Why do atheists become Christians?

Hi friends,

Today I interviewed Dr. Jana Harmon about her book, Atheists Finding God. I look forward to sharing it with you after it is edited!

In the meantime, Jana pointed me to research done by Joel Furches on this topic. He studied “narratives of high-profile Christians who were once atheists.” He writes:

The atheists in these stories had a number of similar reasons for converting. Possibly the most common among these was the idea of transcendent, universal values. A third of the people in this case study cited the realization that morality, purpose, truth consciousness and meaning were best explained when grounded in some greater, transcendent reality.

A second major theme was the reversal of their stereotype that Christians are uneducated, or dumb:

Given that most of the people in this group began with a caricature of Christians as rather imbecilic reprobates, it may not be surprising that a significant part of almost every one of these stories had to do with encounters with either intelligent Christians, or intelligent Christian material.

Third, they took the time to read the Bible, and particular the stories about Jesus:

At least a dozen of these profiles mention an atheist sitting down and opening up a Bible to read it meaningfully for the first time. More surprising was the description of the impact that reading about Jesus in the Bible had on them. Now it’s worth mentioning that in most of the cases when the atheists described the impact of their Biblical viewing, it was after they had begun to seriously examine the Christian worldview. It was not merely the scripture, but the actual person of Jesus, which seemed to have the deepest impact on these readers

But for all the importance of good arguments and a positive demonstration of Christianity in the lives of Christians, guess who gets the most credit? Furches finds:

Overwhelmingly, however, the most common element in these stories was that moment of epiphany indicating God’s existence. This moment of illumination ranged from the sudden, intense realization that they believed in God, to an actual feeling of God’s presence and working in their life. It should be stated that several of these stories stressed that they made a wholly intellectual conversion without the spiritual experience, but these are in the minority.

In Uncommon Pursuit, we want to be transformed for God’s mission. We trust that God will provide the epiphanies that bring people to faith, and that it will be the work of the Holy Spirit in each of our spirits that will transform us into wholeness. But precisely because we know that God is ultimate and primary, we are eager to participate in what he is doing. Practically, I think this looks like:

  1. Living a holy life
  2. Patiently loving our neighbors
  3. Carefully studying what we believe and why it is true
  4. Participating in genuine, open-ended, trust-building conversations

(And there’s convergence: You’ll see all these themes come through in the interview I did with Jana).

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