Want to check out something amazing? How about an atheist who extols the benefits of Christian evangelism? Think I’m kidding? Read this London Times article.
Here’s an excerpt from Matthew Parris’s fascinating confession: “Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.” Parris goes on to note that “Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.”
How refreshing to see such an even-handed appraisal of the salutary effects of the Christian worldview. At a time when the “new atheists” are making millions publishing books which demonize the faith, this is a much-needed corrective. But this piece also raises some interesting questions. If you’re like me, you found yourself wondering how Parris could persist in his atheism, given his obvious recognition of the power of the gospel. After all, he admits the reality of “spiritual transformation.” The rebirth, he grants, “is real.” So what gives here? My guess is that Parris regards the change in converts to be entirely moral in nature. The transformation and rebirth, he might tell us, are just shorthand ways of describing a shift in ethics. Yes, these new Christians fervently believe in God—about which they are deluded—but the critical fact is that their behavior and motivations change with conversion. And, given the positive cultural impact of this, that’s all that really matters.
If this is Parris’s analysis, then it begs an obvious question: How could such a fundamental delusion be so practically beneficial, producing so much personal and social renewal? Not an easy question to answer. This is why Parris’s position is an unstable one. I suspect he will eventually come to grips with the reality of God or else change his tune about the public benefits of Christianity. In any case, he should be commended for his candor and courage.