In the predawn hours on that first Easter Sunday, a small group of women approach the graveyard to embalm their beloved master for final burial. Suddenly a massive earthquake jolts them to their senses. They gaze into the sky as a figure in gleaming white robes slowly descends and rolls away the giant rock guarding the mouth of a cave. In it they think lays the lifeless body of Jesus having been crucified days before. Peering into the dark tomb uncertain of what to expect, they discover his body is missing.
Who doesn’t love a good mystery?
Lent is officially upon us. It marks the beginning of the holiest and most solemn observances on the Christian liturgical calendar, the lead up to the death and resurrection of Jesus, or Easter.
Depending on your religious persuasion, it may be the single greatest event in human history carrying eternal repercussions. Or it may be the biggest piece of fake news the world has ever heard.
I acknowledge this to be holy ground for many. It used to be for me too. However, this is not going to prevent me from undertaking a vigorously critical and completely dispassionate investigation into this sacred event. I have earned the right to do so.
My journey begins…
After my conversion at age seventeen, my world changed dramatically. I went from an insecure, depressed and aimless teenager with poor grades to a self assured, highly motivated and sincerely joyful young man. I could not have been more grateful to God for saving me from my old way of life and giving me a purpose and significance I never dreamed I could have.
Truth told, the first seventeen years of my life prepared me for this day. I was desperate and vulnerable when I entered the faith. I was a prime candidate for recruitment. It was not the promise of heaven that enticed me most. What kid is thinking about their own mortality at that age? I was drawn by the unconditional love and support I received almost immediately from the church’s youth group. Instead of being teased relentlessly at school, receiving little emotional support at home and having a father who never uttered a single word of encouragement or advice, I was suddenly surrounded by genuinely kind people. They respected me and accepted me unconditionally. This was my real salvation.
During the next dozen years I was consumed with Jesus, the Bible and sharing my faith with those I encountered. I dedicated my life to studying for the ministry attending Bible schools, Bible college and Seminary. I immersed myself in the evangelical culture as a leader seeking to equip others. However, along the way doubts began to creep in and weaken my evangelical faith.
Studying theology made me well aware I had espoused a version of Christianity which was non traditional. Of course I thought it was a “purer” or more “original” form of New Testament or Apostolic Christianity which made it more authentic. This conviction was repeatedly affirmed throughout my studies so I thought it must be accurate. After all, why would evangelical instructors mislead me?
As the doubts began to accumulate so too did my knowledge about the Bible and the historicity of my faith. With graduation from seminary approaching, I had determined, despite being constantly exposed to evangelical “propaganda” throughout my experience, evangelicalism was NOT theologically sound. After graduation I would reevaluate and rebuild my faith using the tools and skills I had acquired.
I want to emphasize in the strongest words possible that I was dissatisfied with evangelicalism and not God or Jesus. In fact I had what I referred to as a personal revelation while at seminary. I had been wrestling with God for sometime over this very issue getting frustrated with the blatant hypocrisy and complacency I saw all around me wherever I went. I had also concluded certain key evangelical doctrines were synthetic such as pre-tribulation premillennial dispensationalism, the conversion experience apart from baptism or “sinner’s prayer” popularized by Billy Graham. I also recognized there were no “evangelicals” anywhere throughout church history until quite recently (c. 200 years ago), something I learned the hard way while attending secular university. This combination of theological and practical insipidness confirmed my suspicions evangelicalism was a fabricated faith. Now I just needed to find the right one.
I was emboldened in my search for the truth about the Bible by my unwavering commitment to God and Jesus. He would certainly reward the efforts of one so dedicated to deepening and strengthening his faith.
Lately, evangelicalism has witnessed an avalanche of defection perhaps largely due to the toxicity now associated with it under the Trump administration. People leave for various reasons. Some grow out of it intellectually. Others find a more authentic or traditional style of Christian faith. Many discover evangelicalism is not consistent with their lifestyle. Some are let down by their faith or undergo personal hardship in their life or the life of someone close to them. None of these were my experience. Mine was subtle, gradual but most of all unexpected.
I have used the term “faith reflex” before. It refers to automatically going on the defensive when anyone begins to challenge your faith. I used to experience this regularly because you are taught people are going to resist the gospel so expect it. I didn’t realize it at the time but I unknowingly dropped mine when I started examining my faith. I didn’t see myself as a threat to my own beliefs so I entered into my quest with my mind wide open.
I mention all of this at the start of this inquiry into the cornerstone of Christianity, the resurrection, to illustrate the supreme importance of objectivity at all cost.
I can tell you with absolute certitude, if you are determined to believe what you believe, nothing I or anyone else can say will dissuade you in the least. Faith is extremely personal and powerful. Many people are betting their eternal destinies on it being true. How do you compete with heaven?
Rationalization is a common defense mechanism we use in many areas of our lives. It helps bring equanimity and peace of mind. Evangelical Christians use it whenever challenges seek to undermine their beliefs. Because Christianity is predicated on a belief in the supernatural and miraculous, there are no boundaries or limitations to their ability to rationalize away everything from science, common sense and logic to preserve their faith. Not everyone, however, is at the same place on their journey.
This and other articles is about planting seeds of doubt. Yes, I said it. But doubt is the first step on the path of discovering truth. You don’t learn anything if you already believe you have the truth. Nobody looks for something they already possess. Immediately some readers will put up their wall of faith and not let anything in. I understand this. It is my hope there are some who have allowed the door of doubt to be open just a crack to allow some of the light of reason to trickle in. It’s a start.
I offer my testimony of going from the most devout believer to current skeptic as a glimmer of hope for some. There is an alternative, an escape from an ideology which can be psychologically crippling. Evangelicals can feel trapped in a faith which ostracizes those who try to leave, especially the children of evangelical parents. To my thinking, there is only one true way out of evangelicalism. It requires a rational dismantling of one’s faith.
I referred earlier to my departure as subtle and gradual. It was virtually undetectable like water slowly eroding a foundation until the house falls down. For me, that house was Jesus, the one and only thing I was unwilling to give up when I began my mission. I came to realize then, believing or not believing in Jesus is a matter of whether the Bible is a credible and valid source of absolute truth from beginning to end. In other words, you can’t believe in Jesus and his resurrection so you can go to heaven but not the rest of it. It’s all or nothing.
This last point is important. Denying the creation account, or the story of the miraculous Exodus from Egypt, or Jonah and the Whale, or Elijah being transported to heaven in a world wind, or the Fall of Jericho, or Jesus walking on water or turning water into wine, but then accepting the resurrection alone as valid is intellectual cowardice. Furthermore, if one truly believes the resurrection, they are morally bound to live exemplary lives.
The degree to which one believes in the resurrection of Jesus is directly proportional to the sacrifices they are willing to make in this life in accordance with that truth.
Either one’s entire life is governed by the fear of God and conformity to his holy dictates demonstrated by a life of righteousness. Or the Bible is nothing more than a collection of ancient superstitions profitable for literary study and general moral guidelines.
In my previous life as an evangelical, I had no regrets whatsoever. I say that now with both pride and regret. Imagine spending your life until twenty-six (when I got married) as a virgin. I was sexually blameless in thought and deed in every way (use your imagination, I didn’t). Each morning I rose for personal prayer and Bible study. I lived out my faith every moment to the best of my (God’s at the time I thought) ability. At times the only sin I confessed was pride for thinking I had no sin to confess. In every way my Christian faith worked. I could not have been happier.
Imagine spending countless hours in intense theological studies for a decade, investing thousands of dollars, denying yourself basic worldly pleasures (tv, entertainment, sports, material goods etc.. ) because you were certain your “rewards” were in heaven. Having this perspective, and believing it (!) made sacrificing things on earth easy. I was doing it for the glory of God so it didn’t matter to me if I gave up worldliness for spiritual treasures.
Now imagine realizing every thing you worked so hard at and invested so much in, not the least of which was your entire young adult life, was for nothing. You had earned a BA and MA degrees in theology for a faith you did not believe in anymore.
The last two decades I have been as dedicated as I ever was as a believer in an exhaustive study of the Bible to uncover the truth. My focus has been on who Jesus was, and more importantly was not. My studies have also lead me through church history and to unravelling of evangelicalism’s origins. My drive to find the answers I desperately craved has been unrelenting at times bordering on compulsive. Time and energy have not been the only casualties of this lifelong exploration. Friends, family, relationships, career, contentment, personal ambitions and a marriage have also been left in its wake.
I conclude this introductory article on this note before we rationally “attack” the details surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection to impress upon my reader my own personal pain and suffering. I do not say this lightly nor facetiously. I too have paid the price because a man named Jesus walked the earth and was crucified.
I am where I am today and have sacrificed my life in order to obtain closure. I have found the answers I searched for. It is my sincere hope the information I will share will prevent others from having to take the same painful journey I took. For those already on their own journey perhaps these articles will serve as a road map of sorts to guide you.
There is no secret to finding truth. It requires nothing but an unwavering commitment to rational inquiry devoid of emotional distraction and distortion. If you think for a moment faith has any place in this quest, this will be a fool’s errand, pointless and meaningless.