Pastor's Blog

The first two ingredients in the atheist soup brewing in my head through the 1990’s were the unexpected hostility of conservative Christians and my struggle to reconcile tragedy in the world with the idea that a truly good God exists. 

The final key ingredient involved struggles that I was having with several Christian doctrines.  The first was a cluster of teachings on the end times.  The discussion is theologically technical, and most would find it tedious.  Suffice it to say that when I tried to discuss it with people that I thought could help me work through the questions, I was criticized for daring to question “the system”.  I was given pat answers to my questions again and again.  When I questioned the pat answers, the discussion, rather than deepening and continuing, was over!  That left a bad taste in my mouth.  I began to wonder if all evangelicals were this way -- just accept what you’re told and don’t ask questions that make waves.

A second issue was young earth creationism.  In my education I had been taught evolutionary theory, but at home and through my college years I learned young earth creationism.  I accepted young earth creationism as a necessary corollary of belief in biblical authority.  I never thought much about it; it didn’t seem to me to be that big a deal.

One of my professors in the mid-80’s was Dr. Robert Newman.  Dr. Newman had a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Cornell.  He became a Christian, took several theological degrees, and became professor of New Testament at my seminary.  In one lecture he mentioned a story I had often heard about NASA scientists who found a glitch in their calculations of time – a “missing day” somewhere in history.  Young earthers had always touted this as proof of the day the sun went backwards in the book of Joshua.  Dr. Newman noted in passing that this was an urban legend among young earth creationists.  There was no such study and no such “glitch”.  I was certain Dr. Newman had to be mistaken.  Many times I had been told that story was true. 

I started digging and found out that Dr. Newman was right. 

I also discovered that Dr. Newman was a creationist who believed in the big bang and that the earth was billions of years old.  A few years earlier I probably would have written him off as a heretic.  But having been written off by fellow-conservatives myself, I decided to keep asking questions and learning.  I took more courses from Dr. Newman, who kept piling up the evidence for an ancient universe and the big bang, all the while even-handedly explaining his reasons for rejecting young earth creationism.  After several years of reading, study, and questioning, I concluded that the universe was billions of years old and that young earth creationism was sincerely mistaken.

Dr. Newman and others offered explanations of how to fit Genesis into the ancient earth scenario, but I wasn’t satisfied with his or any of the explanations I read.  I was left hanging and uncertain about what the early chapters of Genesis meant, and that uncertainty, added to the other uncertainties I was experiencing, became a potent ingredient in the atheist soup brewing in my heart.

In the evangelical Christianity I was part of, uncertainty was a no-no.  Faith, if it was anything, was certainty.  Christianity was a series of logical dominoes that led the believer to certainty. 

God is all-knowing and doesn’t lie, so if the Bible is His Word, then it is true. 
Interpret the Bible with common-sense literalism and you’ll know the truth about anything. 
If it’s God’s truth, then you can have absolute certainty.  God said it; I believe it; that settles it.

It was that simple.  Uncertainty meant a lack of faith and that was a bad thing to be avoided at all costs.  But I couldn’t avoid it.  I had never been so unsettled in my life.  I was experiencing greater uncertainty at every turn of my life, it seemed.  I was struggling to make sense of the Bible and God’s working in the world.   And amidst all those wrestlings of head and heart I kept experiencing hostility, alienation, distrust, and betrayal from fellow Christians.  I felt very, very alone.

But I had to keep preaching, teaching, counseling, leading – and almost pretending – every week.  I had to in order to do my job.

A pastor is expected to know and to be certain.  Who does a pastor talk to when he struggles with questions, doubts, and uncertainty?

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