My Conversion/Deconversion Story

In my book Why I Rejected Christianity: A Former Apologist Explains I’ve written 40 pages about my conversion to Christianity, my deconversion away from Christianity, what I believe now, and why. To read the complete story of my conversion/deconversion and what I believe today you can purchase the book here.

But let me offer the Cliff Notes version:

I grew up being taught to believe in the Christian faith. In fact, until I converted at the age of 18 I never remember encountering anyone who didn’t believe. I just thought everyone around me believed. So when I found myself down on my luck at the age of 18 there was no one else I knew to turn to but Jesus, and I did.

I had a dramatic conversion as an 18 year old. I had dropped out of High School, and was arrested six different times for offenses like running away, theft, and battery. I had also hitchhiked around the country with a friend. I was heavily into drugs, alcohol, sex, fast cars, and the party scene.

But one night I gave myself over to this Jesus in repentance and faith in response to what I believed at that time was his substitutionary death on the cross for my sins. At that time I claimed to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and a new calling to spread God's news of salvation to anyone who will believe.

And my life radically changed. Here’s how I later described my new life and new sense of mission in a newspaper devotional column that area ministers took turns writing every week: “I can identify with the apostle Paul who said, ‘But by the grace of God I am what I am’ (I Cor.15:10). I knew I needed help, but no one could break through to me, until I turned my life over to Jesus. Only he could save me. Only he could change me. I have totally changed due to the grace of God. When I look back on those years, it’s like I’m talking about someone else. Without God I shudder where I would be today. Now, I gladly preach the message that God can change you too. Believe it. It happened in my life. Believe that it can happen to your rebellious teenager. Believe it because we serve a miracle-working God who answers prayer, and who intervenes on our behalf.” Then I ended the devotional with these words: “From out of my own personal experience my heart bleeds for the victims in our society, for I know what it’s like to be a victim and a victimizer. That’s why I fight for the unborn, the poor and homeless, those victimized by pornography, but especially for those trapped in sin. People need the Lord.” [Herald Republican, August 10, 1990].

With such a passion for my purportedly new relationship with God-in-Christ, I began to understand my faith and to minister it. I graduated from Great Lakes Christian (Bible) College, Lansing Michigan, in 1977. Afterward I became the Associate Minister in Kalkaska, MI, for two years. Then I attended Lincoln Christian Seminary (LCS), Lincoln, IL, and graduated in 1982 with M.A. and M.Div. degrees, under the mentoring of Dr. James D. Strauss. While at LCS I was the founding editor for the now defunct apologetical quarterly, A Journal For Christian Studies. After LCS I attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), and graduated in 1985 with a Th.M degree, under the mentoring of Dr. William Lane Craig, considered by many to be the foremost defender of the empty tomb of Jesus and his bodily resurrection from the grave. I also took classes at Marquette University in a Ph.D. program with a double major in Philosophy and Ethics, but I didn’t finish because I lacked the needed funds to stay in school and because I wanted to be close to my Dad who was dying of cancer.

From 1987 to 1990 I was the Senior Minister of the Angola Christian Church, Angola, Indiana. I served in the Steuben County Ministerial Association, and for a year I was its President. Before that I had several ministries in Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois. I was in the ministry for about fourteen years, or so. After leaving the church, I’ve stayed in Angola, and now I own my own business here.

I was a Christian apologist with several master’s degrees set for the express purpose of defending Christianity from intellectual attacks. I was not afraid of any idea, because I was convinced that Christianity was true and could withstand all attacks. I have taught both apologetical and philosophical classes for a few different Christian and secular colleges. I was in the “Who’s Who Among America’s Best Teachers” in 1996.

I knew most of the arguments against Christianity, and as a philosophy instructor in a secular college I could debate both sides of most any argument. As a philosophy instructor, in many ways, I am a purveyor of doubt. Too many people have a superficial faith handed down from their parents. As a teacher my goal is to cause them to doubt much of what they believe, be it atheist or believer, or in between. Doing so is what’s needed for them to develop a deeper faith, and it allows them to see points of view they’ve never considered before, thus making them more tolerant of other people’s beliefs. One thing that I must do as a philosophy instructor is to eliminate from my students a smug, simplistic, and dogmatic belief system. Such beliefs are childlike and unbecoming of the adults they should become. Anyway, I have told people time and time again that I could teach philosophy until I was blue in the face so long as I knew I had a loving, caring, and faithful Christian community to fall back on after my class is over. When that fell through the floor, the doubts crept in my life.

There are three major things that happened in my life that changed my thinking. They all happened in the space of about five years, from 1991-1996. These are the three things that changed my thinking: 1) A major crisis, 2) plus information, 3) minus a sense of a loving, caring, Christian community. For me it was an assault of major proportions that if I still believed in the devil would say it was orchestrated by the legions of hell.

Let me just briefly mention the information that changed my mind. I carried on a correspondence debate with my cousin who was a Lieutenant in the Air Force (now a Colonel) and teaches Bio-Chemistry at a base in Colorado. I handed him a book arguing for creation over evolution and asked him to look at it and let me know what he thought of it. After several months he wrote me a long letter and sent me a box full of articles and books on the subject. Some of them were much too technical for me to understand, but I tried to read them. While he didn’t convince me of much at the time, he did convince me of one solid truth: the universe is as old as scientists say it is, and the consensus is that it is 12-15 billion years old.

Now that by itself isn’t too harmful of an idea to Christian thinking. But two corollaries of that idea started me down the road to being the honest doubter I am today. The first is that in Genesis chapter 1 we see that the earth existed before the sun, moon, and stars, which were all created on the fourth day. This doesn’t square with astronomy. So I began looking at the first chapters of Genesis, and as my thinking developed over time I came to the conclusion that those chapters are folk literature—myth. You can see my studies on this later in this book.

The second corollary is this: if God took so long to create the universe, then why would he all of a sudden snap his fingers, so to speak, and create human beings? If time is not a factor with God when he created the universe, then why should time be a factor when it came to creating human beings? If God took his time to create the universe then why wouldn’t he also create living creatures with greater complexity during the same length of time? In other words, what reason can be given for the different ways God created? Is this the same God? Why did it take God so long to create the stuff of the universe, which is less valuable and presumably less complex to create, than it did to create the most valuable and highly complex creatures to inhabit that universe? Astronomy describes the long process of star, planet, and galaxy formation. It then becomes uncharacteristic of God to do otherwise with human beings. I concluded that God created human beings by the same long process he created the universe as a whole, if he created us at all.

I carried on a correspondence with Dr. Virgil Warren for about 6 months, who was a professor at Manhattan Christian College, Manhattan, Kansas. I was asking him what he thought about the issues raised by the age of the universe. In a final letter to him on March 19, 1994 I wrote: “My problem is that I earnestly desire the truth whatever the result. I do not concern myself with the results just yet, although I know I’ll have to face them sometime. Right now I just want to make sense of it all, results be what they may. When I consider the possible results, they scare me, but that’s only because they are unfamiliar to me. This is natural. The real question for me right now is the truth question. If the answers upset other cherished beliefs then I’ll have to re-examine my answers, and perhaps revise them in order to maintain those cherished beliefs. On the other hand, my answers might cause me to give up on some of these cherished beliefs—there’s no way to tell at this point which way I’ll go. But as time permits I am committed to finding answers that produce the least amount of tension among the things I believe.”

Nearly two years later and I came to deny the Christian faith. There were just too many individual problems that I had to balance like spinning plates on sticks in order to keep my faith. At some point they just all came crashing down.

I personally think more than anything else, it was a deeper knowledge that caused me to leave the faith. But it was my faith that inspired me to gain that knowledge in the first place. I was so sure and so confident in my faith that I didn't believe I could learn anything that would ever cause me to doubt my faith. I believed I served a God of reason, so I was not going to be afraid of any argument to the contrary. And with this assurance I sought to understand and argue against those who would debunk my faith.

It is quite ironic, really. I started with faith. That faith inspired me to understand. With more understanding, my faith increased to the point where I was confident no argument could stand up against my faith. So I proceeded to gain more and more knowledge for the express purpose of debunking the skeptics. But in so doing I finally realized that the arguments on behalf of the Christian faith were simply not there. The skeptics were right all along. Even though everything I studied was done from the presumption of faith, and in the service of the faith, my studies ended my faith.

My doubts were simmering these last few years. I didn't think much about them. But when Mel Gibson's movie “The Passion of the Christ” came out, it made me think about them again, intensely. Plus, while I was describing in class how, with Arthur Peacocke, I believe God could've used chance as a radar beam searching the possibilities for the direction of creation, one of my students laughed at the thought. It was these last two things that have put me on course to finally come out of the closet and tell what I think. I have always had reasons for what I believed. Only recently have I begun sharing my doubts. I want people to know that I have thought through answers for the way I life my life.

While the things I have just written might explain to some degree why my thinking has changed, I want to stress the fact that my thinking has indeed changed. You cannot explain away my present doubts by pointing to bad experiences in my life. They may be what provoked my thinking, but they don’t explain my thoughts. I am an atheist regardless of the experiences that led up to my present way of thinking. In talking with me you will have to deal with my arguments. Otherwise, I could point to your past experiences and explain your beliefs away as a product of what you have experienced too! People believe and doubt for a wide variety of reasons, and that’s all there is to it.

Now there will be those who might say I chose my theology based on how I wanted to live my life. In other words, my ethics dictated my viewpoint. But the chronological historical truth is that first my theology changed, and then I started living my life differently. My theology of doubts began to dictate my personal ethics. I started to live my life in keeping with my new set of beliefs.

I tried as best as I could to be a faithful Christian, and good minister. I accepted God’s grace, and it radically changed my life when I was a teenager, as you have read. After being saved I wanted to show God how grateful I was for his gift of salvation by committing my life over to him with all I had. Even though I knew it was by grace that I had been saved, I almost always felt guilty that I wasn’t doing enough in response to God’s love. Whether it was spending time in prayer, evangelizing, reading the Bible, tithing, forgiving someone who had done me wrong, or whether it was struggling with temptations of lust, pride, selfishness and laziness, I almost always felt guilty. It may just be because I was so passionate about Christianity that this was the case, and so it just might be my particular temperament. But I never could understand how Christian people could come to church every Sunday but never get involved much in the Church’s programs, because that’s what believers should want to do. To be quite frank here, if Christians really believed that the non-Christian was going to hell, and that God loved them enough to send his Son to die for them on the cross, then how would they behave? How many true believers are in the churches today?

Today I am pretty much guilt free. That is, I have no guilt in regards to the Christian duties mentioned above. I am free of the need to do most of the things I felt I had to do because I was expressing my gratitude for what God had done. And yet, I am still grateful for my present life, even more so in many ways. I love life. I’m living life to the hilt, pretty much guilt free, primarily because my ethical standards aren’t as high. In fact, I believe the Christian ethical standards are simply impossible for anyone to measure up to. Think about it, according to Jesus I should feel guilty for not just what I do, but for what I think about, lusting, hating, coveting, etc. I’d like every person who reads this book to experience the freedom I have found. It is to you that I dedicate this book.

For more about me as a Christian Minister see Nostalgic Today.