It's About Grace

Written By Larry Taunton

For the past year or so Fixed-Point [Foundation] has been addressing, rather intensely, the issue of atheism. We have sponsored a debate (with more to come), written articles, produced DVDs, offered lectures, etc. This has given me much opportunity to hear first-hand the charges of the so-called "New Atheists" against religion and Christianity in particular. These charges fall under three broad headings: science, history, and philosophy.

I will not here outline those arguments or consider their merits. If you are so inclined and wish to explore this matter in some detail, I refer you to the resources you will find on our website: the debate CD/DVD between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox; Dinesh D'Souza's Latimer House Luncheon lecture (available on CD); and our film "Science and the God Question, "which explores the supposed conflict between science and Christianity. These resources will be of much greater use to you.

Rather, I would like to make an observation concerning one area where the New Atheists have concentrated their attacks: the authority and integrity of the Bible. These attacks may be generally characterized as focusing on the reliability of Scripture for moral and intellectual light. The Bible is seen as obscurantist and anti-intellectual. It is the product of a backward and violent culture. The Law is understood to be an oppressive instrument used as a means of maintaining the existing power structure.

It is on this question of the Law that I am most intrigued. In reading the New Atheists, one finds that there are valid criticisms that they level against Christians. We have not, after all, always been good representatives of the God we profess to serve. But one charge, made by all of the New Atheists I have read so far, that is completely invalid has to do with their understanding of the Law, its purpose, and what orthodox Christians believe regarding it.

In reading Hitchens' book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, it occurred to me that he, along with many other atheists, sees the Christian faith as a system of rules and regulations. One cannot live under such rules, he says. Sir Arthur Keith, another atheist, said something similar in his 1946 essay entitled Evolution and Ethics: "No human community could observe [the Law] with any degree of strictness, not even one day in seven ..."

This statement, while true, is also very revealing. Hitchens, Keith et. al. are correct in pointing out our inability to live by (or, more accurately, to save ourselves) according to the Law. The Law is, in a sense, oppressive. Where they are startlingly wrong is thinking that Christians believe otherwise. Historic Christianity has always understood the Christian life to be about repentance, forgiveness, and grace. No, man cannot live by the Law. On the contrary, our inability to live according to it reveals our imperfection and need for a merciful Savior.

As I have read them and listened to them, it has become clear to me that the New Atheists fail to understand the heart of Christianity: grace. Without it, Christianity is like most any other religious or ethical system. With it, it is life giving, liberating, and unique.

Excerpted from the Fixed-Point Foundation blog. Posted By: Larry Taunton @ 11:37:12 AM,  Sunday May 04, 2008 .