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September/October 2013 coverThe Does God Exist? program has maintained a website or multiple websites for 18 years. One of the things that we have invited people to do on these websites is to send us their questions at jncdge@aol.com. This has resulted in an average of some 200 e-mails a day coming to us from all kinds of people with all kinds of questions. Once you get past the spam and daily hate mail, there is a significant number of questions from atheists who would like to Believe bridges over doubt.believe in God because they are frustrated with where their atheist belief system is taking them, and people who have been a part of some church but are losing their faith. This is not new. In the Bible there are a number of times when people asked things like “I do believe; help … my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Some of the reasons that people had to struggle with their unbelief are the same as today, and some are different. What we would like to attempt to do in this article is to identify what we believe are the six major causes of people losing their faith and make a brief response to each of them.

ATHEIST PROPAGANDA. Atheism has become increasingly aggressive in the past decade, and qualified writers like Richard Dawkins have provided a wide range of atheist arguments. Very little of this has focused on evidence, but has mostly involved attacks on a theological or philosophical basis. From the pens of these writers have come a massive number of atheist websites which quote Dawkins and others, or paraphrase them, usually without giving credit. As these websites have attacked the Does God Exist? program, there has been a very small number who have actually e-mailed their questions or challenges to us. In most cases they have been young people who really did not understand the arguments, but found it to be fun to get a reaction from religious people. In several cases I have learned that Man with Bible looking out a window.the person I was communicating with was under 15 years of age, and yet he had a website and sent e-mails filled with profanity and abuse towards those who believe in God.

Man reading man.The atheist arguments are not much of an issue for someone like myself who has been handling atheist attacks and threats for over 40 years. However, for a young adult who is not acquainted with the approach and the material, the attacks may sound convincing. What we have tried to do in this journal is to respond to some of this material in articles that deal with specific challenges and attacks. We have also prepared videos which can be watched free of charge on our doesgodexist.tv web site. Program 24 titled “The New Atheists, the New Science, and God” goes into some of these questions. Here are some articles and issues during the past five years, where we have dealt with some of the atheist challenges: (These articles can be accessed on our doesgodexist.org website by going to the Journal Archive in the navigation bar on the home page or printed copies can be mailed upon request.)

Separating the Old and New Testament,” Jan/Feb 2012
The Moral Impossibility of Naturalism,” May/Jun 2011
Pollution, Pain and God,” May/Jun 2010
Answering Challenges to the Bible,” Jul/Aug 2009
Does Santa Equal God?” Nov/Dec 2009
Maligning God in Ignorance,” Jan/Feb 2009
Strange Does Not Equal Supernatural or Atheism,” Mar/Apr 2008
God of the Gaps and Evidence,” Jul/Aug 2008
Atheists Declare War on Faith,” Jul/Aug 2007
The Church Is Stupid,” Jan/Feb 2007
The Debate that Shouldn't Be,” Nov/Dec 2007
What Is Reliable History and What Is Not?” Jul/Aug 2007
Apologetic Problems with Miracles,” Sept/Oct 2007

There is a large number of excellent books written by qualified authors who have responded to atheist material including the challenges of Dawkins. We have reviewed some of these as well. Some recent books along these lines which we have reviewed include:

Field Manual for Christian Apologetics by John Oakes
God Behaving Badly by David Lamb
On Guard by William Lane Craig
Who Made God? by Edgar Andrews
Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart
Fabricating Jesus by Craig Evans
Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig
Is the Bible Intolerant? by Amy Orr-Ewing
When Critics Ask by Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe
The Dawkins Delusion by Alister McGrath

CREATIONIST DENOMINATIONALISM. Another major source of people losing their faith is religious people who promote their denomination's creed and doctrines in creationist teachings. Ronald Numbers in his book The Creationists shows that a vast proportion of creationist materials are from dispensational millennialists. Popular creationist programs like Answers in Genesis, Dinosaur Adventure Land (closed), and The Institute for Creation Research and speakers like Kent Hovind and Ken Ham use everything from public seminars to theme parks to promote their doctrine. Like the atheist website material, these teachings are picked up by people who do not understand the science or the doctrinal concepts and that material is used in sermons, Vacation Bible School programs, camp programs, youth rallies, and Bible classes. Much of the material in these presentations is very good, but there are many things that are bad science and/or bad theology. Some examples are:

*Claims that Darwinian evolution caused the crusades.
*Bad interpretations of cave drawings claimed to be dinosaurs.
*Claims of Egyptian armor found in the Red Sea.
*Arguments made about the Grand Canyon being analogous to canyons on Mount St. Helens.

Tarbosaurus moving.We have also seen a host of attempts to discredit all methods of dating that might suggest that the earth is more than the 6,000 years old. This is demanded by dispensationalism and its predictions of the rapture and the ultimate re-establishment of Judaism with Jesus sitting on David's throne.

The problem with all of this is that when young people get further along in their education, they begin to see the mistakes in that which they were taught as a child. Then they assume that since they were taught incorrectly about some of these things, that the entire content of their religious education must be wrong — or at least suspect. This is by far the area that brings us the most e-mails. We have tried over the years to provide help in evaluating some of the areas of concern. Some of the recent articles we have had are:

Misunderstanding the Death Sin Produces,” Mar/Apr 2012
Westernizing the Biblical Account,” Jan/Feb 2011
Why Dinosaurs?” Jul/Aug 2011
A Christian View of the Business of Spirits, Ghosts and Demons,” May/Jun 2011
The Wisdom of God: Proverbs 8:12 – 30,” Jan/Feb 2011
Making Sense of Rocks,” Nov/Dec 2011
Misreading the Message,” Mar/Apr 2010
The Roll of Chance in Creation,” Nov/Dec 2009
The Laws of Thermodynamics,” Jul/Aug 2009
Misunderstanding Radiation,” Mar/Apr 2008
Destructive Dispensationalism,” Nov/Dec 2008

Partiers on a beach!LIFESTYLE ATTRACTIVENESS. Closely associated with the two sources of faith loss we have mentioned so far is the fact that rejecting God offers a temporary “high” — especially to young people. To suddenly be free of the moral restrictions that faith brings is an attractive offering to a young person whose hormones are raging and who is frustrated as he struggles with his own sexuality and peer pressure to engage in a “party mentality.” I have frequently had a young person come up to me after a lectureship and say that he or she could not respond to my evidence, and was not about to change his or her lifestyle. Paul Chamberlain's book Can We Be Good Without God? is a good discussion of this, and we have had a number of articles on morality and life choices in this journal. See Dr. Paul Smith's articles in our May/Jun 2012 issue or our article on “The Moral Impossibility of Naturalism” in the May/Jun 2011 issue.

HYPOCRISY IN LEADERSHIP. A number of surveys by the Barna Institute and other groups have shown that many young people have not seen their parents, siblings, or church leaders live up to what they taught. This point is so obvious that we will not elaborate on it here. This is a very personal problem, and any generalization would be inaccurate. Our last point in this essay will get back to this issue.

Pre-marital counselingLACK OF FOUNDATION TEACHING. What I mean by “foundation teaching” is the basics of why we believe what we believe. For many young people Bible class and worship have been entertaining stories, flashy presentations, and emotional appeals. None of these things is destructive in and of itself, but when that is all there is to a child's religious education, that child is in trouble. Why do we believe that God created the cosmos? Why cannot the cosmos be eternal? How do we know the Bible is true? Who created God? Why do we follow Jesus and not Muhammed or Buddha? How do we explain the horrible stories of the Old Testament, and the claims of Jonah and the great fish, or the crossing of the Red Sea? The list of fundamental questions is very long, and while we need to teach Bible stories to the very young, we also need to give them a foundation so that they will know how to answer or at least understand the answers to those who will challenge their beliefs as they grow up.

There has been a belief in many churches and congregations that as long as we teach the kids the right memory verses, and help them have a good time at church they will be okay. The references we have given earlier in this article contain many responses to these kinds of questions. We are not equipping our youth to know how to handle these challenges, and because of this we are finding many of our young people leaving their faith rather than confronting the challenges.

FAULTY CONVERSION. Does any significant change happen to us when we become a Christian? Acts 2:38 is quoted by many of us, emphasizing the importance of being baptized for the forgiveness of our sins. The rest of that verse says “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” If we take that verse at face value, then the Holy Spirit will work in all of us who become Christians. Romans 6:1 – 9 talks about dying to sin and becoming a new creature — a process associated with repentance. The problem is that for many people becoming a Water baptismChristian was not because there was a conscious desire to change and repent and die to sin, but rather an emotional response made to a wonderful sermon, or a direct confrontation by a minister or friend. If response was made on a purely emotional basis then as soon as the emotion went away life returned to normal. There was no fundamental change in how the person lived and thus no opportunity for the indwelling of God's Spirit to help in changing that life.

Christianity is a way of life. We need the help of God's Spirit to become Christ-like. Just getting wet does not do that. We may not have the intelligence to answer every question that is thrown at us, and we may even make mistakes in our choices in life. In 1 John 1:8 we are told that if we say we do not sin the truth is not in us. We will make mistakes, and in answer to questions we will sometimes have to say, “I don't know, but I will find out.” I have had young people tell me that they were baptized into Christ “to keep peace at home.” They had no intention of ever attending church services or living the Christian life once they left home.

The church is facing major challenges in the second decade of the twenty-first century. We hope that there will be a groundswell in the membership of the church to get back to basics. Let us be less concerned about being entertained, and more concerned about letting God's Spirit live within us to change the world.

— John N. Clayton

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