(Re)Considering Christianity: A Skeptic Looks at the Christian Religion – Introduction, part 2

“Outside of Christ there is no law, no hope, and no meaning.”
– Ravi Zacharias.1


To see more posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.

In part one to the introduction of this series “(Re)Considering Christianity” I discussed the earliest parts of my childhood including my salvation experience in 1992. I also brought up the tremendous influence my father had on my love for the Bible and my Christian convictions as well as how a speech impediment drove my early love for reading generally.

Books and Writing

Some of my earliest reading memories include books like The Hot and Cold Summer which I read in first grade and The Indian in the Cupboard which I read in third grade. I can also recall that with my two dollars per week allowance in hand I would go to Walmart with my mother and purchase 2 for $1 paperback classics including works like The Prince and the PauperThe Invisible ManA Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and many more. I loved being surrounded by books and having them on a shelf in my bedroom was a source of both comfort and strength.

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The “Big Mac” approach to writing we used in fifth grade. This resulted in “5 Spine Tingling Tales.”

During my fifth grade year my interests expanded to science and I began reading on the topics of relativity, a la Albert Einstein, as well black holes. I can still remember the little notebook I had in which I would write down information I had read on relativity as well as various equations that made absolutely no sense to me at the time (and still don’t). And fifth grade was also the year that my interest in writing began to blossom. In the early 90s New York State required all fifth graders to participate in a writing exam and so our teacher prepared us by having us write both fiction and non-fiction stories. We would read one another’s stories and offer critiques. I usually received great feedback from both my peers and the teacher and I ended up passing the exam with flying colors.

My love for writing spilled over into the area of the Bible and at home I began regularly writing about it. In a red notebook I wrote a commentary on the first epistle of John, thoughts on the story of Samson and Delilah from the book of Judges, and even a piece refuting evolution in favor of creationism. If only I still had them so that I could reflect on just how immature I was at the time.

Adolescence 

In sixth grade I was introduced to Carl Sagan thanks to a teacher who made a huge impression on me. Once or twice a week this teacher would turn out the lights and put on Sagan’s Cosmos that had aired on PBS in the late 70s. My first impression was negative: how dare Sagan question God and the Bible! Little did I know that this was a seed planted in my mind that would only grow and grow in the years to come. Last year at my brother’s wake this teacher showed up. He had also taught my younger brother in sixth grade and it took me a moment to figure out who he was. When he told me, I burst into tears and hugged him, thanking him for his work and the influence he had on my life and my brother’s.

Despite my exposure to Sagan, my zeal for Christianity was still strong going into seventh grade. Unfortunately puberty hit, and as I headed into eighth grade and then moved onto high school my interest in Christianity waned and my interest in sports, girls, and hanging out with friends increased. Though my Bible reading diminished, my love for books did not and I continued to read voraciously. But my interest in church and in theology had all but disappeared.

Revival

Around my seventeenth year things began to change. I had become interested in basketball and was a pretty decent shot. So a group of teenagers at my church would get together following the Sunday night service to play for an hour or so. Though I didn’t attend school with any of them, our friendship grew. Our shared connection was basketball at our church. And so church attendance suddenly became more important to me though for ulterior motives. And when evangelists would come through to preach week-long meetings, that gave all of us a chance to play basketball together an additional five times!

But this exposure to evangelistic preaching forced me to confront my own beliefs about Jesus. So I began to read apologetic literature from the Institute for Creation Research and Josh McDowell’s The New Evidence That Demands a Verdict. And on the fifteen minute drive to Sunday school my dad would play the radio program Let My People Think which featured talks from Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias. All these influences forced me to ask the question, “Who is Jesus?” Zacharias’ book Can Man Live Without God? had a lasting impression and one passage in particular stands out. After quoting from Robert Browning’s poem “A Death in the Desert,” Zacharias writes,

Christ – He is either the illimitable God or one dreadfully lost. There is no room for a theory that says He was “merely a good man.” Study His life with unyielding honesty and the answer is evident. It is this hope He brings that grants us hope for each individual, for our communities, and for our world. Without this hope of life beyond the grave, every question from love to justice becomes a mockery of the mind.2

The final chapter of the book, “The Believer’s Treasure,” ends with these words: “You be the judge. The jury has already recorded its conclusions in the pages of the Bible.”3 So what was I to make of Jesus? Was he a failed messiah or was he the resurrected Son of God?

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Yours truly reading a different book by Ravi Zacharias – Jesus Among Other Gods. This picture was taken around 2000 or 2001.

Next Time

In the next post I will discuss the decision I made, an experience that reinforced it, and the beginning of my college years.

NOTES

1 Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God? (W Publishing Group, 1994), 61.

2 Ibid., 164.

3 Ibid., 179.

The Weekly Roundup – 9.21.18

Here’s the Weekly Roundup!

  • Twitter user @bibhistctxt continues his series on Israelite origins with a post entitled “Israelite origins: Biblical Counter-narratives.” I already posted a link to it on Twitter once but I wanted to highlight it again because it should be required reading for any would-be Christian apologists and anyone claiming to believe in inerrancy. I wish I had that kind of command over the texts and history of the period.
  • Randal Rouser, a Christian theologian and apologist (one of my favorite, by the way), has an interview over on his website with Steve Baugham, a lawyer who runs the website Ravi Watch. For those who aren’t “in the know,” the Ravi in “Ravi Watch” is Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, and Baugham’s interest in him stems from the multitude of lies and misleading claims Zacharias has made about his education, work, and much more. As a teenager I was greatly influenced by Zacharias’ book Can Man Live Without God? and I even patterned some of my apologetic tactics to his style. (I forgave him for not using the KJV.) It’s disappointing to learn that a man I once admired is really just a fraud. Good riddance, I suppose.
  • If you’ve ever been a creationist you’ve probably heard the name Michael Behe. He wrote one of the most important volumes that contributed to the Intelligent Design movement entitled Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. Recently my Twitter friend @Floridaline posted a link to a 2011 interview that Behe’s son Leo had with the The Humanist. Behe discusses his move from Roman Catholicism to general theism and then on to atheism, all in the context of having a father famous for his work promoting Intelligent Design. It is a fascinating interview and one I recommend any atheist read.
  • The Israeli newspaper Haaretz recently published an interesting piece on the Mesha Stele and how its description of Yahweh is less than flattering entitled “When God Wasn’t So Great: What Yahweh’s First Appearance Tells About Early Judaism.” For those unfamiliar with the Mesha Stele, it is a stone piece that features writing very similiar to that of Hebrew but written by the Moabites. In it, King Mesha describes the oppression of his land by the Israelites and that this came because his god Chemosh was angry with his people. But then Chemosh showed favor again upon them and they were able to defeat Israel and “took the vessels of YHWH and dragged them in front of Chemosh.” I don’t want to steal any more thunder from the piece so I recommend you click the link and spend fifteen minutes or so reading it. It adds some more color to the narratives found in the Deuteronomistic History.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.