John Loftus and the Church

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #1

I just listened to John Loftus on the podcast Unbelievable? With Justin Brierley (from 2008) where he gives his Atheist “testimony.” Here it is:

He was a passionate Christian who loved C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaefer, and Josh McDowell and even studied under William Lane Craig (He actually took a very similar path to Paul Copan, whom he considers a friend), and later became a pastor and leader in his church. Then he had an affair with a woman, but when he broke it off, she ruined his life by contacting everyone he knew and telling them that he had raped her. This crushed him and so he moved churches to try and get help, only to have the lead paster tell him he couldn’t be there because he was afraid he’d try to take over the church. At the same time he had a cousin who gave him books and articles on evolution, which he devoured. After about 6-8 years, he became an atheist. At first, he says, he was very content with living out his atheism personally, but soon a minority of Christians began basically bullying him verbally, where he finally got fed up and started a website called

I believe we as Christians can learn a lot about John’s story. The Church needs to hear this story because we need to correct our tendencies as Christians to look at sinners (like ourselves) with judgment and condemnation. One thing in particular that John says in the podcast is that he sees Christians having to hide our sins so that we can keep up our “light” in the eyes of others. Church should be the place to go when one needs help or is struggling with sin, not a dreaded place to go if others were to catch wind of your hidden secrets in your heart. God sees us all for who we are, yet he doesn’t turn away.

What your thoughts on John loftus’ story? What can we learn from it? How could can we as Christ’s body do better within the Church to mirror Christ’s example? What can we all work on to make the Church a welcoming place?

I remember hearing a talk by a pastor who got a letter by a woman who was a nonbeliever but had gone to a church service at his church. She told him that for the first time in her life, she was beginning to think that there might be a God because she said that his church was the only church that she had been to that was sinner-safe, meaning it was safe to admit openly that we are sinners who struggle every day. Shouldn’t that cause us to pause? I stopped in my tracks when I heard that. That is something we all need to hear more often.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. I know this is a weighty issue, but it needs to be brought up. Thank you

(SeanO) #2

@O_wretched_man First, I would like to say that I appreciate that on a few occasions Loftus actually defended William Lane Craig’s motives. Loftus did poke at him a bit, but he did not allow the person interviewing him to completely disparage him. I think that is admirable.

After listening to a few videos where John Loftus is interviewed, I do not think that his decision to leave the Christianity was chiefly the result of mistreatment, though I do not doubt that may have occurred. He sounds to me like a man who first encountered Christianity through a denomination not known for its intellectual rigor, became very passionate about his belief and then slowly realized that his heart had gotten ahead of his mind. As he studied many different perspectives and systems of thought, he realized he had never really thought through his belief in the first place and so he fell for every single classic argument against Christianity - Abraham worshiped a tribal god, science disproves Genesis, the witness of the Holy Spirit is a subjective interpretation of physical stimuli…

To be honest, I think where the Church really failed him is in the way the Christians he knew portrayed scientists as dishonest and discouraged intellectual rigor (at least some of them). When he encountered intelligent physicists and biologists and geneticists all pursuing knowledge and making the world a better place, it proved that these Christian’s image of these men was ignorant. And therefore he may have concluded the Christians themselves were ignorant and started looking for every reason to disbelieve that he could to disassociate from such ignorance. There’s a bit of speculation there obviously.

Tim Keller has said that until you’ve read a wide variety of views on a topic you don’t really have your own opinion. I think when Loftus first became a believer he did not have his own opinion - he was just going along with what he was being told. As he encountered more and more differing views he slowly began to form his own opinion and it turned out that his opinion was against Christianity. To me, this is not deconversion - it is merely the journey of a man who took a while to finally come to his own opinion.

It is difficult to provide a critique of Loftus’ view because it is so stereotypical - he accepts every standard argument against Christianity straight down the line - both the pseudo-scientific and those rooted in a rigid unbelief in the supernatural. However, I think these words from C. S. Lewis are a fitting response to his general acceptance of the idea that science has somehow explained away God:

I was taught at school, when I had done a sum, to “prove my answer”. The proof or verification of my Christian answer to the cosmic sum is this. When I accept Theology I may find difficulties, at this point or that, in harmonizing it with some particular truths which are imbedded in the mythical cosmology derived from science. But I can get in, or allow for, science as a whole. Granted that Reason is prior to matter and that the light of the primal Reason illuminates finite minds, I can understand how men should come by observation and inference, to know a lot about the universe they live in. If, on the other hand, I swallow the scientific cosmology as a whole, then not only can I not fit in Christianity, but I cannot even fit in science. If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on bio-chemistry, and bio-chemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees. And this is to me the final test. This is how I distinguish dreaming and waking. When I am awake I can, in some degree, account for and study my dream. The dragon that pursued me last night can be fitted into my waking world. I know that there are such things as dreams: I know that I had eaten an indigestible dinner: I know that a man of my reading might be expected to dream of dragons. But while in the night mare I could not have fitted in my waking experience. The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world: the dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one. For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific point of view to the theological, I have passed from dream to waking. Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else. C. S. Lewis

Of course John Lennox shows that this view is simply untenable:

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #3

I listened to the second part of the podcast today and I found John very interesting with his objections. He has this idea called the Outsider test of Faith where he believes that if we look at Christianity as we do with other religions, we would be skeptical as well. In fact, his skepticism runs so deep that he basically doesn’t think we can really know anything. David Wood, when they debated in 2010 on the existence of God (found points this out very well in his rebuttal of John’s opening statement.

Atheists love to point to this guy because he studied under William Lane Craig. Actually, John claims that WLC refuses to debate him (he speculates that maybe it has something to do with WLC still seeing him as the professing believer he had in class and cannot come to terms with him as an atheist). I do agree with your assessment that he may never have had his own opinion until later, when his “blind faith” was exposed.

I was wonder, where did you get that great Lewis quote? I would sure like to know because that is deeply profound.

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #4

Abdu Murray also debated John on whether Jesus was raised from the dead:

(SeanO) #5

@O_wretched_man The quote comes from Lewis’ ‘The Weight of Glory’ in the essay ‘Is Theology Poetry?’

Let us pray that Loftus can see Christ for who He truly is and that He can find the wisdom to discern the difference between good science and scientism / empiricism.

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #6

Thank you for the source! I have it sitting on my bookshelf but I haven’t read it yet.

Yes I would agree, we should pray John. One thing I found particularly sad while I was listening to the second podcast was that John, a former pastor, thought that the Christian message looked superficially beautiful on the outside but is actually quite “stupid” to him. He pointed to the atonement as an example. He couldn’t seem to wrap his head around why Jesus had to die on the cross. He also believes Christians are against homosexuality only because “the Bible says so.” Very interesting guy who apparently studied theology.

(SeanO) #7

@O_wretched_man I think what I like about Loftus is that his general demeanor is less antagonistic then the traditional four horsemen of the new atheist movement. He does not seem to be going out of his way to be intentionally offensive. I like that…

On the other hand, I don’t get the sense that he has a very good understanding of either Christian theology or the Scriptures. I recognize he has studied at some very well respected institutions, but the way he portrays the Christian perspective is so underdeveloped that I’m a little concerned he never quite grasped what he was taught.

For example, with the atonement, it is very clear why Jesus had to die - to save us from our sins by dying in our place. What is not necessarily as clear is ‘how’ that worked. The atonement theories are not about ‘why’ - they are about ‘how’. We know why - but there is debate as to ‘what’ the atonement did / ‘how’ it worked. The doctrine of the fall makes it very clear ‘why’ - we were separated from God by our sins and now have been reconciled through Christ.

Loftus’ epistemology rejects anything he cannot understand. He cannot understand the atonement, so he rejects it. This approach to knowledge is very anthropocentric and leaves no place for a knowledge superior to our own or special revelation.

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #8

I agree with you on his approach. I also like that fact that during debates he actually tries to give reasons and evidence for his disbelief instead of debasing the person he is debating.

He does list Sam Harris as a favourite of his, which is tragic because John takes pride in the in saying he is concerned with evidence. For a guy who speaks and writes so much about religion, you would think Sam Harris would know what he is talking about, but constantly in his books and in his talks he misrepresents Christianity and other religions all the time. I haven’t finished reading Letter to a Christian Nation yet because it was so painful to read such a misrepresentation of what I believe. Sam Harris lost credibility in my eyes when in that book he tells his readers that even though modern Christianity claims that we no longer follow the Old Testiment, Jesus actually says we have to and we all conveniently ignore him. To support his view he quotes Matthew 5:17-20. I don’t get how anyone with the slightest knowledge of theology would ever fall for that. Here is an interesting video on Sam Harris:

(SeanO) #9

@O_wretched_man In my limited experience those who are vehemently opposed to Christianity always misrepresent it. Whereas those who disagree but are more civil are more likely to offer a somewhat reasonable representation of it. As Christians, I think that is also true - if we take the time to think through why another person might believe something, we are much more capable of being sympathetic / understanding in conversation.

(Billie Corbett) #10

I would add to this post, a conversation I had with my spouse today. We talked about how personal sin is not prayed about in church circles.

I don’t know about you, but this has certainly been my experience in recent years.
The church calls a prayer meeting…The regulars show up.
Mainly the sick are prayed for. ( A good thing! Absolutely! But, shouldn’t be the only focus of prayer.)

Sadly, I don’t want to go to church prayer meetings anymore, because I feel such a restraint in my spirit. I can’t pray freely as I would, because that would include admitting sin, failures, weaknesses, insufficiencies etc. I pray somewhat openly…but, it feels unsafe to do so.

This is a long way from the Reformation and the protestant reformers beginnings.
The Westley brothers, C.H. Spurgeon, Johnathan Edwards, John Newton… etc… etc… all talked about sin within…and made it a focus of personal and corporate prayer.

(SeanO) #11

@Billie I see the rational in confessing corporate sins corporately, but perhaps private sins are better confessed within a tighter circle where you have a relationship of accountability with the individuals and know you can trust them? One other danger of prayer meetings is that they can be used as a vehicle for gossip…which might make some people hesitant to turn it into a time of individual confession. My Church does not confess private sin in prayer meetings, but I still enjoy them very much and sense God’s presence there. They do have a place to take the Lord’s supper set to the side, which could be used for confession and renewal if an individual so desires.

(Billie Corbett) #12

I suppose. Something in this doesn’t quite ring true in the biblical sense. But, I understand what you mean.

God has graciously provided what I need in regards to prayer.
Finding like minded friends who will connect for prayer privately outside of church…

We support one another in prayer as well, by texting when we are situations where we feel the urgent need of God’s mercy and grace.

(SeanO) #13

@Billie I am glad you have people you can trust and confide in. May the Lord Jesus grant you wisdom and understanding in these matters.