For some time, writers and culture watchers everywhere have been pointing out that there is a new brand of atheism that is emerging in the 21st Century. "New atheism" as it has been dubbed does not simply hold the belief that God does not exist; it also vigorously sets out to discredit and destroy the belief in God itself. Their target is religion and their weapons are reason and science.
Books that typify the new atheism trend include Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great. Books that combat this emerging perspective include Albert Mohler's Atheism Remix and The End of Reason by Ravi Zacharias and Lee Strobel. The former sell exponentially more copies, though I would argue that the Christian writers are equally capable thinkers and writers.
As much as atheism has changed, one thing remains the same. The chink in the armor of those who disavow God is that they cannot find a counter-argument for a transformed life. Great atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens can muster up scientific evidence and well-reasoned arguments that leave many Christians scrambling, but they still have not found a weapon that can slay the power of compassion, generosity, peacemaking, and love that flow from a life transformed by Jesus Christ.
I can think of two great illustrations. First is an article written December 27, 2008 in the UK Guardian by a british journalist and atheist Mathew Parris. His article was entitled, "As an athiest, I truly believe Africa truly needs God." After a recent visit to poverty-stricken Africa where Christians are both preaching and living out their faith in radical ways, he was compelled to write this article that asserts,
"Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGO's, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good."
The other is a video blog from Penn of Penn and Teller. He is a new atheist in every sense of the phrase, and he often makes fun of Christians on his blog in a way that even stings my tough skin. Yet, here he wrestles with the actions of one man who watched his show and brought him a Bible. It gets really interesting and raw about halfway through. His words are powerful at the end are moving. Though he is speaking about a man who is "proselytizing" him, what made moved Penn to step away from his sarcasm and consider Christianity was not the man's words, but that he was "not defensive," "truly complimentary," "polite," "kind," and a "very good man."
Reflecting on these things makes me more convinced that effective 21st Century evangelism is shifting from "tell me" to "show me." While we must never stop proclaiming the propositional truths of scripture, in today's world that is no longer enough. Today, proclamations of truth must be accompanied by visible expressions of that truth's transformative power. While we must not abandon reasoning, we cannot forget experience. A life that expresses the transformative power of faith in Jesus Christ is far more convincing to a post-modern culture than a hundred well-reasoned arguments.