Friday, November 16, 2007

Therapy or radical surgery?

"Houses of Worship" (WSJ--today's Weekend Journal) by Christine Rosen is this week about atheism and "bromide" conversions, i.e. "therapeutic Christianity." The tone of this column is a little hard to discern at the beginning, but here are some quotes:

  • A few reporters and bloggers have raised questions about the octogenarian's [Antony Flew] mental competence as well as the motivations of his co-author, Roy Abraham Varghese. But questions about competence aside, Mr. Flew is not quite the crusading convert his book title suggests: He did not embrace Christianity, but Deism. As he told Christianity Today, he feels more spiritual kinship with the skeptical Thomas Jefferson than with Jesus.
  • So who are the other writers manning the ramparts against atheism while espousing their new devotion to Christ? They are typically sappy types armed mostly with therapeutic bromides.
  • To be sure, the Jackson and Weldon books have inspired many readers. But the most enduring conversion stories in modern times don't offer tales of perky piety triumphing over personal malaise. They are far more ambiguous and attentive to the challenges of living a spiritual life in a secular world.
  • Perhaps now more than ever, converts must combat a pervasive cultural cynicism that views conversions -- particularly those made during moments of crisis -- with suspicion. It was only his decades-long devotion to his Prison Fellowship ministry that eventually silenced those who doubted Mr. Colson's sincerity. Mr. Flew's claims have prompted many to wonder if his rejection of atheism and embrace of a deity is driven less by genuine faith than by the normal fears of old age.
  • The most persuasive conversion narratives recount not merely emotional surrenders to faith but also intellectual grapplings with it... The Road to Damascus is paved with theology not therapy.
Conversion doesn't necessarily have to be dramatic. Granted, there have been spectacular ones. But God works through His Word which, while cutting like a two-edged sword, can and does work faith silently in the heart. Only afterward does the faith show itself through works (James 2:18 -- the NIV says it well). Rosen has it exactly right.

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