The Wittengurg Door”. Thanks John!

  • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com/ Shadsie

    This will speak to some, but trust me, it will not speak to the hardcore athiests. They hate anyone who even believes in God a little bit (and even agnostics, whom they call cowards). I’ve decided that I’m not going to apologize for existing to them, or anyone.

    • Mindy

      I don’t think they “hate” anyone who believes in God even a little bit – I imagine some might, but you paint with too broad a brush. They are dismissive of believers, they pity believers, they feel superior to believers, but most of them, at least the ones I know, don’t hate.

      • Matthew Tweedell

        They are indeed much like their hardcore conservative-Christian kin: hate the sin, love the sinner. The only problem is, then their “love” can come across as in reality quite a bit hateful.

        (Similarly, hardcore segregationists typically do not ever suggest they “hate” people of color; they just think they know how others ought to be and tend towards much hypocrisy about it, have clouded clear thinking with certain negative emotions {that might reasonably be called a sort of “hate”, whatever they might properly be considered directed towards}.)

        • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com/ Shadsie

          Online, I have actually *seen* people say “Hate the Christianity, love the Christian.”

          Those spouting that never come across as loving to me, more “you must become an atheist to be a true human being, and if you can’t, you serve Humanity best by dropping dead.”

      • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com/ Shadsie

        I wasn’t talking about regular atheists. I was talking about hardcore ones. I said “hardcore.” I’ve been *friends* with atheists. I’m talking about the ones who would never ever deign to be friends with a “religionist,” – ones I’ve seen online.

        • Mindy

          True, Shadsie – you did say hardcore. My bad. You’re right about them – they are as off-putting and unpleasant as rabid fundies. b

    • Diana A.

      Yeah, I see your point. I feel that way sometimes too.

  • Blue

    Nice letter Mr. Shore. I’d love to actually receive that from some Christian people I know. Thanks for writing it, you put a smile on my face.

  • Katie D.

    There’s a lot of people commenting on Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons on here, but I don’t see the relevance because they are not “christians” in the mainstream way that, say, baptists, presbyterians, or lutherans are. They are cults. They diverge from mainstream christianity on what are major theological issues. Not like sprinkling vs. immersion baptism, or infant baptism, but major issues. Someone already pointed out that Witness’ believe in a works based salvation that clearly goes against the bible and mainstream christian denominations. They tell people that they are “christian” and will defend it vigorously (i have this discussion everytime they come to my house, either mormons or witness’), but they are not. Just good people who have been misled by lies that closely resemble the truth, the most convincing kind.

    • Katie D.

      oh, and as for the atheists, my favorite quote on the subject is “the worst moment for the atheist comes when he is truly thankful, and has no one to thank.” I find that atheists aren’t “hateful” or condescending if I’m not attacking them with my faith, just living it. I have lots of atheist friends who respect my faith because of how much of a dick about it I’m not and sometimes we get to have really great discussions about God because they know I’m not gonna get pissy and self righteous so they feel comfortable talking about it to me and asking questions. It’s amazing and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to witness to my beloved atheist friends.

    • Matthew Tweedell

      While Jehovah’s un-summoned Witnesses have clearly departed from the Apostolic Tradition of the Orthodox Christian faith in light of their rejection of the Holy Trinity, I am not aware of their teaching salvation based on works in any sense that’s unbiblical (besides perhaps in regards to what works there ought to be), nor did I see anyone else here suggest that they taught anything going against what the Bible has to say on this matter (which—you’re right—is of more fundamental importance than vain matters of baptismal ritual, even whether or not it’s Trinitarian baptism).

      James 2:14-26 (NKJV)

      What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

      But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

      Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?

      For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

      • RayC

        Matthew, That is exactly how a JW would explain “works” in conjunction with salvation.

      • Katie D.

        Works are a result of faith, yes. Works are what saves you, no. “For by Grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves , it is a gift of God, not of works that anyone should boast.” So really, we’re not saved by faith or works, but soley by God’s Grace. If we have faith, God gifted us with that faith. we didn’t come to it ourselves and certainly not by doing good works. That is not what JWs teach. Aside from that , I also take issue with the practice of “disfellowshipping” “sinners” , like people who get divorced for example. Yes there is biblical suport for church discipline, but I do not believe that Jesus wants us kicking people while they’re down, like, kicking them out of their church families and their blood families if the relatives are witnesses also. God doesn’t want a mother to stop speaking to her daughter because her daughter left an emotionally abusive marital relationship. There’s something wrong with any group that claims He does.

        • Matthew Tweedell

          Of course, there’s something wrong with that, and certainly there are many unholy things that JW’s profess. And they’re not very “Christian” in the sense that that word is used by the vast majority of those who have ever called themselves by that name. I was simply saying that I wouldn’t be so quick to judge their interpretation of what the Bible says on the relationship between faith and works to be fundamentally incorrect. You seem to suggest that they think that works that do not result from or contribute to faith could be any means of salvation, but they’ld have to be pretty much Biblically illiterate to sustain such a radical illogicality.

          • Katie D.

            That was my whole point, that they’re not “christians” in the sense that most of us would use the word. My husband was raised as a witness,(he’s anti all church now because his mother was disfellowshipped and left completely alone to raise 3 boys under 10 when she left his asshole father). When we were first together he was always saying things like “well you believe that good people go to heaven” or “you believe that Jesus was an angel” because JWs tell people they’re christian. Mormons do the same. It’s the same as people saying “well you believe that God Hates Gays” because they think Fred Phelps is a christian. I was just pointing out the difference since it seemed a lot of the commenters seemed to think that JW’s and Mormons are evangelical christians.

          • RayC

            JWs are not Evangelical Christians in the proper noun sense, but they are evangelically structured (in that their main purpose as a religion is to preach to others and gain converts) and they consider themselves Christians (even though mainstream Christianity does not consider them Christians). Many of their beliefs fall in line with a tradition of fringe self-acknowledged Christian groups, such as eschewing the doctrines of the Trinity and Hell. In a sense, they really are not that doctrinally anomalous, as they so love to think!

            I was disfellowhipped, too. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me as I feel liberated from what I consider an oppressive, high control group. But, I will stand up and support their right to interpret a version of Christianity for themselves. I see this as a very Protestant tradition.

  • Dave Bowling

    Interesting letter and interesting comments from the many who follow your blog.

    If I may put my two cents worth into the circle … I have always felt (and believed) that there are many Christians who will be surprised and amazed at who gets into heaven. Some will be shocked! I can just imagine the petitions that will be started to petition God to correct an incorrect choice/selection and the protest signs that will be made when several of us (perhaps many of us) appear in that great place prepared for His children.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      I know I’ve already got a whole speech planned for when I get turned away from the Pearly Gates. It needs a little polishing—I’ve got this thing about a puppy of mine once getting run over by a motorcycle that I’m not sure really works—but I think it’ll get the job done. God, I hope so.

    • Katie D.

      I totally agree. i didn’t mean (although I was generalizing) that there are no JWs or Mormons who are “saved”. I just meant that if you really look into what they believe, it’s not christian. I believe that those who seek Jesus wholeheartedly find Him.

  • Heather

    I still consider myself Evangelical. Doctrinally, Assemblies of God. Cannot tolerate attending an Assemblies of God church — they make me want to shove my head through a wall. So for the moment we’re hanging with the Wesleyans, who so far, have the good manners to not bring up politics or be annoying idiots.

    I get along with atheists pretty well. I understand why they believe what they do, even if I believe differently. I’ve been involved with evangelization, but it always felt so horribly rude that I haven’t formally done anything like that for many years.

    I don’t make a big secret of being religious, so if someone wants to know what I believe about a particular thing or the subject comes up, I will give my opinion. Otherwise just throwing it out there out of a clear blue sky is obnoxious. I Cor 13 says that love is not rude and I Thes. 4:11-12 says “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” That is enough to keep me busy because I’m pretty lazy and a bit of a gossip.

    Even as an Evangelical, I don’t like how Evangelicals treat me — I’m backslidden because I’m politically liberal and I like to play MMORPGs — Quick! Somebody get the anointing oil and have a deliverance service! I don’t want to make anyone else feel that way. I don’t think Jesus would like it either — from the gospel accounts all kinds of people enjoyed his company and people don’t enjoy the company of the obnoxiously self-righteous, generally.

    I do feel bad for my fellow Evangelicals sometimes, though. They are so overwrought and often they really do mean well, a lot of them just don’t seem to be able to process other points of view and have some trouble with critical thinking or something. I don’t know. Sometimes I try to gently pry their minds open a smidge but that doesn’t seem to end well most of the time. They just become more convinced that I’m a heathen, even when I show them from scripture why I believe certain things. *sigh* Other times I get really angry and disgusted with them, but try to bite my tongue to keep peace in the family. However, I fear one of these days my mother-in-law is probably going to back me into a corner and it’s going to get ugly. Hopefully not at anything important like a graduation or wedding. Ugh.

    • Matthew Tweedell

      Why do you wish to consider yourself an Evangelical if you don’t desire to be formally involved with evangelization?

      • Heather

        Evangelicalism isn’t only defined by formal Evangelism. It is defined by doctrinal beliefs such as the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, the importance of a “born again” conversion experience, as well as the importance of sharing the gospel of Christ. I do believe in sharing the gospel of Christ. I do not believe the way Evangelicals currently attempt to share the gospel of Christ are in line with Scripture.

        And I wouldn’t say that I wish to consider myself Evangelical. With the reputation we have with outsiders (which is something the Bible tells us to concern ourselves with) I would much prefer to shed that particular label, but that would simply be dishonest. I am Evangelical, whether I like that I am or whether other Evangelicals like that I am. I just am. So there you go.

        • Matthew Tweedell

          The inerrancy and authority of Scripture is common Christian belief, present (and absent, on a case by case basis) among evangelicals and other Christians alike. And from the Scripture, the importance of having been born again and sharing the gospel follow. The interpretation, however, of what it means to be truly born again, and of how to share the gospel, and the details of what is foremost contained in the gospel message, are matters which divide the house against itself. But by your definition, what traditional Christian is not evangelical? How is the house so divided, that that label might really be meaningfully applied?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    Wow! What a totally interesting discussion has happened here! This is awesome.

  • peet

    Wow, what a great thread.

    To Connie, from a 12-stepping, Catholic/Lutheran with Buddhist leanings:

    I am sorry for any pain that my beliefs have caused you.

    That’s it. I can’t apologize for all Christians to all athiests, but if in some way my belief system–as convoluted as it is–has contributed to any unhappiness of yours, I’m sorry. I regret it.

    The curse of rational thought in matters of faith is that we, as Christians, are asked to accept some very implausible things. Virgin birth, trinity, resurrection, bodily assumption into heaven, etc. The word ‘miracle’ is not an explanation.

    And the risk of rational thought in church is asking, seriously, how can God be three AND one? Where is the physically resurrected body of Jesus right now? And pretty soon, you are stepping waaaay outside orthodox thought. And you’re shunned, cursed, dismissed, consigned to flames of woe, pitied, condescended to. Asking questions is risky business. So profess things you aren’t convinced of, or be prepared to have ‘heretic’ stamped on your forehead.

    The scarlet H.

    But, and I am thoroughly dead serious about this, if you haven’t taken every aspect of faith, every line of the Apostle’s Creed, and put it under a very strong microscope, you don’t own your faith. You’re renting it. It isn’t yours. It’s borrowed.

    I’ve been friends with a full-on, adamant, anti-Christian atheist for 35 years now. He doesn’t want an apology. He wants us to stop giving moral cover to republicans. He wants us to stop supporting waterboarding (60 percent of evangelical Christians approved of this torture). He wants us to stop being such bigoted homophobes. There is NO apology that could rectify these things. There is only a change of conduct.

    And that means seeing eye to eye, discussing issues without this insane need to alter sthe person you’re talking to. The ONLY reason I have decades-long friendships with jews, athiests, gays, buddhists, drag queens, Benedictine monks, wiccans, and….brrrrrr….journalists, is because they know I am not trying to change them. I LISTEN. I don’t have an agenda. My only goal is to outlove these people. And when I see a non-Christian act in a more ethical, charitable, kind way than me, it’s a source of shame. The best apology we can make is cutting people some slack.

    • vj

      “if you haven’t taken every aspect of faith, every line of the Apostle’s Creed, and put it under a very strong microscope, you don’t own your faith. You’re renting it”

      What a great way to put it :-)

      Not to mention “I LISTEN. I don’t have an agenda”.

    • Don Whitt

      Cheering Peet’s statement. Love it. Thank you.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        Ditto.

    • Mindy

      Peet! You rock, yet again. :::::::::applauding as loudly as I can:::::::::::::

  • Mary

    ‎”God loves atheists as much as he does believers. P-p-probably more.” Father Joseph Warrilow

  • Mike Bruno

    Sorry. Apology not accepted. Until you stop trying to infiltrate our politics and school boards and marginalizing large groups of people on nothing but theological grounds, we shan’t agree to disagree. As far as appreciating rational thought…..HA…what a laugh. How much evidence does it take to convince you that evolution is, by any conventional standard, a fact. To borrow from George Orwell: The evangelical not only does not disapprove of atrocities and stupidities committed by his own side, they have a remarkable capacity for being profoundly ignorant about them.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Yeah, see, it wasn’t actually an apology from me. See the title of the piece.

  • Tracy

    Well, God tells us to spread the gospel, NOT CONVINCE people that He is Lord. We proclaim it and give the information in love. If they don’t take it, the Bible says “my sheep hears my voice.” If someone’s not God’s sheep, why waste your precious life arguing with them? You may have 2000 people waiting to receive the Life of Christ. It’s indeed our pride standing in the way and making us ineffective. We don’t win by our logical thought and good debating skills. We win BY THE HOLY SPIRIT. If God doesn’t select them, they don’t belong to God’s Kingdom which is Holy and precious to God. Respect the free will that God gives human beings. They have the right to select death and pain. Since they continue to want to remain lords of their own lives and not repent, just let them. The decision is theirs and sometimes God will soften certain hearts, but it certainly it’s our responsibilities.

    There’s something utterly unhealthy and scary about Christians apologizing to atheists for telling the gospel. This shows internal warfare of the individual wanting to take control of things that are in God’s hands, and takes the disrespecting step for God to apologize to humans. This certainly doesn’t come from God nor the Holy Spirit. It’s just a proud attempt of immature individuals to try to convince the “opponents” to obey by a softer method. Foolish, not wise, and definitely should not be done. If you apologize for telling the gospel, you can regard yourself as a non Christians because Christians are made to proclaim and glorify God’s message to people ,which is worth Christ’s life. Are you not condemning yourself for saying such thing? You shall repent. Being smart in your own eyes is dangerous because “God opposes the proud.” Stop trying this way and other ways. God’s Kingdom is His fight, we are only the messengers. If you continue to impose your own understanding, you really don’t know God personally. Again, repent.

    Repentance is needed from everyone, in order for God to forgive anyone’s sin. If the individual refuses to repent and turn to God, they are asking for punishment, which is just and right end for them. God is right in carrying out His law and we praise God for doing so. We praise Him for giving us a chance to know Him but we must also realize His wrath and righteousness is just as wonderful. Amen. May God guide people in America to turn back to God, because more and more people are falling and lying to themselves. Too much materials and too much entertainment is fooling everyone. May He has sympathy on those who seek Him! In Christ’s name.

    • DR

      You are dead wrong and you’ve in your comment, twisted the intent, spirit and tone of this post.

      No one is asking those of us who are Christian to – as you’ve twisted this – “apologizing to atheists for telling the gospel.” There is an apology due for *how* we have done it, how we have pushed our way uninvited into conversations, disrespecting the privacy and space of atheists. How we have *misrepresented* the Gospel as we have done that as well as send the message to Atheists that they are incapable of loving well and acting with morality in case they have Jesus. And lastly how we have actually *pushed God’s children away from the gospel* because of our own neurotic, controlling interpretations of the Bible that are rooted in our homophobia, greed and whatever other sin we’re contending with.


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