DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Journey into Unbelief – Part II

Written by: on February 26, 2015

We have all encountered them. Those individuals, that, as you attempt to share a loving personal God with them, simply replied back that they believe a god may have been instrumental in the whole creation of the universe. They concede that this god may have implemented natural laws that currently guide said universe with a relative order and logic that we can both learn and adapt to our favor. But a personal god, not a chance. If there is a god he does not really care about the individual or the day-to-day dealings of humans upon his earth. For whatever reason, he is too grand, too busy, too holy, or whatever, to be interested in the likes of me or any other measly human being upon this earth.

How did we, in the western, educated, civilized society get to a point where, though we may attest to a higher being and his creative ability, have lost the connection to him personally. Taylor describes this as the great turning point that brought about our current exclusive humanism as being the viable option in today’s “civilized” world. This anthropocentric shift has a genesis in what Taylor refers to as a Providential Deism.[1] Yes, there is a belief in a creator, but not a personal, interacting God that cares for his creation. He has been replaced with an agreed upon impersonal order.

This reminds me of a missionary story that missiologist often share. It is a story of a man who traveled to another country to reach a certain ethnic group. Though he desperately tried to reach this group, there was very little to no success. His housekeeper, who happened to be from another ethnic group, saw the struggle of her employer and questioned him one day as to what he was attempting to do here in her country and with that other ethnic group of people. He told her that he was there to bring the message of God. She replied and said that her ethnic group had a mythical legend of God also. Though she did not represent this missionary’s target group he went ahead and listen to her story.

She began to tell a story of how her people believe in a God who was both loving and caring; the creator of all things. But through an unfortunate mistake they lost the book of their God. The missionary concluded that there must be some syncretistic-animistic-irrelevant-mythical God who handed down some enchanted and mysterious book that she and her people sadly believed in. She began to try and remember what her God’s name was. After several attempts she pronounced the Hebrew name “Yahweh.” The missionary shot straight out of his chair, for he, having been educated in Hebrew, recognize the name immediately. He brought out his Bible and began to share stories from the Old Testament of Yahweh. From generation to generation this housekeeper had heard some of the same magnificent stories of their God.

Her excitement could no longer be contained. She grabbed the missionaries Bible and ran out of the house. Astonished by her action the missionary race after her. They arrived at her village and in her own language she began to shout “we found the book, we found the book.” True to this housekeeper’s description, the villagers, being all familiar with the story of their God and his book that they failed to preserve, came out in astonish jubilation. Revival ensued! They had found the book.

We in the civilized west have not lost God’s book, we have chosen to set it aside. We have methodically changed our understanding of God and his relation to His creation. Taylor defines this as a “drift away from Orthodox Christian conceptions of God as an agent interacting with humans and intervening in human history; and towards God as architect of the universe operating in unchanging laws.”[2] That is the simplistic understanding of Deism. Least we fall into an implicit petitio principii (the logical fallacy of assuming the conclusion in the premises) that Taylor warns against regarding Deism, he unpacks this slide to Deism which he understands reason was the architect of, stating that “scientific reason was at once an engine and beneficiary of disenchantment, and its progress led people to brand all sorts of traditional beliefs and practices as superstition.”[3] Thus, Deism, and in Taylor’s thesis, Providential Deism, methodically disintegrated the bedrock of religious truth by systematically removing the essence of religious truth from “participation in certain community practice of religious life, into which facets of prayer, faith, hope are woven.”[4] Unitarianism played its role in the degradation of truth by attempting “to hold on to the central figure of Jesus, while cutting loose from the main soteriological doctrines of historical Christianity.”[5]

We see through Taylor’s mammoth work that every person who believes in a personal God through Jesus Christ needs to not set the book of God aside, but rather, aspire to know God with all their mental capacity. We cannot succumb even to Count Zinzendorf’s pronouncement that “Whoso wishes to grasp God with his intellect becomes an atheist.”[6] We must continue to battle against the scandal of the evangelical mind i.e., that there is no mind. Let us read, study, and know the God of the Book even in this secular age.


[1] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007), 221.

[2] Ibid., 270.

[3] Ibid., 271.

[4] Ibid., 293.

[5] Ibid., 291.

[6] Ibid., 314.

About the Author


Mitch Arbelaez

International Mission Mobilizers with Go To Nations Living and traveling the world from Jacksonville Florida

11 responses to “The Journey into Unbelief – Part II”

  1. mm Deve Persad says:

    Mitch, what I am challenged about from this excellent story is how we can have a predisposition about how our ‘mission’ work is supposed to go. We have a target and a strategy. We even have a Bible in hand as we go. But what we lack in an awareness to discern how Our God might be at work in those around us, even those we didn’t consider in our preparations. And then, as your story reminds us, God was there before we were…very humbling indeed. Thanks for the challenge.

  2. Michael Badriaki says:

    Mitch, another great blog. I believe you have confronted the core issues that Taylor raises and that disciples of Christ should be concerned with. Your question, “How did we, in the western, educated, civilized society get to a point where, though we may attest to a higher being and his creative ability, have lost the connection to him personally.” is a timely one.

    For many here in the west, the search for personal salvation might easily seem like the effort of the mind. But as you quoted Count Zinzendorf’s pronouncement that “Whoso wishes to grasp God with his intellect becomes an atheist.” just a mental quest is not enough. You are write we need God’s book for it is food for the soul. Man shall not live on bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. We need the Lord, His word, the Holy Spirit and a church set apart.

    “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

    Thank you Mitch!!

  3. Mitch,

    Great thoughts here. I would love to know where that missionary story originated. Do you know if there is a reference for this?

    As you know, I am a struggling former evangelical/charismatic who is struggling with issues of faith. I have seen so many excesses in my 50 years as a Christian, either emotional excesses or Bible bashing excesses. Sometimes it is hard to pick out just what is true anymore. God has been gracious with me on this journey, and He will not let me go, this I believe with all my heart. Your post was helpful. I will read it again as I try to synthesize its depths.

    Would love to chat with you more about this post next time we get together. Hong Kong will be full of good conversations, I think!

  4. Russ Pierson says:

    Mitch, this is excellent. I loved how you started part 1–“Charles Taylor is a god!”–because I, too, really enjoyed Taylor and still finding myself bathing in his conceptions a few years down the path now.

    Your final paragraph has me thinking hard–thank you for that … I think! 😉 I love your mashup between Noll and Taylor, but I wonder about the link via Zinzendorf. I kind of think Taylor might agree with the Count (who is, by the way, my second favorite count after Count Chocula). In its context in “A Secular Age”, Taylor cites Zinzendorf as an example of a new, warm-hearted Christian orthodoxy emerging from the Romantic period in contrast to the stark, cold intellectualism of the Enlightenment.

    Whatever the case, I’m sure of this: I love reading Taylor, I love reading Noll and I love reading Arbelaez!



    • Russ, thank you for your comment here. I do agree with you that Taylor was citing Zinzendorf as he was battling against the rationalist Deism of his time. Those who favored intellectual fascination with doctrine and yet, as he says, did not engaged the whole heart. Yet as we learn from Noll’s book the scandal of the Evangelical mind was that it was a progress through a series of events that led to the issue of evangelicals not appreciating academic learning. It was very surprising that the count would have said this statement. I had to reread it several times before I could believe it. Though I do not think the count, evidenced by the influence on Wesley and Methodism, that he would have been opposed to academic learning but it cannot be dismissed that his statement here was perhaps taken out of context and possibly used for the lack of academic learning even within our ranks today.

  5. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Mitch
    What a great blog! And an interesting missionary story indeed. I wonder how many similar cases there are in unreached people groups. Quite a few I imagine.
    I must admit. I also think part of the problem in the West is simply that, even if someone does believe that God is real and personal, they don’t want to give up control of their lives. They don’t want to hand over their lives to God because they know it’ll require sacrifice and the walk of faith. Materialism is too attractive.
    How easy / difficult is it in the USA to share Christ? Are people more open to God than in the UK?

    • Liz, you are so correct in identifying the issue as being one of control. Too often people do not like the idea that they are in need of a Savior. In the West, especially the American mentality, there is a bravado and a self-perpetuating idea of manhood or individualism that makes it very difficult to embed the notion of needing a God of any sort. Oftentimes I come across an ideology that seeks to be spiritual without being sacrificial. It’s an understanding that says, “I like the idea of a God who can rescue me out of my tough situations but leaves me alone the rest of the time.” So I guess to answer your question, it is difficult to share Christ and have a receptive audience. Is it the same in Wales?

  6. mm Ashley Goad says:

    Mitch! Preach it, man! I love this blog. This story is a perfect illustration for mission, for this book, for life, for everything. I wonder a lot about this missionary. Did he ever ask questions? Did he ever pause to listen? What were his first acts upon arriving in the village? What can we learn from his venture on how to spread the Gospel in the future? Oyyy, so many questions! … One thing’s for sure – I’d listen to your sermons and stories anytime.

    • Thank you Ashley. Very nice to say that you would listen to my stories anytime and anywhere. Ha! I have always heard this story in a teaching setting where we are to learn that God often does things outside the box of our preconceived ideas or MO.

  7. mm John Woodward says:

    Mitch, thank you for a wonderful post. I love your story – it reminded me of the book I once read called “Eternity in Their Hearts” that shared many similar stories of those whom God had prepared with knowledge of a book, of missionaries, of other indicators that He would bring them the full message. It is encouraging to understand that God is at work in so many ways that “break the mold” of modern scientific thinking, that show that He indeed is at work to make Himself known, if we would simply open our eyes and see. I like your conclusion especially, that even if open our minds, we can see…rather than being afraid that opening our minds will lead us to disbelief. Your post was a great encouragement. Thanks Mitch!

    • Yes John, I have the same book on my shelf and have begun reading it several times. I’ve not totally completed it but I have appreciated the reading thus far. God is always working even when we think he is not. I recall that the book opens up with a story of the unknown God. The one that Paul addresses in Acts on Mars hill. Great stories!!

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