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Dr. John & Company Blog

A Path to Atheism

September 15, 2023

Ryan Bell is a pastor in southern California and a professor at a seminary. Or at least, he was. Today, his pastoral ministry, and even his personal faith, is in his past. Raised in a religious family and having led several congregations, Mr. Bell now identifies and promotes an atheist position, and he does so quite publicly. He has written about his experience and been interviewed on national radio. So, what happened? How did he move from servant of God to skeptic about God?

As an exercise of exploration, Mr. Bell decided to live a year as an atheist. He said, “For the next 12 months I will live as if there is no God. I will not pray, read the Bible for inspiration, refer to God as the cause of things or hope that God might intervene and change my own or someone else’s circumstances. I will visit atheist gatherings and try it on.” He was going to evaluate the existence of God after 365 days of ignoring Him. At the end of the year, he concluded that there was no God. He embraced atheism and has become an evangelistic advocate for it.

The foolishness of Mr. Bell’s experiment is obvious to everyone but Mr. Bell. Set aside the probability that his professed faith had fault lines constructed by doubts and disappointments, his manner of addressing them assured the predictable end. If you ignore God, it is easier to conclude He is not there. Were Mr. Bell to conduct the same experiment with his wife, the result would be no surprise. If you ignore your wife, refuse to speak with her, live as if you were unmarried and invest nothing into the relationship, would it be surprising at the end of a year to conclude that your marriage doesn’t exist? Mr. Bell is an example that any relationship with God must be nurtured in faith.

Jesus has made it possible for us to know God.

This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and Him who you sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn.17:3, WEB).

This knowing includes a set of truths to believe about who Jesus is and what He has done. But our knowing God exceeds data and invites relationship. And like any relationship, we have investments to make. We seek God in our praying. We choose to obey His will. We welcome God into our whole life, even the corners.

We love Him with all we are and have, and when we fail to do so well, we return and begin again.

Is God created by these investments? Consider: I water my plants. I text my friends. I work at my job. I volunteer at my church. I speak with my wife. My actions do not create the objects of my actions. Quite the opposite. Since these realities are important to me, I act and enjoy a bond with them. God is not created by the investments of our heartfelt habits. But these nurture love and faith with the One who invites us. Mr. Bell has not demonstrated the non-existence of God. He has confirmed his absence of a personal relationship with Him.

Scott Tolhurst

Scott Tolhurst

Scott and his wife have spent almost 50 years following God together through life, marriage and ministry. They’ve hop scotched across Canada and landed at the water’s edge on Vancouver Island. They’ve harvested the riches of family (5 grandkids!) and the delights of God’s people. Life has not always been clear but the fog has been pierced with these truths. The heart matters. Kingdom work is God’s. Nothing can replace faith. It never ceases to amaze Scott that, if his life is a gift, how great the Giver must be!


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