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My Friend, and Former Atheist, Antony Flew

Antony G.N. Flew was the son of an English Methodist minister, Oxford educated at St. John’s College, one of the world’s most famous atheist philosophers for most of 50 years, and my friend for 25 of those years. I first read Flew during my undergraduate days, and then in seminary as a requirement in Analytical Philosophy when each student had to read Flew’s God and Philosophy and write a critical review of that book as a term assignment. Truthfully, I was never much impressed with the book, but I was always respectful to Tony!

I first met Tony on Friday, 8 February 1985, at “Christianity Challenges the University: An International Conference of Theists and Atheists,” a scholars conference in Dallas. Tony and I had many enlightening conversations over the years. Several stick out in my mind. When he came to Virginia to debate the Resurrection at my invitation, half of his six days there were spent with me driving him around the Virginia countryside viewing Civil War battle sights. It turned out that Flew was an American Civil War “buff.”

I especially remember a conversation while I was driving in which Tony said to me: “If I cannot believe a man when he speaks to me about earthly things, how can I believe him when he speaks to me about heavenly ones?” His point was that personal integrity was a most important issue. I quite agree!

Flew told me in one of those conversations that he really claimed to be an “agnostic.” He just didn’t know if there was a God, and that was such an important question he wanted to know for sure; so he debated, “trying to be convinced” so he said.

Tony and I dined together many times in restaurants, and in my home. We went to church together! Yes, that’s right, this famous atheist went to church with Beverly and me and sat between the two of us. He sang the hymns we sang and bowed his head when we prayed!

Tony and I wrote two books together. Our first was published in 1987 and our second in 1991.[1] For a number of years after, when I would bring a group of students to study at Emmanuel College, Oxford, I’d have a car and driver “collect”—as the British say—Tony at his home in Reading and drive him to Oxford to speak to my students! It was always good to see him and I took every opportunity to expose my students to him.

In 2004, I received a phone call early in the morning from Tony, calling from his home in Reading, England. He told me basically the same thing in a letter—dated 27 April 2004—he had told me in our phone conversation some days before. He had just reread about the first 100 pages of our [1991] book and he did “not now disagree with much which [I] said in those pages,” and he thought “we may very well find that we reach very substantial agreement without needing extra time.” In April 2005 an article came out in Christianity Today about his conversion in which I am mentioned several times.

I wrote a largely positive review of his 2007 book—in which Flew called us “friends”—on his “conversion.” . . . I ended [the review] by saying:

“Therefore my dear friend, unless you have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus as Savior and Lord, you are still an atheist in every way that truly matters! . . . You have come a very long way, my friend. Your ‘conversion’ is much ado about something. But you must still follow your reason and come fully and completely into ‘the fold,’ Tony. You have had more than enough exposure to the claims of Jesus and the evidence for the Resurrection so that your ‘reason’—as it did with C.S. Lewis—should ‘lead’ your mind and heart to Him. I continue to respect you and will continue to pray for you, my good friend!”

After Tony’s early morning phone call, his subsequent letter of 27 April 2004, and his “conversion,” word got back to me from several of my former students and others—who knows how these things get started—that I had been instrumental in “converting” Flew to theism. I would like to think that our two books together and the great number of letters between us—I have two file folders each over an inch thick of handwritten letters from Flew—had some effect on him. But as I say in my review of his book:

1) Tony never really engaged my arguments in our Does God Exist book.

2) I did invite him and Mrs. Flew to fly to our home in Tennessee to stay for two weeks—or as long as he liked—at my expense and I would again show him the Civil War sights, this time in Tennessee, and talk to him about Jesus personally, face to face. His response, in a long letter of 26 November 2004: “I now realize that you were hoping by those discussions to save my soul from everlasting torture. What greater gift could anyone make to anyone?” and that he could never accept such an expensive gift—the flight, etc. I assured him that it was not my agenda to “save his soul”; however, I would be remiss as a believer if I did not talk to him about Jesus. Nevertheless, most unfortunately, he and Mrs. Flew were never able to come to our Tennessee home.

Roy Varghese also tried to convince him to come visit me, for as Roy said to me in an email:

“Terry: After seeing Tony’s comments on the God of Christianity, I made a promise to God that I will do everything in my power to help bring our dear friend to Christ. So let’s work together. . . . I will do all I can to ensure he comes to stay with you. . . . I think you would be the ideal person to bring Tony to the Lord. That’s the real story I want to hear. –Roy”

I very much agreed with Roy—that’s the story I wanted to hear no matter who was used by the Spirit as an instrument!

3) I still feel that his “conversion” was grossly inadequate, not a conversion to anything real at all. And,

4) I have consistently joked with others that if I had had anything to do with Tony’s “conversion,” I would have done a better job! Yes, I was always respectful to Tony, and loving, and honest with regards to my faith in Christ. Though, I never “beat” him over the head with the Bible. I never did that to him, nor would I ever do that to anyone else.

Antony G.N. Flew died on 8 April 2010.

“pereunt et imputantur”

“Our days pass away and are scored to our account.”

(Carved on a sundial in the courtyard of All Souls, Oxford)

The days of counting—and scoring—are over for Antony G.N. Flew. May God have mercy on his soul!

(This was excerpted from Terry L. Miethe, Back to the Future: Postmodernism and the Christian [Winged Lion Publishing, 2014], 31-34. Used with permission.)

[1] 1) Terry L. Miethe, editor and contributor, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? The Resurrection Debate, with Gary R. Habermas and A.G.N. Flew (Harper & Row, 1987); with contributions by J.I. Packer, Charles Hartshorne, and Wolfhart Pannenberg. Issued in paperback in 1989. Best Book Award Winner. 2) Terry Miethe and Antony Flew, Does God Exist: A Believer and an Atheist Debate (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1991); with contributions by Sir Alfred Ayer, Richard Swinburne, Hermann Häring, and foreword by Hans Küng. Weekly Emails

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