The Wise Foolishness of Christianity

“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” 1 Cor. 1:27

I collect stories of how reluctant people come to believe in the existence of God, or at least acknowledge the tremendous value of faith. Let me share four with you.

First, Dr. Anthony Flew (d. 2010) was a philosophy professor at Reading University in England, author of numerous works and also the world’s leading atheist. As recently as 2001 he reiterated that position in a paper entitled, “Sorry to Disappoint, but I’m Still an Atheist.”

In 2004, however, Flew went where the evidence took him and concluded that some sort of intelligence is behind the complex order of the universe and life. What changed his mind? The mounting evidence of molecular biology “has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce (life), that intelligence must have been involved.” This intelligence, Flew concluded, is God. He wrote a book entitled, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.

Second, in an article in the Guardian, Roy Hattersley, a noted atheist, lamented “that it ought to be possible to live a Christian life without being a Christian.” He had observed the outpouring of care by Christian organizations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Salvation Army particularly impressed him.

"Notable by their absence," he continued, were "teams from rationalist societies, free thinkers' clubs, and atheists' associations—the sort of people who scoff at religion's intellectual absurdity." According to Hattersley, it is an unavoidable conclusion that Christians "are the people most likely to take the risks and make the sacrifices involved in helping others." His conclusion? "The only possible conclusion is that faith comes with a packet of moral imperatives that, while they do not condition the attitude of all believers, influence enough of them to make [Christians] morally superior to atheists like me."

Third, from a few years ago is the story of Charles Templeton who in the late 1940’s was a close friend and preaching associate of Billy Graham. However, he began to doubt the truth of what he preached. His intellectual misgivings eventually led him to deny the very faith he once embraced. He became a novelist, news commentator, and wrote a book entitled, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith.

In the mid-1990’s Lee Strobel, a former atheist who became a Christian, began working on a book that would be entitled, The Case for Faith. He decided it would be very interesting to interview the old atheist. Templeton was then 83 years old.

Strobel asked him about Jesus and was surprised at his response. Templeton said, “He was the greatest person who ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my readings. He’s the most important thing in my life. I know it may sound strange, but I have to say I adore him. Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. He is the most important human being who has ever existed. And if I may put it this way, I miss him.” His eyes filled with tears and he wept freely. He refused to say more.

And finally, comes a story from Matthew Parris in The Times (London, 12/27/08). Parris, an atheist, has worked many years in Africa bringing relief aid to the many troubled areas of that continent. He would like to believe that the aid, without faith, is all that is necessary to eradicating problems, but after years of living and working there has come to see that, “far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them.”

He continues, “travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

“Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”

What intrigues me about these stories is that they make a case for unbelievers genuinely questioning the validity of their unbelief. Many times faith is presented as an intellectual absurdity, and unbelievers can sound thoroughly patronizing and condescending when it comes to speaking or writing about believers. But the case against Christianity is not so clear as some people make it out to be. In fact, given a few minutes of serious thought, an unbeliever is likely to see the intellectual and practical validity of Christian faith. Many atheists do, and some embrace faith.

God loves both surprise and irony. He cloaks the mysteries of grace in the apparently foolish weakness of the cross, but His plan also has something intuitively right about it. And occasionally, even the most hard-shell atheist notices. Sometimes you will feel foolish and hopelessly obsolete. Rejoice. You know the secret that evades so many: the foolishness, without question, is the wisdom of God, and God is personally present in you.


Dr. Terry Ellis

August 28, 2011