On the Engel Scale, I Don’t Exist

I try to give Christianity a chance, I really do.  I don’t know of any reason to think that Christianity is special compared to other world religions.  But it was the religion that I was exposed to growing up and is also the professed religion of most of the people I know personally.  So while I peruse other religions for kernels of wisdom, Christianity I treat a little differently.  I read Christian literature to try to find out if maybe I’m missing some key evidence or reasoning.  Something that would make me think that maybe there is some reason to think that it might be true.  I haven’t found anything, but for some reason I keep looking.

In this quest, occasionally I run across something that causes me to pause.  Recently I was reading an apologetics text. In it I saw something I had not heard of before now, the Engel Scale. This tidbit was developed in the 1970’s at Wheaton College by Dr. James Engel and Viggo Sogaard.  It is reproduced below using an image from this site.  This scale is supposed to be show the continuum in which every person is located.

Engel Scale from internetevangelismday.com/engel-scale.php

This most immediately obvious thing to me about this scale is that I don’t fit.  In fact, it’s not just that I don’t fit neatly into a category, but instead that according to this I don’t exist.  The scale starts with the lowest level of damned souls being at a value of -8, where they have awareness of a supreme being, but no knowledge of the Gospel.  As a soul proceeds to a better place, they go through levels -7 through -4 where they learn about the Gospel and grow a “positive attitude” toward it.  The fun is just getting started, though, because in level -3 they decide they are personally screwed up. This is supposed to lead eventually into their new birth as a Christian, where they are no longer tagged with negative numbers and progress toward high levels of communion with God.

As I said, I don’t show up on this scale.  Despite being sold as a scale evangelists can use to place anyone, I don’t see myself.  In the past someone would probably have put me in the good positive numbers, but since then my study has led me to the conclusion that there is no supreme being.  No God to commune with.  That faith in Jesus cannot be expected to lead to eternal life.  So where do I go?

I no longer have faith in Jesus so I’m relegated to the negative values.  I acknowledge that I have personal issues, though now I don’t think that they are the ones that Christians think I should worry about, so I’m probably at least at -3.  I have studied the Gospel during both my initial recruitment, my life as a Christian, and most strenuously in my realization that it was malarkey. So I should be at least a -5. Right?

But here’s the rub, I can’t be because I don’t even meet the qualifications for the lowly -8, the bottom rung of heathens.  I have no awareness of a Supreme Being.  I am very aware of the concept, like I am of the concept of the tooth fairy or unicorns.  But just like unicorns I find no evidence in the world for a Supreme Being.  In fact it looks to me very much like there isn’t one around.

So here I am, a person that can’t exist in this scale.  I’m not too worried about myself, as I’m pretty sure I actually do exist.  But I do worry for Christians who are taught such a simplified and wrong model of humanity.


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5 responses to “On the Engel Scale, I Don’t Exist”

  1. Debilis says :

    Even as a Christian who believes there are a number of good reasons to believe in God, I find the scale odd and unhelpful. It seems more like someone’s personal view than the result of real study. I can’t see any use it would be to me in understanding myself or others.

    • grantmurdock says :

      I too believe that it is not very helpful, but to clarify it’s purpose, the Engel scale is meant to demonstrate the idea that often people start out in different places when it comes to considering Christian truths and the Gospel.

      It is unhelpful to place people on a scale of numbers, as though you can rank people in terms of how well they believe something. However, the intent to understand that people are different and come from different places in terms of their thinking and beliefs is generally a good concept.

      It is unfortunate that a scale has been set up this way, and hopefully we can learn as Christians to be more intentional and think more clearly about our understanding of people who disagree, and those who agree with us.

      It may be that the scale was created years ago, at a time when it was assumed (whether rightly or wrongly) that, in America, most people did believe in some sort of God or Supreme Being, and thus it left little room in it’s understanding of people for those who would not fall under those categories.

      There are a number of problems with it and understanding people today, to say the least.

  2. grantmurdock says :

    Hello, I appreciated your post and your honesty. I do have a few questions that I’m curious about. If you wouldn’t mind answering them, I’d love to hear what you have to say.

    In your post, you say: “I have studied the Gospel during both my initial recruitment, my life as a Christian, and most strenuously in my realization that it was malarkey.”

    You also say, “I have no awareness of a Supreme Being. I am very aware of the concept, like I am of the concept of the tooth fairy or unicorns. But just like unicorns I find no evidence in the world for a Supreme Being. In fact it looks to me very much like there isn’t one around.”

    My questions are:
    – How would you define “the Gospel”?
    – How would you define “a Christian”?
    – What about your study of the Gospel led to your “realization that it was malarkey?”
    – What evidence are you looking for in the world for a Supreme Being?
    – What evidence are you basing your conclusion off of that there isn’t one around?

    Not many people would seriously attempt to argue for the existence of the tooth fairy or unicorns, unless they are a child of course. However, many people argue for the existence of God. In fact, most people believe in the existence of a deity of some sort or other, and many believe in God as Creator and Savior. It seems to me that it might be a bit arbitrary to compare people’s belief in God to a child’s belief in unicorns or the tooth fairy, when most of human history and most of humanity would argue for the existence of a deity.

    With that said, I really do appreciate your honesty, your article, and what you hope to do with your blog. I believe we were created to think and to think well, as a Christian, and it makes me sad that there are so many who are unwilling to think, and as you say, be okay with the possibility that they could be wrong about something.

    Also, you are not a number on a scale, and I hope you know that there are plenty of Christians who would refuse to see you that way. You are a person, you matter, and your beliefs and thoughts matter. Thanks for your post! I look forward to the opportunity to dialogue with you and to think with you.

  3. Melissa Hughes says :

    Hello, I stumbled upon your page and read your blog post. I know I don’t know you and I don’t know your journey at all but I do understand your frustration. I am a christian as of 7 years ago and I have referred to the scale many times in trying to understand how somebody comes to faith. I’ve never considered someone who has potentially lost their faith and now no longer fits on this scale. I really appreciate your thoughts on this!

    However, I do want to just tell that that as I read your blog post, I felt so strongly God press on my heart how important it is for you to know that it’s okay where you are at today. That he wants you to know how important it is not to ever fake your feelings for the sake of religious obligation but that it’s good to be at an honest place in your heart. Again, I don’t know you, I don’t know your story but I do strongly believe that God loves you and cares for you deeply. I know He knows your story, he knows your heart and is very interested in how you feel. I will be praying for you today that God reveals himself to you as a loving father in your life and someone you can be straight and honest with, even if you don’t have good things to say! God is big enough to handle that and he’s always available to talk to.

    I haven’t found the christian life to be cookie cutter and never found God to fit into a box or a scale, and I don’t imagine you are cookie cutter or fit into a box, and you were never meant to! Just praying for a restorative relationship for you in your walk with God because I know he wants you back! You’re so important to him! I know that because otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the time to write this essay if He didn’t tell me to 😉

    All the best to you!

    • G says :

      This reply really touched my heart to the point that I broke down in tears. I am a Christian who struggles. I have an image of who I am “supposed” to be as a Christian and I fall so short that I often question my salvation. Your reply was full of grace and love and it felt like it was God’s very words to me as well as to the writer of the original comment. Thank you.

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