Why I Left Christianity

While I was quite young my mother began taking me and my other siblings to an inner city Southern Baptist mission. At the age of twelve I went to a religious summer camp by invitation of one of my Junior High school teachers. It was at this camp that I “accepted” Christ and first professed Christianity. I continued attending the Baptist mission until I was 17 when I realized that I was not living the Christian life that I professed. I then dedicated my life to being a consistent Christian and became intensely interested in theology.

At this early stage of my life I went through a number of theological changes and transitions. I moved from dispensationalism to amillennialism, Arminianism to Calvinism and embraced the tenets of Landmarkism. For those interested Landmarkism is a branch of the Baptist family that sees itself as the true heirs not only of the Baptist faith, but of the apostolic faith. Landmarkism and Landmarkers believe they can trace their churches back through the centuries of Christian history back to the apostles. They call it Baptist Church Succession or chain link successionism. This viewpoint was popular among Baptists of the 19th century but has many holdovers still today.

I was with the Landmark Baptists for about 20 years and even created a website dedicated to defending the basic ideas of Calvinistic Landmarkism. During this time my theological views continued to develop and change. My views of the church (and Landmarkism in general) began to moderate, so for example, I came to reject the chain link succession view and instead I embraced the concept of a “spiritual kinship.” I also rejected tithing which is very popular among most Baptists of all types. Although many of my theological views tended to moderate, some on the other hand became more hardened such as my Calvinism. I found the concepts preached by the Protestant Reformed Church and Gordon Clark very interesting and couldn’t deny their logic. I was drawn to their double predestinarianism, superlapsarianism, denial of the free offer of the gospel, and their emphasis on rationality and reasoning.

Although I remained with the Landmarkers for 20 years it was during the last two to three of those years that I came to fully reject their views. Instead I embraced “house church” theology and ecclesiology as I found it to be very scriptural and aligned very well with the way many scholars conceived of the early church. The problem for me was that I could not find any house churches in my area that were Calvinistic as most were typically Arminian and Charismatic.

Around the year 2000 I had found a strong Calvinistc group that met in my area where the guy pastoring the group was sympathetic to many of the house church concepts. After some reluctance I finally visited the group and then joined them and remained with them for over 8 years. The thing that sets this group apart from the ones that I had been in contact with in the past was their emphasis on the work of Christ (understood from a strictly Calvinistic perspective) and the doctrine of Justification by imputed righteousness. For them these were the heart of the gospel message so much so that they denied a person was truly a Christian if they did not hold to them. They had no problem with the idea that all Arminians were lost and even traced their “true” conversion to the Christian faith to when they embraced these views. Any religious faith before then was defined as false religion holding to a false gospel. And yes, I did embrace these viewpoints as well because they made sense to me. Oddly enough it was during my time with this group that I also embraced evangelical egalitarianism.

This should give you enough information about my theological background to give you an idea of where I came from and the direction of where I was headed.

One of the things that I have always been very interested in since I first became theologically aware was Christian apologetics. I have read numerous books on different topics from young earth creationism, to the inerrancy and reliability of the Bible, to the existence of God and the resurrection of Christ.

About two years ago I was studying a number of related topics: the historicity of the Old Testament, the creation account in Genesis, and the age of the cosmos. It was during these studies that the evidence for an ancient earth became so strong that I could no longer deny it. Of course this led to a number of questions related to Genesis, the flood, Adam and Eve, and creation and evolution. Having been taught young earth creationism all of my life this was quite shocking to me. This led to my restudying the historicity of the Old Testament, especially the early chapters of Genesis, and this in turn opened the whole question of biological origins. These studies and four books in particular are what led to my rejection of the Christian faith.

These four books changed my whole perspective on the Bible and biological origins so I want to briefly mention each one and some of the arguments that they contain. All are written by evangelical Christians who still hold to some form of conservative Christianity.

The first of the books was Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. Much of what Enns is saying corresponds to a lot of what other Old Testament scholars like Paul Seeley have been writing about: in order to understand the Old Testament we need to understand its background. The literature of the ancient near east has a huge impact on understanding and interpreting the Old Testament whether we are talking about the creation account, the Noahic flood, or the wisdom, or prophetic literature. There is also the amount of theological diversity within the Old Testament that can be found between the different authors, books, and time periods that are often contradictory. There is also the issue of how the New Testament authors understand and interpret the Old Testament using first century Jewish hermeneutical principles that we would reject today.

The next book that had a major impact on my thinking was Coming to Peace with Science by Darrel R. Falk. This is the first pro-evolution book that I had ever read and once I finished it I was thoroughly convinced. Evolution is not what most Christians make it to be and the evidence for it is overwhelming. Some of the things that Falk brings up include the evidence for an ancient universe that can be accurately measured using radiometric dating. I had always been taught to not trust this dating method but Falk shows that we can indeed believe its results. The distribution of fossils in the fossil record corresponds to the evolution of life, from single celled organism, to multicellular life, to the vast array of life forms that we see today. There is the evidence of organisms with transitional features such as Pakicetus and Archaeopyeryx and the various fossil series such as the whale and the horse series. There is also the evidence from the geographical distribution of life and DNA. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Another book that clinched it for me in favor of evolution was Stephen Godfrey and Christopher Smith’s book Paradigms on Pilgrimage: Creationism, Paleontology, and Biblical Interpretation. What Falk did for biology, these guys do for paleontology. The evidence of fossil footprints and various other types of trace fossils at various levels of sediment blow “flood geology” out of the water. The natural history of life that is recorded in the sediments is easily explained by evolution, but cannot be done by any form of creationism.

The fourth book was God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship by Kenton Sparks. By the time that I read this one I had already rejected inerrancy and was looking for a way to still hold to the Bible as some form of God’s word. Sparks does want to maintain the inspiration of the Bible but most evangelicals would not agree with his explanation and besides the evidence he brings forth is just too overwhelming against it. It is simply a fact that most evangelical scholars do not deal seriously with biblical criticism and Sparks calls them on the carpet over and over again. Some of these critical problems include the close similarity of the ancient near eastern literature with the Old Testament which needs to be adequately assimilated by evangelical scholarship. There are serious problems with the Pentateuch such as authorship (it is pretty much a consensus that Moses did not write much, if any, of it), its chronology, theological diversity, and historicity. There are the questions of the historicity of Exodus, and more generally Israelite historiography. There are multiple issues with the prophets including their message, content and failed prophecies. Take Daniel for example, the evidence is that it was written around 175-164 BCE and that the four kingdoms prophesied where Babylon, Media, Persian, and Greece (and not the traditional Babylon, Medo-Persian, Greek and Rome) and that the author thought that the kingdom of God would break in to destroy Antiochus but that his prophecy failed. In the New Testament there is the issue of the liberty that the Gospel writers take in presenting their stories and the flawed hermeneutics used by the New Testament writers in general. Again, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

By the time I finished reading the book by Sparks I sat down and realized that there was nothing left for me to believe. The overwhelming evidence for biological evolution, the natural history of the world, and the historical critical problems with the Bible left me dumb founded. I came to the conclusion that I was no longer a Christian and that I had to reject the faith that I had believed, loved and cherished for so long. I now consider myself an agnostic but am very suspicious that atheism is probably true and am leaning more and more in that direction.

I am still very interested in things related to religion in general and Christianity in particular as it helps me to see where I was, where I am now and to be more equipped at discussing these things with Christians who are still locked into their false hope.