In 2014 Seventh Day Adventist pastor Ryan Bell embarked on a personal experiment to try on atheism for a year see if it fit. He announced in a Huffington Post blog: "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."
During that year he regularly wrote a blog entitled “Year Without God,” which I read religiously. The end result of his “year off” from God was that he rejected any religious faith and fully embraced atheism. He now has a new blog and podcast "Life After God."
My experience has been longer, less radical, and the end result is different. For the past seven years I have been studying the New Atheism. Atheism is not new to me. I was a teenage atheist. During my high school years I considered myself an existentialist in the spirit of Camus and Sartre.
Then I experienced a religious conversion in my twenties and have considered myself a Christian ever since. My Christianity went through various stages over the years, from evangelical to progressive to conservative again. But my skeptical spirit remained intact throughout it all.
Then came the New Atheism. I mark the beginning of this movement a decade ago with Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, in 2006. I did not read this bestseller when it was first published. I was too immersed in my increasingly Calvinistic Christianity at that time. But I read it in late 2009, and I kept reading everything that this new breed of atheists published.
The result of my seven years in the Land of Skepticism is my recently published book entitled, Thank God for Atheists: What Christians Can Learn from the New Atheism. I rediscovered the skeptical spirit, and found that it is also the Christian spirit. As the apostle Paul put it, “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.” (I Thessalonians 5:21 NASB)
My observation is that most Christians have not critically examined their faith. They certainly have not tested it in the fiery furnace of agnosticism. Christians reflexively defend, coddle and protect their faith, as if it were too delicate to endure intense scrutiny. Too many Christians accept their religion as the “one true faith” without really examining if this is true.
I examined my faith and religion as thoroughly and critically as I could for the past seven years. I came out the other side of this process still a Christian, but a much more rational and skeptical one. You might call me a Christian skeptic or a skeptical Christian. My Christianity morphed into a worldview much more in keeping with the realities of science and history.
Gone is the supernaturalism and anthropomorphism of traditional theism. My faith is based on the scientific method, historical criticism and my personal experience of God. During these seven years my awareness of the Presence of God has increased even as my skepticism of traditional theism has also increased.
I never would have expected that. Yet that is the mystery of the spiritual life. Skepticism has made me a stronger Christian, even though my more conservative and traditional brethren and sistren may look askance at my present theology. Some may think I have abandoned “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) I have not. I have rediscovered it.