A Minister Becomes and Atheist and Discovers Christ (maybe without knowing it yet)

Barbara Bradley Hagerty of NPR recently ran a story on Teresa MacBain, a Methodist minister who “came out” as an atheist. You can read or listen to the story here.
Adam Eriksen of the Raven Foundation offers some important reflections here:

think faithful Christians (and faithful adherents of other religions) should listen to her words for two reasons.

First, she makes a great point about human nature. “I was on the right track, and you were the ones that were going to burn in hell.” It’s true that many of us Christians tend to have faith that we are on the right track because we know others are on the wrong track. We identify ourselves as “good” people by identifying others as “bad” people who are going to burn in hell. We reinforce our sense of goodness by uniting against others. These “others” could be Jews, Muslims, atheists, or even (maybe especially) our fellow Christians of a different stripe. There is an unfortunate paradox here. As strong as we Christians may seem when we fall into this trap of faith, we are actually quite weak. The reason many of us are so stridently against some “other” is because in order to feel worthy we need to faithfully unite with one another against a common enemy.
And that is a faith worth losing.
But there was a second thing that really moved me about MacBain’s statement. It was the sentence, “And I’m happy to say as I stand before you right now, I’m going to burn with you.” That resonated with me because it’s a powerful statement of solidarity. Instead of threatening others with hell, MacBain states that she will go through hell with them.
Ironically, as MacBain stood there at the Atheists’ convention and publically embraced her atheism, she was closer than ever to discovering the Christian God.
Here’s why: the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation makes a radical claim. First, it states that God is not somewhere out in the universe, far away, aloof and uncaring about humanity. Rather, it claims that God is fundamentally present in the world, especially in the places where humans suffer. Because humans (tragically, Christians aren’t the only people who do this) tend to gain a sense of goodness by uniting against others, we tend to make those others go through hell on earth. Jesus reveals that God doesn’t work that way; humans do. As humans forced Jesus to suffer through hell on earth, as Jesus hung on the cross, God revealed through Jesus that God stands in solidarity with all who suffer. It is there, on the cross, that we discover the God of solidarity. The God who goes through hell on earth with us.
Through the Incarnation of Jesus, God says, “I’m going to burn with you.”
Faith in that God, and in that way of life, is a faith worth keeping.

These themes are explored in my upcoming book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? (Christian identity in a Multi-Faith World).
I’ll be with Adam Ericksen on September 6 at 11 a.m. CT (12 ET, 9 PT) on Voices of Peace Talk Radio. You can join the conversation and contribute your thoughts by phone or computer. Learn more here – http://www.ravenfoundation.org/details/playing-for-keeps-radio