Joseph's Deconversion Story

For sometime now a blogger named Joseph (aka Jospeh) has been visiting DC and commenting. I asked him for his story. Here it is:

I was raised in a strict fundamentalist home by my dad (a minister) and mom (an anti-feminist homemaker). My grandfather was an evangelist and preacher in the churches of Christ. My dad followed in his footsteps and I in his. Three generations steeped in the dogmatism and confident swagger that is so characteristic of those belonging to "the true church." Growing up, I heard hundreds of sermons which "exposed" the doctrinal falsehoods of "denominationalism." I learned to "speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where the Bible is silent," and to have a Bible passage to back up every belief I held. To top it all off, I was homeschooled from 5th grade through high school and became quite familiar with the curriculum of Bob Jones and Bill Gothard.

I was baptized at right before my 13th birthday (incidentally, against my mother's wishes, who thought that I should wait until I was an adult). Shortly after I was baptized I felt the calling to preach. The pulpits in the churches of Christ, as you probably know, can be quite dry and didactic. As I begin to delve into the Bible for myself, I felt that it could be made more practical and accessible to the average person. My parents happily schooled me in the art of public speaking. I read several standard books on the doctrines and teachings of the church, but found that my sermons were more issue oriented. I admired preachers like James Kennedy and Chuck Swindoll who told it like it was and saw my own ministry headed in that direction. My radical mother supported me as I began speaking out against rock music, dating, and the separation of church and state and for homeschooling, courtship, and America's Christian history.

By age 16, I had read the Bible through multiple times and believed that I understood what it was all about. I had an answer for every question, a comeback for every objection, and a reconciliation for every discrepancy found in Scripture. My doctrine was well-contained in a nice, neat, little box that remained relatively undisturbed for the first 7 years of my Christian walk.

At one point I remember being disgusted with the whole sin problem and I said to myself, "You know what, this is ridiculous. There is no reason for me to go one sinning against God any longer. I'm just not going to sin anymore." That lasted for about 30 seconds, but the experience planted a nagging doubt in my mind. Why was God allowing sin to have such a stranglehold on my life? Why wouldn't I, through his power, be able to overcome anxiety, fear, loneliness, depression, and sexual temptation? And why didn't I always sense the presence and approval of God in my life?

Nevertheless, my passion for preaching continued. Wherever my dad's ministry took the family, I believed that my purpose was to bloom where I was planted. Usually that meant "livening up" small, struggling congregations across the south, mid-west, and northwest. Like many fundamentalists, I came at it from the perspective that I was there set other people straight. Meanwhile, the silent doubts about my faith continued--doubts which I successfully pushed to the side for a time, but would one day come exploding to the surface.

Some may assume that my faith was superficial and, looking back, in some ways my understanding of biblical theology certainly was. But my conviction was rock solid. I was ready to die for Christ and his principles. As long as I stayed sheltered in my own family and church community, my faith remained strong and stable.

It was not until I joined the military that my world was shaken. For the first time I was exposed to people from all walks of life--including other denominations. I saw the best and worst of humanity. During this time, I also went through a serious physical trial. I felt abandoned by God and trapped in my situation with no particular end in sight. For an entire year, I didn't pray or read the Scriptures. My spiritual life was drying up and cracking, but my spiritual identity was not gone completely. As I hit rock bottom, I realized that I was truly saved and could never leave my Lord.

When I got out the military I found a wonderful church home and became a minister there in a number of capacities. It felt good to be back in my groove, teaching multiple Bible classes, leading youth group meetings, conducting Bible studies, and preaching several sermons a week. I devoured the apologetic works of Norm Giesler, the creationist writings of Henry Morris, and every John MacArthur book I could get my hands on. I happily shielded myself from books and television promoting different points of views (my only exposure to skeptical points of view was by way of Giesler's "When Skeptics Ask").

Ten years into my ministry, however, the doubts reappeared and started to chip away at my faith once again. Some doubts were little ("Why did Abraham, Moses, David continue to sin when they had experienced first hand the power and presence of God in a way we can only dream of?") and others great ("Why does a loving God allow terrible, tragic things to happen to people?"). The atrocities recorded in the Old Testament ( e.g. the Israelite conquests) impacted me in a way they never had before. Suddenly, I saw clearly: there was a huge discrepancy between what evangelicals of every stripe professed and what the Bible taught. I awakened to the vast difference in character between Yahweh and Jesus. I realized that if an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God existed he would do something to clean up the evil in his world--since it was quite obviously more than the church could handle. On an intuitive level, things just didn't make sense.

I began surfing the net to read unorthodox opinions about Christianity. I stumbled across DC and my world was changed. My paradigm was shifting and along with it, my identity. Everything I had been so sure about was fading away. For those who have never struggled with their faith, I cannot put into words the awfulness of the feeling. When the rug is pulled out from underneath you, it's not such a great thing. Believe me, I would have never chosen the path of unbelief had not my honest, intellectual and intuitive search led me there.

Where do I go from here? Well, I will continue to keep an open mind. Yet, I have a new found boldness that has allowed me to question things like never before. It is completely refreshing to be able to speak out in a forum like DC or in my conversations with family member and friends without the fear that God is looming over me, waiting to strike me down for even the hint of unbelief. And, by the way, I still attend church. Why? Because there are good people at my church doing a good work. I have yet to find another organization of people who can replace the family spirit and warm encouragement that the church gives me. On the other hand, there are some things about the church that are ugly and hateful and if that ever outweighs the good, I will probably leave for good.

For now I am like a sponge, learning all I can about the faith that I have left and my understanding of life and the universe grows exponentially from week to week. I now proudly fix myself to ranks of the freethinkers and am grateful that there are other people like me who are willing to call it like they see it and engage in honest dialogue.