Many people think the stories in the bible are mere myth and legend. As a historian, so did Frank. In today’s episode he talks about moving from a skeptical view of Christianity to one which changed the whole of history as well as his own life.
JH: Podcast will listen to the story of a former atheist to change their mind and came to believe in God the culture today it’s hard to find places and spaces where you can listen to two sides of a story but for the guests who come on this show they have not only listened to both sides they have thought and lived as atheists and they have thought and lived as Christians so this puts them in a unique position to give us insight as to what motivated them to become atheist but also what changed their mind we can listen and learn from both sides of their story.
Today we’ll be listening to Frank Federico who lives in Sydney Australia is a former atheist who came to Christian faith something he thought he would never do. Welcome to the podcast Frank. It’s great to have you on the show. As we’re getting started, tell me a little bit about yourself.
FF: Thanks for having me on. My name is Frank Federico. I’m a high school history teacher in Sydney, Australia.
JH: Tell me about the religious or secular culture there in in Australia.
FF: It’s really a highly secular society. It’s not common for people to openly talk about their faith if they have one. There are a lot of people in Australia that do have a faith. In the census that we had a couple of years ago, over half the population said that they were Christian of some sort and then there are other faiths as well. We’re quite a multicultural nation. But generally speaking, we’re not at a culture that is open in terms of religious belief. People are tolerant and people are welcome to have different faiths but it’s not one where we overtly talk with one another about what we believe
JH: So backing up then as you were a child, what was your sensibility about religion and Christianity or God or any of that? Were you raised in a family that had any religious beliefs at all?
FF: I was raised a Catholic. I went to Catholic schools all my schooling. I also regularly went to church until the age of 14 or 15 when I didn’t want to go anymore. So I had an understanding or limited understanding of Catholicism and certainly had experience in that. Both my parents were strong believers and regular churchgoers.
JH: I know you went to church. Did you have a belief in God? Did you believe that God was real or true or was it something that you went through the motions?
FF: I definitely believed it as a little kid. I remember going to church sometimes on my own and praying. I had some rosary beads that I would pray through. I remember having my confirmation and believing that. I was ten when I had my confirmation. But it was around the age of 14 or 15 where I started to drift away from that and refused to go to church with my parents. I was a bit too old for them to force me to go and if I did go and the back of the church and listen to the radio through an earpiece rather than pay attention what was happening. That may have embarrassed them a bit. In the end ,they gave in and let me stay home while they went. So, it was around that age 14, 15 when I really started to rebel against it and dislike it.
JH: That rebellion – did it come from a place of doubt like you didn’t believe what they were saying or you didn’t like it? What was it that made you push back against what your parents were trying to show you or teach you?
FF: It was a long time ago. When back upon it, it was a combination of frustration at school because we had religious education at school. I was reaching an age where I was starting to question what I was hearing. So, my experience of Christianity as a child and a young young teen was that I learned what we were meant to believe and I learned what we had to do but I was never taught why these things were true. And, I remember particularly when I was in year 10 around the age of 14-15 where I had a particular religious education teacher that year. He was very passionate and I found his passion interesting but also a bit grating. And, I wanted to ask him questions about why he held the beliefs that he had. I didn’t find the answers that I got from him particularly satisfactory and that became my experience also when I started asking my parents.
My parents didn’t have much of an education and they had a simple faith. They couldn’t answer the kinds of questions I was asking. But also it was coinciding with a time in my life where I was becoming more and more influenced by my peers and most of them had no interest in religion. We were interested in aspects of culture, music, TV, film that was very far removed from the kinds of things that Christianity wanted from us. it was a combination of those things.
that lack of any rationale for why I was doing these things as a Christian and also at the same time that culture that I was part of – that teen culture that I was part of that had no space or time for God. And that’s what began a fairly rapid moving away from any belief. So, by the time I finished high school which was the age of 17 I really had no belief at all. And, I was quite hostile to it. People wanted to raise it with me, I was very negative and I would argue back.
JH: You didn’t take God off the table. You were really hostile towards those who did believe. What do you think fueled this hostility?
FF: that I felt people who believed was stupid because I had never heard any rational reason for believing. To me it seemed like some superstition that people are born with and they don’t let go of. When I was studying science – this is probably another factor actually in what shifted me – when I was studying science again around that 9-10 period of my education, I kept on seemingly hearing things that contradicted with the faith. The perception that I had, that many had or still have, is that there is an incompatibility between what science has taught us about the world and religious belief.
So, I felt that Christianity and religion in general was belief without evidence. It’s faith and faith has no evidence. You believe in spite of evidence. You believe despite the fact that there is evidence that contradicts what you believe. And that for me was annoying . That made me angry because I was someone who is interested in reading. I was always a lover of history for a very long time. I was quite academic at school and this religion and religious beliefs seemed very non-academic. So, if people wanted to raise it with me I would ask hostile questions or I would make hostile statements because I felt they had nothing to offer me at all of any value or any credibility.
At the same time there is that aspect of my life where I don’t want to know. I’m now drawn into teen culture. I finished school and I’m at University and I start living the typical hedonistic type of lifestyle – pubs and clubs and all that scene. So, there’s not much place for God in all of that I didn’t want to know.
JH: That raises a question for me. When you were having these doubts and questions and you did ask your parents and they didn’t seem to have any answers. Anyone else that you approached, even if it was in a hostile way, did you ever encounter any Christians yes that seemed to have an answer or have some a rationale and or not underlying their belief? Or was it they would shrug and it confirmed your superstition?
FF: I asked my teachers at school in my senior years or particularly the man I mentioned earlier the one I had in year 10. But at University there were quite a few Christians on campus and I did notice them, I noticed their groups. And actually I remember a few times where I’d be I could see them from a distance like they were doing that evangelism to people as they’re walking by and I could see them. And I was watching them and as I was getting closer to them and I was saying ‘Please don’t stop me. Please don’t stop me. Please don’t stop me.’ And, they did. I didn’t engage. I didn’t want to engage because I felt like there was nothing that they could possibly say that I want to hear. I really had this feeling about Christians that it was almost cultish. And I didn’t want to know. Obviously, eventually I did find someone who I engaged with and had an ability to answer questions but that was unforeseen. That was a scenario I was forced into,. not one that I was seeking. It was one that I couldn’t avoid.
JH: Why don’t you tell me about that? Is this something that might have opened you up towards the possibility that there was something more? Did you meet someone? What happened?
FF: This is the turning point. So, this happened in 1997. I was responsible for a youth group at school in year seven. I was the coordinator and I was organizing a camp for these kids and I was trying to find teachers to come on the camp with me. I had a few people in mind and some friends that I wanted to ask and a couple of friends in the science faculty that I wanted to come but their head of Department refused me. She said look they always go on camps. You can’t have them. It was getting to one or two days before the camp and I was getting very desperate. I really needed another male to come on the camp and I said, “Look, can’t I even have one of them?” She said “No, but you can have this guy called David” who had started that year. we were towards the end of the first term and I had never really met him but I’ve heard about him. And, what I’ve heard about him was that he was a Christian and that was enough for me to not really want to have much to do with him, right? Such was my negativity towards Christians so I tried to avoid them.
13:32 So, I had never had a conversation with him at all but I was that desperate to find someone to come on the camp that I asked him because I had no alternative. He was willing to come. I thought perhaps I don’t have to have much to do with him on the camp. I’ll be too busy anyway so it should be okay. But the way things worked out was that there were three buses transporting these kids to this campsite and I end up boarding the last bus because I had to sort out payments and that thing. So two buses had left there was only one bus left. I get on that bus. There’s only one seat left on the bus and the seat is next to David. This bus trip is going to be about an hour and I’m going to have to talk to this guy for an hour. This was totally unwanted and unplanned.
14:29 After saying, “How are you finding school ?” because he was a beginning teacher. It was his first year of teaching and I was in my 4th year of teaching and getting through that. After 5 minutes, I was stuck for things to talk about and he was quite introverted. So I went at it. I said, “I hear that you’re a Christian. How does that work? You’re a science teacher.” Something like that. And, that was the beginning of the conversation.
15:00 For the first time in my experience, I met someone who was clearly intelligent and who could answer some of the questions I was asking and also who would say that he didn’t know everything. And also, the things I didn’t like that Christianity he didn’t like about Christianity. For example, I had issues with the institutional church, particularly at that point in time – the papacy. I actually had been to Rome and the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. I saw all this opulence and all this wealth and I found such a disconnect between what I saw there and what I understood the church was meant to be doing. And as a historian, I knew about the Crusades and the horrible violence down there in the name of God. So I asked him about this. “How can you ify this and ify that?” He was saying that “I don’t ify it.” He could see problems with those things. I thought, okay.
And, I had never encountered a Protestant Christian before. My idea of Protestantism was some cult. I really knew very little about it. This was my first experience with someone who was Protestant. I want to say this point, by the way ,I’m not anti Catholic at all and I’ve got many good Catholic friends and I have a deep respect for them and I know well and truly there are good things in Catholicism so I hope this doesn’t come across as anti Catholicism. It’s my experience at that point in time – that’s where I was and that’s what I saw and perceived.
16:51 So meeting someone from a different branch of Christianity and someone who could actually answer some of my questions and recognize some of the problems with Christianity was very different. that conversation and then other encounters – we actually shared a room on this campsite as well as it turned out. I didn’t want that either, but we spent a bit of time talking. That was a very important point for me because it broke down some barriers. I would never have spoken to him voluntarily. I would never created that conversation voluntarily. I was forced into it by circumstance. And, I certainly didn’t become a Christian from that conversation but I was softened by it.
Then the next week something strange happened. I was in this reading club, a history books reading club . Every month you get this brochure of history books that you could buy. On the cover page there was a book of the month that they wanted to really promote. And, the book of the month happened to be a book called Jesus, the Evidence. There’s no way I would have even contemplated reading or buying that book if it wasn’t for that conversation with David. I bought it actually thinking that this book will have no evidence that it won’t be much at all and then I’ll read this and I’ll be able to go back to David and be able to point out a few things that he’s got wrong, basically demonstrate that he was incorrect in his beliefs.
So, I got this book. It arrived a few weeks later and it was about 300 pages long or something like that but I read it very quickly. This was really an eye opener for me. I was stunned by what I read in this book. I did not expect to find the things that I found in there. that really was the real catalyst for me to progress to pursue this further. I can tell you a few things that I got out of that book.
JH: Sure! What did you find in the book that was so surprising?
FF: One of the things I thought about the New Testament was that the stories of Jesus were written hundreds of years later. I had this idea that it was like a mythology that had developed. I believed that there was probably some person called Jesus but the stories were like tales that developed over time and got warped and they lacked all historical credibility. Well, what this book to my surprise taught me was that that actually wasn’t the case, that the New Testament sources on the life of Jesus were written within the lifetime of people who actually knew him and were based on the testimony of eyewitnesses or possibly even written by eyewitnesses. That really surprised me. I did not know that. And, the fact that there was so many of them also surprised me. Why were there so many texts about this guy? Knowing a bit about ancient history, there aren’t that many texts from the ancient world and if there are there they tend to be about the rich and powerful, the great emperors and the like. But, to have so many written about this particular individual perplexed me.
But of course as an historian, the fact you’ve got multiple sources testifying about him and they’re early obviously made me think because, well, why is this here? Why had they written this? And, they are in agreement with each other to a large extent. So, I had to think about that. And then, the book had information that archaeological finds. And, that confirmed a lot of the place names and the people that are mentioned in the New Testament. Again, that surprised me because if it was written centuries later I wouldn’t have expected that. But, archaeology has confirmed a lot of what we find in the New Testament.
And then the resurrection event itself and the fact that there were so many accounts about that. I remember reading about Paul and what Paul said about the resurrection. He said that if the resurrection had not happened then Christian is a waste of time, the faith is futile. He basically staked everything on this event being true. And, you read it. You read this text and you can see they really believe what they’re saying. Not only do they really believe it, they were actually willing to die for it. I found that hard to understand because it wasn’t that they died for a belief because people will do that. People have always done that. But, they’re actually dying for something they claim to have seen with their own eyes – that Jesus actually died on the cross, that he was buried, that he rose again, and that they had numerous experiences with him. Then when given the opportunity to shut up about it because they were going to get persecuted, they chose persecution. They chose suffering. They chose death. And, that needed explaining. How do you account for these people testifying to this dead man this and making this particular claim?
So, I found all this quite troubling because I didn’t actually know how to answer it. My instinct was not to believe it, but it was hard. It was hard not to believe it. And, I had lots of questions still, a lot of questions about it. I wasn’t A Christian because of that, but it made a big difference reading this material. for the first time I understood that for Christians or at least for thinking Christians, their faith is not blind. That’s what I understood faith to be, blind belief without evidence, right? But they’ve got this evidence and then their faith follows from that. That was a shock to me and I had a huge number of questions that I wanted to pursue.
So I went back to David at school and asked him if he was willing to meet with me and answer some of those questions. Then, we did that at school but we found the time wasn’t enough.
So what ended up happening we went to a local Bowling Club after work one afternoon and that’s how it started. I bombarded him with questions and this happened for weeks – week after week after week for several months. In the midst of that, I found a Bible that my dad had and I started reading from Act of the Apostles because I thought I knew it was in the gospels. I didn’t, but I thought I knew! But, I started reading from Acts and I got a red pen. I started scribbling questions or underlying things that made no sense or seem stupid. That’s what happened. That’s how it began.
JH: So as an historian, you wanted to know what grounded historical reality. It’s interesting to me that you went from a place of really not wanting to know to really wanting to know. It took you on a pursuit of an investigation of your own to discover what was true. Was David able to answer some of those questions that you were red marking and outlining and circling and writing down?
FF: He could answer some. He couldn’t answer all and that was okay because I’d rather that than pretending to know an answer when you don’t. When he couldn’t find or didn’t know the answer, he would find out for me as best he could. But, he’s an intelligent guy and he was able to answer a lot of questions that I had. Obviously, it really helped me. But also the thing about David was he was the first knowledgeable, well-thought Christian that I’d met or at least I’ve had an opportunity to talk to at length with. And, as I got to know him also I could see in him something different that I had not really seen in in other people. There was something about his character that was a bit different to what I knew. He is quite a humble person and he’s obviously very patient to put up with my questions. And a lot of my questions were coming from a point of hostility was he was able to listen to that and handle that graciously.
I was very fortunate, blessed to have had this interaction with someone of his persona because if I’d met with someone who was perhaps more dogmatic or a bit aggressive or not so well thought through, quoting Bible at me for example, I don’t think that would have worked. that would have had a negative impact. So, the fact that he was a science teacher as well made a big difference to me because I didn’t understand how they could be reconciled but he clearly was able to reconcile them. Later on I met his fiance and wife who’s also a science teacher. A couple years later another Christian science teacher joined the science faculty at school so it became very obvious to me that there is no incompatibility between a scientist or science and Christianity.
It was a combination of factors in my case of meeting the right person that suited the person that I was but also I’m finding out for the first time the historical foundation for Christianity and that’s been important to me ever since.
JH: Obviously you are an historian and seeking after foundational truths about whether or not something actually really happened. But as you said, the resurrection – if that’s an historical event – if that didn’t actually happen, then the Christian faith is in vain. So, I can see why the pursuit of these issues is not only important but actually essential in terms of belief or nonbelief in Christianity. You said that you started reading the Bible. What was your view of the Bible before you started reading it?
FF: I didn’t trust it. As I mentioned earlier, I felt that it was unreliable in the sense that whatever was written there would have been written long after the events that it purported to describe. I thought it was a lot of mythology I didn’t know a lot about the Old Testament but I thought it was all mythology. And with the New Testament I didn’t think it was all the same type, but it was a mythology or at least a serious distortion of what happened. I felt that the people back in the ancient world really wouldn’t have known what they were talking about, that they were more gullible, that they were more likely to believe anything. I didn’t treat it seriously at all. I found the ethics and morality of Christianity to be inhibiting. I had this view at the time that whatever I felt to be right was right. Why should I allow anything to constrain me? That’s how I lived so I felt like it would be a burden to follow this religion and then stupid to follow this religion given its poor basis. The text of the Bible itself I had no regard for.
I actually remember when I was in high school, I literally did tear pages out of the Bible that we had in class when the teacher wasn’t looking and I’d throw it around the room. I remember being really amused when the teacher would tell someone to ‘pick up that rubbish and put it in the bin.’ That’s how I was. That summed up what I thought this text was. Not good. I was very negative about it.
JH: When you started reading the bible for the first time, what were your impressions of it? It seems to me that your story seems to be one of perpetual surprise – an expectation of some sort that when you entered into it seemed to be almost disappointed when you found something so totally different than what you were thinking it would be.
FF: Initially I was finding what I was expecting because I started with Acts and Acts starts with the ascension of Jesus. Supernatural things were happening pretty quickly in in in the book of Acts and I was struggling with that. And there’s the story of Ananias and Sapphira in chapter 5 which I’m not sure how familiar with that but that’s an old one. It seems too far-fetched. But at the same time as I was reading Acts, it was written in a way that clearly was not of a mythological genre. It clearly was written as a kind of history. It was narrating events. It didn’t feel like the kind of mythology that I was aware of from my own teaching and study that you would get from the Greco Roman world. It had a different feel about it. And being an historian I quite enjoyed Acts because it was written in a way I quite enjoyed reading it. I actually found it quite stimulating. At the same time I’m looking to pick it apart.
33:24 But, at some point David directed me to look at the gospels. that’s really when this spiritual transformation began. As I came to read more directly about Jesus and what he did and what he said. This process between the first meeting at the Bowling Club and becoming a Christian was about four months of these meetings. I felt that gradually I was changing or becoming more accepting of what I was reading and also coming to like what I was reading.
34:07 When I came to understand what the gospel actually was, that is that we are saved by grace, that is not through anything that we do, that salvation and forgiveness is free, that I don’t have to earn God’s favor, that God already favors me – I was astonished by that! I had no understanding of that as a Christian as a child. That was not at all part of my understanding. My understanding as a child was that when you do the wrong thing, you’ve got to go to the priest. You’ve got to make a confession then you’ve got to say certain prayers as penance and you’re going back and forth always trying to make up for the wrongdoings that you’ve done. That’s an endless process – one that you can’t win. But, reading and understanding actually what the bible teaches about forgiveness and God’s love – that was really beautiful and actually liberating. I never knew Christianity was like that. I thought Christianity was more rules. But, Christianity is actually liberating. It liberates you from that pressure. You don’t have to try and work for God’s favor. You have it already. That really moved me.
When I was able to articulate that to David, I know it moved him because it finally clicked. That’s what this is about! And given that I’d reached the point where I thought historically this has got a lot going for it, and given that the message of it is actually really beautiful, it happened! It happened! I can’t pinpoint the moment or day, but without me realizing it, I actually become a Christian. I really believe this. And it’s so strange because I never went looking for this. I never wanted it. I never imagined this could ever happen. And, in many ways this was going to cost me. I recognized and believed this was true. So, if it’s true, if I were to walk away from this then I would be deliberately living a lie and that would not be good. I couldn’t do that. So, I was convicted and that was the turning point in my life. And, 20 years later I’m still meeting with David every week. He is my best friend! I never mentioned that one!
JH: Who would have ever thought that guy you avoided could be your closest friend? That’s pretty amazing! Tell me how your life has been since that major turning point over the last 20 (no 23) years? How has your life changed from atheism to Christianity, being a Christian?
FF: A lot changed. Initially it was actually quite difficult because most of my friends obviously were not Christian and I was so different in my interests and even how I was behaving that it was quite uncomfortable for all of us. The kinds of activities that we used to do I, I couldn’t do them anymore. I used to like gambling. I used to like clubbing.I used to like drinking to excess. I would take drugs. I was sexually active. All of that didn’t fit with the person that I now wanted to be as a Christian. It was very uncomfortable for me to continue to go to those places. I continued to hang out with my friends and some of these friends I’ve had for over 20 years. It was very difficult. One particular friend who I’ve known since kindergarten absolutely savaged me for this. He took shreds off me on the phone and basically asked me the kinds of things that I would have asked as an angry atheist and I was not in a position back then really about to answer those questions. So, that was really it was very hard.
At the same time, I was withdrawing because I wanted to know more about God and I wanted to spend more time with Christian people. It was such a massive turning point. It was quite dramatic in a sense. The friends that I had for so long, we drifted apart so quickly and permanently. The only friend I had from my school days was the one friend who was a committed Christian and we still are friends which is good. But, that was hard. So, in terms of good friends, I had only David for that point in time. But then I joined the church and I met some really lovely people in that church and got to meet more Christians over time.
One thing that has changed is what I view as being important. My priorities in life shifted. I was overwhelmed with enthusiasm for wanting to know as much as I could about Christianity. I’m one of those people who have always got questions and want to always keep asking. The first minister at the church where I went was getting a little bit overwhelmed with all my questions but he did a really good thing. He put me onto this theology course for laypeople that was being offered by Moore Theological College in Sydney. It was like a correspondence course. It wasn’t like a high academic level course, but it was good for people wanting to know more who were in the pews at church. So, I took that on and I absolutely loved it. It was 21 subjects. I spent 11 years doing it. David did it with me as well so I was doing that while we were working. I loved it. I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to know more and more and more.
FF: At the same time, I would question things. I didn’t accept everything that I was told. It’s not as if I stop the skepticism. I had reached the point where I did believe the history and the evidence is strong for this being true, but it didn’t mean that I accepted everything that I was told. I wanted to learn answers to all the questions that I had and I kept on pursuing them. Then when I finished those subjects, I wanted to keep going, so then I actually took a year off work and pursued theological study at a higher academic level and I’ve done that a couple of times. I’ve taken a couple of years off of work to do that.
For me, knowing what’s true – this stuff didn’t bother me before. I wanted to live a good comfortable life and have fun and be happy. For me now what’s most important is knowing what is true and then trying as far as much as I can to live by that. That’s a real shift in my mentality and in the way I think. The way I view things like the purpose of life – What am I here for? Where is it all going? That completely shifted. For example, thinking about death a lot more. I never used to think about that very much but then I started to think about that more as a Christian but in a positive way because the resurrection hope is so amazing – there is more to our existence than what we have in this life and that when we die there’s going to be a new creation. We’re going to have new bodies and we’re going to have eternity. Knowing there is that end goal changes the way one thinks about ‘What are we doing here?’
I used to be very materialistic. I’m less so. Not that I’m not entirely but I’m less materialistic. I’m much more interested in knowing truth. I’m seeking wisdom. I’m seeking knowledge. I’m seeking stuff that has permanence and eternal value rather than transitory things. When my father passed away in 2016, having a faith made such a huge difference to the way I experienced that as it did for my dad because my dad was a strong believer right at the end. Knowing that my father was a believer in Jesus meant that I knew I would seem again. I knew that he was in a good place. Sometimes at funerals people will say things like ‘I know he’s looking down on me’ or ‘I know I’ll see him again’ but how do you know that? How can you be sure of that? Well, as a Christian I can say that and mean it. Jesus raised from the dead and he showed us that that’s what’s awaiting all of us. Although that was a very painful experience, having that knowledge really impacted the way I viewed my father’s passing and the way I still view it. It’s a good thing.
My character changed. I was a racist. I really was. I was pro-abortion. I remember one of my friends at school I’ve got a girl pregnant and very much encouraged him to push to get her to have an abortion. I was very hedonistic. I wanted pleasure of any kind no matter what. That’s all changed. That’s all changed because as a Christian I now understand what human beings are because God made us with a purpose and he gave us great dignity. The Bible says we’re made in his image. There’s something special about us. Not only that, God lowered himself to become one of us and then died for us. We’re precious. We’re precious from the womb to the tomb. And everyone is precious. Every human being is precious. Every life is important and I never used to think that way. I never used to think that way. I know you don’t have to be a Christian to think that way, but it was my conversion to Christianity that led me to think that way. So, there were really big shifts in my character and in the way I was thinking about the world and looked at the purpose of life.
JH: It seems that, listening to you, I’m impressed with how everything in your world is changed – your perspective about who God is, who you are, your relationship to others, your relationship to how you think about things in the world, how you experience life. It seems like a change, a turning over in about every area of your life. That’s amazing! As we’re as we’re wrapping up our time, Frank, what would you like to say to those listening to the podcast who are a bit sceptical about God and religion and Christianity as you once were
FF: I’d encourage people to explore the evidence for themselves and to ask questions. I know in my own case I had a lot of presuppositions about Christianity that proved to be well and truly false. I’m wondering whether other people would be the same. Ask yourself whether it is possible that what you think about Christianity might be flawed or actually skewed by something that you’ve heard before, some experience that you’ve had. I encouraged people to be open and to examine themselves and to seek answers to questions they might have.
49:24 I also encourage people to actually question what they actually believe themselves. I don’t think I did that very much when I was an atheist. It became my default position without thought. But now I’ve thought about what I probably needed to think about much more when I was an atheist – like if I was an atheist then I need to answer questions like
- How is it possible that life comes from nonliving matter and energy?
- How is it possible that the universe came into existence out of nothing?
- How is it possible that consciousness can emerge out of matter and energy?
- Why is it that human beings actually have significance if the universe is without purpose or without a creator?
- How can we trust our reason and our minds if it’s product of biochemistry?
- How can we say that people have human rights when humans aren’t actually that special or have got no eternal value?
All these kinds of things I never thought about.
50:35 What about suffering and evil? What does atheism offer in the face of suffering and evil? Nothing. There is no answer. There is no hope. Whereas, in Christianity God gave us his Son as the answer to suffering and evil.
51:06 I would encourage people to think through what you believe right now. Does your worldview answer these big questions satisfactorily? If not, consider Christianity. One of the things I was amazed with on my journey was how many other people far brighter than me, far smarter than me who became Christians. So many academics and scholars who are Christians in all kinds of fields. These are thinking people. Why have they come to these beliefs? I really encourage people to look into that.
51:40 One other thing I would say is that when you do meet Christians, don’t judge them. You’re not going to find any Christian who’s perfect. No Christian is perfect. I know I used to hold Christians up to higher standards and expect more of them and then accuse them of hypocrisy when they didn’t live up to them. But, please don’t judge Christianity by the behavior of Christians. Christianity is either objectively true or it’s false regardless of what people do. If you do encounter Christians who annoy you or who you don’t think are behaving particularly Christianly, bypass them and get to the core. Look at the sources and see what you find there.
JH: Look to Jesus, right? and see what you find in him. He defines himself as the truth. So, if you’re looking for truth, look to him. Frank, that’s stellar advice to those who may be skeptical or curious about Christianity. What would you say on the flip side to Christians about perhaps the way that they’re projecting themselves to those who don’t believe or how would you encourage Christians you are quite the learner how would you encourage Christians to go deeper in their faith perhaps and their understanding of their own worldview?
FF: It’s really important that Christians do spend time not just learning what to believe but why they can believe it. In I Peter 3:15 it tells us to always be ready to give an answer to those who ask us. In my experience as a young boy and young teenager, I did not find those kinds of Christians and that put me right off because I didn’t think they actually were answers. You never know who God might bring into your life and they might come up to you asking all kinds of questions and you need to be ready to be able to answer some of those questions or at least know where to lead them to get answers to their questions. Today, there are so many resources available. There are so many Christian thinkers and scholars, philosophers, apologists. The resources online are amazing. YouTube is a great resource. I still get got a great thrill out of watching Christians debate non-Christians and hearing both sides of an argument. I love hearing what atheists is have to say and how they challenge Christian belief. And, I love hearing that there are answers in response to those challenges. So, I do encourage Christians to be learners and never stop because you’ll never ever, ever learn at all. That’s something to do right to the end.
55:04 I would also encourage Christians to listen to people. I was guilty of this myself actually as a new Christian when I was talking to people that I was so enthusiastic about sharing everything I knew that I didn’t actually stop to listen to the kinds of questions were actually being asked or listen to the stories that people had. You can’t treat every person exactly the same way. Their particular issues, their particular experiences will need different answers or different approaches so be flexible in the way you are interact with people.
55:43 One thing that I encourage Christians to do is to actually engage in dialogue in the sense that you don’t have to be the only one to actually answer questions. Ask questions about the person’s beliefs. What do they think about certain things, about how the world came to be how we can know whether something is right or wrong. Perhaps there are people out there who haven’t really thought through those issues very much and once they’re made to they might find that their ideas aren’t particularly well founded. You don’t always have to be the one answering the questions. You can ask and perhaps help people to think through what they believe and then be more open to thinking about Christianity after that.
56:31. In my case it this wasn’t good and I assume for other people it might be the same, but I wouldn’t recommend quoting scripture at people. In my case that would never have worked because if you don’t actually believe the scriptures are reliable in the first place, quoting scriptures is not going to make any difference whatsoever. Try and work on showing why the scriptures can be trusted first before sharing the scriptures. That may not be applied to every person but there might be for some people .
57:28 Also don’t pretend to know answers when you don’t. I’ve actually noticed on some forums online watching how Christians interact with atheists and I cringe at some of the answers that I see there. They’re not thought out. They are just cliched. They are very vulnerable to attack and it’s a little bit awkward and embarrassing to see that. Sometimes it’s better to say, ‘Look, I actually don’t know the answer that question at the moment but I’ll find out for you.’ Sometimes it’s actually probably better to do a lot of reading first before you engage in apologetics if that’s what you’re going to do so. Just be aware of that.
58:19 The final thing – as far as possible, it’s important to be authentic as a Christian and that’s not easy because we’re all sinners but I know it can make a difference if people see that you’re actually living out what you say you believe. I was very fortunate to meet someone who was incredibly gracious, generous with his time and very humble. I hadn’t really met too many people like that. It made a difference . It made be more willing to listen. The Peter 315 quote it also says be ready to have an answer for everyone who asks you but to do so with gentleness and respect and I think that’s important too.
JH: You have certainly given us a lot to think about Frank. So much wisdom there not only from your knowledge but also your life experience. One of the things of course that I love that you said is that we need to stop to listen and I appreciate so much your coming on today that we could really listen to both sides of your story. There’s so much that you said, so much that we can learn from listening to you. and again thank you so much for coming on for telling your story. It’s going to be insightful for those who are curious you’re seeking, for those of us who have been believers for quite a while. We’re all inspired and encouraged by your story so thank you so much for being on.
FF: yes I really enjoyed it thank you