Over the past year, I have ventured into the battle royal arena of apologetic, theology, philosophy, psychology and sociology. I have been asking and seeking answers to the questions Why? and What? pertaining to Christian faith and practice. Within that search, I am discovering the expanse and extent to the building blocks of faith. Questions of free will, sovereignty, culture and biology all press upon the individual mind and world view. We are complex and yet unique within this vast universe. Consequently, my studies have exposed me to the darker side of faith towards God and a personal relationship: to the experience of doubt and unbelief.
Around 2006, four well know atheist gathered in a home for two hours to engage in free thought. The result was the New Atheism and the label “The Four Horsemen of Atheism.”(1) As such, it is weighty upon my heart to discover and highlight four men, who once embraced the gospel of Christ in their younger years, but have turned away in their prime of life. These four men are smart, influential, and well learned. This blog is my humble, layman’s bit to make sense of such unbelief, and to look to inside answers. These men have made strident claims against the existence of God and Jesus Christ, His son, the Spirit and how the Church is to influence society. To their merit, I have given them the name: The Four Horsemen of Unbelief. I apologize in advance if the reader feels I have misrepresented their person hood. Please reply as you see fit. I do not know them personally, and my analysis may be but a straw man’s view of their soul and beliefs. I am attempting to understand their journey in the knowledge of the truth as revealed in nature, scripture and the Holy Spirit.
Bart Campolo : The Dis-illusionioned Humanist
Bart Campolo is an American humanist speaker and writer. He is the son of Tony Campolo, and was a pastor before transitioning from Christianity to secular humanism.
In 1999, Campolo and his wife, Marty, founded Mission Year, an urban Christian ministry program. It was born out of the merger of their first organization, Kingdomworks, and Campolo’s father’s Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education. Mission Year currently serves Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia. Members of the group “live, work, … and build intentional relationships in marginalized neighborhoods” in order to spread their message and work toward improving the lives of the poor. Mission Year offers short term (week-long) as well as year-long commitments. Bart Campolo sparked some controversy after publishing an article in The Journal of Student Ministries entitled The Limits of God’s Grace. This article, which argues that God is not currently in control of the universe and will eventually and utterly triumph over evil. This was perceived as heretical by many in the evangelical community, most notably by Christianity Today, who drew comparisons between Campolo and Ivan Karamazov.
Following a cycling accident during the summer of 2011, Campolo came to terms with his growing unbelief. He has since announced that he no longer believes in God and has transitioned to Secular humanism. Campolo decided that “He’d help [people] accept that we’re all going to die, that this life is all there is and that therefore we have to make the most of our brief, glorious time on earth.” Applying the tools of the trade that he refined during his Christian ministry, Campolo swapped his former beliefs for secular humanism and continued to help those in need. He became the first Humanist chaplain at the University of Southern California. In a 2014 motivational speech to students on campus, Campolo expounded on how to effectively persuade Christians and other religious people toward humanism as follows: “The question that we need to be asking is not, ‘How do we prove that they’re wrong?’ but it’s, ‘How do we offer people the same values that all people want, but how do we offer those values, not supported by ancient myths or by supernatural fairy tales, but how do we offer them love and goodness and purpose and mission, based on reason, based on common sense?'”(2)
The Un-Reformed Disciple’s Take:
Bart inherited the call to Christian compassion from his father, the popular Tony Campolo. Following our paternal heritage in any venue is a challenge to engage with equal passion. I believe Bart saw the beauty in helping mankind. Because the evangelical community has not been very committed to serving the poor, I can see how Bart may have been discouraged, especially when CT gave him the long-nosed look. Prayers were not answered. Supposed brothers were indifferent or hostile to the very work Jesus called us to: care for the poor. Eventually, he must have felt God didn’t care about why he served, and did not reward his efforts with recognition or life requests. Bart gave up on God making it right in the world, and in his life, and lost hope in eternity. Why spend the extra mental capital to impress God and man when going humanist is emotionally easier?
A humanist looks for the potential in man and in himself. Religion can be self-serving. When we are weak in faith and come into disbelief, we must remember it is not about US. God is first, others second, we are third. God calls us to trust in his LOVE when all looks bleak. Man will fail us.
If Bart reads this, I would admonish him that though his faith is weak and failing, his labors in love were not disregarded. May he take hope again in a loving God.
1Hear my cry, O God,
listen to my prayer;
2from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
3for you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
Matt Dillahunty : The Philosophical Atheist
Matt Dilluhunty says… I was raised in a loving, Southern Baptist home and was a fundamentalist Christian for over 20 years. After 8 years in the Navy and several years in the hi-tech game, I set out to re-affirm my faith with designs on attending seminary and continuing with a life in the ministry. What began as an attempt to bolster my faith became a continuing investigation into more topics than I ever suspected I’d enjoy.
After the first couple of years, reason forced me to acknowledge that my faith had not only been weakened by my studies – it had been utterly destroyed. The thoughts, writings and wisdom of people like; Robert Ingersoll, Voltaire, Dan Barker, Richard Dawkins, Farrell Till and many others, helped free my mind from the shackles of religion without a single moment of despair. I continue to study philosophy, religion, science, history and the many other topics which have helped me to understand reality and enjoy my life.
Having spent the majority of my life compartmentalized my religious beliefs to keep them safe from skepticism, it’s thrilling to leave the critical, investigative, hungry portion of my brain turned “on”. While my own pursuit of knowledge is a powerful driving force in my life, I’d also like to prevent others from wasting another day on irrational beliefs. Education is the key …and if my work manages to educate even one person, I’m satisfied.(3)
The Un-Reformed Disciple’s Take:
Matt was overcome by the wisdom of the age and philosophies of this world. He was also overcome by his flesh and the desire to cast off any restraint. Such is evident by the debates he and his wife give promoting sex and access to abortion. I am not sure what to make of his early faith experience and knowledge gained by his upbringing. Being raised in the South, it is ever so easy to slip through youth, riding on the ease of church culture and never face a real crisis of faith, contrast or tragedy to catalyze what we know into the heart. Matt certainly falls in line with the Heb 10:26 experience. What I see missing in him, and a beacon to us, is the Fear of the Lord. Proverbs 1. When we touch and handle the holy things of God is this life without a reverence of moral separation, we risk a hardening and repulsion away from God. Be warned not to take light the presence and holiness of God.
Michael Shermer : The Existential Skeptic
Shermer was once a fundamentalist Christian who sought to share his faith as an undergraduate, but ceased to believe in the existence of God during his graduate studies. He accepts the labels agnostic, nontheist, atheist and others. He has expressed reservations about such labels for his lack of belief in a God, however, as he sees them being used in the service of “pigeonholing”, and prefers to simply be called a skeptic. He also describes himself as an advocate for humanist philosophy as well as the science of morality.
Shermer’s master’s degree in experimental psychology at the California State University, Fullerton, led to many after-class discussions with professors Bayard Brattstrom and Meg White at a local pub—The 301 Club—that went late into the night. These discussions, along with his studies in cultural anthropology, led him to question his religious beliefs. He abandoned his devout religious views, fueled by what he perceived to be the intolerance generated by the absolute morality he was taught in his religious studies; the hypocrisy in what many believers preached and what they practiced; and his growing awareness of other religious beliefs, and how they were determined by the temporal, geographic, and cultural circumstances in which their adherents were born. From this, Shermer came to conclude it is “obvious that God was made in our likeness and not the reverse.” By midway through his graduate training, he removed the Christian silver ichthys medallion that he had been wearing around his neck for years. He completed his MA degree from the California State University in psychology in 1978.
The final step in Shermer’s abandoning religion came when his college sweetheart, Maureen, was in an automobile accident that broke her back and rendered her paralyzed from the waist down. Shermer relates:
When I saw her at the Long Beach Medical Center ER, the full implications of what this meant for her begin to dawn on me. There, in the ER, day after dreary day, night after sleepless night, I took a knee and bowed my head and asked God to heal Maureen’s broken back. I prayed with deepest sincerity. I cried out to God to overlook my doubts in the name of Maureen. I willingly suspended all disbelief. At that time and in that place, I was once again a believer. I believed because I wanted to believe that if there was any justice in the universe — any at all — this sweet, loving, smart, responsible, devoted, caring spirit did not deserve to be in a shattered body. A just and loving God who had the power to heal, would surely heal Maureen. He didn’t. He didn’t, I now believe, not because “God works in mysterious ways” or “He has a special plan for Maureen” — the nauseatingly banal comforts believers sometimes offer in such trying and ultimately futile times — but because there is no God. (4)
The Un-Reformed Disciple’s Take:
Michael wants to believe God exists because he wants the idea of a benevolent God to “Work”. Michael is practical, utilitarian, experiential and scientific. He could not figure out the formula for God, the cause and effect. The truths of sacrifice and forgiveness appealed to his guilty conscience and he desired the blessings of forgiveness. What seems to plague Michael is the ruthless, persistent, ugly tragedy life can bring without justice. Where is God in all that? When we have eyes of faith, God appears brightest in the tragedies. When something in us dies because of tragedy and we have no recourse, God raising us by faith to see ahead, trust and overcome. We get stronger. God is not our servant boy and we the curious scientist of life. Expect tragedy in life. Be grateful you have any blessings at all. Is that a God of love, you ask? Yes, it is, one who is graciously chipping away at our self-reliance, self-sufficiency and self-protection.
Rob Bell : The Radical Rebel
Rob Bell is the most difficult horseman to comment about. Unlike the previous three men, Rob has not abandoned his confession of faith in Christ, but rather by his actions and teaching, he has abandoned Christian orthodoxy in practice, social morals and structure, and elevating natural science. Bell has become a prophet for Christian Post Modernism.
Bell went to Wheaton College in the early 90’s, played in a garage band, and eventually found his calling to the pastorate, but not conventionally. Bell has a natural flair for radical thought to challenge stuffy tradition. He became a rock star pastor in academic, reformed central, Grand Rapids, Michigan leading a church of 11,000 until 2012. He was real, unique, passionate. He began the Love Wins campaign in Michigan and the fall out is one reason he stepped down from the pastorate to pursue a more secular motivational audience.
Bell has departed the historic, orthodox, literal, unique, created, holiness form of Christian Faith and has solidly planted his feet in a Post Modern world view. His Christianized post-modernism not only believes in the “good” of man, but refuses to outright deny universalism. Bell’s insights are yet amazing, connecting suffering to new birth and creativity. This is the metaphor of the Cross and resurrection. Bell claims to seek truth, originating from any religion, but he clearly rejects any dogma as an absolute. Is the Nicene Creed true? Will Jesus physically come back and judge the living and the dead? If there is no Hell, as he promotes, then why would Jesus bother? There is no fear of God because God is only Love, not a holy God to Bell’s world view.
I have listened to Bell give a 2 hour talk on our journey from the big bang to the maximized human potential realization to date. The universe is the creator. Cool and brilliant parallels into life, but no deity, except maybe man in his evolution. The overall PM narrative is man evolving into a one-love utopian society, if we just get the spiritual messages in the Bible and live it.
Bell means well. He supports LGBT rights and marriage. He appears to be bored with Christian assembly in a church, living his dreams to the fullest with no fear of regret. He has been called a top 100 Christian leader, and his influence is expansive. He regularly tours metro areas giving talks on secular applied living with Biblical referenced stories. He has written about a 1/2 dozen books.
The Un-Reformed Disciple’s Take:
Why is Rob Bell a horseman? I intrepidly write this fourth analysis, because it is a sin to cause disunity from a real, confessing brother when public accusation is given. Bell has produced fruit…. but of what kind? Of what fire is his spirit now burning spiritual incense? If Bell is right, and I grant him the possibility, then 2000 years of church doctrine and practice is wrong, culturally irrelevant and short-sighted. The church’s corruption shows the depravity and deserves the fall from the weight of its luxury as seen by the post modern view, yet it’s the bride of Christ and not forsaken. Bell rejects the value of church history except where convenient to draw a metaphor. Scripture is useful, not divinely inspired unto purity and holiness, only love. Bell is in a bubble. He lives in SoCo courting the Hollywood elite, like Oprah, and has flipped traditional sexual morals in its head for the sake of a happy heart, peace, and personal prosperity. Bell gave a preterist eschatology on part of Revelations at Willow Creek. The future judgement as seen in 2 Peter 3:8-9 is spiritualized to fit his world view.
I recently listened to the writings of Eusebius on-line. The struggle of the early church, the early fathers, their martyrdom, holiness, love, sacrifice, purity, is not a fairy tale. I have to reject Rob Bells teaching because I cannot comprehend Peter and Paul listening to Bell and affirming his spirit. Origen of Alexandria, maybe, but not the apostolic fathers and martyrs. I don’t know if Rob Bell has left the faith of Jesus Christ. I pray for him, but he doesn’t appear to be coming back, because he loves the praise of man. Loving the praise of man, their affirmation of one’s empathy and intellect, is the lubricant of the Post Modern view in rejecting a God who will judge. When you follow that world view and promote it, everyone loves you. Jesus said in John 15:
18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’b]”>[b] If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.
My brother Rob probably thinks evangelical Christians are the world and persecuting/hating him for living the way Jesus wants…..hummm. But he fails to see that HE has flipped the script. Rob is not preaching the full gospel, unless the gospel has changed from its beginning.
My blog is about becoming less reformed, and knowing why. Calvinism, as expressed in the reformed tradition, is really not able to deal with the four horsemen. A Calvinist would possibly conclude the men were NEVER chosen by God, or never really elected to be saved, and God in sovereignty hardened them for results to his glory. It takes a lot of chutzpa to speak with such certainty about the mind of God of individual salvation. The reality of these men’s experience is mocked by that thesis. Bell is especially difficult because be still professes Jesus, in his new way of sweeping politically correct thought and post modern values that are infiltrating education at all levels and the reformed schools are not exempt. It is the new way to do ministry, and being embraced by once conservative scholars, who are now liberalizing their doctrine. A post modern Calvinist doesn’t have to explain Bell falling away. They simply drink the Politically Correct/Post Modern cool aid and evolve their theology and application to support his views, meaning the truth has changed.
Back to the four. A non-calvinist world view allows for people to walk away from the faith, under the sovereign will of God, but not caused by him. These men were enlightened by the truth of the Word through scripture, and they have rejected the plain meaning where plain should be believed. They are not snatched out of Jesus’ hand, they want to be their own God after experiencing faith in the God of scripture and Spirit. Scripture is full of parables and exhortation to continue, endure, finish, work out, show yourself to be elect in the faith, with the help of the holy spirit, in grace. The experience of the four has no conflict with free will. The Calvinist, who deny the ability to fall away, if regenerated and given faith, after having a dead will, must now assume the post-profession, baptized life of these men to still be in a dead state of rebellion. Their expressions of free will faith were God controlled lies. This is conflicting and frankly irrational. My point is that the faith, heart and soul of these men, who experienced conversion, are a lot closer with the reality of a free will de-converting than a Calvinist view of faked deadness. I John speaks of anti-christ going away, showing they never belonged, but that begs the question for the Calvinist. If God wants you to NOT fall away, you do nothing, he will keep you and motivate you to action (of some kind). If God wants you to indeed fall away, you do nothing, he will bring that about too. Either way is a cop out to act in faith, which is what pleases God. (Heb 11:6) It makes a lot more sense to believe and accept the grace of salvation and commit yourself to persevere in faith unto holiness, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
The early church, apostolic fathers, before Calvin never taught the extremes of limited atonement, total depravity, or perseverance in faith all without the consciousness of man and interaction of faith to God’s grace before and after new birth. Even Augustine had provision of the free will, albeit compromised. When the sword and stake of fire are against the church, and brothers are sent simply because they won’t deny Jesus as king and worship an idol to be saved, there is no time to generate such doctrines of privilege and ease to the believer. The interpretation of such “election” passages brought hope to endure personally, and a purposed calling as the corporate elect, not individual unconditional security that allowed denial and compromise.