Is Ryan Bell Right or Wrong? Pastors Weigh In
Ryan Bell, a former pastor in the Southern California Conference recently gained national media attention for trying to live as an atheist in 2014.
We asked several of our pastors what they thought of the experiment and for tips on what to do when struggling with your faith:
Interviews by Taashi Rowe
- Shane Anderson, pastor of pastor of Potomac Conference’s New Market (Va.) church
1. Reading the Bible each day leaves you well prepared for tests that might come.
“As a Christian, I like to keep up on what the competition is thinking and doing. I’ve read and/or watched presentations by atheists like Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, etc. I’ve also had personal, polite, and very lengthy conversations with atheists, and been richer (and at times sadder) for it. But I do not recommend these things for those who don't know much about the Bible, who don’t like to think deeply, or who can’t stand to live for any length of time with unanswered questions. Atheism, after all, is a very old religion. It does have some elegance, some attractiveness about it.
Those with a loose hold on Christ or [who] are poorly anchored in the Bible should stay away from atheist authors, for those authors are quite good at pushing over shoddily constructed caricatures of the Christian faith. But I find that reading the Bible regularly and prayerfully going through each day with Christ leaves me well prepared for whatever tests might come. I also read Christian apologists like Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Timothy Keller, and many others, as well as watch YouTube clips by our own Clifford Goldstein in which the Christian faith is ably defended.”—Shane Anderson, pastor of Potomac Conference’s New Market (Va.) church
2. Honestly Face Your Doubt
“To the potential horror and consternation of my church members and colleagues I find this decision by the pastor refreshing and sobering. Many people spend years living without God and go to church every week. Reflecting on your spiritual journey is something many of us just don’t do for all kind of reasons. We live in a fast-paced world, so now, more than ever, we need to step back and look at what we are doing and why. I personally would not spend a year reading atheist books, or trying to live my life without God. I would not recommend that journey to anyone who has doubts or struggles. I would suggest that a person honestly face their doubts, explore them and take them to a trusted person who can walk with them and guide them. All of us struggle and question at some time. Suppressing our questions leaves us mired in immaturity.”—Steve Murphy, pastor of Potomac Conference’s Wheaton (Md.) church
3. Honest questions are not something you should feel guilty about.
“First, you cannot live ‘as if’ there is no God unless you first believe that there is no God. Being atheist does not mean I act like God does not exist, but rather that I actually believe He does not exist. To act “as if” there is no God when one believes there is a God creates a cognitive disconnect that leaves one feeling unfulfilled because the inner core beliefs are being ignored.
…I don’t know if I’ve ever tested my belief but I’ve certainly questioned several aspects of it at different times. My suggestion would be to remember that honest questions are not something you should feel guilty about. If you are living your life toeing the church line on every topic all the time, I would suggest you are nothing more than a brain-washed robot. Questioning and understanding how our world and our God works is not something to be ashamed of—that is how intelligent people deal with competing world views and grow into the one they believe.”—Stewart Pepper, pastor of Mountain View Conference’s Charleston (W.Va.) church
“I believe that seeking answers to tough questions is part of our life journey. When we stop seeking we die, intellectually and socially, and even spiritually. One positive thing Ryan is doing is to take this journey publicly. Which means he is opening himself to listen to various perspectives. Others involved in this journey with him (regardless of where they stand spiritually) can help him keep a balance. The danger comes when we keep our journey to ourselves—not open to share and listen to other voices. When we are the only voice, we can convince ourselves of anything. After having a Christian experience for so many years, I really don’t think that he can eliminate God out of his life in one year. Christianity is more than a belief. It is a culture, life tradition and part of a person’s identity and history. One can never change their personal history, one can only add to it.”—Ann Roda, pastor at Chesapeake Conference’s New Hope church in Fulton, Md.
Interested in this topic? Join our January 21 Twitter chat discussing why 20 percent of the public and one-third of adults younger than 30—don't identify with any religion.