So this week an Adventist pastor announced he is going to practice being an atheist for one year as his 2014 resolution. He’s going to stop praying, stop going to church, stop reading his Bible, and stop thinking about God. I’m not sure how you do that last one, but good luck. Anyway, Ryan J. Bell is a former pastor for the Hollywood Adventist church. He’s had some differences in opinion over the years with the church which ultimately led to them firing him as the pastor. As a result of his resolution for this year Mr. Bell has already lost his teaching positions at two Christian universities and his job writing for a Christian magazine. He’s also had friends and family distance themselves from him. You can check out the full story here.
So what is your gut reaction?
Can someone just decide to stop being religious?
Is it a good idea to experiment with something like this?
Could/would you do it?
What would you hope to get out of it?
Everyone winds up going through a phase where they’re going to question and push back on the beliefs they’ve been taught their whole life. For some people they’re lucky enough that it comes earlier in their life. They have parents that allow them to figure their faith out in middle school and high school and they’re able to form those convictions earlier in their life. Then you have some who have to get through high school, into college and after they have some freedom they begin finding ways that open their mind for them to see things and question things differently. For some people like Mr. Bell it may not be until you’re in your 20s or 30s and you have a midlife crisis. There’s a reason why atheism is out there and so prominent right now. And I don’t believe that it is because it’s the cool thing and all the people are just jumping on the bandwagon, which there are a lot of people who are just on it for the ride and popularity. But then you have the people who sincerely just don’t know and atheism is just ground zero. It’s a blank slate where they just want to start from scratch and figure this whole God and religion thing out for their own.
When you’ve got shows like Preachers Daughters and Preachers of LA and Duck Dynasty, then throw in people who used their faith and family Christian values like to get famous Justin Beiber and Miley Cyrus; you start to question everything about Christianity. You start looking at those things and you say “whoa, why do I want to be part of those Christians”.
Spirituality, faith, and religion are going to be the number one thing that defines everything that you do in your life. And we have all these influences and examples around us trying to pull us one way or another as we try to figure it out. But discovering them is a very personal journey. Which is why the apostle Paul tells Timothy to “study to show yourself approved” (2 Tim 2:15).
Jews in ancient Israel spent their lives reading the Torah, the first five books of the bible. It’s all they had. There wasn’t a public library they could go check out the latest spy novel by Abraham the Assassin. You spent your elementary school days reading and memorizing the Torah; the foundation of their faith. Teachers and scribes would read the Torah every week, all five books. All week long they only read that one thing. So a man named Ed Dobson a few years ago decided as a Christian it would be a good idea for him to do the same thing with the foundation of his belief system, the gospels. He read the four gospels every week for a year. 52 times he read the gospels. He said “I’m a Christian, I’m a follower of Christ, I believe that he died on the cross for my sins and if I truly believe that I need to spend time understanding this person better”.
If the basis for who you are as a Christian is dependent upon your relationship with Jesus don’t you think that you want to know those stories forwards and backwards. When you get married and you have your spouse you want to know their story, know them inside and out so you ultimately become that cheesy couple that finishes each other’s sentences. You don’t have to think about it, it’s natural. Understand who Jesus is. Even Gandhi, a Buddhist, was a follower of Jesus. He famously said “I like your Christ; I don’t like your Christians”. And that’s the crux that is creating situations like this. Can you argue with him? I like Jesus, I like the way that Jesus lived for and treated other people. But I don’t like your Christians. They’re rich. They’re snobs. They mistreat each other.
So this year I encourage you to resolve to understand what you believe better. Look for ways to strengthen your faith. Delve into the four gospels. It’s the story of a person who we all say we want to model our lives after. It’s okay to ask questions. That’s what my ministry for youth has always been. It’s not simply a place where you can go through the lesson and walk out, going through the motions of Christianity like a zombie. It’s a place where we can have these kinds of conversations; understanding and owning our faith.