Confessions of a Christian Freethinker


What is a freethinker? What is free thought?

For whatever reason, the term freethinker has become associated exclusively with being skeptical of religious claims. No more. No less. If you are skeptical of religion… then congratulations, my friend! You are [apparently] thinking freely.

The presumption is that if you look at the world through a critical lens, you will undoubtedly agree with the atheists and conclude that “There’s Probably No God”.

There seems to be something inherently wrong with this idea, and the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that not all atheists are freethinkers, and not all freethinkers are atheists.

Being able to ‘think freely’ shouldn’t commit you to any position. If it did, in what way would it be considered free? Freethinking, it seems to me, is more of an approach to knowledge… an epistemological endeavor. Like skepticism, ‘free thought’ should be thought of as a methodology, not a goal.

Before going further… what do I mean by free thinker or freethought? Let’s ask the internet!

  • Merriam Webster says that a free thinker is “one who forms opinions on the basis of reason independently of authority; especially: one who doubts or denies religious dogma (look at the comments on this one… sheesh)
  • Wikipedia (as of March 8th, 2015) says “Freethought is a philosophical viewpoint which holds that positions regarding truth should be formed on the basis of logic, reason, and empiricism, rather than authority, tradition, or other dogmas
  • defines a freethinker as “… one who arrives at their beliefs through the use of reason, science, logic and empiricism rather than by relying on dogma, tradition, and authorities.” And then goes on to attach religious skepticism to the definition of a freethinker
  • defines a freethinker as “a person who forms opinions on the basis of reason, independent of authority or tradition, especially a person whose religious opinions differ from established belief”
  • For the fun of it, I just typed ‘define: freethinker’ into Google and got “a person who rejects accepted opinions, esp. those concerning religious belief.”
  • Even the Urban Dictionary (which isn’t really known for its accuracy) has this definition of a freethinker with the most up-votes: “an individual whose opinions are formed on the basis of an understanding and rejection of tradition, authority or established belief.”

All of these definitions have one thing in common. They are all associating ‘freethinking’ with an epistemological approach to understanding reality that is independent of authority, dogma or tradition. A freethinker will be someone who forms their beliefs based on logic, science and reason.

Some attach skepticism of religious claims into the mix, but not all. It is unreasonable to say that religious skepticism is required for freethinking. If you’re absolutely required to reject the existence of God in order to call yourself a free thinker, are you really thinking freely?

Asserting that only atheists can be free thinkers is akin to saying ‘you’re not a freethinker unless you conform to our belief structure!’ That (ironically) self-referentially incoherent!

A Christian Freethinker?

Now that we understand what a free-thinker is, I have to admit something. I’ve never really liked the self-congratulatory tone of referring to yourself as a freethinker. If you introduce yourself as a freethinker, it sounds like you’re patting yourself on the back before you’ve said anything.

I do, however, appreciate the sentiment behind free thought. When understood properly, free thinking seems to entail a properly skeptical attitude towards reality; an attitude that says, “I’m not afraid of the truth, and I’m going to actively seek it. I’m not going to uncritically accept the opinions of others. I’m going to ask the right questions and only accept something if it is reasonable to do so.”

When we understand freethinking to be a reasonable approach to discovering truth, unfettered by social pressure and opinions, everyone can be a freethinker!

Everyone should be a freethinker!

But proper freethought actually requires thought—critical thought. It requires you to do the research, ask the right questions, and actually come to conclusions when that conclusion is reasonable. It is not enough to be critical of religion, you have to be critical of your own views as well.

I will sometimes refer to myself as a “Christian Freethinker.” I do this for two reasons. First, because its funny to see the reactions of the self-proclaimed ‘freethinking atheists’ when I say it. And secondly, because when freethinking is properly understood, I think all Christians should be freethinkers.

In Luke 10:27 and Mark 12:30, we are instructed to love God with our entire mind.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:21, we are instructed to test everything and to hold on to that which is good.

And if God is the truth (Jn. 14:6), then truth is to be treasured as a reflection of God Himself.

According to, Apologetics is “challenging believers to think and thinkers to believe.” If you need more convincing, check out William Lane Craig’s “In Intellectual Neutral” talk. We need to be a Church that actually uses our minds.

I have come to the conclusion that Christianity is true because it corresponds to reality. I believe the evidence points towards the existence of God, the veracity of the Bible, the actual resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and the overall truth of the Christian worldview. I have come to these conclusions in a manner consistent with the definitions of freethinking listed above.

I’ve used logic, science, and reason to conclude that Christianity is true.

Even if you call yourself a Christian… you and I probably don’t agree on other things. And that’s okay. Lets talk about it. The cool thing about the Christian worldview is that it allows you to look at all of the evidence. So we should do exactly that.

This post is getting long.

My point is fairly simple.

If freethinking is synonymous with a critical approach to truth seeking, then I will gladly embrace it. If it requires you to be an atheist, then it is not free. However, being a freethinker requires critical thought. And critical thought requires you to be critical of others and critical of yourself. If you’re not open to being wrong, you’re not a free thinker. And yes, Christians can be freethinkers. Don’t hog the label, atheists. Some of you may not even deserve it.

Be open to being wrong.
Because you probably are.

Also, read this.

I wish this guy would have blogged more than one thing.

Thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts.

Photo by Christopher Brown via Flickr

Elijah Thompson
Comments 9
  1. I’m not certain what the right terminology should be, but I’ve thought of myself as a nontraditional Christian when I’ve meant many of the things you’ve proposed.

    I do presuppose the truth of Scripture and Christianity, but my understanding of it is always imperfect. To use Grant Osborne’s terminology, we spiral closer and closer to the truth.

    However, this doesn’t mean that everything is up for grabs or that I am skeptical of all (or even many) things Christian. It just means that while some things are clear, other things are not as clear.

    My perspective says, for what it’s worth, that God has created a world in which essential matters (I recognize that might be subjective to some) are sufficiently perspicuous. That is, they are clear enough.

    Beyond this, I also believe it’s okay to think out loud and to consider, for argument’s sake, the possibility of being inaccurate about this or that doctrine. This doesn’t mean that there is no certainty. Indeed, quite the opposite, for truth challenged or put under the microscope will remain truth. Again, this doesn’t mean that I am psychologically uncertain about this or that truth (though that may indeed occur at times) but that the truth examined is bolstered and confirmed, not diminished.

    All this said, I am still in many ways a type of presuppositionalist, which means that I still believe in a world in which the truth is clear and, indeed, is a precondition of sorts for all rational thought.

    Perhaps all of this renders me confused, but I hope that these random thoughts rather are to be held in tension in our lives, allowing God, in his mercy and grace, to weave them together in our lives. 🙂

  2. Great so far as it goes, Elijah. The only snare is that this runs afoul of the traditional definition of freethinking, which was first associated with deism in the 18th century and in the 19th century became a popular way for “sophisticated” unbelievers in the UK and US to designate themselves, sort of like the recent fizzled-out attempt of some atheists to nickname themselves “brights.” There is to this day (I’m told) a journal dedicated to freethinking that adopts an atheist or hard agnostic line. So while all your points are taken well, you’re trying to rehabilitate a term for more general use that already has a common application.

    We could also qualify the discussion with a consideration of the noetic effects of sin. As fallen creatures, can we ever fully trust our unaided reason to reach all the right conclusions?

  3. I think the issue that will pop up from this article is people get instantly defensive when they see key words like ‘freethinking’ and ‘atheism’ and ‘Christian’ so putting them all together in one article I believe leads people to read the article already from a skewed point of view. Hemingway says something similar right? That the reader brings 80% of what they will get out of what they are reading with them before they sit down to even read it. His iceberg theory (he says it a lot better than I do.) – So I believe people will get defensive without taking the time to reflect on why, and if there is reason to. I’m also assuming if you wrote the same article without those triggering words people would find they are very much agreeing with you.

    Labels always throw people off. I myself when backed into a corner can only come up with the label of being a ‘Christian Mystic’ or ‘Sufi Christian’ when pressed because how else do you describe what shouldn’t need to be described. Like you said we should dive into God and the scripture with our full mind!! Without being scared of what we might uncover. Because if God is Truth and All Truth comes from God then it doesn’t matter how hard we hit it with ‘facts’ because the Truth is the Truth no matter what. We are flawed and stupid humans there is NOTHING even the smartest of us can think of that will even make a dent in The Truth that is God. So why be afraid. Dive in!! Why not wrestle with God in the way Jacob did?

    I know for me The Bible and Christianity only gets stronger the more I think of it. But in little ways, little scriptures in Proverbs or Psalms or some seemingly off-handed throw away comment Jesus makes. I find such infinite Truth in it that it rings more True to me than any sermon does.

    Also the struggle with Apologetics is we need outsides sources to help strengthen our discussions with non-believers. Because to believers the Bible is True and Real…but to an atheist or any other nonbeliever the Bible is just…well literature. Fiction even. Made up stories. So what weight does it have. We think we’ll hit them with a certain scripture and they’ll be floored. But in reality it means nothing to them. So we need to have broader thoughts. Seeing God and Truth in everything. Plus how much stronger is our own faith when we’ve thought it out from many angles. So in these discussions our faith isn’t rocked by some 1-2 Punch we’re forced to think of for the first time on the spot in the heat of the moment.

    I dunno, I’m rambling. I guess all I’m trying to say is I agree that we shouldn’t be scared to think. Or to think and be wrong. I was at a party just last weekend and I was probably the only sober person in the mix and drunk people love religion and I had to try to convey to them that they will absolutely ask me questions that will stump me, but just because I personally don’t know the answer doesn’t mean anything. I’m just a believer, that doesn’t automatically give me all the knowledge on the subject. It’s incredibly freeing to admit upfront that you will be wrong. Cause why wouldn’t we be wrong? God and all of everything about Him is infinite…so why would a mere human know all there is to know.

    I’m rambling again. I guess I just wanted to support you and let you know I’m all for thinking and not just swallowing what we’re fed until we apply all our mind to it. And I wanted to thank you for writing it.

    but as I mentioned I have a large tendency to be wrong. So if I misunderstood the article, apologies. But still thanks all the same.

  4. Another aspect of each of the definitions given for the freethinker was without “authority”.
    Do you mean to say the free thinking christian is that, but in and under authority? And is that what separates the Christian free thinker from the rest?

  5. Saying all freethinkers are atheist is like saying all freethinkers acknowledge that gravity exists. The objective study of the nature of reality will always lead you to gravity exists. If you study nature and conclude that gravity doesn’t exist, then your freethinking has an error in its line of logic and thus you are not truly a freethinker because you’ve made a mistake. You can make this mistake honestly but in the end, it’s not freethinking that leads you to believe in the absences of gravity being a force in reality, but a mistake in your freethinking. Thusly, freethinkers not making a mistake will always end with acknowledging that gravity exists as a force, and that the nature of reality doesn’t leave us requiring any supernatural intervention.

    So when you say
    ” If you’re absolutely required to reject the existence of God in order to call yourself a free thinker, are you really thinking freely?”

    The answer is, if it is an objective truth about reality that is being considered, absolutely, freethinking will leave you with only one conclusion.

    1. Jeremy, are you saying that the only way you can truly be a “freethinker” is if you’re inerrant? Because then we should abandon the label altogether

      1. Well considering it’s more of a self congratulating label than a statement of fact, we probably should. Especially if we think it applies to anyone regardless of their beliefs, so long as the barometer is merely “understanding reality that is independent of authority, dogma or tradition, and instead on logic, science and reason, regardless of the validity of the latter.

        1. Well, the point that I was trying to make here is that “… freethinking is synonymous with a critical approach to truth seeking”, and that to define “freethinking” as agreeing with a particular conclusion is to go contrary to the intent of freethought.

          Freethought, on my view, should be properly understood as a methodology, rather than a conclusion. A freethinker is someone who embraces a particular methodology.

          For that reason, i actually think its a fairly helpful label. Unfortunately, many people use it to be synonymous with their conclusion. Many of them do not use the freethinking methodology, and therefore do not deserve the label. In this case, it is merely self-congratulatory.

          1. I think the point is, linking freethought with atheism is taking the position that “a critical approach to truth seeking” shouldn’t lead you to something that is untrue. It’s something that is contradictory, much like a freethinking Norse mythologist .

Comments are closed.

Activism According to the Gospel

Activism According to the Gospel

What is a freethinker?

Ep. 031.2 Formalistic Art Series: Shape – ABC’s and 123’s of Art

Ep. 031.2 Formalistic Art Series: Shape – ABC’s and 123’s of Art

What is a freethinker?