Church needs more than the Bible to convince an atheist


(Illustration by Jordan Mondell | Contributing Editor)

By Neena Hagen, Senior Columnist

As I nervously opened the large glass doors of North Way Christian Community last Sunday and stepped inside, I looked around and breathed a sigh of relief — jeans were indeed an acceptable clothing choice. People drinking coffee and sitting at tables before the service started upstairs gave an almost coffee shop vibe to the church.

This was not the straitlaced, stern experience I expected from my first church service.

Since I was a young child, most people in my life have dismissed Christian beliefs as mere superstition. My classmates would laugh at the idea of an all-powerful, invisible man in the sky. My parents regarded the Bible as a silly fairy tale, and many of my teachers seemed determined to paint all Christians as members of a fanatic, right-wing cult.

Immersed in this echo chamber, I fell in line with these ideas — sneering at religious dogma while not realizing that I also had succumbed to narrow-minded thinking.

I could feel myself shaking as I plodded up the steps to the church where the service took place — fearing that church attendees would judge me for being an atheist the way I had judged everyone who was religious.

But much to my surprise, churchgoers at North Way Christian Community in Oakland welcomed me with open arms and showed none of the pretentious, cultish behavior my friends had warned me about. Instead, the people there seemed open-minded and ready to accept anyone, no matter their level of faith. And though it never had before, the appeal of church immediately became obvious to me.

Still, a warm church doesn’t mean a logically sound ideology — a case for the divinity of God is unconvincing if the only sources to back it up are from the Bible.

Scott Stevens, the head pastor of North Way, delivered the sermon — the last of a three-part series entitled “Impossible Conspiracy.” The three parts embodied the three classic pillars of Christ’s character — he is “the way, the truth, and the life” — and each of the sermons attempted to show how Jesus’ divinity cannot be a conspiracy.

In the sermon that Sunday, he attempted to show that early passages from the Old Testament in the Bible prophesied Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

He referenced Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in the New Testament, where his followers lauded him as the “Lamb of God.” The lamb is symbolic of the Passover lambs Jews sacrificed every Passover since their exodus from Egypt in the Old Testament.

The point of the sermon was to show that details supporting Jesus as the “Lamb of God” in the New Testament line up very precisely with those in the Passover narrative of the Old Testament — even down to the hour Jesus arrived in Jerusalem.

Stevens pointed to the almost novel-like consistency with which the early verses of the Bible referenced a messiah or savior, saying centuries’ worth of historical predictions like those about the Passover lamb prove Jesus’ divinity.

But his argument that Jesus was a real person whose teachings were divine wouldn’t convince anyone who is not already a Christian. Atheists don’t believe in the divinity of the Bible, so citing only the Bible to prove Jesus Christ’s divinity while ignoring all other historical texts reeks of circular logic to them. A text that aims to promote Christianity as an absolute truth and moral authority is too biased to accurately detail any event from history — unless more objective historical documents can confirm the events took place.

Numerous biblical scholars have shed doubt on the idea that Jesus even existed at all. Some, like John Dominic Crossan of St. Patrick’s College in Ireland, argue the only fact historians can agree on is that Jesus existed in the first place — they can’t detail any aspects of his life.

Given academics’ disagreement over the authenticity of Jesus’ story, it seems churches must cite religious texts in conjunction with other historical documents to put forth an empirical argument for their faith — an approach that would surely lure more atheists and skeptics to Christianity.

Though many Christians argue we don’t need to prove the Bible is 100 percent historically accurate to follow its teachings.

Timothy Freke, a best-selling author of countless books about religion and spirituality, echoes this philosophy. He believes Christians should not be outraged if Jesus never existed in the first place.

“It’s a teaching story,” he said. “What we’re saying is that the Jesus story is an allegory. It’s a parable of the spiritual journey.”

Still, it’s difficult for atheists to embrace a complete moral authority when the evidence presented for the existence of its prophet seems dubious.

Without the word of God infused into it, the Bible is little more than a work of literature — and Jesus is no more than a forgettable protagonist. So if Christians can’t prove the divinity of their Messiah, atheists have no reason to unilaterally follow his teachings any more than they would derive their morals from a random novel.

It’s not just Christians who are at fault though. Both sides of the debate must put aside their own judgments and dogmas about the opposition.

If Christians must open their minds to texts outside of the Bible, atheists must admit the Church can be a force for good — instilling cultural values and enhancing interpersonal bonds between regular attendees. Any community or organization — religious or otherwise — should aim to emulate North Way’s level of camaraderie.

But if Christians continue to present unconvincing arguments for their faith, current atheists will continue to be skeptics of religion — and I’ll keep spending Easter hopping around in my bunny costume instead of going to church.

Neena primarily writes about politics and local issues for The Pitt News. Write to Neena at [email protected].