Waking up this morning to the sound of my phone alarm, I picked up my phone and scrolled through Facebook. This is a habit that I’ve been trying to kick, but old habits certainly die hard. Since fasting from social media last year during Lent, I’ve felt transformed in how I want to use social media.
I think God knows this about me, and has used my yearnings (and flaws) to His advantage, because I came across a moving article on Christianity Today during my Facebook-morning-journey. Written by Nicole Cliffe, her article “How God Messed Up My Happy Atheist Life“, is a testimony about how she came to Christ.
Cliffe reveals to the reader her firm atheism, and how she “had no untapped, unanswered yearnings.” According to her, the faith that Christians possessed that there is life after death was simply a sweet delusion, far from the gripping reality that “the idea of a benign deity who created and loved us was obviously nonsense, and all that awaited us beyond the grave was joyful oblivion.”
I rejoiced with Cliffe as I read about her transformation. I chuckled and nodded in solidarity as she revealed the awkwardness of becoming a new believer in a culture that is anti-Christian, as she “celebrated Communion on a beach, while weirded-out Californians tiptoed around [her].” I also found her comment amusing, regarding her asking a Christian about her faith, “You probably already know this, but Christians love talking about Jesus.” It’s true. We love to talk about the J-man.
What struck me though, more than her stellar eloquence, was her view on apologetics. Loosely defined from Wikipedia, apologetics is the “religious discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse.” However important the study of apologetics is, Cliffe still manages to write:
This is why apologetics, in my opinion, are hugely unconvincing. (Dallas Willard, for the record, never debated unbelievers.) No one could have in a billion years of their gripping testimony or by showing me a radiant life of good deeds or through song or even the most beautiful of books brought me to Christ. I had to be tapped on the shoulder. I had to be taken to a place where books about God were something I could experience without distance. It was alchemical.
I think about my own journey as a Christian, and my own encounters with non-Christians. Even though I went to church since the womb, I truly don’t think I would have understood the deep, personal relationship we are to have with Jesus if I had just gone from what people told me. People did tell me, and I thought I understood. But it wasn’t until later in life, after being “tapped on the shoulder” as Cliffe so aptly puts it, that I realized I understood nothing at all.
Obviously, though, apologetics still plays an important role. It’s crucial to understand your Bible and be able to defend it once your heart has made the change. But that’s the key here: the heart has to be changed first. Alternatively, apologetics could plant the seed to transformation.
I think as Christians, we (or at least, I used to) think that perhaps I could ‘talk’ non-Christians into believing. But it’s impossible without God doing His work, too. Cliffe didn’t need a conversation with a Christian to transform, though. She needed God to soften her heart. As she humorously puts it, “About an hour before our call, I knew: I believed in God. Worse, I was a Christian. It was the opposite of being punk rock.”
I never had a taste for punk rock, anyway. Welcome to the club, sister.