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He's trying Athiesm on for a year . . . is that even possible?

February 6, 2014

January 30, 2014

The Other Side of the Coin

by Jimmy Phillips

On December 31, 2013, Ryan Bell, a former Seventh-day Adventist pastor, posted a blog entry titled, “A Year Without God: A Former Pastor’s Journey Into Atheism.” In the first days of 2014 Bell’s experiment became worldwide news as he shared his journey everywhere, from the United States to Australia.

By now you might have stumbled across Bell’s blog or heard about it from a friend. In case you haven’t, here’s a quick recap: After parting ways with the Adventist Church in the spring of 2013 due to foundational theological differences, Bell decided he was going to explore atheism for an entire year. This meant he wasn’t going to pray, read the Bible, go to church, or hang out with Christian friends. To allow others to follow along, he registered the URL and began providing daily updates of his experience. (A quick side note: I’m not here to bash Mr. Bell. Publicly chastising someone who has already abandoned his faith is counterproductive. What I will say is that God has chosen to give me many writing and speaking opportunities to share my spiritual journey with people around the globe as well. Personally, it’s hard for me to come to grips with the fact that Bell has chosen to use his immense influence to explore and elevate the powers of darkness. Millions of people need the message of hope, not to be told that God is irrelevant and might not even exist.)

Anyway, back to the main story. One of the first national interviews Bell did was with CNN’s Brooke Baldwin. Of everything he said, the idea that most stood out to me was that he didn’t feel that he was becoming an atheist; he just decided to spend a year exploring “the other side of the coin.”

If the Internet reaction to Bell’s experiment of “exploring the other side of the coin” is any indication, a lot of people have strong opinions. But frankly, what you and I think doesn’t matter; what matters is God’s take on this concept. That is, the purposeful choice to expose oneself to beliefs and practices that minimize or eliminate God from everyday life.

While studying, I came across an excellent anecdote in Amos 5:4, 5: “For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel: Seek me and live; but do not seek Bethel, and do not enter into Gilgal or cross over to Beer-sheba; for Gilgal shall surely go into exile, and Bethel shall come to nothing.”

Now, you might ask, what’s the deal with Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba? Well, according to Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary, at this point in time Bethel was home to a golden calf that was being used as an idol, while Gilgal and Beersheba had become renowned centers of idol worship.

Through the prophet Amos, God explicitly told His people not to venture onto the enemy’s ground—even to just poke around and explore. In fact, in verse 4, the result is alluded to: the people will live if they “seek the Lord.” Seeking anything else—specifically false idols and belief systems—will produce an opposite ending.

I’m writing this today for one purpose: you.

I want you to know that no matter what the world may say, you don’t have to experience something for yourself to know it’s wrong.

Even as a committed Christian I am constantly bombarded by temptation. The only chance I have at victory (life) is to die to myself (Galatians 2:20) and allow Christ to empower me to overcome temptation. I can’t imagine how quickly I would lose my way if I made a conscious decision to live without Christ.

Believe it or not, the same was true for Jesus.


Faith over feeling

We often think that it would have been impossible for Jesus to fall into temptation. After all, He conquered Satan after spending 40 days fasting in the wilderness, stayed strong throughout His ministry, and sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane.

But as He hung on the cross, Jesus met the fiercest battle of His life. Shut out from the presence of His Father, evil forces battered Him with temptation, doubt, and fear. This is what Satan does when our lives hit rock bottom, pouncing as a predator on the wounded animal that falls behind the safety of the herd.

In a great book called the Desire of Ages, the attacks on Jesus are clearly described: “The Savior could not see through the portals of the tomb. . . . He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal.” I’m sure the angels wanted to jump out of heaven and bring Jesus back to His rightful throne. But in order for you and I to one day have eternal life, He had to face this alone.

For six hours a war waged within Jesus. Even as it did, He remained meek and peaceful, never once lashing out against those who were truly guilty. Though the final moments of Jesus’ life were gruesome and bloody, they provide the ultimate example of trust, conviction, and courage, described once again in the Desire of Ages: “In those dreadful hours He had relied upon the evidence of His Father’s acceptance . . . He was acquainted with the character of His Father . . . He committed Himself to God, the sense of the loss of His Father’s favor was withdrawn. By faith, Christ was victor.”

In this life you’re going to be bombarded with feelings and emotions. Many of them are going to tell you that the grass is greener on the other side and that you need to see past the narrow walls of Christianity. Don’t give in. There’s a reason Jesus describes the road to heaven as narrow—because there’s really only one Way.

When your moment of truth comes, you might feel like taking the easy way out. The only safeguard is to follow the example of Jesus by spending your life seeking God and building your faith in His character.

Everything else—including the other side of the coin—is simply and sadly a waste of time.

  1. Commentary on Amos 5:4-15
  2. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 753.
  3. Ibid., p. 756.


Jimmy Phillips writes from Bakersfield, California, where he is the director of marketing and communications for San Joaquin Community Hospital. A graduate of Union College, Jimmy also writes a monthly column for the Adventist Review. Contact him anytime at

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