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EPISODE 32: Facing the Reality of Atheism - Jon Noyes' Story
Former atheist Jon Noyes was driven to fully live out his life-long atheism, but his pursuit was challenged when he began to consider which worldview best fit with reality.
Hello, and thanks for joining in. I'm Jana Harmon, and you're listening to the Side B Podcast, where we see how someone flips the record of their life. Each podcast, we listen to someone who has once been an atheist but who unexpectedly became a Christian. Often, those who are resolute in their own worldview don't seem to change, but sometimes they do, and we are generally curious as to how that happens.
Today, we'll be listening to Jon Noyes' surprising journey from atheism to Christianity. As an atheist, Jon's list for reasons for disbelief in God and Christianity was long. In my research survey, he listed twelve distinct reasons supporting his once-held atheism. They range from lack of intellectual evidence and rationality to negative experience with Christian hypocrisy, from social and moral disdain to a personal distaste for religious people and institutions. There was hardly an unchecked box on the survey. He even took extra time to type in his strongly atheistic view that Christians were deluded and superstitious people who needed to change their false presuppositions and false beliefs. For him, atheism was objective, known through science, logic, and experience. There was no doubt that God did not exist. He enjoyed the benefits of disbelief, not only intellectually but in social relationships it gave and the moral freedom it granted. He was quite happy as an atheist.
Jon was a convinced atheist with no intention towards changing. Yet today Jon's passion is helping others discover the truth of Christianity, having completed an advanced degree in the study of worldview, and has worked full time in Christian ministry. It's clear that a dramatic transformation has taken place. I hope you join in to hear his whole story, not only what informed his atheism but what breached those stalwart walls and prompted him to reconsider what he once thought so ignorant. What would cause someone so resolute to change his view about God? To move from an anti-theist, atheist position to becoming a passionate follower of Jesus Christ? I can't wait to hear, and I hope you'll come along.
Welcome to the Side B Podcast, Jon. It's great to have you on the podcast today.
Thank you so much, Jana, it's great to be with you. I love the work that you're doing and how you're doing it, and I've been looking forward to this for a few weeks now.
Fantastic! Fantastic! As we're getting started, Jon, why don't you tell the listeners a little bit about yourself, so we'll know who's telling this story?
Sure. So my story is probably typical, average. I grew up in a town south of Boston, Massachusetts, called Plymouth. The home of the pilgrims. To a pretty normal family. I grew up playing soccer and enjoying life in a suburb of Boston, and I just had a great childhood. I went to Plymouth North High School. When I graduated there, I moved to Washington, DC, and went to study criminal justice at American University. And I loved DC and living in our nation's capital for, well the four years of college, but then after that, I got my first job, different than what I thought I was going to be doing. I ended up actually being a paralegal at a fairly prestigious law firm in DC, working on a lot of appellate work in front of the Supreme Court and having just a lot of fun in Washington, DC, and then I felt a pull to pull me out to California, so about 15 years ago now, I hopped on a plane and moved to sunny southern California, where I've been ever since, and I absolutely love where I live. I live in Newbury Park, California. It's maybe about 45 miles north of Los Angeles and 8 miles from the coast, and this valley that I live in, it's just the best place to raise a family.
And I have a beautiful wife. Her name is Riana, and she's my rock. I love her with all my heart. And then I have four amazing little girls, so I have Eva, who's ten. Phoebe, who's almost nine. I've got Joelle, who's seven, and then I have little Annette, who is four. She just turned four last month. So, as with everybody right now, I'm just figuring out life and how to raise a family and lead during this time of uncertainty.
Yeah. This is definitely a time of uncertainty. But yeah. Thank you for giving us a little introduction to who you are. I can tell, even though you've been in California for a while, you certainly haven't lost that Massachusetts accent. I can hear that popping through from time to time.
As I get more comfortable—so when I get passionate, and by passionate, I mean animated, it comes out. And then also as I get more comfortable, the accent really starts coming out. So if you don't understand what I'm saying, I'm really, really sorry.
Oh, no! I think we can—you have a really great voice, too, so I think we can all understand what you're saying.
So, Jon, you said you grew up in Massachusetts. Why don't you tell me a little bit about the religious culture there. Was there much of one? And what did that look like?
Yeah. That's a great question. I have a few friends back East who would claim to be religious, and when I say religious, I mean Catholic mostly, but it's a cultural Catholicism. When I say that, I mean they don't really go to Mass. They don't worship God. It's more of, you know, "My family is Catholic, so I'm Catholic." And that probably describes maybe a third of my friends growing up. And then the other two thirds, I would say, are those which now we consider the "nones," right? They have no religious affiliation whatsoever. My family in particular, we have Catholic roots going back three or four generations, but my family, we never practiced anything, really. And what that did is, in the cultural climate, it kind of allowed—well, a good thing is it allowed me to explore worldviews. It allowed me to explore my own convictions. However, the bad part of that is I wasn't guided at all, and I became an atheist. By the time I was in high school, I was an atheist, and nobody ever really pushed back on my atheism. It was just normal. And that, I think, is indicative of the culture in the Northeast. I'm not saying that there aren't any Christians there. There certainly are some really, really great churches that are doing awesome things, just none really where I grew up.
One of the most interesting things, actually. In Plymouth, I was just back East maybe two months ago and walking around the hometown where I grew up and kind of reminiscing, and we have a lot of obviously old architecture in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and the first church that was ever built sits up on top of this hill. It still stands today. I think it was built in the late 1600s, and it's still there. And it was a vibrant church for 150 years or whatnot, but now it's actually a Universal Unitarian Church. And that is actually kind of the story, I feel like, of the Northeast. It started out with deep roots in the Christian faith, but then, over time, it kind of just gave way to a relativism and an inclusivism, and so now I would say most people, that I know at least, in the Northeast, in my circle of friends, my influences, are not religious really at all.
It was interesting growing up. Actually, my earliest memory of church—so, for some strange reason—and we never went to church, ever. We never talked about God in my family. I mean I literally have no recollection of the topic of God or Jesus. I actually had very little understanding of who God was, accurately at least, or who Jesus is, until I became a Christian. But my earliest recollection of religion growing up is actually, for some strange reason, my parents wanted me to get my first communion in the Catholic Church. Again, it's a cultural thing. This is what you do. So they had me go to Sunday school, CCD, and I ended up getting kicked out of CCD. I was a challenging child, so my earliest memory is the Catholic priest of the church right down the street from my house kind of walking me out by the collar of my neck because I had done something. I don't know what, but I definitely deserved this, I'm sure, and I remember my mom pulling around the church cul-de-sac in her blue Ford station wagon, the priest opening up the door, gently guiding me inside the car. And it was the summer, so I remember the window open, passenger side window, and him leaning in and just saying to my mom, "I'd appreciate it if you'd just never bring your son back here again."
And it sticks in my mind, you know? I'm not going to relate that or put much weight on that led me to becoming an atheist or anything like that. It's just an interesting commentary that that's my earliest memory of really anything religious in my life, anything significant at least. So it was—I mean I'm sure I deserved it. I've always been a questioner. I've asked questions ad nauseam of just about anything, but—part of it was seeking. Part of it was just trying to stump people, even when I was—how old are you with a first communion? Maybe thirteen or something. So not even that old. But that's my earliest memory.
And it's interesting, and why I bring it up is because it's the cultural component. That we do this simply because this is what we do. There's no real meaning behind it. So my parents were willing to allow me to become catechized, willing to expose me to Catholic doctrine and teaching, but there was no meaning behind it at all. And that, for a kid, I think, produces a lot of confusion. Especially if you really do start leaning into these things and you realize that there's significance to what we believe. It matters. Ideas have consequences. So in one instance you're getting taught one thing at home. My mom would always say, "You do you. I'll do me," or whenever I was trouble or something like that, it was all relativism. But yet on the weekends they had no problem sending me to Catholic training, ultimately, where—well, I guess relativism has seeped in there, too, but I remember them trying to argue with me against relativism at the time at least. I mean, this is now, oh, my gosh! Like thirty years.
I bet that would cause a bit of confusion if you really tried to think about it with some clarity. But you said also in there that you had the tendency to question and also to challenge. As you were growing up, and I'm sure you were just fine in leaving catechism and CCD behind when you got kicked out, that it was just something you didn't have to do, but as you were growing up and through those—you said your teenage years. You said around thirteen, fourteen. Did you have an opportunity to challenge anyone, any Christian or anyone with that kind of a worldview, a religious worldview, when you were pushing away from it? Did you have anyone in your world who represented what you would consider to be a Christian?
Yeah. That's a great question. I'd say through high school, no. I really didn't know. My best friend growing up, to this day, he considers himself Catholic. I don't know when the last time he's been to Mass was. I don't think he is truly sold out on the worldview. He certainly believes God exists. I think he'd probably say a few meaningful things about who Jesus is, but I never pressed into anybody, and when I did, they never had answers for me. And then up through college is really where I started leaning into my atheism. And when I say that is I tried to live my atheism out consistently. And so whenever anybody brought something up from a distinctly religious perspective, whether that be Christianity, Islam, Buddhist, whatever it might be. I liked to press into them and lead them in a conversation, trying to see if they could defend the things that they say are true. And I had a lot of fun doing it, to be honest with you.
But during specifically the high school years or my young adulthood, early years I should say, no. I didn't really have anybody—nobody took their faith seriously in my life. I guess it's just a symptom of where I grew up. Until I became a Christian, honestly... actually, until I met my wife, I should say. Until I met my wife here in California, I hadn't ever really met a Christian who was walking the walk. I'd met people who were talking the talk but then very quickly as I—I'd love to take them out for a cup of coffee. Or my favorite place was going to the bar and buying them a beer and talking about religious things. And I would press into them pretty hard. And that, I think, is actually one of the—there's two sad components to that in my mind. One is the people who claimed to be Christians. And some of them, I think, were Christians. I mean, I'm not saying that they weren't. But they didn't really have a rational justification for why they believed what they believed. And when I would press them, they'd say, "I believe this because the Bible says so and so." And at the time, I'd say, "I don't care what the Bible says. Why should I trust the Bible?" And that's where the conversation started.
They also never really tried to share the Gospel with me at all. Again, I didn't hear the Gospel until I was in my mid-twenties and after I had been kind of put on this journey from atheism to Christianity. And that's something I think is just really important and should be fundamental in our lives. We should know what the Gospel is. And we should be willing to share that. And I always, in hindsight, when I think back on my story, that nobody ever shared the Gospel with me is concerning.
I'm curious. You made the comment that you tried to live your atheism consistently. You challenged others, perhaps at the college level, to defend what they believed to be true. Did you look deeply at your own atheism in terms of its own implications for your life, for reality?
Yeah. I mean absolutely. So in college, I studied criminal justice, which, in its very nature, lots of moral conversations come up. When you're talking about theories of justice, systems of justice, the judicial system, where laws come from. And Constitutional Law is one of the classes I took in undergrad, and by default, these conversations that we were having in class were moral from the get-go, so when I had friends in class... There was one gentleman I remember. His name was Chris, and he was from Connecticut, and him and I were, I guess, the loud ones in the class. We liked to participate in conversations and discussions, and he was Christian. And he would bring up the idea that there's an objective morality, for example, to base our laws in. Certain things are wrong, not because we say they're wrong but because they're wrong in and of themselves, objectively wrong. And I would press back at him on that and then say, "Well, no. No, no. It's obvious we came up with these laws. I mean this is the law of the land. The Constitution was written by men." And we'd go back and forth.
So there was great dialogue in that, and as I got older and digging into these classes, I really started to lean into my atheism, meaning I tried to live consistently with my worldview, and I realized that, as I pressed into the world around me... I guess I realized a few things. First is there's an objective nature to reality. Meaning we don't construct our own reality out there. The world isn't how we want it to be. And I tried to I guess justify that according to my atheism. If atheism is true, ultimately might makes right, and I'm a pretty big guy. I'm 6'3", 250 pounds. I probably wasn't that heavy in college. But I was still big. And I was bigger than a lot of kids. So I should just be able to take what I want, do what I want. And I started trying to really lean into that and live that out, and it led to some really dark places really quickly. Greg Koukl, when he talks about this—he's my boss at Stand to Reason now. And he calls them bumps in the reality, and this would be the bump of morality. The bump of ouch. And when I leaned into my atheism, I was realizing that, no, there are certain right and wrongs out there, and they're independent of my feelings towards them personally, which led me to have to come to the conclusion that there's an objective moral depth, moral law to the way things are.
And that's not the only place where I bumped into reality. It's throughout my whole story. I remember, in California, because of the weather out here, it's just so beautiful. I'd stay out at night, and I'd just look up into the sky, and an atheist, I'm thinking, like, you know... But I remember distinctly one night, in my back yard. I was living in Hollywood, and I remember reclining with a bunch of friends. We're in lawn chairs in the back and just relaxing. A beautiful California night. Staring up into the sky and wondering, "Why is it all here?" and then how, "How is it here?" All the beautiful things that I was seeing in that sky and even the creation, the world around me, how'd it get here? And that's another bump into reality, the bump of stuff, you know? And I think maybe a lot of your listeners are familiar with the Kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God, and I didn't know that this was what I was thinking about at the time, but I was thinking, "Well, nothing comes from nothing, so that means everything had to come from something. And what is that something? I see the world around me. It's not a mental construct. We're not these brains in vats. There's a physical reality out there that exists. Where'd it come from?"
Because it couldn't just pop into existence. That's anti scientific. So it had to come from somewhere, and as I dug into that, I started realizing the best explanation for the physical nature, the physical world around us, was an uncreated Creator ultimately. An unembodied mind, a creative mind that is immensely powerful and that had creative depth, that wanted this to come. I didn't know how else to justify that. And again, my atheism—I had no category for that. So on two fronts now, atheism, my atheism, which I was sticking to hard, was failing me. It wasn't able to explain the world around me, reality, the way things really are. And then I remember also... I call it the bump of me. There's a clear aspect to us that's nonphysical. In hindsight, me and you, Jana, we'd call it our soul, but as an atheist, I had no category for the existence of my mind, for example.
I remember really thinking about what love is and, as an atheist, really, "Well, what is love?" And I was trying to live out my atheism. And I had no place for love in my worldview. Because I would've said it's not even a feeling. I would've said it's a reaction that's happening chemically in your brain that's making certain... Neurons are firing to make you feel a certain way towards something, but that's clearly not true, because, for example, I love my Mom no matter how I think about her at the moment. Whether I'm mad at her or sad or whatever. I clearly love her, so there's something that's happening in me that's controlled by me, not a product of a naturalistic process in my brain.
And then also introspection. How can I be introspective? How can I even think the thoughts that I'm thinking and process stuff? Why am I even struggling with these existential issues as I press into my atheism? Because according to atheism I shouldn't be doing that. There's no place for that in my worldview.
And now, kind of getting back to your question about talking to people about this stuff. It wasn't until I met my wife, really, in southern California. I actually met Riana my very first night in California. I was literally right off the plane. I was at a party, and she walked in. And from the very moment I met her, she just enamored me. I was just... oh my gosh! Like, "Who is this girl?" And we got to know each other, and we started dating. I didn't know she was a Christian for a while, and then she did something crazy. She asked me to go to church with her. And I've done crazier things, Jana, for the affections of a woman than go to church on Sunday with her. So I said, "Yeah, sure. I'll go to this weird place with you," and it was. It was strange. It was really weird. But it was really good, too.
And it wasn't until then that I actually met people who took their worldview seriously. Up until then I never got answers from people. Ever. And then finally now, and there's a group of men there that I'm still close with. I haven't been to that church now in about ten years. I've just moved on. But I'm still really close with the pastor and a couple of the men that took me under their wing, even as an atheist, and were willing to put up with my... I guess I should say put up with. They were willing to humor my questions, even though they didn't necessarily have the answers. And they were willing to give of themselves, give their time and their patience and really walk with me and struggle through certain things with me.
Kind of a side note is we started going to this church, and my wife... She's always been Christian. She would say that she has always... she was raised to believe in God. And the Christian God. And even though she was maybe backslidden a little bit, she wasn't living it out, she would say that she had a strong faith. And she wanted to get involved in the church, and she wanted to become a member of this church, so I went to the membership classes with her. Trying to get more ammo against the Christian. And part of the membership process at this church was to meet with the pastor and his wife, and we met with them together, and I went into this meeting.
I'm looking back on it now. I was so conceited and arrogant is probably the right word. I went in there with notes. I mean, I had a stack... I'm putting my fingers out. It's probably about an inch thick of carbon dating, questions on evolution, proving that the Bible isn't what it claims to be. All these errors in the Bible. I had in my mind that I was going to go into this meeting, and I was going to de-convert this pastor, and that would've been a notch on my belt, you know? Because I've never talked to a Christian to this point that's been able to defend their worldview to my liking, so how cool would it be if I de-converted a pastor?
And we're sitting there, and I asked all my questions, and it was really great. Pastor Dave is Dave Polus, so patient, and he answered a lot of my questions to my satisfaction. To a lot of them, he said, "I don't know. That's a really great question. I never thought about it." And the best thing is just he was just honest and real. He wasn't trying to blow smoke at me or convince me, really, of anything. He was there to listen to me, and he answered my questions to the best of his ability. And at the end of the meeting, they hugged my wife, Pastor Dave and his wife, Amy. They hugged Riana, and they said, "We'd love to have you as a member." Because my wife was Christian, clearly. And then Dave takes my hand in his, and he shakes it, and he says, "You know what, Jon? We have enough members now. Thanks for coming in." Because if he had offered me membership, I would've been like, "This is exactly what I think that this is. This is all a crock. You just want my butt in your seat, and you want my bucks in your coffer, and that's all you care about, exactly what I thought of the church." And he didn't. He said, "You know what? Keep coming around, but you can't be a member here," and I really respected that.
And then the best part of this is that he, as he's shaking my hand, he pulled a book off of the bookshelf, an apologetics book, and I'd never heard of the word apologetics in my entire life, and he gave it to me, and he said, "You know what? Some of the answers that you're looking for, some of the answers to the questions that you've been asking that I couldn't answer, I think they might be in this book." And I took the book home and I read it probably a dozen times, and for the first time, I was getting intellectual answers, respectable answers to the deep questions that I had, and now you combine that with the soul searching I've been doing. I've been realizing that, as I was trying to live my atheism out in reality, I kept bumping into reality in those areas, and then you combined this—okay, now there's intellectual answers out there, and that led me to another book and then another book and then another book.
And then also right at that same time—God is just so good. Right at that same time, my future in-laws, they gave me my first Bible. They gave me a New Believer's Bible. It's the NLT, the New Living Translation. It's, I think, edited by Greg Laurie, and it has cool commentary. Very simple. You know, "Who is Jesus?" "Who is Satan?" "Who is God?" "What's the Trinity?" And these cornerstones of faith is what they call it in there. And I read that cover to cover over the span of three months. So I was being ministered to through just the nature of reality, trying to press into my worldview, seeing that the world is a certain way and my worldview wasn't able to explain that. I was being ministered to by these Christian apologists who wrote phenomenal books that just put their ideas out there for people like me to struggle and wrestle with. And then I was also being ministered to by the word of God, and then that's really—so my mind and my body were being ministered to, reality and the intellect, and now my soul was being ministered to through the word of God, and it was in that direct encounter really with the word of God, as I sat on my morning and afternoon train to and from work and read Genesis to Revelation, when I put the Bible down after interacting with it, struggling and wrestling with it, I had to draw the conclusion that God is the Christian God, and more specifically, Jesus is who He claimed to be.
And that was a turning place for me. It led me into a deep study of the resurrection and trying to see if my naturalism, if my atheism could explain the facts surrounding the resurrection. And after that study, and I remember sitting on my couch, and I had the... This is when I relented. I was sitting on my couch, struggling with—you have all this evidence centered around specifically the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. There's these core pieces. Habermas now says maybe there's 18 agreed-upon facts centered around the resurrection of Jesus. And when I say that, it means there were 18 pieces of history, events in history that are believed to have happened regardless of our worldview, so Christians believe that these things happened, Muslims believe these things happened, atheists believe these things happened. One would be an empty tomb, which is a more recent one. Or Jesus's crucifixion. He died on the cross. That's what happened. We generally believe that Jesus actually died on the cross. His disciples had what they experienced or described as an experience with the risen Jesus. He was dead. He was buried. And then the disciples said they interacted with Him again alive. But these things, people across the worldview spectrum believe happened, so these are pieces of evidence for the resurrection.
Now I have to put those—this is the way I thought, at least, at the time. "I have to take these pieces of evidence, these building blocks, and I need to come up with a hypothesis that explains them cohesively and together, not independent of one another." And I remember sitting on this couch, and thought that went through my mind, Jana, was—this is really what I thought. And this is the turning point for me. "Maybe aliens came down and did something crazy futuristic to the body of Jesus, so that he got brought back to life." And then I remember thinking, "If I'm willing to posit aliens and not God, I have a serious intellectual problem going on." And right then and there, I said, "I'm cooked," and then, as I'm saying this, the hairs are standing up on my arms because it was such a turning time, a turning place in my life.
Everything changed for me. Everything. My focus of life and how I was living shifting dramatically. And I haven't looked back since. I've just caught fire. And it's just so cool even now, just talking about that it. That was a really long answer to your very short question.
No, no. You know, what strikes me as you're telling your story is that you—what I really appreciate really is that you were an intellectually driven atheist, honest about your worldview, pursuing whether or not it was true as related to the reality and the evidence that you were finding. You continued pursuing in light of the fact that you had some push back, some bumps in reality, but you were still trying to justify your atheism, but you were becoming open enough to consider another perspective. I think that that openness and your intellectual honesty is to be really praised, because I think we live in a time and a place where we have a tendency to just hold onto our worldview at any cost, no matter what other viewpoints may say or even what reality might say. We become so insular in our own perspectives that we're not willing to even consider another point of view. It sounds like you went on a journey but you were willing to consider the evidence as it came. And I think that's huge.
And that's true even today, right? I don't believe what I believe because it makes me feel good or because it's—it certainly hasn't made me any more money. I mean I was making really good money. I was having a ball, so it's not like I'm having a better life now than I'm a Christian. I don't believe for those reasons. It didn't make me popular or gain me any type of fame or anything like this. I believe what I believe because it's true. And I've always felt that way. And this is one of the pieces... I teach a class called Discipleship at a local small Christian high school, and as I'm discipling these boys, these seniors... Just yesterday, I was telling them our main goal in life is the pursuit of truth. We don't ever want to believe anything that's not true. And I was like that as an atheist, and I'm like that as a Christian. And my mind is still open. I would love to talk to anybody. If you think Christianity is false, then give me the case as to why it's false and why your explanation of reality, your reasons to believe the world is a certain way, something that explains the world around us is better. If you want to explain that to me and prove that to me, I'm open to it. Because certainly if Christianity isn't true, I don't want to believe it. If Jesus hasn't been raised from the dead... I mean this is scripture, right? So Paul says if Jesus hasn't been raised from the dead, then we're to be pitied above all men.
Not only that, but we're still dead in our sins. And I might as well... If Christianity isn't true, I might as well go back to my atheistic living, my hedonism, pursuit of my own pleasures, than living this life I live now. So I believe what I believe because it's true. And that's what I've always felt. Truth has been paramount to me my entire life. Nobody likes being lied to. Nobody likes getting the wool pulled over their eyes. Why would that be any different with our worldview? We should apply that to our worldviews. And so we should all be digging into... Whoever your listening audience is, you should be digging into your worldview. You should be pressing at it. Even the Christian. Don't ever get complacent in what your worldview has to offer. Don't ever just take it for granted. Dig into it. Test all things, holding fast to that which is true is what the Bible says. This isn't a blind faith. It never has been for me. There's too much riding on it.
Right. No, absolutely. Now you obviously, again, went through quite a journey of looking at truth, looking at reality, reading books, reading the Bible, and you came to a place, particularly, I guess, after considering the resurrection, that it was true. You came to a belief or an intellectual assent in the truth and reality of the Christian worldview. But, as you and I know, there's more to it than intellectual belief. And you mentioned earlier something about the Gospel, that Christians had never told you about the Gospel. And I'm wondering how the Gospel played—what it is, first of all. How did you come to learn it? Was it through reading the Bible? Because you said you read it cover to cover on your train ride. And so I'm wondering how you put the pieces together between your intellectual assent and giving your life to someone?
Yeah. So part of my pursuit of my atheism, one of the things that became very clear to me is that the world isn't as it ought to be. One of the common experiences we all share, and when I say we all, I mean every person who's ever lived on this planet shares the understanding that something is deeply wrong with the world. Whether it be a political issue, whether it be a family issue, an issue with friends or an issue with your job, the world around us screams out that it's not as it ought to be. And if there's a way that it's not as it ought to be, that means there was a way that it ought to be. And that led me into just a pursuit of, "Okay, how ought it be?" and that's really where we find the start of the Gospel. And this experience that we're talking about today, this is why I think, ultimately why the Christian worldview is true. It's because of the Gospel. The Gospel is simply the good news of what God has done through and in Jesus Christ. And it finds its beginning in a perfect creation. Everything was created perfect and right. God, at the end of His creation days, looked at it, and He stepped back, and He said, "It's good." He created man and woman, and He said they are very good. And everything was as it was.
But then something went wrong. A problem got introduced to the reality of the world. And that is sin. Eve had an interaction with the serpent and believed the lies. Did God really say? You know? And that's something that we all struggle with. We all want... ultimately, we want to be our own kind of god. When I was little, I used to say, "I'm the boss of my own self," you know? And that's how we want to live life, and that was what happened with Eve. "Did God really say you can't eat of that tree? He's just trying to hold you back," is what he said to her. And then she believed him and took of the fruit and ate and gave to her husband, to Adam, and he ate, and from that moment on, sin has entered the world, causing everything to kind of go awry. And that's why things ain't as it ought to be.
But the cool thing about the Gospel is, unlike any other worldview that's out there, there's a solution in the Gospel. There's a solution in Christianity to the fundamental problem that we all experience. And that solution is that Jesus bore our sins on the cross. He bore the penalty. He turned aside God's judgment, God's wrath from us as payment for our sins. He took these things on, the brokenness of our lives, and then through that action, through the crucifixion, we're restored. That shattered relationship with God. So you see, when we fell into sin, the main problem—yes, the world isn't as it ought to be. Yes, we harm and sin against each other. But the main issue that we sin against God. We break that relationship that we once had, that was once had with Adam and Eve that was perfect. And that shattered relationship, Jesus, He rebuilds it in the context of the crucifixion and the resurrection, and then that's now played out in the existence of the church. There's a new life that we human beings, we find in Christ, and it's granted out of the sheer grace of God. It's not received by anything that we do. There's nothing that we can do to earn God's favor. It's a free gift as we repent of our sins and turn to Jesus. We confess Him as the Lord, and then we bow to Him joyfully as we come to realize these things.
So the Gospel is the good news, and it's the good news of what God has done in Jesus, by taking the fundamental problem of reality, that there's something wrong with the world, and completely restoring it. Now, it's not completely restored yet. We're still waiting for the consummation, the final product, but it's also something—just because it's not here completely doesn't mean we can't experience it now, and I've experienced that in my life. As I took a deep look at the person that I was and the person I was becoming to be as I was chasing the morality that was granted to me through my atheism and then realizing that I was the problem! The problem wasn't out there, like I used to think. As I started digging into my worldview, I realized that I was the problem. And it's a personal problem and it needs a personal solution, but the solution, while it's personal, is completely outside of us. Because I don't have the capability to fix the problem. And it has to come from something else. And that's where it came from. That's the good news, the Gospel. That's the Gospel, is that the solution to my personal problem comes through the Person, the life, and the work of Jesus Christ. As He lived the perfect life, the life that you and I, Jana—we should be living that perfect life, but we can't because of sin.
As He went to the cross and died that perfect death, the perfect death that you and I, that we, everybody listening, that we deserved to die because of our sin, paying a price that you and I, we can't afford. There's not enough money in existence or ever been in existence to pay that debt. But Jesus paid it on that cross. And then it doesn't stop there as He died and was buried in the tomb. The best part of the good news is three days later—He didn't lie dead, and this is really what separates Jesus from any other God out there. He didn't remain dead. He walked again. Three days later, He rose from the dead. He was raised by his Father, by God the Father, and in so doing we find the promise that all long for. Everlasting life, complete healing. Every tear will be dried. Every disease and infirmity will be cured. Because of that resurrection, we're guaranteed a promise of eternal life with God the Father and his beautiful Son, empowered by the Holy Spirit to live perfect, sinless lives in glory. And that's when Jesus comes back and ushers in the new creation, obviously.
But that's the Gospel, the good news. The solution to the universal problem that we all experience, that we all know that's out there. And I don't know any other worldview that offers a more robust, accurate solution. It's awesome.
Wow! It sounds like you're convinced you found reality, and that reality is in the Person of Jesus.
That's right. It's amazing!
Yeah. It's incredible! Now you mentioned that everything changed in your life after you accepted this truth, not only for all of reality but for yourself personally. How did things change in your life? How are you experiencing this good news as applied to you personally? How is your atheistic life different from what you're experiencing now?
That's a really, really good question, Jana. Wow. So there's practical things. From what I choose to do and what I choose not to do. And I want to be kind of clear here. Before I was a Christian, when I was an atheist, I used to think Christians were boring. I didn't want to be a Christian because I thought I'd have to be ruled by this Sky Daddy who was basically just sitting up in the sky waiting for me to do something wrong so he could punish me. And that's so far from the truth. So when I say that my behavior has changed very practically, like practical living changed. How I spend my money, how I spend my time certainly. The relationships I chose to keep and the relationships that I chose to get rid of because they were extremely unhealthy. Not that they weren't fun. They were unhealthy. So things like that changed, but it wasn't because I was scared of a God that was waiting to send bolts of lightning down to punish me. My desires, my wants, and my focus shifted out of a reverence and a respect, as opposed to a fear of punishment.
So obviously, as an atheist, I didn't try to live my life according to the standards of Jesus. I tried to live my life according to my own standards, completely subjective. And there is some overlap there. I think I tried my best to love other people to the best of my understanding and knowledge of what love is, but it wasn't until I became a Christian that I understand that we're told, all people, we're told to love God and love people. That's the great commandment. So as I became a Christian, I tried to align my life very practically into how Jesus has told me to live my life.
Certain behaviors had to stop. I used to drink a lot. I used to love to party and go out and have "fun." That was my life. That had to stop clearly, and it's not because... Again, it's not this... I'm fearful of people listening who maybe don't share my worldview or our worldview, Jana, thinking what I used to think, that this is your typical Christian who isn't doing stuff because he's fearful of punishment. I live and stand firm in the grace of God. There's nothing that can separate you—if you're a Christian, there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. There is now no condemnation in Jesus. That's what the Bible tells us. So I don't refrain from my sinful activity, and I don't refrain from going out and drinking and having extramarital affairs because I'm worried about God's judgment or punishment on me. I'm refraining from those things because I now want to honor God in all that I do, whether I eat, sleep, or drink, do all unto the glory of God, is what the Bible tells us. And that's where my focus has shifted. And that's where the dramatic shift comes in. I'm no longer the master of my own ship. I have a new Master, and He's a good Master. And I know that He wants not only the best for my life... He not only wants me to have the best life now, but he also wants me to have the best life for ever and ever and ever.
So my focus completely shifted off of pursuing my own desires to pursuing the desires of the One who created me, my Heavenly Father.
I now get to serve God with every aspect of my being. And no comparison on a naturalistic perspective.
That's an incredibly transformed perspective. Loves and living. That's amazing. Jon, as we're coming to a close, I know that there are probably some skeptics out there. Perhaps they're curious enough, as you were, to explore the evidence and to go where the evidence leads, and I wondered if you could speak or give advice to someone who perhaps is where you once were as an atheist.
Yeah. Absolutely. Press in to your worldview. Don't take the common answers at face value. When somebody teaches you something or you hear something... In hindsight, Jana, when I'm thinking about my atheism, when I was an atheist, I carried with me all the atheistic slogans. I used what I would call the nail in God's coffin, my argument from the problem of evil. I had a surface level understanding of the problem of evil, but then when I started digging into it, I actually realized that it's not just... I mean, it is a problem for the Christians. Don't get me wrong. It's a problem for everybody, though. It was my problem, too. And when you get outside of yourself, you've got to kind of step back and be intellectually honest and say, "This is a problem for the Christian. What about my solution? And which one's better here?" So pursue your own worldview to where it leads, and then not only that, but then, if you're listening to this and you're an atheist, live it out. Try to live it out in a consistent fashion.
I have a really, really wonderful friend, and she claims to be a relativist. And she says that. She says, "No, I believe relativism is true. We make our own system of rights and wrongs." Well, I leaned into her about that and said, "Well, how is that even possible?" There's one political candidate that she just can't stand, and I said, "But you're rejecting this person on moral values, but those are just that person's moral values, and those are up to him to make." And so there's this check there, and she actually was honest enough to say, "You know what? You might be right." Now, that's not an argument to convince her of the Christian worldview. I'm just saying let's be consistent with our worldviews. Which worldview is most consistent with reality? Lean into it. Don't take people's words for it.
Those atheistic slogans I used to carry with me. When I started actually really trying to dig into them and see what the meaning was behind them and where they came from, when I started reading deeply about evolution and where we came from, the solutions didn't satisfy. So in one aspect, the answers are in your own worldview. If your worldview can't give you the answers to certain fundamental things of reality. If they can't answer the fundamental questions of reality, meaning, purpose, origins, destiny, morality, then you might want to consider a different worldview. And how well does that worldview line up with reality? And so that's what I'd say is dig in to your questions. And that goes for the Christian, too. Don't ever be satisfied with answers that don't satisfy.
One of my recommendations is, when I read scripture, and this is for Christian and non-Christian alike. If you're going to dig into the scriptures, and I highly recommend that you do, start with the Gospel of Mark. It's really quick. You can read it in three or four days. But don't just power read it. Christian and non-Christian alike, read it, and when you come to a place that's like, "What? What are you talking about? What's this mean?" Stop and actually think about it. What does this mean?
"What's this? Let's wrestle with this." Don't ever take your worldview for granted. Lean into it. Press into it. I said, earlier on, that there's consequences. Ideas have consequences, and the consequences are dire. There is nothing more important to think about than the nature of reality and whether or not God exists. Because how you answer that question is going to dictate how you live practically your entire life. And especially as you seek to live out your life. Does your worldview explain the things that you're trying to live out? So dig in, press in. And that's the other thing, is don't ever give up. Don't take unsatisfying answers as gospel truth. Dig in, press in, don't ever give up. And enjoy the process.
No, no. That's great. That's great. And finally, if you wanted to just turn and talk to the Christian in terms of how they can best engage with those who don't believe, perhaps the way they live their lives. You know, in a nutshell, in a moment, can you give a word of advice to the Christian?
Two things. One is be confident because we have a very powerful ally on our side, and that is reality. Reality, and when I say reality I mean the way things really are, is on our side. So we don't ever need to shy away from any topic. We don't ever need to worry about pressing into any issue. It all falls back on the fact that we don't want to believe things that are false. We just don't. So if it's false, I want to know, and we need to lead with that perspective. We need to dig into the hard issues and with the understanding that reality is actually on our side. I think atheists especially, or certain other worldviews, come across as intellectually robust or maybe they have more answers, and it's just not true. Christianity, in recent times, I feel like has gotten away from an intellectual stance. We were seen as... Christians are oftentimes seen as anti intellectual, and there's nothing further from the truth.
And the second piece goes along on this, on the coattails of this, read. If you're a Christian, I hear it all the time as a pastor and as an apologist, "I don't like to read." Well, you've got to learn to like to read. Read widely. Read people you disagree with often. Read ancient works. Read the church fathers. And most importantly, read your Bibles. Every day, read your Bibles. Start memorizing, committing scripture to your mind. And you'll see amazing things happen, and you'll see confidence come through.
Don't be afraid to be wrong. Some of us, the worst fear that we have is that we'll talk to somebody and they'll know more than us. I think that's fantastic because it's an opportunity for me personally, if this happens to me, I get a free education. I get to sit and ask some strategic questions to somebody and say, "Wow! You obviously know way more about this than me." This happened to me with a friend. He's a marine biologist. He has his PhD from MIT. I mean this guy is brilliant. And I didn't know that when I started the conversation. And very quickly, I realized, as we were talking about evolution. Very quickly, I realized I was so far out of my depth with this man. I was like, "He's playing a different sport," and he was schooling me. But I don't have a problem with that. Because, again, I don't want to believe something that's false, so instead of trying to prove my point, I'd just sit there and ask him, "Well, tell me. Tell me all about this. Why am I wrong? And where am I wrong? Show me and prove it. What can I be reading so I know more?"
And one of the ways that we can learn how to converse really, really well is reading Koukl's book. I don't know if you've read it, Jana. The tactics book?
It's phenomenal. And the tactics in that book help give us the confidence that we need to go into a conversation. So the first thing is we have reality on our side. We don't need to be scared of anything pressing in. Christian worldview best explains the way the world really is. Second thing is read and read often and widely. Read people you don't believe or trust. Read people that you don't agree with. Read old stuff. Especially church fathers and things like this. And read your Bibles. And then also read Koukl, I guess.
Yeah. And don't be afraid to press in and don't be afraid to not have the answers. Nobody has all the answers. That's why we're not God.
Yeah. I think that's really excellent advice, and if I could add one more Greg Koukl book to your advice to reading Tactics, I would say his recent book called The Story of Reality. If you're a Christian or even not. That really, in a very accessible way, speaks to everything you've been talking about in terms of what we experience in our life and in the world and how the Christian worldview is the best explanation for reality.
Having listened to you, I'm also equally... not only inspired by your story but also very challenged, as someone, as anyone should be listening to your story, to really not take whatever worldview you have for granted but actually be an open pursuer of truth and after truth. Whatever that is, because it will lead you where you need to go, and if you're pursuing truth with an openness like you have, even if you began like you did, in an effort to disprove, you were still open enough to not shut down anything that conflicted with your own worldview. You were open to receive it and to question it and to challenge it. And it led to where you are. So I think we can all take, again, a kind of inspiration from all of that, from what we've heard today, and move from this conversation and be re-inspired towards seeking in a very intentional way what it is that we believe, why we believe it, and does it match with reality.
So thank you for bringing that to us today, Jon. I really, really appreciate it.
Well, thank you, Jana. And thank you again for all the work that you're doing in putting this podcast out there. I'm such a supporter of what you're trying to get done, and I think the work is incredible, so you're leading the way. Thank you so much.
All right. Thank you.
Thanks for tuning in to the Side B Podcast to hear Jon's story today. You can find out more about where he works at the Stand to Reason ministry and the books that he recommended by Greg Koukl in the episode notes of this podcast. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can reach me by email at [email protected]. If you enjoyed it, I hope you'll subscribe, rate, and share this podcast with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I'll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we'll be seeing how someone else flips the record of their life.