Hugh Price Hughes, an influential Methodist minister, was once challenged to a debate by Charles Bradlaugh, an atheistic political activist. Bradlaugh wanted Hughes to defend Christianity as being anything other than just a man-made religion based upon a fairy tale. Hughes agreed to the debate but only on one condition. He told Bradlaugh:
Most certainly; nothing would give me greater pleasure. But as conventional debates usually lead to nothing, let us have one on new lines. I will undertake to bring a hundred men and women of various sorts on the platform who will witness to the saving work of Christ in their lives. You can cross-examine them as much as you like. But you, on your part, are to bring a hundred men and women who have been redeemed from a sinful life by atheism.
Does it surprise you to learn that the debate was never held? This true story shines the spotlight on one of atheism’s greatest flaws: its inability to offer life-changing transformation to the hard-core sinner. I’m not talking about the upstanding citizen who pays his bills, treats others the way he wants to be treated, and never commits a sin that society would describe as egregious. Just about any system of belief — and even atheism itself is a system of belief — could add something to that person’s life, I suppose. No, I’m talking about the person who is a reprobate, a degenerate, a pervert, or a villain. Christianity has been transforming those types for 2,000 years. Atheism? Not so much.
Certainly when it comes to transforming the addict, atheism comes up small. Some of the areas in which addictions are currently occurring are the areas of: illegal drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, pornography, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, coffee, soft drinks, energy drinks, violence, greed, shopping, shoplifting, eating, working, sleeping, exercising, sports, watching t.v., surfing the internet, texting, and playing video games. Since atheism refuses to admit that God exists, the best it can offer the addict is some version of, “Physician, heal thyself.” Sure, this self-healing can benefit from the aid of doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, friends, family, and support groups, but God cannot be brought into the mix. In the world of atheism, He is the one help who is off limits.
Alcoholics Anonymous and Christianity aren’t what I would call mortal enemies, but A.A. isn’t a Christian organization, either. This is evidenced by the fact that A.A.’s 12-step program is careful to define God by using the phrase “God, as we understood Him.” That’s not the same as saying, “Jesus Christ” or even “The God of the Bible.” Still, though, the A.A. program does at least acknowledge that a divine power, a power outside the alcoholic’s self, is needed in order for the individual to conquer the addiction. Atheism, on the other hand, won’t condescend to even that simple admittance unless even the outside, higher “power” itself is humanistic.
What I love about Hugh Price Hughes’ idea for a debate is that it places the emphasis upon Christianity’s and atheism’s successes rather than upon their failures. As anyone who watches or reads the news knows, the millions of Christians who walk in moral integrity year after year never make the headlines, but the one Christian who murders someone, abuses his or her spouse, or embezzles money does. These are the examples who supposedly prove that Christianity doesn’t work, and as such they are the ones whom atheists love to present as case studies. This strategy doesn’t work so well, though, when large groups are required for the case studies. As Hughes knew full well, Christianity legitimately can produce those large numbers but atheism just can’t.
O Lord my God, I cried out to You. And You healed me, O Lord, You brought my soul up from the grave; You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. (Psalm 30:2-3, N.K.J.V.)
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, And He saved them out of their distresses. He sent His word and healed them, And delivered them from their destructions. (Psalm 107:19-20, N.K.J.V.)
Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:36, N.K.J.V.)