This century in the USA has started off with declining church attendance, 10% or more of its population no longer professing to be Christian, and a surge in both atheism and so-called “nones” who have no religious affiliation or profession of faith. So, for me it is refreshing to read a stirring Christian conversion story by a former atheist in this month’s issue (December, 2023) of Christianity Today, the preeminent Christian magazine in the USA that was founded by evangelist Billy Graham (who endorsed my first book).
Julie Hannah came from a nominal church family whose mother told her at an early age that she “did not believe in God’s existence.” Julie grew up thinking “Christianity was a superstitious and limited worldview.” But she now admits, “It is easy to reject teachings when you know them only at a trivial, superficial level.” Indeed! I always say, “Investigate matters for yourself.”
As “a young adult,” Ms. Hannah became interested in philosophy and searched eastern religious traditions for ten years as a way of “finding meaning in life.” She concluded that none of it proved “intellectually satisfying” for her. During this search, she says she sometimes encountered references to the “cosmic Christ.” Intrigued, she relates, “I decided that a truly objective study would involve familiarizing myself with Christian Scriptures, just as I’d done with texts like the Quran.”
So, while Ms. Hannah regularly commuted to a university to teach mathematics, she listened to audio recordings of the New Testament, “hoping they would validate my quest to discredit the Christian message,” she says. Regardless of the motive for hearing or reading the New Testament, oh, that more people would follow Julie’s practice here. For, the result proved otherwise than what she had expected.
In hearing “the four gospels,” Ms. Hannah reveals, “I encountered a voice that was strikingly different from anything I had read before. In Jesus’ debates with the Jewish leaders of his time, I saw a credible and incisive intellect. His parables and metaphors struck me as cleverly constructed and consistent in revealing that Jesus is God’s only Son and the true Shepherd of the people. He claimed to speak with absolute authority and embody the fulfillment of ancient prophecies.”
Ms. Hannah continues, “I had expected to find a simplistic hero figure spouting empty spiritual platitudes, but instead I found a realistic, coherent, and inspiring portrayal that didn’t come across like a random fabrication. And I found myself nodding along with Albert Einstein’s remark in a 1929 interview with The Saturday Evening Post: ‘No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is fill with such life.” I was not aware of this quote.
Ms. Hannah then “undertook extensive research into Christianity.” She says, “I came to distrust the popular atheist claim of a Jesus mythology … because I could appreciate the links and consistencies between the Old and New Testaments, which are extensive and truly remarkable. Reading from Genesis through Revelation, we see Jesus’ life and death as part of a holistic picture of God’s promises being fulfilled. … in the New Testament, .. to invent a vast amount of detail that somehow harmonizes with various Old Testament images, themes, prophecies, festival dates, and rituals. This would have been the most sophisticated fraud ever perpetrated.”
Julie further acknowledges, “I discovered that many highly regarded scientists believe some form of guiding intelligence is necessary to explain a universe capable of sustaining human life. … Simply put, many scientists are proposing that there is more to our universe than materialistic processes can explain.”
Ms. Hannah unveils. “Much later in my investigation, when I was seriously pondering the Christian concept of sin, I experienced a stark, painful realization of my own sinfulness. … Suddenly, biblical claims that all have have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory were more than intellectual abstractions. Sobbing, I fell to my knees in shame. … In due course, I would commit myself to Christ and be baptized into the church.
In John’s gospel, Jesus says, ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them’ (6:44). Every day, I thank God for his grace in drawing this arrogant skeptic to him.”
This CT article is entitled “Faith Came by Investigating.” One of my favorite sayings of Jesus is in his Sermon on Mount which says: “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks, receives; and everyone who searches, finds; and for everyone who knock, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7.7-8). That’s what Julie Hannah did, and it will pay off like nothing she could have ever dreamed would come true–eternal life with Jesus and God forever.
[Julie Hannah has authored the book, A Skeptic’s Investigation into Jesus.]