This week Arline guest hosts, interviewing Bryan the Ex-Apologist. Bryan grew up in a deeply fundamentalist church. Not only did they believe they were the True Church…they were the Only Church.
Bryan spent his teen and young adult years preaching, evangelizing and heatedly debating others. He was convinced he had all the right answers and other people needed those right answers. He sees his younger self as a “jerk for Jesus.”
Realizing he was wrong about a single theological issue, he began to wonder, How do I know what’s essential and what’s not? If there was absolute truth in the world, Bryan was determined to find it.
He has come a long way from the fundamentalism of his youth, and you can find his current counter-apologetics research and writing at The Ex-Apologist blog.
“There are a lot of denominations who refuse to believe they are a denomination. They want to believe that they are The Church that Jesus built. They are the special ones.”
“This was my conditioning. I really inherited these views from my church family…but then I took it to another level.”
“Even my parents saw me as radical.”
“I wanted to save souls, and I thought debating was a great way to do that.”
“I was a ‘Jerk for Jesus,’ because I thought that’s what I was supposed to be doing.”
“Just within our church group…I documented over a hundred different issues that people divided over. Just within our group!”
“I love studying…I absolutely love geeking out on everything I can!”
“…I was still not treating the Bible within its context, because what I started realizing was, I’m not a Biblical complementarian…the Bible teaches a much harsher complementarianism than just about any view…”
“If there’s a god, why would he leave such thin, house of cards type evidence…”
This week’s guest is Daniel. Daniel is a social scientist with a master’s degree in psychology. He grew up in the United Church of Canada, but church wasn’t a huge part of his life until high school. He then went to bible college and worked in ministry. He tried to experience God like others were, but it just wouldn’t happen.
He took on the “Office of Skeptic,” for himself. He hoped it would help both his faith and the church. He could articulate questions and doubts that others couldn’t. Were these miraculous stories true? Was God really even there? If so, what the hell was he doing?
Unfortunately, this only kept him in the church longer than he needed. By 2020, he’d been an agnostic theist for years and was finally seeing the harm done in North America by White Christianity.
Now Daniel writes and speaks, sharing his knowledge with those struggling with addictions and other mental health needs. He no longer looks to the supernatural for miracles but knows how much human connection is the true healer.
“I was now immersed in a group where experiencing the presence of God—like spiritual experiences during worship services—was very common, and I could never manage to actually feel those things.”
“[I had a]…brief but memorable career as a Christian Ghostbuster…”
“He took me under his wing and informed me that why I couldn’t feel God’s presence was because it was all blocked by demons. Obviously.”
“Why do you believe that? What evidence do you have for this? Can your observations or experiences be explained by more mundane means or is the spiritual explanation the best or only explanation?”
“To have someone convince [another person that they don’t need their] anti-psychotics because of [their] faith is something that hadn’t even occurred to me before…it was deeply alarming and stuck with me for years afterward.”
‘[In seminary,] many professors would make logically sound arguments but they’d be based on assumptions or premises that were unfounded…”
“For many of the Christian intellectuals I was trying to learn from…critical thinking was a valued skillset up to a point. When we approach the underlying tenants of the faith, we’re suppose to stop…they’re simply too sacred to be questioned.”
“I was trying to find a reason to stay.”
“It’s the human connection that we make between us that’s really changing our lives.”
“I was encouraged by my new [secular] professors to be absolutely ruthless in my pursuit of knowledge, truth and understanding.”
“Me staying in this religion…despite the fact that I was basically agnostic. It’s lending validation to all those Christians who are actively working to make the world a worse place…”
“If we don’t have practices in place—like scientific thinking, like the scientific method…we’re always going to be taken in by things that we’d rather believe or that are easier to believe.”
“Apologetics: Philosophy, but done badly.”
“I don’t shy away from uncomfortable questions or even more uncomfortable answers. That has been such a valuable change in my life and has led me to some incredibly valuable and beneficial relationships…even some from bible college.”
“I’ve come to the conclusion that the best are going to be ahead.”
This week’s guest is Seth. Seth was the oldest child in a large homeschooling family who attended attended mostly non-denominational churches. He was always studious and had read through the Bible multiple times before adulthood.
In high school, Seth made his faith his own and dove deeply into Youth Earth Creationism. He studied at a state university and a few years after graduation began work at The Creation Museum.
“It was a dream come true for me but also turned into not-a-very-good experience…”
While living near the museum, Seth was introduced to a fringe religious movement he describes as “Messianic Judaism meets evangelicalism meets conspiracy theories.” In the Hebrew Roots movement, Seth discovered teachings he’d not encountered before and some doubts began to creep in.
[Sharing the gospel] I went into detail on all the doctrine and as I was saying I realized I wouldn’t believe it if I were hearing it from somebody else.
Over the next year, Seth continued to experience conflicts between YEC and Hebrew Roots. The two ways of thinking were at odds—flat earth or round, scientific cosmology or the broken body of a leviathan?
My faith “tendon” was getting stretched and stretched and stretched.
There was a point … it felt like part of my brain just broke and almost in an instant I realized I couldn’t believe anymore.
By 2020, Seth realized he was an atheist, no longer able to convince himself to believe again.
So, finally realizing that I didn’t believe and admitting to my self I was an atheist was some of the most terrifying moments of my life on an emotional level.
“I was climbing up that slope the whole time, getting closer and closer to God and then…I stepped over the edge, and I just plummeted.”
This week’s guest is Luke J. Janssen, M.Sc., Ph.D., M.T.S., Professor Emeritus, Dept. Medicine, McMaster University, and co-host of the Recovering Evangelicals podcast. He is a scientist in medical research. During a faith crisis he began taking courses on theology which turned into an M.T.S degree.
I’ve been face-to-face with faith and science my whole life.
Luke tells his story in four 15 year phases: his early years as a nominal Reformed Christian, his young adulthood as a Pentecostal/Charismatic fundamentalist, a desconstruction phase, and where he is now, with a “small part of him that won’t let go” and a belief in a creative force.
It is just that I couldn’t pretend anymore. I just couldn’t pretend that I was a believer. I just simply didn’t believe.
Luke and his co-host, Boyd Blundell, cover many aspects of desconstruction on the Recovering Evangelicals podcast. They discuss various apologetic and scientific arguments and honestly reveal what they do an do not believe now and why.
Recovering Evangelicals … for those who were once very comfortable in their Christian faith until the 21st century intruded and made it very hard to keep on believing; … for those who are intrigued by science, philosophy, world history, and world religions, and want to rationalize that with their Christian theology; … for those who found that’s just not possible, and yet there’s still a small part of them that won’t let it go.
This week’s episode is Matt Oxley. Matt has what he calls a “Bapti-costal” background—mainstream Southern Baptist with “some extra flair and drama.” At six, he was saved, by thirteen he was “hardcore about faith” and by high school, his beliefs were his whole world. However, at nineteen he left church over doctrinal issues, called it a “sabbatical” and took a few years to genuinely examine his convictions.
“The prayer was, ‘I’m willing to give you up to find the truth,’ and ‘you’ was God.”
He knew he had to believe the “cardinal doctrines,” if he was to accept all the other beliefs, but how much could he see was wrong and still ignore it? He was no longer one hundred percent sure he believed in God, much less Christianity, and it didn’t feel like God was doing anything to help him believe.
“I just felt like I was out. I was empty. The faith was gone. I could not refill the tank.”
Eventually he admitted to himself that he was an atheist. At first, he became an “anti-apologist,” spreading a different gospel, but over time he found a balance.
“I find myself as a person with a lot more grace to give today.”
Now that eternal retribution is no longer a possibility, Matt holds his beliefs lightly. He is able to parlay with both Christians and humanists, asking hard questions and stirring up all kinds of discussions—Biblical history, Jesus versus Paul, fundamentalism, capitalism, sexuality, and more.
“I feel that’s like ninety percent of my social interactions: trying to fool people into representing their faith well.”
Today, Matt’s gospel is love. He no longer believes in a god or in strict dogma, but he is optimistic about the church’s future. He’s influencing it for the better, one kind and hard conversation at a time.
Will grew up in a Methodist church until high school, when he began attending youth group in what he now calls the, “cult church.” Years later, will he and his wife were still at that church, he would have a seemingly supernatural experience at his brother’s church in Florida. The decide to move, and not only was there a megachurch waiting for them, there was also Disney World!
Will and his wife dove right in! They served at the megachurch for about five years when his wife began to doubt her beliefs. Eventually, Will resigned himself to being alone in his faith.
“Just figured I’d be that church leader who has an unbelieving spouse.”
Slowly, however, Will’s fundamentalist beliefs shifted. He wanted to understand the Bible better, so he could understand his wife better. He decided to take off his “Jesus colored glasses,” and read the Bible differently. It wasn’t long before he had a number of issues with what he was reading.
Then enters the Republican nomination of Donald Trump. Will felt like he was in the “twilight zone,” not understanding how Christians were getting behind Trump.
“Plot twist: I was a follower of Christ; not a follower of Trump.”
He and his wife stopped going to the main services but were still in small group. The pastor met with Will to discuss “ministry,” but instead Will needed to pour out all his questions and concerns. The pastor dismissed them. It may not have been intentional, but it still hurt. A few months later, he knew he no longer believed.
“I was like, ‘God and I are done.’”
Today, Will uses Instagram to share what’s learned from the Bible.
“I know some shit about the Bible, and I would like to put that to some good use.”
He’s taking the “decades of useless Bible knowledge” he has to teach and challenge people, in hopes that his followers will outgrow him and move on to do amazing things.
Sam Harris (books & podcast)
Bart Ehrman (books & classes on Wondrium)
Yuval Noah Harari (Books: Homo Deus, 21 lessons for the 21st century & Sapiens)
This week’s guest is Jose Ramos, Hannah’s husband from her episode two weeks ago.
Jose’s family converted to Independent Fundamentalist Baptist and his father became a pastor. They were taught that the IFB had the “pure word of God,” and it was their purpose to evangelize and change the world.
“I had this sense…that God was going to use me in a special way to impact the world. To be that young and to have the weight of the world on your shoulders is…looking back, traumatizing.”
Throughout his teens, Jose’s only rebellion was, “like a month partying with [his] brothers.” Later, he went to Bible College, and then started preaching. He met Hannah and took over his father’s Spanish speaking church. Studying the Bible for ministry, however, brought more questions and doubts.
“If I wrestle with these questions and allow myself to doubt, shouldn’t my faith come out stronger?”
Over the next year, he continued preaching but knew he didn’t believe. He left the ministry and later told Hannah why. After another hard and depressive year, he knew he was agnostic.
“Even when I realized, ‘I am a full blown agnostic,’ there was still this sense of, ‘I can still come back.’”
Jose gave Hannah the space to go on her own journey. They still attended church as a family, but he did not try to change her. Today, their stories can give comfort to other couples facing religious doubts and uncertainties.
Jose’s honesty and vulnerability show the grace and goodness in his own human heart. No more looking forward to heaven or fearing hell, simply being present in each moment and looking for the beauty found there.
“It was both a mental and emotional decision, it was a whole being decision.”
My guest this week is Ginna. Ginna is a software developer in her 30’s. She went through deconversion in her 20’s after suffering depression during her college years. Even though there were Christians around her who were on medication for their depression, no one was public about it. The implied stigma kept her from reaching out for help and kept her from finding the right treatment when she did reach out.
“God can’t be bothered to help children survive, I seriously doubt if god is getting you a parking place at the game.”
After college Ginna went to a “shelter for honest questions,” called L`Abri to find answers. Her questions were pointed and personal. The questions of theodicy, divine hiddenness and theological evil. She “had a really good time, but [she] didn’t get answers to the questions that [she] had.”
“[I realized] they are not ready to answer these questions either. The answers they have satisfy them, and they don’t satisfy me, and I don’t know what to do with that.”
After a brief stint in a liturgical church, which she loved, she stopped going to church and gained a new perspective. She realized she could no longer believe in a god where there was no practical difference between non-existence and said god being evil.
“It seems unlikely to be true. And if it is true I am worshiping a mad man.”
Ginna eventually received the help she needed for her mental health. She tried multiple different doctors and therapies until she found the right combination. Today, she is excited about exploring secular community and growing as a human being.
My guests this week are Lars, Christie, Teddy, Amy and Eleanor, a whole family who deconverted around the same time. Lars felt a sense of duty to be a Christian all his life because he believed it was true. Christie felt there was “good evidence” for parts of the Bible and accepted on faith that the rest was true. This worked fine until they both came to the conclusion that there was not enough evidence to continue believing.
During the pandemic with Church on screen rather than in person, both Lars and Christie began to feel freedom from Church. They eventually admitted to each other that they no longer believed. A few months later they asked the kids, “Do you notice anything we are not doing any longer?” To which they responded, “church.” None of them seemed to miss much, other than friends and the snacks!
Lars and Christie also share about Lars’ demi-sexuality and the difficult early conversations around sex when they were first getting married. This highlights the destructive aspects of purity culture on everyone.
Today the whole family is feeling free, intellectually honest and relieved after admitting to themselves they no longer believe and stopped going to church.