Anybody who has been in a cult or deeply immersed in the evangelical culture who then “gets out” knows the culture shock of entering the “real” world. For me it was scary but it is all a question of how invested one was before leaving.
Before we begin let me say this: It has taken me a lifetime of biblical research to find the answers I once thought I already had. It has been an exceedingly long and arduous journey fraught with hurt and regret but mostly loneliness. This has been a solo undertaking. In the end, I found the answers I desperately craved. I discovered Jesus was just a man, the Bible is just a book and evangelicalism is just wrong.
Only in the last year have I felt my research is complete and the time is right to launch a frontal assault on biblical authority and expose its many flaws. When you are tackling the legitimacy of historical Christianity and Jesus, it is imperative you have all your facts right. Too much is at stake.
I appreciate how sensitive a topic this is for the millions who subscribe to evangelical ideology but I have earned the right to be heard. I have suffered tremendously as a result of investing my life in evangelicalism. My goal is to prevent others from making a similar mistake or to help those struggling to extricate themselves from evangelicalism’s grasp find answers.
I must point out, challenging the authority of the Bible has far reaching consequences beyond a mere academic exercise. The evangelical “world” is spilling into the real would with potentially devastating consequences. Along with the damage it has already caused in people’s lives those in positions of power and influence threaten to inflict further damage unless checked.
I introduce this short biographical sketch of my life prior to becoming a born-again evangelical Christian and after my conversion to illustrate the radical difference between these two worlds and the impact it can make on a person.
Being an evangelical Christian was the best of times and the worst of times for me. When I was an unquestioning dutiful believer it was a cocooned existence. My world made sense for the first time in my young life and I was joyous. The moment I began to think about my faith and the Bible, or rather stopped not thinking, I started to experience intellectual anxiety which grew over time until I had to resolve it.
I spent fifteen years immersed in the evangelical culture both academically and experientially, and the two things that impacted me most were the day I entered the faith and the day I realized it was all baseless.
Despite now knowing with absolute certainty my entire Christian faith was unfounded, in hindsight it remains the most satisfying time of my life.
My born-again conversion experience undoubtedly transformed my life in a profound way. And while it did not save me spiritually, it may have saved my life physically.
I may not have grown up technically “poor” but we certainly didn’t have much money. Compared to all our friends, we were definitely in a low income bracket. Our house was an eyesore with major plumbing, electrical and insulation problems. We drank powdered milk, ate white bread, bologna, processed cheese and margarine. We only had one pair of shoes which we wore until they almost fell off our feet then we wrapped tape around to hold the sole to the shoe. We put bread bags in our boots to keep our feet dry. Our clothes were hand me downs or from family friends. As a young child this was part of daily life but as we got older the disparity between our lives and our friends was painfully obvious.
I had six brothers and sisters, a mother who worked tirelessly cooking, cleaning, washing, mending and attending to a special needs child. My father was a car salesman with little education and even less compassion. He was from the “old country” and a war veteran. He was largely uninvolved in his children’s lives other than providing food and shelter. He seldom showed affection towards us or my mother. He was emotionally distant my entire life. I cannot recall a single one on one father son talk, life lesson or piece of helpful advice. We hugged him, he never initiated contact other than rough housing. He remains the most ignorant insensitive man I have ever known.
I was the third of seven children. Growing up I was always one of the smallest in my class. I never did well in school although at times I showed tremendous potential which was recognized by only a few teachers. I don’t remember when it started but I was always the class clown trying to get a laugh. However, I think many of my problems could be traced to being left handed. The two words which best describe “lefties” work are sloppy and slow. In school, this is a lethal combination and almost guarantees failure if not identified and remedied early through occupational therapy. If left (no pun intended) untreated during early education, it only compounds problems later on. For me it caused considerable frustration and anxiety throughout my educational career.
My printing/writing was sloppy so projects and assignments were always graded low even if the content was good since my work was difficult to read. This also made it difficult to take notes as I was slow and always seemed to miss a lot of what was being taught. Rarely did I do homework because I didn’t understand it, consequently I was always behind. My mother lacked the knowledge and skills necessary to address my problem and was far to busy with household chores. Confused and frustrated, I resorted to being disruptive for attention. As a result I was constantly being reprimanded in class or sent to the principal.
I can vividly remember the months and years leading up to my salvation experience. I was a miserable, depressed and lonely teenager with no ambition and few prospects other than working in a grocery store. I was riddled with anxiety and fear as I contemplated my life. “What would I do?” I received no guidance or support at home. Neither parents, teachers or friends ever encouraged me or told me I could succeed. My friends were choosing universities while I planned to work full time in a grocery store. I was painfully aware of how pathetic my life was compared to those around me. Often I wondered why I had been singled out for such misery.
We lived in an old farmhouse that was literally falling apart. An unresolved plumbing issue saturated the brick wall eventually exposing a massive hole in the upstairs bathroom. My father covered it with a plastic tarp to keep the cold out. Rats the size of small cats lived in our basement while mice occupied the kitchen. Lack of insulation in the attic and single pane windows meant unbearably cold winters. The older I got the more aware I became of my poverty.
Girls showed little interest in me due to my physical, emotional and mental immaturity. And when one did, I was too ashamed and insecure to respond. Until we were old enough to work, we wore our clothes until they were in tatters and our shoes and boots until the soles wore out. We put bags on our feet to keep them dry.
I resorted to shoplifting, vandalism and petty theft from an early age. I was always looking for ways to get into trouble. I began smoking pot and drinking when I was about twelve years old after being introduced to them by my older sisters and their friends. I stole beer out of garages and drank most weekends. By the time I was seventeen with graduation looming on the horizon, I was desperate and depressed.
The day one of the schools brightest and most popular students invited me to his church I eagerly accepted. It was not because I was hoping to find answers or help. I thought he wanted to be my friend and my entire life seemed to involve finding new ones to hang out with to avoid homework.
The Sunday he came to pick me up, he drove up in his father’s big shinny Cadillac. It felt like we were driving on a cloud. His church was small but the people seemed genuinely warm and friendly. I felt like I was the center of attention and it made me self conscious. Over the next few months I would be introduced to an environment I had never experienced.
“Love bombing” is usually reserved as a pejorative term for cult groups. Evangelicalism certainly does display cult-like characteristics. To an outsider it may well be but to a needy boy with no self esteem, it was heaven sent. The church I went to showered me with love and acceptance. The Christian teenagers with whom I spent time were unlike my non Christian friends. Nobody made fun of me and for the first time I started to feel respected instead of demeaned.
Many factors contributed to my conversion to Christianity. The charismatic youth leader became an immediate father figure who spent hours with me working through my many emotional issues. My new friends made me feel loved, yet there was a “catch.” While they were supportive and positive, they constantly encouraged me to take the next step — accepting Jesus into my life. They assured me whatever joy I was experiencing up to that point would be incomparable to what I would experience after giving my life to Jesus. It was not a hard sell.
The promise of Jesus coming into my life and changing me was irresistible. The social fix I was getting did not solve the bigger problem. My emotional state was still in shambles. I hated myself and my former life and would do anything to escape it and find healing.
The decision to “accept Jesus” was natural. I had nothing to loose and possibly everything to gain? Shortly after I converted, my life underwent a radical transformation which at the time was nothing short of miraculous to me and those who knew me.
I stopped swearing, drinking, smoking and partying. I became a voracious reader of Christian literature and the Bible. I told my parents I loved them. I shared the gospel with my non Christian friends who I had stopped seeing. I was gaining confidence and had dreams about a bright future for the first time.
I decided to dedicate my life to serving God so I enrolled in evangelical Bible schools in England and Austria. While there I devoted all my spare time to prayer and learning about the Bible and my Christian faith. I spent hours each day between classes in the library. Rarely were there more than a couple students with me. My initial focus was a painstakingly slow process of handwriting the gospels in a harmonized format. I thought there was no better way to study the life of Jesus than rewriting each world of the four records of his life. It was also when I realized there were multiple disparities between accounts. This marked the first fissure in my view of inerrancy that would ultimately shatter it.
These schools were my first exposure to other evangelicals from around the globe. My first shock came on the first day with all the students gathered in the main hall. The principle of the school asked who among the students were born into Christian homes. I had never heard this expression before. Almost every hand went up. Then he asked was not born into a Christian home and perhaps a dozen hands were raised including mine. That moment left an indelible impression on me.
My second impression came after several weeks. I noticed a lack of real zeal among my fellow students. Living in close quarters the level of spiritual maturity was readily apparent. Most of my interaction with others suggested they were not much different from “regular” teenagers except in what they believed. At times I was shocked to hear of their sexual liberty and other social vices.
A fellow student told me about Moody Bible Institute (Chicago, IL). It sounded ideal, so when I returned home I eagerly applied and was accepted.
During this time my faith blossomed and I knew full time Christian ministry was my future. Again, the student body seemed to be divided between a majority whose commitment would be best described as mediocre and a minority who were zealous in their faith. Again the vast majority of students were from Christian families. This trend continued to puzzle me but seemed to explain the lackluster faith I was witnessing. Were these two characteristics related? These students had only known the Christian life never having experienced a revolutionary life altering conversion. Later, this factor would directly influence my understanding of evangelicalism (see Excursus).
After graduation, I attended Dallas Theological Seminary (Dallas, TX) from where many of my teachers had graduated. I was determined to acquired the necessary exegetical skills to study the Bible and to be an effective minister for Jesus Christ. My thirst for biblical knowledge seemed unquenchable. During this time I began to notice big leaks in my evangelical faith which would inevitably sink it.
My time at seminary was pivotal. The questions I had been storing in my mind since I first believed were not being answered. I was certain the more knowledge I acquired, the more answers I would receive. If anything, it only served to intensify them.
The most disturbing thing about my seminary experience was the total lack of independent critical thinking. It wasn’t I wanted to belief something different as much as I wanted intellectual confirmation what I currently believed had been thoroughly vetted theologically and rationally.
Professors would identify alternative theories within Christianity or liberal ideas but never as an option to consider. They were presented to be systematically attacked from the pre-tribulation, premillennial dispensational position. Students were to discount them before evaluating them. The simple truth was, we were there to be told what to believe, how to believe it and why to believe it.
Core beliefs like Jesus divinity, the virgin birth, the Trinity, miracles and verbal plenary inerrancy were sacrosanct and never to be seriously challenged. These were considered by products of “biblical Christianity.”
Knowledge is already dangerous to faith but add rationality and the combination is deadly. Evangelicalism cannot reasonably stand up to a critical accounting of facts and logic.
Evangelicalism is especially susceptible and vulnerable to rational attack because it makes absolutist claims. It brags about being cemented in Apostolic Christianity. In other words, no other Christian faith is as pristine or authentic when it comes to representing true or original Christianity than evangelicalism. This is an incredibly high theological bar, so how do they clear it?
First, among common evangelical Christians there is a paltry level of biblical knowledge and what they do possess is tainted by the evangelical perspective. Because of their inerrantist views, there is virtually no incentive for free thinking in matters of faith. I have made this point repeatedly: Why cut off the branch you’re sitting on? Evangelicals rely on the eternal hope their faith affords as derived from the Bible. What about the evangelical theologians and teachers who pass down this information to the pew? Why do so many remain in the faith?
The most obvious reason is their level of investment. At some point during one’s theological training you must decide to follow your mind or your heart which is why education often destroys one’s faith. For those determined to embrace a reasonable faith, it is a matter of compartmentalizing one’s intellect.
Abandoning one’s faith has unfathomable consequences both professionally and personally which few evangelical leaders would even consider. Apart from losing your source of income and being ostracized within the evangelical community, one would be faced with “de-converting” his family. How do you stop your six year old daughter from believing what you told her to believe? Trust would immediately be compromised. Evangelical teachers also have a strong and widespread social network of supporters who would be disappointed and hurt. Family friends and relatives, usually also evangelical, would likewise feel betrayed. It is hard to imagine how a man would ever consider this option for the sake of intellectual integrity.
Lastly, being an evangelical today is not much different from being a non evangelical. It is easier to rationalize away your doubts and remain in the faith. If being an evangelical meant supreme sacrifice and commitment, intense persecution and suffering, churches would empty overnight. But evangelicals indulge in all the pleasures this world has to offer, e.g., entertainment, food, materialism, wealth, alcohol, recreation, consumerism, premarital sex, professional success, power and status. With everything to lose and nothing to gain but intellectual honesty, intellectual cowardice is the obvious choice.
In another article we discussed the difference between micro and macro criticism within evangelicalism. Evangelical theologians will engage in the most rigorous textual analysis utilizing every tool at their disposal to divine the meaning of a passage. However, this is performed with certain unsubstantiated assumptions such as divine inspiration, Jesus role as the eternal son of God, the Trinity and even premillennial dispensationalism.
Preconceived theological bias drives this process and within these impenetrable walls evangelical take their own deductive scholastic approach. In doing so, evangelical “scholars” can exercise their rational faculties without threat of compromising their faith.
I believe the starting point is the incontestability of experiential faith. The divine authority of the Bible is embedded in a spiritual experience or relationship with God which is undeniable to the recipient. This itself is considered miraculous and supernatural which is easily transferred to validate the Bible’s divine status making both unalterable. Upon this conviction, the evangelical theological superstructure is built.
The subjectivism that permeates evangelical academia and masquerades as honest intellectual inquiry is tragic. It is the illusion of rationality. Until the “God encounter” is removed as offering validation for biblical authority and regarded as distorting the truth not illuminating it, the battle will be lost. Only those not in possession of an emotive faith bias, and therefore dispassionate critics, should rule on who Jesus was and what the Bible is. Truth is vindicated by honest unflinching scrutiny not by claiming an intensely personal relationship with the “author” of “The Book” under discussion.
The purpose of this article was to highlight several points:
First, to retrace the steps that led to my inevitable conversion and show the reader an “atypical” way a person may enter the faith. I was the perfect target for conversion, a needy, desperate and emotionally vulnerable teenager who knew nothing about Jesus or the Bible.
Second, to demonstrate the correlation between a faith largely populated from within and a faith largely marked by complacency and mediocrity. Lacking a dramatic and life changing conversion means most evangelicals don’t have the same sense of obligation and gratitude someone like me had. Thus one’s level of commitment and investment in the faith may be directly proportional to the degree he/her feels indebted to God. The end result is tepidness of faith.
Third, to show how objectivity is obscured when those in control of disseminating information about the Bible are themselves invested in its central message. Grassroots evangelicals are woefully ignorant about the Bible and therefore the many textual, factual and logical issues it contains. Furthermore, if informed by non believers, they are reluctant and/or ill equipped to thoroughly investigate these matters. On the other hand, theologically educated leaders have been blinded by their own faith bias and engage in a faulty deductive approach which works backward from a conclusion based on an assumption. This assumption, the authority of the Bible/the resurrection of Jesus, is deeply grounded in their faith experience which affirms the former.
Lastly, to illustrate the monumental task of trying to penetrate “the wall of faith” which protects those who espouse evangelical ideology from seeing Jesus and the Bible in the glaring and penetrating light of rationalism. The trade off for intellectual honesty and integrity pales in comparison to the peace, comfort, strength, guidance, meaning, joy and eternal hope it provides. Furthermore, the validity of one’s faith is constantly fed through multiple sources of instruction (Read: indoctrination/propaganda) and reinforced through confirmation bias from like minded believers. An alternative reality derived from a literal interpretation of biblical texts breeds mistrust and skepticism from credible sources like science, liberal education, the media and rationalism.
It is this writer’s firm belief, only by exposing in a public forum an unvarnished view of Jesus can we begin to dismantle evangelical’s foundation — the authority of the Bible. If evangelicals are permitted to denigrate mankind’s rational capabilities as irreparably marred by sin (unless redeemed by Jesus) and therefore untrustworthy in spiritual matters, society is forced to accommodate pre Enlightenment thinking. Using the Bible as a divine mandate to effect political or social change is a travesty in a post modern world. We must bravely and confidently subject the Bible to the most rigorous and critical examination without fear of reproach from those who adhere to it. If Christians are going to appeal to it as an authority, they must be willing to expose it to rational non partisan validation. Then be willing to accept its findings regardless of what they may be.
When it comes to the place of the Bible in people’s lives and society, reason and fact deserve to be heard. Likewise, in the court of public opinion, fantasy masquerading as truth needs to be exposed and rejected.
Faith taints facts and obscures truth.