Secularity Was Not Built in a Day

Last month, I led a Book Club through James K.A. Smith’s How (Not) To Be Secular, itself a summary of the much larger book, A Secular Age by Charles Taylor. There were so many lessons culled from those pages–most of which I am still processing and will be in the months and years to come. And yet, the biggest takeaway for me was how Taylor described the “feel” and cause of our current secular existence.

Taylor challenges the story of our cultural and philosophical moment, affirming that we did not stumble or trip into our secular age. Secularity is not the “neutral” space of human existence once all forms of power, influence, control, and superstition are done away with. Rather, secularity is a cultural and philosophical achievement. The gravity of human progress does not necessitate secularity. We’ve had to build it.

Secularity: A Fall or Climb?

We first need to remember that when we talk about “secularity”, we’re not talking about some sort un-religious, “neutral” public space. A society is “secular” (in our sense) when disbelief in God becomes a viable option. We take for granted that the vast majority of humans in history (and even in the non-Western world today!) have no comprehension of such a world. Continue reading


Chesterton on the Atheism of God on Good Friday [QUOTE]

When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.

–from Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, as quoted by philosopher  Slavoj Zisek, in this article on “German Idealism & Christianity, from Hegel to Chesterton”.

How to wear your theological offensiveness (conservative, liberal, & atheist)


Reading through Luke, I was struck by a dimension to Luke’s portrayal of Jesus I hadn’t noticed before. I also think, in these times where more people are able to have more platforms to speak their mind on issues, it’s an important dimension to take into account.

In Luke chapter 4, we see Jesus officially kick off his public ministry. He does this by standing up at his hometown synagogue, reading some verses from Isaiah and saying that these words are fulfilled in his arrival. He then adds commentary on this, highlighting how Israel has fallen out of God’s favor and so this fulfillment won’t come to them. This enrages the people and they try and kill him right there by throwing him off a cliff (yeah, it’s kind of funny). But he gets away.

Jesus offended these people deeply. He spoke what he believed to be true about God and the world, and they didn’t like it. And yet, people spoke offensive words in the ancient world all the time. There were many Messianic figures, and yet their words didn’t “stick” like Jesus’ did. His words ended up not simply gathering people that agreed with him, but actually changing minds, even while offending those that would be offended.

How did he do this? How can we do this with our own theological (or a-theological) beliefs? How should we wear our beliefs that might be very offensive to others?
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Putting the FUN back in Fundamentalism! (vs. Atheism)


For those that follow this blog only through WordPress, you may have seen the guest post yesterday–a beautiful meditation on spiritual realities that Autumn brings to our minds–and didn’t think much of it. It was pretty and all, but not controversial, right?

Not so, on Facebook.

A good friend, and Atheist (that we here at the blog know quite well), made a comment taking issue with references to the “Fall” and “first parents” (and even the Resurrection) on the grounds that these do not jive with evolutionary science. (Although I don’t think he clicked on the link to a similar post I wrote last year in which I used the same terminologies in the same way, but whatever.) He was surprised that I would have let a seemingly “young earth creationist” (someone who thinks the world was created in six literal days) post on my blog.

Though I assured him that this guest poster was not, in fact, a young earth creationist, and was merely speaking using the common poetic language shared by all of Christian theology and not at all trying to speak in scientific terms, he doubled down. Then, Christians and Atheists all jumped into this thread. Sarcasm, insults, and “who-said-what when” arguments began, all having little to do with the post, and more to do with who was condescending first, who understands genre theory, and who were the more aggressive and defensive parties in the discussion.
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“Simplistic Atheism: a final response” by Daniel Bastian [GUEST POST]

de Goya-fight with cudgels"

(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Well, it seems that we were not in fact done with this little series. After my final post, Daniel chose to take me up on my offer to have the final word (as I normally try to do in exchanges like this). He has chosen to respond, point-by-point, to my list of what things would lead me to embrace Atheism. If you feel like any of the points still demand a reply from me, or if you have any questions about what Daniel says, feel free to to comment here, on Facebook, or get in touch with me privately. For my part, though, I consider this particular set of exchanges finished. Once again, I thank Daniel for this exchange. I hope you enjoyed it as well.


When I initially decided to compile a list of criteria that would convince me my conclusion on the question of theism was wrong, I had sincere hope that a Christian, Muslim or other person of faith would tally up a corresponding register. I am glad to see you rose to the challenge and enrolled in this dialogue. It has been a wonderfully enlightening experience for me, and I do hope that sentiment is mutual.

I read your piece the day it was posted and while at first I found much of it persuasive, the more I reflected the more I realized it was probably the list I would have drafted two years ago, before I renounced my faith. Much of your criteria seems to rest firmly on the aesthetic appeal of the Christian narrative. And this would seem to slot right in line with your epistemological moorings-a concern for the communal connection, compelling force and overall mesmerism of a worldview over against its underlying facticity.

Yet it seems this only holds true up to a certain threshold, given a few of the items on your list. You seem to be OK with affirming the faith given its impact on your life, the power of influence you’ve seen it have on history, and the way it has shaped others with which you’ve crossed paths. But if you were to discover beyond reasonable doubt that this narrative was based on so much myth, that this loosely corroborated Yeshua the gospels are based on was a mere mortal (item #1), you would relinquish the faith forthwith.

Thus it seems to me that our epistemic divergence is one of degree, not of type. With that in mind, I’ll attach some brief notes beside the items in your list. Continue reading

A Christian & An Atheist: A Discussion [a table of contents]


I had the privilege over the past couple of weeks of engaging in a spirited back-and-forth with a good friend of mine, Daniel Bastian. Unfortunately, in the speed with which this exchange occurred, I know it was hard for people to keep track of the writings, the arguments, and the comments. And so, I’m writing this post in hopes of making it easier for people to follow. Here you will find a “Table of Contents” of sorts for the entire exchange, as it appeared on this blog.

Sadly, much was said over Facebook comments (and even blog comments) that cannot be sorted out and highlighted in their proper place. Comments on each post were scattered among different places and sites and posts, and so to try and consolidate them and make any sense of them for the reader would be nearly impossible. These long-form pieces will have to do, though I’ve provided the link to the Facebook comments when able, in case the interested reader wants to wade in.

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Simplistic Atheism {4}: What could make me an Atheist?


(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

In this series of exchanges with my friend Daniel, I’ve tried to argue that his Facebook post on why he is an Atheist expressed an overall view of the world that is too small and too simplistic. I think this is because of his empiricist method and materialist conclusion about reality–that all there is is what we can see, touch, feel, etc.

Some concluding remarks

My whole point has not simply been that Daniel’s facts or even his method is wrong. But rather, it finds its proper place, meaning, fullness, and possibility within the Christian view of reality. I have argued in each of my posts that Christianity does not “refute” reason, science, history, skepticism, textual messiness, historical difficulty, or even doubt. Instead, the Gospel encompasses it all, and each of those things find a greater fulfillment in their use, cohesion in the whole of the world, and reality within that place.

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New Testament & History: Christians can be confident [a retort]


(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Update: Daniel has posted a reply below.

When I have these kinds of exchanges on the blog, I really try to let the other person have the last word. After all, I have home field advantage here. I was absolutely ready to move on to my last part of this ongoing exchange with my friend Daniel Bastian in response to his Facebook post about his Atheism.

Last week, I wrote a post trying to give a cursory response to some of his claims about the Bible and miracles. Daniel wrote a response, posted a couple of days ago. I offered a brief response to his critique of my view of miracles. I was really eager to get back to writing about other things.

But it seems I can’t. Not yet.

I’m starting seminary back up this Fall, not simply because I’m interested in all the “knowledge” about the Bible, but because I feel I actually have a (pastoral?) concern for the spiritual well-being of people. I care a lot about what people might see on this blog, and I care that they are able to receive these things in ways that will be ultimately helpful to them.

And I fear that his post, at least for Christians not well-read in these issues, will cloud the waters more than clear them. Don’t get me wrong. Christians should wrestle with what Daniel has written in earlier posts, especially when it comes to the more abstract philosophical concerns of God’s existence and work in this world. These are things that don’t have easy or even clear responses by Christians. I’m not worried about Christians having restless nights or days as they wrestle with legitimate difficulties in the seeming difference between what they believe about God and the way the world seems to be.

But, when it comes to the Bible and the Resurrection, I don’t think we are on as shaky ground as Daniel makes it seem. Let’s discuss.

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“New Testament Historicity: A Response” by Daniel Bastian [GUEST POST]


(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Today continues an on-going exchange between myself and a friend of mine, Daniel Bastian. These were inspired by a Facebook post he wrote about why he is Atheist (in this current post, whenever he says “OP”, he means “original post” and is referencing that). Last week, I wrote a post about the trustworthiness of the Scriptures and miracles. Here is his response.

Update: I have some responses posted for his section on miracles in this post. And, honestly, I feel he gets so many things wrong int his post, I’ll have to write another response to this tomorrow. 

More important update: I have a full response to this article now posted.


Thank you for the thoughtful post. I think this is your most cohesive piece yet and, better yet, even dives below the surface of a few of my arguments. And allow me to just say up front that it is truly a breath of fresh air to commune with a non-fundamentalist on matters of faith. Rarely do I find a Christian with a sophisticated understanding of the faith’s foundational texts and the underlying nuance operative in these discussions. It is truly refreshing.

In my response I’d like to first address the broader themes of your post and then drill into a few of the more specific items you have noted. Along the way, I will correct some errors, highlight some omitted details, and point out some oversights and oversimplifications that obscure the analysis of New Testament historicity.

At the first, it seems that you still resist recognizing the non-Christian-centric applications of my arguments. Yes, some of my arguments did single out Christianity, as that is the religion I retired from at age 25 and is thus the one in which I am most conversant. However, if you were to step outside the hermetically sealed Christian bubble for just a moment, their broader implications should become apparent. Let’s try again.
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How We Prove God (a prayer by Karl Barth)

hands-pray-sepia“Dear heavenly Father, we ask you to give us all your Holy Spirit, and to give it continually, that it may awaken, enlighten, encourage, and enable us to dare to take the small and large steps of moving out of comfort with which we can comfort each other and into hope in you. Turn us away toward you! Do not allow us to hide from you! Do not let us do anything without you! Show us how glorious you are and how glorious it is to trust and obey you!

We would ask the same for all people, that the nations and governments may bow to your Word, and that they will be willing to work for justice and peace on earth, that your Word may be understood and taken to heart by all those who are poor, sick, imprisoned, troubled, oppressed, and unbelieving; that through word and deed it may be made known to them; and that it may be perceived by them as the answer to their sighs and cries; that all Christian churches and confessions may learn to recognize it anew and serve it with renewed faithfulness; that its truth may be and remain bright here and now in all of humanity’s error and confusion, until such a time as it shall ultimately enlighten all people and all things.

You are glorified, you who make us free in Jesus Christ, your Son, by confessing and standing on this: that our hope is in you. Amen.”

— from Karl Barth, “Pentecost” in Fifty Prayers

(Note: This was posted as part of a series of back-and-forths between an Atheist friend and myself. These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Simplistic Atheism {3}: The Bible, Miracles, & History


(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

We continue our response to Daniel Bastian’s blistering critique of religious belief. Part 1 tried to respond to what seems to be Daniel’s basic understanding of the world, reason, and spirituality. Part 2 focused entirely on his use of scientific claims and findings to discredit (at least the need for) religiosity. Yesterday, Daniel responded to Part 2 (here was my response). Today, we narrow in on his views of the Bible, miracles, and history.

A Simplistic Bible

(Disclosure: a lot of this is cut-and-paste from various comments here and on Facebook. Also, I’ve taught a few classes that have a more detailed discussion of a theology of Scripture. Those can be found here, here, and here.)

The points about the Bible in Daniel’s post were especially difficult to read. In fact, they were my inspiration for my post last week talking about how Christianity can shape the types of Atheistic beliefs people come to. My frustration came from the fact that, since Daniel originally wrote this (a while ago), I’ve watched him engage with and express respect for others that offer substantive critiques to what he ended up re-posting last week.

In his points, he expresses a view of the Bible that is mechanical, wooden, systematic, simplistic, and puts expectations on the text that it doesn’t even place on itself. It seems like he is only responding to the modernist, fundamentalist view of the Bible (what I called a “Straw Bible”), and I know his thinking is far more nuanced than that–I couldn’t understand why he still perpetuated this. But nevertheless, he did, so I’ll address it as it’s posted.
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“The Cocoon of Unfalsifiability” by Daniel Bastian [GUEST POST]

stone-light-hallway-cave(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)


I thoroughly enjoyed reading your most recent piece. It’s the best one yet in the series. You actually (finally) lay down some things we can really sink our teeth into. Something tells me you should have started with this one…

However, after the opening paragraphs my hopes were dashed as I found that much of the rhetoric here is beset by the same pitfalls that have been addressed time and again. Most importantly, (and what I will focus on in my response), is that the above piece suffers from what I will call the doctrine of unfalsifiability.

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Simplistic Atheism {2}: Science “versus” Theology


(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

I’m doing a little series this week responding to a Facebook post by a friend of mine named Daniel Bastian. He outlined twenty things that would make him change his mind about Atheism. The piece is well-organized and thought out, I encourage everyone to read it and wrestle through it themselves.

In line with my belief that these sorts of discussions always seem to end up at differences in hermeneutics (interpretive filters) rather than facts, I wrote a post talking about what appeared to be Daniel’s bigger commitments and understandings of the world, human reason, and assumptions about spirituality (also read the Facebook comments).

I was, of course, accused of still not engaging with his specific points, even as I sought to talk about principles behind the points. And so, I’m excited to say that with today and tomorrow, we will be hitting many of Daniel’s specific points
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Simplistic Atheism {1}: a Reason & Spirituality that’s too small


(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Last week a friend of mine named Daniel Bastian posted a well thought-out catalog of the reasons why he is an Atheist (let me know if the link doesn’t work). This list includes items that don’t usually pop up in similar offerings, and I encourage every Christian to read this list and wrestle through the realities of what he says.

As I thought about it, though, and thought through how I would respond to some of these things, I found a consistent theme to what I would critique to each of his points: over-simplicity. In this series of posts, rather than going through each of the writer’s twenty points, I’d like to go through some broader ideas he touches on, and offer my thoughts.

By the time I was done writing everything up, I had at least four parts to this response. Today, we’ll briefly talk about how Daniel’s post represents an over-simplifying of human reason and spirituality..
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