Another Atheist Who Became a Christian

Nichole Cliffe wrote about her conversion in Christianity Today.  (click to view the article, from which this image is taken)

Nichole Cliffe wrote about her conversion in Christianity Today.
(click to view the article, from which this image is taken)

I have been pretty busy with the thermodynamics class that I have been teaching at Anderson University, as well as finishing up the last book in my elementary science series. As a result, I haven’t had a lot of time to write blog posts. However, I did want to share a very interesting article that I recently saw in Christianity Today. It is about another atheist who became a Christian. Her name is Nichole Cliffe. She is a journalist who grew up in Canada and went to Harvard University. She has written for different websites, including Slate, The Hairpin and The Toast, a website she co-founded.

As long-time readers of this blog know, I collect these kinds of stories, because I am fascinated by the many ways that God reveals Himself to people. This one is a bit different from the others that you will find here, however, because it has little to do with science or philosophy. Indeed, the author has no regard for apologetics. She says that coming to Christ involved figuring out what she already knew. It’s an interesting viewpoint, and I encourage you to read what she has to say:

Nicole Cliffe: How God Messed Up My Happy Atheist Life

17 Comments

  1. David H says:

    Thanks for posting this article link.

    Nicole said: “No one could have in a billion years of their gripping testimony or by showing me a radiant life of good deeds or through song or even the most beautiful of books brought me to Christ. I had to be tapped on the shoulder.”

    I would identify her experience as being touched by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn’t take away our freedom of choice, she made a decision to accept it.

  2. Pam says:

    You can’t decide to follow Jesus. Nothing about the Gospel message teaches a decision. Believe and be saved, reject and be condemned. She stopped rejecting, she didn’t decide.

  3. Virginia I Stark-Vance says:

    I’m not denying Nicole’s profession of faith. But when she tells her “non-theist” friends, “Nothing has changed, though!” I wonder WHY nothing has changed. When I read the accounts of the woman caught in adultery, or the cripple who was healed, or Nicodemus, it seems that they were profoundly changed when they met Jesus. Nicole may not have mentioned repentance, but surely she perceived that Dallas Willard was saying, “We are ALL unworthy.”

  4. Haven says:

    Thanks for sharing that article! It was very inspiring to me how you could see the different Christian people who had influenced Nicole before her conversion. It’s a good reminder to all of us Christians to be continuous salt and light. So wonderful to see how Jesus drew her to Him (:

  5. David H says:

    Hi Pam – what an interesting viewpoint you have! From my point of view, belief is a decision, a choice that we make, because we have free will, our moral agency. And of course one must believe in Jesus in order to follow Him.

    If I understand you correctly, you are saying that the choice that Nicole made (and that I have made) to follow Jesus is merely an illusion. You seem to be saying that we have no free will, and that our belief is not the result of a decision but rather was pre-destined.

    Please let me know if I have understood you correctly. I have never before engaged in conversation, either in person or on-line, with someone who did not believe in free will. I would like to understand your viewpoint better. All of the well-known writers I am aware of (in the past century or so) who don’t believe in free will are atheists and Darwinists. But you seem to be religious. That puzzles me.

    As long as we understand that the words “decide” and “choose” are basically synonymous in this context, then yes, the Gospel Message (the Holy Bible, I presume) does indeed teach about it. For example, Joshua 24:15 says “choose you this day whom ye will serve”. There are many more scriptures urging us to make a choice, and teaching us the consequences of our choices. Please let me know if it would be helpful for me to list more such scriptures for you.

    1. Kathy Mokris says:

      David, yes, free will, choosing to have faith, and making decisions are issues discussed in Christianity today. In Lutheran teaching, God gives faith to believe – Ephesians 2:8-10. I don’t even know where to send you for info – just start looking around. Has American Christianity failed by Bryan Wolfmueller is a new book that discusses Decision Theology.

      1. David H says:

        Kathy, thank you for mentioning “Decision Theology”, and Wolfmueller, that gave me something to google. That led me to another term, “Monergism”, and some informative reading.

        It’s necessary to get out of one’s bubble and read ideas with which one completely disagrees. This has been a helpful exercise for me.

        When someone says “You can’t decide to follow Jesus,” I am determined to stand up and shout: Yes I can! And yes I did! Both history and current events are so full of religious persecution, with intolerance and bigotry rampant. In some countries it is physically dangerous to be known as a Christian. In other countries (like mine) rising secularism is threating religious liberty. I’m interested in working together with like-minded believers to preserve our liberty. We do have free will; let’s exercise it.

        1. Kathy Mokris says:

          David, you are welcome. Keep digging and keep reading. Every time I hear or read the gospel message, it’s always new and I understand more – basically every day I say to myself, “I didn’t really understand until now.”

          The Lutheran understanding of Biblical salvation is that you “receive” the gospel, not choose it, but you can reject it.

    2. Bruce Rennie says:

      David,

      The dilemma for some people with regards to “free will” is summed up in the idea that for God to be God, He knows the beginning from the end, therefore we are set in our choices, and there is no “free will”. For others, it is that if we have “free will” then God does NOT know the beginning from the end and therefore He is either a liar or doesn’t exist.

      This is a question that we can all lay at the feet of God for His perspective and He shows us each what is understandable to us. Since we are so limited in our understanding and ability, we only see the answer He gives as a very blurry picture of the reality that He has created.

      The picture He gave me was an infinitely branching tree, in which I will make various decisions and create a path through life. He sees every possibility and so He is and cannot be surprised by any of our actions. The choice is ours what path we take. This doesn’t mean that He doesn’t interfere in our lives. He does and He will, but we always have the choice of which way we go. Knowing what He knows, He will always be able to direct the outcomes to where He wants them to be. In no way does that ever negate that special gift He has given us of “free will”. He wants those who choose Him freely not automatons. Can we choose Him by our own strength and power? No, He gives us the ability in Jesus to do this. But whether we choose is still up to us.

      Now my explanation above is what makes sense to me and may make no sense or impact on anyone else. I am not God and cannot/do not have any ability to explain such matters in any way that is complete or even accurate in terms of what God has done. I can’t even understand with clarity simple things like matter and energy, let alone the big things like life and love.

      But then, I don’t have to. He is God and Him Alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One God.

      1. David H says:

        Hi Bruce –

        Your path sounds very similar to mine. I too have had to come to grips with the seeming contradiction of God knowing everything and yet us having free will. Our moral agency, our ability to choose, is indeed a gift from God. Our worship of Him means nothing it it is constrained, our devotion meaningless if it is not freely given.

        My way out of the dilemma of God’s knowledge of the future is frankly to stop overthinking it. God is a God of truth and cannot lie. There is no shadow of deception in Him. God’s commandments to us to believe, repent, choose Him, etc. all require voluntary action on our part to obey (with huge helpings of grace of course making that obedience possible.) God wouldn’t enact an elaborate charade to make it sound like we have free will if we did not. Likewise, if a just God is displeased with the unbeliever, belief must be a choice. So the goodness and justice of God means we have free will. Done and done.

        In simplifying the matter for the purpose of my daily walk, I do not mean to reject further light and knowledge God chooses to send us on the topic, in His good time.

  6. Kathy Mokris says:

    Thanks for sharing, Dr. Wile. I’m glad she didn’t omit starting point #1 – she was going through a tough time, worried about her child and simply said, “Be with me.”

    We live in a fallen, sinful world, and creation groans. Even the die-hard atheist, if he’s honest, will confess that. But apologetics alone will not convince a hardened heart that God became man, lived and suffered among us, and died for the sins of all people.

    God’s word has power; His word is not an earthly thing; He speaks creation into being. When His word is read or preached, it rips our hearts apart and makes us look at the sin that’s there. In her story, Rosaria Butterfield said she was reading and consuming the Bible, for her research. And, she was changed.

  7. Bill McClymonds says:

    David, the predestination free will issue has been around for a long time and there are many passages in the Bible that are used by each side to defend their position. Those with a Calvinist perspective are on the side of predestination when it comes to a decision for Christ. Those with an Arminian perspective are on the side of free will. Both sides seem to agree that God has to enable the choice of salvation in some manner. The disagreement centers around whether it is a free choice or one predetermined by God with no input from the person being saved.

    With passages in scripture teaching what seem to be different understandings of the situation, it takes a lot of study to come to a full understanding of each perspective. I am far from an expert in these matters but, from my perspective, I think there is something that God is communicating through scripture that is very hard for the human mind to resolve. On the one hand, there are scriptural passages that suggest God is the one doing the choosing. On the other hand, other passages in scripture tell us to make a choice about our salvation. I don’t think the human mind has enough understanding to be able to adequately comprehend how the two work together. My thoughts are not original, others have expressed similar ideas before me.

    It seems to me that the most sensible and practical thing for a person to do is to make every possible human choice that would result in his or her salvation. Since we humans don’t know the future and the choices God has made, we cannot operate or function in the realm of predestination. Functionally we are limited to the realm of choice, or what many people would call free will. We know from scripture that a person who sincerely repents of sin and turns to Christ will be saved if he or she continues to walk with the Lord after the confession and conversion. For that reason, it makes sense to me to make that choice and know with certainty that you have been saved.

    According to verse 13 of First John chapter 5, the book was written so that we could know that we have eternal life. This is something we can know as humans on the Earth. On the other hand, no one knows who God has predestined for eternal life. Babies are not born with a tattoo on the butt that says saved or unsaved. God knows who will eventually choose to follow Him but we do not. For that reason I think we should make every effort to make the proper choice to follow Christ while we are on the Earth. It makes no sense to me to say that God has already decided my fate so I am simply going to live my life in whatever way pleases me and let the chips fall where they will.

    Once again, the issue of predestination vs. free will has been discussed by theologians for centuries and my input is not going to resolve the controversy. You can read the opinions of many other people who are much more knowledgeable about the issue by researching on line or by reading books on the subject. It sounds like you are already starting to do that. Good luck in understanding the issues surrounding a very difficult and controversial topic.

    1. Bruce Rennie says:

      Good morning Bill,

      I agree with you that there are “controversial topics”, though some of these “controversial topics” have arisen more from people making molehills out of mountains and mountains out of molehills.

      A simple attitude to our study is that we need to make an effort to understand (as far as any of us can) the nature of God – His Holiness, His Love and His Purpose. One very dear friend (who is a bible scholar of many years) has said on many occasions that when “controversies” arise, then look at what it is doing to the relationship between you and God and you and your brethren.

      There are various areas, that my friend and I disagree on, but we have come to the place that even though we may have strongly held views, we don’t allow our differences in these views to hinder our devotion towards God and our seeking to understand and know Him and each other.

      Many years ago, under a different pastor, the pastor made some statements from the pulpit that I “knew” were wrong – theologically wrong. I had a strong disagreement with him and his associate pastor. So I studied until I found the proof I needed to refute him. God led me to that proof but it was not God’s intention that I use that to prove my point. In point of fact, it was intended to show me that I, too, was wrong. None of us were even on the same page as where God was. We were arguing over something that was so inconsequential that to this day, I have no idea what the subject matter was. I took the correction and pulled my head in. God wanted me somewhere else and I wasn’t there. He called and encouraged me to just get a move on and follow Him.

      As the years have progressed, I have seen many ideas promulgated in the name of God and if they do not match His nature, they get chucked in the garbage. God is good, He is Mighty and He is Daddy to us little children whom He cares for in ways we just do not and can not understand.

      So many of the arguments that we have are just plain nuts (crazy, bonko) and are just in the way of growing up and being like Him. We are supposed to be lights to the dark world around us and we are supposed to be disciples of the Living God and we are commissioned to go and make others disciples like us. Our success is not measured in how many “converts” we’ve made, but in how much we love Jesus and do what he has asked of each of us individually. The outcomes are His business. The question is – do we love and walk with Him (no matter what)?

      May your day be full of blessing and peace as you and yours walk with and in the Lord God and His Son Jesus.

      1. Bill McClymonds says:

        I know you directed your post to me Bruce but I am not certain if you were concerned with something I wrote or just making comments so I am not sure how to respond. I would be glad to respond to any question or concern you had about my post if you would please make it more specific. I do thank you for your kind words at the end of your post.

        1. Bruce Rennie says:

          Good evening Bill,

          My comment was expanding on the idea of “controversial topics”. There are many who readily jump in with various opinions and get very “hot under the collar” about various subjects. Predestination and free-will is just one of them.

          What usually arises out of such is that the outsiders (non-Christians) look at both sides and get “turned off” from actually looking for Jesus Christ. When put into perspective, instead of leading us to Jesus Christ, the subjects end up leading us in futile discussions unless we take precautions.

          The debate over whether or not a woman can be a pastor/teacher/prophet/apostle/evangelist is one such area.

          Another is the pre-tribulation/mid-tribulation/post-tribulation rapture.

          A secondary one on that is whether or not a rapture will occur.

          Instead of looking to Jesus and following Him where He leads us, the general expectation devolves into what specific beliefs and practices are the important ones.

          I have come across too many who profess to be Christian and yet condemn everyone who isn’t or condemn those who hold different backgrounds.

          When you start to argue over various points of view, you start to turn people’s attention away from Jesus Christ. He is the important one to know. If we as individuals lose sight of Jesus, we lose sight of the important things of life. We’re human and we get things wrong. If and when He wants to correct us, He does and it behooves us to then change.

          Whether we agree about various things or not, my only responsibility is to provide an example of showing someone who Jesus is and not promulgating my specific views about things.

          There is nothing wrong in pointing out the fallacies in particular viewpoints, especially when they are promulgated to draw people away from God the Father and Jesus. Evolution is one such dogma. And there are many others to boot.

          What we have to remember is that all of us are tarred with the same brush (sin and death) and that it took one man, Jesus Christ, to correct the problem for each one of us. There is not a person who has lived, is living or will live that Jesus didn’t die for. We are all important to Him and we are required to show His love to all, even when we know that there are many who will refuse it and in refusing it will endeavour to kill the messenger.

          At any rate, enough rambling. The Lord God and His Christ bless you and your house this day. May He keep you in His presence no matter what comes your way.

  8. Bruce Rennie says:

    Good evening Jay,

    As I am sitting here, I was thinking about the title of this post about another atheist becoming a christian and how I find all stories of people who come to be followers of Jesus Christ, whether they be thieves, murderers, black magicians, homosexuals, Moslems, gangsters, atheists, poor, rich, autistic or whatever, to be interesting and powerful.

    He has the most unbiased selection of people He calls. Every story is fascinating and opens one’s eyes to just How Great is Our God.

    God the Father’s blessings on you and your family. As an aside, I am still pondering on some of our previous conversations about various aspects of science and I am currently looking at appropriate responses for your consideration. That, however, is a subject for another day and another topic.

  9. Bill McClymonds says:

    Hello again Bruce. In your own words, your post tended to ramble. You remind me of a very good Christian friend of mine who would probably write the same way you do. I think you are trying to offer a criticism in a very polite way. I would prefer that you ask me a very specific question or state your concern plainly so that I don’t have to guess about how to respond.

    If I have to guess, you seem to be questioning bringing up a controversial topic, although you brought up several other controversial topics yourself in order to make your point. I was not trying to cause controversy. I was only trying to help David see a practical solution for a difficult issue in Scripture. I was not trying to get anyone upset. I was simply trying to offer an opinion for consideration.

    Part of your concern also seemed to be getting outsiders turned off from looking for Jesus. That is certainly the last thing I would want to do. As far as any outsider reading something that is biblically controversial, I think most who are not Christian and are reading Dr wile’s blog are probably very intelligent people. I’m sure most of them have read or researched many other controversies concerning the Christian faith. There is nothing secret about the predestination free will debate.

    Once again Bruce, I am just guessing with my reply. Let me tell you a little about my personal journey so you have a better understanding of what is important to me. My wife of 44 years died at the end of June after just under 7 weeks of suffering with a very uncommon intestinal presentation of T-cell lymphoma. She was extremely healthy, strong and active three days before entering the hospital with initial symptoms of severe vomiting. I wrote a four page message for her memorial service that is probably too long for a post. Even while dealing with her death, I was concerned enough about the non Christians who would be present at the memorial service to include a salvation message at the conclusion of the memorial message. I was not able to read the message myself because the wounds were too raw, and I could not have finished reading the message, so I asked our pastor to read it.

    OK, I’ve done enough rambling so I guess you are up again. Please make any reply as simple and plain as possible if you want my reply to accurately reflect your concerns. Thank you.