To be honest, I was anticipating another topic to begin 2015. However, the story of Ryan Bell has captivated me. Ryan Bell is the former pastor of Seventh Day Adventist Church, former professor of Fuller Theological Seminary, and former professor of Azusa Pacific University. Bell is more popularly known as the pastor who took a year off from God. Unsurprisingly, Bell announced in the article “An End, and a New Beginning” on Patheos.com that he now identifies himself as a “humanist and an atheist…of the agnostic variety” (Bell 2014, “An End, and a New Beginning,” Patheos.com). In the article, Bell provides 3 in-depth reasons as to why he left Christian theism for agnosticism. Some reading this article may be surprised to find that this writer entered a similar quest. For seven years, I was out of the ministry due to unresolved questions and doubts pertaining to the faith. During this time, I was at times a quasi-agnostic. Yet, I came back to the Christian faith because of certain evidences that led me to a stronger faith. This article will briefly examine the reasons that Bell provided that led him away from faith, will provide rebuttals to Bell’s claims, and then will provide some of the reasons why this writer came back to faith.
Bell’s Reasons for Rejecting God
Science and Social Evolution the Way to Understand Religion?
First, Bell claims that he came from a “Christian tradition that flatly refuses to acknowledge the discoveries of science” (Bell 2014, Patheos). Perhaps the issue that Bell has is not so much with God, but the ideology of a particular strain of Christianity that distrusts science. However, this is certainly not true of the vast number of Christians who believe that faith and science are complementary (i.e. Hugh Ross, Fazale Rana, William Lane Craig, etc.). Bell admits as much, but then goes on to claim that “I see no reason for this approach at this time” (Bell 2014, Patheos). But why? If this quest was about searching for the truth, it seems like a grand step to exorcise God while not considering all the options on the table. It seems as if Bell has proverbially “thrown out the baby with the bathwater.”
Bell goes on to claim that “biological evolution accounts for our present physical existence, the history of human social evolution is a much better way of understanding religion. The multitude of religious and spiritual beliefs…and the way that those ideas have changed over time convinces me that God has not created humanity. Humanity has created God” (Bell 2014, Patheos.com). He goes on to say that religion has “served a vital evolutionary purpose, uniting people around the common good” (Bell 2014, Patheos). However, how does this disprove God’s existence? Scientists have various ideas concerning how the universe came into existence, does this indicate that the universe never came into existence because there are various beliefs concerning the beginning? People have differing ideas on most everything. There are people who deny that the Holocaust did not occur. Does this indicate that the event never took place because there are various beliefs concerning the Holocaust? Or take science itself. There is an even deeper flaw to Bell’s reasoning. He claimed that not everyone accepted science, yet Bell beliefs in the authority of science. If there are various beliefs concerning science, does science lose its integrity, or worse yet, does that indicate that science is non-existent? Certainly not! Thus, Bell’s first evidence against God fails miserably.
Multiplicity of Religions; an Argument against Theism?
Bell’s second evidence greatly resembles the first that was given. Bell claims that since there are various beliefs pertaining to God that God must be a human invention and not a real entity. Again, this argument is fallacious. Bell desires consensus. Yet if the Bible is to be believed; from the very beginning of time Satan has tried to press people to ask “Did God actually say” (Genesis 3:1) this or that. Thus, if Satan really exists; one would expect a montage of beliefs concerning God. Nevertheless, Bell’s desire for a global consensus is, in reality, a poor argument against God’s existence. For if a person required a global consensus to require the reality of something, then few things could ever be proven to exist, if anything at all. Yet, that the majority of people in history have believed in the divine counters Bell’s own argument. Bell does not favor the fact that many religions exist and that all of them cannot be correct. Yet, Bell has taken the position that all of them are incorrect, which does not escape Bell’s conundrum. In turn, Bell criticizes Christianity’s exclusive claim while holding to an exclusive claim that all theistic religions are incorrect. Do you see the philosophical problem?
Psychology and Religion
The third evidence presented by Bell is the strongest, and most telling, of the three. Bell claims that psychology provides the greatest problem for belief in God. According to Bell, “We fear nothing more than our own mortality. But what if we could live forever…What if the reward for a life well lived is eternal life in paradise? Such a reward could be used to keep the masses in line and consolidate power in the hands of those that hold the secrets to immortality” (Bell 2014, Patheos.com). The problem with Bell’s argument is that he really does not consider any evidence that the afterlife could really exist. A great deal of evidence for the afterlife exists from the mounting evidence of near-death experiences and out-of-body experiences. (See the works of Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland in this area). Furthermore, Bell does not consider the great evidence that exists for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. If Jesus really rose from the dead on the third day, an event which was at one time central to Bell’s faith, as it is central to all Christians’ faith, then humanity has been given clear evidence that life exists beyond the scope of this mere mortal life. In reality, one must ask what the real value of life could be if one only lives a few years and drifts into eternal nothingness, never to be remembered after a generation has passed. Does anything hold lasting value? Some will claim that love is a lasting virtue. But in reality, without God, nothing including love holds any value. How could anything hold value without God?
Brian’s Reasons for Accepting God
I have many more reasons for accepting the existence of God, as a cumulative case brought me back to faith. However, I will limit my reasons to four.
The Existence of Anything
The fact that anything exists demands God’s existence. Some will argue, “Well, where did God come from?” But, to ask such a question is a categorical mistake. The creation as we know it is finite. Creation had an absolute beginning, as demonstrated by the Big Bang Theory, the BVG Theorem, and the laws of thermodynamics. At the beginning of our universe, no physical laws existed or anything of the like. However, our universe is here. Some will point to the physical attributes of the beginning of the universe as the only answer that suffices. However, those physical attributes require an explanation for their existence. Eventually, if one is honest, one is forced to deal with the conundrum that either an eternal universe exists or an eternal God. Since physical things are finite, the only logical conclusion one could hold is that an eternal God exists. In fact, if an eternal God created the finite universe, one would expect to find conditions favorable for a universe to come into being. Thus, that the atheist claims that the universe could pop into being is only possible if an eternal God in fact brought the universe into being. Therefore, the atheist’s argument is null and void in this regard.
The Functionality of Everything
Many atheists will claim that evolution is the answer to all things. Yet, if evolution is true, then such a process demands an explanation. Why is there such a process? Why would such a process be prone to provide life? If one is to be honest; all physical laws, functions, and the like require an explanation for their existence. The multiple cosmological constants found in the universe demonstrate great design. In fact, the world and the universe operate with great functionality. Such functionality demonstrates the necessity of God’s existence.
The Transformational Power of God
One cannot deny the transformational power that God has had on generations of individuals. Many have experienced the miraculous. Others have experienced a complete transformation in their lives. In fact, my wife can tell the days when I have taken an appropriate amount of time with God from the days that I haven’t. She has noted that my disposition is much better when I have had time with God. In addition, lives have been transformed by dreams, visions, NDEs, and experiences with God which cannot be simply tossed away as one’s imagination. Lives have been saved from suicide because of the transformative power of God. Have there been those who have wrongfully attributed something to God for political and/or personal gain? Sure! But, that does not negate the multiple authentic experiences throughout history that people have had with God. So while the image of Christ in someone’s pudding may not be attributed to a miraculous working of God, one could not say that such miracles never happen. (See Craig Keener’s two volume work entitled Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts for more on this issue).
The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth
Lastly, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth stands as a grand example of the power of God. If Jesus of Nazareth really raised from the dead as the early Christians confessed, then humanity has clear cut evidence not only that God exists, but that God is a very personal and relational God. I will not provide all the evidences that exist for the resurrection of Jesus, as I have provided those evidences elsewhere. But if one examines the evidence, one will be greatly surprised at the amount of positive evidence that suggests that Jesus of Nazareth really did walk out of that tomb on the first Easter Sunday. (See Gary Habermas and Mike Licona’s book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus for more information).
We have evaluated the claims of Ryan Bell. I, for one, have found Bell’s evidences against God wanting. But, it is in my estimation that Bell has suffered some personal tragedies or perhaps has entered into a stage of rebellion. I had reasons for leaving the ministry which were probably somewhat similar to Bell’s departure. Hypocritical Christians angered me then…as they still do now. At the time I left the ministry, I was angry that God had not answered particular requests that I had given. I had entered into a time of loneliness and needed a godly wife…a request that God ironically answered during the time I was out of the ministry (it was through my godly wife that I became more open to the claims of Christ…God certainly has a sense of humor). My reasons for rejecting Christianity had little to do with God and Christ, but had more to do with my problems with Christians and unanswered prayers. I suspect that Bell’s rejection is based upon much of the same. I end this article with a plea. If Ryan Bell reads this article, I plead with him to give Christianity another hearing. I would suggest that he take the time to read the works of great Christian apologists like Ravi Zacharias, Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, Hugh Ross, J.P. Moreland, Greg Koukl, Kenneth Samples, Josh McDowell, and on and on and on. Many of his questions are answered in their works. But, I would also plead with you the reader to take the time to give Christianity a fair hearing. Maybe you are already a Christian. You will want to know why you believe what you believe. Maybe like Bell, you are a skeptic. A great deal of positive evidence is available to demonstrate the rationality of God’s existence and the truthfulness of Christianity. In giving Christianity a chance, you might just be compelled to become a Christian. If you do, click the “How to Know Jesus” link on this website.
© Pastor Brian Chilton. 2015.
Bell, Ryan. “An End, and a New Beginning.” Patheos.com (December 31, 2014). Accessed January 2, 2015. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yearwithoutgod/2014/12/31/an-end-and-a-new-beginning/
Scripture used, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.
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Copyright 2015 Bellator Christi