The Table Podcast
Glenn R. KreiderGlenn R. KreiderDarrell L. BockDarrell L. Bock

Understanding the New Atheism

In this episode, Dr. Darrell Bock and Dr. Glenn Kreider discuss the New Atheism, focusing on key leaders, arguments and adherents.

Timecodes
00:32
What is the New Atheism?
01:58
How did 9/11 ignite the new atheism’s argument against religion?
04:40
How religious violence led to the Enlightenment
07:18
Key proponents of the New Atheism
11:14
Key distinctives of the New Atheism
17:51
Who are “the dones” and “the nones?”
22:50
Engaging key arguments of the New Atheism
37:16
How should we respond to violence?
43:05
Christians who have become disillusioned with the faith
Transcript
Dr. Darrell Bock
Welcome to The Table, where we discuss issues of God and culture. I'm Darrell Bock, Executive Director of Cultural Engagement, at the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. My guest is Glenn Kreider, who teaches in systematic theology, here. And our topic, today, is the New Atheism.

There is a lot of buzz that goes around with regard to how some are publicly challenging the Christian faith. We have a group of writers who have been dubbed – I don't know if it's affectionately or not – the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And so, we thought having a discussion about the types of things that they're saying, and how Christians can think about what's being said, was worth talking about.

So, Glenn, I appreciate you – or, Dr. Kreider – coming in, being a part of our podcast. And he's a Veteran of Foreign Wars, he's been with us before, so he knows the dance. Let me open with this question. Let's talk a little bit about the name, or the moniker, New Atheism. Is it new? And who exactly are we talking about?
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Yeah, the category of atheism is not new. There have always been atheists. But post-9/11, Gary Ward gets credit for an article in Wired magazine, and identifying this group as the "new atheists." And he particularly had in mind, back then, the self-identified Four Horsemen – Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Samuel Harris, and Christopher Hitchens.

The focus was on this group of antagonistic-to-religion writers, this of militant atheists, who began to ascend – began, actually, their writing careers as atheists, and particularly addressing the problem of religion, dated post-9/11. That the events of that day made them more bold in addressing what they see as the problem of religion, not just Christianity.
Dr. Darrell Bock
I take it there are two elements to this catalyst. One would be, obviously, just the nature of the violence of the experience itself, showing a world kind of in chaos. And second, the fact that religion, in the broadest sense of the term, created the violence that we're talking about. Are those the two primary factors that led into this new bold effort?
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Yeah, I think those are the two. I would add two additional factors. There is the fear that they introduced into the British and American world, the Western world, and to see the events of 9/11 as acts of terrorism carried out by a major world religion. That led to the increasing fear that religious conflict would continue to escalate. And it's rooted, also, in the history of religious conflict.

So we have this long history of religious conflict. We have the rise of terrorism, and the fear that it brings. And then you also have – several of these guys were philosophers, and others were scientists. So they're dealing with the "science versus faith" question. They're dealing with the "reason versus faith" question. You kind of bring those altogether, and you have what could be called a perfect storm.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So, the New Atheism's really about – there's a new environment that created, in some sense, an open door to raise these issues. And that's what the article in Wired magazine is getting at.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Yeah, that there's something going on in the culture at the time. You have this precipitating cause, and then the rise of this movement. What's fascinating is the rapid rise, not only in the production of writing, but the rapid rise of attraction among the American population.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, let's talk about these four, a little bit. You said they come from different backgrounds – I've got another thought floating in my head, and I didn't wanna go ahead and go there before I ask you this question. That is, you know, the idea of religious conflict is important.

I think some people forget that what led to the Enlightenment, and also what led to the pursuit of religious liberty, is a reaction to, in part, the religious conflicts that had taken place and devastated Europe. That caused people to say, "If this is where religion takes us, then the further we can move religion away from the political process, the better we would be." I think that's something that Christians sometimes forget when they talk about the Enlightenment.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Yeah, I think you're right about that. We also need to acknowledge that, from the very beginning, this has been a violent world. It's been a world in which human conflict almost always ends up in violent conflict. There have always been a variety of world views and religious perspectives. Religious conflict is not a new thing, in our day, and most of – many of, I might even say all of – the transitions in human history are rooted in those kind of questions, that kind of conflict.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And, in going in that direction, you're also – I think, if I'm reading between the lines correctly – suggesting that, this may not be so much about religious conflict as it is about the way humans deal with conflict as fallen creatures and they resort to violence. Religion becomes an excuse or a context, or a pretext in some cases, to react that way, as opposed to being the substantive cause.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Yeah, I like the context and pretext. When there are deeply held beliefs and there are differences of opinion, and there's the attempt to deal with things being out of control – to control, to make sense of, and to dominate – it's not surprising that religion is always part of the mix. On the one hand, we should acknowledge that reality, and you can't ignore it. But at the same time, how to find some way – and in periods in human history, there have been opportunities for Christians and for people of other religions to live in peace. That ought to be the focus and the goal.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. Now, I didn't wanna leave that, 'cause that's an important backdrop for what we're talking about.

Okay, let's turn our attention to these four. You said they come from different backgrounds, they bring different kinds of expertise to the promotion of the views that they have. So, let's go through the four, and talk about what each of them brings to the table.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
One of the things that I've actually thought more about, recently, is the degree to which some of the tone in the writing is rooted in the background and the training. That's the fact that Richard Dawkins, and Dennett and Hitchens, are British-trained. That their way of engaging the questions, their way of interacting, is a little bit different than the more culturally-nice way that Americans tend to talk about issues.

So that, although it is true from our perspective – and it is true from anybody's perspective – that some of the rhetoric is harsh and dismissive and judgmental and provocative, Christians, of course, would never engage that kind of [crosstalk] _____.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, it never happens anywhere, right? Especially on Facebook. [Chuckles]
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
So Richard Dawkins is usually the name that people immediately think of, and his book The God Delusion, from 2006. He's a trained evolutionary biologist, and an ethologist, so he's writing from a scientific perspective. His basic claim is that science answers the questions, that we no longer need a "God of the gaps." That science has not answered all of the questions, yet, but science will provide the answers to those questions.

And that religion, in all of its forms – he's every bit as vitriolic in his criticism of Islam, and every other religion, as he is Christianity. Religion, for him, is child abuse, it's cruel, it's heartless, and – It's one thing to dismiss religion. It's another thing to be so vitriolic in your criticism of it.

Daniel Dennett is a philosopher trained also at Oxford, and he's dealing more with philosophy of science. He's much more – maybe because he's a philosopher, but – and he looks like Santa Clause. He's much more gentle and kind in his presentation, although every bit as strident in the beliefs that he holds.

Sam Harris might be the most accessible popularizer of the group. Harris has a degree from philosophy, too, from Stanford, a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA. But he writes his Letter to a Christian Nation/The End of Faith, which was published in 2004, which he started writing September 12, 2001. Watching what happened on 9/11 led him to say, "This is an issue that needs a response, that needs to be addressed." And so, for him, Christianity, and all religion, is a problem and is a danger.

The late Christopher Hitchens – died in 2011 – is a journalist and a literary critic. He is not trained in science or in philosophy, and he is the most strident. His book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, took a great deal of pleasure in criticizing Jerry Falwell, and then celebrated Falwell's death, when he was on a speaking tour, for that book. Has called Mother Teresa a fraud, and – He really is – he makes Dawkins [laughs] look like a nice guy. But, tragically, is no longer with us.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, when we talk about the philosophical roots of this, of course, as you've mentioned, atheism has been with us a long time. Although there's some ironies with regard to atheism – I have to throw this in – because, you know, Christians were called atheists in the early period, because they didn't believe in all the gods of the Greco-Roman world. So it's an interesting term, in that regard.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
And Dawkins actually plays off that, and he says that throughout human history people have not believed in certain gods. We just believe in one less.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm. So, in the background, when we speak philosophically, I think the big name whose shadow is cast over the modern discussion of atheism – whether he connects to these guys or not is a matter of discussion – of course is Nietzsche. So, how does he, or does he, fit in to what's going on, now? And, now, to take a twist on our original question, how new is the atheism that we're dealing with? Or is it a collection of arguments that actually have been with us a long time?
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Nietzsche and the other nontheists of the Enlightenment era, as the shift from metaphysics leading to epistemology, completely flips to "How do we know?" becoming more important than "What is real?" We shift from faith-seeking understanding, to understanding-seeking faith. The end result becomes that something that cannot be verified, can be tested, can be demonstrated, for which there is not hard scientific evidence, would need to be questioned, and could be ultimately dismissed.

That leads Nietzsche to a real crisis, because he realizes the implications of the world view, he realizes the implications of what he's believing. But he realizes that life as a complete nihilist is destructive and simply doesn't work. So, there is a real sense of tragedy and sadness in Nietzsche, that God is dead, that we've killed him, "Look what you've done to God," and now we're stuck in the aftermath of this great murder.

That sadness, that disappointment, that sobriety, if you will, is not found – at least not to the same degree – in the New Atheists. If I may summarize at least these four, the New Atheists say, "There is no God. There never has been. This is good for us. And let's celebrate the freedom, let's look forward to the day when we don't have to wrestle with these questions, anymore."

It's interesting to watch the television interview where they were dubbed the four atheists, and hear them talking among themselves about whether religion ever produces anything good. Whether there is any value in any religion, anywhere, and at any time. They pretty much divided two to two. That there is nothing in any religion anywhere – Hitchens and Dawkins said – that's not found, also, outside of religion. So we don't need religion, at all.

Harris is much more willing to affirm that there are certain benefits of religion, but it's not necessary, we don't need it. And that's a major shift. The second major shift, it seems to me, is the scientific revolution, and the perception that – really, the arrogance of the scientific community – that religion is no longer necessary, God is no longer necessary. Because the answers to all the fundamental questions – Where do we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? What difference does it make? – are all questions that science can provide the answers to.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, we're talking about some in the scientific community. 'Cause there are scientists who are absolutely committed to a theistic approach to life, and who acknowledge that science doesn't answer all the questions that are put forward about where we come from and who we are.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Yeah, there are atheistic scientists, there are non-atheistic scientists. We're talking, here, about this movement and this group of scientists, this group of philosophers. And it would be a subject for another day – it's beyond my expertise – to talk about the quality of the science. And even to talk about the quality of the philosophy of these four guys.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Mm-hmm, in fact, we did an earlier podcast with you and Doug Blount, who's more trained in philosophy, in which he talked about many of the philosophical elements that are behind this.

Another thing that I'm hearing you say is that Nietzsche seemed to have an awareness and even an empathy for what was lost in a death of God, a view that the modern group lacks.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Right. Yeah, here is – well, actually, I wanna say two things, here. That for these four, particularly, there's no concern, there's no sense that we've lost something. There's a celebration of that. There still are Nietzschean atheists in the world, today, and I think it is important. A great deal of attention is devoted – which is partly because of the PR machine – to these four, now three, and several others who are writing, today, in the same vein.

But there's another whole category of atheists that – as somebody commented after our last podcast – one of the criticisms he leveled at us, he said, "You guys _____ _____ _____ stop talking about those four guys. But they all die, they all convert to Christianity tomorrow, the problem doesn't go away." That there are a lot of atheists who are sharing the ethos of the Four Horsemen. But then there are a lot of others who are much more sober minded, much sadder about losing faith in the possibility of the existence of God.
Dr. Darrell Bock
More truly Nietzschean, in many ways.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
More truly Nietzschean, and it is the fastest-growing group in American religious demographic, the so-called Nones. That number is growing incredibly quickly. From 1990 to 2010, the numbers have doubled, and probably are expanding much more. If you ask people their religious affiliation, about six percent will identify themselves as atheists or agnostics. Where well over 20 percent would identify themselves as having no religious affiliation, at all.

Many of them are not militant atheists, many of them are sad. And for whatever reason – which is the third category – many of them come from former theists, they come from Christians, professing Christians.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So, these non-affiliated religious people, it's a group that's growing. When we say Nones, some people may misunderstand what we're talking about.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Dones and Nones – that's D-O-N-E-S and N-O-N-E-S.
Dr. Darrell Bock
[Laughs] There you go. So, this actually is a group that's expanding particularly among the Millennialites group, and it's actually been a topic of several podcasts, in one way or another, that we've done. To talk about, how do you minister this group whose response to culture almost draws out on demographic lines? I mean, that there seems to be an age breakdown in which this younger group is responding in ways that are different from the older groups that came before them.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Yeah. I've been reading, recently, on another category – which is well worth maybe another conversation – The Rise of the Dones. This group is not Millennial. This group is across the board. Some of the stories that Packard tells in his book, The Rise of the Dones, is these are people who are in their 70s and 80s who are walking away from the church. Not walking away from the faith, but walking away from the church.

And I wonder what that looks like in the future. That's one step away from the church. It's a very small step from there to not identifying as a person of faith, at all. And I think that's important for laying the groundwork, to understand that the phenomenon we're talking about is not merely limited to the Four Horsemen and their followers.

Their approach is very distinctive, it's very belligerent. They're the people who get the press. I mean, part of the rise of this is because it has become more socially acceptable, more popular, because there is – they have platforms and publishing. So some of that phenomenon is a cultural phenomenon.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So we've got the New Atheism, but then we've got a much bigger issue related to atheism at large. And, in some cases, what you might call an agnosticism, or even a dialing down of one's spiritual commitment. I mean, we're really dealing with a huge spectrum, here.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
We are. I think the key issue, here, for Christians, is, how do we respond? The way we respond must be distinctly Christian. The way we respond must be a bit different than if you're talking to somebody who has read Dawkins and has bought into his argument. That response would be different than to a person who is struggling with the faith, a person who wants to believe, a person who did believe. Those are two different approaches, and there really is a continuum.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, and this is crucial, 'cause when I talk about cultural engagement, I talk about getting a spiritual GPS on the person you're interacting with. And the whole point of that exercise is to listen to how they process religious discussion. Because that spectrum exists, and depending on where they are on the spectrum, there are different needs and responses that you need to give. So you can't do a one-size-fits-all engagement.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Right. We really never could, but in an increasingly pluralistic world, it becomes increasingly important that we know what the issues are with the person we're speaking to. Oftentimes – because in a modern world we were taught to have all the answers and to proclaim – we need to do a lot more listening. And to understand, what is distinctive about this person, this person I care about – or this person I just meet at Starbucks, or somewhere – so that I have this conversation about the Gospel?
Dr. Darrell Bock
And now I kind of wanna flip the conversation. Rather than talk about individuals, and where they come from, and what their background is, and why they've been influenced in the direction that they have, I wanna turn to this question. And that is, what kinds of arguments do atheists, in general – and perhaps New Atheists, in particular – use that seem to resonate with the public? And what are kind of some of the ways into interacting with them? And, Glenn, you told me at the break that you have five of these, so let's go through them one at a time.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
I actually have a longer list that I've boiled down to five.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay, well, that's nice to know. We can do something with the rest of that, at some other point.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Well, maybe I'll incorporate them into the five. I'm calling these Five Problems, and they really are in no particular order, except the first one.

I think the world – at least the American perception of the world – radically changed in 9/11. It's a problem of evil, and particularly the problem of fear. That, in a post-9/11 world, and in a world of threats of terrorism, people are afraid. And I think that one of the key issues here is – at least maybe to the second problem – it's the problem of religion.

As we talked earlier, that throughout human history wars have often been religious wars. In almost every war, there's been the perception that, "God's on my side. God's on our side." What seems to have happened in recent memory is that there is an increasing awareness of the conflict between a militant religion, and then the fear of conflict with another militant religion. Or the conflict between militant religion and the state. Or the conflict between militant religion and science. And it creates a culture of fear.

Where it becomes really a challenge for Christianity is that our faith in Christ doesn't really solve the problem of that conflict, and it doesn't solve the problem of fear. We live in a scary world. It's easy for us to step back and remind ourselves that the world has always been a scary place, there has always been sin and death and conflict. But it really doesn't address the issues that are particularly facing us at the present time.
Dr. Darrell Bock
The amount of violence that one is able to do has so escalated, it's so wide.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
That's exactly right. It is the ability to kill a greater number of people with [crosstalk] _____ shorter amount of time.
Dr. Darrell Bock
In a shorter amount of time, yup.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Yeah. And that fear is an appropriate fear. That concern is an appropriate concern. Over and over again, all four of the Four Horsemen, their strongest arguments are addressed toward Islam, not towards Christianity. But they are concerned about Christianity and other religions for exactly the same reasons.

So the problem of evil – and, you might say, so how does that lead to atheism? Well, that's that fundamental theological problem that people of faith have been wrestling with ever since the garden. How can there be this horrific evil? This random, unexpected evil? And of degrees, levels, and kind that has not been seen in human history, until our day. How can that exist in a world where God is good? If God is good, then why is there evil? If God is good, how can there be this kind of evil? And, if God is good and has the power and the ability to do something, why doesn't God respond? Why doesn't God do something?

It's a very small step from those questions, to say, "Since God isn't responding, since God isn't reacting, since God isn't fixing this –" and I know that that headline introduced an article that argued a different point, but the headline – this was Daily News, right?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Right, "Why Isn't God Fixing This?"
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
I mean, the headline is true, God isn't fixing this, yet. And to live in a world where God – who is good, who has power – allows evil, but that God doesn't immediately step in and respond to it, has led a lot of people to say, "I don't need God." So when the New Atheists repeat that same old message, that, "Even if there is a God, He's not active in the world, so what good is He? We have to take care of this ourselves."
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, "I don't need that kind of a God."
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Exactly. And then you add to that, problem number three is the problem of the Bible, and the God who is revealed in the Bible. The atheists – the New Atheists, particularly – love to call attention to the Biblical stories where God destroys all human life on the earth, in the Flood. Where God condemns the Canaanites, the genocide. Where God sends judgment, and the ground swallows up the Israelites. Where a prophet calls for bears to maul little boys.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Anything that suggests accountability to a Creator.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Yeah. But then you need to add to that. In a postmodern world, in a world where there is sensitivity to the marginalized, to the other. So, questions about the way the Bible treats women. The way homosexuals are treated in the Scriptures. The way the church has, throughout their history – There is this sensitivity to the issue, and the question about the way the church has, the way Christianity's book, has treated these peoples. And the way the church has used the Bible to oppress and to condemn.

And on this issue, quite frankly, I think it requires a great deal of honestly and humility, on our part. As I think you've heard me say before, we can't ignore that those texts are in the Scripture. We can't say, "This story didn't exist, it didn't happen." It did. But I think there are ways to – as you mentioned, accountability to a Holy God, God's longsuffering, His patience. And that the destruction, His judgment of the Israelites, follows year after year after year after year of warning and calls to repentance.

That part of the story has to be told, too. Not in any way to minimize the horror of some of these stories. I mean, the horror of a disobedient child must be taken out and stoned. And that there's little evidence that the Israelites carried that out maybe demonstrates the horror of it, and the really deep-seated hermeneutical questions, here, that we need to talk about.

And I think we need to have those conversations, instead of immediately jumping to a defensiveness, immediately jumping to a condemnation of the questioner. Actually to sit down and have conversations about how to do that.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Appreciate the sincerity of what's being raised, and engage it. Yes, I think that's a very, very important point. You know, we did a podcast, awhile ago, on genocide in the Old Testament. The experience of God telling Israel to go in and wipe out everyone in the land – which Israel failed to do.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Thankfully – there would be no Jesus.
Dr. Darrell Bock
[Laughs] And so, in the midst of that, explaining how, when you read the story in the Torah about the nature of the civilization that was being judged, that's actually a part of the story. It isn't just kind of random killing, if I can say it that way. Not that that solves everything, but it does bring in other factors that people have to think about.

When you think about the revulsion that people feel today, about the kind of violence that we're seeing, and the human instinct to say, "That needs to be completely gotten rid of," that's no different, in many ways. That is a statement about an evil so deep and so poisonous and so destructive that it needs to be eradicated. And those instincts are not necessarily bad instincts. So, a real discussion to be had.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Yeah, and that conversation has to be had. Also, with the awareness that Christianity has a tendency toward Marcionism, that dismisses the Old Testament – at least implicitly – as a different era, a different dispensation, a different God. And as a dispensationalist, we do recognize it's a different dispensation. But the father of our Lord Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ is the same God. And that this angry God of the Old Testament who destroys people, and this loving gentle Jesus of the New Testament interpretation has to be done away with [crosstalk] _____.
Dr. Darrell Bock
It runs into trouble in the book of Revelation.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
And it runs into trouble in the Pentateuch, and throughout the history of Israel. Because the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is merciful, compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness. He does not leave the guilty unpunished, but He is abounding in love and faithfulness and mercy and grace. And that part of the story, it's not simply a counterbalance to the story of the destruction of the Canaanites, but it is part of that story.

I interrupted you a bit earlier to make the point that, if the Israelites had wiped out all the Canaanites, there would be no Rahab and there would be no Jesus. So, God's grace even in the midst of His judgment is important.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Emerges out of the irony of something that looks to be completely destructive and negative, just like the cross. I mean, the cross looks to be something completely destructive and negative, and yet look what emerges out of it. Out of evil, God is able to have something good emerge.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Because life always conquers death. The Resurrection is the Good News that comes out of that.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah, and the other half of this equation that we haven't talked very much about – I've got two themes that I wanna raise from what you've said. I'm trying to decide what order to take them in.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
We have talked about the problem of science, so I've got four of them left.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. But one of the issues, it seems to me, that we're dealing with is when we talk about religion, particularly when religion is being used generically. So, we're not just talking about Christianity, we're also talking about how people view Judaism, or Islam, or Buddhism, or whatever. I think it's important to say that one of the issues that we're falling into today – it's not an atheism issue, it's a religion issue, a sociology religion issue – is the danger of generalizing. Where we say, all Christians x, or all Jews x, or all Muslims x, whatever that thing is.

And, in fact, what you see within these religions is a gradiation in which there are people who are as repulsed by what is going on in our world, today, in the name of religion, as others of other religions are. With equal passion, and in some cases with an intensity that reflects the fact that it's their religion that's being besmirched by what's being done.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Yeah, the tendency to view religions and peoples monolithically – There are people who represent Christianity, that we would wish they would not. And that we would be all lumped in together with them ought to give us great pause, before we lump all Muslims in with radical Islam, and we lump all atheists together with Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. There really is a continuum of perspectives and views.

But the other issue that that raises for me is that we are increasingly living in a world where you have to be incredibly naïve to believe in pluralism. To believe that every religion has the same agenda, that every religion believes the same thing. And that, somehow, we can all just get along, when every world religion claims – and, in fact, if we add atheism in to the mix, as a religious system –
Dr. Darrell Bock
It's a world view.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
It is a world view. And each one claims to be exclusive and claims to be the right one. That, somehow, out of this, it seems to me, comes the recognition, the reality of the naivety of much of the interreligious dialogue that had been going on prior to this time.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, the other dimension that I want to bring into the equation – 'cause we haven't talked about it – is, in the midst of recognizing that there's all kinds of violence – and that violent responses are oftentimes very human in the midst of conflict – is this strand in Christianity that I will say is countercultural. It is the element that says that, you know, when you think about Jesus, you think about Him as being an apostle of peace, an apostle, to some degree, of nonviolence.

You know, when you think about what makes the Sermon on the Mount particularly distinctive. What makes it particularly distinctive is not that He exhorted people to distinguish the world between those who are righteous and those who are sinners, and to treat the righteous one way and sinners another. But actually went out of His way to command that people love their enemies, and pray for them, et cetera – things like turning the cheek, et cetera.

There is this impulse not to respond out of the normal human impulse, that is central to Christian teaching. That we see in the New Testament, affirmed not just by Jesus but, really, all the way through it, in many ways. That introduces, particularly in a world of fear, a [laughs] complicating element. I don't know how else to say it.

How do you do this? How do you do this, when you're at threat? What does it mean to be open to being martyred? Those kinds of questions. Of course, the Early Church reflected this, and actually generated much sympathy for what it was that they believed, because they didn't respond, oftentimes, in kind.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
Yeah, the innate, default reaction to fear is almost always to flee or fight, and both of those are self-protective mechanisms. When the Lord of the Church teaches us a completely different way, that when He was faced with the greatest threat He had ever faced, and had all the ability at His disposal to flee as fast as He could, or to fight it, He laid down and died. And He calls us –

He not only told us what to do, in the Sermon on the Mount and the rest of His teaching, He actually showed us. And that there's something about our response. Now, whether that response is to the threat of violence at the end of a gun, or whether that response is to the threat of violent rhetoric, I think the Christian response is not a response that is in kind. That violence is the default reaction, throughout human history.
Dr. Darrell Bock
It's the way of the world.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
It's the way of the world. But we are not of the world, so our response as Christians must be a different response. And it's one thing to talk about that theoretically. It's one thing to talk about that in the air conditioning building, when there's no gunmen at the door – thankfully.

How do we actually learn to do that? I'm gonna argue that we learn how to do that as we interact with one another – Christians don't always agree, either – and as we interact with people of other religions, and particularly atheists. That just because somebody uses strong, inflammatory rhetoric, and –

So, you hear Dawkins say things like, "God is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction, jealous and proud of it. A petty, jealous, unforgiving control freak. A vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser. A misogynist, homophobe –" Our immediate reaction – and I think it's a God-given reaction – is to be repulsed and be offended. And it takes something of the mercy and grace and love –

It takes something of the work of the Spirit, to realize that this is a man who is crated in the image of God, this is a man for whom Christ died. And, in reality, his public rhetoric is probably not much different, in kind, from the kind of private rhetoric that you and I would be prone to think. So, you know, maybe we learn how to love our enemies, to love people who are angry and fearful, by actually loving those who are close to us.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And I think that the tone of this is important, because – and that doesn't mean that there aren't times to confront and be direct. Jesus was confrontive and directive. But there's a discernment that's involved in here, and there is a wisdom. The Proverb that leaps into my head immediately is, you know, "Answer a fool according to his wisdom. Don't answer a fool according to his wisdom." Now what do I do?
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
There's a time to speak and a time to be silent. [Laughs]
Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly right, those kinds of things. And I think that in dealing with these kinds of questions – figuring out how to engage well and faithfully and honestly and directly – but with a way that says, "My response is out of a desire to care, as opposed to a desire to destroy," is very, very important.
Dr. Glenn R. Kreider
That's a nice segue to my fifth problem. In that, ministerially, I'm concerned about what appears to be a growing group of theists, of Christians, who are now identifying themselves as done with the church. Or many who identify themselves as holding no religious conviction, at all. Thankfully, this is not a steady stream of graduates of our seminary. But I do hear from enough to now have begun to see a pattern, and it's deeply troubling to me.

Graduates of the seminary, people who have professed faith in Christ and who have been in ministry, who reach a point, for whatever reason – I'm trying to think through the similarities of the stories that I keep hearing. And one of the similarities that I keep hearing over and over again is that, "Christianity doesn't work for me."

Now, it's easy for us to say, "But what made you think it was all about you? What made you think it was –" But, really, the stories are, "I've been taught that this is the way God is, this is the way he acts. Where was He when I was raped? Where was He when I lost my job? Where was He when the Christian organization that hired me treated me unjustly? Where –"

And so, that here is this growing group of people that are moving away from the faith, some of whom would even identify as no longer being believers – of being atheists – because of either what they've been taught about God that wasn't true. Or they've been taught that, "God always acts this way," and they found out that He doesn't. Or just the harsh reality of life in a fallen world, the real struggle for them.

And the way we respond to them has got to be compassionate and loving. I do a lot more listening than talking, when one of those is in my office.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, Glenn, we're coming up to the end of our time, unfortunately, and I feel like all we've done is kind of a part one. That we've kind of laid out the problem and the issues, and tried to make a point that these are real. That Christians have to take them seriously and have to engage seriously. Not be dismissive, not be cold, not be harsh, not be violent. There are lots of things not to do.

But the flipside of this is the question, well, then, what do you do? I mean, we've talked a little bit about the tone, but the actual practicalities of what that means.

So what I'm gonna do is, I'm gonna invite you back. And we're gonna talk in a separate segment, and we're gonna concentrate on how to deal with the challenge of what New Atheism is. Because I think one of the mistakes that can be made is, we can treat it as something that can be easily dismissed. When it's clear, from the way people are reacting, that that's not how to handle it.

So, I thank you for coming in, and I thank you for being a part of The Table, today. And we look forward to having you back with us when we finish our conversation on atheism.
Darrell L. Bock
Darrell L. Bock Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 30 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Glenn R. Kreider
Glenn R. Kreider Dr. Glenn R. Kreider identifies his motivations as his passion for the triune God and his desire to help others respond to divine revelation in spirit and truth. Prior to coming to DTS he directed Christian education and pastored a church in Cedar Hill, Texas. Dr. Kreider’s research interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, and our eschatological hope. He is married to Janice and they have two children. Dr. Kreider enjoys his adorable black lab named Chloe, two pugs, bold coffee, and good music.
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Arts & Media
Aug 22, 2017
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