My Recent Testimony - August 14, 2023
Setting the Stakes
My Testimony tonight is about how I was led astray into a sort of unbelief, and about how - in the midst of that - God was still good to me, how He protected me from being dashed to pieces on the rocks of worldly wisdom, and how He has been leading me back into right belief.
Now, right belief may seem to some like a small thing. Why does it matter so much? So we disagree on some points of doctrine - what’s the big deal? Can’t we just agree to disagree for the sake of unity in the Church? My brothers and sisters, it is one thing to disagree on the finer points of doctrine: it is quite another thing to disbelieve the words of scripture and the one who inspired them. And in our present time, many ministers of the word do not believe God’s word, and worse have been duped into undermining that same word and encouraging their flocks to likewise disbelieve - they give permission and encouragement to disregard the word of God.
While I thank God that I was not ordained a minister, none-the-less I too walked in step with them, unwittingly contributing to the devil’s work in undermining scripture. And I believe we can see the first fruits of the destruction brought about by lies and false beliefs.
Furthermore, right belief about God and about His word is important. If we do not think rightly about God, how can we hope to know God? If you are married to a white woman but believe she is black (or vis versa), do you really know your wife? If a WWII vet tells you true stories about the war but you convince yourself that they are made up, do you really know the WWII vet? Likewise, if God tells us about Himself and His work and we disbelieve Him, how well can we really know God?
While a journey from orthodoxy to heterodoxy and back may seem like small potatoes, I think that what we believe is among the most important of things.
I grew up in a pretty conservative, small town Mennonite Church. Much of what I was taught about God and the Bible was reasonably orthodox - with maybe a few caveats here and there that are problematic within North American Evangelicalism in general. In particular, my parents and others in the church were quick to refute the ideas of the Earth being billions of years old and ideas of evolution as being the origin of the species.
And growing up, a young earth and the created order was something of a given. Except, all of the science books, TV shows, museums and anywhere else kept saying that what I was taught in church and at home was untrue - which I suspect contributed to a certain cognitive dissonance: that feeling you get when you are trying to hold two contradictory things as true in your mind. I remember feeling afraid to dig into these issues, fearing that - as the song “Doubting Thomas” puts it - “I’ll find proof that it’s a lie”: so I largely tried to ignore it.
While I wanted to ignore the question of whether the biblical creation account was accurate or not, the question did not want to ignore me. Since I was someone very interested in science of all flavours, someone who listened to science podcasts and radio programs and TV shows, I kept hearing that drum beat that evolution IS the origin of the species, that the universe IS billions of years old, that it really “all started with the big bang”.
When I went to Bible College, even one of my most learned professors who taught us a course on Genesis and Exodus espoused the view that the Earth is Billions of years old, saying (if I rightly remember) that we need to “listen to geologists” and arguing that evolution was not incompatible with scripture. And so I eventually found myself at a crossroads: it seemed obvious to me that the scientists could not ALL be wrong, so I felt like I had 2 intellectually honest choices:
- Reject all of scripture on account of its apparent inconsistency with the claims of contemporary science, or
- Adjust my reading of scripture to fit with the alleged findings of science.
I chose option number 2.
Rejecting God’s Word
I came to hold the view that Genesis 1-11 were - as William Lane Craig puts it - “Mythohistory”: that they need not be literally true, but could be poetic and allegorical - theological texts whose main purpose was to affirm that “God created” but which did not speak to HOW God created. I bought the view that the flood did not really happen, and that this narrative is a common one that springs up among many people groups for some anthropological reason or another, and that the Bible decided to leverage this common myth to convey theological truths. (Nevermind that a WAY simpler explanation behind so many cultures having a flood myth is that there really WAS a global flood).
As for why God would use this mythological telling of non-factual events, I believed that it was God accommodating Himself to man’s culture and explaining it in ways that mankind would understand - as if ancient man was somehow unable to understand the evolutionary idea of one kind of creature gradually turning into other kinds of creatures and so God simplified things with a creation myth. Frankly, this view is guilty of what C.S. Lewis calls chronological snobbery: thinking that people of past ages were less intelligent than us and that only now WE have got it all figured out.
One of the troubles with adopting these views is that once you start to reject the inerrancy and the infallibility of one part of God’s word, how do you trust the veracity of the rest of it? And so I naturally began to disbelieve more of the Old Testament: Genesis 1-11 were for sure out, but soon, I doubted the veracity of the events of Exodus - doubting that even the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses) were real historical people. I doubted that the sun stood still during that one battle in the wilderness, I doubted the accuracy of what scripture said about David and that he and solomon were even historical figures as portrayed in scripture. At some level - even though I perhaps would not have acknowledged it - I doubted the claimed miracles in the Old Testament. Bit by bit, my theology was unraveling. Bit by bit - though I would not have admitted it even to myself - I was calling God a liar.
In this state, there were times of serious doubt in my mind about the veracity of any of the scriptures. While I do not know how I should feel about him now, William Lane Craig’s ministry “Reasonable Faith” did provide something of a shelter in the midst of the storm of my unbelief. He was able to demonstrate that, even accepting the scientific consensus as I was doing, one could continue to reasonably believe in the God of the scriptures. Were it not for his ministry, questionable though it seems to me now, I may have given up on my faith entirely - believing it to be the intellectually honest thing to do. So in that way, I think God was looking out for me and protecting me even though I was not yet ready to fully believe Him or take Him at His word.
Paradoxically and by the grace of God, in spite of my unbelief towards more and more of scripture, I still held the scriptures as authoritative; as being God’s word; as being (at least at some level) trustworthy. I still clung (if a bit tenuously at times) to the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus. To some degree, I still held the doctrine of the perspicuity of scripture (ie, that scripture can be understood by intelligent people, and that anything necessisary for salvation can be plainly understood by everyone) and rejected our culture’s take on homosexuality and other perversions. By the grace of God, I was not being at all consistent in my views on scripture.
Course Change - Re-Affirming a Plain Reading Hermeneutic
In the midst of doing all of these mental gymnastics to mesh my worldly views with scripture (and probably coming up with copes more dubious than have already been outlined here), in the midst of heading further and further out into the stormy sea of unbelief and unorthodox belief, God began to guide me back to shore. And, sketchy though this might sound, that process of bringing the ship about started on YouTube.
Pastor Mike Winger of the channel “Bible Thinker” - wherein he seeks to teach his viewers to “Think Biblically” - is one of the first super solid biblical teachers that jumps to mind. For all of the faults that some of my professors may have had in Bible College, I did learn the mechanics and methods of faithfully exegeting the scriptures, and so I THINK I have a pretty good idea of when someone is preaching biblically and when someone is spouting a lot of feel-good nonsense. And Mike was one of those who sought to read out of the text rather than reading into it.
One area that he challenged me to read the Bible more plainly in, rather than allowing the narrative of our surrounding culture dictate how I need to read and understand it, is on the topic of women in leadership. I came to see that I was so steeped in egalitarianism and feminism that I could not help but take umbridge at anything the scriptures said that challenged that viewpoint - and as a result I was holding views that would have been foreign to the historic church prior to about 1900.
Egalitarianism was not my most sacred cow, not so much as evolution and the age of the universe were, but it was sacrosanct enough that I think it being knocked down was a sort of prototype for the rest of the changes about to be wrought.
Confronting my Attitude of Unbelief
The second course change happened as a result of getting into a discussion with someone in the YouTube comments of one of Mike’s videos about the issue of the received text vs the critical text (which, in broad strokes, is kind of a nerdier version of the King James Only debate - the received text being the text behind the King James version, and the critical text being a more scholarly synthesis of manuscripts used for many of our newer translations). This led me to reading a book arguing for the Received Text called “Touch not the Unclean Thing”, written from a fundamentalist Christian perspective. While I ultimately reject the thesis of this brother in Christ (though I LOVE his zeal for God’s word), he was able to point out something very important: my aforementioned attitude of unbelief.
It made me realize: since I believe that the resurrection is true (and books like Cold Case Christianity make a compelling argument for its veracity - one of the key takeaways being that the apparent discrepancies between the four gospels are exactly what you would expect from eyewitnesses of real historic events), then why do I have a problem believing the claims of the Old Testament? My disbelief of the sun standing still (is such a thing too hard for the God who literally spoke the universe into being), the historicity of King David or any of that is illogical if I believe that Christ rose from the dead.
And so I began to repent of my unbelief and I began to read scripture through new eyes. However, I was not yet ready to let go of my views on Genesis 1-11 - although I had a sense that I was going to have to wrestle through that at some point.
As it happened, the time to wrestle with Genesis 1-11 was this past Christmas. By the grace of God through the YouTube algorithm, I was exposed to more reformed teachers - men such as Douglas Wilson. I found the biblical viewpoint that infused everything Doug Wilson taught to be so incredibly refreshing. But His views on Genesis 1-11 frankly annoyed me: how could someone so smart ignore the science?
And I started listening to his discussion on creation vs evolution, and they were very irritating because he was largely not addressing my “scientific” objections. Instead, he kept coming back to the authority and truthfulness of God’s word. And then it clicked: why am I refusing to take God at His word? If God said He created in seven days, why shouldn’t I believe it? After all, Jesus believed the Old Testament scriptures and assumed them to be true and reliable, and Jesus proceeded to rise from the dead thus validating everything He said and did. Therefore, Jesus has effectively put His seal of authenticity on Genesis 1-11. So, if I believe in the resurrection, it logically follows that I ought to believe the rest of the word which Jesus says spoke of Him.
And so, I had a choice:
- I could choose to believe God and take Him at His word, or
- I could continue in my unbelief, believing in the things that respectable people in our culture believe and slowly permit it to play a corrosive role in my faith.
This time, I chose the first option.
And while there was some wrestling, which the ministry of Answers in Genesis helped significantly (and it was a help in making the choice to believe), there was also this incredible relief. For years I had been doing fancy footwork and mental gymnastics to make the Bible fit an Evolutionary worldview, which in turn caused the Bible to seemingly not fit together very well. But when I rejected this anti-God world view and chose to believe God, suddenly the Bible seemed to fit together nicely. I didn’t have to force anything or try to justify my continuing to believe in the face of my overwhelming unbelief. There was a sort of rest. And an increasing confidence in God.
I feel like this begs the question “and then what? So you underwent a conversion to the truth: now what?” I don’t know what all God will do with this - He is probably using it to ends that I don’t yet see. Maybe in a few years I will have some inkling. For now, I get to enjoy a certain rest and a joy in the truth. Scripture is a more interesting place when you believe what it says, and so is the world when you don’t poo-poo God’s word.
For those of you crying out “but the science!” consider this: If you approach scientific evidence with the a-priori assumption that there is no God, that the universe is billions of years old and that life evolved from nothing, is it any surprise when the evidence - as you interpret it - suggests that there is no God, that the universe is billions of years old and that life evolved from nothing? So, if all respected scientists start from this viewpoint, and if you will get laughed out of academia for suggesting a different viewpoint, then is it any wonder that seemingly “everyone” tells the same story? And if you don’t believe that everyone could get on board with being intellectually dishonest, go to a university board and ask them what a woman is.
To be sure, there is a lot that I don’t have the answers for - such as the seeming paradox of distant starlight. But that’s okay - that doesn’t prove that God lied, it just proves that we don’t know everything! There have been times throughout history when skeptics “debunked” scripture only to later be debunked themselves when science vindicated scripture. So I don’t need to have all the answers. What I do know is: Christ rose from the dead, His word is true, so I will choose to trust His word instead of man’s word.