The New Atheists and Remembering A Notorious Atheists’ Prayer/Part 7

By: Dr. John G. Weldon; ©2011
So, in reality, Dr. Anthony Flew did not actually conclude alone that “I’m a theist, but I’ll never believe in Jesus resurrection or the Christian faith.” It’s a bit more than that.

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What Dr. Flew Really Believed

So, in reality, Dr. Anthony Flew did not actually conclude alone that “I’m a theist, but I’ll never believe in Jesus resurrection or the Christian faith.” It’s a bit more than that. He says, in essence “I’m a theist, and the case for Christianity/Jesus resurrection is very impressive, very powerful, “absolutely wonderful” and “enormously important” – even that the case for Christian revelation as “a very strong one.”

Equally important for him personally, he believes that it is critical to keep on the right side of God and that it is “madly imprudent” not to do so. “… If there is a God or gods who involve themselves in human affairs, it would be madly imprudent not to try as far as possible to keep on the right side of them.” (Flew, 29)He believes the Christian faith is unique, special, and to be honored and respected, whatever once believes. He believes the resurrection is more impressive a belief that in any other religion and unique.[1]

Now, such declarations, coming from a man of such dominant atheist persuasion for 60 years, are hardly insignificant. The sentiments were written in 2007, three years before his death. In other words, Dr. flew had three full years to decide whether he was going to move from the factual existence of God to accepting the personal Father of Jesus Christ, Christ’s atoning death on the cross for his sin, and his resurrection from the dead.

But he held to similar views at least two years prior. Although he still didn’t believe in the resurrection of Christ in 2005, he nevertheless observed, “The evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity, I think, from the evidence offered for the occurrence of most other supposedly miraculous events.”[2]

And he agreed that “Jesus is an enormously attractive, charismatic figure…”[3]

So Dr. Flew had a good five years to contemplate the truth. One can imagine that becoming a theist from atheism wasn’t exactly easy. But already having traveled what have been a difficult path to belief in God, it might be less a difficult path to travel toward faith in Jesus. One can but surmise what he may have been thinking about a few months, weeks or a few days before his death. Dr. Flew had already flown to God – would he fly to Jesus? I have been told by those in the know that it is not possible to know whether or not he converted prior to his death, and that information may suggest he never did. Or it may suggest he was too weak to go public with the implications. Nevertheless, here is a man whose life as an atheist had literally crumbled – 60 years spent teaching a lie. Now he knows God exists and he also knows that if he were to convert, Christianity and Jesus were his only options, of that he is also certain.

I believe it is possible that while he still had a reasoning mind (he died from complications relating to dementia) that he just could have been talking to the God he knew existed, to the God who impressed him more than any other God, to the Jesus who was “enormously attractive” and “unique more than any other.” I believe he likely recalled his warm welcome at Biola University, his lengthy and rewarding friendships with several evangelical Christians such as Dr. Gary Habermas – far better friends than his atheist colleagues who turned on him quicker than an opened faucet spewing dirty water. I also happen to know that perhaps the greatest stumbling block of Dr. Flew as far as coming to personal faith in Christ was, as he observed more than once, the existence of eternal Hell (also divine sovereignty), and that this may have been resolved through his discussions with Dr. William Lane Craig and his argument for Molinisim.[4]

Part 8

Notes

  1. Flew, There Is a God, 24, 29, 157, 185, 187
  2. Dr. Anthony Flew, Dr. Gary Habermas, “My Pilgrimage from Atheism Theism: an Exclusive Interview with Former British Atheist Professor”; prepublication copy December 9, 2004, introduction by Philosophia Christi editor, Craig J. Hazen PhD; published in Philosophia Christi, Winter 2005 (www.biola.edu/philchristi)
  3. Dr. Anthony Flew, Dr. Gary Habermas, “My Pilgrimage from Atheism Theism: an Exclusive Interview with Former British Atheist Professor”; prepublication copy December 9, 2004, introduction by Philosophia Christi editor, Craig J. Hazen PhD; published in Philosophia Christi, Winter 2005 (www.biola.edu/philchristi)
  4. Molinism is a middle ground (called “middle knowledge”) approach attempting to offer a solution to a long-standing theological/philosophical issues associated with God’ s sovereignty/foreknowledge and human freedom. It was first introduced in the 1500s by Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina. See William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God: the Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge & Human Freedom and Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: a Molinist Approach. Although I think Keathley’s replacement of the Calvinist TULIP acronym with ROSES — Radical Depravity in place of Total Depravity Overcoming Grace in place of Irresistible Grace Sovereign Election in place of Unconditional Election Eternal Life in place of Perseverance of the Saints Singular Redemption in place of Limited Atonement is an improvement in many ways — Molinism nevertheless has some problems, as do all systems of theology in that knowledge in this life is never perfect, including theological knowledge. While theology should be loved above all else (excepting God) – because it is the study of God – it is as deep as the divine nature itself. I don’t agree entirely with Keathley’s critique of Calvinism, but the book is an overall excellent introduction to Molinism. I would still have to classify myself as a 4.5-point Calvinist with qualifications rather than a strict Molinist. (See the brief discussion of Molinism at monergism.com and the critiques (especially Campbell’s, “Middle Knowledge: a Reformed Critique,” (http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/Middle_Knowledge.pdf) For two excellent books on God’s sovereignty, see James S. Spiegel, The Benefits of Providence: a New Look at Divine Sovereignty, and Arthur Custance, The Sovereignty of Grace. (Being stranded as an unbeliever in a Canadian snowstorm with only a Bible to read in the cabin, he was converted and this book constitutes his personal systematic theology worked out as a result of being marooned for months.) The difficulty with God being absolutely sovereign/just and also ordaining whatsoever comes to pass and men simultaneously having genuine and full responsibility is only apparent (a paradox, not a contradiction) and is fully resolved within the infinite complexity of the divine mind, not that we should ever expect to understand it in this life – in fact it may take almost forever before we even begin to secure a grasp on it. (Obviously, our freedom is limited – we can’t fly, etc.; and, because, prior to regeneration, we are dead spiritually (Colossians 2; Ephesians 2), hostile to God and his law (Romans 8), a slave to sin (Romans 6), love darkness and hate the light (John 3) etc., we cannot choose Christ on our own power, no more than we can fly. Luther’s On the Bondage of the Will is very convincing (and his commentary on Galatians wonderful and to be recommended for any person struggling with perfectionism) – nevertheless human freedom is just as real as divine sovereignty. In his absolute sovereignty, God ordains what humans subsequently freely choose. Both are true: in this life we simply can’t reconcile them. This is one of the many antinomies of divine revelation, and only to be expected coming from a Mind which is infinite and has infinite knowledge of everything actual and potential throughout eternity. Just as divine sovereignty and human freedom are both true, so is God three persons or centers of consciousness in one divine essence, and so is Jesus Christ undiminished deity and full humanity (two natures) in one Person (the hypostatic union), and there are many additional examples in Scripture. When God says in the Old Testament that he does not desire the death of the wicked, but that they should repent and live – or in the New Testament, that he is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance, or when Jesus weeps over the fate of Jerusalem (having longed to comfort her, although she was unwilling) – these are true and genuine emotions within the heart of God: they are deeply felt. Just as freely decided are the human acceptance or rejections of God’s purposes. Dr. Piper has a good discussion in his appendix to The Pleasures of God on “Are There Two Wills in the Divine Nature?” (And while we are on the subject, his book on the exegesis of Romans 9 is excellent and probably definitive. Because of God’s knowledge of everything actual and potential (to an infinite degree) I believe that He has created the best possible world in both this life and in eternity. Is it so inconceivable for an infinite being – a God who is infinitely wise, loving, good, intelligent (for lack of a better word), just, fair, perfect, glorious, etc. – to never be able to reconcile his absolute sovereignty with human freedom – or with any of the problems that are raised in response to Calvinism or Molinism? (I can’t help but think that Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Edwards, etc., have dealt more adequately with these issues that Armenians, open theists etc.). Romans 9 is quite clear as to God’s sovereignty and so are the Scriptures which declare human responsibility and freedom. But rather than stressing God’s sovereignty or his omniscience, important as these are, practically speaking, I would rather stress His glory which includes these and much else. Regardless, there is already a vast literature on the subject not to mention theology itself, and the corpus of literature will continue to grow until the return of Christ itself. At that point, I suspect, much will be revealed and the wonder and marvel will never end, to life everlasting.

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