"Be like the bird that, passing on her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing that she hath wings." – Victor Hugo
Sometimes, as we deal with issues such as the problems at Mars Hill and Sovereign Grace Ministries, we can inadvertently overlook the deeper issues of the faith. Our perceptions and doctrines of the faith are forced fed to us by the evangelical leaders du jour who tell us that their view on the faith is unsurpassed. We lurch from issue to issue, forming hard and fast "beliefs" on secondary doctrines of eschatology, creationism and, currently, Neo-Calvinism. In each of these areas we argue vociferously, believing that issues like premillennialism or the age of the earth are salvific doctrines.
We forget that there is a world which is watching and questioning our pat answers. Sometimes I wonder if we give our glib responses because it is too hard to struggle with difficult issues. It certainly is nice to tell people that the earth is 6000 years old and not have to think deeply about the complexities involved. We can then get back to picking out next "Christian" presidential candidate and building a nice coffee bar in our church so people will come to the Lord.
Pastors like John Piper seem to have no trouble telling people that God collapses bridges on purpose in order to help John to repent. But some people then ask if such a God is worth worshipping. We Christians huff at such comments because,well, you know, we know that God is good. But, if push comes to shove, we really can't explain it all that well, can we?
About 6 years ago, I discovered a site called Ex-Christians.net link. I was curious about those who claim to have been Christians and yet no longer believe.This site challenged my assumptions. In some ways, this is a coming out for me. You see, I used to believe that people who walk away from the faith were never really Christians. That is what I had been taught. However, after a number of years of reading stories on that site, talking with ex-Christians and reading a whole bunch, I have come to believe that some of these folks had been Christians. I could not negate their years of service, theological studies, evangelical efforts and their sense, at one time, of a God who was there.
I read, with horror, comments placed at Ex-Christians by Christians who told them they had never been Christians in rude and condescending ways. Many said that these folks were looking for an excuse not to believe. They seemed to overlook the fact that many of these people had served as missionaries and pastors. They had done the BSF, Campus Crusade, Young Life thing. They led Bible studies, led music and attended church whenever the door was open. And something happened. For each of them, that something is different. Not all of them were hurt by the church. Many of them simply began asking questions for which they received answers that did not address their issues.
Last week, one of my pastors declared, with great certainty, he is a Christian. So had many of these ExChristians at one time or another. I asked another pastor to help me puzzle this through. I asked him if people could have been Christians and then stop believing. He always answers in questions in order to make us think. His question this time, actually answered my question. He said "If these persons were never Christians, even if they believed they were, how do you know that you are really a Christian?" Think about it.
"Doubtful" has been a polite, thoughtful and kind commenter on this site for a long time. He has agreed to tell his story. I am hoping that our readers will understand the courage that this step takes. Stephen Covey has said "Seek first to understand, rather then to be understood." Some of us need to listen.
Also, you can find "Doubtful" over at his new blog, Christian Agnostic here
Doubtful, thank you for your willingness to educate all of us. You will always be welcome here at TWW! (I have bolded a couple of pertinent comments that I find of particular interest.)
Before I tell you about how and why I de-converted from Christianity, let me give you a brief tour of my previous Christian life. Ready, steady, go………
My Christian Life
I was raised in a Christian home in the Northeast, and attended an Evangelical Presbyterian church from age 7 until my mid teens. It was at the age of eight that I responded to a Sunday school teacher’s presentation of the gospel and prayed to receive Christ into my heart. I was involved with the church youth group and Boys Brigade up until High School.
In High School, I was involved with Young Life and became a student leader (Campaigner) was actively involved with the Young Life club at my school, and also involved in the trips to Saranac Lake and Lake Champion. In college, I continued with Young Life as a volunteer leader. I led clubs, led campaigner Bible studies, organized trips to Young Life camps, volunteered for work crew, and led worship on leadership retreats. I also had some involvement with Campus Crusade, including a week at Daytona spring break, Intervarsity, and Chi-Alpha. Not to mention that I also helped fund and promote a couple of Christian concerts at my school (it was a public University, not a Christian school).
After college, I worked full time at my local Christian bookstore. I worked there for 14 years as a store manager, music buyer, gift buyer, and staff trainer (did I mention that I also scrubbed some toilets in my time). After the bookstore, I was hired by a Christian division of Warner Music. I served as a sales rep. for the Northeast and then the entire West Coast. I spent almost every waking hour in Christian bookstores, helping to market and promote the latest Christian music and DVD’s. I worked in this role for almost 10 years , before changes in the industry forced Warner to lay off almost 90% of our division.
Personally, I had gotten married to a woman I met in college. We had met at church, got married ina Calvary Chapel and soon began attending an SGM church. I served in the worship band, was part of a church planting team where I also served in as a worship leader. After leaving SGM, we helped with a local Vineyard church plant where again, I served on the worship team and became a small group leader. Attended some pastoral training conferences with Vineyard and was on unpaid staff at another Vineyard church on the West Coast. This is the brief version of my Christian life and involvement in the church….
I mention all these things in the hopes, that no one will come along and say that I must not have had enough information, or that maybe I had never really been a Christian. It’s frustrating to have that thrown at me, considering that I was committed to Christ in both a personal and professional way. I truly believed with all that was in me, and tried to be Christ like in all that I did. I read the Bible as much as possible, and was reading books about the Bible or Christian life when I wasn’t reading the Bible. I’m not sure what else I could say to convince someone that I had been a Christian.
The Circle Doesn’t Go Unbroken
There’s an old folk gospel song that asks the question, will the circle be unbroken? For me, it would be broken, and I’ll try to describe some of the key issues that lead me from my faith to an agnostic point of view…
When I was involved with SGM churches, as many here know, there was a huge emphasis on gender roles. The pastors of SGM preached often on the subject and it was hammered home in the small groups (called care groups) that men should lead their homes and women and children should submit to their husband’s authority. They also preached that man, woman, and child should be submitted to the local church’s authority, in other words, the pastors. I won’t repeat all the abuses that were rife in these churches, as they have been well documented….but it did lead me to a scriptural conundrum. SGM and their teaching on pastoral/ marital authority roles were consistent with what was taught in the New Testament. They took the face value teaching of Paul and Peter, applied to today, and followed it to its logical conclusions-which led to all sorts of abuse, neglect, and pain to all involved.
I began to wonder why God would have such confusing and hurtful passages in Scripture? I tried desperately to find alternative views, that would allow me to see some sort of wisdom from those passages, but as much as some of the alternative views were attractive, I could not wipe away the fact that scripture spoke of women as a lower class of human than men. Men, by accident of birth, were to be the leaders and rulers in home and the church, according to the plain reading of the Scriptures. This bothered me because of the abuse I had seen up close…
I started to explore the early church, to see how they handled these scriptures. What I found was even more diverse that I had imagined. Some early church movements seemed to have women Apostles and deaconesses, even alluded to in the New Testament, while other early church movements saw women as a seed of the devil, only to be saved through childbirth, but not to be trusted in any other way. Needless to say, the history of the early church provided little relief.
Another issue that began to creep up, was the history of the Scriptures themselves….some scholars on the Women’s issue (like Gordon Fee) argued that many of the texts about women being silent and submitting, were additions to the text, and that they should not be binding on the church, since they were of dubious origin. At first I was relieved, and started to see that this indeed might have been a case of cultural bias being written in to the Scriptures. But the relief was short lived….
I began to realize that if these texts, had been possibly added, than there might be other texts that had been added or changed as well. The more I researched the issue (among Evangelical scholars) I realized that the issue of contradicting manuscripts was a major issue. One fact I came across that blew my inerrant mind, was the fact that over 7,000 copies exist of Paul’s letters, and every single one is different than the other-no two are the same. But the final blow came when I was reading a history of the persecution of women accused of witchcraft. It was a terrible history of both Catholic and Protestant churches using the Bible to condemn and kill thousands of women on the flimsy charge of witchcraft. It occurred to me, that so much of this pain, murder, torture and fear mongering could have been avoided except for the Bible’s teaching on women. Why would God allow this to be so? The more disturbing thought, was that if it was a result of someone adding or changing the text, then why didn’t God prevent it? It’s a question I’ve yet to get an adequate answer…
I have many friends who are seminary trained, full time clergy/ pastors. I have summed it up for them this way, “If the Bible is the most important message that God could ever hope to say to mankind, and it is supposed to be reliable and without error in the original form, than why didn’t he bother to make sure it would be preserved without error?” It just seems unbelievable to me that God would not bother to keep the scriptures from being corrupted (or lost, as in the final chapter of Mark). I’ve had a couple of my friends admit that this bothers them as well. I’ve had others say they agree with my approach to textual criticism, yet they disagree with my conclusions. But I can no longer put my faith in a book as the infallible word of God, when it so obviously has been changed, let alone has contradictions within the text itself. Once this house of cards fell, my faith was no more.
My Life After Christianity
I am one of the lucky ones, when I finally built up the courage to tell my wife that I no longer believed, she listened, asked some questions, and then told me she never thought the Bible made much sense. She was, in fact, a functional agnostic. She had always been a Christian, because she had no choice as a child. As a wife, she supported my faith and chose not to take issue with it. It was a huge relief, I know of other instances where the believing spouse divorced the unbeliever or made life such a battle that the relationship suffered greatly.
As for my kids, after about a month, my wife and I decided to tell our kids that we were no longer Christians. We let them ask questions, which were many and also told them that we would not be raising them as Christians. We didn’t forbid them to have faith, we just let them know it would be their choice, not ours, what they chose to believe or not to believe about God.
The hardest part has been the reaction of friends and family. For the most part, we are now viewed with suspicion by many in our family. We recently received a letter from a family member, in which he describes us as deceived and followers of Satan….sigh….My wife couldn’t even read it. This same rhetoric has been leveled at my children at school. My one son came home confused, because a friend told him he was a Satanist if he didn’t believe in God. My daughter had the threat of hell preached to her at a sleep over. No fun, but that it is what the Bible Teaches, so I am not surprised. It is still not fun to know that you are regarded as unintelligent, uninformed, deceived, and following the lies of Satan.
One Final Note
This is kind of my coming out to the Christian blog community….let me explain. A few years ago I began blogging over at SGM Survivors under the handle of Musicman. You can read my story at this link.
If you read it, you will see that it is from a Christian point of view. That’s because, I was still very much a Christian when I began to participate on SGM Survivors and the Refuge. I have nothing but respect for Kris, Guy, Jim, and Carol and for the price they have paid to allow us Survivors to have a voice on the internet. As I began having doubts, I also began reading the Wartburg Watch. When I started to post, I would do so as doubtful. Recently, I began a blog, http://christianagnostic.wordpress.com/ , it’s my way of beginning to think out loud about many of the issues I dealt with as a Christian. I still enjoy participating here and at the SGM blogs. I did not want to be dishonest about where I am now (no longer a Christian) but since the purpose of the sites are Christian, I did not want to be seen as adversarial. I occasionally will pipe up, but I try not to comment on theology or give advice about what to believe. I still have much sympathy for anyone who’s been abused and I try to support and affirm folks, even though I no longer share their faith.
As always, thanks to the Wartburg Watch for being a place of lively discussion and for the personal warmth I have felt from Queen Bees of TWW!
Lydia's Corner: Jeremiah 39:1-41:18 2 Timothy 1:1-18 Psalm 90:1-91:16 Proverbs 26:1-2