One of the amazing things about God is how God is able to transform a person from one pathway to a completely different pathway…a better pathway. I recently spoke to an individual who told me of an inspirational pastor. This pastor was originally from California and was actively involved in gangs. However, the one-day pastor would have an experience with God through Jesus Christ and would experience a complete turn-around. The individual now ministers in West Virginia and has adopted children born in tough circumstances to give them a better life. This should not be surprising, because God has an amazing capacity of turning something good out of something bad.
It should not be surprising to hear when someone is transformed to a different mind-set either. There are in fact many individuals who are now Christians who once were agnostic or of an atheist mind-set. There are three examples that we offer to show how God can transform the mind, as well as the heart.
Modern Examples of Great Transformations
Many more individuals could be listed when speaking of individuals who have made an amazing turnaround from skepticism to faith. But, to keep from writing a novel, we will limit this article to three individuals who have been transformed.
J. Warner Wallace (angry atheist turned Christian)
One of the most impressive new apologists to surface in recent years is an apologist who is also a homicide detective. J. Warner Wallace is that apologist/detective. Wallace has been featured on Dateline especially for his cold-case detective skills. Wallace, interestingly enough, was a former atheist. Wallace writes in his book Cold-Case Christianity, “My friends knew me as an angry atheist, a skeptic who thoughtfully dissected Christians and the Christian worldview, yet I suddenly found myself reading the Gospels to hear what Jesus had to say. Something about the Gospels caught my attention, more as an investigator than as someone interested in the ancient philosophy of an imaginary sage” (Wallace 2013, 16). It would be Wallace’s use of his cold-case detective skills applied to the Gospels that led him to the understanding that the Gospels were based upon genuine eyewitness accounts. Eventually, this led him to the possibilities that the Gospels were true and allowed him to open his heart to an experience with God.
Wallace is now one of the premiere up-and-coming apologists of our time. Wallace has joined the team at “Stand to Reason,” headed by Greg Koukl, and hosts his own podcast each week titled “Please Convince Me” which is available for free on ITunes. In addition to this, Wallace travels around the nation giving talks concerning the research he has conducted pertaining to the reliability of the New Testament.
Dr. Fazale Rana, henceforth called by his more common name “Fuz Rana,” is a biochemist, best selling author, and an advocate of Intelligent Design. However, he stated that at one time he was an agnostic (Rana 2013, Apologetics.com Radio). What changed Rana from uncertainty to certainty? It was the design found in the universe and the evidence posited that “there looks to be a Mind behind everything” (Rana 2013, Apologetics.com Radio). Rana is a world-renown Christian apologist and works with Hugh Ross’ “Reasons to Believe” ministries found at www.reasons.org.
Lee Strobel graduated from Yale University with a Masters of Studies in Law and is the former award-winning legal editor of the Chicago Tribune. Strobel was an angry atheist who did not desire for God to exist. Yet, upon the transformation witnessed by his wife’s turn to Christ, Strobel set out to discover whether Christianity was true or not…hoping to rescue his wife from what he thought to be a cult. Yet something happened in his investigation. Strobel writes, “On November 8, 1981, I realized that my biggest objection to Jesus also had been quieted by the evidence of history. I found myself chuckling at how the tables had been turned. In light of the convincing facts I had learned during my investigation, in the face of this overwhelming avalanche of evidence in the case for Christ, the great irony was this: it would require much more faith for me to maintain my atheism than to trust in Jesus of Nazareth” (Strobel 1998, 265)! Strobel is now a former pastor and a world-renown apologist defending the very faith that he once condemned.
Ancient Examples of Great Transformations
The transformations listed above are not unique. There are many ancient examples of the very same kind of transformation. Take Paul and James, for instance.
The Apostle Paul is a great example of an ancient example of one who had an epic transformation. Paul had been a persecutor of Christians until he experienced the risen Jesus and had a grand transformation. Luke recorded the message and the events that occurred to Paul as he wrote, “And I was in complete agreement when your witness Stephen was killed. I stood by and kept the coats they took off when they stoned him.’ “But the Lord said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles!’ ” The crowd listened until Paul said that word. Then they all began to shout, “Away with such a fellow! He isn’t fit to live” (Acts 22:20-22, NLT). Paul was completely transformed by the power, love, and reality of the risen Jesus Christ.
James, the brother of Jesus, did not believe in Jesus during His earthly ministry. John records, “You can’t become famous if you hide like this! If you can do such wonderful things, show yourself to the world!” For even his brothers didn’t believe in him” (John 7:4-5, NLT). James was one of Jesus’ brothers. Yet, James became a leading ambassador of Jesus after the resurrection of Jesus. Luke records that the brothers of Jesus were there meeting in prayer after the departure of Jesus, “Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile. When they arrived, they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying…They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus” (Acts 22:12-13a, 14, NLT). James experienced a grand transformation as he would become the pastor of the Jerusalem church.
Many other ancient individuals could be listed including those outside of the pages of the Bible such as Justin Martyr (who turned from Stoicism to Christianity) and Augustine (who turned from a hedonistic lifestyle to Christian faith).
Although I came to faith at an early age, I nearly lost my faith due to doubt in my mid-20s. However, I too had a grand transformation when I was influenced by the evidence presented by those who also had grand transformations such as Strobel, McDowell, Craig, Habermas, and others. These individuals were open to the truth wherever it led. The truth in fact led them to the throne of God.
I close with this thought: it could be that many who are angry atheists now will become the leaders of the church tomorrow. This is well within the realm of possibility. God can transform a heart that is bitter and fill it with forgiveness. God can transform a heart that knows only hate to a heart that is open to love. This is well within the power of God. So for the Christian, I would simply say: don’t become angry with those who are antagonists to the faith. Pray for them. They may very well be your colleagues in the faith very soon. It could be that the next great evangelist, like Billy Graham, has not come to faith yet.
Praying for my atheist friends to come to faith,
Pastor Brian Chilton
All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007).
Rana, Fazale. “Progressive Creationism with Biochemist Dr. Fuz Rana,” interviewed on Apologetics.com Radio Show. ITunes broadcast. August 20, 2013. Accessed August 23rd, 2013.
Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.
Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-Case Christianity. Colorado Springs: Colorado, David C. Cook Publishers, 2013.