God, Idols and Atheism: Discussing what matters most – Part I

I can’t remember a time when I was interested in the debate about the existence of God. I was first exposed to what was commonly called ‘apologetics’ which typically took the form of debates or ‘reasoned’ arguments regarding the existence of God. I suppose I found some of the conversations interesting but lacked any traction for how I experienced life. Later I resonated with Dostoevsky’s fictional account in The Idiot of an encounter with an atheist saying “it was as if that was not at all what he was talking about all the while, and it struck me precisely because before, too . . . however many books I’ve read on the subject, it has always seemed to me that they were talking or writing books that were not all about that, though it looked as if it was about that.”

I sensed that in these debates and declarations people were more interested in defending Reason or attacking an enemy then considering the mess of the biblical tradition and the way we experience faith and life. In the last few years I have begun to more fully articulate what I only sensed years ago. And this last January we spent three Sundays in Adult Education to reflect on our experience and understanding of atheism. What follows is a summary of the first session I shared.

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Declaring the good news

16 ‘See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time.’
Matthew 10:16-19

What are we doing as Christians when we declare the gospel, the good news? Typical of historic Christianity has been the assumption that the gospel, as a message, as a relationship, even as the power of God (to put it in the Apostle Paul’s language), is something which moves from the Christian or church to the non-Christian or the world. It is hardly necessary to point out that the mission of the Church has been to declare the gospel throughout the world with either the implicit or explicit assumption that the world is insufficient (to put it mildly) before such a message is declared.

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