My Christian Journey
My church pastor, Ross at 121 Community Church, asked everyone in the congregation to write their Christian Testimony and share it. This is mine. I hope to continue to add to it as time passes.
* Note: I have included links to videos and other resources. Video links will include the length of the video so you can determine how much of a time commitment they are up front.
I've been asked to tell my "story" before and I've always found it incredibly awkward. I was born to Christian parents, raised in the church, had the typical church camp experience, got baptized, go to church now. I've never felt that my story was interesting or compelling. It's not like I was a drug addict or gang member who hit rock bottom, had a complete turn around in their life when they discovered Jesus, and now preach the gospel every chance I get. I've never felt that huge metamorphosis moment, where everything changes. Asking me to share my story had always felt like I was about to be revealed as a fraud in way. Everything is supposed to change when you come to know Christ, but since I grew up in a Christian household, I'm not sure I could put my finger on any such change.
I grew up going to church. A lot. It wasn't uncommon to go 3 times a week. My parents are social people so they naturally made a lot of friends at church. Us kids would be dragged along to all sorts of church related events and after service dinners. I say "dragged" but I'm glad they did that. It made me aware of what a healthy social life looked like. My summers included weekend church retreats and sometimes a Christian summer camp in Oklahoma. However, pretty much any time I was supposed to be learning in a Sunday school class, or sermon, my focus would be elsewhere. I remember feeling really dumb because other kids could spout off the answers to all sorts of bible related trivia questions. I just kind of accepted my ignorance and suffered through the lessons so I could goof off with my friends afterwards.
One summer, when I was 14(?), I went to aforementioned church camp in Oklahoma. The enthusiasm I encountered from my peers and the leaders during worship really moved me. I felt something bigger than myself at that camp. The message of what Jesus really sunk in and I understood the weight of what he did for us. Many people got baptized in the lake there and I wanted to as well but I wanted to be around my family for that. I wanted to make my parents proud by doing it at our church. I knew that would thrill them. So that's what happened. I got back from camp and a week or two later I was baptized in front of the congregation. I was a "legit" Christian now. At the time, I believed that baptism was a necessary requirement for admittance into the gates of Heaven. I had secured my fire insurance.
I still had a ton of questions though that really made me go all in mentally. Yes, I felt that Jesus Christ was God in human flesh and was crucified as a sacrifice for humanities sins but I still had big questions such as:
- Where do dinosaurs fit into the Christian narrative?
- How old is this Earth? thousands of years? or billions?
- Do I have to choose between science and Christianity?
- Why did God put the tree of knowledge into the garden of Eden?
- How can a just God command a group of people to slaughter another group?
- Why is there evil, pain, and suffering in the world?
- Does the geographical location of my birth determine my eternity?
- How can we trust the Bible hasn't been manipulated over time?
- What about evolution?
* I've included links to resources at the bottom of this post that I've found that have helped me reason about these questions.
In my mind, the fact that I had these questions meant I was a skeptic, sinful, and not a "true" Christian. I was way too intimidated to actually ask these questions to anyone in my church. I got the impression that if it was in the Bible, it was meant to be taken literally and it's not up for discussion. You either believe what the Bible has to say at face value or you're not a Christian and you are going to hell. The truth is that I don't know how the people in my church would have responded to these questions. I decided to try to suppress and ignore my questions.
It kind of seemed I had to ignore these questions and "just have faith". This notion led me to believe that most Christians don't think about these things or simply choose to ignore them. It started to feel like I had to ignore intellect if I wanted to embrace Christianity. Take the dinosaurs as an example. Throughout school and in museums we're taught that their fossils are millions of years old yet if we're to take all parts of the Bible literally then the Earth is only around 10,000 years old. Do I believe scientists who have dedicated their entire careers to studying these things? Or an ancient book that mentions some pretty fantastical stories?
Years pass and I'm now a working adult in my 20's. It's a small software company and every lunch I see one my coworkers doing what looks like a Catholic prayer before his meal. He's in his early 40's, got a wife and boat load of kids. He seems to have his life together. I was impressed with his devotion and unabashed attitude regarding prayer in public. I was also struck by how smart he was. We would discuss ways to solve programming problems and how to best architect our software. He was a mentor to me in the company and I looked up to him professionally and personally. One weekend, we decided to attend a software development conference. After the conference we headed to a bar for some drinks. I decided to take this opportunity to ask him some questions about Catholicism and Christianity in general. I can't remember what the questions were but here was somebody that I could tell had thought about these same questions, actually pursued answers, and was able to articulate answers that made sense to me. It was such a breath of fresh air. It gave me hope that I didn't have to willingly remain ignorant about some of the questions I had....but I never really did anything about it. I was always preoccupied with something else to take the time start digging into those questions.
Years pass. I get married and have 3 kids. It begins to bother me that I know for a fact that my kids will have some of these same questions and I don't know how to respond. The nagging from these questions in the back of my head intensifies.
A couple of years later I went out with friends to a bar after an Aggie football game. Somehow church gets brought up. I express my frustration about the lack of apologetics being taught in church. "Apologetics" is the defense of faith. If asked, can you provide compelling reasons to believe what you do? I couldn't and I was blaming the church for that. I was saying that I think that's a huge failure on the churches part. We're always taught what to believe in church but I couldn't ever remember being taught why, other than "that's what the bible says". We're expected to be "fishers of men"; to spread the good news that is the gospel but I've never felt prepared to actually do that. What if someone asked me one of the questions I had? The last thing I would ever want to do is push someone further away from God because I know I'm unable to answer questions that I think are almost guaranteed to be asked. This was the frustration I was venting to with my friends. It was at this point that one of my friends basically called me out. "Dude, find this stuff out! You've taught yourself programming, art, woodworking, etc. There is nothing stopping you from seeking these answers out." He was 100% right. I still think "the church" needs to spend more time on apologetics but I was definitely being lazy....and scared.
I was scared that if I looked into these questions I wouldn't find satisfactory Christian answers. I was terrified that if I watched an atheist debate a Christian on youtube that the atheist would end up making better points and cause me to raise even more questions. Subconsciously, I believed Christians simply couldn't provide satisfactory answers to my questions. Investigating meant putting my religion on the line to be swayed one way or the other if I was going to be fair about honestly evaluating both sides. My religion was, and is, a big part of my identity. I was raised in a Christian household, married a Christian, most of my friends are Christians, I'm expected to raise Christian children. If I was swayed into not believing in God, or Christianity, what would that mean for the relationships in my life?
A couple more years pass and my family are part of a small group at our church. We meet every other Sunday. We decided on reading through a book, So the Next Generation Will Know by Sean McDowell. During one of the meetings, I bring up dinosaurs yet again and how to respond to my kids if they ask. I didn't know how to reconcile the existence of dinosaurs with Genesis. We have a mix of old/young Earthers among the group so I think people were hesitant to state how they would respond. A few days later, one of the group leaders sends out a group text with various group stuff and also includes a link to a youtube video of Sean McDowell(the author) discussing dinosaurs and the Bible. I thought it was pretty interesting so I started going down a Sean McDowell youtube rabbit hole. I couldn't get enough. In one of his videos, he is speaking to a group of university students at a Christian theological school. A professor has invited him to speak. He pretends to be an atheist and invites the students to ask him anything. The students don't know that he's really a Christian. They start asking questions and he easily fields them all from an atheistic perspective. It was fascinating because it showed me that he really understood these questions from both atheistic and Christian perspectives, could articulate from the atheistic perspective, which meant you know he could defend his actual Christian views. I had inadvertently come across a sort of training wheels scenario of what I was scared to watch: an atheist vs Christian debate. This gave me courage to face my fears and I started to do just that. I watched those debates and lo and behold I didn't instantly become an atheist. I started reading books on various Christian concepts I was interested in and they gave me more confidence in my faith. I was incredibly excited, and relieved, that I could finally articulate some evidence and reasons for Christianity if asked.
A few weeks later an acquaintance/friend randomly chats me to ask if I thought of myself as a fast reader. He knows I read a lot. Mostly fiction but I have mentioned some non-fiction books but had never mentioned any of my reading on religious topics. I respond with something like
No but I think it depends on the book. I flew through The Count of Monte Cristo which is like 1200 pages but it just took me a heck of a lot longer to get through an 800 page book on Christian apologetics.
He responds with
That makes sense. Christian apologetics?
So I briefly describe what that is and a handful of bullet points concerning the topics of the book and what I found really compelling. Here is a screenshot of what I sent:
I tell him that I've never felt like I could adequately defend Christianity and that doesn't sit well with me. He shows some interest in the subject and lets me know that he's never really been a believer. Almost two weeks later he sends me
So if I wanted to start asking you questions about religion, would you prefer to discuss over chat or email?
I was feeling a lot of pressure but a lot more confident in my ability to field his questions than I would have been a few months prior. I was comforted by something my Catholic coworker said to me at some point:
Keep in mind you are not called to convince anyone, that is left to the individual and the work of the Holy Spirit, you can however lay the seeds of faith that may someday bloom.
Hearing him say that was such a relief.
I give him my email and over the next few days we go back and forth about various religious topics. I'm as honest with him as I can be. I made it clear that I'm still learning, exploring, and don't know where I land on some of the topics we talk about. Selfishly, I'm having a great time discussing this stuff that I'm so interested in with someone. It's like reading a good book or watching a good movie and just dying to talk to someone about it. A few more days pass and I'm thrilled to hear from him that he's picked up a book on a religious topic he's interested in. I'm excited to have more discussions about religion. We chat more and eventually I invite him to come to church with us to check it out and him and his wife did.
Side note: It's a pretty wild experience sitting in your church next to someone who is a stranger to church and imagining how it all seems from their perspective! Thinking to myself:
- "These song lyrics are kind of odd. 'Honey in the rock'? "
- "Oh man, the preacher phrased something pretty bluntly, I hope that doesn't rub the wrong way"
- "I bet all this standing, sitting, standing, sitting seems strange"
Luckily we went to lunch afterwards and I got the chance to hear what they thought and learn more about their current beliefs and upbringing. Apparently it wasn't too odd of an experience because they started attending a church closer to where they live since it was quite a drive to ours. He's still picking up books on religious topics every now and then and I'm excited to keep having those talks about what we're learning and the questions we're seeking answers to.
Prior to this experience I have always been troubled by the fact that as Christians we're called to spread the "good news". How exactly am I supposed to go about that? Am I expected to start preaching in the streets? Go on mission trips every chance I get? While I don't have anything against those methods, this experience has taught me that if you're actively trying to learn and grow as a Christian, opportunities will present themselves for you to share what you're learning about which can open up discussions if you're willing to be open and honest.
Through my own questions and from my discussions with friends I've come to realize there is a minimum of two questions regarding Christianity that you must answer for yourself:
- Does God exist?
- Is the Bible true?
Question 1 can be independent of question 2 so I found it helpful to investigate it as such.
Does God exist?
I think as Christians we tend to skip quickly past the first point to the second because that's what makes Christianity unique. If you're trying to determine what you believe or want to share why you believe in Christianity I think you must have adequate evidence for "Does God exist?" first.
Arguments that impacted me the most are:
- Kalam Cosmological Argument
- Teleological Argument
- Moral Argument
Kalam Cosmological Argument
The Kalam Cosmological Argument with states:
- Everything that exists has a cause
- The universe began to exist
- The universe has a cause
If space, time, and matter began to exist then something outside of space, time, and matter must have caused it. Otherwise, that would be like saying that wood could've invented wood. It's illogical.
The Argument from Design, or Teleological Argument Teleological argument (video, 6:22), which argues that the apparent complexity and function of the natural world is evidence of a designer. If we're all just matter crashing into each other, how did the spark of life come to be?
The moral argument which argues that our morality comes from God and this is written on our hearts. We know that torturing innocent babies for fun is evil. No one has to tell us that. It's not simply an opinion or preference. It argues that there are objective moral truths and for those to exist they must come from a higher, non-subjective, source. (video, 8:15)
There are a number of other well established arguments to explore but these have had the most impact on me.
Is the Bible true?
To answer the second question, "Is the Bible true?", I had more questions:
- How do we know the text hasn't been changed over time?
- How do we know the text isn't just a fairy tale?
How do we know the text hasn't been changed over time?
Powerful video covering the following points. 37:20 ← Features Ben Stuart for all my TAMU Breakaway folks.
- the amount of ancient manuscripts we have compared to other ancient literary works is staggering
- the time gap of these manuscripts between when the original literary works were first written and the age of the manuscripts we have is absurdly small compared to other literary works we have and trust
- it wasn't like the telephone game because the translations were translated from the source languages, Hebrew and Greek.
- discoveries like the Dead Sea Scrolls verify that the translations and accuracy of the texts is remarkable
- Neither Constantine, nor the Council of Nicea changed Jesus from a human to God. That had been believed before their time. There has been a fragment of the gospel of John that predates them by over a hundred years.
So after reading and watching a ton of videos I feel really confident that what we call the Bible has been preserved since its original writing. Next I had to turn to analyzing its contents, primarily Jesus and the resurrection.
How do we know the text isn't just a fairy tale?
One compelling aspect of the New Testament is that it is historically grounded. There is evidence of its historicity. There is really strong evidence that people, places, and events actually existed and occurred.
- Josephus, a Roman historian, acknowledges Jesus, his crucifixion, and the fact that people claim he rose from the dead. All legitimate historians confirm that Jesus really existed. (text)
- Romans were infamously brutal. If you were being crucified by them, they weren't going to accidentally let you live.
- Jesus' body was never found. There were Romans guarding the tomb while his body was in there.
- The apostles claim that they saw him afterwards. What motivation did the apostles have to lie? Certainly not money, sex, or power. Most of them were martyred for their beliefs. People don't willingly die for something they know to be false.
- The apostles had disciples, the Apostolic Fathers, that can be somewhat traced. (text)
- There are a ton of prophecies in the old testament about the savior that Jesus satisfies. Some scholars suggest around 300-400.
- The gospels include "undesigned coincidences" that fit together that makes them more believable. Seemingly small details fill in gaps from the other gospels. (video, 8:07)
- The Biblical narrative mentions historical features that have been verified such as the existence of Pontius Pilate (Pilate Stone, text), locations, and evidences of the culture described (text)
Evidence and arguments conclusion
I wouldn't ever be convinced that God exists, the Bible is authentic, and Jesus was the son of God who was resurrected for the sake of humanity on any one of these arguments or pieces of evidences on their own. It's the accumulation of all these that provides a powerful case. When taking it all together, it becomes quite compelling. Prior to this investigation I thought you just had to have "faith" and that really meant "faith without evidence". I was sorely mistaken.
Most of these could be debated all day long and I'm excited that they are. Often, faith is strengthened, not weakened, by genuinely exploring these topics. We're all seeking truth and if Christianity is false, I think Christians would be the first ones who would want to know.
This journey has also made me realize that it's okay for Christians to hold differing opinions on certain topics. Eternal salvation does not depend on whether you believe T-Rex walked the Earth with humans. That's irrelevant to believing Jesus was God, lived a perfect life, died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, and was resurrected so that we can have an eternal relationship with God. I wasted a lot of energy and stress thinking that some of these topics have a single, acceptable position. It has been refreshing seeing pastors mention opposing sides to certain topics and making it clear that you are not less of a Christian depending on whichever side you land on. I believe God wants us to investigate these things. How are we to spread the good news when we bury our heads in the sand when it comes to issues like these? I have a very different attitude towards these topics now. It's not a point of stress but rather I'm intrigued to hear both sides and honestly judge both sides knowing that my salvation does not hinge on the result.
Back to my "story"
The past few months have made it obvious that I can direct and write my story. It's not something solely in the past. It's still unfolding. It may not be Hollywood movie material, but reading books, watching videos, listening to podcasts, and having honest conversations with people has made my story interesting to me at least and has provided a solid foundation for my faith. These are the things I can control that will continue my story.
I have come across a ton of books, videos, and podcast episodes recently that I've found really interesting.
On the questions I pondered earlier
- Where do dinosaurs fit into the Christian narrative? (video, 4:09)
- How old is this Earth? thousands of years? or billions? video, 28:13
- Do I have to choose between science and Christianity? (video, 2:39)
- Why did God put the tree of knowledge into the garden of Eden? (video, 1:25)
- How can a just God command a group of people to slaughter another group? (video, ~4:00)
- Why is there evil, pain, and suffering in the world? (video, 5:03), (video, 3:34)
- Does the geographical location of my birth determine my eternity? (video, ~2:00)
- How can we trust the Bible hasn't been manipulated over time? (video, 37:20)
- What about evolution? (video, 4:07) (video, yt short)
Joe Rogan's podcast is incredibly popular. I think it's well known that he's not a believer. Although I'm not a regular listener, I'm really glad he's having more and more religious people on his show. Both of these episodes are fascinating:
- Adam Curry - internet entrepreneur and newly converted Christian. (full episode)
- Stephen C. Meyer - philosopher of science, the director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute. (full episode)
Other notable people I've come across include:
Sean McDowell - Associate Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University and author. He puts out compelling, relaxed, and easy to understand videos, books, and podcasts. I've read three of his books: So the Next Generation Will Know, A Rebel's Manifesto, and Evidence that Demands a Verdict. (video, 3:58)
Frank Turek - Christian Apologist and author who is featured on a youtube channel called Cross Examined where he routinely features videos of him responding to audiences' questions live. (video, 9:05)
Justin Brierley - Author and show host where he interviews various people on subjects regarding faith and religion. He has a wonderful way he steers conversations and ensures they still civil between people with strongly opposed views. (video, 1:28:18)
Notable books I've read:
The introduction is worth the price of this book alone. It is like a text book of evidence for the legitimacy of Christianity.
This was immensely entertaining and enlightening. Highly recommend.
Short and sweet on the person of Jesus.
I hope you've found my "story" or some of the links interesting. Reach out to me if you'd like. I'd love to chat more about anything I've mentioned. Thanks for challenging us to do this, Ross.