My Conversion and De-Conversion Story

December 22, 2008 at 9:45 pm 17 comments

I had a conversation with someone lately via email and they were asking about how I became a Christian and how I ended up leaving the Christian faith. In most cases, Christians do not see how someone could have been a “true Christian” if they end up leaving the faith.  So, when they hear that I am no longer a Christian, they assume that I had a false faith of some kind. I wanted to briefly share my story of how I became a Christian and how I came to not be a Christian. I know that many Christians may still feel as though I was not a “real” Christian but there is not much I can do about that. The bottom line for me is that I was honestly a Christian and believed in Jesus and the Bible with all of my heart. I left the faith because I feel that I was bound by my conscience to be honest with myself about what I could and could not truly believe anymore.

I grew up in a Christian home but…was not serious about my faith as a teenager at all. I was into drugs and alcohol quite a bit and I had a pretty bad experience on some heavy drugs which scared me into stopping. As I sobered up I had this intense feeling that I was not right with God. I felt that if I were to die that i was likely going to go to hell. I KNEW what I had to do to get right with God from my Christian upbringing and so after a few “divine appointments” of meeting people who invited me to church with them I accepted and went. I KNEW that this was the right thing to do and I FELT that as I heard the gospel and responded that I was forgiven of my sin and assured of eternal life because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ in my behalf on the cross. I accepted this by faith and my life totally changed.

I then wanted to study and know as much as i could about my faith. Not to prove it to be true, because i already knew that by faith, but to simply be able to “give an answer to everyone who asks for the hope that is within me”. I had a lot of friends at the time who were not Christians and who thought that my new found dogmatism in this narrow minded Christian faith was misguided. “Sure Jesus was fine, but how can you say that he is the only way” they would tell me. I wanted what I was experiencing with God to be my friends experience so i wanted to give them the best arguments that I could find to show them that Christianity was a rational belief. I read and listened to tapes by Josh McDowell, Normal Geisler, Henry Morris and any other apologetics that I could find who were popular at the time (about 1990 – 1991). Unable to “convince” my friends, I moved on with my life and immersed myself in the church and found all new Christian friends who were an encouragement to my faith rather than always wanting to attack me. I lived every day as if God was with me the whole day. Reading my Bible and praying and talking to God at work and throughout my days. I loved to worship God and felt especially close to the Lord during worship times at church. It seemed that God was answering my prayers and truly responding to me about daily things in my life. There were countless times that certain “coincidences” happened which seemed to show that God was truly working in my life. I had no doubts in my mind that Jesus was real and that my sins were forgiven.

In time I had opportunity to teach various bible studies adn realized how much I really did not know and so I went to a small Bible College in California for a few years. I felt a call to preach the gospel and to teach people about the faith. When i taught, people seemed to be encouraged and drawn closer to the Lord and many people told me about how much they were able to learn from my teaching. After Bible College, I took a position as a youth pastor for a few years and then taught in various capacities in different churches that I went to. I taught small group Bible studies, new believers classes at a larger church, preached in pulpits from time to time, and taught at various random times in different settings. During all of this time (about 8 years or so) I don’t remember EVER doubting that God was real or that He was near me every day. Although I struggled like anyone does when you feel distant from the Lord at times I always had faith and always knew without a doubt that I was following the truth and that my sins were forgiven.

I always worked with people who were not Christians and I loved to talk to people about my faith and try to persuade them that they should consider Christ. In about 1999, I worked with a few guys that I would talk to on a regular basis about Christianity. One of them in particular kept pushing me on some basic questions about knowing whether the Bible was true or not and some of their questions just stuck in the back of my head. At first, it just encouraged me to study more so that i could give a good answer to them and feel comfortable with the answer myself but as time went on, I started to become more and more concerned. I met with my pastor and other people from time to time to share with them the issues that I was having problems with and I would get a little better but end up coming back to these questions which seemed to be a real problem. I remember reading a book by John MacArthur on preaching and he was talking about various preachers of the past who had struggled with their faith. One guy, G. Cambel Morgan, had similar questions and just decided one day that if the Word of God was truly powerful, that he should be able to set all of his other books aside for a time and just read the Bible and if it was true, he would be convinced of it. He did this for a year and when the year was up, he emerged with a faith that was stronger than ever. I figured that I would try the same thing. I put my apologetics and theology books on the shelf and just focused on trying to read the Bible and better my relationship with God. I tried reading more devotional books that were meant to encourage my daily walk with Christ . Books by men like John Piper, Andrew Murray, A.W Tozer and others. My thought was that since I did not come to Christ through arguments and logic, why was I trying to keep my faith in that way. I came to Christ because i had an experience with God where I felt his presence and just knew that Jesus was real and could forgive my sins. It was as if God had written his truth on my heart and I didn’t need to do anything to figure it out, I just had to believe it.

I would go back and forth between the struggle with my intellectual doubts and my internal faith which seemed to come directly from God. Eventually, I felt as though I was avoiding my intellectual problems and I truly felt like I was not being honest with myself. I had to deal with these things. I had to face them head on. If the Bible was true then surely it would stand the test of intense scrutiny as has been the testimony of so many famous Christians like C.S Lewis, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel and others. My problems and questions only got bigger the more I studied and looked into things. I realized that I was assuming the Christian faith to be true before I even started to find out of it was defensible. What bothered me was that when I was talking to other people who were Mormon’s or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Muslims I would not allow them to do that. They had to deal with the contradictions in their faith and show that there as good historical reasons to believe it. If a Mormon could assume the truth of the Book of Mormon at the beginning then anything that I showed them that tried to point out inconsistencies or errors in it could be resolved since they KNEW it was true in the first place because of an experience that they had with God. I realized that I was doing essentially the same thing and that it was really not an honest way to look at things. I had to look at the Christian faith from the outside and see if it was internally consistent like I would with any other religion or truth claim. Even though i felt as though I had a genuine experience with God and that he answered my prayers and showed himself to be real to me, I had to consider that many people of other faiths had the exact same experience with their “God”. How was I to distinguish between true experiences with God and false ones? Wasn’t it a little arrogant for me to expect that my experience with God was true while all of these other people’s was false without even looking at the facts? Was it possible that my experiences with God were imagined or that I might be the one who was believing the wrong things? I had to at least grant the POSSIBILITY that this could be true. I easily wrote off other people’s claims to answered prayers and religious truth since it did not agree with mine but was that truly justified?

The problem was that when I held the Christian faith to a strict a standard of logic and historical accuracy as I did Mormonism or Islam, it failed just like they did. The more I looked at it from that perspective, the more I saw that there was no more reason to believe Christianity then there was to believe that Mohamed was a prophet of God. And the likelihood of Mohamed being a prophet seemed pretty slim. I have continued to read and ask questions and talk to as many people who would talk to me (which often is not that many) about these things. I just came to a point where I realized that I really did not believe it any longer even though I am very open to the possibility of the Christian faith being true. I still like to think that I am open and willing to listen to what someone wants to say. I will listen and evaluate whether it seems likely to be true based on whether it is a logically consistent belief, whether it lines up with reality as we know it, and is consistent with History as far as we can tell. I can’t in good conscience just take religious claims on faith since there are so many competing religious claims that are asking me to do that. There has to be a way to distinguish them and to separate truth from error or else it would be too easy to drink a poisoned glass of Kool-aid to my own demise.

For more on the specific reasons that I have for not being a Christian, see the following post.

- Jeff

Entry filed under: ~Guest. Tags: , , .

Fighting the fear of hell and eternal torment Jesus on Religion (A Christmas Sermon)

17 Comments Add your own

  • 1. orDover  |  December 23, 2008 at 3:14 am

    Thanks for sharing Jeff. I think your de-conversion story is the first one that involved a “dramatic” conversion. So many Christians come on here saying how they were messed up from drugs and alcohol and their faith in God is the only thing that turned their life around. It’s interesting that you have the same story, but with a different ending. It will be useful to point those sorts of commentors to this post.

  • 2. Austin Day 2 December 2008 « blueollie  |  December 23, 2008 at 9:27 am

    [...] I think that this author gets it right: The problem was that when I held the Christian faith to a strict a standard of logic and [...]

  • 3. Notabarbie  |  December 23, 2008 at 10:05 am

    Jeff said, “If a Mormon could assume the truth of the Book of Mormon at the beginning then anything that I showed them that tried to point out inconsistencies or errors in it could be resolved since they KNEW it was true in the first place because of an experience that they had with God. I realized that I was doing essentially the same thing and that it was really not an honest way to look at things. I had to look at the Christian faith from the outside and see if it was internally consistent like I would with any other religion or truth claim.”

    I did the same thing, knowing that Christianity would stand…It did not. I too left the faith because I had to be intellectually honest with myself and others and that was a great way for you to put it.

    Thank you for your post. It was very well written.

  • 4. peridot  |  December 25, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. I always appreciate hearing the personal stories of other former christians, especially christians who were very devoted, as I think I was. Your story was very well written.

  • 5. the chaplain  |  December 25, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    Jeff – thanks for sharing your un-testimony.

  • 6. xxldave  |  December 26, 2008 at 1:10 am

    Jeff, I appreciate your honesty. For the last 2 years I have been on a similar de-conversion . I too set out on a biblical journey expecting my faith to be strengthened, only to have it obliterated in short order. Throughout all this though I have come to a greater understanding of myself, knowing now that I’m responsible for me!

  • 7. tom sheepandgoats  |  December 27, 2008 at 9:21 am

    It is a personal journey you have made, no question about it.

    We are all susceptable to whatever propaganda is out there, whether religious, atheist, or anything else. For example, the media deluges us with violence, and people are desensitized to it, enjoy watching it, increasingly open to employing it, whereas at one time they were repelled by it. We look at the clothing styles we wore twenty years ago and wonder how we ever could have stomached looking so silly, yet at the time we thought we were cool.

    Today atheism is in the wind. It’s appeal is an obvious simplification of life: why is there evil? No torturous spiritual soul-searching involved….there is evil because people are SOBs. What could be less complicated? Plus, people dislike authority today, and atheism has an obvious appeal from that angle as well. All one must do is give up on the hope that this life is not all there is, but that too plays into the dominant mindset of our age: “let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tommorrow we are to die.”

    For whatever it’s worth, you mentioned the mindset of most religious communities that they already KNOW it is true before examining or arguing it. I agree with you on that point. However, that is not the mindset of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is probably what drew me to that group. That’s not to say their views are scientifically provable….a uniquely modern requirement…..but they are reasonable, and one can work with them not feeling one must balance scores of contradictions against each other.

  • 8. bluelyon  |  December 28, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    Jeff, thank you for sharing your story. Your’s is much like mine, though I did not attend Bible College.

    Tom – you think JWs are reasonable? Seriously? Other than the fact that they believe that death “is a state of non-existence with no consciousness” (something I can agree with), the rest of their doctrine,/a> is pretty shaky and doesn’t appear any more “reasonable” and “scientific” than any other Christian doctrine.

  • 9. bluelyon  |  December 28, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Jeff – One more thing. I said my story was like yours, but I meant to say except for one thing:

    You say you still have an open mind. At this point, mine is pretty much closed. I’ve looked and researched, prayed, and all of it. At some point one has to choose. It would take a miracle, and I mean a REAL one, unmistakeable to all who observed it, to get me to believe that there exists a supernatural being who intervenes in human affairs and who demands total obedience and worship, and is worthy of my devotion and love.

  • 10. tom sheepandgoats  |  December 28, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    bluelyon:

    Yes, I do think JWs are reasonable. Seriously.

    And, remember, I was addressing someone coming from an evangelical background. JWs are especially reasonable in that comparison.

    It’s much easier to wrap your head around living on earth than heaven. What would one do in heaven? Or hell?? It’s reasonable to suffer punishment forever for merely a few years of “bad” conduct in this life?

    We need not do the mental gymnastics required to envision a trinity, which is totally foreign to our experience and common sense, and in our view, makes God unknowable.

    Even the notion of living forever on earth – there are tantalizing clues that point in that direction. Such as the common observation that our brain capacity is such that we only use the tiniest amout of it. Why? It makes perfect sense if we surmise that humans were origninally created to last forever.

    JWs beliefs have a framework that satisfactorily explains why there is evil and suffering. Possibly you might consider it and not accept it. But I don’t think that conventional church Christianity does anything more than punt on such questions. They accept by faith that somehow it is all turning out for the best.

  • 11. Quester  |  December 29, 2008 at 1:26 am

    JWs beliefs have a framework that satisfactorily explains why there is evil and suffering.

    All right, let’s hear it.

  • 12. BigHouse  |  December 29, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Even the notion of living forever on earth – there are tantalizing clues that point in that direction. Such as the common observation that our brain capacity is such that we only use the tiniest amout of it. Why? It makes perfect sense if we surmise that humans were origninally created to last forever.

    YAWN. What better way to ‘prove’ a myth than with another myth. Try again.

  • 13. tom sheepandgoats  |  December 29, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Quester:

    “JWs beliefs have a framework that satisfactorily explains why there is evil and suffering.

    All right, let’s hear it.”

    That’s rather an ambitious project, and I’m not so sure I want to embark upon it for the sake of an audience composed primarily (I suspect) of those who simply want to shoot it down. Fortunately, I’ve already written about much of it, so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. There is an “evil and suffering” category on my own blog with posts covering various facets of the subject. Read some if it truly interests you, comment on this blog or mine & I’ll respond.

    These two in particular may not be too bad:

    http://tinyurl.com/6556te
    http://tinyurl.com/9wgw34

    I also have an “atheist” category. Although I disagree with most atheist reasoning, I try not to be snotty or disrespectful in my writing. Only persuasive, which since you are from the other camp, may or may not convince.

  • 14. Jeff  |  December 29, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    Tom,
    i agree that we are all susceptible to propaganda including atheist propaganda. It just seems to me that on balance, the thinking atheists (I don’t think all are thinking) are more consistent, logical and open to correction than are the best thinking religious people I have read or run into. I have spent tens if not hundreds of hours talking to JW’s in my life as a Christian but none so far as a post-christian so it would be interesting to do that. I usually welcome that knock on my door when people want to talk to me about religious things. I have even attended a JW worship service before and stayed late to talk to the leaders about “spiritual things” and once they realized I had studied a thing or two they were not interested in wasting their time. I am always open to talk again though if you want to email me.

    I will check out your links and brush off the dust on the New World Translation on my world religions shelf ;)

    bluelyon-
    I say that I am still open even years after “deconverting” because I know that humans in general and me especially are strangely susceptible to seeing what we want to see when we look at the world and when we look at “evidence”. I have believed many things in the past very strongly and thought that I had done all of the necessary and relevant research, only to later find out how wrong I really was. I doubt very strongly that Christianity is true (be it JW or Evangelical or whatever) but I am ALWAYS open to sitting down with a thinking person to have a good discussion and I try to always remind myself that I need to question my skepticism and doubting as much as I question and doubt Christianity. every once in a while I get the opportunity to talk to a very learned Christian and when I do I jump on it. Doug Groothuis, a published Christian apologist and professor, is one example. A friend called me to have lunch with this guy and it was great. I don’t think he said anything convincing to me but he was a very logical, thinking guy and he said some things that made me think hard.

    Jeff

  • 15. SnugglyBuffalo  |  December 30, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Such as the common observation that our brain capacity is such that we only use the tiniest amout of it.

    I hope you’re not referring to the myth that we only use 10% of our brains. We do in fact use 100% of our brains, just rarely (never?) all at the same time.

  • 16. bluelyon  |  December 30, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    Thank you SB.

  • 17. Zeno  |  January 7, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Jeff… your courage to face the truth is encouragement to all of us who have journeyed in to & out of… christianity….

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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