Poetry leads atheist to faith

Holly Ordway
Holly Ordway sharing her testimony online.
Holly Ordway
Holly Ordway sharing her testimony online.

Doctor Holly Ordway was a proud and convinced atheist, in her words a "proto-Dawkins", "not because I hated God or didn't want to believe in Him, but simply because I did not have any compelling reasons TO believe in Him.

"Christianity didn't make sense, didn't seem like it could possibly be true and I was not going to believe nonsense. And that is a rational and respectable position that many atheists hold," she explains on the website hearourtestimonies.com.

"A lot of atheists have no idea what they are rejecting."

Holly had been raised in a home without any religious practice – they had no Bibles, never went to church or Sunday school and didn't know any Christians. Then she went to university where she was told Christianity was a bunch of anti-intellectual superstitious nonsense and historical baggage.

Holly found many well-meaning Christians were Biblically ignorant and unable to articulate why they believed what they believed.

As a result, Holly thought that faith had to be blind because there was no reason to believe it.

"I thought Christians used a psychological trick to convince themselves into believing unbelievable things to make them feel good about themselves," she remembers. "I thought faith was irrational."

Now she knows that although the Bible calls faith "the substance of things unseen", it doesn't mean we can't know them. "In the same way we can know our family loves us, without seeing their love; we can experience the truth of Jesus' presence without seeing it," she says.

Holly perceived the Christians she met to be stupid, science-denying, superstitious salesmen. However, she did have a high regard for several dead Christians whom she encountered in her studies: poets like John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins, authors like C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jane Austin and Charles Dickens, and musicians like Handel. And she knew they weren't stupid!

The one aspect Holly found hardest to deal with in her attempts to maintain a consistent atheism was that if atheism is true there is no reason to cherish life, protect the weak or be kind to others. "But I knew that wasn't right! I knew it was better to be kind, even if it didn't make sense in my worldview. It was just the right thing to do!

"Atheism also means that reality is awful and meaningless and you just have to deal with it!" she explains. "I tried really hard to produce meaning myself and failed. There was a certain pride in being able to stare into the abyss and hold my own.

"I tried as hard as possible to be an intellectually consistent atheist. Although brilliant scholars had put forth all these convincing arguments for Christianity, there was zero chance that I was going to pick up a book by any of them," she admits.

However, Holly did become a Christian in 2006 at the age of 31 and, unusually, it was poetry that eventually made her open to reading literature that defended the Christian faith. God's Spirit began to work in her consciousness through good literature that drew her attention to God's work in the world. Particularly, the line "Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you/ As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend" from Donne's Holy Sonnet 14 had a profound effect on her.

"The classic works of English literature are deeply Christian," she realised. Holly wrote her doctrinal dissertation on the fantasy novels of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

"The world I was seeing through the eyes of these authors was different from the world that I thought I knew," she tells. "It made more sense! It was beautiful. And no one could call these men stupid. I realised faith wasn't what I thought it was."

Fortunately, Holly's fencing coach was a Christian who was willing to answer the questions she had instead of the questions he thought she should have. He was a patient mentor who went at her pace. Holly came to realise it was all true.

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She said it was absolutely terrifying! "To realise the entire ground for your belief system is different from what you thought it was and that everything you are and do has to be re-evaluated in the light of the living God is confronting, unsettling and hard!" she exclaims.

However, although she had come to realise God was real and the supernatural existed and that Jesus lived, died and rose from the dead; it did not make her a Christian, Holly emphasises. It still took a step of faith on her part to hand herself over to God.

"You have a choice at that point [of understanding] to remain captain of your own ship, retain your pride and ignore God's claims on your life, or to surrender your will, die to self and launch your life into the frightening unknown. It was a hard choice and the alternative was tempting," she candidly admits.

"When Jesus says 'Follow Me', as a non-Christian you are thinking, 'where?'!" she remembers.

"That is where faith comes in, faith to trust in the character of God and hand your life over to Him."

After Holly did that, she went on to join a church that taught her the teachings of Christianity and how to live a Christian life. She learnt how to read her Bible, how to pray and what the answers to her many, many questions were.

Holly then studied theology, got a second PhD in apologetics (arguments for the Christian faith) and is now Chair of apologetics at Houston Baptist University, teaching others the importance of being able to defend their beliefs convincingly and intellectually.

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