Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Beneficial Faith and the Gospel of Christ

I've seen a lot of blogs posting links to this remarkable article written by Matthew Parris, an atheist, entitled As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God. Read the whole article. I want to cite some of what he wrote:

The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

Anxiety - fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things - strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

He observes that Christian faith liberates the mind. However, he is unwilling to himself have that freedom for his own mind. It's one thing to acknowledge the truth. It's another thing to think the truth applies to you. The man has a faith of sorts and acknowledges it as such:

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But 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.

What's more astonishing is that he recognizes that the Christian faith is spiritual, real, and good:

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.

Umm. If it's spiritual, real and good then why not have it? This leads me to an observation. If knowing and believing isn't enough to have faith, then we must conclude that faith comes from some other source. Is it that he has simply choosen not to have faith? I imagine that he simply doesn't believe that God exists. At this point a toughtful atheist can't argue that faith is a product of evolution; otherwise we'd all have faith. While he accurately observes that faith in Africa is spread through the missionaries who bring the gospel of Christ, he himself doesn't have this faith. Presenting the information isn't sufficient for producing faith. It's like pointing out all the people who have died of emphysema to a smoker who already has a bad cough and watching the smoker himself become diagnosed with emphysema and continue to smoke until his lungs are too weak to take a drag. The truth is evident and the evidence abundant, even in the life of the atheist. So, why not have faith while one can?

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:3

Faith is a gift of God.

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