I love stories of faith.
An atheist university professor, Dr. Holly Ordway, was convinced that by definition faith is utterly irrational. Of course, she would eventually become a Christian, but prior to her conversion she used the following analogy to explain why, as an atheist, she mocked the concept of believing in Jesus and going to heaven:
Imagine that you tell me, “If you believe that there’s an invisible pink unicorn in the sky, I’ll give you a new BMW.” I see the car in the parking lot; you jingle the keys in your hands. If I can believe what you want me to believe, the new car is mine. Cool! But it’s a waste of time: I know there’s no unicorn. No matter how much I want that car, I am incapable of believing something contrary to reason in order to get it. Believing something irrational on demand to get a prize: that is what the evangelical invitation to “accept Jesus and get eternal life in heaven!” sounded like to me.
In spite of her militant skepticism, she went on to accept Christ and to write a book about her conversion experience called appropriately Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms.
Here’s how she describes her atheism in a recent interview:
In college I absorbed the prevailing idea that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, was just a historical curiosity, and that science could explain everything. By the time I was in my mid- to late twenties, I was convinced that there was no God (or any spiritual reality). I did not believe that I had a soul; I thought I was just an intelligent animal, and that when I died, my consciousness would simply blink out. I thought that there was no ultimate meaning in life, and that people who believed in any form of God were seriously self-deluded. It was a bit depressing, but I believed it to be the best explanation of the way the world is, and truth is better than false comfort.
How then did she come to faith? Through her pursuit of things she loved! She loved to read, and earned a Ph.D. in Literature from the University of Massachusetts. She writes:
Christian authors provided dissenting voices to the naturalistic narrative that I’d accepted—the only possible dissenting voice, since I wasn’t interested in reading anything that directly dealt with the subject of faith or Christianity, and thus wasn’t exposed to serious Christian thought.
I found that my favorite authors were men and women of deep Christian faith. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien above all; and then the poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, John Donne, and others. Their work was unsettling to my atheist convictions, in part because I couldn’t sort their poetry into neat ‘religious’ and ‘non-religious’ categories; their faith infused all their work, and the poems that most moved me, from Hopkins’ “The Windhover” to Donne’s Holy Sonnets, were explicitly Christian.
Here’s another thing she loved: The sport of fencing. That’s swordplay! She traveled the country as a competitive fencer. How did fencing lead her to faith in Jesus?
Fencing related to my conversion in several ways, but most directly, through the witness of my fencing coach! It was a surprise to me, after working with my coach for about a year, to learn that he was a Christian. He was an exemplary coach, very patient (and I wasn’t the easiest student!), intelligent, and thoughtful, yet clearly a committed Christian, and thus he challenged my stereotypes about Christians as being pushy and thoughtless. So, when I became curious about what Christians really believed—when poetry had done its work!—I realized that I could ask my coach questions and feel safe and respected while having a dialogue about these issues.
Here’s the point about fencing (pun intended): When you pursue an interest and throw into the mix a thoughtful follower of Jesus, the result will often be faith. Why? Because all truth is God’s truth, and incarnational truth (when the truth is revealed through a living flesh and blood person) is God’s favorite way to grow his family.
In our sermon series, ENCOUNTERS, we are being encouraged to be willing to broach the subject of faith whenever appropriate and to put in a good word about Jesus. Our friends and acquaintances need incarnational truth as they pursue the things they love.