“The Power of God Unto Salvation”

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

In his book, The God Delusion, Published in 2006, Richard Dawkins’ challenged every reason he could think of that shows Christian belief to be false, stupid or harmful. Among the many arguments he poses against the existence of God and Christianity. ‘Arguments for the Existence of God from Personal Experience’, would include for the Christian the biblical terms the ‘New Birth’, or being ‘Born Again.’

In John 3:3-8 we read Jesus saying, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. . . . The wind blows wherever it pleases. You here its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” And in 1 Peter 1:23 we read, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of the imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” It has to do with one’s real relationship with God, and placing one’s self under His guidance. It is this that Richard Dawkins repudiates as nonsense on pages 87-92 of TGD.

From his ‘pub talk’ with fellow atheists Dawkins speaks mockingly of people who have supposedly had visions of God or of an angel, or hear God speaking in their heads. He introduces pink elephants and the Yorkshire Ripper, who distinctly heard the voice of Jesus telling him to kill women, and was locked up for life. He then quotes ridicule from the American atheist Sam Harris, finishing with the sentence, “And so, while religious people are not generally mad, their core beliefs absolutely are.” There is more, but this gives enough of what Dawkins understands Christians to mean when they speak of having a personal experience with God?

Apart from presenting Christianity as being bazaar and stupid Richard Dawkins also represents Christianity as being harmful and dangerous. These two ideas were presented from week to week in the Sunday Times Culture Magazine where The God Delusion had been included among the top 10 selling books in its category. Each week the Sunday Times Culture magazine provided the description of The God Delusion as: “Powerful arguments on the irrationality of and harm caused by faith.”

It is these two points of attack in mind, that Christianity is both stupid and harmful, that deserves a reply. I am not here talking of ‘cultural Christianity’, with which Dawkins would feel comfortable.

The Times columnist, Libby Purves, shared her amusement over Richard Dawkins enjoying carol singing. But then she questions, can he sing all the words of the carols without believing what they say. But that is ‘cultural Christianity’.

What we are talking about is the ‘born again’ Christianity that brings about a transformation in a person’s life – from going in one direction to a complete turn around. A turnaround that is inexplicable without recognising the influence of the Christian gospel and the power of God to change people’s lives.

Now there are charlatans out there who claim to be Christian. But one doesn’t write off the good because of the bad, the genuine because of the fake. Jesus warned his followers to, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Any church is never a museum full of saints. It has been better described as a hospital for sinners! But there should be no room for obvious charlatans!

So what is the strongest evidence that Christianity can put forward for the existence of God? It is true that no one can prove the existence of God. But neither can we prove the non-existence of God. But the best evidence over any other, in my mind, for the existence of a Supreme Being who interacts with humanity, is this very argument of a personal experience with God.

I will allow that there are people who might well fit into Richard Dawkins’ description of what he understands to be a personal experience with God. But I would say it certainly doesn’t fit into the understanding of most Christians.

Taking a statement from ‘Focus’ magazine, Dr. Mart deGroot says, ”Richard Dawkins tars all Christians with the ‘fundamentalist’ brush, and gives plenty of evidence of not knowing the difference between religious faith and quasi-religious madness.”

And then the now retired astronomer finalises by saying, “RD could be taken to task for doing exactly what he condemns Christians for doing: believing certain dictums without proper evidence. His hatred of all things Christians has blinded him to the faults of his own methodology . . . His reasoning is deficient, even abominable, for one wishing to be taken seriously as a scientist.” That is quite an indictment of a fellow scientist by Dr. deGroot.

When a person claims to have an experience with God one thing that should be noticeable is what the Bible calls being ‘born again’ through the Holy Spirit living within. There is a complete turn around in values, attitudes and behaviour. We would know many more illustrations for ourselves. And the question we can ask is, would these illustrations support the two claims by Dawkins, as endorsed by the Sunday Times, that The God Delusion offers “Powerful arguments on the irrationality of and harm caused by faith”(meaning of course, Christianity).

We may all have had our own experiences of coming to God through the Lord Jesus Christ. I have my story, not as dramatic as some I have read. I have never attacked anyone with a knife or a gun – or with my hands, or imprisoned. But there are many such illustrations of the drug addict and the violent whose lives have been changed because of their experience with God – they have been ‘born again’!

Let me just give an illustration. It comes from The Times newspaper, of the 24th May 2008. This is the newspaper that seems to me to have courted Dawkins as much as any other. Yet here was an article that refuted the very claim its sister paper, The Sunday Times, stated each week in its Sunday Magazine, “Powerful arguments on the irrationality of and harm caused by faith.”

The article was titled, How Pedro Martin Nunez found the Lord. Pedro’s picture is no longer in The Times link, but to me he looked like a heavy weight Mafia boss than anything like a preacher. His arms are tattoed with gang symbols, with more on other parts of his body. But that is what the The Times reporter said – Pedro is now a Christian preacher!

Pedro had spent most of his life inside the infamous El Cereso prison in Mexico. Prison life began when he was two and half years old, so one can hardly say he had a good start in life! He was sent there as a child with his mother when she was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years for murdering his father. She had been a heroin addict.

He was released when he was aged 10, but that followed with serving 17 sentences in youth facilities by the time he was 16. Then he was sent back to El Cereso. For Pedro it was like going back home, it was where he had been raised as a child. His own grandfather had sold drugs there. His mother and uncle had served time there. So he knew a lot of people inside. And he had to decide which to join of the two gangs controlling the prison.

I won’t retell Pedro’s first killing of a gang rival when he was 19 as described by The Times journalist. Enough to say that Pedro was ruthless and violent. He was soon promoted within the gang hierarchy of the prison, dealing in drug and protection rackets.

But it was during a period in the isolation section that he learnt his mother had died of a heroin overdose. He became depressed. He was born into the prison environment. He had no values or principles to live by. He even tried to commit suicide.

However, at some stage Pedro was approached by a prison ministry. And surprisingly, this big mafia type criminal was impressed by their kindness. They gave him clothes, they gave him food and they prayed for him. He is said to have cut out his cursing, smoking and drug taking. And then Pedro, this big mafia looking guy says, “God had mercy on me. It was the start of big changes.”

You can read the full story in The Times online. A picture of him is shown here. The upshot of it all is, Pedro is now a Christian pastor revealing the gospel to other gang members. The Times tells us that, “In 1999 the convicted murderer became the pastor of El Cereso. He was released over four years ago for good behaviour (this report was in 2008), and now runs a residential Christian centre for reforming ex-convicts, Unidos por La Cruz – ‘United by the Cross’. He preaches in Juárez and his programmes extend to Chihuahua, the state capital. There he works with children living beneath the streets in drainage pipes.” It is an Amazing story!

He is now married and a father of six. Anthony Lloyd who wrote the story says Pedro has become a symbol of redemption. “‘I still cannot believe the change that has come over my life,’ said Pedro, seated in the chapel of the centre where he conducts services and Bible classes.”

I am sure many of the inmates of that infamous prison also found it hard to believe this story of change in Pedro’s life. But that is the power of the Bible! For me, it is this kind of story of a personal experience with God, that brings about an unexplained change in one’s life, that I find convincing for the truth about Christianity. As the Apostle Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” This is the power of God’s word – not bringing harm but bringing positive and constructive changes in a person’s life. This story is one among many that gives the lie to the claims that Christianity is stupid and harmful.

The change in Pedro’s life came about through Christian witness and being introduced to the Bible and to the God of the Bible. Pedro in turn has become a Christian witness to others to reveal the divine power that changes lives. The second thing this story says to me is that there is no depth from which God can’t redeem us.

There are a couple of interesting comments that followed this article in The Times online which I took the liberty of borrowing. One is by a David Batchelor from Leasingham in Lincolnshire. It says:

“I wonder what the likes of Richard Dawkins have to say about Pedro’s testimony? God touches the lives of thousands, if not millions of people in different ways. Those who welcome the Holy Spirit into their lives have life-changing experiences that non-believers don’t and will never understand.” It’s true! It was for me before I became a Christian. As the Apostle Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Another comment in The Times by Nathan of Inverness read: “Are there ANY humanist answers to this? It gave up on him long ago. There’s no testament to the human spirit here. But this isn’t a lone salvation story but one repeated by countless millions of believers of differing degrees.” This,” said Nathan, “is the amazing, undeserved grace of God.”

And then Nathan suggests, “See why:” and then gives the biblical reference, John 3:16, which is the most well known text in Scripture: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him, shall not perish but have eternal life.” Not just in the future, but it is a new life that begins in the here and now. It is a quality of life that only God can give, and which no one can take away from us.

There are no barriers with God – He is not prejudiced, and even invites the prejudiced! For God, His house is an open house – for whoever will! Isn’t it that what is so good about Christian belief, and something for which Christians rightly give praise to God?

Links to more ‘New Birth’ Stories

http://www.thingsiread.org/2009/07/24/dawkins-superstition/

http://www.thingsiread.org/2009/07/31/dawkins-superstition-ii/

http://www.thingsiread.org/2009/07/31/dawkins-superstition-iii/

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