I should have known better. Last week the Melbourne Age printed a strange opinion piece by a former Catholic, Catherine Deveny, who now calls herself an atheist for Jesus. It was an odd piece indeed, outlining her reasons for atheism. I hoped someone would properly respond to it.
Thus when I looked at the Age six days later and saw an opinion piece entitled “Truth, faith can co-exist in getting of wisdom,” I thought, well maybe they are offering a counterweight to the earlier piece. Maybe here they are allowing equal time, a right of reply, to help set the record straight. Maybe the Age was feeling a bit guilty about running such a juvenile piece in the first place. But I should have known better. Although ostensibly a reply to the earlier piece, the article by Juliette Hughes was just as bad, and perhaps even worse.
The problem is, the author claims to be some kind of a Catholic. At least Deveny said she had given it all up. Which is worse, an atheist who totally misrepresents Jesus and his claims, or someone who still claims to be a Christian and also totally misrepresents the Christian faith?
Not bad for the Age however: managing to totally mangle the claims of biblical Christianity not once but twice within a week. At least the first piece by Deveny was somewhat understandable, as she acknowledged that she was bitter and angry. She lists the various “sins” of the church she is bitter about, such as a male-only priesthood. Thus she admits that her problems with God are personal as much as intellectual or theological.
So now she is an atheist for Jesus. She does think that Jesus “said great things.” But she cannot pick and choose those sayings of Jesus which appeal to her eclectic tastes. His words comprise a package deal. Thus the claim of Jesus that he represents who God is, is part and parcel of his revelation to us.
She also claims that “Faith is a personal and private thing.” But according to the New Testament, faith is a publically testable thing, with the claims of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead being at its very heart. The divinity of Christ cannot be separated from who Jesus really is. We either take Jesus in his entirety and on his own terms, or not. But spare us the oxymoronic “atheist for Jesus” fiction.
But even more worrying is the offering of Ms Hughes. In her article she manages to deny just about every crucial doctrine of the Christian faith. Yet she is still happy to call herself a Christian. Sorry, but it just does not work that way. And at least Deveny mentions Jesus in her article. He never once gets a mention in Hughes’ piece.
Consider some of her startling claims. “I certainly don’t believe that someone who isn’t a Christian needs ‘saving’.” Oh really? So when Jesus said “I have come to seek and to save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10), we just ignore him here? Indeed, this goal of saving the lost is the very heart of his mission. It is the reason why he came to planet earth. Yet Ms Hughes, who claims to be a “progressive believer” obviously does not believe this most basic of teachings as found in the gospel accounts.
She also says that “asking whether a story from the Bible is historically true isn’t a question that is useful to me”. Well yes, that is becoming quite clear. She has evidently rejected any notion of Biblical truth, and any concept of the historicity of the gospel claims. She has instead decided that she will pick and choose – cafeteria style – what she wants to believe. But we are not invited to sit in judgment on Scripture; rather, it is to judge us.
And of course the very notion of hell must go as well. After all, Ms Hughes informs us, if God would cast a nonbeliever into hell, he would have to be a “cosmic psychopath”. Really? Then by implication, so was Jesus, since he spoke about hell and the reality of its existence more than anyone else in Scripture.
And never mind the fact that God does not send anyone to hell. People make that choice themselves. As C.S. Lewis once put it, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’.”
She also says this: “I can’t really take seriously someone who believes that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. That argument has been refuted by rigorous scholarship.” Yet incredibly she continues, “But that doesn’t mean I think scripture has nothing to tell me.”
Just which “rigorous scholarship” is she referring to here? Does she really believe there are no biblical scholars anywhere that affirm the inerrancy and reliability of Scripture? And if the Bible is full of errors and mistakes (is errant, in other words) why in the world should Ms Hughes claim it has something to tell her? By her understanding, so too would any dime-store novel.
She then makes this claim: “The Bible is a profound record of a search for wisdom and of a long struggle over many centuries to reconcile humanity with goodness.” Is it? I would think that any straight-forward reading of the Bible would give quite a different story. The Bible is surely about a personal God who has created the world, and desired to establish relationship with mankind. But that relationship was broken by sin. The sending of his son and his costly suffering, death and resurrection opens the way for us to get right with God.
It is the story of how fallen, sinful and selfish individuals can be set free from their sin and its consequences, and be reconciled to a holy, righteous and just God. It is nothing about “reconciling humanity with goodness” or other such sentimental, humanistic nonsense.
Other denials of basic biblical beliefs are found in her article. Clearly Ms Hughes has long ago given up the right to claim to be a follower of Christianity in any meaningful and logical sense. She has proclaimed her complete disbelief in just about everything that makes up the basic tenets of biblical Christianity, yet she still wants to wear the label. It just does not work that way.
If I claim to be a loyal and dedicated supporter of the Australian Football League, yet insist that there should be 15 footballs on the ground at the same time, that a match should last only two minutes, that there should be only one team playing at a time, there should be no goalposts, no scores and no umpires, most people would say I have forfeited any right to claim to be a follower of, and believer in, the AFL.
This is exactly the situation we find when so-called believers totally rewrite the Christian rule book to suit their own whims and wants. Either we follow the rules as they are designed, or we do not. But forget this foolishness of claiming to follow something while rejecting its very centre, its very beliefs, its very values. That is just being disingenuous.
I am sorry if these two women have been hurt by the church. But any hurt or bitterness does not alter the truth of who God is, what his word says, or what his son came to accomplish. I hope these two women reconsider their dismissal of God and his word. I urge them to reconsider the claims of Christ, not from their own selective perspective, but as laid out in toto in the Gospel accounts.
There is nothing better that I can recommend to these two, but that they take the teachings of Jesus seriously, and follow him on his terms, not on their own.