I’m an enigma to several, but many others think they’ve figured me out. How did I go from a enthusiastic Christian with years of seminary training and Church service to a secular humanist who no longer believes in a god? It was a slow process, a series of ironic “come-to-Jesus” conversations with myself that actually drove me away from Jesus. When I committed to call a spade a spade, to be completely honest about facts, and to stop trying to protect Christian doctrine from anything that opposed it, it was just a matter of time before I went a different direction.
People immediately responded by trying to diagnose my problems. I knew the drill. In fact, I taught many of the respondents, so I knew what was coming. In the church, an apostate (someone who walks away from the faith) is one of life’s greatest mysteries. How could a person who had a personal relationship with the greatest, kindest, and most powerful being in all of existence ever want to sever that connection? To most of my Evangelical friends, there are only 3 possible answers to the riddle of the apostate:
- You don’t understand the gospel.
- I’m sorry the church hurt you.
- You never really believed in the first place.
I’ll explore the first one in this post.
“You don’t understand the Gospel.” Several people quote scriptures at me and try to explain the gospel again, because while earning a Masters degree and Doctorate from two separate Evangelical seminaries, I guess they think the gospel never came up once. Or they think that I just never heard it correctly in twenty years of my Christian walk. People tell me their personal stories all the time about how even though they constantly fail, God is faithful to them. That’s an empty mantra, by the way. To the Christian, God is faithful even if he kills them in the most horrible ways imaginable. If he tortures the people you love to death–or allows them to be tormented, watching and doing nothing, or whatever–he still did it all because he loves you. Like Job says, “Even though [God] slays me, I’ll still hope in him!” (Job 13:15).
My response to those who say I just never understood the gospel is that I probably knew and still know the gospel better than you do. Yeah, that sounds arrogant, doesn’t it? But many of you reading this haven’t invested as much in understanding the gospel as I have. Thousands of hours, thousands of dollars invested in professional-level study of the Bible. I didn’t do all of that to earn God’s favor. I did it because I adored the gospel. It set me free. It gave me hope and purpose. I wanted to learn more about it just so I could tell everyone about it! I wanted to reach the world for Christ. I wanted to become less so that Christ could be greater.
You may think that my understanding of the gospel was wrong…but many people in your church, and in all the churches around you have a different take on the gospel, and they are enthusiastic Christians. No matter what you think about the gospel, there are dozens of other Christian perspectives on it. The notion that your gospel is the only right and perfect version wields more arrogance than my claim to know it better than you. I claim to know it better because I have the credentials to prove it…but you claim to know it better because you love Jesus and I don’t. You feel like you’re right…so you’re right, my investments and education be damned. These are the yearnings of children, not the reasoning of adults.
And are you sure your gospel isn’t tainted? Ever heard of the gnostic heresy before? Did you know that most of the Evangelical church believes in a gnostic-riddled Gospel? How do you explain the trinity? Did you know that the early church would condemn most of the modern church for their heretical beliefs of the trinity? And this idea of a personal relationship with Jesus is a modern notion that the early church would condemn as well. I could go on, but my point is that I know the gospel. I know lots of versions of the gospel, and when I was a Christian, getting the gospel right was of utmost importance. I adored Christ and longed to see him again one day.
So to the average Christian who tries to “save” me again by presenting the gospel, I can respond with many more versions of the gospel, more than they have ever considered, more versions than they can comprehend. Been there, done that. Bought the shirt. Held the microphone. Led the crowd in a million choruses of Kumbaya. So, I know you mean well, but please give me a little credit.
The laymen of the church play with their toy cars all day and complain that theologians waste way too much time under the hoods of real cars. “There’s no need! These Hot Wheels work fine! Vroom-vroom!” And the theologians roll their eyes.
So when someone tells me that I never understood the Gospel, I’ll show him the grease under my fingernails from all the theological work I’ve done and I’ll ask to see his. If I don’t see any grease under his nails, no matter what he says after that, all I hear is “Vroom-vroom!”