In the first part of my story, I shared how I became a follower of Christ. As a reminder, I became a follower of Christ on September 2, 2012, as a freshman in high school, when God gave me a transformative experience of His presence that invited me into relationship with Him. For the first time, I understood what it meant to follow Jesus, to understand His love for me, expressed in His death on the cross for my sins and proven by His physical resurrection from the dead.
But I'm getting ahead of myself because, on September 2, 2012, I still didn't understand these things completely. As I wrote in the first part, the experience gave me a voracious appetite for Scripture and prayer. For the first time, whether or not I understood it, I deeply wanted to read my Bible and pray. And as I did this, I began to study the Bible, to learn what it means to study it with greater depth. And through this, I began to understand the gospel.
The gospel, or the "good news," is summed up in the Bible chiefly in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NASB):
"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also."
These four steps-Jesus died for our sins; He was buried; He was raised from the dead; and He appeared to people, confirming His resurrection-were at the center of the message of the apostle Paul. In confessing faith in these core beliefs and trusting in God to forgive you for your sins on the basis of what Jesus has done for you, in dying for your sins, you are saved. Repentance from your sins and faith in Jesus and His resurrection is key. As Romans 10:9-10 says (NASB):
"If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."
This is the core of the gospel that I came to understand. Anyway, that is not the main point of the second part of my story, but I felt that it was important now to put this here. When we discuss the defense of the gospel, this is ultimately the heart of what we're defending. This is also the heart of what we, as ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), seek to invite others into.
Now, on with the story. So I'm learning what the heart of the Christian faith is, and I'm experiencing this profound transformation of my own heart. I began to experience, for the first time, a deep affection for God and for other people. I began to love God as a response to His love for me, and I began to love people as I saw them as God sees me, as a sinner who needs His grace and the work of Jesus applied to him or her.
I also began to be floored by this God who had revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. As I understood my need for Him, a responded with a cry for help. As I understood what He had done for me, I wanted to respond by serving Him. As I understood His nature, I was struck with awe. A peculiar, unmistakable mixture of wonder and fear. Worship. I think that C.S. Lewis, in his short work The Four Loves, describes it well (753):
"And now our principle of starting at the lowest-without which 'the highest does not stand'-begins to pay a dividend. It has revealed to me a deficiency in our previous classification of the loves into those of Need and those of Gift. There is a third element in love, no less important than these, which is foreshadowed by our appreciative pleasures. This judgement that the object is very good, this attention...offered to it is a kind of debt, this wish that it should be and should continue being what it is even if we were never to enjoy it, can go out not only to things but to persons. When it is offered to a woman we call it admiration; when to a man, hero-worship; when to God, worship simply. Need-love cries to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God; Appreciative love says: 'We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.'"
The various strands of Scripture, its doctrine and theology, began to come together for me, and I began to see all Scripture, all 66 books written over something like 2,000 to 3,000 years, as one whole speaking to the message of one man, the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to describe this in detail to show you how profoundly God changed my perspective on life, Him, and other people early in my Christian walk.
All of this was still mainly private. I felt unprepared and fearful about sharing my faith, still, and the vulnerability of sharing something so important and private to me scared me. I knew that I needed to share my faith, for the sake of the person who didn't know Jesus, but I wanted to be prepared. So I focused on my own growth. Because of that privacy, virtually no one knew about this transformation that had taken place in me. I had already been baptized, so I saw no need to be baptized again. No public profession of faith. I didn't even tell that youth pastor who had prayed for me.
Nonetheless, I knew that it was time for me to intentionally live in a way that honored God publicly. That anger issue was still a problem, and I started praying intentionally about it. But this was also a deeply transformative experience. I realized for the first time that if I am to serve God, I must do so because I want to, because I love Him. That created the desire to resist the temptation to be angry, to obey my parents because I love them, and to love my friends, who didn't believe in Christ.
I found high school to be an environment in which students were developing and finding what they believed and, in many cases, wrestling with their parents' and friends' beliefs. In this context, I had already known that my friends did not trust in Jesus for salvation. They didn't live like they did. So I wanted to strive to learn how to share my faith with them. In high school, I realized something more disturbing to me. Many of these friends of mine were atheists. It wasn't just that they didn't trust in Jesus for salvation; they claimed that God didn't exist.
That struck me as incredibly strange. I thought that there were only two choices presented to a person: trust in God, or don't trust in God. If you didn't trust in God, you were still lost in your sin and needed to be humble and repent of your sins. This third option had never occurred to me. It seems strange to think about. The idea that God may not exist at all had never occurred to me. My high school friends taught me the word "atheism."
At first, this didn't challenge my faith personally. It just struck me as strange. It wasn't until later that this third option began to challenge me personally. It began innocently. Convicted by the type of music I had been exposing myself to, I wanted to familiarize myself with some Christian music. This was a genre that I knew nothing about, so I started searching for good Christian music on YouTube. I found plenty of great new, worship-filled music that I loved. As I listened to the music, I would casually scroll through the comments, most of which were very encouraging. Other Christians would share their testimonies, Bible verses, and other forms of encouragement.
I also found more than a few comments written by people who claimed to be atheists. The difference here was that they would make points in support of the idea that God didn't exist. Points such as:
There is no evidence that God (or Jesus) exists (or ever existed).
The Bible is just a collection of stories and isn't historically reliable.
The God of the Bible is evil.
They seemed very confident and would, at times, make arguments to try to back up these main points. Again, just as with atheism itself, these ideas had never occurred to me. In one's belief system, it had never occurred to me as an option to say, "Jesus never existed." Of course Jesus existed! He's my Lord and Savior. As I was exposed to more and more of these comments, I started to ask seriously whether these were good points. Why had I never heard a pastor deal with these points? Why was I, at 14 years old, being exposed to these ideas for the first time? I grew up in church.
Were these atheists right? Are there answers to these points?
Considering these points sent me reeling. At the heart of the doubt that began creeping into my soul was the fear that there were no answers to these points, that, at the very least, I couldn't really know if God exists or not. Sure, I had some experience that I thought to be of Him, but emotions don't necessarily lead to truth. How could I know that what I believed was true?
This was worsened by the fact that Christians did attempt to answer these points in the comments section of these videos. Those responses could generally be summed up in two categories. There were either (a) often just inadequate, weak, dismissive answers that showed that the Christian didn't really know what he or she was talking about or (b) abusive, disrespectful, hurtful, and unloving. So I clearly couldn't count on other Christians in the comments section to give a good response.
It's difficult to describe how doubt can affect the life of a Christian. Doubt is predominantly a feeling or emotion, but it strikes at the heart of your entire worldview or belief system. Soon after seeing these comments, Bible study and prayer became very difficult. In the back of my mind were questions that I couldn't shake. How could I know that God exists? That the Bible is reliable? That what it says about Jesus is true? At the heart of this was the deep fear that these questions had no good answers. And if they had no good answers, do I have any reason to call myself a Christian? What if the Christian faith itself is false? I had always lived with the basic assumption, because of my upbringing, that the Christian worldview is the right way to look at the world. Now, I wasn't so sure.
Can you worship a God who isn't real?
This crisis of faith began several months after I became a Christian. In a matter of weeks, my faith was falling apart. All of the Christian disciplines, such as Bible study and prayer, that I had worked to cultivated were infected by this doubt. And there was a feeling of inevitability about it all. Now the questions have been raised. I can't ignore them (as much as I tried). Now they must be addressed, or there is no reason to keep believing. For the first time, I considered rejecting the Christian faith and even God's existence.
I remember coming under these feelings of doubt one day in the office with the family computer when the thought occurred to me, quite out of nowhere: "Wait a minute. You can't just give this up so easily. You have no reason to." That thought stopped me from spiraling because in it was a profound realization. These atheists had made these points against the Christian faith, but they hadn't really defended them. Their comments really just showed me that I had no reason to think that Christianity is true. Fair enough, but that didn't imply that I had any reason to think that Christianity is false. In the weeks that this doubt set in, I had not once tried to look at the evidence, one way or the other. The existence of these points against Christianity were undermining my faith. But those points must themselves be defended.
This realization did not restore my faith, but it showed me very clearly where to go from here. I committed myself to looking at the evidence, both for and against God's existence and the truth of Christianity, and to making a decision on that basis. In that moment of clarity, I prayed a prayer that I'll never forget:
"God, if you exist, then I pray that you will reveal yourself to me. I’m about to search for evidence for your existence, and if I find none, then I will reject your existence. Amen."
So much for worship. This prayer, short and abrupt, is not the prayer of one who loves and trusts in God and in His Son. It was a bold, even blasphemous, prayer, but it was honest. I sincerely wasn't sure if I was talking to the Creator of the universe or the ceiling.
I remember a certain determination that overtook me as I began searching. When I wasn't at school or otherwise occupied with something else, this search just dominated my free time. But first, I wanted to be clear about the gravity of this decision. For the first time, I began to understand belief in God as a claim, and that claim could be objectively true or objectively false. Because this claim concerned objective truth, then it was possible to be mistaken in my belief.
What do I mean here? Let's take a basic question and break it down. Did Barack Obama win the 2008 presidential election? There are only two possible answers: yes or no. If you meet someone who believes that John McCain won the 2008 presidential election, you don't answer, "Well, I prefer to believe that Barack Obama won that election. It just makes me feel better." You answer that this person is mistaken. The claim that John McCain won the 2008 presidential election is a matter of objective truth, and that particular claim is false, whether or not this person believes that McCain won the election.
Does God exist? There are two possible answers: yes or no. Yet people seem content to answer that God makes them feel better, as if one is choosing between two types of lotion. This irritated me about many of the Christians' answers in these comments sections. This person has just made an argument! Answer it. Instead, they treated an attack on their Creator like the claim that someone doesn't like broccoli. I may sound harsh, but really, how did 2,000 years of Christianity not have an answer for this? That question haunted me.
Next, I wanted to take seriously that if these two claims-that God exists and that Christianity is true-concern objective truth, then being objectively right or wrong about these claims has certain consequences. I desperately wanted to believe the truth, whatever that was. If God didn't exist, then I didn't want to believe that God exists. If He did, then I wanted to believe that. Being wrong, in either case, has consequences. Below is a table that represents my thinking here:
Note here that there is a real difference between believing a claim and the claim's truth. We can-and often do-believe false claims. In these two categories-truth and belief-there are two options, one positive and the other negative. Where these statements intersect, there are logical consequences. As I said, I desperately wanted to believe the truth. I wanted to avoid hell (of course) and false hope. If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, then I wasn't interested in following Him. Perhaps some other religion had something going for it, but I was not going to call myself a Christian if I couldn't be confident in the truth of the resurrection. I had other things to cover anyway; at this point, I wasn't sure if Jesus existed.
With those two things-objective truth and the logical consequences of believing true or false claims-clear in my mind, I started my search. Not knowing quite where to go, I went where I had before: YouTube. My first search was something like: "evidence for God's existence."
What did I find? Gold. An incredible treasure of knowledge that I had known nothing about! I remember finding a video by the Christian philosopher and theologian, Dr. William Lane Craig, about an argument for God's existence. An argument for God's existence? Those exist? And here, a brilliant, articulate (hard to understand) Christian, presenting the argument! I didn't know that there were Christian scholars. And here is an argument for God's existence on the basis of the beginning of the universe, which we know about because of a century of cosmology. So there is an argument for God's existence based on science? I thought that atheists were scientific and that Christians were religious. My mind was blown.
Don't get me wrong. I wasn't convinced after one video. But this gave me hope. Here I was, filled with doubt because I was afraid that no Christian could come up with an answer to objections to theism and Christianity, and, unbeknownst to me, there was a sea of knowledge, based on two thousand years of thoughtful Christian insights, right under my nose. Unbeknownst to my church. Unbeknownst to people I knew who grew up in Christian families and were now atheists. Unbeknownst to those Christians whose answers in those comments sections shot me through with doubt. How can it be that God's Kingdom is filled with warriors, fighting intellectual battles for the minds of people in an environment that has declared them unwelcome, yet the majority of the Kingdom has no clue?
As I said, I had hope, but I wasn't convinced. I searched, thought, and prayed (yes, still) for months. I would visit and revisit arguments. I would listen to atheists making objections to theism and Christianity and then listen to Christians responding to those objections. Slowly, the cumulative weight of those arguments for theism just seemed overwhelming. How had I ever doubted God's existence? Evidence for Him was everywhere.
But then, the resurrection. Was Jesus Lord, or a fraud? And that evidence just floored me. Suddenly, the Christian faith didn't seem like some pie-in-the-sky religion from bygone days to be passed over by science. No, this faith is solid. The evidence for the resurrection overwhelmed me. I didn't have to believe in Jesus based on some feeling that He existed. No, I could know that He had been raised, both on the basis of evidence and on the basis of the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart. I'll go through some of these arguments in later posts.
This revived my Christian faith, brought it back to life, but then it transformed my Christian faith. St. Anselm, the Christian theologian and philosopher of the 11th century, described the Christian faith as fides quaerens intellectum: faith seeking understanding. Faith can (and does) seek. Faith is curious. Faith explores. This concept was freeing for me. I could seek answers to questions without doubt. I had two millenniums of church history backing me in this. For the first time, I started to learn how to engage the intellect in my faith, how to love God with all of my mind (Luke 10:27).
My Christian faith was also strengthened tremendously. For the first time, I could be confident in my faith. Also for the first time, I felt confident to share my faith, since I could confidently defend it. That was exciting.
Finally, I eventually came to understand this experience of doubt and then a revived and transformed faith as a vocation. This material, and this way of engaging my faith, deeply appealed to me. I found through this a passion for philosophy like I had never had before and deep appreciation for learning and seeking knowledge. If this material, to which I'd never been exposed in the middle of the Bible belt with a church at every corner, rescued my faith, how many never found it? How many Christians around me were struggling in this doubt? I had to learn and share this with people. If I could help someone struggling in their faith, or clear the way for someone to believe that Christianity is true, then I would devote myself to trying. In a real way, this blog is that vocation lived out.
So, as these two posts about my story come to a close, I hope that you can see my heart in this blog. In presenting a defense of the Christian faith that appeals both to the head and to the heart, I notice that my story and Christian walk involve both the head and heart as well. I experienced God and what it means to worship Him. I also found deep intellectual satisfaction in the Christian faith. As I've gotten older, I've been trying to bring these two strains together and live out a more holistic faith.
I hope that you've found my story edifying and encouraging. If you're interested, please consider subscribing in order to be notified of new posts. Also, feel free to leave any comments here and start a discussion. Also, please consider sharing this blog with others so that they will also have access to this information. Thanks for reading!
Lewis, C.S. The Four Loves. In The C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: Harper One, 2017.