Warning: Long Blog (take your time).

I’m in Sydney, Australia. I’ve been ministering at Hillsong Church. I preached six times this weekend and I felt like things went very well. I also had a wonderful time getting to know Paul Scanlon, Pastor of Abundant Life Church in Bradford, England, Gary Clark, pastor of Hillsong London, Zhenya Kasevich, pastor of Hillsong Kiev and Brendan White, pastor of Hillsong Paris along with many other leaders in the Hillsong movement. It really was a precious time of fellowship and forging new relationships.

So I don’t know why I felt a little sad today. I thought perhaps I was just ready to come home.

Anyway I went for a walk this afternoon. While strolling along George Street in downtown Sydney I came upon a large bookstore. You may not know this, but Peri and I are incapable of walking past bookstores, so I went in. The first book that caught my eye was in the bestsellers section. It was Letter To A Christian Nation: A Challenge To Faith by Sam Harris. I picked it up, happened to open it at page 50 and read this:

Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture, and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind is not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from statistical laws that govern the lives of six billion human beings. The same statistics also suggest that this girl’s parents believe —
as you believe [Harris is addressing American Christians in particular] — that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this? Is it good that they believe this? No. The entirety of atheism is contained in this response. Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious. In fact, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a “non-astrologer” or a “non-alchemist.” We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.”


I’ll not attempt to craft a detailed reply to Sam Harris in this blog, but I will raise the question of whether Harris’ argument is actually an argument for the existence of God rather than an argument against the existence of God. In this one brief paragraph Harris seems to evoke both the “The Problem of Good” (as I call it) and the Ontological Argument for God.

The first part of the paragraph is the Problem of Evil argument. The problem with The Problem of Evil argument is that you immediately assume the reality of Good and Evil which is ultimately impossible without God. I’ll not bother to work out the entire argument, because that is not really the point I’m trying to make.

The Problem of Evil may be an argument against the goodness of God, but it is certainly not an argument against the existence of God.

And anyway many of our best Christian thinkers have addressed this issue.
Off the top of my head I think of…

The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

Deliver Us From Evil by Ravi Zacharias

Evil And the Justice of God by N.T. Wright

And when Sam Harris says, “Atheism is a term that should not even exist”, I say, precisely. If there were no God, there could be no atheists. You can’t be a-Theo without Theo. I would ask Harris if he could tell me something else that doesn’t exist? If he says something like space aliens, unicorns and big foot, I would say those are merely a mistaken variations on humans, horses and large forest dwelling mammals — all of which do exist. The very concept of God is so utterly unique that the existence of the very concept is ontological evidence for its reality.

But again, the point of this blog is not to argue with Sam Harris.

As I stood in this large two story bookstore with Sam Harris’ book in my hand and looked around at the other bestsellers, the next book that caught my eye was Adams vs. God: The Rematch by Phillip Adams (an Australian broadcaster). I picked it up. The back of the books says this:

I don’t see God as a great, huge overwhelming idea — I see him a very small, nervous idea. A timid pipsqueak of a notion.

The jacket of the book told me that Phillip Adams became an atheist at the age of six. But Adams does believe in God enough to address him personally and call him names. Weird. I wonder what happened to Phillip when he was six?

Without moving from where I stood I gazed the shelves and saw these titles:

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

The God Delusion

The Family Tomb of Jesus

The Atheist Manifesto

There were stacks and stacks of these books.

As Phillip Adams says in the opening of his book, “Atheism is suddenly fashionable.”

Then piled on the floor I noticed large stacks of a book written about Hillsong Church. It was a 276 page diatribe. I won’t dignify it by telling you the title. It was near another book telling us what a terrible man Pope John Paul II was.

I then wandered around the bookstore to see if I could find an intelligent and authentically Christian response to these books. I didn’t have much luck. No Ravi Zacharias. No N.T. Wright. And only a couple of C.S. Lewis books. I really wish they had N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. But, alas, no.

The stacks of the bestsellers were telling me that God is dead, Jesus is in the tomb, Christianity is evil, Hillsong is a fraud and Pope John Paul II was a creep.

I bought Letter To A Christian Nation: A Challenge To Faith and walked back out onto George Street.

(I figure if an atheist writes a letter to me, the least I can do is read it — which does not mean I think anyone else should do the same.)

As I walked along busy George Street and watched people hurry past I think I identified the source of my sadness. Without being weird I want to say I think I’ve been sharing some of God’s sadness for a world without him.

As I walked along I remembered that in every message I preached on Sunday I spoke of atheism and atheists (which is not something I intended to do). In one of the services I even addressed myself directly to any atheists that may be present, telling them first of all that I loved them. This is what I was thinking about when I opened Sam Harris’ book. I had not read any of it other than the paragraph on page 50. As I walked I read the beginning of the book:

Since the publication of my first book, “The End of Faith”, thousands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God. The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians. This is ironic, as Christians generally imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own. The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism. While we may want to ascribe this to human nature, it is clear that such hatred draws considerable support from the Bible. How do I know this? The most disturbed of my correspondents always cite chapter and verse.


Since returning to the hotel I’ve been able to read significant portions of the book and I have to tell you it’s not really what I expected. I expected an intellectually based challenge to the Christian faith. In all honesty I haven’t found that. I have found little more than an angry thrashing of straw men. At best it’s a bashing of religion (which I occasionally participate in myself). But I honestly did expect something more substantive from a man with a philosophy degree from Stanford.

But as Blaise Pascal said, “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.”

This is as true of unbelief as it is faith.

But I do think we should take a lesson from Harris’ opening paragraph.

If we do not love atheists and cannot speak to them kindly, we have no business attempting to represent Christ.

And always remember this: It’s not up to you to defend God. He can take care of himself.

Yes, among intellectual equals, Christianity is intellectually defensible.

But atheism is almost never an intellectual argument…

Any more than faith is.

I can give reasons for my faith, but my faith was not born of reason…it was born of experience.

I did not come to God by an intellectual process…I came upon God…himself.

God said…

“I AM.”

He is.

He is not an object within the universe…that is the one thing God cannot be.

As the Greek poet Epimendes said of God when addressing the “God is dead” movement of his day…

Thou art not dead
Thou livest and abidest forever
For in thee we live and move and have our being

And this is what the Apostle Paul quoted when he spoke to the Athenian philosophers at Mars Hill.

“There” is no God.

“There” is an adverb denoting place and location.

God simply is.

“But he is not far from each one of us.”

Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins might be surprised how much I agree with them.

It’s like when I read Nietzsche. I always like a lot of it. Nietzsche was very insightful and a great writer. Of course his starting premise was all wrong and it led him to grave error and madness.

But what Nietzsche and his modern cohorts have to say about Christianity is often merely applicable to dead religion.

Religion is dead.

Perhaps Nietzsche and company can can be somewhat excused for confusing religion for Christianity.

Too many Christians make the same mistake.

Angry vitriolic atheists.

Angry legalistic religionists.

I’m not sure which is worse.

It’s like trying to figure out who was more wrong: Pilate or Caiaphas?

I know this much: Jesus loved them both.

But they both had their own agendas which they were unwilling to abandon in order to to encounter the Truth that stood before them.

May we be loving and authentic witnesses to the reality of our own encounter with the risen Christ.

Jesus Christ is the solution for all that is wrong in this sad world…
On a global scale and on a personal level…
Internationally and Individually.

I’m not ashamed to say I believe this.

The faith that is born of an encounter with the I AM stands firm.


These were my thoughts as I walked on George Street in Sydney, Australia today.

I bought some takeout sushi and took it back to my hotel room.

With extra wasabi.

And I’m feeling much better now.

May you have joy and peace in believing.



The song I’m listening to as I close this blog:

I Believe In You
Bob Dylan

They ask me how I feel
And if my love is real
And how I know I’ll make it through.
And they, they look at me and frown,
They’d like to drive me from this town,
They don’t want me around
‘Cause I believe in you.

They show me to the door,
They say don’t come back no more
‘Cause I don’t be like they’d like me to,
And I walk out on my own
A thousand miles from home
But I don’t feel alone
‘Cause I believe in you.

I believe in you even through the tears and the laughter,
I believe in you even though we be apart.
I believe in you even on the morning after.
Oh, when the dawn is nearing
Oh, when the night is disappearing
Oh, this feeling is still here in my heart.

Don’t let me drift too far,
Keep me where you are
Where I will always be renewed.
And that which you’ve given me today
Is worth more than I could pay
And no matter what they say
I believe in you.

I believe in you when winter turn to summer,
I believe in you when white turn to black,
I believe in you even though I be outnumbered.
Oh, though the earth may shake me
Oh, though my friends forsake me
Oh, even that couldn’t make me go back.

Don’t let me change my heart,
Keep me set apart
From all the plans they do pursue.
And I, I don’t mind the pain
Don’t mind the driving rain
I know I will sustain
‘Cause I believe in you.

(Here’s a YouTube of this great song.)