An Atheist Call for Christian Compassion

Joel Justiss

A Christian Beginning-Finding My Purpose

I learned compassion from my parents. Inspired by experience as a houseparent in an orphans’ home, my father made a career in child welfare. When I was a child, many of our dinner-table conversations began with a story of an abused or neglected child. One of my father’s favorite scriptures was James 1:27 (NLT), “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”

As I pondered my personal mission, it seemed that God was calling me to help people see his goodness and regain confidence in him.

Late in my Christian life, I looked for a focus for my own ministry. I wanted to concentrate my efforts in an area I was passionate about that would use my skills and inspire my enthusiasm.

On numerous occasions such as in Sunday school classes, at retreats, in public testimonies and personal conversations, I observed other Christians confessing they often felt unloved by God and they had difficulty trusting him. Though certainly not an exemplary model of faith, I never lacked confidence in his love and I seemed to find it easier to trust God than most of the people I encountered.

As I pondered my personal mission, it seemed that God was calling me to help people see his goodness and regain confidence in him. I saw this as a ministry to believers, but even more to unbelievers. I felt that if non-Christians could be made aware of God’s longing to fill their lives with peace and joy, their barriers to faith would be broken down and they would open their hearts completely to him.

On a Mission to Demonstrate Evidence of God’s Love

So, I began looking for examples to demonstrate God’s care for the world. Christian professions of God’s love weren’t enough. Those professions needed to be supported by evidence within the church. If we failed to help people with their physical needs, non-Christians would be justified in feeling that our love was superficial and our concern was not for their welfare, but only in increasing our church attendance or “numbers”.

If we failed to help people with their physical needs, non-Christians would be justified in feeling that our love was superficial.

I was also aware that to influence non-believers, such love and genuine care for others needed to be associated with faith and selfless service to God. It couldn’t be a self-serving act you would expect from believers and non-believers alike. As Jesus points out in Matthew 5:45 (NIV), “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

To build faith, demonstrations of love need to come through people helping others in service to God. And so I searched for evidence of this God honoring, selfless, compassionate service to others.

Discovering The Church’s Lack of Compassion

What I discovered was disappointing. The vast majority of church activities revolved around teaching rather than serving. In every church I encountered, relief of suffering was subordinate to indoctrination.

What I discovered was disappointing. The vast majority of church activities revolved around teaching rather than serving.

Even the meaning of the word “minister” has evolved to mean “preacher” rather than “servant.” Most churches reminded me more of the Pharisees than of Jesus. No church groups proved to be a recognizable representation of Jesus.

I then looked at church budgets. Again, I was disappointed to see that the great majority of church dollars were spent on church staff, property, and internal operations. Another portion of the church dollars supported external ministries, such as missionaries and their churches. Only a tiny scrap was given to relieve suffering among the poor and oppressed.

My wife and I wanted to shift the balance in our own way. To help demonstrate God’s love for the world, we began giving part of our tithe to Samaritan’s Purse. Samaritan’s Purse implements the model of the Bible story of the good Samaritan, and follows Jesus’ teaching to come to the aid of the world’s poor, sick, and suffering. These types of Christian organizations seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

Does God Care About the Poor?

Not long ago I posted a Facebook comment supporting health care financing reform. A friend commented that God intends for the church to help the poor, not the government. I responded that if that’s true, God apparently doesn’t care much about the poor.

Let me explain. To be fair, some Christians make amazing sacrifices to relieve the suffering of others. However, I’ve observed a “body of Christ” that provides no convincing evidence that God has any interest in whether or not people have food, health, or freedom from exploitation.

A Church Too Focused on Evangelism

As a charismatic Christian, I believed that the Holy Spirit lived in every Christian, teaching and inspiring him or her to do God’s will.

I was troubled by the prevailing attitude among evangelical Christians that serving people’s needs was secondary to “saving them”.

I was troubled by the prevailing attitude among evangelical Christians that serving people’s needs was secondary to “saving them” through the Gospel.

I’ve often heard this attitude defended with the argument that the gospel offers eternal life, which is much more important than our present physical needs. I understand that perspective, but I am unconvinced that it justifies the church’s focus on evangelism over compassion and service.

I remain unconvinced of the approach for two reasons:

  1. I don’t feel suffering unbelievers are concerned about anything failing to improve their current lives. We need to provide what they know they need (food, shelter, human dignity) before offering something they don’t yet consider relevant (salvation).
  2. I feel that real love includes all aspects of life, not just the “spiritual” life. 1 John 3:17 says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” When I see a Christian church having no pity on people in need, I have to ask the question…”Is the love of God IN the church and its people?” The evidence would suggest not.

Effect of Human Sin or Failure of the Holy Spirit?

In my 40 years observing the teaching and activities of a great variety of churches, I’ve seen a consistent pattern of neglect rather than compassion.

To me, it’s a failure on the part of the Holy Spirit.

I struggle to understand why after 2000 years the Holy Spirit hasn’t been more successful in teaching the church to be a better witness.

To me, this is not a trivial question explained away as an effect of human sin. To me, it’s a failure on the part of the Holy Spirit. It’s one of the unanswered questions that weakened my conviction of the truth of Christianity. It eventually contributed to the loss of my faith and belief in God.

In my view, the church will never be convincing in its professions of love for the world until it demonstrates real compassion for suffering people. I doubt this will ever happen. I see Christians as merely normal people, rather than “spirit filled” agents of a powerful, compassionate God.

A Call to Action

We can do better than we have done in the past:

So, here is a challenge and a call to action to Christians worldwide. Represent a compassionate God by truly serving those in need.

  • We can inspire each other to pay more attention to the plight of suffering people
  • We can work together to supply food to people who are chronically hungry
  • We can provide protection for exploited people so everyone can pursue a better life

So, here is a challenge and a call to action to Christians worldwide. Have compassion and pity on those less fortunate than yourself. But go several steps further. Turn those feelings of compassion into selfless action. Represent a compassionate God by truly serving those in need. Don’t just give your money. Give your life in sacrificial service to others as Jesus instructed. Then, and only then, will non-believers start to see evidence of a God worth believing in.

Epilogue: Why is an Atheist Writing for a Christian Website?

I’m here to help Christians understand why some people don’t believe in God.

Readers of Changing the Face of Christianity may understandably question the motivation of an atheist contributor to this site. I was pleased to accept an invitation to provide a non-believer’s perspective. As a former Christian, I observed much about Christian behavior that was inconsistent with my understanding of Christianity. I’m here to help Christians understand why some people don’t believe in God.

I was a Christian for over 40 years, and the great majority of my friends and family are Christians. I want them and you to understand that the loss of my faith was not a rebellion against God. It was due to a failure to find God, and a failure to see the gospel lived out among Christians.

I also want to make it clear that I speak only for myself. There is not one atheist viewpoint just like there is not one Christian viewpoint. Many non-religious people have very different attitudes and opinions than mine.

I see this ministry as a serious attempt to challenge Christians to greater thoughtfulness and integrity.

Even as a nonbeliever, I support and respect the goals of Changing the Face of Christianity. I see this ministry as a serious attempt to challenge Christians to greater thoughtfulness and integrity. I may not agree with your beliefs, but together we can improve the world we live in.

About Joel Justiss

Joel Justiss is a hiker, photographer, software developer, reader, thinker, and former Christian (now Atheist Naturalist). He writes a blog called "Forest Trail" focused on religion and naturalism topics.


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Comments

  1. Roger Wolsey says

    This is a very respectful and understandable perspective and choice. I’m reminded of how author Anne Rice quit being a Christian last fall. I wrote the following piece at that time. I’d like to provide a link to it now. To me, it isn’t an either/or — either accept traditional Christianity or reject it. There’s another way. Peace. http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/07/70799/

  2. Machelle says

    Personally, I find most people who are self-described atheists do not really authentically believe there is no god, but have stopped believing in religion. In that respect I am fully on board with anyone who has stopped believing in religion because a person cannot find god in a religion, god is found within. But I contend it is not God they are against as much as Religion. And as the saying goes, “There are no atheists in a foxhole.” To Joel’s point that the Holy Spirit has failed to teach The Church to be a better witness, I have to remind him that God created humans to have free wills… and the student is only as good, not as the teacher, but as the student is willing to learn… absorb and adapt and put to use the instructions they have received. –Blame. Isn’t this one of the very first problems encountered in “the garden”? –And are we talking “The Church” as an institution, or as a body of people? As an institution, as a Religion, a person cannot find god in doctrine and theology. God is spirit, not dogma. No wonder someone who is contemplating atheism would be running for the nearest exit. But if they are claiming to be an atheist simply because they have left all Churches and Religions, or simply because they don’t believe the Holy Spirit has done a very good job at its duty of teaching, then I would beg these people to take a huge step back and give God another chance, for God IS love and if they claim to have love in them, then they DO have God in them and therefore they cannot be atheist, even if they claim to be in their minds, impossible, God has already saved them from themselves! “Darkness cannot exist where there is light.” We are told repeatedly that there are only a few who will truly understand the meaning of true agape love, and these are, in fact, the chosen few who can “teach” the message of love. Yes, I do believe that Jesus opened the door for many, many to be accepted and loved by God, the Father, but maybe only a few will lead/teach the way because only a few will understand love the way it was intended and these few will be the teachers. That does not mean, however, that there are many who will be able to *show* love because love lives within their hearts, they will have the kind of love that a child has, childlike love. And it is this kind of love, the showing of this kind of love which will help win the hearts of multitudes. We can’t lay the blame on the messenger, the Holy Spirit, the blame still lays on those who refuse, or for some reason just cannot, hear the true meaning of the message of love. Some of us are just too damaged from life’s bruisings to understand that kind of unconditional love, therefore we can’t receive it, nor can we give it. I think if we take all of this into account it reduces the pool down to only a very few who can truly be classified as true atheists, people who truly believe there is no god. And these would be people who have no love in their hearts. But if a person has love in their heart, then they must also have God, because God is love, the two cannot be separated from each other. He is The Author of love, there is no other author of love. If anyone thinks he has love without God, it is only a mere counterfeit.

  3. Machelle says

    “If anyone thinks he has love without God, it is only a mere counterfeit.” I would like to elaborate on my last statement because I believe it deserves an in-depth explanation so as not to sound like I am placing atheists in the corner alone as if they are the only people who I may be accusing of having counterfeit love. Anyone who claims to have love for another human being but does not care for them (1 John 3:17), as God tells us would be a person who has counterfeit love. And this kind of counterfeit love springs forth from people within The Church as much as it does from people who never attend church. And this goes back to what Joel was talking about in his post. This, I believe was the core reason for Joel leaving The Church, and ultimately the “faith”, which was “Christianity”, and in my opinion is nothing more than another Religion. Of all people, the people who are self-described as the “people of God”, who are supposed to be doing the Will of God, they are the biggest hypocrites of all. “To those who much is given, much is expected.” And obviously The Church has fallen short. But don’t blame that on the Holy Spirit, blame it on the free will of the people involved. Blame it on human nature, because all humans succumb to selfishness, not just church members, even though I agree they are held most accountable to God’s spiritual instructions because they lay claim to “believe in God’s ways.” I don’t care how they brand it, sell it, advertise it, name it, claim it, “Christianity” has become nothing more than another mere Religion tagged with book, CD, music and speaking engagement deals. Auditoriums filled with thousands of people with slobber dripping from the corners of their mouths and big bellies waiting to be fed with gluttonous sermons promising to fill their bank accounts with more silver, gold and manna than any man or woman could ever use in a lifetime. None of this is what Jesus taught. He taught of a life of servitude, a meek life sharing equally with one another, either from your house of plenty or your house of frugality. He did not preach “go out and get more so you can give more”. He taught “give from what you already have.” My point is this, counterfeits can come from any walk of life, and so does real love. But if it is REAL love, God IS behind it, there is no denying it, because God is The Author of true agape love. A person can leave Religion, Faith, dogma, doctrine, theology and even Science (it can become one’s Religion too), but in the end God is still God. And when one has love in their heart, even if they deny that God exists, God has already saved themselves from themselves because they have love in their heart and they cannot have *authentic* love in their heart if they don’t have God in there too. So even if their mind denies Him, well, their heart isn’t denying Him. So the battle between the Will and the Spirit, well, you’re just gonna have to work that out some how.

    • Justin says

      I can’t think of a much more offensive, patronizing thing to say, Machelle. You may as well just say it’s a phase we’ll grow out of and that we don’t really know any better.

      • Cara Colleen Coble says

        Question the Church. Question humanity in all its depravity. Question yourself. I happen to agree with Machelle on this… and I would certainly not label you an atheist. Perhaps, agnostic is more accurate since no one can truly prove God does not exist and there are literally billions of proofs for his existence. …But to blame God is to still admit his existence. You say you are an atheist, but every word you write implies your continued belief in Him, albeit complete disillusionment with His “followers.” My heart weeps for you and for the religious institution we call the church. I, for one, have left organized churches and worship Jesus with a small home group. There’s no overhead, no maintenance costs, no staff paychecks to cut, and we are free to listen to the Holy Spirit to give our tithe where we find need.

        • Joel Justiss says

          Cara, Your comment is in reply to Justin, but it sounds like it’s addressed to me. You (and Machelle) can define words any way you like, but the generally accepted definition of the word “atheist” is a person who doesn’t believe in gods. My story of how I came to fit that definition is on my website at http://www.mountaintrail.us/Wanderer/wonderings.htm. I think you’ll see there that I spent many years questioning myself. Technically, I’m also an agnostic because you’re quite correct that the existence of a god can’t disproven, but that term is generally used to denote someone who doesn’t take a stand on whether or not there are any gods. I completely agree with your observation that to blame God is to still admit his existence. I blamed God when I still believed in him. It would be absurd for me to continue to blame something that I now know doesn’t exist. Brad White did a good job of editing what I wrote, but some of his editorial changes may give the false impression that I still harbor a belief in God. I appreciate your point about small home groups. I was also part of a “house church” for many years, and was pleased that 90% of our budget went to support missions and charitable work. I also liked the fact that it was more like a family than a large church could be, and gave me much more opportunity to participate.

  4. brian says

    Joel, I am so impressed. Thank you. We knew each other as faithful Christian when our children were young, then you and your wife moved away. We were not in touch for so long, yet my own faith journey mirrors yours in many ways. In my case, dealing with child welfare issues every day, looking for Christianities reaction to the “least of these” and not finding a commensurate response is what started me second guessing the Christian church. It is hard to take the concerns of most Christian churches seriously when I can’t find any serious response to abused and starving children. It’s such an imperative for a more peaceful future. Why is it that state governments and the average citizen who pays taxes are more serious about helping every family and child at risk than are the churches and those who support them? At any rate, thank you for sharing your very thought provoking article. Brian

  5. Maya says

    The only thing I object to is criticizing the church budget the way he does. If you cut the staff, the congregation decreases. Make the building smaller, and the congregation decreases. Churches have to pay the electric bill and janitor and office supplies like everyone else. People who work at most churches aren’t getting rich,but need to provide for their families too. Churches must make mission and serving the “least of these” a high priority, but I’d like to see the author design a church budget that won’t result in a smaller congregation, which means less money to work with.

  6. Lenny says

    I disagree church budget is an issue, people who knew jesus ran “church” out of homes and volunteered their space. This is much more personal idea, with greater accountability. I actually just had a conversation with an aquaintence and we came to the conclusion “if curches really need to spend that much to be ‘effective’ why don’t we sacrifce here where resources are so vast and send all of that money to brothers and sisters were resources are so limited. We should be the ones worshiping out of a hut with no a/c and no carpet. Why do we act like our ministry is more important than theirs, where more than likely the money would stretched even farther than it could be here. Our comfort, and really our power of resources gets in our way, because blessed is the poor.

  7. Maya says

    Lenny, people take time to grow in their faith, and truthfully, many people never reach the depth in their faith that pastors and church leaders wish they would. The choice may not be, worship at home cheaply, or worship in a sanctuary that costs more. The choice for many people is worship in a sanctuary, or not at all. It’s easy to simply condemn that, but if people with less faith, less understanding of the Gospel don’t learn and grow in their faith, they may never participate in mission work. Some people can worship at home, in a small group, and do just fine. Others need a larger, more structured setting to help them learn, keep them accountable, and show them the way. I don’t either way is better actually, but different for people. And while I respect the philosophy of a home church, I feel so close to God worshiping in a sanctuary, with an organ and choir, candles and stained-glass. It inspires me and propels me to greater action, a deeper desire to know and serve God. I don’t think that makes me a failure as a Christian.

    • Anne says

      Maya, while I respect your opinion and experiences, perhaps it would be better if there was no half way house to christianity available ie. the church building/organisation. People in that half way house can go through the motions and think they have a relationship with God, and while that may be a real experience for some people, like yourself, I surmise it actually stands in the way of a potential real relationship for most people in the pews. You talk about growing in faith, but some people will never grow if they are unchallenged where they are, and if they have doubts or questions, they’d be better confronting them than having a church nurse their stagnating faith in case they ‘fall away’ – you can’t fool God; as someone said, God knows if you doubt and God knows if deep down you just don’t believe; you can’t even force yourself to believe. Surely God would rather have people who honestly want to know Him than pew warmers! There’s nothing wrong with honesty about what you believe, even if what it turns out you believe is that there is no God. If people were pushed out of the church doors and had to face reality, at least they would be able to be honest to themselves about what they believe. I know you will say the church should challenge people and answer their doubts, but I have been in churches all my life, and I know that this does not happen in the way I mean. Sometimes it has to be just you and God being honest, and let God take that person on their own journey. What’s more damaging is when churches try to trap such a person (for their own good). There’s that old story about trapping a bird in your hand – you feed a bird and it lands on your hand – you can either shut your hand around it and keep it there, or open your hand and hope that it comes back of it’s own accord. If you trap it, you’d better hold on tight, because if it gets away, it will never ever return, but if you take the chance and let it fly where it wants, it may feel safe enough to come back again sometime, no guarantees, but that’s free will and they won’t resent you for it.

  8. Bill Lewis says

    Joel makes some really good points but before discussing those I want to comment on his move to atheism. It appears that he made that move based on what other Christians were doing or not doing. Belief is a matter of personal belief and it seems he should focus more on theology and how that relates to God and service thereof. I agree that many churches are more concerned on a body count for membership and also for heaven but the real gospel points one toward a life of service for the poor and outcast just as Jesus modeled. I agree that the mission percentage of church budgets is way too small.

    • Joel Justiss says

      Thanks, Bill, for your supportive comment. You say it appears that I “made the move to atheism” based on what other Christians were doing. As I stated in the article, the puzzling pattern of apathy I saw in the churches was one of a number of observations that weakened my faith. It is a good example of the areas in which I failed to find God, but it wasn’t by any means the only one, and not even the primary one. (I’ll elaborate on that in response to Larry’s comment below.)

  9. Larry says

    I see that the atheist writing on the Christian web site has drawn quite a few comments. It’s nice to know that so many people can be stirred to action and that they are so passionate. I may be a bit of a cynic, but I find it hard to believe that anyone could have been a Christian and then converted to an atheist. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s just not possible. If someone has truly been with Christ, I’m quite confident that it woud be impossible for them to renounce His very existence. What you had, my friend, was an intellectual belief that there was God. But you could not have truly known Him. Part of the problem with the face of Christianity is the masses who identify themselves as Christians … but who exhibit little evidence of that fact. I think of them as “cultural Christians.” They may have grown up with parents who took them to church. And they may have had some emotional experiences in religion. They may even have thought of themselves as “saved” and as “believers.” But they have never actually had a personal one-on-one encounter with Jesus Christ. And they’ve never been transformed by that encounter. Don’t get me wrong. I believe you’re sincere. But I believe that you are sincerely wrong. Consider, if you will, that even the demons believe in God – and though they hate Him, it is impossible for the demons to convert to atheism. In fact, Satan himself can’t convert to atheism. No, I’m firmly convinced that once one has encountered the living God (regardless of what is thought of Him) — it is no longer possible to deny that there is God.

    • Joel Justiss says

      Larry, I quite agree with your point that someone who no longer believes in God could not have truly known him. I don’t claim to have ever had a personal encounter with Jesus. In fact, although I thought I had a close relationship with him, I found myself an atheist when I came to the realization that all my Christian experiences had been initiated by myself or other people–none of them was unambiguously from God. I discovered that everything I thought I knew about God came from preachers, teachers, Christian books, and of course the Bible. Everything I thought I had heard God say to me was simply a reflection of my doctrinal expectations. All my prayers had not fallen on deaf ears, but only my own ears. If you look at my story (at http://www.mountaintrail.us/Wanderer/wonderings.htm), I think it will be clear that I was not a “cultural Christian.” I didn’t know anyone that I considered to be more of a Christian than I was. I wholeheartedly sought to know and serve God for several decades. I failed. My greatest disappointment was not that the church wasn’t what I thought it should be, but that I could not see that I was being transformed in any way by my “encounters with Jesus” to be more like him. You may believe that demons believe in God, but I don’t believe that demons exist, so their supposed beliefs are no more relevant than those of James Bond. I’m sorry if this sounds flippant, but I’m trying to make my point clearly; it is insulting as well as frustrating when people say things like, “Oh, you couldn’t possibly believe that.” I appreciate that you at least believe that I’m sincere. So I totally agree with your assessment that I never really knew Jesus. After 40 years of trying, my conclusion was that the reason I could never really know him was that he didn’t exist.

      • Jenny says

        It seems that you might take heart from my experiene overseas.. While reading headstones in a missionary cemetery in Japan I came across “faith: both the challenge and the reward.” It struck me so strongly that a man who had devoted his life to missionary work could have struggled with faith. Though I am still non-Christian, since reading that headstone I have never felt right about calling myself an atheist. That headstone said it all for me. Yes, doubt is a constant struggle, but there is such reward in faith. And I must say I am shocked that the so-called Christians on this site haven’t pointed out that your struggle with faith in Christanity is a test, like so many of God’s tests documented in the bible.

  10. R. Brad White says

    Great points everyone. Keep em’ coming. Larry, I can appreciate your perspective too. One thing that’s interesting is that my story and joel’s are exact opposites. I was raised in a Christian home…but like you say…I wasn’t REALLY a Christian. I had never had a transforming relationship with God…I had never sought one. I “became” an atheist, which was for me just an admittance to the fact that I didn’t believe…intellectually. Then, later in life when I SOUGHT Him…I DID have a miraculous, transforming event which converted me into a Theist…and eventually a Christian. I get questions from time to time as to WHY I chose Christianity instead of some other religion. That’s a deep question that I could talk a lot longer on…but I’d say Christianity chose ME! I had a personal experience with a personal God. That rules out most of the other world religions. Christianity was the only answer where everything was in alignment. I gave my life to Christ…and I’ve never looked back. Have I had intellectual struggles still? yes. But like you say in your comment Larry…I have been transformed and CANT change back. I might look the same on the outside, but inside.. (analogy for literal science folks)…the DNA of my soul has been changed forever.

  11. R. Brad White says

    I think we should take it at face value that Joel believes what he say he believes. We could talk for a long time about our conversion into the faith or his conversion out of the faith. But let’s focus on the heart of the article: What can we DO within our faith (through what we believe in and trust in as God and the Holy Spirit)…to live our faiths in the world…feeding the hungry, clothing and providing for those less fortunate than us…in a REAL way in our own communities? How can we LIVE the teachings of Jesus Christ in such a profoundly selfless way that (maybe not Joel…but others who haven’t made the departure) others will see a church, a body of Christ, that they fall in love with…because they see the LOVE of Christ IN US? How can we help fellow Christians transform…and get on fire for loving and caring for others? I know many who are…but sooo many more who are like what Larry calls “cultural Christians”….Christian on the name-tag..but dead in the spirit? I don’t claim to have the answer…so would love a conversation on that. (PS – Larry, thanks for your recommendation a while back about the books that A. W. Tozer has written. He is very eloquent on the topic of being truly spirit filled.)

  12. Phillip Abraham says

    Joel, I very much appreciate your decisiveness. Many people may have the same convictions as you while professing Christianity, yet they fail to walk like Christ walked. you seem more like a Christian than most “Christians”, and you seem to understand that Christianity is all about Jesus. But you have turned away from him because other people don’t live like they should? That doesn’t add up. Galatians 5 clearly describes what the fruit of having the Holy Spirit is – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. If you don’t see these things in a professing Christian, it’s not because the Holy Spirit isn’t succeeding; it’s because the Holy Spirit isn’t there. What I mean to say is, most people who claim to be a part of the church don’t actually have the Holy Spirit, and are therefor not even saved. Don’t deny the Holy Spirit because of them; rather embrace the Spirit and follow Christ.

    • R. Brad White says

      Phillip, maybe we need some basic 101 instructions on how to go GET the Holy Spirit into us. Joel was a 40 year christian and didn’t aquire it. Many many people in our churches are like him. People in certain denominations are at a further disadvantage because they arent taught that a personal relationship is even necessary or important. (you can conclude for yourself which denominations i mean). I believe joel came from that type of church. (correct me if i’m wrong joel). Why is it so elusive? Joel would say that’s because the Holy Spirit doesn’t exist). We know differently. On the101 instructions: the suggestion i have is to completely lay yourself bare before God, humble yourself before God, sincerely admit how depraved you are on your own, come to God literally like a homeless beggar….begging to be saved by the Holy God that He is (definition of being “poor in the spirit”), emptying ourselves of our selfish nature, and humbly submitting to His will and Lordship over our lives. Society teaches the exact opposite. And it’s so tough for people, including many church goers, to ever submit themselves, powerless, and humbly empty themselves in order to open the door for the Holy Spirit to enter. We are so self centered and prideful it’s not surprising that few experience it. Phillip (or anyone else with experience in this area), what other instructions can we provide to others in our churches and beyond to help them truly grasp the presence of the Holy Spirit?

      • Joel Justiss says

        Brad, your suggestion for instructions on how to GET the Holy Spirit seems ironic in light of my background. As my website tells, I was raised in a fundamentalist church that emphasized studying the Bible, but didn’t talk much about a personal relationship with God. In my late teens, though, I became part of the charismatic movement, which emphasized receiving the Holy Spirit and relating to God personally. There, I was taught and practiced everything you suggested about humility and begging. For 30 years I thought I had received the Spirit. I loved worship, I studied the Bible, I took college courses in Bible and ancient Greek, I read scores of Christian books, I taught Bible classes, I helped to lead retreats, I led devotionals and worship services, I gave testimonies and sermons, I prayed in tongues, I prophesied. I’m not bragging here (I’m not a good public speaker), just trying to indicate that I wasn’t merely a nominal Christian. Maybe I was too prideful to know God personally, but I humbled myself as best I knew how. (I found prophecy to be particularly humbling because I was always aware of the possibility that my “word from the Lord” might be a lie from Satan that I had accepted because of my sin.) After all those years, I finally developed enough self-confidence to consider the possibility that my inability to develop a close relationship with God might not be due to my failing, but to his non-existence.

    • Joel Justiss says

      Phillip, my article mentioned my view that the Holy Spirit seemed to be ineffective in changing the church because it was relevant to the subject of Christian compassion. As I said in my response to Larry above, though, I “turned away from God” more because I couldn’t see the Holy Spirit working in me. I believed that all Christians had the Holy Spirit–isn’t that what Jesus promised? Eventually though, I came to the conclusion, as you said, that he “wasn’t there.” As I responded to Larry, and emphasized in my web site testimony, I did my best to embrace the Spirit and follow Christ.

  13. Anne says

    Thanks for telling your story, Joel, your approach is very reasonable, and I appreciate the non-confrontational dailogue you have engaged in with Christians. Your insider’s view is really valuable to hear.

  14. kennethos says

    I find this to be very sad. Joel tells us his story, and it’s the account of someone who apparently didn’t understand much about Christianity during 40 years of wandering, and is now a non-believer, an atheist, experiencing perhaps more success in that endeavor. I do not find in Joel’s story a great deal of actual compassion, as much as misplaced piety, and immense ignorance about the body of Christ, and church history. He professes to have been a believer in Christ for longer than I’ve been alive so far, yet apparently forgot about 1 John 2:19, as well as other verses. He’s decided that Jesus is perhaps myth, not a savior, and that Christianity, which teaches that if Christ has not risen from the dead, then we are all fools, is seemingly false. Now he’s rejected the faith, the entire saga of God… and is asking us to listen to his advice. I am being asked to listen to a man who cannot acknowledge his ignorance, failings, and lack of personal integrity. What’s more, an atheist is asking believers to show more compassion. Given the amount of compassion atheists and many atheistic regimes throughout human history have shown, this is laughable. Children, for example, babies, are no longer left outside to exposure, as in the Roman empire. We now have orphanages, brought about primarily by Christian believers. (One slight example!) True compassion is demonstrated worldwide by Christians. To have someone who has rejected the Person who *WAS* compassion, try to advise us on compassion? Someone in Changing the Face of Christianity needs to think a lot deeper. I can listen to Joel when he demonstrates the fruit he accuses believers of not having, as well as demonstrating repentance. Until then, I will leave him to his empty, meaningless universe, with no explanations, and no hope.

    • Anne says

      I find your cold, callous attitude to be sadly characteristic of the so-called compassion shown by those of the christian faith. You and your kind are sending more people to the hell you believe in than any other reason. If anyone does not walk, talk, and think like you, you callously show them the door. My God, how you horrify me. The God who is shown in the Bible called His defining characteristic Love, but you people can only invoke His ‘justice’. I ask you, which did God call Himself – Love or Justice? You know the answer. That being the case, which do you think He places more emphasis on? Do you think He puts His pride (your defense of His rules) above the souls of those He created? Your so-called ‘loving the sinner but pointing out the sin’ is thinly veiled judgementalism, and fools nobody! YOU are responsible for driving people away from God, even from standing as a guard between them and Him, because God forbid any come to God except through you – wait, that was supposed to be ‘except through Jesus’ wasn’t it? You’d better be very sure of your standing before God when you deliver your judgements on others, or I believe the expression is “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.’ Matthew 7:1-5

    • R. Brad White says

      Let me summarize in my own words what Joel’s article means to me: we should not “say” we are compassionate, we should “be” compassionate. Always preach the gospel and when necessary, open your mouth. Being compassionate starts here and now, even in this discussion. joel, i know you don’t believe in God anymore, but He loves you just as much as He always has. I love you too. Only God knows what the future holds for you. And if later in your life you return, God will accept you back with loving open arms…not with a list of trangressions. Instead of brushing you off and dismissing what we can learn from your life experience, let us have ears to hear. Let us be more aware of those outside our faith who need our love, grace, and mercy…and let us be more aware of those within our faith who may be struggling with their faith, who need thoughtful, compassionate guidance instead of condemnation. Kennethos is correct on one major point: there are many christians worldwide showing true compassion. Joel’s challenge is for more of us to join them. Whether a christian, atheist, agnostic or otherwise confronts me and says i can be MORE compassionate…my response should not be prideful denial because of the messenger, but a nodding head saying “yes…on that point, you speak the truth!”.

    • Deke says

      I do not find in Joel’s story a great deal of actual compassion, as much as misplaced piety, and immense ignorance about the body of Christ, and church history. Christian History? You mean like the Inquisition, where folks using herbs or helping with childbirth or just not ‘going with the flow’ were imprisioned, tortured, maimed and killed horribly by christian leaders demonstrating centuries of christian compassion? Or the American west, where treaties were made for convenience of ‘God’s Ambassadors’ and repeatedly broken for the same reason. (Of course the treaties were made with sub-humans so breaking them really couldn’t be called lying, can it?) How about 240-ish years of American slavery, (originally including the North, where my Quaker ancestors bought slaves in Philadelphia, Christianized them, educated them and, in keeping with Biblical – OT – teachings, freed them after 7 years, which makes it all jiffy, right?) Do you mean the 1,980+/- “Anno Domini”s that make up the “Christian Era”, nearly 2 millennia lacking in Christians raising the dead, healing the sick or doing ‘greater things’ than the NT repeatedly describes, but full of holocausts, pogroms, inquisitions, lies, deceits, etc. redundant in “conversion by coercion” methods and “Christianity by Congress”/”Piety by Parliament”? I’m guessing you include present history, where inane arguments are held over “King James only”, babbling – the mutated “least of the gifts” – as a sign of ‘true’ conversion, and how modern Americans should be christians because our founding fathers were, including Deists like Thomas “NO Miracles” Jefferson, Unitarians like John “Trinity ain’t true” Adams and Universalists, (find your own!). Inane, baseless arguments useful in covering the lack of ‘signs & wonders’ today, Christianignorance of Bible teaching about “their” beliefs, the HUGE rewrite going on in the Sealed Inerrant and their effete, lukewarn interests in the real issues of today? Just wondering!

  15. Marc says

    Dear Joel and other commentators, My comment is a lot more simplistic; Joel, you sound like you have done a very good job of being a kind, loving and forgiving person, and it is a test when there is at times such a deluge of unpleasant events be it human or world. Reading some rebuttals to your work demonstrates only what you find deplorable, that it does not fit what should be. If the commentators only listened for a moment at just the simplified parables of Jesus’s messages about love, tolerance, forgiveness and kindness then they might consider there replies differently. There is one very big issue most christians get wrong: If we are made in Gods image, we should love the same and desire love the same way, so would you be happy with conditional love? if not then why should god? so it is highly inappropriate to preach to non practicing christians that the way to avoid hell is to believe in god. The fact you are still considering your impact and value in this world fits with Jesus, you are not so displaced as you think, you sound like you have stuck to kind, loving values and been harrassed when you needed help your self.

  16. Deke says

    Joel I loved your ‘testimony’! It mirrors much of my own, except I came out of the Armstrongist cult, (Worldwide Church of God), got into a Charismatic group, then more mainline, traditional groups full of what dead folks did, (Hosea & Gomer – real ‘equiping of the saints’ material!), etc. All were big on the evils of ‘them’ (gays, abortionist, occasionally women in the pulpit, Moslems, Catholics, Democrats….), God’s sure promises – the ones for the future, as the past is largely lacking, and ‘our’ wisdom in chosing God in these truly final end, definately conluding times. I, too, fought with the question of the “peace surpassing understanding”, “life more abundant” and being a ‘beacon on a hill’ – and their overtly obvious lack. I was raised with the idea that all them, (churches, especially Protestant), were merely social clubs, with a veneer of piety. I also looked for active christians speaking with their lips sealed 6-7 days/week. And I also had to finally conclude that, after nearly 2,000 years, Prophecy proclamation presides, because promise fulfillment fails, (the huge peace, abundant life, “Name we can call on….” greater things Christians will do [do, not say], etc.). IIRC, Jesus once said, in response to the Pharisees accusing him of being in league with Satan, “A house divided can not stand.”, meaning he could not be healing and in league with the adversary, (which is what ‘Satan’ means). Yet he promised to send a comforter while promising to personally bring a sword, (refering neither to judgement nor damnation, but to cutting apart families, the so-called ‘cement of society’). I could find no comfort, peace, abundance, evidence of “plans for … good”, but plenty of ruination, animosity, mistrust, waste, loss, sacrifice, confusion, etc. and, with great difficulty, concluded that there was no miraculous comforter, that houses divided do fall, and Christ as a shepherd would not be particularly successful on earth — unless one can ignore what the OT says about God creating evil, hardening various hearts, and randomly killing weak, frail humans for some slight. I find most of the naysayers here about have no evidence of proving anything, testing anything or even studying anything, just folks spewing the party line – which is what one finds in churches: parrots, cliches, catchalls, and cop-outs, verbalizers who at worst have perhaps been called ‘bible-thumpers’ and think that’s the epitome of persecution or Gods’ trials. Thank you for your story. It’s good to SEE popular myth isn’t required for compassion or honesty

    • Rob C says

      Some of your comments are accurate I think, most professing Christians are not much more than idolaters who have made God their cosmic butler. Read my post on “what is sin” and lets discuss further if you wish.

  17. Mary says

    Joel wrote: “I was a Christian for over 40 years,” Perhaps we should define what it means to be a Christian. A true Christian is someone who is in a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the infilling of the Holy Spirit. A true Christian is someone whose spirit as been regenerated, that is, someone who is born again. This means two things: First of all, a person can’t suddenly stop believing in the existence of God any more than a person can suddenly stop believing in the existence of his parents because it’s an intimate relationship. Secondly, a person can’t be unborn spiritually any more than he can be unborn physically. There are people who have spent many years in a church who never enter into a relationship with God, don’t know Christ intimately, and who are never born again. These people are Christians in name only, not in fact. What you write, Joel, suggests you never knew God personally, only gave some intellectual assent to the idea of God. In that case, with all due respect, you were never a true Christian, only a nominal one who may have gone through the motions sincerely, but missed the boat totally. There are people who leave the church because they’re angry or disappointed with God because he hasn’t given them what they want in life, but they don’t deny he exists. But that’s another matter altogether. The bottom line is this: You can sit in a chicken coop, eat chicken feed and cluck, but that doesn’t make you a chicken. By the same token, you can sit in a church, listen to the sermons and sing the hymns, but that doesn’t make you a Christian. Jesus put it this way, there will be people who say, “Lord,, Lord!” and he will respond, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:21-13). The word “knew” in the original language carries the connotation of intimate, deep knowledge of someone based on experience and interaction with that person. That kind of knowledge can’t be lost just because the people in a church don’t live up to your expectations of them, Joel. I am always so sorry to see that people give up on God because people attending church aren’t perfect. Christ was perfect. Judge Christianity on the basis of him, not Christians. I think it is important to make the distinction between these two types of Christians, one true, the other false. The former SHOULD be serving humanity because that is the way we live out God’s love in this world. As it says in the Book of James, faith manifests itself in good works. And I know many, many individual Christians, churches and Christian organizations whose good works abound. As to why Christians are concerned about evangelism as well as serving people in God’s name, that’s simple. If you’re in a house that’s on fire and you know the one and only route out of it to safety, would you just run out and not tell anybody about it or would you make the effort to tell everyone so that they can be safe, too? Hopefully, it’s the latter. That’s the way it is for Christians. What good is feeding someone physically while ignoring their spiritual needs, especially when the spirit is far more important than the body since the body is only temporary anyway while the spirit lives on? You don’t think the Holy Spirit is doing a good job, but you are ignoring the fact that people have free will. We have to cooperate with him in order to become more Christ-like. The process of sanctification lasts a lifetime. You will never find any perfect Christians, only Christians who are being perfected slowly, over time. We all have to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, but our flesh stll fights him. It’s better to try to grow with the power of the Holy Spirit in us than in our own puny human power. But yes, we’ll fail and we’ll disappoint because we are human. Don’t blame the Holy Spirit for man’s flaws. Too many athiests are quick to blame God (even though they say they don’t think he exists) rather than take responsibility for their own choices and mistakes. I hear many atheists insist that they can do good in this world without God. But there’s a difference between being good and doing good. We are all born with a sin nature. We cannot change that. God cannot have sin in his presence. Because we can’t make ourselves sin-free, Christ came to take our sins and give us his righteousness in exchange so that we can connect wiht God. Therefore, Christ didn’t come just to make bad people good. He came to make dead people alive. Atheists fail to grasp that. Lastly, where does the atheist think morality comes from? Even atheist Richard Dawkins admits that, if we’re the product of random evolution, mere accidents of nature, “dancing to our DNA” as he puts it, there’s nothing that makes one person’s idea of right and wrong better than another. He notes that evolution results in what is, but it does not give us any idea of what ought to be. Obviously, Joel, you have an idea of what ought to be. That idea comes from God. You can try to separate it from him, but the reality is, the atheist HAS to borrow from God to make sense of this life and to live successfully in it.

    • Joel Justiss says

      Mary, My first reaction to reading your comments was, “How arrogant! She preaches a trite little sermon to me as if she were telling me something I had never heard before from the thousands of sermons I’ve heard and from reading the Bible and scores of Christian books.” Your comment may be a “drive-by sermon,” but if you do come back to read this, thank you for posting it anyway. It helped me think about how I might be able to clarify a point or two. The theme of my editorial was that I observed a serious lack of compassion for other people among Christians. The thrust of your comment, as I read it, is that I was not actually a Christian. (This is a classic example of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman), but I’m going to respond to it anyway.) It looks as though you may not have read my responses to some of the other comments that made similar points to the effect that I was not a true Christian (Bill Lewis, Larry and Philip Abraham). In my response to Larry, in particular, I agreed that I had never known God. Whether I was a true Christian or not is irrelevant to my point. The definition of a true Christian is, however, relevant to the population whose behavior I was observing. Were they true Christians? You said, “Judge Christianity on the basis of him [Jesus], not Christians.” According to Matthew 7, though, Jesus recommended a way to judge people, when he said, “You will know them by their fruit.” And in the next paragraph, which you quoted, he says, “I never knew you, you evildoers” to people who were not passive churchgoers, but highly effective good-deed-doers. By your definition, then, the great majority of Christians are clearly not “true Christians,” and many of those who appear to be may not really be, because, as you say, Jesus has never known them. That was precisely why I wondered why the Holy Spirit was so ineffective. He seemed capable of creating billions of nominal Christians, but far less effective at creating “true Christians.” You attribute this to free will, and that is what I was also taught. My understanding was that the Holy Spirit is a teacher and encourager, but he doesn’t compel people to be godly. But as I explained in my editorial, I couldn’t understand why the majority of people who knew about Jesus and seemed dedicated to following him would be so resistant to such a fundamental aspect of God as compassion. These people read the Bible; hadn’t they noticed how often Jesus is said to be moved with compassion? (There’s a good little article about it at http://moments.nbseminary.com/archives/7-filled-with-compassion-mark-141/.) I couldn’t conceive of the Holy Spirit skipping the compassion lessons, and I experienced compassion as a joy-producing emotion when I acted on it, so it was incredible to me that the majority of people who were even slightly open to the Holy Spirit would be so lacking in compassion. As I explained in my response to Larry above, these observations were not my primary reason for rejecting Christianity; the most disturbing lack of evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit was not in other people, but in myself. You stated that “the process of sanctification lasts a lifetime,” but after seeing little change after several decades, I began to wonder why the Holy Spirit seemed to be waiting to sanctify me on my deathbed. I’ll comment briefly on your other statements even though they’re also trite, just because other readers may wonder how I would respond to them. With regard to evangelism, your analogy of the burning house may be useful. If you see that the house is burning down and others don’t, you need to give them some convincing evidence. If they don’t see any fire or smell any smoke, they’ll think you’re crazy if you just yell “Get out! Get out!” You say, “there’s a difference between being good and doing good.” I disagree. If you make a habit of helping people, you’re a helpful person. If you make a habit of killing people, you’re a killer. You talk about sin and being sin-free, but sin is a theological concept; it is meaningless to non-religious people. You say “He [Christ] came to make dead people alive. Atheists fail to grasp that.” Yes, I could only grasp that when I was a Christian. Now I realize that the metaphor of being spiritually dead is simply nonsense. Finally, you assert that “the atheist HAS to borrow from God to make sense of this life and to live successfully in it”. I am not “the atheist” you refer to; I’m only one atheist, but from what I’ve read, morality is the term we use to identify the behaviors that promote successful life in society. It is completely independent of gods and their supposed commands. There’s lots of discussion of this both among philosophers and on the Internet; just search for “basis of morality.” You’ll find many good responses to your arguments addressed to Deke below.

  18. Mary says

    Hi, Deke! Your list of horrors done in the name of God points out exactly what I mentioned in my post to Joel. There are two kinds of Christians, those who are in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and those who only give him lip service and wear the label Christian without being one in fact. In a previous post here, Larry correctly spoke of “cultural Christians” who didn’t know God at all. They’re the ones responsible for the Inquisition, etc. Never judge a worldview by the people who abuse it. Judge a worldview in and of itself. The Christian worldview is stronger than any other. I wish I had time to outline a variety of them and explain how and why that’s true. If you want to read more about worldviews, try J. P. Moreland’s The Kingdom Triangle. He explains it all very well. Wherever true Christians have gone around the world, down through the centuries, they have brought health care and education. They have championed the rights of women, children, the sick, the poor, the outcast, the unwanted. They have brought democracy and freedom of speech, even allowing the latter when it meant that people were speaking out against Christians and Christianity. Why? Because we believe in the value of the human being who has been made in God’s image. We matter to God. Therefore, we should matter to each other. Take a look at the atheist regimes in the 20th century. Stalin had 30 million of his own people murdered. Pol Pot kiled 2 million Cambodians, that was one-quarter of the country’s population. Chairman Mao killed off 65 million (See Os Guiness, Unspeakable). And more Christians were killed in the 20th-century than in all the previous centuries put together. And they were killed simply because they were Christians. China, in the sixties, made up its collective mind to rid the country of Christianity. It drove the church underground, but the curious thing about Christianity is, the more you persecute its followers, the more it grows. The same thing happened in the Soviet Union. The church had to go underground there, too, but it did not die. When you believe that people are the mere products of evolution, arrived at randomly, just more animals in the chain of animals, then were is the value and worth? Stalin put it this way: “A million deaths is just a statistic.” Without the absolute moral values of God, all we’re left with are people’s opinions. And, as I said, who is to say that one person’s are better than another’s? If morality is relative as many atheists insist, then you remove your right to criticize anybody for anything. Dostoevsky said it best: “If you remove God, then everything is acceptable.”

  19. R. Brad White says

    On the topic of being too focused on evangelism and teaching (read the article), instead of meeting the earthly needs of folks, look at the model set by Jesus…OUR teacher: In my reading of the bible, i think Jesus often combines the concepts…e.g. He heals someone, and then communicates with a higher purpose that their faith has healed or saved them. But i think Jesus (not us mere humans) has the duel ability to heal AND save. All we can do spiritually is help lead someone to jesus…but physically we can meet people’s earthly needs…as joel suggests we need to do more of. Read luke 18:35-43 about the blind beggar that jesus healed. The man asked jesus for mercy…then jesus said “what can i do for you”. The beggar asked for his sight. Jesus didn’t say….no…that’s not important, let’s focus on your salvation. Instead, he gave the man what he needed. “receive your sight…your faith has healed you”. We can learn many lessons here. But one in particular: ask people what they need and do your best to give it to them. Meeting people’s earthly needs (as well as their spiritual needs) was important to Jesus. As we meet people’s earthly needs, in the name of Jesus Christ, we stand a greater chance of them seeing Jesus in us through our good works. And their faith in God will be strengthened when their prayers for help and mercy are answered when we show up to help. Now, let’s get to work!

  20. john says

    joel, i pray you find God and develop a relationship with him. “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son that whoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

  21. David says

    Hi Joel, been a while since anyone’s posted, hope you see this. I would like to mention something no one has to this point. The Holy Spirit is actually very effective in every way, especially given man’s free will. And if His influence was all there is, this world would have ceased long ago. But there is literally a war going on in the spirit realm. Satan and his angels (demons) are actively resisting the Godhead and we are caught in the middle. So when we make choices, we have the very noisy input of the devil up against the (quite often) whisper of God. It’s no wonder even strong Christians make poor choices, much less nominal ones. The only reason we are as far along as we are is because God is always working, Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us, and the Holy Spirit is doing His part in leading us into all truth. i would like to respectfully submit that the devil, the most crafty and subtle creature God has made, took you out (figuratively), precisely because you were pursuing God with all you had and he saw you as a real threat. I promise you, if you give God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit another chance, in connected loving community, you will be glad you did.

  22. Starr says

    Joel, it’s interesting that you became discouraged at what you perceived as lack of Christian love and compassion, whereas it was Christian love and compassion that I saw in others that made me want what they had. I wasn’t raised in a Christian home, had only a vague understanding of who Jesus was, but He became real to me through His body, His church, at a college Bible study I attended with a friend. That was nearly 40 yaers ago, and He became more real to me through His word, and through His supernatural revelation of Himself to me in various ways. It is sad that many churches seem to have grown cold and are run more like a business, but is it the fault of the Holy Spirit or of imperfect people who have forgotten their “first love, as Jesus said would happen? And not all who claim the title of Christian really are. The Bible predicts an apostasy in the end times, and I believe we are approaching those days. The parable of the mustard seed also predicts an overgrown, unnatural church (mustard doesn’t grow into trees) which has been infiltrated by messengers of Satan (signified by birds nesting in its branches). So to judge Christianity by organized religion may be misleading. The Christian church in earlier times was responsible for the establishment of charities, orphanages, hospitals, and such organizations still exist. There are numerous Christian organizations that minister to children in need, to prisoners, to addicts, etc., and Christians do give billions to these organizations. But we are told to let our giving be in privacy, not to make a big showy deal about it like the pharisees. You can’t possibly know the heart or even the giving tendencies of the Christians around you, let alone those all over the world. And you can’t know every act of kindness on the part of an indivdiual Christian, the unknown masses of us who remain in the background — a homeless person taken in here, groceries bought for a family there, visiting the sick or elderly, free babysitting so the single mother down the street can work. These acts take place daily in various forms, but it’s not our duty to shout from the rooftops, “Hey, look at us. Look at how spiritual we’re being.” But the fact that you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t taking place. I know of many instances just in my small circle. Finally, it you saw such a flaw in Christianity, of which you considered you a member, then why didn’t you take action yourself, to become the person you expected a Christian to be, to encourage others to do the same? If you enlisted two, and they enlisted two, and so on, who knows what an explosion of serving those in need might have ensued. But instead you decided that it was God’s fault that His people were not behaving to YOUR satisfaction so therefore He must not exist. I expect it’s easy to blame Christianity for failing you, but I think the truth is that you failed Christianity.

    • Joel Justiss says

      Starr, Of course I “can’t know every act of kindness on the part of an individual Christian” (or anyone else). And my experience confirmed what you said about unpublicized evidence of compassion on the part of individuals. My article was about the difficulty I had in using the church as evidence of God’s love because of the patterns I saw in the church as a whole. Friends and neighbors do exhibit concern for each other with many acts of kindness, and people do give generously to charities, but I found it hard to make the case that they do so because of God. As I indicated in the article, I did take action myself. I also tried to enlist others to start the kind of explosion you referred to, but as my article and many of the comments indicate, compassion is a hard sell, and I was not successful. Of course this whole article is another attempt to do so, but I’m an outsider now (and as a result, most of the discussion has been off-topic) so maybe you can do better. I decided that it was NOT God’s fault that Christians didn’t put him in a good light. I decided that they couldn’t do so, because there was insufficient evidence that he existed. Yes, I failed Christianity. If I had succeeded, I’d have “changed the face of Christianity.” I still hope not to fail at being a good person.

      • Starr says

        Joel, thanks for responding. I wasn’t sure you were still checking this site since it’s been so long since the last post. I don’t really have an answer as to why the Church in this country isn’t living up to its potential, other than what I said that many have forgotten their first love. There’s complacency, even apathy, in comfort. But there are still those in this country who are the real deal, who do manifest Jesus in their lives. I know many who fit this description. And in other countries, where the climate is more like that of the early church, in Africa, China, the Middle East, where Christians are persecuted, arrested, even killed for their beliefs, one finds Christians whose compassion and self-sacrifice are very much like what we read in Acts about the early church. In these countries, the Holy Spirit is moving like He did in the first century AD. Missionaries to these countries, including some from my church, have witnessed miracles that are rarely seen in this country. Perhaps we’ve become too intellectual here to accept the possibility of miracles and need to return to that child-like fath. I suspect that what has made this country great, our freedom, our prosperity, has also damaged the Church, which has grown lazy in a climate of relative safety. But times are not so secure now, so maybe there will be a reawakening. I certainly hope so. What would it take for you to reconsider God?

        • Joel Justiss says

          “What would it take for you to reconsider God?” I have been asked this before, and it isn’t easy to answer. Imagine that someone asked you what it would it take for YOU to reconsider God? If you’re anything like me, you can’t think of anything that would cause you to stop believing in God. I couldn’t have anticipated the circumstances that led to the loss of my faith. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine any circumstances that would lead to regaining a faith. The best I can do is suppose that I would have to experience a change in my worldview as dramatic as the one that led me to believe that there is nothing supernatural. I would have to come to see the preponderance of evidence as pointing to the existence of supernatural beings and forces. Since I have come to believe that scientific techniques for avoiding mistakes are by far the most effective approach to determining truth, it’s hard to see how I could go back to believing that religious authorities (like the Bible, for example) produce a more accurate picture of reality than science does.

  23. Starr says

    Joel, I’ve been thinking about your plea for compassion in the church and why we seem to fall short. I mentioned above that we (the Church) have become too comfortable, and I think that’s the main problem. It’s not that we don’t care, but that we don’t want to step outside our comfort zone. It’s too easily to delegate — to refer someone to a homeless shelter or food pantry, etc. — rather than invite them into our own homes or feed them from our own kitchen. In our mind, we think that these organizations can do a better job, because that’s what they were set up to do (and perhaps we breathe a sigh of relief that we have avoided the inconvenience of dealing with them on a personal level). But, unfortunately, there are not enough of these organizations to meet everyone’s needs, especially in these tough times. And sometimes what a person really needs is a shoulder to cry on, or just someone willing to listen. Maybe WE are exactly what the person needs, not a referral. I think we must first have a servant’s hands in order to develop a true servant’s heart. This is part of the sanctification process. We step out in faith and do as Jesus would, and by being obedient to Him and imitators of Him, we are transformed to His image. WWJD may be a cliché, but if the majority of Christians were really living like that, the world would sit up and take notice. The Bible does say we are to regard others as more important than ourselves, and I guess that means everybody, including those with warts and smelly feet. There are many Christians who already walk the walk. I hope your article encourages more of us to action. Love is contagious.

  24. Joel Justiss says

    Some of the comments above question my claim to have been a Christian. That surprised me so much that I’ve kept thinking about how someone who doesn’t know me could make such a statement. (My son commented “I will admit to a certain amount of shock when I found out that you had become an atheist as I know how much a part of you your faith was.”) I finally collected enough thoughts that I wrote a piece on my blog giving my credentials as a Christian and some hypotheses on why people have questioned them. http://joels-trail.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-true-christian.html

  25. Joseph Toney says

    Joel, as one who is desiring to follow Christ, I have really appreciated your writings (here and your personal pages). I just felt the need to send a positive comment your way. I don’t feel the need to tell you that you “missed Christ” or “don’t understand God” or whatever. And after your 40-year journey, why would anyone else be so arrogant to think that they can do what God and a large part of Christianity could not? You make some great points. Why is the Holy Spirit so remote in the lives of so many Christians? This is probably why many of them live exactly like the world. For whatever reason you conclude, they are not having contact with the Spirit and with God. Whether that reason is that those do not exist or that they just don’t have a connection, the result is the same. This is a standing challenge for this generation of Christians. Probably a lot more I could or should say, but I just want to encourage you. If all who call themselves Christians could be as open and honest as you, the world would be a great place. I think your writing has an important place in the dialogue, so thanks for your output.

    • Joel Justiss says

      Joseph, your comment is one of the most respectful, humble, and encouraging I have ever received, either on line or in person. You have “changed the face of Christianity” a bit. Thank you.

  26. Mike says

    I am reminded of Gal 4:16 I am now therfore become your enemy because I tell you the truth. First, you were never a Christian even though you may have thought you were. You cannot take from God what is in His hands. Second, you stated; “To me, it’s a failure on the part of the Holy Spirit.” Really? God does not make mistakes! You would do well to read Job again. He did not tell us to go out into the world and feed them, He told us to go out into the world and PREACH the gospel to every creature. Mark 16:15. Do not mistake this for not wanting to give to the needy or poor, has nothing to do with that. You take scripture and apply it to your own god that you have formed in your mind, not what the whole councel of God teaches. My call to action would be to follow God’s word, rather than that of an agnostic or “former” christian, which I have never met.

    • Joel Justiss says

      Mike, as I mentioned above, I wrote an extended explanation of my claim to have been a Christian: http://joels-trail.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-true-christian.html. What part of that explanation do you believe to be inaccurate?

  27. Lori says

    Joel, This is NOT a failure of the Holy Ghost to “perform”! It is a strategy of satan, and it is so sad that people are not being taught that the battle-time is short. satan is pulling out all the stops, especially in the church. If he is allowed to instill doubt, hesitation of the Truth of the One True God, and cause division, strife and confusion, he will do it. Still, Jesus says that “nothing will snatch” those who belong to Him away from Him. So my perception would be that you probably have never truly known Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord. Never truly loved Him for what He did for you personally, never truly felt His beautiful presence fill your very being, never felt His strong countenance and joy and strength and peace when you were going through a most difficult period or an impossible situation, for if you had, you would never want to be away from Him. Ever. Perhaps you never truly realized that He, as God, did not have to come here and suffer as he did. He did it because He loves you. You! He knows every thought you have ever had, everything you have ever done, and still HE LOVED YOU ENOUGH TO DIE FOR YOU…… And all you have to do is love Him back. Nothing else is required but to love Him, come to Him, ask Him to forgive you, and ask Him to show Himself to you. He will. He will because He loves you, and He wants to make you HIS. John 10:10

    • Joel Justiss says

      Lori, as I explained in my blog posting giving my credendials as a Christian (http://joels-trail.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-true-christian.html, I believed what you said here. I believed that Jesus was my personal savior and lord. I stopped believing that, though, when I realized that in spite of my efforts, I had never truly known him. As I tried to say in the article, I had believed that the Holy Spirit was stronger than Satan, but I wondered why there was so little evidence to support that idea.

  28. Francois says

    Hi Joel I read through your statement and responses to the other correspondents and it is clear that you are a compassionate, understanding and non-judgemental person – characteristics one would expect in Christians. Unfortunately this is mostly not the case. What strikes me is that the dogmatic and patronising (at best) or judgemental (at worst) attitude of many Christians is similar to the behaviour of fundamentalistic believers of other religions. It is claimed however by these “true” Christians that the Holy Spirit lives in them and by default not in you. At the same time they also claim that all good things come from God. How then can their deeds by which they are known are so like those of other fundamentalist beleivers of other faiths while your compassion is not inspired by the Holy Spirit? Is it possible for an atheist to be moral and for a heathen to be good? I think so. In the same vein I think that there are many narrow-minded non-compassionate judgemental people who are attacted to reliligion for two reasons – they can justify their callousness towards others on the basis of their dogma and exclusivity of their religion. In the case of Christians their belief that Jesus washes away all sins creates even more problems. This belief pardons their cruelty towards people of other faiths, discrimination against homosexuals and even murder (including crusades, wars, torture, killing of suspected terrorists) – as long as they believe in Christ their sins will be washed away by the blood of Christ. While failing to grasp that it were people like themselves that crucified Jesus in the first place and then went on to thank god for it. I too was a Christian for 40 years until my compassion for humankind drove me away from the dogma, the church, the bible and finally from the outdated Bronze-age warrior sky god called Jahwe / El. I could not accept that god intended people to go to hell and even judged children, unborn babies and heathens who have neaver heard his name. Then I discovered that the majority of babies who died under the age of two died of dysentery – caused by microbes which my god created. And over a million people die from malaria every year – caused by mosquitoes and Plasmodium which my god created. Then I discovered the book of Job where god said that all good and bad comes from him. I read about god ordering the Israelites to kill everyone in cities like Jericho – including women and children. Then I understood he origin of the callousness of many believers. I found it repulsive. When I became dissilusioned by the church and its followers I did an in-depth study of the origin of the books of the Bible, Biblical archaeology and the origin of Christianity. The result of my studies shocked me and left me with an overwhelming horror and disgust. It is impossible to return to the dark after you have seen the light. I will continue to be compassionate and do good to others and to love all humankind – as advised by Jesus, Budda and Gandhi even though there will be no reward for me in the hereafter – because it does not exist.

  29. kim says

    I think the primary point that confuses me about people who leave the faith because of the failure of Christians to live out thier faith in a way that makes a good contribution to society, or “blame God the the weakness of Christians”, is that they pick up a secular world view. Mao, Stalin, Hitler were acting on secular doctrine. The absense of moral compulsion that created some equally horrible consequences. Let’s consider that the doctrine is what we need to be concerned with. We can judge a world view on it’s doctrine and give both sides the allowance to be human and fail. All things considered, Christianity stands up to secular humanism on all levels and offers much more in terms of livability and intrinsic hope, not to mention a moral framework that is workable and has afforded many a peaceful productive life.

  30. Terri says

    Anne – please know that you are not showing much compassion yourself and are really coming across as judgmental, too. Cold, callous………….really? Please show grace and mercy and kindness.

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