December 12, 2017

A Letter from an Agnostic

Today, Chaplain Mike posts this note that was sent to iMonk. How would you try to help this inquirer?

Mr. Spencer,

In the past few months of my life something has driven me towards Christianity. I can’t exactly say what, I believe it to be a combination of things but it has lead me to hours of research, mostly in the field of apologetics. I’ve never been a Christian and was not raised in a Christian family. If anything I would say that I’ve always been agnostic. Throughout my years, I’ve been a student of philosophy and religion. I’ve studied most modern philosophy, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and various other world religions but have never followed one and have never been drawn towards Christianity. Like many my age, I grew up in a place where Christianity was considered “un-cool”. None of my friends were Christian and even today I have few who are. Yet, recently something has peaked my interest in God and Jesus Christ.

To get to the point, my problem is not that I don’t want to believe, it’s that I’m caught in the middle.

I’ve been studying all of the apologetic arguments that you and other resources offer. I find your personal approach to apologetics very approachable and easy to digest but essentially your answers are the same as all of the other apologetic resources I’ve studied (this is not a criticism, just a way to show that there are unified theories surrounding the answers that you provide). You have logical, reasonable answers for every aspect of Christianity. All of the theories on the existing of A God and of The God, The Bible, Jesus Christ, Creationism, etc. are there and make sense but there are rebuttals to these by atheists and skeptics that are just as logical and reasonable.

For example, the cosmological argument is sound, until you consider the other side. There are arguments against this theory suggesting that causality should only be applied to our world and experience, that the “first” creator does not need to be intelligent and that modern science has demonstrated that there are objects on a molecular level that can and do move without a “mover”. Regarding The Bible, should we approach it literally? There is a great debate over the accuracy of biblical translations and the translations of keywords, phrases and verses can easily change the interpretation. These are just a couple of (very brief) examples of counter-arguments to common theories I’ve seen. There are detailed arguments against the teleological argument, the axiological argument, the idea that Jesus Christ is the son of God and on and on.

My point is that regardless of how much research I do, regardless of what Christians or Atheists attempt to prove, there is no absolute way to prove or disprove the existence of any God. This being said, there is no absolute way to prove or disprove that Jesus Christ is the son of God, was resurrected, ascended to Heaven and is the only way to eternal salvation. At some point, it has to come down to what you believe. Eventually, you have to make a choice.

That is where I’ve always been stuck. I’ve never been able to make a choice, never been able to choose sides and this is arguably the worst place to be. My skepticism is so severe that I am skeptical of every view and nothing has ever convinced me or spoken to me in a way that made me see one view as truth. You may point out that my apparent random interest in Christianity may be evidence enough but to me, that’s explainable in a myriad of ways. The thing is, I want to believe. It just seems like I can’t.

I am hoping that you may be able to shed some light on my situation or at least give your opinion on my thoughts.

Thank you for your time,

[Name withheld]

Comments

  1. Dear “Agnostic”,

    I can relate to your dilemma – I went through something similar. There is one further step you should take in your research – read the gospel of John. And each time you pick up the book, talk to the God who might be there sort of like this, “God, do you hear me? As i read your book please give me understanding about Jesus.” I know – it sounds nuts to talk to someone who may not be there. But In the rescue efforts in Haiti aid workers are doing it all the time, approaching a collapsed building and calling out, “Is there anybody in here?” I would challenge you to read through the gospel of John in the same way.

    Grace and peace to you.

  2. Speaking as someone who made the transition from being agnostic (when I was young) to being a pantheist (along the lines of Einstein and Spinoza) to being a Christian, let me make a comment.

    This might not be helpful, but I don’t believe apologetics can ultimately answer the question. Usually the different arguments make different assumptions. Logic tells us what conclusions we can draw from our assumptions, not which assumptions we should make in the first place.

    Personally, I only began to seriously shift my assumptions and begin believing in the supernatural after I experienced a medical miracle of my own. (It’s a long story, if anyone’s interested in hearing it, let me know and I’ll share it). Like the above poster I would recommend reading one of the gospels and asking God to reveal Himself. It might seem a little weird, but it can’t hurt to try it.

    Unfortunately there is no perfect argument that will convince every reasonable, intelligent person one way or the other. People choose what to believe based on which arguments they find more persuasive and whose testimony they trust.

  3. Louis Winthrop says:

    You’re going about this all wrong. It doesn’t work to try to figure out the meaning of life, then find a group which has reached the same conclusions as you. Usually what happens is that we find ourselves already part of a group–or attracted to one which we want to join–and then, being suggestible creatures, believe whatever it is that the group believes. You probably wouldn’t be happy with many of the Christian groups, for the simple reason that you will be different from them (if nothing else, by being attracted to intellectual issues). But YMMV–check out some different churches and see how you like them. (I figure your best bets are probably Eastern Orthodox or Quakerism, maybe UU or UCC, so don’t overlook those.)

    • I find the Presbyterian Church in America to be very friendly toward people who like intellectual rigor.

      As for the OP, I used to be an agnostic as well. At one point, I found myself saying things like, “God, if you exist…” He did eventually convince me that He does indeed exist.

      When I started reading the gospels, I realized that this just didn’t seem like a story that people would make up.

  4. Christopher Lake says:

    To the writer of the letter,

    I don’t know if you are actually reading these comments yourself, and even if so, you might not be reading this far down the page! 🙂 If you are, I will tell you a bit of my story, in the hope that it will help.

    I was raised as a “cultural Christian” in the Deep South region of the U.S. As a child, I had some sort of “faith” in God, but He was not central to my life. Basically, I didn’t think much about Him. When I was nine, my manic-depressive mother committed suicide. By the age of twelve or thirteen, I had abandoned any form of belief in God. How could there be a loving God, in a world in which a mother is so internally tormented as to adandon her own children? (The additional fact of my being born with a physical disability only intensified my doubts about a “loving God.”)

    For me, it has come down to this ultimate reality, which I have come back to again and again: If there is no God, and we are all here in a world with no objective meaning or purpose, then why should I even really *struggle,* in an existential sense, with the fact that my mother committed suicide, or that I was born with a disability? If there is no God, then sh*t simply happens, without any rhyme or reason to it– and without any reason for us to even think of it as “sh*t,” because without God, there is no objective good or bad, or right or wrong. Is that the way life really is? Is that the way that any of us actually *lives* his/her life? I would say no. Regardless of what any human being *professes* to believe, most (perhaps all) of us finally do live our lives as if there are things which are objectively saddening, objectively wonderful, objectively objectionable, etc. However, if there is no God, then almost all of us are living out of sync with reality– because without God, there can be no objective morality, beauty, horror, etc. In a Godless reality, all is subjective (which is an objective statement itself, so we have a problem even there!).

    The above argument doesn’t “prove” a deity, and less still does it “prove” the deity of any particular religion. I can say, though, that I have looked into the worldviews of the major world religions/philosophies (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and to a lesser extent , Confucianism and Shintoism), and Christianity provides, to me, the most convincing explanation for why life is the way it is, both good and bad, and the most convincing Solution to the “big questions” and the daily problems of life. The Solution that I keep coming back to is Jesus Christ Himself, because the Problem that I see most clearly in all of us, is sin, and only Christ provides the ultimate answer to sin– not “trying harder,” but giving up one’s desire to be self-autonomous, i.e. one’s own God.

    We are all, to certain degrees, inclined to turn away from what we know to good, right choices and incined to choose what we know to be ultimately selfish and destructive. Tragic events are a problem, but how one *responds to them* (sinfully or not), can be an even greater problem. I have seen this play out in my own life: Even after becoming a Christian, at one point, in bewilderment and anger over the sudden deaths of two close friends, I chose to turn away from God. I became, at least theoretically, a nihilist. I was miserable, and moreover, it was *unliveable,* because nihilism isn’t reality. There ARE things that are objectively meaningful in life. There is objective beauty, objective horror, etc. I couldn’t escape this fact. Meaning is not purely subjective *or* always culturally conditioned or the just the outcome of evolution. Objective meaning *exists.* It exists, because at the back of life itself, there is a Mind, and that Mind belongs to God Himself.

    These are, at least, the conclusions I have reached. Along with others here, if you haven’t already read them, I recommend the books, Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis.
    I also recommend that you check out the wonderfully thoughtful videos of Father Robert Barron, a priest who, I think, might well be the closest equivalent that we have to C.S. Lewis in our time. His videos can be watched on Youtube under the series name “Word On Fire.” I will be praying for you (not empty words, I assure you).

    • Christopher Lake says:

      Sorry for the typos… and I know that, even in a comment as lengthy as the one above, there are over-simplications. Judaism, Islam, and other religions *do* also call one to turn away from self-autonomy, but these religions lack two important elements– the death of Christ for sinners, and the Holy Spirit– God Himself– coming to dwell *within* the believer, giving him/her power to live a God-pleasing life (albeit imperfectly).

    • Flatrocker says:

      Christopher,
      You have saved the best wine till last.
      Thank you for this post – It’s the one we were looking for.

      • Christopher Lake says:

        Flatrocker,

        Thank you for the kind comment. I am blessed to know that my comment has helped even one person. All glory to God, and thank you again!

    • Christopher, I respect your story but you make some pretty common claims against Atheists that bother me.

      I grew up in a strict Catholic home. I was brought up believing in God and buying the Catholic line on everything very hard. Yet as you said bad things happen and my faith crumbled. As much as I wanted to believe in a God that watched over and loved me my life fell to shambles and surely if I was a good Christian why would I be punished for this.

      I too came to the ultimate reality, if there is no God, there is no OBJECTIVE purpose in life. I struggled with this hard, but in the end I embraced this! Every time I tell people this I am told that I clearly must like stealing and murdering, because why bother if there is no reward to doing good or punishment for doing bad. But to me I have an incredible gift. I have a life to live and give it whatever meaning I desire. I can explore and create, I can learn and discover, I can love and laugh, I am not confined to the discretion of a God defined by men 2000+ years ago.

      I am quite happy that you found the best explanation for the world in Christianity, but to me it only explains that life can suck because God is kind of a jerk. He created humanity and either knew they were going to fall, or was ignorant of his own creation. Invented death and pain to punish them, demands you sacrifice your children, will flood the earth because he grows tired of you, murder your entire family in a gamble. He is okay with slavery, endorses laws that punish not being a virgin with death, murdering your disobedient children, and beating them. He is sexist and homophobic. He created AIDS, smallpox, the plague, and every other sickness and suffering known to man, and for what? Because we decided to seek knowledge? Sure he will forgive you for screwing up, but only after getting on your knees and begging forgiveness. and if you screw up, or don’t apologize for rules which, at times, can be completely arbitrary its eternity in fire and torture.

      As you said though, this doesn’t disprove God, but am I going to spend my life worshiping a tyrant under the cover of “grace” and “love”? I too have researched most of the world’s religion, both past and present. I have not seen an argument for God that can not be used for Allah, Zeus, or a Flying Spaghetti Monster. The bible was written by men. The was decided by men. Yet this book is infallible.

      There are a great many things I don’t know, and I will continue to seek answers. However, I will not fill in the Gaps with superstition.

      • FSM reference FTW!!

        Honestly, though, Andy, as a Christian I fully concur with your being bothered by the many common assumptions about atheists that just aren’t true. Even though I’ve known a few atheists to confess those very things themselves, it is not fair to make a blanket statement about all atheists. Surely we balk when the same is done about Christians.

        I especially agree about objective purpose, and it is refreshing for me to see you point out the fulfillment you have found in subjective purposes. If most Christians were honest, they would admit that we do the same just about as often.

        However, as far as finding the ultimate meaning of life subjectively goes, have you considered the difficulty in determinacy? How can you be sure that what you are finding fulfillment in is really your highest possible fulfillment? Or even near it?

        Do you think that it is possible that your rejection of objective purpose could possibly line up with the Christian doctrine that all men have rejected God as the supreme ruler of the universe and Lord of their life, a.k.a. sin?

        And IF the existence of God were true (let’s just assume for the sake of counterpoint), is it possible that you could find a high degree of subjective fulfillment in something that is ultimately destructive to yourself?

        Or, do you think it is really possible that it won’t happen?

        How about if there were a God who, though commonly misrepresented by his followers as tyrannical, actually desired for you to find your highest fulfillment in life?

        What if, suppose, in his divine omnipotence, he understood as your creator that you were designed for Himself and could therefore only find your highest good, joy, and fulfillment in Him alone?

        If all of that were true, would it be so wrong for such a God to pursue your affections aggressively? To be zealous for your own highest good?

        Just thinking aloud. Your comment was refreshingly honest and commendably open-minded, which I found to be quite thought provoking.

      • Patrick Lynch says:

        “I too have researched most of the world’s religion, both past and present. I have not seen an argument for God that can not be used for Allah, Zeus, or a Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

        Okay.

        As you’ve probably noticed, there are a lot of people in this thread who’ve met every difficulty you have on the road to faith, done the “research” (whatever that means to you) and somehow managed to persevere, faith intact, restored, or newly bestowed.

        Of course, there are a couple dozen message boards full of angry ex-Christians who post daily about how great it is to sleep in on Sunday and how nice it feels to suddenly feel more intellectual than your friends or parents or former pastor.

        What do you suppose the difference is?

        Now in the honest light of day, is anything you’ve written above NOT a misunderstanding, a mischaracterization, a vituperation, or a fallacy?

        And is there anything written elsewhere on this page that ISN’T an encouragement, a prayer, a benediction, or an invitation?

        Weird, how a ‘tyrant’ could inspire that kind of thing, from shut-ins, depressives, paraplegics, and whatnot.

        Just sayin’.

      • Christopher Lake says:

        Andy D,

        Respectfully, I am wondering, what specific claims did I make about atheists in my comment? The fact that I don’t see how truly objective morality can be formulated from within an atheistic framework *does not* mean that I think atheists must like to steal, treat others unkindly, etc.

        If you read my comment carefully, you will notice that I once *was* an atheist– actually, more than once (I didn’t literally use the word, but the concept is there, in more than one place. “Nihilist” basically includes “atheist” in its meaning) .

        I know very well that atheists can act in very “moral” ways, but the question is, do they have an ultimately objective foundation for that moral behavior? I’m also not intending to imply that subjective morality and meaning are worthless either– just subjective, either (depending on one’s take about things) a matter of human consensus/preference or a result of purely naturalistic, unguided evolutionary processes.

        Interestingly, you *did* actually make a claim about theists that they could find bothersome, if they so chose– that they believe in “superstition”….

        • but the question is, do they have an ultimately objective foundation for that moral behavior?

          Yes. It’s called human biology. What else could it possibly be?

          • Christopher Lake says:

            Tildeb,

            Human biology is not, and cannot be, an ultimately *objective* foundation for moral behavior. Morality is about what is truly right and wrong between conscious and personal beings. It is about the choices that we objectively *should* and *should not* make.

            By contrast, biology is simply about the way things *are,* materially and physically– and if one subscribes to a purely naturalistic (i.e. non-theistic, no God involved) form of evolution, then biology is ultimately an *impersonal* reality. The impersonal cannot provide an objective foundation for morality (right and wrong) between personal beings. Only Ultimate, Conscious Personality (as in, the Personality of a God who has actually revealed Himself to us) can reveal and communicate *objective* morality to *personal* beings. Impersonal things don’t truly communicate morality to anyone.

          • Christopher Lake says:

            Tildeb,

            To the person who subscribes to purely naturalistic, non-theistic (no God involved) evolution, biology is ultimately an impersonal, strictly material process. To the non-theist, then, biology is simply an expression of the way things *happen to be* at a given time in evolutionary history.

            By contrast, objective morality is about the *personal, conscious choices* that personal, conscious beings *should* and *should not* make. There is no way to build an ultimately objective foundation for morality for *conscious* beings upon an *unconscious, impersonal* material process.

            Only an Ultimate Personality (such as that of God) can reveal and communicate objective morality for human beings. An impersonal process cannot finally *communicate* morality to anyone or provide a truly *objective* foundation for it.

          • Christopher Lake says:

            Tildeb,

            I posted (basically) the same answer to you twice below– the site was initially “telling” me that there was an error, and the first post didn’t go through. Actually, it did, along with the second one that I ultimately wrote to make up for the first! 🙂

          • Christopher Lake says:

            Below? Scratch that! Apparently, they are both *above*! Ughh!

          • Chris, you write biology is ultimately an *impersonal* reality. The impersonal cannot provide an objective foundation for morality (right and wrong) between personal beings.

            It is exactly that impersonal biology (whatever that means) that provides us the means to experience those limbic responses that inform our morality – experiences like compassion and empathy and sympathy and altruism and sacrifice. It is the impersonal biology that provide us with the mirror neurons necessary.

            I suspect we are defining morality differently: you a sense of metaphysical right and wrong, me a sense of physical compassion that shapes our moral actions in this world in the here and now. So when you write Only an Ultimate Personality (such as that of God) can reveal and communicate objective morality for human beings, I realize that what you are talking about has no basis in anything knowable except by pure conjecture and imaginings, whereas my basis can be explored in the natural world to increase actual knowledge. I’m not sure if you can establish any meaningful benefit to couch morality as you do in such a supernatural setting. But I can find terrific use in coming to know how people and other critters act in various ways we call moral and immoral. (And of course there is are ethics, as well…)

  5. Thank you for everything. Very useful

  6. I would like to tell the writer that I was in the same situation for several years: seeking through apologetics, but finding, as you say, that “At some point, it has to come down to what you believe. Eventually, you have to make a choice.” What I wish someone had been able to tell me is that it’s not just a choice of saying “yes” or “no” to intellectual propositions, you can make lots of small choices in what you do that eventually can change what you believe…suddenly saying, and meaning, that you believe in God may be impossible when finding ways to leave the door open for God is not.

    When I realized after about two or three years of reading intensively that intellectual arguments would never be able to lead me to a conclusion, I was intellectually stuck in agnosticism for another couple of years, but still drawn to Christianity like you. Fortunately, and I’m sure not coincidentally, at the same time I became friends with a Christian who admitted she couldn’t answer my questions satisfactorily but invited me along to church and Bible study. Eventually, I started seeing the behavior and outlook and mutual support of her community as another form of “proof” of God’s work in the world and wanted to be able to access that light myself.

    However, I still couldn’t just say “I believe” because you can’t make yourself believe something you do not think is true. Instead, I settled upon faking practice as my only reasonable choice. I figured if God existed I should ask him to let me believe, because I didn’t feel able to make a choice on my own, and if it didn’t work I’d just give up eventually. So I started praying even though I thought nobody was listening. I read the Bible as if I thought it had something to tell me. I tried to become part of a Christian community and learn from example while being honest about my lack of belief. And eventually, slowly, I came to believe that the spaces I left, waiting for God, were filled with Him. There was never a sharp moment of realization like I’d always heard there would be; I am still very doubting, and still very much desire greater faith, but those are now elements of the way I relate to and believe in God rather than obstacles holding me back.

    I don’t think this is a road map, just my experience, but I hope it is helpful for you to hear that conversion doesn’t have to be a sudden intellectual shift and that you have nothing to lose in just starting to pray. Grace is in God’s hands, not ours, so maybe thinking about being ready for Him will do more for you than thinking about being right.

  7. Gabrielle McNease says:

    ummmmmmm well im 17 and i am a christian you want to know something i hate to say this there was a time when i didnt know if i should believe if there was a god but you know there is cause he is always there for you in your time of need.
    I dont read the Bible as much as i should i am a youth leader at a church and i go to another church on Sundays which is another youth group that i have to say puts God in you. People do say stuff about other religions put them down who cares what other people think of you the only person that matters is God what he thinks of you he made you how you are for a reason.
    Do you ever think of this where would the universe have came from if there was no God ??????
    I mean you could say evolution where did evolution come from where did man and woman come from we were told this all in the Bible you can say im wrong but im 17 and i think that you should take it from a firm young believer in Christ.
    Also i know that bad things may happen to people but there is a reason that God makes bad things happen to us look at what happened to Jesus he was nailed to a cross for our sins i suggest you watch the Passion of the Christ.
    Thanks for reading my view Gabby

  8. La Donna Flagg says:

    It might help to think of your exploration as not just an intellectual one. Intellect is important, but it won’t get you all the way to where you want to go. That is because God is a Person who wants you to find Him, not just a proposition which stands or falls on the reliability of its premises. I think you have done a marvelous job of checking out the facts, but now it’s time to go “adventuring” in the trust that the Someone who is out there is the one who is drawing your interest in the Christian life, that He will continue to lead and draw you. The person who suggested that you ask God for help, even if you aren’t sure He is there, is on the right track. Ask for help and then read the Bible for what it speaks to you. The romantic poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge went through just such a quest and when he wrote to others on a spiritual quest, he said, “It is not what I find in the Bible, it is what in the Bible finds me.” This whole endeavor is not dependent upon you or your ability to figure things out. You will find that in the end it becomes a matter of you and God moving toward one another and learning to trust each other. I’m very excited about what lies before you. Such wonderful moments when you become aware that He is near and that you can trust Him to know you completely and to love you just as completely. Keep moving toward Him. He’s there waiting with a big smile on His face that is just for you.

  9. Dear Agnostic,

    Speaking as someone who has been where you are, I can only say this: where you are may be the worst place to be, but it’s right where God wants you. Cross the threshold when you are ready. When will you be ready? If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll know you’re ready about a tenth of a second before you take that first step over the line.

    Stay receptive, stay skeptical. God is drawing you!

  10. Just for Quix says:

    Dear Agnostic,

    I am a Christian believer and I am also still agnostic in that I still don’t “know” anything of my faith for certain. I appreciate your willingness to pursue your world view with honesty, reason, and soberness. I think you’ve already seen much of what lays before, and that is a leap of choice.

    But I will also say that over many years of intellectual grappling I reached a point of despair, what has been called by St. John of the Cross as “the dark night of the soul.” I’m not saying this is a necessary or inevitable point for you, but like many others I faced real and overwhelming darkness, despair and a living death. Yet in the darkness I reached out to a God I hoped might listen — and I had no vision nor epiphany. Yet I perceived a reality that opened my heart to God, and more specifically, Christianity.

    I have found no certainty, only been given a peacefulness in my choice to see both the profound reasonableness of Christian faith even if it is also a “magnificent irrationality” (see Kierkegaard). I feel like I was given a gift — truly a new heart or mind — to grasp onto belief in spite having never discovered the perfect argument or certain reason for faith, however. As I said, I was not given all the answers I’ve sought nor an intellectual certainty in those answers I think I’ve found. I do feel I was given insight into myself to see with more self-awareness and love for my stubborn “over-thinking” self. I feel more confidence in my humanity. I have hope in spite of my flaws. It’s why I still consider myself a humanist — and also a Christian.

    I wish I could have arrived at my destination without the heartache I’ve experienced, and even the grief I’ve willingly subjected myself to. But I also don’t second guess the good has come from the struggle.

    Good tidings and encouragement to keep up your struggle!

  11. Dear Agnostic,

    My own journey tracks very closely to yours. I went from being an extremely skeptical atheist, to agnostic, to being a committed Buddhist and Vipassana practitioner, to becoming a theist and ultimately to becoming a Christian.

    My own transition from atheist to free-floating agnostic to Buddhist to theist to Christian was sparked by a severe spiritual crisis that I can only now term as “acedia.” It began with an experience during Vipassana meditation when I glimpsed true emptiness. Heretofore, my meditation experiences had been calming, pleasant, sometimes mind-blowing. This was different. It left me hollow and horrified. I was in a state of deep sadness for many weeks.

    What brought me out of this deep spiritual depression? I was strolling through the aisles of my local Borders bookstore, passed through the Buddhist section and meandered into the Christian section. Out of sheer boredom, I picked up a copy of “The Imitation of Christ” mainly because I thought the title sounded cool and different. The opening lines hit me like a hammer blow between the eyes.

    Here they are: “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness,(1) saith the Lord. These are the words of Christ; and they teach us how far we must imitate His life and character, if we seek true
    illumination, and deliverance from all blindness of heart. Let it be our most earnest study, therefore, to dwell upon the life of Jesus Christ. 2. His teaching surpasseth all teaching of holy men, and such as
    have His Spirit find therein the hidden manna.(2) But there are many who, though they frequently hear the Gospel, yet feel but little longing after it, because they have not the mind of Christ. He, therefore, that will fully and with true wisdom understand the words of Christ, let him strive to conform his whole life to that mind of Christ.”

    I felt my heart literally open at reading these words — a painful, raw, but also a pleasurable experience. I later likened this to the first inklings of Eustace having his dragon scales peeled away in “Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”

    I didn’t become a Christian then, nor even a theist. I only felt I’d found some wisdom, and my sadness began to lift. I bought the book, read the rest of the book, and decided that I had not been taking Christian wisdom seriously. That, indeed, I had arrogantly and ignorantly disregarded it.

    This was still in my agnostic “all paths lead to the mountaintop” phase. Ever more intensely curious, I began exploring the extraordinary claims of Christianity, as you yourself seem to have done. This first led me to tentatively step onto the side of the “theists,” but I wasn’t willing to be anything beyond a Deist for quite some time.

    That is until I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship.” I began to feel that I was indeed fallen, and that if I should not come to the foot of the Cross, then what? I still was not a Christian, however. Then I read the Gospel of John, and I had never until this point read any of the Gospels. I hadn’t read the Pauline letters. I’d simply, as an agnostic, operated through “rumors from the heights” that these words were simply the ignorant rantings of peasants from a backwater of the Roman Empire.

    I can go back and track journal entries in which I am struggling, and even asking God if He is real to help me discern the correct path, the truth.

    Here’s what’s important: It was only after I verbally, mentally and spiritually assented to the truth of the Resurrection that things fundamentally changed. I prayed aloud, I said I believed. I felt foolish and full of hope at the same time. I meant it. I wrote it down, giving my full assent to the truths of the faith.

    You seem to feel that you must believe 100 percent. I did not. A great part of my mind and being believed, and I finally went with that part of my being. I teeter-tottered on the edge for some time.

    This was all prompted by a tugging of the heart that happened when I read the opening lines of Thomas a Kempis. It then flowered into an intense intellectual examination of apologetics. After I had read and read and read, I found myself more and more convinced — but not entirely convinced. My intellect was not entirely satisfied by what I found, but it was very satisfied all around.

    I liken this part of my journey to eating a healthy meal: I didn’t gorge myself into a leaden satiated stupor, the sort of feeling one gets after a Thanksgiving feast, but I did find satisfaction in my intellectual journey, and it eventually this prepared my heart.

    And so I then made the decision that I believed — not 100 percent, as I’ve said, but the greater part of me believed. And I said so. Plainly and aloud to my wife, my mother, my friends.

    What then happened?

    It was like a light switch had been turned on in a darkened room. I was inexorably drawn to reading the Scripture, to feasting on it. The words of the New Testament, the Psalms, the Proverbs, began to seem three-dimensional to me. The words leapt out at me and seized me. They asserted themselves boldly in my dreams. I woke up with lines of Scripture on my lips. The Pauline letters — which had always seemed dense and strange words from a distant, dusty past — suddenly came alive. They made sense!

    I was encountering the living Word, and knowing it.

    I always say that if the pre-Christian me could hear the now-Christian me talking or read my words, he’d try to shrug them off. No matter. This is what happened.

    I began to pray actively for the first time, felt a little foolish at first, then found it easier and easier. And the Holy Spirit began to draw me nearer and nearer. Colors were brighter. The days began to take on the quality of an adventure. I found myself saying and doing things I would have thought impossible previously, compelled to do them. People around me, unaware of change inside of me, wondered about it all. Commented on it. Jesus entered my thoughts nearly every hour of the day. It seemed impossible not to think of him, and my heart continually burned. My entire life began to re-orient in ways that I didn’t even understand until the changes had already taken place. About a year later, my wife became a Christian, too.

    The important point in all of this is that most of the journey is actually on the other side of the leap of faith. Even if the gap you must leap is a small one, at some point you’ll still need to take a leap. There will never be 100 percent satisfaction to your questions or doubts.

    But I can promise you that once you’ve made the leap, the Holy Spirit will confirm it all for you. I was ignorant about most of the theological basis for this while it was happening, or only vaguely aware, since I’d spent most of my time dealing with apologetics, arguments for the existence of God and the truth claims of the Gospel, historicity, etc.

    I only started to learn about regeneration, confirmation of the Spirit and conviction of the Spirit after these things were already in motion. I found out about them because I was trying to figure out what was happening as I was swept up in it. I remember reading for the first time Colossians 1:13 and understanding the truth of it, as it was happening to me. I can tell you these things aren’t rhetorical niceties. They aren’t just happy concepts. The miracle of Adoption is very real, and the indwelling of the Spirit is something that actually occurs.

    You are seeking the Truth. I know you will find it.

  12. Terrific site! I came here after ‘Googling’ “Why Am I a Christian” and found an article by Michael Spencer. I had a spiritual revelation 28 years ago when I got sober in AA, something that previously had appeared to me as a congenital, permanent affliction was lifted, my dependence on drugs and alcohol. That experience gave me some insight into possibilities beyond our conscious will. I am again on the edge of the pit searching for a lifeline and spoke with an esteemed friend who suggested reading the New Testament, front to back (which I’ve started an hour or so ago). The doubts (convictions!) came right to the surface and I found above cited article and then onto this wonderful site. Here’s my stumbling block, my boulder: the nastiest, most pompous, hypocritical, smug, ignorant (and proud of it!) people I know or know of, are American Christians. [MOD EDIT]…How, given these examples, can one give credence to Christianity if so many people (and Christianity is about people) who revel in their Christian faith and belief in Jesus Christ, are so … obnoxious (evil)?

    • Tom,

      I struggle with the problem of “obnoxious” Christians, too. However, it doesn’t take an excessive amount of introspection to realize that I am part of that problem.

      In fact, one of the properties of Christianity that draws me is the possibility that the most depraved individuals are invited to join. Why? Well, I’ve come to realize that given the psychological material, upbringing, circumstances etc. of individuals considered to be the very incarnation of evil, I have no confidence that I would transcend those barriers and not succumb to depravity. If one sincerely examines his/her motives and fundamental nature, it is much easier to understand/tolerate the behaviour of others.

      Jesus called the morally sick: the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the liers. He started a movement founded on individuals who were acutely aware of their fallibility. This surprising call of Jesus for the most depraved individuals has set Christianity apart.

      Recognition of our errors and inclination toward evil is at the foundation of Christianity. When we fully grasp our own fallibilty, we loose the prerogative that we thought we had to feel superior to others, and our own failings cause the weaknesses of others to fade.

      • Just to clarify, I in no way intended to disregard or gloss over your concerns. In my personal experience, when I become less cognizant of my own obnoxiousness/weaknesses, I, too, begin to question the behavior of Christians in general. In other words, I struggle with the behavior of Christians, too. However, in rare moments of lucidity, I recognize the fallibility of others as a revelation of my own weakness. . .

        • The nasty Christians I’m talking about are often, not always, but frequently are leaders in the Evangelical community. Folks that have been ‘saved’ and were once hippies, feminists, businessmen, take your pick, but have come to the Lord and behave in a smug, superior manner. Very high-schoolish but politically quite powerful. I believe that when fascism comes (it’s here already, ebbing and flowing) it will be based on fear of the ‘other’ and symbolized by a cross wrapped in a flag. I was raised as a Catholic and find it hard to reconcile a good life with most of what I know of the Catholic Church. I now live in Italy and find some of the worst behavior among regular church goers. Come out of church with dirty looks or worse, not recognizing their neighbors existence. I wish that someone could show me something positive about Christians!

  13. Dear Agnostic,

    Well, there are some positive points in your monologue. First of all you get it that it basically all comes down to one’s presuppositions. Atheistic materialism assumes out of hand that there is no God because in doing empirical science there can be no appeal to supernatural intervention, otherwise science degenerates into superstition and mysticism.

    However, the philosophy of science has challenged the idea that somehow “science” is neutral. Thomas Kuhn in his classic book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions argued convincingly that science is basically controlled by sociological power structures very similar to a religious organization like the Roman Catholic Church. In other words, there is a degree of subjectivity in doing science and in determining the current “dogma.” Which theory of evolution is the correct one? Do blackholes exist and what about string theory? Can life spontaneously generate itself from a primordial soup of the right combination of amino acids? (No scientist has been able to duplicate the process. You would think if they know how it happened it could be repeated in laboratory conditions).

    Really the agnostic position is no better than the atheist position because it presupposes that there can be no rationally acceptable answers. But if that is so then empirical science should become agnostic instead of making theoretical presuppositions and then testing those presuppositions. You assume that the burden of proof is on the Christian. When you said that there is no way to prove Jesus rose from the dead, etc., you’re clearly siding presuppositionally with the atheist. But how can the atheist be rationally certain that there is no God apart from presupposing that there is no God? The atheist is on equal ground with the Christian since the burden of proof is equally his to prove there is no God.

    Now, I know you’re going to ask now we can know that Christianity is true from among all the other world religions. That comes done to rationally and logically comparing religions. There is a reason why Christianity is one of the three major religions in the world. It is because it is superior rationally, ethically, and spiritually. Of course, I am biased and presupposing that.

    Forgive me for being blunt here but agnosticism is in fact a choice. You have deliberately chosen not to choose and you do so based on your presupposition that God is unknowable and that Christianity is irrational. But that is far from the case as you intimated in your inner struggle. God is indeed incomprehensible as far as knowing everything about an omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient being goes. But incomprehensibility is different from unknowability.

    To believe or not to believe is based on your own choices and your own presuppositions since there is no absolute knowledge of anything. We are all in the same situation on that point whether the choice is atheism, agnosticism, Christianity or some other religion.

    The bottomline is presupposition. In my opinion Christianity is compatible with science and it is superior to atheism, agnosticism and to any other religion when rationally examined and when one finally decides to believe.

    Calvinism takes the position that God will actually cause you to believe, though you must make the choice. The onus is still on you but God will help you to make that decision if you are willing to stop choosing rebellion and simply submit to the Creator.

    Sincerely in Christ,

    Charliee

  14. Dan Harper says:

    Dear Agnostic:

    I don’t know if you’ve hung in here to read thru all the comments and get to this point, but on the off chance that you have, I will attempt to offer some simple suggestions:

    1. The first post hit the nail on the head. Read the book of John and ask (pray) Christ to reveal himself to you in a way that is real for you. Pay attention to Christ’s words as you read.

    2. Then return to the book of Matthew and read thru the rest of the new testament. (continue to “pray”.) Also, the “stories” in Matthew, Mark, and Luke often overlap. Don’t let this throw you off, it’s just three different guys point of view on some of the same events.

    3. Start visiting churches. A different one every weekend. Again, asking God to lead you to a church that is right for you.

    4. Two questions for you: Is Jesus who he says he is? and… Do YOU need a savior?

    Best wishes Seeker. I will remember you in my prayers.

    Dan

  15. Agnostic Christian says:

    Dear Agnostic,

    Having been a Christian for most of my life I would say you’re in a good place. Someone with your doubts and questions will not likely be intellectually or spiritually satisfied at any point.

    My personal opinion, after much study and thought that is: if Jesus is who the authors of the Bible said he was then all of humanity will end up in heaven (that is if there is a heaven).

    Whatever people say the born-again “experience” is seems to be a sort of psychological event which is more than likely a result of an awakened conscience.

    Keep on your journey!

    peace to you,
    Your Fellow Traveler

  16. Hi All- I have been there and back , but the love of Christ Compells me- I also read Brain McLean’s(Sp?) book, A faith that makes sense- a one liner that is right on. My faith requires understanding and my understanding requires faith. I love you all for the sake of Christ and the beautiful but at times treachurous insightful minds that HE gives-PLEASE read anything by Greg Boyd- I attend his church in Minnesota and I’m so blessed by it- he gives all the important hsistorical facts and intellecutal conundrms and then brings it all down to one thing- the dance between us and the Living GOD- In HIS love Kate.