Ultimately, my criticism of the Bible in general and Jesus’ resurrection in particular boils down to whether there’s a heaven after death. Frankly, very, very few evangelical Christians care about being the absolute best Christians they can be, or about pursuing righteousness and seeking heavenly rewards. They profess faith in Jesus resurrection from the dead for a single reason: They hope to go to heaven when they die!
Evangelical Christianity is fear based and hope fueled.
I have stated repeatedly, the current complacency and tepidness that characterizes most of American evangelicalism is because it is a religion of “dabblers.” Evangelicals want to do as little Christian service as they can get away with and give up as little of this world’s pleasures and still believe they have eternal life.
If evangelicals had to “work” to keep their salvation, society would be instantly transformed overnight. If one had to prove their faith daily by acts of charity, kindness, generosity and good will in order to “keep” their salvation, poverty, homelessness and every social injustice would be eradicated. The fact they don’t breeds the shallowness of faith so evident throughout churches not to mention rampant hypocrisy.
When I “accepted Jesus into my heart” at seventeen years of age, I was thrilled at the prospect of spending eternity with Jesus but that was not my primary motivation for converting. I wanted Jesus to change my life now!
A poll was taken not long ago asking evangelicals to rate the level of spiritual enrichment provided in their homes when they were children. Roughly 70 percent described it as good or great and the remaining 30 percent as poor. What is remarkable about this poll it assumed evangelicals were raised in evangelical homes. And judging from the response, most were.
I attended five different evangelical institutions in four countries. I have ministered in dozens of churches and interacted with thousands of evangelicals over the fifteen years I spent as a believer. One thing is absolutely beyond question. Most of evangelicalism is repopulated from within. Believes inherit the faith of their parents in most cases. These are generational evangelicals.
I mention this because unlike me, most evangelicals have never undergone a radical transformation from unbeliever to believer. Most have grown up exposed to the evangelical culture and in many cases instructed in biblical teaching from an early age. Immersion in evangelicalism is common. Many have always been “good” Christians with the occasional backsliding or stumbling in sin. This is their “Prodigal Son” experience. Because of this biblical inculturation from childhood, many don’t fully appreciate the benefits of believing or the power it can bring in changing a life.
After my conversion my life changed in dramatic ways. To me it was nothing less than miraculous and for that reason I endeavored to live my life to the highest biblical standards because I was afraid if I didn’t, I would “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30) and revert back to my old way of life. I understood the power of God in my life and I was not about to loose it.
Few evangelicals can offer a similar testimony. Their great reward awaits them when they die. They may experience occasional blessings or moments of God’s goodness but the fear of God is rarely on their minds. If it were, the evangelical church would not be awash in divorces, premarital sex, materialism, consumerism, greed, arrogance, pride, selfishness while lacking self control, discipline, humility, servanthood, meekness, suffering, modesty, self denial etc…
When I discovered Christianity was unfounded, I lost my ticket to heaven but I also lost the Holy Spirit in my life. Neither mattered because both were illusions. I had created the conviction God who was greater than me was empowering me. It was a testimony to the power of faith but also the realization I had the potential within me all the time. It was my Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow all rolled into one, reverse “Wizard of Oz” moment.
What about heaven?
Here is the rub when it comes to evangelicals or any Christians for that matter. The allure of a future eternal bliss is far too strong to resist and not worth questioning. The beauty of believing there is a glorious afterlife is no one can disprove it, at least not in this life. So Christians exploit this innate fear endemic to mankind and offer free hope. Jesus paid the price so we don’t have to is the Christian gospel refrain. You simply believe with child like faith and your place is heaven is forever guaranteed, no strings attached.
The moment I came to the understanding heaven like hell was a fiction like most spiritual concepts in the Bible, I was released from the fear of the afterlife. More than half of Americans (58%) believe in hell and almost three quarters (72%) believe in heaven. These are staggering statistics in a society where reason not revelation should rule. Most Americans cling to this hope forcing them to identify as some iteration of Christian. It also spawns a mediocrity which often manifests itself in external attacks on those who do not belong to the faith. This transference of moral responsibility from the individual to members of society who do not conform to your ideals is both hypocritical and cowardly.
Some of the tragic ironies of American evangelicals is their refusal to live by the same rigorous moral code they attempt to inflict on others. Furthermore, while decrying the slightest insinuation of loss of their own religious freedom, they seek to impose restrictions or the removal of the rights of others. Judging others passes for personal religiousity while conveniently ignoring their own spiritual shortcomings.
I would have loved to have continued in my life as a devout evangelical, born-again Christian. I loved Jesus right to the very end. I was (and still am) passionately devoted to Bible study. I delighted in the discipline, dedication and personal sacrifice to which a disciple of Jesus was called. I had no interest in riches or material goods. The world of entertainment seemed far beneath my moral standards and provided no real value or enrichment to my life. In a word, the rewards of my faith far outweighed what I gave up in temporal or worldly pleasures. How many evangelicals would identify with this lifestyle today?
My departure from the faith was a slow and steady erosion precipitated by an earnest search for the truth in the Bible. It was purely intellectual. I began an exhaustive investigation into the foundations of my evangelical faith in hopes of deepening, strengthening and purifying it. I kept Jesus as my focus, used the theological tools I had acquired in Bible college and seminary and plodded on confident God would reward me with a truer faith.
The undoing of my faith was the dropping of my faith guard. This gave me an objectivity which unbeknownst to me allowed me to see the Bible in a never before new light. No longer restricted by an evangelical perspective, I assumed I would reconstruct my faith not lose it. It was incredibly liberating (at first) to start from theological scratch. I would systematically rebuild my faith, relying on the writings of the Church Fathers, findings of the ecumenical councils, history of the Christian Church and of course the biblical text itself.
The confidence I gained as I abandoned various (evangelical) doctrines eventually led to examining the person of Jesus and the Hebrew prophecies attesting to his role as messiah and eternal son of God. It was here I came face to face with the real Jesus.
A rigorous scrutiny of the gospels and Hebrew prophecy persuaded me Jesus was not who I thought he was. And more importantly, he was not who he thought he was! In the end, reason led me to conclude, Jesus was a disillusioned and ultimately disappointed self appointed eschatological prophet who briefly entertained messianic ambitions. These like Jesus himself, died on the cross.