Church pastors would not typically make the claim that it was actually an atheist who led them into ministry. That is, however, what happened to me. At least, it was an atheist who became the catalyst to leave my research position at Cambridge University and head into full-time ministry, a ministry of Christian apologetics, university evangelism and urban missionary movements.
I had completed my PhD in computer networking at the University of Canterbury in the beautiful South Island of New Zealand and was searching for the next step in my academic career. The standard stepping stone was a postdoctoral position somewhere else in the world, so I applied to research centres in a number of places. It was the offer from the Cambridge University that my friend Stephen encouraged me to accept.
“You chose Cambridge!” Jared exclaimed when I told him, which startled me. “I’m really worried about what will happen to you over there. England is such a secular place—you are very likely to lose your faith over there.” His comments brought a dampening cloud over my impending academic adventure, which continued to hang at the back of my mind even as I emerged from the British Rail train at Cambridge Station a few months later.
One of the first priorities was to find a place to stay. A couple of weeks at the YHA hostel in Cambridge proved to very interesting and multicultural, but financially unsustainable, so I kept searching until I found a place that was more affordable and comfortable as well. I finally found what I was looking for. It seemed perfect, being closer to my research lab and shared with the landlady Jane, who was a friendly young English woman completing her PhD in plant genetics.
Have I Moved into the Lion’s Den?
The picture of perfection came crashing down on the very first evening that I moved in. Jane found out that I was a Christian, which prompted her to tell me that she was an atheist and an evolutionist and that anything with spiritual content would not be tolerated in her home. I briefly wondered whether I had moved into the lion’s den! I thought that the best approach was to remain calm and unruffled.
The impending atheistic storm seemed to dispel rather quickly, though, and we developed a great friendship. Every so often, Jane would ask me if I believed in Adam and Eve or the Flood, to which I would respond openly that I believed in the Bible and so I believed its teachings on these topics as well. There was a growing warmth and friendship that developed in our shared home.
One Sabbath afternoon, I came home from church to find Jane sitting at the dining room table eating vegetarian pizza with her lawyer friend, Nicole. They invited me to join them for some pizza—an offer that a young bachelor could hardly refuse! We talked about the weather, politics and the state of economy for about twenty minutes.
Where is the Evidence that God Exists?
Then, Nicole turned to me, looked me straight in the eye and asked me the question I will never forget: “Where is the evidence that God exists?” It stopped me in my tracks, not only because I was racing to think how I would respond. I did not want to jeopardize the amicable friendship that I had developed over the recent months with Jane. So, I decided to tread gently.
“Well, consider the life of Jesus. He spent thirty years living in a carpenter’s home and then working as a carpenter himself. Then, he launched a three-and-a-half year public ministry that established the Christian movement that has gone on to become arguably the largest faith in the world.”
I paused, and then added, “I am not saying that is proof, but I am saying that it is significant and something which invites further exploration.” Nicole response floored me: “That’s not proof!” she retorted. “That’s not even evidence!”
Why Do I Believe in God: A Reason for My Faith
I went to sleep that night feeling that I had failed completely. For the first time in my life, I had been given an opportunity to provide a clear reason for my faith, and I had totally botched it. At the same time, I decided that I wanted to find out solid reasons why an intelligent person could honestly be a Christian believer.
The next day I went to Amazon.com and found a couple of Christian apologetics books, which I ordered immediately. About ten days later, they arrived in the mail and I tore open the package hungrily. Each day I would arrive home on my rusty, £50 bike at 5:30pm, hurriedly cook dinner and race up to my room to read the next chapter from these books. I found numerous reasons to be a Christian. Five of the key reasons were:
- The origin of the universe: Science and philosophy confirms that the universe had a beginning, which points to God as the Cause of the universe.
- The fine-tuning of the universe: Science has discovered that the universe is finely-tuned for life, which points to God as the intelligent designer of the universe.
- Objective moral values: We have an innate awareness the objective moral values exist, and these can only be objective if God is the moral foundation of these values.
- The life, death and resurrection of Jesus: The life of Jesus was distinctly supernatural, with numerous Biblical prophecies predicting many key aspects of his life. He also carried out a public ministry of supernatural healing. The key event, though, was his resurrection from the dead, which is clear historical evidence of the existence of God.
- Personal experience: We can personally experience the reality of God, which can provide us with first-hand evidence of his existence.
The more I read, the more a spiritual fire started to burn inside of me. If Jesus really was raised from the dead, then this definitely confirms that God exists. But not only that, it confirms that God loves us and that we can have eternal life if we put our trust in Jesus. I reached the point where I felt I just had to devote my whole life to sharing this message.
Which is what I have done. An atheist become a catalyst for me to become a church pastor and urban missionary. The fire continues to burn inside of me.
Contributed by Sven Östring