Confessions of a former evangelical, Bible nerd and Jesus junkie
I may be an outsider now but there was a time when you would have happily fellowshipped and worshipped with me. You would have let me teach you or your children the Bible or shared a meal with me. I also think you would have considered me a “fine young Christian man” and a good catch. I had spent many years in Bible college and seminary and was planning on a full time career in the ministry. I was enthusiastic and genuine as a believer with no secret life or pet sins. My personal devotional life was vibrant and robust. I regularly engaged in evangelism, discipleship and Christian service.
Here’s the point: I was no different from you. I loved Jesus with every bit of my heart and tried every moment of every day to live a consistent Christian life. When it was hard and trials and temptations came my way, I preserved joyfully. I did not have a single regret in how I conducted my life. If Christianity were true, I would have been prepared to meet God, back then.
It’s not personal, it’s ideological
It will be easy for faith minded people to see this material as a personal attack on them, specifically their intelligence. The biggest challenge I face is trying to get the reader to separate the “ideology” that fuels their faith from the “person” who holds the belief.
The nature of religion, especially evangelicalism which touts itself as “a personal relationship with God” as opposed to “a religion,” makes it impossible not to become emotionally invested in one’s faith. Therefore, when someone like me begins to challenge the core tenets of the faith, a person begins to feel they are under attack.
During my own faith journey as an evangelical, I would have felt this way as well for these reasons. Mostly because the Bible teaches me unbelievers will persecute me “for righteousness sake” (Mt. 5:10). Evangelicals are taught the world will hate them because it hated Jesus first (Jn. 15:18).
It is my goal to try to bring some helpful perspective before a reader discounts my work as that of a bitter apostate.
In almost every article I write, I make reference to the beginning of the end of my faith because understanding this moment is crucial.
I lost my faith trying to find it.
Admittedly, as a born-again Christian, I had become very disenchanted with a faith I once embraced on two levels. On a practical level, the hundreds of evangelicals I interacted with were not living extraordinarily victorious lives over sin nor seemed concerned about it. They were happy with the status quo and were not willing to invest more of their lives in the faith. They were not much different from non Christian believers except in word only.
Jesus accused the Pharisees and teachers of the law of the same hypocrisy.
8“ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”(Matthew 15:8,9 quoting Isaiah 29:13)
On a theological level, as I progressed through my training, I began to acquire knowledge and skills allowing me to question and validate what I was being taught. As I began to do this it was clear many of the doctrines undergirding my evangelical faith seemed contrived and unbiblical.
At this point, it was clear what I had to do. I would simply rebuild my faith. First I had to dismantle it piece by piece to make sure I didn’t throw away something essential. A wrecking ball approach would not work. The only thing I knew for certain I could keep was the foundation — Jesus as the eternal son of God.
Any Christian would agree this seems like an admirable and healthy exercise to strengthen one’s faith, just as I did. Doubt is good. It forces us closer to God. I began my quest with enthusiasm and optimism confident I would emerge a stronger believer with a deeper faith. So what went wrong (or right)?
People use the term, “Blinded by faith” to describe religion. I have as well. A more accurate phrase would be, “Clouded by faith.” Evangelicals see things “differently” from others and often through the cloudy lens the Bible provides.
Evangelicals* have an automatic default “switch” when it comes to their faith. It is a built in defense mechanism (built by specific biblical conditioning) that prevents someone or something from harming it. For instance, when science reveals a finding that directly challenges biblical “truth,” it is rejected as finite mans’ attempt to explain away God or reduce his place in the universe. Unfortunately, it is not a reliable indicator of what is true and what is not.
*Note: Not all evangelicals are the same. It is a vastly diverse belief system. The term is used generally to describe a significant number who practice or believe a certain way.
When I started my deconstruction of evangelicalism, my intentions were pure. I had no qualms with God or Jesus. It was completely logical to me, at the time, the reason evangelicals were ineffective in their faith was because they were not practicing a biblically based version of true Christianity. It made perfect sense. It further explained why some traditional mainline Christian denominations seemed to practice a more authentic, genuine and lofty version of Christianity. I truly thought I would become an Anglican in the end.
Remember I mentioned those evangelical specific doctrines that I knew were unbiblical and contributed to the complacency I saw all around me. Pre-tribulation, premillennial dispensationalism (PPD) was one of the biggest culprits of all.
To many evangelicals this belief is sacrosanct and a test of inerrancy. Some would question a person’s salvation for not holding to it. We will touch on many elements of this teaching throughout this and other articles, but for the time being I want to mention only one — the Rapture.
The Rapture: The Great Escape
The Rapture theory is an incredibly powerful teaching packed with significance as to how a Christian is to live each day of his life. It carries immense comfort and dictates how one reads much of the New Testament. It has a colossal impact on one’s view of the world now and where the world is headed. It is also almost exclusively held by Americans evangelicals.
I was taught the Rapture theory at the bastions of PPD teaching, Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary. I am no stranger to the theological intricacies of this cherished doctrine. It was only in my fourth year of seminary I began to question it.
The Rapture teaching in the wrong hands (read minds) can result in an apathetic approach to personal piety, promote global irresponsibility and militate against political peace especially in the Middle East. It removes any incentive to live each day with acute vigilance by eliminating any threat of divine judgment or punishment. And it promises exemption from future “Tribulation” and tacitly encourages political strife. Attempts to improve the earth or encourage peace are seen as working at counter purposes to God’s apocalyptic plan and timetable.
The Rapture is pure escapism. It reduces the many teachings (mostly in parables) concerning Jesus’ Second Coming to an event only for Christians converted during the Great Tribulation because all Christians, living and dead, are “raptured” immediately preceding this event; hence, “pre-tribulation.”
Now you might think evangelicals would simply take the teachings about the Second Coming and apply them to the Rapture and exercise the same degree of “readiness” and “preparedness.” Except there is one key element missing with the Rapture that dominates Christ’s Second Coming — judgment!
It should not come as a shock to anyone the threat of severe punishment is a powerful motivator. If you read for instance, the parable of “The Sheep and the Goats” (Mt. 25:31f.) knowing you could potentially be “a goat,” might change how you conduct your life. “The Wise and Unwise Virgins” (Mt. 25:1f.) parable warns against drowsiness at “the bridegrooms” being gone for “a long time.” For many non evangelical Christians, the fear of not being ready for Jesus sudden return is what drives them “to live lives worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph. 4:1).
The Rapture was one example of a fictitious teaching that has contributed to the moribund style of American evangelicalism. It explained to me one of the fundamental flaws in evangelical dogma. This realization pushed me forward to pursue other questionable teachings like the inefficacy of baptism and the symbolic nature of the Lord’s supper.
Note: These and many other teachings will be explored in more depth in subsequent articles, e.g., the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity and inerrancy. Some have already been discussed in previous articles, e.g., abortion, divorce, homosexuality and Paul’s “other” gospel.
I am just as passionate about not believing as I was as an ambassador for Christ. My motive was never malicious like someone who felt betrayed or wronged. Though I had become disillusioned with evangelicalism, I was positive my efforts to reconstruct my faith would be immensely rewarding.
Before we begin, a personal plea
Like any court case, the jury is implored to keep personal feelings and biases from consideration of the evidence. Furthermore, they are cautioned not to rush to judgment but wait until all the evidenceI has been presented. I would beg the same.
This is intellectual not personal which simply means I am asking the reader to trust their minds and not listen to what “their heart” might be telling them. A emotional response should alert a person to resist letting feelings cloud one’s judgment. Logic is our most reliable resource even if emotion feels more authentic and compelling.
The end of my faith was a slow steady erosion not a short sudden collapse. It took years before I realized Jesus was not who I thought he was. By then, I had gained enough mental confidence to trust this final finding. I was not emotionally distraught. I felt intellectually liberated.
Lawyers always talk about “reasonable doubt.” Perhaps some evangelicals at the very least will begin to consider the possibility they have entered a faith without thoroughly examining it. Perhaps there is an alternative more reasonable perspective.
I suppose you could say, I have seen as much of the evidence as anyone ever has. I have dedicated four decades to researching and analyzing as much biblical data as I can. There is more to learn, but most of the pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place. It now falls to me to present this picture of Jesus in a clear, concise and compelling way to persuade the reader.
Let’s begin: Opening statement
The evangelical faith is an illusion grounded in feeling and based on a mystical encounter/relationship with an unseen deity. It is this spiritual experience which cements one’s confidence in the divine inspiration of the Bible and it’s the basis for belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
When and how does it all begin?
An inherited versus an investigated faith
The majority of Christians, like evangelicals, practice an inherited faith not an investigated faith. Most were baptized and/or converted as children or young adults. What this means is faith came first then confirmation of the faith afterwords, rather than a critical inquiry leading one to it. The implications of this are profound.
Despite claiming to passionately and wholeheartedly belief the Bible is God’s “love letter” to His people, evangelicals in general have a poor understanding of Christian theology, tradition and history. A superficial awareness of basic biblical stories and themes passes for biblical knowledge.
I make this point to stress the fact, evangelicals assume inerrancy and biblical authority. Very few engage in a thorough evaluation of the doctrine they claim is irrefutable. It goes back to a feeling not fact based faith.
Many adopt an untested unsubstantiated faith out of coercion. Second, it can intellectually cripple a person by obscuring fact and fiction. Third, the threat of divine judgement and promise of hope can make a person psychological dependent. Fourth, those who do leave the faith can suffer guilt, shame and social ostracizing.
Entering the faith as a pre-adolescent, or worse, a child, is not only unbiblical but unfair. When did it become acceptable to force one’s faith on their child? Of course, parents think they are doing the ultimate service for their children in leading them to salvation. But this assumes a “fact” that is completely unproven, improbable and irrational.
Lest someone think I am unfairly singling out evangelicals, I think it reprehensible any religion foists its beliefs upon the next generation. I understand it was once essential for a cultures survival, but those days have long passed. Religion has become a delivery system for a parents ideological bigotry and prejudice.
The current population of evangelicals is composed mostly of those who are generational believers. Most have been socialized and indoctrinated in the evangelical culture through evangelical friends, associates, social media, church and para church programs from an early age. Teaching about heaven and hell, sin and forgiveness, God and Satan, angels and demons, Christians and non Christians are main courses in the ideological diet of evangelicals. If a child resists or rebels, parents often force them to remain in the church until adulthood when they are then “free” to leave.
One does not need a psychology degree to know the damaging that can be done during those formative years. A child who is coerced into a faith before having the intellectual capacity to evaluate abstract concepts locks them into it emotionally.
I have participated in child evangelism many times. Though done with the best intentions, it is an abuse of trust. Children are not capable of challenging authority figures like Sunday school teachers and camp counsellors much less mommy and daddy. Christians teachings are presented as indisputable fact by those children trust the most.
Christians might counter Jesus tried to convert children. He did not. He used them a living visual aids as the standard for entering the kingdom of God. They were exempt from judgment because of their innocence and meekness.
2”He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”(Matthew 18:2-5)
13”Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
14Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.”(Matthew 19:14,15)
I understand it is unrealistic to ask evangelical parent or sincerely religious parent not to instill their faith into their children. That is why until there is a major paradigm shift in how we view Jesus and the Bible, it will never happen.
There is another group who are attracted to the evangelical faith — the vulnerable. These include the elderly, depressed, lonely, sick, distraught, desperate and fearful. Knowing this is why cable television shows target the infirmed and those easily exploitable by offering them exactly what they want to hear.
The social gospel
From its inception, Christianity has always billed itself as a religion for the downtrodden and oppressed. In a parable called, “The Great Banquet,” Jesus tells the story of a man who throws a great feast. He tells his servants to inform those he has “pre-invited” to come but each has an excuse for not coming.
21“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’”(Luke 14:21).
Throughout Jesus’ ministry he devoted his energy to those who responded to him most. He found a receptive audience among those in greatest need. A cynic might suggest, he preyed on the most vulnerable of society: the poor, sick, lame and ignorant. But whatever his motive, the core of his message was social justice not financial compensation. The early Christian Church carried on this tradition.
Today there is a ferocious battle among evangelicals concerning the so-called “social gospel.” The progressive wing of evangelicalism sees helping the poor and needy as a Christian responsibility. More traditional evangelicals see it as a temporary solution to a deeper problem — sin. They believe it undermines the gospel by providing temporary relief thus masking the far greater spiritual need.
If all the evangelical Christians were gathered together in a room and told to stand. Then those who entered the faith before age eighteen were told to sit down, approximately seventy to eighty percent would take a seat. Then if those who entered the faith out of desperation, fear of death or some sort of personal crisis, were also told to sit down, there would not be many evangelicals left standing.
*Important note: The percentage of evangelicals who have inherited their parent(s) faith or that of a family member or friend is staggeringly high. Yet in twenty years of reading dozens of polls, it is never specifically mentioned. Rather, it is assumed to be the norm. Very few become evangelicals through a “cold conversion” as an adult, which is to say, having had no previous religious connection.
In spite of what evangelicals have persuaded themselves is true to maintain “intellectual respectability,” only those already in the faith or those ignorant about it think it is rationally viable.
Evangelical belief resides mostly in the heart not the head. This in no way means evangelicals are anti-intellectual (at least not more so than society in general) or anti-science. It simply means they earnestly believe their faith at times transcends rationalism . Until and if it can be proven God definitively does not exist, miracles are possible. And if miracles are possible, so too is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and therefore the Bible is divinely inspired.
Here’s where evangelicals compartmentalize rational science and non rational faith. The Bible is an historical book that contains the miraculous. Insofar as science supports biblical data, it is trusted. When it challenges biblical data, it is rejected. Revelation always supersedes reason.
“The Divine Coin Toss” analogy
To a rational mind, it should always comes back to plausibility. What is the likelihood of the Bible being absolutely accurate about those things it affirms are true but science and rationalism do not, such as miracles? To answer the difficulty in penetrating evangelicals’ wall of biblical authority, we turn to “the divine coin toss” analogy.
If you took a coin and continuously flipped it until “heads” appeared ten times in a row, it would take you probably between one thousand and two thousand flips. If we increase the number to one hundred “head” flips in a row, the odds rise astronomically.
A scientist might say the probability of Jesus rising from the dead, or the sea parting or someone walking on water or turning water into wine is infinitesimally small (I would argue the same but for the inerrancy of the Bible which affirms this event). Those who believe in Jesus’ resurrection would counter, “What if God is flipping the coin?” Now it’s a matter of factuality not probability because God is perfect and omnipotent. He can make a coin come up heads a zillion times in a row if he chooses.
Invariably discussions of this sort result in a stalemate with neither side conceding their position. Only by dissecting the Bible itself can we hope to expose the many fallacies of inerrancy.
Evangelicalism: A fear subsumed by hope
I used to think as a naive evangelical teenager, all Christians were motivated by a supreme love for Jesus at what he accomplished for them on the cross. I know I was. The longer I was a believer and the more evangelicals I encountered, the more I realized fear not love lay quietly lurking beneath their faith. It was not fear of God though but fear of death.
Here is the paradox of evangelicals. On one hand they vociferously declare their profound trust in the Bible as the literal, verbal inerrant word of God, and therefore morally binding on all creatures. But on the other hand, most evangelicals live as if it is more a book on God’s opinion of right and wrong. How can this be resolved.
The story of “The Sinful Woman and Pharisee”
The lesson Jesus teaches is one’s degree of love is proportionately related to one’s depth of gratitude.
In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus illustrates this relationship in a story about a sinful woman he forgave and a righteous Pharisee who didn’t need much forgiveness. The woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair while the Pharisee scoffed. Jesus rebuked him for his failure to show any gratitude towards him and made this statement.
47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”(Luke 7:47).
Simon did not consider himself nearly as “sinful as this woman because he was a righteous Pharisee.
31Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”(Luke 5:31,32)
We have to remember, the earthly Jesus was offering physical not spiritual deliverance. Theoretically, if Jesus was an “End Times” prophet and the physical kingdom of God was soon to arrive in full, many righteous Israelites would qualify for entrance without Jesus’ services (forgiveness).
24”He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”(Matthew 15:24)
His ministry was to exclusively to “lost” Israelites. This word carries far more weight than simply something misplaced. It has the added force of people or things destined for destruction unless rescued. For instance, like a lost sheep who may be devoured by a wolf.
For our purposes, the story demonstrates a phenomenon among evangelicals. Most have not experienced a dramatic conversion experience whereby they left a life of sin (which may mean simply not believing in Jesus as their personal savior and being enemies with God). Like Simon, they have only experienced a little forgiveness.
Personally speaking, the power of this event in launching one into a life of grateful devotion cannot be overstated. I was not motivated so much by the prospect of dying and going to heaven (not many seventeen year old are). I wanted Jesus to save me from my present life and when he did, no sacrifice was too great.
My experience is relatively rare among most evangelicals.
The fast-food gospel of evangelical: The ultimate in convenience
Evangelical preachers like the late Billy Graham popularized and promoted a “fast-food” style gospel. It was quick, cheap and easy. And America loved it.
Common sense tells us, if you can get something for free, you might not appreciate it as much as if it costs a lot. The evangelical gospel offers free, no strings attached salvation. It is so convenient, you can literally be saved in the quiet comfort of your own home. No church, no minister, no test of faith and no repentance needed. “Come as you are,” was the hymn Billy Graham played at all his crusades welcoming sinners into the glorious kingdom of God.
A word like “repentance,” although found throughout the New Testament as the necessary attitude accompanying faith has been removed from the salvation process. John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter and Paul made it a requirement. Evangelicals think it obstructs the doctrine of grace through faith alone (Eph. 2:8,9). They are wrong. These men didn’t say you had to produce repentant acts before you could be saved. They said you had to have a repentant attitude to be saved. And the test as to whether a prospective convert had the “right attitude” was if after their profession of faith, they produced “the fruit of repentance.”
The test of genuine saving faith: No fruit, no faith, no exceptions.
Like so many of these early doctrines, evangelicals are promoting a slick gospel to attract as many converts as necessary by making it as convenient and easy to become a Christian as possible. The result: A barren landscape of fruitless “Christians.” America is the land of fake Christians. Goats who think they are sheep.
Early Christians approached conversion with humility and contrition. Many were catechumens who were instructed on the tenets of the faith. They had to demonstrate over time (sometimes a year), they adequately understood the decision they were making. When it came time for baptism and their profession of faith, believers were prepared. Some choose to forego their conversion until such a time as they were ready or not at all.
Jesus placed a premium on being his follower. He demanded those who wanted to be his disciple to be willing to give up everything.
27”And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”(Luke 14:27)
He followed this statement with two illustrations. He told of how a man planning to build a tower first has “to estimate the cost” so he doesn’t run out of money halfway and is ridiculed.
30”…‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’”(Luke 14:30)
Jesus next talks of a king going to war but is outmanned two to one. He must decide before the two armies meet if he can be victorious. If not, he must ask for terms of peace.
Both stress the need for one contemplating following Jesus to realize it is a massive undertaking like building a tower or going to war against the odds.
33In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”(Luke 14:33)
Salvation for most is a simple the “sinner’s prayer” which unlocks the door to heaven. Baptism is optional and symbolic usually reserved for post salvation. One need only confess a few basic biblical truth and he or she is instantly saved — forever.
Evangelicals cling to a doctrine called “eternal security” or perseverance of the saints which has as its motto: “Once saved, always saved.” It guarantees a believer a one-way ticket to heaven no questions asked, no strings attached. It’s a licence for compromise. The one condition is never denying who Jesus is or what he did; otherwise, one’s faith is in question.
Evangelicalism is full of closet Christians who no one would ever suspect of being a believer. They talk and behave like a non believer but maintain quiet allegiance so they can be assured of heaven.
Questioning your faith equals spiritual suicide
Evangelicals defend the divine authority of the Bible because it teaches the resurrection of Jesus (and many other miracles). Questioning the Bible’s credibility undermines the reliability of the resurrection which it alone contains. Surrendering the authority of the Bible is like committing spiritual suicide. All hope is lost.
17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”(1 Corinthians 15:17-19)
Evangelicals promised hope in eternal life subsumes fear of death. From this we may deduce, their faith is rooted in spiritual angst not intellectual conviction. It is here, therefore, we direct our attention. By probing the original source of belief — the Bible — we will attempt to expose its inherent flaws and show it undeserving of unquestioned allegiance.
The over two billion Christians in the world have very few things in common other than Jesus Christ as their Savior. His resurrection from the dead is the cornerstone of faith without which Christianity crumbles to the ground. The historicity of this momentous event is only recorded in the New Testament. We have no other sources to confirm or deny its factuality. But we do have four separate sources (the gospels) which attest to this event.
Back to our courtroom analogy. If we treat each gospel as a separate eyewitness account or record of eyewitnesses accounts, we can analyze and compare them with one another for consistency and congruence. In natural cases we would expect minor inconsistencies among witnesses given the fragility of memory, perspective etc; however, when it comes to an absolutely infallible Bible, we hold it to a much higher standard.
Evangelicals can’t have their cake and eat it too. If you live by inerrancy, you die by inerrancy. If you are going to claim you believe Jesus is the eternal son of God because the Bible claims it is so, the Bible must demonstrate its absoluteness to make such a definitive incontestable statement.
For decades I have watched as evangelicals have muddied the theological water with talk of the existence of God and evolution. It is as if finding some flaws in this theory somehow validates their own. Our attention will be on whether a perfect God, using his perfect spirit to inspire imperfect men to write a perfect book stands up to perfect unbiased scrutiny.
In the next articles we will begin to interact more fully with the various biblical texts surrounding the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. At this time we will also vigorously explore the many Hebrew texts used by New Testament writers to support their claims about Jesus and the gospel. The doctrine of inerrancy will be assumed and tested against the standards which support it like non-contradiction, congruence and plausibility. If it fails to satisfy these criteria, its credibility may reasonably be called into question, and with it those things it affirms, the most important being the resurrection of Jesus.