My Journey from Faith to Doubt to Disbelief

My doubt about the Christian faith, more specifically the Bible, grew gradually over the years.  But reflecting back to childhood I think I was always a doubt suppressing believer though I didn’t know it at the time.  As an adult there were several key moments in my life where doubt took big steps.  One such occasion was when I was working on a sermon for Father’s Day.  My lesson was titled Being a Father like God (Yahweh) but I couldn’t complete the sermon because I was bothered that the “Father” God of the Bible never speaks to me or any credible person that I know.  Would a good father not verbally communicate with his children?  I love my children.  I could not imagine giving them the life long silent treatment, refusing to comfort them with my voice and words.  If my children were in terrible danger, especially in danger of eternal torment in hell, then I would visually and verbally do everything in my power to warn them.  What does the Bible-God do?  He allegedly warns us by doing a bunch of “signs” in Palestine over 2000 years ago recorded in a collection of old manuscripts for us to read, believe, and obey today.  As a father I would do a lot more to save my children if they were in danger then give them a complicated, contradictory, archaic book to read, which may or may not have been inspired by me.

I remember the day when I first acknowledged my doubts.  It was in the afternoon in the year 2003.  I had been alone studying for a sermon. I can’t remember what book of the Bible I was reading but I took a break because my mind was racing faster than I could read and seemed to be locked in on something more important than the task at hand.  I sat in my office when the thought hit me like a ton of bricks.  “I don’t believe it [the Bible].”  I had never allowed those words to cross my mind before that day.  I repeated that sentence to myself several times shocked by the confession of a disbelief buried deep in my soul, but brought to life in exhilarating confusion.  I suppressed the thought, however, and lived struggling with my secret for the next few years.  I did not want to disbelieve.  I’d put so much time and effort into the ministry.  I had received an A.A. in Bible and was about to receive a B.A. in Bible.  I was being paid well to do a job that gave me a flexible schedule.  I worked and went to church with great people who liked me and complimented me and my family for our work in ministry.  We had more friends than we could keep up with.  My children went to a Christian school and we all loved it.  So what could I do?

I suppressed my thoughts and began studying apologetics (Christian evidences).  I was bothered by the thought of having a faith that needed to defend its apparent contradicting doctrines, facts, etc.  But I thought, “Once I’ve studied apologetics, then I can help other people like me.  My faith will be stronger and I’ll be fully convinced.”  It seemed to me, though, that the more I studied apologetics, the more I disbelieved.  I didn’t realize our Christian faith needed that much defending.  I learned of difficulties in my Christian faith that I didn’t even know existed.  Instead of finding more supporting evidence, I found more weaknesses.  Why would God make the Bible, if it is His inspired word, so vulnerable to attack?  “Unbelievers must be blind, closed-minded, idiots!” I’d thought before, but I was discovering that the critics of the Bible knew the Bible better than me and most other Christians and preachers that I knew.

I made it my goal to do my graduate work in the field of Christian apologetics.  There were two major schools that specialized in this field, Biola University (Talbot School of Theology) and Southern Evangelical Seminary.  Both schools had world-renowned scholars, authors of books, and champions of debate on their faculties.  To my dismay, however, neither school would allow people who disagreed with them on the purpose of the Christian practice of baptism.  Do these people really believe that most of the world is going to hell, and they won’t allow me to attend school over the doctrine of the purpose of water baptism?  How ridiculously stupid!  Yet, my particular fellowship, the Church of Christ, was more obtuse about much smaller issues (e.g. hand-clapping in worship, instrumental music) than the evangelicals.  So for the next few years I didn’t know what I wanted to do or where I was going.

As a result of my growing doubts about the Christian Scriptures, I found myself becoming more lax on doctrinal issues of the Bible.  I started listening to “Contemporary Christian Music,” which didn’t have much acceptance in the Church of Christ.  I stopped believing the “One True Church” doctrine of many in the Church of Christ (that we’re the only ones going to heaven).  I became more and more disgusted with the petty things that my fellow Christians griped about (women wearing pants to church, divorce people leading prayers or reading Scripture, not keeping the traditions of the past).  I felt insincere about the religious songs we sang at church.  And trying to share the gospel with the “lost” felt like a complete lie.

I moved to work with a new congregation hoping that this would help renew my faith.  It did not.  Eventually, I began reading books by former Christians.[1]  Reading the other side of the story was like a fresh drink of water.  I noticed that the things that bothered me had also bothered other former Christians, too.  It was not just me.  I’d found confirmation of my doubts in others who’d studied diligently and were troubled by the same things.

Strangely, after going through a painful divorce, I was distracted from my unbelief for a while.  My church family stood by me and encouraged me greatly.  I still love them all very much for their kindness and compassion towards me and my family during this tough time.  I later got married to a Christian woman who was very strong in her faith.  This made me try even harder to be the Christian man that I wanted to be.  For a while I forgot my doubts all together, but then leading a Wednesday night study through the Old Testament reminded me of why I doubted the Bible’s inspiration again.  After reading The Age of Reason by Thomas Pain, I recognized that my days as a minister were numbered.  I decided that as soon as I could find decent employment elsewhere, I would quit the ministry and church altogether.

The next couple of years were very difficult.  I tried to preach and teach Bible to the congregation just like they believed it and paid me to do.  It was so difficult to prepare sermons, bulletin articles, and Bible class materials during that time.  On some days I felt physically sick.  I often wanted to vomit because I felt like such a phony.  The loneliness was very painful.  I wanted to talk to someone, but who could I talk to?  I  certainly could not tell people at church about my disbelief.  I didn’t want to tell my family and disappoint them.  All my friends were Christians.  It was a lonely and painful time for me.

During that painful time I had a strong desire to tell people that I didn’t really believe it.  More than I ever wanted to preach the gospel, I felt this deep need to share all the reasons why I thought the Bible was full of contradictions and absurdities.  But since I couldn’t talk to anyone, I began writing my thoughts, my struggles, and my criticisms of the Bible, which resulted in the contents of this blog.

Let me make it clear that my questions and doubts were NEVER about God.  I never doubted God and never do.  It was the Bible that I doubted, and slowly came to disbelieve.  Can my whole life be built around the testimony contained in a book?  I have not seen Jesus with my eyes, I have not felt him with my hands, I have not heard him with my voice.  I haven’t even the pleasure of reading a book that was written by his hand.  Yet I read that he said, “Unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24), and “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6).  Some will say it is historic testimony just like what we read about Julius Caesar, and maybe this is true.  But Julius Caesar never asked me to put my faith and all that I am in him.  The stories of the Old and New Testament are extraordinary.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  And a leather-bound book printed and published by Nelson or Zondervan or anyone else about events that allegedly happened over 2000 years ago in the small villages of Palestine isn’t extraordinary enough for me to dedicate my life to believing, obeying, and preaching.

The Bible says that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17), but I find myself with more questions than faith as I read and study the Bible.  The more I studied the Bible, the less inspired it seemed, especially when I dared to study the Bible critically.  I’ve noticed that many of the people in the churches I have preached don’t dare to question the validity of it.  Of course, many Christians have studied the Bible critically, but why they’ve come to such drastically different conclusion than me, I just don’t understand.  I know  most people, however, who claim to believe the Bible never make much of an effort to read it or evangelize the world in obedience to it.  Why not?  If they believe the Bible is the word of God, then why aren’t they telling people everywhere they go about heaven and hell?  Maybe they’re afraid.  Well, fear comes from doubt, and the reason why many people are afraid to talk to others about heaven and hell and the gospel is fear from doubt…a doubt suppressed and not confessed.  I am no longer suppressing my doubts about the Bible.  I am now dedicated to exploring my faith in what the Declaration of Independence called “Nature’s God”.

 

[1] Brian Baker, Dan Barker, John S. Compere, Bart Ehrman, John Lottus, Robert M.Price, Mark Roncace, Thomas Paine, Elihu Palmer, Ethan Allen, et al.

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