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Penn and Theism

Penn Jillette, magician and materialist, has a book recommendation: the Bible, a book, he suggests, "by a bunch of guys in the desert." And, advises Penn, "if you're considering becoming an atheist, read the Bible from cover to cover. No study guides, no spins, just read it." The consequence, he says, is fairly certain: "Sometime between when God tells Abraham to kill his son and when Jesus tells everyone to put him before their families, you'll be an atheist."

The problem is that if one is already considering atheism as a viable option, one is already predisposed to deny the truth of the Bible. When one reads it in unbelief, one realizes that the Bible portrays God as being God and human beings as human beings. This is annoying to the reader because, by its nature, unbelief assumes autonomy and self-glorification.

The Word of God is not a mere persuasive piece, an attempt to win over skeptics. Rather it is a divisive piece, dividing bone from marrow (Heb 4:11) and believer from unbeliever. The Bible does not begin with common ground between God and those who deny his existence. Rather it begins with God and then describes everything in those terms. There is no reasonable considerations of alternatives. Alternatives are described as idolatry, a sinful rejection of the one true God. Atheism has never derived its view from merely being unpersuaded, but from people who are, by nature, hostile to God. The Bible is not something that the reader judges, but something that judges the reader.

Some, when confronted with the truth of scripture, realize their need of God. They read the good news of Jesus and believe. For them, the Bible carries the message of salvation - that Christ has died for their sin and offers the gift of new life. They are "born again," as the Bible describes it, and begin to see the Bible as God's word to them.

Others, similarly confronted, are driven away, finding that the Bible raises their hackles. It leaves them indignant, annoyed that God is sovereign. Sometimes it makes them annoyed at Christians, stupid people who believe stupid things.

Yes, you should read the Bible. But don't expect to be won over by a salesman; expect to be confronted by the truth and discover the unending love of God in Christ.