Friday, February 28, 2020

Why I'm still a Christian

I mentioned a while back that there's an overemphasis on Christian conversion testimonies. Why these can be edifying to read, what's more useful is to read follow-up testimonies of why someone is still a Christian after 50 years, give or take. Recently I ran that question by some Christian thinkers who are approaching the end of their pilgrimage. The answers for interesting but off-the-record. Then one of them asked me how I'd answer my own question. So, for what it's worth, here's the question and my own answer:

Q. Have you written anything about why you're a Christian at this stage of life? As you know, there's a testimonial genre about how people became Christian in their teens/twenties or how they personally embraced the faith they were raised in at that time of life, but that's frozen in the past. At that age their reasons will be thinner. Over a lifetime, the reasons may evolve or change or be augmented or replaced with deeper reasons. Approaching the end of life, a Christian thinker has thicker reasons for his faith, due to all the life-experience under his belt, study, reflection, and interaction with others. 

A. There's why I became a Christian and then there's why I'm still a Christian. I've been a Christian for 44 years. I became a Christian at 16.

I grew up in a moderately Christian home. My father was intellectual, but agnostic and aloof. My mother was a P.K., pious, but religiously rootless when I was growing up. My grandmother, who lived in town until I started junior high, was the most devout. I adored her, but she wasn't intellectual, so her faith wasn't a reason for me to believe . My Aunt Grace was the best educated Christian I knew at that time, but she was more scholarly than analytical. And we didn't see her that often. My uncle Fred, who was Dean of Education at Anderson U, was a closet apostate. 

I never attended a fundamentalist church. We attended mainline denominations. No doctrinal preaching.

When I came of age around 13, I began to think about death. Not because I expected to die anytime soon, but I was beginning to think about what I'd do with the rest of my life as an adult. And since I was mortal, it made sense to mentally begin at the end and work back from there. At the time I was an atheist. However, it seemed to me that if we pass into oblivion when we die, then life is unimportant. It made me feel alienated from the world.

At that age I didn't have a philosophically astute argument for my intuition, but over the years I've definitely firmed up my view that atheism is a euphemism for moral and existential nihilism. Indeed, one of my pastimes is to collect atheists who admit that.

That didn't make me a Christian, but it did mean I've never been able to consider atheism as a viable fallback option. At one end, my Christianity begins with atheism. That's the backstop. That's just not a tenable alternative. 

I became a Christian at 16 simply by reading the Bible, beginning with Matthew. That was it. Apologetics came later. I backed into apologetics, not to answer my own questions, but to advise others.

As a new Christian it became quickly apparent that I could ask questions the people I knew couldn't answer, so I'd have to find my own answers.

Although I'm cerebral, I'm naturally an intellectual drifter. I coasted through public school on raw talent. I was never studious. 

Partly because I found public school boring. For instance, I was probably mathematically gifted, but they didn't know what to do with gifted students. They just taught techniques for solving problems, whereas I ignored the textbook and toyed with equations until they balanced out in my head. The teacher didn't approve.

Some guys excel academically because they have a competitive streak. I don't. I always thought living to beat the competition was a stupid goal in life. Until I became a Christian, I was an intellectually lazy, indifferent student. It took a sense of Christian duty to galvanize my abilities.

Theologically, I'm primarily interested in exegetical and philosophical theology. Intellectual challenges to Christianity have never been the chink in my armor. I've read all the best atheists. 

In addition, I've invested a great amount of  time in evidence for Christianity as well as evidence refuting naturalism, including neglected lines of evidence. 

As you know, Christian faith has several components. One is belief or conviction, grounded in evidence. My faith is pretty invulnerable in that respect, although I'm only human, so I don't claim to be indestructible.

Where I'm vulnerable is the emotional problem of evil. The way to harm me is through harming those I care about. My three closest, most devout relatives suffered the most. 

I think some Christians lose their faith, not because they cease to believe in God's existence, but God's benevolence. They feel God betrayed them or betrayed those they loved. If you doubt God's goodness, then his existence is secondary. 

However, I'm a presuppositional Christian and an existential Christian. I think God is the source of meaning, math, modality, morality, and logic, as well as creation. On that front alone, naturalism is not an option.

In addition, I've never been a truth for truth's sake, follow the evidence wherever it leads thinker. That bifurcates the good and the true. But both are necessary. Without truth, goodness is illusory; without goodness, truth is worthless. 

Watching what happened to my closest relatives was emotionally damaging to my faith, but damaged faith is worth clinging to. We can't live without hope.

So between the positive evidence for Christianity, as well as the evidence for the falsity of naturalism, I remain a Christian. Atheism is repellent, and the other religious offerings aren't serious rivals. 

I should add that I've had a number of uncanny experiences over the years (as well as witnessing like phenomena with some of my relatives), so it's not confined to abstract public evidence. 


  1. I can relate to your occasional wrestling over God's benevolence. Then again, God didn't treat His own Son "well", at least by earthly standards. He was born poor, lived a mostly unremarkable life and was tortured to death. And He was innocent. What should the rest of us expect?

    One is tempted to believe that God is a sadist at heart and that pain is simply a way for Him to amuse Himself. There are days where it feels like that, but ultimately I don't believe that. In some moments of clarity, it's apparent that true goodness in this life, because we are evil, can only be attained through some degree of suffering and sacrifice.

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  2. Over the years, I have lead church services. I never spoke to the pastor about what I was going to say. It amazed me that many times the theme I spoke about in opening was reiterated by the Pastor in his sermon.

    I grew up in an Arminian Church but over the years became convinced of Calvinism partly because so many times in my Christian walk my life has gone off the rails but something keeps bringing me back to Christian service.

    One last thing, I have a friend/work colleague who is a militant atheist. Over the years I have prayed for wisdom to have the answers. One day he challenged me why I believe? I couldn't believe it, he kept throwing things at me and I had an answer for every question.

  3. In the issue of "if God is good, why is there so much pain in the world?", one neglected question is the contrary. Supposing that God were a sadist at heart, why is there so much good in the world? As Christians grow, they appreciate more and more all the great gifts they're receiving from the hand of God day-by-day - the things that for so long they used to take for granted. Given the existence of God, this vast goodness is something that, the more we appreciate it, the less we'll be prone to supposing that God is indifferent or malevolent. This is particularly so if we reflect on the doctrine of sin. I personally find the doctrine of sin one of the greatest intellectual helps. When I am so perverse and slow and dull and selfish in so many ways, why has God allowed me to live? Why did he ever give me life at all? And if there's no God at all, then really there's no such thing, objectively, as evil - none of my inner life has any ultimate meaning at all. But to bring oneself to believe that is to embrace nihilism, and dissolve all questions about anything.

    1. I intended to put that as a reply to Jim's comment.

  4. Thanks, Steve. Your testimony is valuable for its honesty and intellect. Blessings to you.