Image via WikipediaI had a conversation with someone lately via email and they were asking about how I became a Christian and how I ended up leaving the Christian faith. Most of the time people who are Christians do not see how someone could have been a “true Christian” if they end up leaving the faith, so when they hear that I am no longer a Christian, they assume that I had a false faith of some kind. I wanted to briefly share my story of how I became a Christian and how I came to not be a Christian. I know that many people will still feel as though I was not a “real” Christian, but there is not much that I can do about that. The bottom line for me is that I was honestly a Christian and believed in Jesus and the Bible with all of my heart. I left the faith because I feel that I was bound by my conscience to be honest with myself about what I could and could not truly believe anymore.
I grew up in a Christian home but…was not serious about my faith as a teenager at all. I was into drugs and alcohol quite a bit and I had a pretty bad experience on some heavy drugs which scared me into stopping. As I sobered up I had this intense feeling that I was not right with God. I felt that if I were to die that i was likely going to go to hell. I KNEW what I had to do to get right with God from my Christian upbringing and so after a few “divine appointments” of meeting people who invited me to church with them I accepted and went. I KNEW that this was the right thing to do and I FELT that as I heard the gospel and responded that I was forgiven of my sin and assured of eternal life because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ in my behalf on the cross. I accepted this by faith and my life totally changed.
I then wanted to study and know as much as i could about my faith. Not to prove it to be true, because i already knew that by faith, but to simply be able to “give an answer to everyone who asks for the hope that is within me”. I had a lot of friends at the time who were not Christians and who thought that my new found dogmatism in this narrow minded Christian faith was misguided. “Sure Jesus was fine, but how can you say that he is the only way” they would tell me. I wanted what I was experiencing with God to be my friends experience so i wanted to give them the best arguments that I could find to show them that Christianity was a rational belief. I read and listened to tapes by Josh McDowell, Normal Geisler, Henry Morris and any other apologetics that I could find who were popular at the time (about 1990 - 1991). Unable to “convince” my friends, I moved on with my life and immersed myself in the church and found all new Christian friends who were an encouragement to my faith rather than always wanting to attack me. I lived every day as if God was with me the whole day. Reading my Bible and praying and talking to God at work and throughout my days. I loved to worship God and felt especially close to the Lord during worship times at church. It seemed that God was answering my prayers and truly responding to me about daily things in my life. There were countless times that certain “coincidences” happened which seemed to show that God was truly working in my life. I had no doubts in my mind that Jesus was real and that my sins were forgiven.
In time I had opportunity to teach various bible studies and realized how much I really did not know and so I went to a small Bible College in California for a few years. I felt a call to preach the gospel and to teach people about the faith. When i taught, people seemed to be encouraged and drawn closer to the Lord and many people told me about how much they were able to learn from my teaching. After Bible College, I took a position as a youth pastor for a few years and then taught in various capacities in different churches that I went to. I taught small group Bible studies, new believers classes at a larger church, preached in pulpits from time to time, and taught at various random times in different settings. During all of this time (about 8 years or so) I don’t remember EVER doubting that God was real or that He was near me every day. Although I struggled like anyone does when you feel distant from the Lord at times I always had faith and always knew without a doubt that I was following the truth and that my sins were forgiven.
I always worked with people who were not Christians and I loved to talk to people about my faith and try to persuade them that they should consider Christ. In about 1999, I worked with a few guys that I would talk to on a regular basis about Christianity. One of them in particular kept pushing me on some basic questions about knowing whether the Bible was true or not and some of their questions just stuck in the back of my head. At first, it just encouraged me to study more so that i could give a good answer to them and feel comfortable with the answer myself but as time went on, I started to become more and more concerned. I met with my pastor and other people from time to time to share with them the issues that I was having problems with and I would get a little better but end up coming back to these questions which seemed to be a real problem. I remember reading a book by John Macarthur on preaching and he was talking about various preachers of the past who had struggled with their faith. One guy, G. Campbell Morgan, had similar questions and just decided one day that if the Word of God was truly powerful, that he should be able to set all of his other books aside for a time and just read the Bible and if it was true, he would be convinced of it. He did this for a year and when the year was up, he emerged with a faith that was stronger than ever. I figured that I would try the same thing. I put my apologetics and theology books on the shelf and just focused on trying to read the Bible and better my relationship with God. I tried reading more devotional books that were meant to encourage my daily walk with Christ . Books by men like John Piper, Andrew Murray, A.W Tozer and others. My thought was that since I did not come to Christ through arguments and logic, why was I trying to keep my faith in that way. I came to Christ because i had an experience with God where I felt his presence and just knew that Jesus was real and could forgive my sins. It was as if God had written his truth on my heart and I didn’t need to do anything to figure it out, I just had to believe it.
I would go back and forth between the struggle with my intellectual doubts and my internal faith which seemed to come directly from God. Eventually, I felt as though I was avoiding my intellectual problems and I truly felt like I was not being honest with myself. I had to deal with these things. I had to face them head on. If the Bible was true then surely it would stand the test of intense scrutiny as has been the testimony of so many famous Christians like C.S Lewis, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel and others. My problems and questions only got bigger the more I studied and looked into things. I realized that I was assuming the Christian faith to be true before I even started to find out of it was defensible. What bothered me was that when I was talking to other people who were Mormon’s or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Muslims I would not allow them to do that. They had to deal with the contradictions in their faith and show that there as good historical reasons to believe it. If a Mormon could assume the truth of the Book of Mormon at the beginning then anything that I showed them that tried to point out inconsistencies or errors in it could be resolved since they KNEW it was true in the first place because of an experience that they had with God. I realized that I was doing essentially the same thing and that it was really not an honest way to look at things. I had to look at the Christian faith from the outside and see if it was internally consistent like I would with any other religion or truth claim. Even though i felt as though I had a genuine experience with God and that he answered my prayers and showed himself to be real to me, I had to consider that many people of other faiths had the exact same experience with their “God”. How was I to distinguish between true experiences with God and false ones? Wasn’t it a little arrogant for me to expect that my experience with God was true while all of these other people’s was false without even looking at the facts? Was it possible that my experiences with God were imagined or that I might be the one who was believing the wrong things? I had to at least grant the POSSIBILITY that this could be true. I easily wrote off other people’s claims to answered prayers and religious truth since it did not agree with mine but was that truly justified?
The problem was that when I held the Christian faith to a strict a standard of logic and historical accuracy as I did Mormonism or Islam, it failed just like they did. The more I looked at it from that perspective, the more I saw that there was no more reason to believe Christianity then there was to believe that Mohamed was a prophet of God. And the likelihood of Mohamed being a prophet seemed pretty slim. A few of the problems with the Bible that stood out to me were:
- We have little to no idea who wrote the gospels and much of the new testament and old testament.
- The earliest copies of the new testament that we have are over 100 years after they were written.
- There is apparently no evidence that the Israelites were in Egypt as slaves.
- The more we examine it, the Bible is shown to be a primitive book written by a primitive people with a very primitive understanding of the world.
- The Bible speaks as if Heaven is up from the earth and hell is beneath the earth. Jesus ascended "up into heaven" through the clouds into... outer space?
- If allowed to speak for itself in its own context, the Bible blatantly contradicts itself by teaching polar opposite points of view on major subjects like salvation by works or faith, the salvation of all or only a few, the existence of Hell, The nature of God, the resurrection of Christ etc etc etc.
- So called prophecies in the Bible are usually so ambiguous that to call them a prophecy is laughable and very similar to believing in astrology.
- The Bible speaks of major events that have no evidence whatsoever which is similar to the book of Mormon.
I have continued to read and ask questions and talk to as many people who would talk to me (which often is not that many) about these things. I just came to a point where I realized that I really did not believe it any longer even though I am very open to the possibility of the Christian faith being true. I still like to think that I am open and willing to listen to what someone wants to say. I will listen and evaluate whether it seems likely to be true based on whether it is a logically consistent belief, whether it lines up with reality as we know it, and is consistent with History as far as we can tell. I can’t in good conscience just take religious claims on faith since there are so many competing religious claims that are asking me to do that. There has to be a way to distinguish them and to separate truth from error or else it would be too easy to drink a poisoned glass of Kool-aid to my own demise.
For more on the specific reasons that I have for not being a Christian you can check out my blog at consciencebound.com