Larry Taunton is a man I have admired for a while now. He is the founder and executive director of Fixed-Point Foundation, which is an organization dedicated to engaging a secular culture with the truth of Christianity (www.fixed-point.org). Larry also hosts a radio show called “The Larry Taunton Show,” which you can find as a podcast on iTunes. I had the opportunity to hear him recently at an apologetics conference in Greenville, SC. While I was there I picked up his book, “The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse The Corruption of Unbelief.” In its pages I found a book on apologetics unlike any I had previously read.
As a historian, Taunton is greatly concerned by the dangers of an atheistic worldview. Without an ultimate authority, where might this type of thinking lead us? One need only look to the 20th Century. Atheism was the driving force behind Communism, which made the 20th Century the bloodiest in human history. Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett note,
“The body count from the two great barbarisms of the twentieth century, communism and Nazism, is extraordinary on its own. Communism’s toll ran to perhaps 100 million: 65 million in China, 20 million in the Soviet Union, 2 Cambodia, 2 million in North Korea, 1 million in Eastern Europe and 10 million in various other spots around the globe…Adolf Hitler’s death machine was equally effective, but ran a much shorter course.” (Vincent Carroll & David Shiflett, Christianity on Trial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry, San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2002, pg109)
In his book, Taunton recounts a conversation he had with the late Christopher Hitchens. These two men, despite their radically different beliefs, had become close friends. Taunton met Hitchens while sponsoring a debate. Their friendship grew, and Hitchens would eventually call Larry to let him know he had just been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. Hitchens had not even informed his family yet. In the following months they would engage in private debate (while driving through Yellowstone National Park, reading through the book of John) as well as public debate (see the dvd “God or No God?”). Larry recounts in his book that, on one occasion, he asked an interesting question of Hitchens. They had come to an agreement that man, at his very nature, is evil. Larry then asked, “Then it seems to me…that the question is this: which philosophies or religions restrain our darker impulses, and which ones exacerbate them?” (pg 4) At this point, one would expect Larry to go into an apologetic of the evils of atheism throughout history (of which there are many examples) and the goods of Christianity (of which there are many examples). While there are many books on this subject, and while Larry does indeed discuss some of these topics, the book takes an unexpected turn at this point. Rather than turning into an “Oh yeah, well your worldview…” kind of argument, he tells the story of how his family adopted a young girl from Ukraine. Her life would become the ultimate apologetic.
Larry’s wife had taken their three sons on a mission trip to Ukraine, on which they worked in a filthy orphanage known simply as #17. It was here they met Sasha, and they immediately fell in love with her. The process of adoption was soon put into motion, and it would be a journey that would impact all of them forever. I will not go into detail of all that they experienced, but let’s just say, read this book before you consider adopting a child from Ukraine! It will make you clench your fists in anger at the corruption, bureaucracy, and incompetence of the Ukrainian adoption system, and will tug on your heart to consider adopting a child out of this horrible atmosphere. It is a society that does not care for the poor or the needy. In fact, it is a culture built on the worldview of atheism. Larry’s experience in Ukraine taught him two things: 1) The hopelessness of atheism 2) The hope of Christianity. The story of how Sasha is brought from one world to another paints an excellent picture of how Christ brings us from death to life when we accept His grace.
Larry explains how “The Grace Effect” simply refers to the difference Christianity makes in a society. What he is not saying is that atheists never do good things or Christians never do bad things. His point is that Christianity gives a moral fiber and foundation to society that cannot come from anywhere else. True, because we have God’s law written on our hearts (another way of saying “We have a basic conscience that helps us determine right and wrong”) we can do “good” things while not necessarily out of a Christian faith (although I would argue even these “good” things are not good in God’s eyes if they are done out of unbelief). However, does society benefit more from atheism or Christianity? Hitchens, while he was still alive, claimed that religion makes the world worse but atheism would lead us into a sort of utopian society. Larry, having witnessed and experienced a culture in which Christianity is suppressed and actively pushed aside, would say the opposite. Many atheists in America today claim to offer a morality apart from Christianity, when in fact they are drawing from what the Bible teaches. Upon a worldview of Darwinism, there is no such thing as morality. There is simply pain and pleasure. Who is to say that one thing is “good” and another “bad?” Only God, as Creator of everything (including the very idea of morality, which is whatever aligns with His perfect character) can give a society an objective moral compass.
Now, at this point, objections may come like “Yeah, well then how do you explain the Crusades, or the Inquisition, or the Salem Witch Hunts? Christianity has done much evil!” I would say that Christianity has not done this evil. Nor has Jesus. People have done evil in the name of religion. But this does not disprove the truth of the religion (just as the fact that atheist have done evil doesn’t alone prove that atheism is false). It merely shows that we do not live up to its standards. I believe the only reason we can even discuss morality is because God has created us with this concept in our nature. Where does morality come from if atheism is true? The question is, as Larry mentioned, Which worldview suppresses evil and which one encourages it? A worldview that says “Survival of the fittest” or one that says “Love your neighbor?” These are the kinds of observations Larry notes while describing the frustrating, eye-opening, but ultimately deeply fulfilling process of adopting Sasha out of the horrors of her atheistic culture.
If you are looking for an inspirational story, as well as a thought-provoking critique of worldviews and their effect on society, read this book. It is written in an intelligent, yet accessible manner. Whether you are a scholar, a skeptic, or simply a layperson in search of truth, you will benefit greatly from this book. You may not agree with everything Taunton says, but you will be forced to wrestle with some of the most basic questions of life and morality. You may also find your heart increasingly softened towards “the least of these” who suffer in our world, and who are in desperate need of love that Christ alone can offer.
Other books you might be interested in on this subject:
“Christianity on Trial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry” by Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett
“Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God” by Paul Copan
“Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies” by David Bentley Hart
“The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith” by Peter Hitchens
“Moral Apologetics for Contemporary Christians” by Mark Coppenger
Also see these debates on dvd (available at http://www.fixed-point.org):
“Can There be Morality Without God?” Peter Singer vs. Dinesh D’Souza
“God or No God?” Christopher Hitchens vs. Larry Taunton
“Is God Great?” Christopher Hitchens vs. John Lennox
“Can Atheism Save Europe?” Christopher Hitchens vs. John Lennox