It was 1985. I had been a Christ follower for four years, and in full-time ministry for no more than two weeks, when I stumbled upon my first crisis of faith. I had just finished reading Bertrand Russell’s book, “Why I’m Not A Christian.” I followed that up with the life story of the former Billy Graham associate, and evangelist-turned-atheist, Charles Templeton. It scared me. I thought to myself, “If that could happen to someone like him, who is to say it couldn’t happen to me? Does he know something I don’t know? Has Templeton discovered something that I have yet to discover?” These thoughts haunted me for days. And then one of those random events in life occurred. I stumbled upon the fact that Charles Templeton lived (literally) down the street from me. I determined to be a good neighbor and introduced myself. Suffice it to say, Charles and I had an extended conversation about life, faith, and ministry. Looking back, I can’t say that he had anything “earth-shattering” to say to me. He had no “silver bullet.” Charles had no “new information” that single-handedly doused the flame within my heart. Nonetheless, the conversation rattled me.
After we finished our chat, I walked into the darkened sanctuary of the church where I was serving. There were two aisles leading to the front. One aisle on the left and one aisle on the right; I stood there motionless. This was it. This was the moment. If I walk down the left aisle, I remain in the ministry. If I walk down the right aisle, I continue walking through the exit, loop around to my office, write my letter of resignation, pack up my books, and leave the ministry.
My mind was racing.
“Why do seemingly intelligent people deny God’s existence?” I thought to myself. “Think of all the smart people who call themselves atheists.” “Yes,” I argued back, “But there are also many intelligent people that DO believe in God. What about them?” That back and forth got me nowhere… So I then recited the evidences for God that I had heard. “Yes, but those evidences are not 100% fool proof!” I thought to myself. “What if you’re wrong? What if you’re actually WRONG?” It felt like my faith was built upon a tightly-woven fabric of arguments, and my fabric was being torn.
I stood in the darkness and stared at those two aisles for what seemed like an eternity. Going back and forth in my mind. Debating with myself. Reciting every argument that I knew: pro and con. I felt paralyzed. Until I finally came to this decision: “I cannot see the wind, but I can see and feel what it’s active. I cannot see God, but I know that I have been impacted by His presence. I can see and feel what He has done in my life. He has radically and single-handedly revolutionized my existence. That cannot be denied. That cannot be ignored.”
So I stepped forward, walked down the left aisle, and knelt at the front of that sanctuary. I had decided to follow Jesus.
Dr. William Lane Craig talks about the role that arguments and apologetics play in the life of a Christ-follower. While arguments are very helpful in the strengthening of our faith, they are not to be the foundation of our faith. The foundation of our faith is our personal experience with the living God. Our faith is a “properly grounded belief.” Just as I’m justified in believing that the other individuals I interact with in life actually exist, I am equally justified in believing that my interactions with God are real. Arguments and evidences are incredibly helpful in that they strengthen and support what I believe, but they are not the ultimate ground of what I believe. They simply “show” what I already “know”.
Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to return to that former church, and once again stand in the very spot where my faith had been challenged. It occurred to me how these last 30 years have only served to solidify and strengthen my decision. The arguments for God’s existence have only increased in power and precision. Access to resources and conferences has decreased the shelf life of nagging doubts since answers are more readily at our fingertips. Nonetheless, my foundation has not changed. It remains, “Christ in me, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)