Shane Hayes converted to atheism. Then he converted to theism. His journey finally culminated in his conversion to Christianity. Hayes describes this process in his recent book The End of Unbelief: A New Approach to the Question of God:
“At age twenty, I came to believe that there was no God. That was my chosen creed. So I was an agnostic philosophically, and an atheist in personal belief. Years later, without changing my philosophical position, I embraced theism and later still, the Christian faith. So I am now an agnostic philosophically, and a Christian in personal belief. A believing agnostic.”
By saying that he is a “believing agnostic” he means to recognize that we cannot prove, in terms of empirical evidence, with total certainty, that God exists. But Hayes goes on to claim that the existence of the universe is itself evidence in favor of God, albeit in many ways ambiguous in that can be interpreted differently based on one’s presuppositions. However, Hayes maintains that “we who choose God can legitimately cite the universe—at the macro and micro levels—as evidence for our hypothesis.”
I in many ways enjoyed Hayes’ book, but my critique would be that in some places goes too far, and in others not far enough. He goes too far when he describes “Pure Theism” as the best alternative to atheism. That’s because the God he describes in Pure Theism is basically an enlightenment view of a deistic God whose attributes are deduced exclusively through reason and nature. I think the best counter to atheism is not theism, or some form of sophisticated deism, but the gospel itself in all of its simplicity and complexity.
Hayes places too high a value on human reason and our ability to know God apart from his revelation of himself. As C.S. Lewis once said, the only way Hamlet could ever know Shakespeare is if the great playwright penned himself into the plot; If he entered the drama he created. But in other places Hayes doesn’t go far enough, in my opinion, because he doesn’t lead the reader to a robust expression of the Christian faith grounded in the authority of God’s revelation; We’re left with a wobbly Christianity charged more by optimism in human potential than in the Christ who split human history.
But I am sincerely thankful for Shane Hayes’ conversion account in his book. He offers a transparent look at his personal struggle to cast off belief in God, what the Apostle Paul calls suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, that ultimately backfired. The book tells a powerful story of a reluctant and restless soul pursued by a God who stubbornly refuses to give up on prodigals.
My advice: read the book for the testimony not the theology.
One of the passages from the book that will stick with me is Hayes’ summary of his journey to faith measured by three specific mile markers: (1) The starting point was a desire to believe; (2) his belief was mingled with unbelief; and (3) it required a conscious effort to acquire faith and banish doubt. I think this process is probably more deeply biblical than Hayes may have intended. I’m thankful for a God who changes our desires (1), draws us to himself despite our doubts (2), and keeps us through our struggle (3).
As Hayes describes in his story, “There’s a way out of atheism.” There can be an end to unbelief. It begins with a change of desire. And that is initiated, not necessarily with a new approach, but by God himself, who, as Hebrews states, is the author and finisher of our faith.