FROM ATHEISM TO JESUS

PMW 2017-058 by Sarah Irving-Stonebraker (The Veritas Forum)

I grew up in Australia, in a loving, secular home, and arrived at Sydney University as a critic of “religion.” I didn’t need faith to ground my identity or my values. I knew from the age of eight that I wanted to study history at Cambridge and become a historian. My identity lay in academic achievement, and my secular humanism was based on self-evident truths. As an undergrad, I won the University Medal and a Commonwealth Scholarship to undertake my Ph.D. in History at King’s College, Cambridge. King’s is known for its secular ideology and my perception of Christianity fitted well with the views of my fellow students: Christians were anti-intellectual and self-righteous.

After Cambridge, I was elected to a Junior Research Fellowship at Oxford. There, I attended three guest lectures by world-class philosopher and atheist public intellectual, Peter Singer. Singer recognised that philosophy faces a vexing problem in relation to the issue of human worth. The natural world yields no egalitarian picture of human capacities. What about the child whose disabilities or illness compromises her abilities to reason? Yet, without reference to some set of capacities as the basis of human worth, the intrinsic value of all human beings becomes an ungrounded assertion; a premise which needs to be agreed upon before any conversation can take place.


Pushing the Antithesis (by Ken Gentry)

Sub-title: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


I remember leaving Singer’s lectures with a strange intellectual vertigo; I was committed to believing that universal human value was more than just a well-meaning conceit of liberalism. But I knew from my own research in the history of European empires and their encounters with indigenous cultures, that societies have always had different conceptions of human worth, or lack thereof. The premise of human equality is not a self-evident truth: it is profoundly historically contingent. I began to realise that the implications of my atheism were incompatible with almost every value I held dear.

One afternoon, I noticed that my usual desk in the college library was in front of the Theology section. With an awkward but humble reluctance, I opened a book of sermons by philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich. As I read, I was struck at how intellectually compelling, complex, and profound the gospel was. I was attracted, but I wasn’t convinced.

Getting the Message


Getting the Message
(by Daniel Doriani)
Presents solid principles and clear examples of biblical interpretation.

See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com


A few months later, near the end of my time at Oxford, I was invited to a dinner for the International Society for the Study of Science and Religion. I sat next to Professor Andrew Briggs, a Professor of Nanomaterials, who happened to be a Christian. During dinner, Briggs asked me whether I believed in God. I fumbled. Perhaps I was an agnostic? He responded, “Do you really want to sit on the fence forever?” That question made me realise that if issues about human value and ethics mattered to me, the response that perhaps there was a God, or perhaps there wasn’t, was unsatisfactory.
In the Summer of 2008, I began a new job as Assistant Professor at Florida State University, where I continued my research examining the relationship between the history of science, Christianity, and political thought. With the freedom of being an outsider to American culture, I was able to see an active Christianity in people who lived their lives guided by the gospel: feeding the homeless every week, running community centres, and housing and advocating for migrant farm laborers.

One Sunday, shortly before my 28th birthday, I walked into a church for the first time as someone earnestly seeking God. Before long I found myself overwhelmed. At last I was fully known and seen and, I realised, unconditionally loved – perhaps I had a sense of relief from no longer running from God. A friend gave me C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, and one night, after a couple months of attending church, I knelt in my closet in my apartment and asked Jesus to save me, and to become the Lord of my life.

From there, I started a rigorous diet of theology, reading the Bible and exploring theologians such as Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Ramsey, and F.D. Maurice. Christianity, it turned out, looked nothing like the caricature I once held. I found the story of Jacob wrestling with God especially compelling: God wants anything but the unthinking faith I had once assumed characterized Christianity. God wants us to wrestle with Him; to struggle through doubt and faith, sorrow and hope. Moreover, God wants broken people, not self-righteous ones. And salvation is not about us earning our way to some place in the clouds through good works. On the contrary; there is nothing we can do to reconcile ourselves to God. As a historian, this made profound sense to me. I was too aware of the cycles of poverty, violence and injustice in human history to think that some utopian design of our own, scientific or otherwise, might save us.

Christianity was also, to my surprise, radical – far more radical than the leftist ideologies with which I had previously been enamored. The love of God was unlike anything which I expected, or of which I could make sense. . . .

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3 thoughts on “FROM ATHEISM TO JESUS

  1. Ray Levick July 21, 2017 at 5:20 am

    Greetings, As I live in Australia I was very interested in this post.

    One problem I found was that the 3 theologians she read. Spurgeon didn’t have a kind word to say about Maurice. The other 2 are not well known either. I was not aware these writers were still available.

    Ray Levick

    On Fri, Jul 21, 2017 at 7:01 PM, Postmillennial Worldview wrote:

    > Kenneth Gentry posted: “PMW 2017-058 by Sarah Irving-Stonebraker (The > Veritas Forum) I grew up in Australia, in a loving, secular home, and > arrived at Sydney University as a critic of “religion.” I didn’t need faith > to ground my identity or my values. I knew from the age of e” >

  2. Kenneth Gentry July 21, 2017 at 9:46 am

    Apparently those writers influenced her early thinking. Hopefully their influence has faded.

  3. Frank Janoski July 24, 2017 at 9:53 am

    Thanks Ken, the article was very interesting and encouraging. It always makes a Christian rejoice to see how the Lord works to redeem His people. Especially when it involves tearing down strong holds that can blind the intellect from the simple Truth of God’s Word. By the way, I found the comments from the original site posting the piece to be quite shocking.

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