Is the Tide Turning on Religious Belief?

Is the Tide Turning on Religious Belief? September 19, 2023

As I’ve been blogging about “the great dechurching,” I was reading a book that I was asked to review with a more encouraging message about the future of Christianity.

It’s entitled  The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God: Why New Atheism Grew Old and Secular Thinkers Are Considering Christianity Again .  The book is by Justin Brierley, a British apologist who, among his many other online ventures, runs the Patheos blog Unbelievable?

First, Brierley chronicles how and why the New Atheists of a few years ago have crashed and burned.  Then he shows how serious thinkers–scientists, historians, authors, and former new atheists–are becoming more open to the existence of God, the value of the Bible, and the positive impact of Christianity.  And, in some cases, they are becoming Christians.  Brierley believes this new openness heralds a broader revival of faith that we may see in our lifetime.

My review of the book can be found at Religion & Liberty Online.  Here is the opening.  Click on “Keep Reading” for the rest of it, which goes into detail about Brierley’s arguments.

From my review entitled Is the Tide Turning on Religious Belief?, with the deck “Despite the dour statistics about declining church attendance, religious faith seems to be experiencing a revival. What role did the New Atheists ironically play in it? And what is its future?”

In the latter half of the 19th century, the poet Matthew Arnold, on his honeymoon, was walking with his bride along the rocky shoreline of the English Channel as the tide was going out. The sound made him think of “the Sea of Faith,” which was once at high tide, “at the full” around the world. “But now,” he wrote in the poem “Dover Beach,” “I only hear / Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar.”

But after tides ebb, they flow. Low tides are followed by high tides. This is the central metaphor in Justin Brierley’s new book, The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God. “In this book I will make a bold proposition—that Matthew Arnold’s long, withdrawing Sea of Faith is beginning to reach its farthest limit and that we may yet see the tide of faith come rushing back in again within our lifetime.”

In a time when church attendance and affiliation in the United States are plummeting, a phenomenon called, as in the title of a book on the subject, “the great dechurching,” that is a bold proposition indeed. Nevertheless, Brierley sees the tide turning in the failure of the New Atheists and in a new openness to faith that he sees emerging in contemporary thought.

Brierley is a British broadcaster with an extensive apologetics ministry and a presence on radio, YouTube, podcasts, the blogosphere, and, with his previous book Unbelievable?, in print. His modus operandi is to hold conversations about faith with prominent scholars, authors, and public intellectuals. He also hosts debates and discussions between atheists and believers.

This has given him a firsthand look at the rise and fall of the “New Atheists.”

[Keep reading. . .]



Photo:  Justin Brierley from Patheos

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