Here are five moving stories of those who renounced their disdain of Christianity:
The Roman leaders, the Jewish leaders, and Satan himself all thought that this troublemaker Jesus was finally out of their hair. Falsely accused of trumped up charges, he was punished and then hung on a cold, cruel cross. ‘That is the end of him’ they thought to themselves.
One Australian cartoonist and poet gets to the heart of things. In a Michael Leunig cartoon from well over a decade ago, he depicts two Roman soldiers looking at Christ and the two others hanging on crosses, and one exclaims to the other: “Look at that! Brilliant! You kill the leader and you nip the whole movement in the bud.”
Of course all the snickering and revelry and gloating over the death of an innocent man soon came to an end when on the Sunday they discovered his tomb was empty – Jesus was no longer there. And that sure did begin a movement, one that continues to this day all around the world.
Two thousand years on and billions of believers later, people still are finding out about the reality of the crucified God-man who rose from the dead. Because of that most momentous event in human history, those who come to him in faith and repentance can also experience resurrection power and eternal life.
I happen to be just one of those who turned away from my anti-Christian bigotry to become a committed follower of Christ. My story is told in this four-part piece: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/06/27/coming-home-my-testimony-part-1/
As I say, billions of people have also done the same. Here I wish to briefly note just five recent hardened atheists and/or unbelievers who radically changed their minds – all because of the Easter message which celebrates new life coming out of death. Not all of them became full-on believers (Flew died soon after he renounced his atheism, and Holland is still alive and we can still pray for him). But all were radically impacted by Christ and Christianity.
C. S. Lewis
Most people know the story of the great C. S. Lewis and how he eventually renounced his atheism and became one of the great Christian apologists of all time. I have told his story often. As I said in one piece:
In 1929 his conversion to theism occurred, and in 1931 his conversion to Christianity took place. The best read on all this is of course what he wrote in his autobiographical, Surprised by Joy (1955). In it he famously describes how he was “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England”.
Before this he was “living, like so many Atheists or Antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.” But fleeting moments of joy which he had known throughout his life, but seemed so unfulfilling, found their true source in God. https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/01/19/notable-christians-c-s-lewis/
One quote from his 1947 book Miracles is worth sharing here: “The New Testament writers speak as if Christ’s achievement in rising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe. He is the “first fruits”, the “pioneer of life”. He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought, and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so. This is the beginning of the New Creation: a new chapter in cosmic history has opened.”
Colson is another person whose story is quite well known. A hardened politician in the Nixon administration and a mover and shaker in the Watergate sandal, he spent some time in prison for his crimes and misdemeanours. As I wrote in an article:
He was found guilty of obstructing justice and served seven months in jail in 1974. Just before this sentencing however, in 1973 he had become a Christian. He famously tells his story of a political tough guy becoming a compassionate Christian in the best-selling autobiography, Born Again (Chosen Books, 1976).
His time in prison would of course give him a lifelong concern for prisoners, and he founded Prison Fellowship in 1976. Through this remarkable ministry he has offered real help and hope to prisoners all around the world. Many prisoners have been helped in so many ways, not least in many of them coming to know Jesus Christ as their own saviour and lord as well. https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/04/22/notable-christians-charles-colson/
One quote from him is also worth sharing:
I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.
If ever there was a hardcore atheist, it was Antony Flew. Before folks like Dawkins were around making a name for themselves as key misotheists, Flew was known throughout the world for his dogged atheism. His story too I have told in other pieces. And that includes his important 2007 book, There is a God. As I wrote:
Given his credentials, this is an amazing book about an amazing intellectual about-face. For over 50 years Flew was the number one proponent of atheism. And as a world class scholar with over 30 books on philosophy in print, he was one of the twentieth century’s most imposing intellectual figures.
In this book we hear about the reasons why he has abandoned atheism and embraced its counterpart. The significance of this turnaround can be seen in part by the ugly attacks and bitter responses by fellow atheists. They have made it perfectly clear that Flew has committed the unpardonable sin here. https://billmuehlenberg.com/2007/11/21/a-review-of-there-is-a-god-by-antony-flew/
As I also said, “he finds the arguments for Christianity persuasive, and is now exploring the evidence for this as well. He is even impressed with the central truth claim of Christianity, the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, he allows New Testament scholar N. T. Wright to have a concluding chapter in this book, making the case for the resurrection.”
Although raised in a religious home, British historian Tom Holland soon rejected all that and became an atheist. But in a 2016 article for the New Statesman he discussed “Why I was wrong about Christianity.” Here is an excerpt of that piece:
“We preach Christ crucified,” St Paul declared, “unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.” He was right. Nothing could have run more counter to the most profoundly held assumptions of Paul’s contemporaries – Jews, or Greeks, or Romans. The notion that a god might have suffered torture and death on a cross was so shocking as to appear repulsive. Familiarity with the biblical narrative of the Crucifixion has dulled our sense of just how completely novel a deity Christ was. In the ancient world, it was the role of gods who laid claim to ruling the universe to uphold its order by inflicting punishment – not to suffer it themselves.
Today, even as belief in God fades across the West, the countries that were once collectively known as Christendom continue to bear the stamp of the two-millennia-old revolution that Christianity represents. It is the principal reason why, by and large, most of us who live in post-Christian societies still take for granted that it is nobler to suffer than to inflict suffering. It is why we generally assume that every human life is of equal value. In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian. https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/religion/2016/09/tom-holland-why-i-was-wrong-about-christianity
He had a lengthy discussion with New Testament scholar N. T. Wright which you can see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nlf_ULB26cU
Or see this five minute segment of that video: https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=tom+holland+n+t+wright#fpstate=ive&vld=cid:8277dba1,vid:AIJ9gK47Ogw
While he is like Flew in rejecting his earlier antipathy to Christianity, he has not yet fully come to faith. So please pray for him. And see his very important 2019 book on the contributions of Christianity – Dominion – which I discuss here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/09/09/a-faith-that-makes-a-difference/
Perhaps not quite as well known as the other four, Australian journalist Barney Zwartz just yesterday had this piece published, “After years of sneering, I actually read the Bible and became a Christian.” He says in part:
God provided the only solution, one I could not have imagined. He sacrificed himself to rescue those who could not rescue themselves. And when Jesus did so, the Bible tells us, death could not hold him; he was resurrected and 40 days later rose to the spiritual realm we call heaven. This breaking of the power of death in the resurrection is what Christians celebrate today on Easter Day, and we are told it is a guarantee for us eventually too.
This struck me as a story too beautiful to be invented. And not only a story, but historical fact, and if historical fact then the most important historical fact in human history. God himself took human form, entered the empirical realm, suffered as a human and died to ransom, redeem and restore frail humans. https://www.theage.com.au/national/after-years-of-sneering-i-actually-read-the-bible-and-became-a-christian-20230406-p5cypk.html
Obviously these testimonies could be multiplied millions of times over. But what took place in Jerusalem and surrounds 2000 years ago are not dry, dusty events of ancient history, but the centrepiece of the human story. With the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ everything changes.
As Fleming Rutledge put it in her 2015 work, The Crucifixion: “The cross, incomparably vindicated by the Resurrection, is the novum, the new factor in human experience, the definitive and world-changing act of God, that makes the New Testament proclamation unique in all the world.”