Connecting Columbia Union Seventh-day Adventists

Is Ryan Bell Right or Wrong? Pastors Weigh In

Is Ryan Bell Right or Wrong? Pastors Weigh In
Interviews by Taashi Rowe

Ryan Bell, a former pastor in the Southern California Conference who once pastored in the Pennsylvania Conference, recently gained national media attention for trying to live as an atheist in 2014.

We asked several of our pastors what they thought of the experiment and for tips on what to do when struggling with your faith:


Shane Anderson, pastor of pastor of Potomac Conference’s New Market (Va.) church Shane Anderson, pastor of pastor of Potomac Conference’s New Market (Va.) church

1. Reading the Bible each day leaves you well prepared for tests that might come.

“As a Christian, I like to keep up on what the competition is thinking and doing. I’ve read and/or watched presentations by atheists like Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, etc. I’ve also had personal, polite, and very lengthy conversations with atheists, and been richer (and at times sadder) for it. But I do not recommend these things for those who don't know much about the Bible, who don’t like to think deeply, or who can’t stand to live for any length of time with unanswered questions. Atheism, after all, is a very old religion. It does have some elegance, some attractiveness about it.

Those with a loose hold on Christ or [who] are poorly anchored in the Bible should stay away from atheist authors, for those authors are quite good at pushing over shoddily constructed caricatures of the Christian faith. But I find that reading the Bible regularly and prayerfully going through each day with Christ leaves me well prepared for whatever tests might come. I also read Christian apologists like Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Timothy Keller, and many others, as well as watch YouTube clips by our own Clifford Goldstein in which the Christian faith is ably defended.”—Shane Anderson, pastor of Potomac Conference’s New Market (Va.) church


Steve Murphy, pastor of Potomac Conference’s Wheaton (Md.) church Steve Murphy, pastor of Potomac Conference’s Wheaton (Md.) church

 2. Honestly Face Your Doubt

“To the potential horror and consternation of my church members and colleagues I find this decision by the pastor refreshing and sobering. Many people spend years living without God and go to church every week. Reflecting on your spiritual journey is something many of us just don’t do for all kind of reasons. We live in a fast-paced world, so now, more than ever, we need to step back and look at what we are doing and why. I personally would not spend a year reading atheist books, or trying to live my life without God. I would not recommend that journey to anyone who has doubts or struggles. I would suggest that a person honestly face their doubts, explore them and take them to a trusted person who can walk with them and guide them. All of us struggle and question at some time. Suppressing our questions leaves us mired in immaturity.”—Steve Murphy, pastor of Potomac Conference’s Wheaton (Md.) church


Stewart Pepper, pastor of Mountain View Conference’s Charleston (W.Va.) church Stewart Pepper, pastor of Mountain View Conference’s Charleston (W.Va.) church

3. Honest questions are not something you should feel guilty about.

“First, you cannot live ‘as if’ there is no God unless you first believe that there is no God. Being atheist does not mean I act like God does not exist, but rather that I actually believe He does not exist. To act “as if” there is no God when one believes there is a God creates a cognitive disconnect that leaves one feeling unfulfilled because the inner core beliefs are being ignored.

…I don’t know if I’ve ever tested my belief but I’ve certainly questioned several aspects of it at different times. My suggestion would be to remember that honest questions are not something you should feel guilty about. If you are living your life toeing the church line on every topic all the time, I would suggest you are nothing more than a brain-washed robot. Questioning and understanding how our world and our God works is not something to be ashamed of—that is how intelligent people deal with competing world views and grow into the one they believe.”—Stewart Pepper, pastor of Mountain View Conference’s Charleston (W.Va.) church


4. Take this journey with others, not alone.

“I believe that seeking answers to tough questions is part of our life journey. When we stop seeking we die, intellectually and socially, and even spiritually. One positive thing Ryan is doing is to take this journey publicly. Which means he is opening himself to listen to various perspectives. Others involved in this journey with him (regardless of where they stand spiritually) can help him keep a balance. The danger comes when we keep our journey to ourselves—not open to share and listen to other voices. When we are the only voice, we can convince ourselves of anything. After having a Christian experience for so many years, I really don’t think that he can eliminate God out of his life in one year. Christianity is more than a belief. It is a culture, life tradition and part of a person’s identity and history. One can never change their personal history, one can only add to it.”—Ann Roda, pastor at Chesapeake Conference’s New Hope church in Fulton, Md.

 We also want to hear from you! What do you do when you’re struggling with your faith? Let us know on our Facebook page.

Join the Visitor's Twitter chat, Jan 21 at noon, EST. @visitornews Join the Visitor's Twitter chat, Jan 21 at noon, EST.

Interested in this topic?  Join our January 21 Twitter chat discussing why 20 percent of the public and one-third of adults younger than 30—don't identify with any religion.


So let's see, in terms of words of clergy wisdom for Ryan Bell, we have one admonistion to not read two many atheist books - could be dangerous to people not well educated/brainwashed into their faith, two versions of "doubt is fine as long as it leads you back to Christ" and one statement that losing ones' christianity is impossible.

I must say I am surprised by the number of Christians (especially pastors) who are either applauding Bell for his very public decision or at the very least considering it healthy to any degree. Yes, it is right to be honest with our doubts, but being honest with our doubts is a far cry from publicly stating that what you have called your god for the past decades was actually so lacking in real fulfillment or relationship that one could simply walk away from it for a year.

Christians do not do this. They know God. They walk with Him. Bell needs to be prayed for, but his decision is very damaging and is the opposite of a "witness" we are to have with others to bring them into the kingdom. Also, no Christian would feel safe neglecting prayer for even a day, much less a full year, and the Bible is what we are to "feed" on. In confidently casting all of this aside, this gentleman is doing great damage to the cause of God.

Even if his conclusion at the end of his year when he writes his book is that God exists and that he has an even deeper appreciation for Him (very likely what he will say), the damage will have been done and people will not take him at his word, remembering that he said all of this before he took his year off anyway.

This is a dangerous path and as Christians we should pray for Bell and ask him to abandon his public experiment ASAP unless he truly doesn't know if God exists, in which case, of course he should be finding out, but not be putting God to the test like this. We find no example of this in Scripture. Again, let us pray for this seeking soul, but not endorse what he is doing.

I knew Ryan years ago, when I had the privilege of mentoring him. He was a guest in my home, and we did many things together. The most recent choices he has made are but the latest in a tragedy that has unfolded for years in his spiritual journey.

First and foremost, we must each of us immerse ourselves daily in Scripture and the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy, so that the inspired worldview saturates and pervades our spiritual understandings. Few questions posed by contemporary skeptics cannot be answered, or at least understood, from the perspective of these writings. Most who think otherwise simply haven't investigated these sources to the depth where such awareness becomes evident. I fear that in the case of Ryan, he had long since moved away from the inspired writings into a spiritual worldview far removed from the Biblical perspective, one which eventually made total unbelief seem a desirable alternative.

When, by contrast, one's mind is thoroughly fortified with Biblical truth and its amplification in the Spirit of Prophecy, the challenge of doubt will be more easily met than with an open-ended spirituality where multiple forces and sources compete for authority. Ellen White's admonition remains supremely valid in this postmodern age:

"Only those who have been diligent students of the Scriptures, and who have received the love of the truth, will be shielded from the powerful delusion that takes the world captive" (GC 625).

My prayer is that Ryan, whom I still count as a friend, will one day recognized the famished state in which he finds himself in the spiritual wasteland he has entered, and will return to the unqualified loyalty to God's written counsel that once characterized his spiritual walk.

Add new comment