Yeah, I'm thinking I'm back

This is in response to @MarkD, @Randy and @Jay313. All of whom have asked me to clarify what I meant by saying on another post that I had returned to faith but I haven’t returned to the same place I left.

This is long. And rambling at times. And I’m sure it’s pretty boring. But, it’s my story of the past few years. If you have any questions after reading this, please let me know and I’ll attempt to answer them.

My parents became believers when I was six years old. They experienced a radical change in their lives, going from hard-partying hippies of the late 1960s and early 1970s to the other end of the spectrum: church-attending, never miss a revival, preach to everyone (quite literally) you meet regardless of circumstances - even if it means holding up the queue line at the grocery store - and most important mantra of them all “train up your children in the way they should go …”

Being raised in a fundamentalist Christian home, I was expected to believe as my parents did, that the creation account in Genesis was a blow-by-blow narrative of EXACTLY how everything was created. I was expected to believe that the entire earth was flooded 15 cubits higher than Mt. Everest and that. I was expected to believe that every single word written in the Bible was absolutely true as if it were recorded by a narrator on videotape as it happened.

In 1977 I actually met Duane T. Gish, who put the idea that dinosaurs roamed the earth alongside man into my 11-year-old head by using behemoth and leviathan stories in Job. He showed me pictures from a stream bed in Texas of human footprints inside the larger footprints of a dinosaur and I was hooked into believing that particular narrative. He showed me pictures in Australia of petrified trees standing up through supposedly millions of years worth of geological layers of rock and asked: “did the lower layers stay mushy for hundreds of millions of years or does it make sense that this happened in a global flood?”

My parents enrolled me in highly fundamentalist schools from 2nd grade through 5th grade then, due to financial difficulties, I was enrolled in a public school for 6th and 7th grade. My parents intervened in the school’s teaching of evolution and fought tooth-and-nail with the administration and teachers. They also fought against the school teaching me about Greek mythology. I was forced to sit in the hallway outside the classroom so that I wouldn’t be exposed to these abhorrent teachings that “denied the Word of God.” I suppose that exposure to the stories of Zeus and his merry band of misfit gods would’ve made me a believer in the Grecian Pantheon?

I was enrolled in a Christian school again in the 8th grade and eventually graduated from there. Bible classes were the typical fundamentalist style with an “everything is literal except what we decide isn’t” slant. I spent the next 30+ years or so attending the most conservative of churches, primarily of the Presbyterian Church in America variety, and would argue with evolutionists offline and online using Answers in Genesis data (maybe I should call it propaganda). Other Christians would actually contact me for advice on arguing with an evolutionist.

Thirty-four years after I began attending that school, I enrolled my son there (mostly due to the academic rigor - they have an astounding reputation for producing college-bound kids with scholarships). Irony of ironies, the school now teaches kids that there are multiple interpretations of Genesis and even use some BioLogos’ YouTube videos in the Bible classroom. It was from my 16-year-old son that I first learned of BioLogos.

At that time (2015), I was experiencing a lot of doubt anyway concerning my faith and the truthfulness of the Bible. My business was struggling and I remember hearing a pastor say that God wants you to test him in regards to giving. “Test me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.” – Malachi 3:10 so I gave the church 10% of everything I earned only to watch my four largest accounts dump me. In my mind, God failed the test. My business failed, almost causing me to lose my home to foreclosure. I seriously contemplated several methods of suicide so that my wife and kids could be taken care of by my life insurance policy since I was well beyond the suicide clause in the policy. It was a very dark time in my life. I felt that God, if he even existed, either abandoned me or didn’t care. I couldn’t take care of my family and it had a devastating effect on my faith in God.

I had watched several of the BioLogos videos in secret since my wife insists that she didn’t “evolve from a monkey” and there would never be an end to that discussion. But once you watch a video, the YouTube algorithm recommends other videos that are similar and also recommends videos that others have watched. The videos that popped up in my recommended category included several atheist YouTube channels and I began watching them out of curiosity more than anything else. One, in particular, was by NonStampCollector and in it, his Microsoft Paint characters played a gameshow where Bible contradictions were highlighted. I looked up every reference to verify his claims and yep, there they were right there on the pages of my own Bible.

I felt like I’d been lied to my entire life about the inerrancy of Scripture. The errors were right there in front of me and either I was too stupid to see them or had simply glossed blindly over them. What really infuriated me was thinking that preachers, my parents, and my Bible teachers in school had also either simply missed these little nuggets of information or had intentionally left them out of their teachings. I found The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible and downloaded it on my Kindle. I would use it when my wife would drag me to church although she didn’t know what I was reading. I changed the wallpapers on my phone and tablet to reflect the bibviz.com graphical representation of all the contradictions in the Bible.

Over the course of two or three years, I voraciously consumed all this information and decided that the Bible was just a book of fairy tales dreamt up by some Bedouin wanderers to explain things they didn’t understand and it morphed over the centuries to where it is now … kinda like almost every other religion. I watched The Fundamental Falsehoods of Creationism by Aron Ra. I watched his fascinating series on The Flood. I watched ALL of NonStampCollector’s videos, watched 43Alley, DarkMatter2525, CosmicSkeptic, Genetically Modified Skeptic with Drew McCoy, and The Thinking Atheist with Seth Andrews. I became a fan of Richard Carrier, read one of his books, and read Dawkins, Hitchins, and Sam Harris. I began to realize that most Christians had never really investigated the Bible’s claims and that their faith (and mine) was about as deep as a puddle of water. Due to my upbringing, I still had a hard time calling myself an atheist but I knew it wasn’t going to be long before I had to reveal my beliefs to my wife and family.

My parents, who are only 18 years older than me and in great health, went to Ken Ham’s Ark Park in Kentucky. “We need to go to support Ken Ham because he is defending the Bible against secularists,” they told me. I was disgusted (still am but for different reasons now).

They came back with thinking they’d been educated and since they still hold to their “preach to everyone everywhere no matter what the circumstances” mantra, they began verbally downloading their newfound knowledge to my wife and family (as well as anyone else they came into contact with). One evening my wife said, “We should go to the Ark Park so that our faith is strengthened.” A switch flipped inside me. “No, I will never go to that joke.” She asked why and I unloaded the truck … a very full truck … of what I thought about Christianity and the Bible. Let’s just say my opinions were not positive.

To say she was devastated is like calling the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs a small piece of gravel.

The most interesting thing was her first and primary question wasn’t WHY or HOW … but WHEN? That one still baffles me. No request for more info, proof texts, or anything. She grasped at straws to find a reason why I no longer believed, blaming it on everything from me feeling sorry for myself to accusing me of having an affair to saying I was having a mid-life crisis.

We would argue night after night about the veracity of the Bible’s claims, and always ending with her sobbing that she never signed up to be married to an atheist. My parents had witnessed to her 35 years ago and as a result, she had become a Christian so I had that constantly thrown up to me. She was horrified that I had even had questions about my faith. I’ve since learned that it’s easy for some people to believe, but others of us, need more than just being told.

Eventually, she moved out.

My oldest daughter encouraged her to divorce me, my youngest daughter encouraged me to visit with our pastor at church, and my son kinda thought the same way I did. I felt like our family was disintegrating.

My wife said the only way she’d move back was if I met with our pastor, got into counseling with her, and deleted the books written by atheists from my Kindle. I’ve done all three, mostly because I love her and didn’t want to get divorced.

I decided to take my youngest daughter’s advice (and my wife’s demand) and meet with my pastor and quite frankly, I laid it all out on the table with him. He was incredibly understanding and told me that he also has periods of doubt, serious, leave-the-faith kind of doubts. But he seeks answers from other believers rather than from atheists and those doubts are always eventually allayed. He told me, however, that “97% of your questions can be answered or accounted for in some way, but you’ll never be able to get to 100% – faith has to come into play at some point because ‘without faith, it is impossible to please God.’” I told him I was okay with 97%.

He encouraged me to read Francis Schaeffer’s book The God Who Is There. I did, although it is very difficult to grasp his concepts because he is constantly coming up with new words and new definitions. It. Is. A. Tough. Read. But I can say that Francis Schaeffer got me thinking differently and on a different level. That man is deep.

I continued to meet with my pastor and he was very transparent, honest, and open about his own struggles with belief. He and I appear to be cut from the same cloth personality-wise and I never knew that about him (the church has thousands of members). One day, while in church no less, I found a website by Berend de Boer who had addressed many of the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible’s claims. It was a game-changer for me and caused me to realize that I’d done the same thing with atheism that I’d done with Christianity for all those years: blindly accept what was told to me or what I read or what I watched.

I began to realize that atheism’s claims and it’s proponent’s beliefs were about as deeply investigated as most Christian’s beliefs … that is, not very much. I began reading and listening to John Walton and NT Wright and many others, including BioLogos, and began to realize that my fundamentalism had caused me to see the world as black and white, either/or, and use a (false) dichotomy to explain my beliefs. I’ve railed against false dichotomies in many other areas, particularly professional, and yet here I was, a victim of my own thinking. NT Wright, in particular, attributes many of Bart Ehrman’s mistaken thinking to his fundamentalist upbringing where everything was a dichotomy.

I’ve come to believe that Christian fundamentalists have many “gods” they elevate and then use to judge the purity of other’s Christianity (no true Scotsman fallacy perhaps?):

  • Scriptural inerrancy - the false belief that there are no errors AT ALL in the Bible. There are scribal errors in copying, textual errors by the fallible men who wrote the Scriptures, and most certainly, there are translation errors. Inerrancy is a solution in search of a problem and I’ve come to believe that claiming that the Bible has no errors, when any person can easily point them out, sets up fundamentalists for failure and embarrassment in front of their atheist counterparts. I believe the Bible is reliable, but I cannot get back on board with inerrant.
  • Genesis as “history” - fundamentalists seem to hold on to the belief that Genesis was a blow-by-blow account of how even when everything - science, literary understanding of the era, textual critiques - all point to Genesis being more why/what than how.
  • Noah’s global flood - I don’t even want to get started on this one. I’ll be here all day.

When I said “Yeah I’m thinking I’m back” (hat tip to John Wick) what I meant was I’m no longer the staunch fundamentalist and I’ve traveled from Christian fundamentalist to atheist and back to just Christian. I’m much more fluid in what I believe (up to a point). I’ve found myself asking epistemological questions much more often and trying to examine what the Biblical author was trying to say to his audience and how his words would’ve been interpreted in light of the circumstances of that era. Further, I’m not beholding to any set of beliefs not spelled out in Scripture and even then, I’m willing to consider why someone would believe differently and look at, and seriously consider, the reasons why. I used to be a Five Point Calvinist, now, I’m not that sure and I’ve actually begun studying why other Christians believe differently. I’m not sure anyone, anywhere, has all the answers or knows everything. As such, why would I be able to determine who is or isn’t in the flock? Why should I be dogmatic? Why should anyone?

in John 13:35 (NLT) Jesus said: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” Based on how many fundamentalists and evangelicals act when they encounter someone who claims to be a Christian yet believes differently than they, I’m not seeing a lot of love. So … what does that mean?

The Ask NT Wright Anything, the Unbelievable? podcast and BioLogos’ Language of God podcast have been highly instrumental in my return to the faith. What is so refreshing is the level of respect for people who don’t share their beliefs. There is a graciousness in their interactions that I believe is how we are supposed to live amongst people who do not share our beliefs. I’ve learned more in the last six months than I did in 12 years of Christian school and then 30 years sitting in a Church pew and Sunday School. And I stand by my assertion that most Christians and most atheist’s/agnostic’s beliefs are about as deep as a puddle of water in the Namib.

I’m astounded - daily - at how the doctrines of men have crept into the Church. I’m astounded at how Christians have taken the idea of “free love” from the 1970s and have transformed it into an “unconditional love” doctrine that is preached from the pulpit. I’m astounded at the incongruities between Scripture and some of the contemporary songs sung in Churches today. I’m continually asking myself, “What verse did they read to come up with THAT?” I dare say that the early Church fathers and the Apostles wouldn’t recognize many of the Church’s teachings today any more than the men who wrote the US Constitution would recognize the monstrous US Federal government. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

I’ve come to value the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed because they boil the Gospel down to the essentials. It’s all about Jesus and the character and nature of God. Eighty to ninety-five percent of everything else is just fluff, dogma, and the doctrine of man.

I fully believe I am a Christian. But I struggle. A lot.

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Great post above; I believe many of us can resonate. Have you read Rachel Held Evans’ “Inspired”? It reminds me of this, too.

But I struggle. A lot

and

I’m in that camp, too! I, too, am deeply grateful to Biologos for helping me think through these things and providing a safe place to discuss concerns.

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Great post, can certainly see myself in your thought process, though I’ve not so much drama.

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Hi Ron,

Thanks for sharing all of this. It’s good to hear that you’ve managed to come through the time of testing. I think this will help you understand what you’ve been through:

It’s called the Gartner Hype Cycle, and although it was originally designed for the context of information technology, I think it’s also a fairly vivid illustration of how each of us develops in our Christian faith.

The “Innovation Trigger” here corresponds to when you get saved. There’s often a lot of joy and excitement, you’re learning fresh new things all the time, you’re soaking up the Bible and your expectations and faith level are high. This is a phase that’s often characterised by young-earth creationism, the prosperity gospel, an excitement about things such as the Rapture, and preaching the Gospel to strangers in Sainsbury’s whenever you go shopping.

Sooner or later though, your faith starts to get tested. For me, the testing came in the years after my father died. I was working for him in the church supporting his Bible teaching ministry in his final years, and after he died I found myself really struggling to make sense of everything. Unfortunately, the support I got from the church at the time left a lot to be desired, but I can’t really blame them – they’d never had anyone on the church staff die in service before, and I don’t think they knew how to handle it any better than I did. But I ended up questioning all sorts of things, and when I left the church staff about four years later to go and work for a web agency, my faith was hanging by a thread. This is what corresponds to the “trough of disillusionment.”

Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story, because the next stage is the “slope of enlightenment.” It’s where God starts to pick up the pieces of what’s left of your faith, putting it back together piece by piece, but leaving out the superfluous bits, until eventually you reach the “plateau of productivity.” So for me, while my patience for young-earth creationism, prosperity preachers with private jets, pseudo-prophetic newspaper eschatology with its repeated failed attempts to predict the date of the Rapture, and any kind of anti-intellectualism in general are gone forever, and while I grieve for my brothers and sisters in Christ who are being led astray by the current idolatry with Trump and Brexit, I can still now say, with Job, that “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end, He will stand on the earth.”

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Hi Ron,
Thanks so much for sharing your story. I didn’t find it boring at all, and many aspects of it resonated with me. I appreciate your honesty in putting this out there and am glad you are “back in the fold”!

It’s so wonderful that your pastor was willing to be vulnerable with you in that way. Hearing those kinds of things from someone in leadership can be a game-changer, especially if you’ve been brought up in an environment where doubting is considered a sin that will send you to hell. I think some pastors (and laypeople too) think it’s their job to exude constant confidence to everyone, but that cam lead to disillusionment.

I often wonder whether fundamentalism causes black-and-white thinking, or whether people with that kind of mindset are just more likely to be drawn to fundamentalism. Maybe a bit of both. I’ve had to work hard to see nuance in things and fight against the urge to just become a fundamentalist version of whatever new iteration of faith I’ve developed. It’s exhausting. But worth it, and a very enlightening process. May God bless you as you wrestle through this new process of faith!

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Thank you @Randy
I haven’t read her book but I have it on my wish list. I’m so far behind with my reading right now…
I appreciate your kind and thoughtful response.

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Thanks for sharing. I think your story will be an encouragement to the many people who come here with similar struggles against the dichotomies and black and white thinking of their fundamentalist background. It’s a long path out.

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Thank you @jpm.
To be quite frank, I’ve only scratched the surface on the drama! There has been quite a bit of it with my mother this week as she has been attending a conference at her church called “Is Genesis History?” I’m not sure why they even included the question mark because to the producers of that film/conference/moneygrab, there is no question. The word “is“ should have been written after the word “Genesis.”

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Wow, what an encouraging response. Beautiful really.
Thank you James @jammycakes.

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Hi @Laura and thank you. I’m glad you weren’t bored!

Yes, my pastor is a great encouragement. And he is very honest, even from the pulpit in front of the entire congregation. He is a rare man indeed!

I find your last paragraph very interesting and I share your idea that it is perhaps a little bit of both regarding the fundamentalist mindset vs black-and-white thinking.

Thank you for your kind words and God bless!

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Thank you Christy. It is indeed a long path and I’ve only been on it about seven weeks. While I still have the same tired old struggles with my parents, I don’t live with them. My wife is another story altogether. She remains highly skeptical of my belief system and questions me quite often. It becomes exhausting.

There are many times I’m not sure what to do or say. She would probably make a very good police investigator as she commonly asks the same question 12 different ways and acts as if each question is new and unique.

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At least she is engaged and anxious to understand your position. It is a difficult position for her also, as I am sure her friends and support system are composed of YEC adherents, and she feels threatened that could be pulled from beneath her, with some justification. My wife is not terribly sciency and is more theologically conservative than me, but does not really see an issue with conflict with science and religion ( I guess years of watching NOVA on PBS has something to do with that!). She has a fair number of YEC friends who range toward the fundamentist camp, but truthfully, the subject rarely comes up in day to day life. So, I suspect your wife is looking for some reassurance that all is going to be well.

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Thank you for sharing your story!

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Thanks so much for sharing … what a great story!! I had to laugh at this. Not because it was truly funny, but because you seem surprised. :slight_smile: For how many years did you hide your paradigm shift from her? She certainly will have trust issues in this regard for a while. Fruit, however, in your life, is undeniable. That’s the beauty of a Living God and a Living and Active Word. Thank you, again, for sharing your encouraging words.

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I think this is huge. One thing to remember in all this is that movements (whatever they be) never just convert individuals. It may start there, but it is an entire family (or marriage) that is affected. It isn’t without reason that scriptures sometimes refer to “entire households” being saved when actually we are only told about the Jailer’s conversion or such. While the individual component is essential (even prior) to be sure, the ripples never stop there. Unless they are a hermit. But chances are then that they aren’t frequenting blog world or exposing themselves to new ideas.

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I believe that’s right.
I’m much more willing to alter my views based on new information and my willingness to adopt change concerns her. That’s been in my DNA (so to speak) since birth, however. You should check out my college transcripts to see how many times I changed my major!

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You’re welcome, Hillary. Thank you for your encouraging response!

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Those are very valid points, Mervin. Thank you for sharing.
In many ways, I’ve always been much more independent than her. I DO see your point about conversions occurring within groups or families and I suppose she is worried about being isolated. I need to find some way to reassure her but I’m coming up empty so far.

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I think that trust will come in time so long as you remain open and keep a humble and loving attitude towards those who disagree. I find myself at times in situations where the subject of origins comes up, and while I may disagree, I either let it go or say I disagree but move on to other facets that we have in common, leaving it up to others to ask if they have any interest. ( I usually find that most people outside of the internet really do not want to discuss age of the earth, as it causes them cognitive dissonance to hold that position if they really think about it.)

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Hey, if I may ask, what do you believe about Hell? And did your view on Hell change from what it was before your deconversion vs after reconversion?