How a French Atheist Becomes a Theologian
Image: Dan Bigelow

If French atheists rarely become evangelical Christians, how much rarer it is for one to become an evangelical Christian theologian. So what happened? One might argue that with 66 million French people, I’m just a fluke, an anomaly. I am inclined to see it as the work of a God who says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy” (Rom. 9:15). Hearing the facts may help you decide for yourself.

I grew up in a wonderfully loving family in France, near Paris. We were Catholic, a religious expression that seemed to arise more out of tradition and perhaps superstition than conviction. As soon as I was old enough to tell my parents I didn’t believe any of it, I stopped going to Mass. I pursued my own happiness on all fronts, benefiting from my parents’ loving dedication. It allowed me to do well at school, learn to play the piano, and get involved in many sports. I studied math, physics, and engineering in college, graduated from a respected engineering school, and landed a job as a computer scientist in finance. On the sports front, after I grew to be 6 feet 4 inches and discovered I could jump 3 feet high, I ended up playing volleyball in a national league, traveling the country every weekend for the games.

An important part of young male French atheist ideals consisted of female conquests. Here, I was starting to have enough success to satisfy the raunchy standards of the volleyball locker room. All in all, I was pretty happy with my life. And in a thoroughly secular culture, the chances of ever hearing the gospel—let alone believing it—were incredibly slim.

New Life Goal

When I was in my mid-20s, my brother and I vacationed in the Caribbean. One day, returning from the beach, we decided to hitchhike home. A car pulled over. Two young women visiting from America were lost and needed directions to their hotel. Incidentally, it was right next to our house, so they gave us a ride.

They were attractive enough that my radar went off immediately, and we started flirting. The one I was interested in happened to mention she believed in God—by my standards an intellectual suicide. She also said she believed that sex belongs in marriage—an even more problematic belief than theism, if that were possible. Nevertheless, once the vacation ended, I returned to Paris, she to New York, and we started dating.

My new goal in life was to disabuse my girlfriend of her beliefs so we could be together without antiquated notions of God—or sex—standing in the way.

My new goal in life was to disabuse my girlfriend of her beliefs so that we could be together without antiquated notions of God—or sex—standing in the way. I started thinking: What good reason was there to think God exists, and what good reason was there to think atheism was true? This step was important, because my own unbelief rested comfortably on the fact that the smart people around me didn’t believe in God either. It was more a reasonable life assumption than the conclusion of a solid argument. But of course, if I was going to refute Christianity, I first needed to know what it claimed. So I picked up a Bible.

At the same time, I figured there was at least one experiment I could carry out. I thought, If any of this is true, then the God who exists presumably cares greatly about this project of mine. So I started to pray into the air: “If there is a God, then here I am. I’m looking into this. Why don’t you go ahead and reveal yourself to me? I’m open.” I wasn’t, but I figured that if God existed, that wouldn’t stop him.

July/August
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
From Issue:
View this article in Reader Mode
Christianity Today
How a French Atheist Becomes a Theologian