Christians everywhere have been responding in grief and sadness over the death of famed atheist Christopher Hitchens, who passed away late Thursday evening after a yearlong battle with esophageal cancer.
From pastors to theologians alike, all expressed pain and sorrow over the recent news, which Vanity Fair was the first to announce. The magazine reported that Hitchens had died from pneumonia, a complication from his stage IV cancer. He was 62 years old.
Pastor Rick Warren, founder of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., tweeted, “My friend Christopher Hitchens has died. I loved & prayed for him constantly & grieve his loss. He knows the Truth now.”
Warren also relayed messages of hope, sharing the Gospel through repeated posts. “’God so loved you that he gave his only Son, that if you believe in him you will not perish but have eternal life’Jn3:16.”
“’Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ Joel 2:32. No one has ever seen or heard or even imagined the wonderful things God has prepared for those who love him!’ 1 Cor.2:9.”
President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Albert Mohler, an influential leader among evangelicals, also tweeted multiple posts in response to Hitchens’ passing.
He said Hitchens' death "is an excruciating reminder of the consequences of unbelief. We can only pray others will believe.”
Immediately after his first post, Mohler added, “Few things are so valued in this life as brilliance & eloquence. Neither will matter in the world to come.”
“The point about Christopher Hitchens is not that he died of unbelief,” he concluded, “but that his unbelief is all that matters now. Unspeakably sad.”
Author of the New York Times bestseller God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Hitchens is considered one of the most prominent figures in the “new atheism” movement, though the English-born author has described himself as an anti-theist.
The heavy smoker and drinker was diagnosed with esophageal cancer last year and underwent several treatments from radiation therapy to a specially designed treatment created in part by outspoken evangelical scientist Francis Collins, which mapped out Hitchens’ entire genetic make-up to target damaged DNA.
During his treatment, Christians offered their prayers for the atheist and also established the “Everybody Pray for Hitchens Day” last year. But Hitchens advised believers not to “trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries” “unless, of course, it makes you feel better.” He also told CNN last year that he would not turn to Christ on his deathbed, at least not while he’s lucid.
It was just two months ago in October when Hitchens again affirmed his atheist beliefs, declaring that “there is no absolute truth” and “no supreme leader.”
Along with other Christian leaders, atheist-turned-Christian Lee Strobel, author of The Case for Christ, expressed his grief over Hitchens’ death on Twitter.
“I was among many who shared Christ with him; so sad he rejected Gospel,” Strobel added.
Denny Burk, associate professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, also mourned the death of the “unique public intellectual with a rapier wit and an even sharper pen.”
“Hitchens always fascinated me not merely because of his intellect and prose, but also because of his independence,” Burk penned on his website.
“He was a darling of the left, yet he remained a firm supporter of the Iraq War. He was an avowed atheist, yet he insisted on the superior quality of the King James Bible and chaffed against gender neutral translations. He wanted to ban religious arguments from rational discourse, yet he wrote a book with Calvinist intellectual and pastor Doug Wilson.”
“In the last year of his life, Hitchens wrote some searching essays about his cancer and impending death,” he continued. “He seemed to stand ever resolute in his atheism and to insist that the hour of his demise must be the proving ground of his unbelief.”
“I would like to think that perhaps his skepticism didn’t win out in the end,” Burk hoped. “I would like to think that the gospel he heard from Wilson and others might have broken through just in time as it did for the thief on the cross. Stranger things have happened, and the Lord’s arm indeed is not too short to save even in such a moment. Nevertheless, we may never have any evidence this side of glory that the light finally broke through to Hitchens.”
Pastor Douglas Wilson, a conservative reformed evangelical theologian who was featured alongside Hitchens in the documentary “Collision,” wrote in detail about his relationship with the British-American journalist and his thoughts on his death on Christianity Today.
The two had together created the book Is Christianity Good for the World? – a small compilation of their debates together and had since gotten to know each other better.
“Christopher knew that faithful Christians believe that it is appointed to man once to die, and after that the Judgment,” Wilson penned. “He knew that we believe what Jesus taught about the reality of damnation. He also knew that we believe – for I told him – that in this life, the door of repentance is always open.”
“We have no indication that Christopher ever called on the Lord before he died, and if he did not, then Scriptures plainly teach that he is lost forever. But we do have every indication that Christ died for sinners, men and women just like Christopher. We know that the Lord has more than once hired workers for his vineyard when the sun was almost down.”
Wilson knew that Hitchens was concerned with that aspect of faith, discussing several times with interviewees the idea of a “deathbed conversion.”
Though he assured everyone that if anything like that would happen, it would be certain that the cancer or the chemo had gotten into his brain, it appeared as though Hitchens entertained the notion, Wilson observed.
“When Christopher gave [those] interviews, he was manifestly in his right mind, and the thought had clearly occurred to him that he might not feel in just a few months the way he did at present.”
Like Burk, the Christ Church pastor and prolific speaker hoped that Hitchens had accepted Christ during his final moments and had a “gracious twist at the end.” “We ... commend Christopher to the Judge of the whole earth, who will certainly do right,” Wilson declared.
Justin Taylor, vice president of editorial at Crossway, also captured a hint of what Wilson saw in Hitchens.
On The Gospel Coalition website, he uploaded the debate-documentary “Collision,” finding the final scene with Wilson and Hitchens especially telling of what Hitchens thought of God and religion.
The scene portrayed both men in the back seat of a car, discussing debating itself as well as Hitchens’ difference between fellow atheist Richard Dawkins.
“If I could convert everyone in the world, not convert, if I could convince to be a nonbeliever, and I’d really done brilliantly, and there’s only one left, one more and then it’d be done, there’d be no more religion in the world, no more deism, theism,” Hitchens stated, “I wouldn’t do it.”
“And Dawkins said, ‘What do you mean you wouldn’t do it?’” he recalled. “I said I don’t quite know why I wouldn’t do it. And it’s not just because there’d be nothing left to argue with and no one left to argue with. It’s not just that. Though it would be that.”
“Somehow if I could drive it out of the world, I wouldn’t,” Hitchens revealed to Wilson. “And the incredulity with which he (Dawkins) looked at me, stays with me still, I’ve got to say.”