(Re)Considering Christiany: A Skeptic Looks at the Christian Religion – Introduction, part 5

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11)

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

I took a variety of classes my freshman year at Pensacola Christian College covering topics like world history, the New Testament, speech, pastoral ministry, and more. World History 101 and 102 were taught by Dr. John Reese, an engaging and knowledgeable professor who served as a consultant for the classes’ textbook titled World History and Cultures: A Christian Perspective.1 The opening chapter of that textbook asserts that the creation of the universe took place in 4000 BCE, that evolution and humanism are destructive and rebellious ideas, and that human diversity stems from what happened at the Tower of Babel. It closes by saying,

History is primarily the account of God’s dealings, in blessing or judgment, with men and nations. It is a written record of what man has done with the time God has given him. The dispersion of mankind complicates history, but as we study the facts of history alongside the revealed truth in the Bible, we can see God’s providential hand guiding all events, helping us to better understand the past. By focusing on God’s plan, we will see how history leads to Jesus Christ.2 

This view of history permeated the lectures delivered by Reese who held a teleological view of human history: the goal of history is Jesus Christ.

An article from World History and Cultures.3

New Testament

World History was a required course at PCC as was New Testament 101 and 102. Both NT101 and NT102 were taught by Dell Johnson, a diminutive man with a rather shrill voice who would pace the floor when he taught.

screen shot 2019-01-23 at 10.15.54 am
A picture of Dell Johnson from the Spring 1999 issue of PCC Update.4

Johnson was a fairly popular teacher and for good reason. He was always very animated and would help us learn information through songs. I learned the names of the twelve disciples easily thanks to a catchy tune he taught us. During one lecture Johnson dressed up as the Lukan character Zacchaeus and acted out the story of Luke 19:1-10. He told us he did it to teach us how to make the Bible come alive for children but I think he just enjoyed dressing in first-century CE garb.


Whereas NT101 and 102 were required classes for all students regardless of major or gender, the weekly Evangelism Seminar was required only for Evangelism majors like myself and female students were not allowed. During this class we would learn about famous evangelists of the past like George Whitefield or Charles Finney and often we would have guest speakers who would teach us evangelistic technique or the meaning of “revival.” At times one of the juniors or seniors in the class would be invited to speak during a class period to get some practice. But as I listened to my peers speak I noticed that they all sounded similar both in style and in cadence. I soon figured out why.

Binder for PCC’s Evangelism Seminar.

One of the frequent guest speakers at PCC’s chapel services was an evangelist by the name of Dave Young. Young was an alumnus of PCC and upon graduation became an itinerant evangelist with his organization the Dave Young Evangelistic Association. Young had a very distinctive pattern of speaking5 and because he was also a frequent guest speaker in our evangelism class that pattern ended up one picked up on by students in the Evangelism program. The program was churning out clones of Dave Young.

Notes from Chuck Cofty, a former marine turned evangelist. Note the not so subtle misogyny.

Summer 2002

As my freshman year was ending I learned that my home church back in NY had hired a youth pastor. I can remember feeling a bit hurt by that decision for a couple of reasons. First, when we started the youth group we had done so in a way that allowed the students to lead while adults acted as chaperones. Hiring a youth pastor felt like a usurption of our vision. Second, I felt like I was being replaced.

Admittedly, feeling hurt because they had hired a youth pastor was completely irrational. Not only was I not there to lead the youth group since I was away at college, I wasn’t even in the youth group anymore! Nevertheless, when I came home in May of 2002 I wanted nothing to do with the youth pastor. And when he was also given oversight of the newly formed “college and career” group I decided that I wanted nothing to do with that either. There was also some degree of jealousy. The youth pastor was an intelligent, charismatic, and very likeable guy who was also the son of a prominent KJV Only evangelist that I admired. I felt like I just couldn’t compete and that my time in the spotlight, as it were, was fading. Who needed me when they had him? My personal insecurities led me to be a real jerk and I greatly regret my response.

Yet this experience taught me something invaluable: I am replaceable. To learn that the world could go on without my presence was at once humbling and infuriating. What I failed to appreciate is that I helped lay the foundation of something greater than myself but as a nineteen year old know-it-all with a theological chip on his shoulder I just couldn’t fathom it.

Next Time

In the next post we will go over the next two years of my college career and look at some of the classes I took. And soon we will do an overview of my time as a youth pastor and my move from evangelical Christianity to atheism.


George Thompson and Jerry Combee, World History and Cultures: A Christian Perspective, second edition (A Beka Book, 1997).

Ibid., 8.

Ibid., 4.

4 “An Idea That Came from God: PCC History from 1989-1998,” PCC Update (Spring 1999), 4.

Here is a short video of Dave Young speaking. Watch it and then imagine nearly every single person in your class speaking in the same exact manner.

(Re)Considering Christianity: A Skeptic Looks at the Christian Religion – Introduction, part 3

“God wants us to stop obsessing about the future and trust that He holds the future. We should put aside the passivity and the perfectionism and the question for perfect fulfillment and get on with our lives. God does not have a specific plan for our lives that He means for us to decipher ahead of time.”

– Kevin DeYoung1

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

In part two of the introduction to the series “(Re)Considering Christianity” I discussed my adolescence and my budding interest in topics related to Christian apologetics. I also mentioned that after reading various apologetic literature I had reached a point where I needed to decide what I was to make of Jesus. Was he a mere man or was there something more to him?

Under Attack

The nail in the coffin was the resurrection of Jesus. I could not shake the feeling that the tomb in which Jesus had been buried was empty. And I did not think it was empty because the disciples stole the body or because Jesus had not really died or that the women and the disciples went to the wrong tomb. The only other option was that God had raised Jesus from the grave, vindicating Jesus’ ministry and his redeeming death. And if Jesus was alive then all that was said about him in the Bible must be true. I had no other choice than to rededicate my life to Jesus and spend more time in my King James Bible.

But something happened not long after I made this decision that confirmed to me that I made the right choice. Though the details are fuzzy and my memory of this event has been colored by the intervening years, during the late spring or early summer of my seventeenth year something very weird happened. It was early in the morning, before sunrise, when I started to awake from a dream. I opened my eyes but immediately perceived that I could not move. I could use my peripheral vision to see my desk to the right of me but beyond that I was entirely paralyzed. And then I heard screaming from what sounded like a woman. But it wasn’t far off, perhaps down the street or even in another room of the house. Rather, it seemed like it was right in my ear.

I could feel my heart racing, terrified because I wasn’t sure exactly what was happening. As the screaming continued and I struggled to move, I began to pray and recite the many Bible verses I had memorized since I was a young child. Then the screaming faded away and I was able to move. As I reflected on the experience I came to the conclusion that this must have been a demonic attack, no doubt the consequence of my newfound committment to Jesus. This was confirmation that I was on the right track and that the forces of evil were trying to dissuade me.

A Call to Ministry

I began to spend more and more time with the teenagers of my church and gradually emerged as their leader. Though many of us continued to play basketball together regularly, our focus began to shift to more spiritual things. We began talking about forming a youth group that could meet weekly for fun and fellowship. Since I had become the de facto leader of our group, it was my burden to present the idea to our church’s pastor. But I was reluctant to do so for reasons that still are not entirely clear to me. So I spoke with my dad about the issue and the reason that I and my friends believed our church needed to form a youth group. He urged me to speak to our pastor and told me something that has stuck with me for the past two decades: “If you see a problem that needs to be fixed then you are the one that has been called to fix it.” With that a couple of my friends, my dad, and I met with the pastor and we discussed the formation of a youth group for our church. Within a month, we had our first meeting.

But there was a problem: we had no youth pastor to lead us. While our pastor volunteered his time to help us, we knew that he had too many obligations to commit to us like we needed. A couple of adults, including my dad, volunteered to help oversee the group but few of them were teachers that could devote time and energy to minister to us. We needed structure and clear leadership. So the teenagers decided that we would choose our own leaders. There would be a president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary for the group. These leaders would be elected by the teenagers every year.

Our first election was held and I was elected president. I began to teach regularly in our meetings and still have some of the manuscripts of my talks/sermons which included titles like “What Ever Happened to Hell?” “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” “What Manner of Man is This?” and more. I soon came to realize that preaching was my passion and that I loved talking about and explaining the Bible to my friends. And after hearing from evangelists who had come through our church for their annual week-long meetings, I felt the call to become an itinerant preacher.

Street Preaching 

One of the ways in which I tested that calling was participating in street preaching that our church conducted in the nearby town of Oswego on Saturday mornings. Just down the street from local Roman Catholic Church, I and some of the men in our church would go and preach from the Bible to the cars and people passing by. We handed out Gospel tracts, including the comic book style Chick tracts. And periodically we would “lead someone to the Lord,” to use the vernacular.

Street preaching was not without its difficulties. We were cursed at frequently and on at least one occasion one of the men in our group was arrested. But nevertheless, we continued to appear at the corner every Saturday that we could to do what we thought was the right thing to do: warn people of the danger of not believing in Jesus.

Visiting Pensacola

At this time I was in my senior year of high school and I was starting to think about what I would do with my life following graduation. I had a deep interest in United States history and had considered becoming a history major at a local SUNY school. But I also felt a calling to become an evangelist and preach the gospel around the country. I had thought about attending school at Peter Ruckman’s Pensacola Bible Institute but needed to visit. Some of my friends were also considering PBI for ministry training. So in January of 2001, my pastor and his wife volunteered to take a few of us to Pensacola, FL to participate in Ruckman’s “Bad Attitude Baptist Blowout” and to visit the night classes he and his staff conducted at PBI.


Me taking a picture of a friend while hanging outside a motel in Pensacola (Jan 2001).

The trip down to Pensacola took a few days since we drove in the pastor’s van.  When we got there we saw some of the sites like the aviation museum and spent some time near the beach. Before the Blowout began we sat in on some of Ruckman’s classes at PBI and visited with our own church members who had begun attending PBI recently to see how they liked it. We also visited Ruckman’s bookstore which housed a variety of resources in defense of KJV-Onlyism. My parents had also purchased for me a wide-margin, leatherbound edition of the Scofield Reference Bible which was then signed by Ruckman himself. I picked it up to take it back home while I was there.

Since the Blowout meetings took place during the evening, we had our days free to do whatever we wanted. On one day the pastor’s wife had arranged for us to tour the campus of Pensacola Christian College, a conservative, dispensational TR/KJV-Only school that was not affiliated with Ruckman or PBI. I can remember thinking just how impressive the campus was. They had large cafeterias, a bowling alley, huge dorms, and more. I also found out that one of the majors available was Evangelism. While I didn’t prefer their brand of TR/KJV-Onlyism (who needs the Greek when you have the English?), I decided that PCC was where God wanted me to attend school after graduation. When I returned home I told my parents I wanted to apply to get into PCC. So I did, was accepted, and began planning to make my way back to Pensacola for the 2001 Fall semester.

Next Time

In the next post I’ll get into my experiences at Pensacola Christian College as well as my own growing understanding of God and of the Bible.


1 Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will (Moody Publishers, 2009), 63.

(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.

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.


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.


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?

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.


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

2 Ibid., 164.

3 Ibid., 179.

(Re)Considering Christianity: A Skeptic Looks at the Christian Religion – Introduction, part 1

“One cannot be truly educated without taking some interest in Christianity.” 
– John Frame1

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


June 7, 1992.

That was the day I prayed and asked Jesus to come into my heart. Though I was only nine years old, I knew what I was doing. I knew I was a sinner and I knew that without Jesus in my life I was lost and would go to hell if I died. And so in the bedroom I shared with my younger brother, my dad sat down with me next to a wooden toy chest and helped me pray and ask Jesus to be my Savior.

I grew up in upstate New York, twenty minutes from Lake Ontario and thirty minutes from Syracuse, home of the Orangmen. The church that my family belonged to was an independent Baptist church that taught a six-thousand year old universe, the imminent return of Jesus to rapture his saints away, and the inerrancy of the King James Bible (and only the King James Bible). From the pulpit our pastor would encourage us to read no fewer than ten pages of our Bible’s daily and our church bulletin reinforced that admonition every Sunday. Every so often an itinerant evangelist would come through and preach their own brand of fire-and-brimstone exposition, lamenting the rotten state of American culture and exhorting us to stay in God’s word. We also regularly supported missionaries who took the gospel all around the globe and who would come back to the US on furlough to offer their supporting churches updates on their ventures as well as to secure additional funding to carry the work forward.

My Dad, the Bible Reading Prayer Warrior

As strong as an influence the church had on me, my father had a far greater one. My dad is the kind of guy who attends church nearly every time the doors are open. This isn’t because he thinks of church as a social club. On the contrary, my father is undoubtedly the most pious man I’ve ever known. While working as an auto mechanic, he would get up every weekday around 4:30am so that he could spend time in his Bible and pray. This was his practice for my entire childhood and, though he is retired now and he sleeps in a bit, it still is. Needless to say, he has worn out many Bibles. I can recall one particular Bible that smelled like the coffee he had spilled on its pages over many years. And next to every chapter he would place a single dot to indicate that he had read it. Every chapter had five or six dots next to them and the chapters in Proverbs had many more since it was his practice to read one chapter of Proverbs everyday.

My father also regularly prayed with me. Every night, from the age of five until the day I graduated high school, my dad would come into my room before he went to bed to pray with me and for me. Normally I would start and would pray for people we knew who were sick or people who had wandered from the faith. For me it felt like a mantra as I would say the same things time after time. But not for my dad. He would close with his own prayer and his sincerity and love for God was very evident. And after he finished prayer with me he would perform the same action with my younger brother.

Prayer was important to my dad and still is. In the mornings, after he had finished his Bible reading, he would take a notebook which contained the names of various people needing prayer, and he would slowly work through them. He also had a stack of missionary cards that had the names of missionaries and their families as well as a picture of them. He would remove the rubber band that held the stack together, and slowly work through each and every card. On a few occasions I would catch my dad on the floor, lying face down, praying for someone who urgently needed it. When people were needing prayer, they would ask my dad. When the pastor needed prayer, the first person he would call was my father.

In some of my darkest moments when I needed prayer, the first person I would call was my father.

Love for Reading

Following my “conversion” in 1992, I began to read the Bible in earnest. I had received my first Bible around the age of five (if memory serves) but did not seriously read it until after I became a Christian. I have always been an avid reader, regularly devouring books at a feverish pace since I was very young. Some of that has to do with a speech impediment I had when I was little. It was nothing major, though the State of New York had written my parents a letter stating I was “mentally retarded” because of it. Consequently, I was forced to go to speech therapy in the first and second grades.

The therapist, a woman whose name I cannot remember but who was a thin, dark-haired woman probably in her late twenties, would sit all of us in a circle and make us read a book aloud. We would do this probably twice a week and within a couple of years I stopped saying “fruck” when I meant to say “truck.” (Take that, New York!) My mother believes that it was this experience of reading aloud to cure an impediment that led to my love of reading that grew throughout my childhood and teenage years and continues to this day. Of course, my mother’s general love for reading also played a part.

Next Time

In my next post I’ll discuss my experiences as a teenager and my role as a leader to my fellow teens in our church’s youth group.


1 John Frame, Christianity Considered: A Guide for Skeptics and Seekers (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), 5.