Monday, the day after Christmas I had an unexpected experience. I was at Summerville High School running around the track and walking up and down the bleachers getting in a light aerobic workout. Was feeling slightly guilty, (on par with driving 60 mph in a 55 mph zone) from being so sedentary for a few days and eating my share of Christmas treats. After 30 minutes of walking and jogging I headed back from the car with some chest pains. I attributed it to the cold air, something I have experienced before.
I drove home, but the pains would not go away, and after 20 minutes my daughters Bethany and Rebecca drove me to the Sonora. After a quick blood draw, it was confirmed I was having, or had, a heart attack. Several hours later I had an ambulance ride down to Doctors Hospital in Modesto.
I spent the night in the cardiac care unit and the next morning had an angiogram, (a procedure that injects dye into the heart blood vessels and detects clogged arteries). They found two clogged and inserted two stainless steel stents clearing the pathway, (angioplasty).
I have to say the procedure produced great anxiety within me. The fear was palatable, and despite my fervent prayers for peace, I had none. Many years ago, my father had a similar procedure done which triggered a massive stroke from which he never fully recovered. I had signed the paper work prior and they had to spell it out: this procedure can trigger, (odds are 1 in 5000), a stroke or heart attack. That was my greatest fear, that or a much more serious heart attack. I also wrestled with thoughts of dying on the table and if I knew for sure where I was going. Was I good with God? Would I be welcome, or hear the words in Matthew 7:23? I was shaking in my proverbial boots and was so overcome with fear I threw up just before the procedure started. Obviously, not the strong man picture I would like to paint of myself.
I know many family and friends were praying for me, and I know my name was added to more than one prayer chain. I so much wanted to experience peace I have felt from the Lord in times of great stress and pressure, but I felt nothing. As far as I could tell, I was making pleas and appeals to the wall 15 feet away. What did I do? What could I do? I chose to believe that God has my best interest at heart and I would choose Him.
After another night in the cardiac care unit, the next morning they repeated the procedure and found another clogged artery adding a third stent.
Thursday morning I was discharged and headed home.
Considering I have worked out most of my life, never smoked, rarely drank, don’t do drugs, and ate healthy for the most part, (admittedly have a weakness for ice cream) my 205lb 6’2” frame was in pretty good shape. Just goes to show that genetics plays a large part into our health, despite our efforts to be fit.
So I am on the mend with restrictions on my salt intake, fatty red meat, butter, mayonnaise, bacon, sausage, donuts,pizza, etc.; all the foods that make life worth living.
During my recovery, I had time to read a book my sister in-law gave me for Christmas, titled Finding God in the Waves, by Mike McHargue. Mike McHargue is also known as Science Mike on the Internet. He hosts and co-hosts some popular podcasts.
The Amazon intro to his book starts like this. “What do you do when God dies? It’s a question facing millions today, as science reveals a Universe that’s self-creating, as American culture departs from Christian social norms, and the idea of God begins to seem implausible at best and barbaric at worst.” 1
Some may dismiss apologetics, but I am so thankful for my studies in the past few years. Without reasons for my faith, and having read a book like Mike McHargue that seriously undermines orthodox Christianity, and just having experienced a ‘without God moment’ I am not sure how my faith would have fared. Walter Martin, author of Kingdom of the Cults, has pointed out when we fail to give good answers to questions, we then become another reason for a Christian to walk away from their faith. 1Peter 3:15 makes our responsibility clear.
Mike had some difficult times as a young man and ended walking away from his faith. His return really is not what I would call Christianity, but I had plenty of time to mull over the reasons why some leave their faith as I contemplated my own crisis.
After reading the book, which was his life story about his faith, Christianity as a boy and young man, but then turned atheist and then back to a follower of Jesus, I asked myself if he is promoting Christianity, or if he was really a follower of Jesus? Then answer was definitively no.
This was confirmed to me when I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Unbelievable with Justin Brierley. Justin actually interviewed Mike McHargue on his show just a few weeks ago, while sitting across from an atheist named Ben Watts. Admittedly, during the interview, Mike said his views would be considered heretical. If you were to read his book, you would find that Mike does not believe in the resurrection nor the inerrancy of scripture. He believes the New Testament was written centuries after the death of Christ, and even questions if the book of Matthew was written by anyone named Matthew. He believes it is healthy to ‘pretend’ God is real, and prayer is beneficial to those that pray, but not for those who are receiving the prayer.
If you are looking for a book that will deepen your faith, this is not it. If you are familiar with the historicity of Christ, the evidence behind the New Testament, cosmology, teleology, moral, and ontological arguments for the existence of God, this will be an interesting read.
Usually, Justin has on a Christian and an Atheist who, more often than not, discuss their different beliefs on a particular topic; but what was most telling to me came at the end of the interview when the Oxford atheist Ben Watts said he would recommend Mike McHargue’s book to his Christian friends “to help soften their fundamental views”. When an atheist would recommend a book written by a Christian, for the purpose of changing their Christian friends’ views on Christianity, that should tell you something.
To understand why I question if Mike is a Christian, you have to look at the basic tenets needed for someone to call themselves Christian.
What does that mean, follower of Jesus? What does it mean when someone says they are a Christian? No doubt we have a wide variety of definitions of Christianity, and some can be quite confusing. Ask Mormons if they are Christians and they will not hesitate to say yes, but then ask them if Christians are Mormons, and the response will be met with hesitation and uncertainty, because the equal sign does not flow both ways. What sense does that make? Understand the Mormons desire to be called Christians is more for social acceptance than anything to do with matching theological teachings or orthodoxy. So when you ask if Christians are Mormons, they know the answer is no.
Kevin Lewis gave a lecture at Biola University on Christianity and cults. During the lecture he discussed primary, secondary and tertiary, (3rd level) doctrines. Tertiary beliefs would be ideas or statements that a church could disagree on, but still have a harmonious body. For example, young earth vs old earth, timing of rapture and methods of spiritual warfare. Unlike tertiary beliefs, secondary beliefs are usually necessary for a unified body in Christ. A few would be types of baptism, cessation of gifts, form of the church government, etc. Finally, in the lecture he listed what he felt were the essential Christian doctrines.
• Deity of Christ
• His incarnation
• Vicarious atonement
• Salvation by grace through faith
• Bodily resurrection
• Authority of the scripture 2
If there is a wide variety of views on the above list, you will never have any kind of unified congregation. Anyone who denies some or all of the primary tenants of Christianity may still call themselves Christian, but I would have to ask at what point does a Christian stop being a Christian and become something else? The line you cross may be faded, but with just a little effort on your part it will become clear again. Undoubtedly, there is a line because Scripture is clear that some will enter the kingdom and others will not.
Drew Dyck has studied and interviewed hundreds of ex-Christians. He pointed out in his book, Generation Ex-Christian, that is it not our job to point out their misguided ways and sinful living choices, but to shine the light on Christ and let Him do the work. He wrote, “The same principle applies to second-tier theological issues. Infant baptism verses believers’ baptism, Calvinism verses Arminianism, women in ministry,…discussion of these issues between believers is entirely appropriate. But when talking to leavers, (those who have walked away from Christianity), steer away from these contentious topics. You don’t want to litter the path with any extra obstacles to faith. Why should they be force to buy into your particular brand of Christianity in order to rejoin God’s family?”3
There is a popular Christian song by Chris Tomlin titled ‘Jesus’ on his album titled Never Lose Sight, (Youtube video).
It is one of my favorite songs and the lyrics capture so much of what a Christian thinks or believes of Jesus. The following verses capture the heart of the song, and the heart of Christians who look forward to the day they are standing with their Lord and Savior, Jesus. Take a moment and listen to the song in the above Youtube link.
There is a truth older than the ages
There is a promise of things yet to come
There is one, born for our salvation
There is a light that overwhelms the darkness
There is a kingdom that forever reigns
There is freedom from the chains that bind us
Who walks on the waters
Who speaks to the sea
Who stands in the fire beside me
He roars like a lion
He bled as the lamb
He carries my healing in his hands
My heart goes out to Mike since he has lost sight of his faith and has replaced it with something unrecognizable. I can understand why some lose their faith. If faith is based on feelings and experience, what do Christians do when the feelings and emotions disappear, or when prayer is unanswered, or answered in a way that makes no sense to the believer?
My slight discomfort and fear pales compared to the suffering of some, but more importantly I continue to recognize what is necessary for me to remain in my faith: trust. Not the blind trust that some may suggest, but a trust that has not only been experienced and felt in my heart, but a trust built on evidence and verification.
In his book, You Lost Me, David Kinnamen points out that Churches have handed over “the realm of knowledge to academics and institutions of higher education.”4 This is a shame because as soon as young adults enter college, they are assaulted with ideas and reasons counter to Christianity. Many have never been asked, if God is Love why is there evil and suffering? Or since evolution is true how is it we need God? Couple the difficult questions with exciting experiences outside of church and a general lack of experiencing God, and you have clear path away from their faith.
If you are involved in your church with youth, ask them those hard questions so it is not the first time they have heard them. Wrestle with them together in the Jr. High and High school groups, then go a step further and have them invite some friends from school who are unbelievers to come ask questions. Let the sparks fly and don’t expect to have all the answers, but demonstrate you have a concern for truth. Be transparent and tell them you don’t have an answer, but if you come back next week I will have one for you.
Kinnamen also says, “…we make little effort to help disciples connect the dots between their vocation – whether in medicine, journalism, city planning, music, sales, computer programing, or any other – and their faith.”5 Christians must not only experience God, but have a knowledge of Him in life, and their areas of interest. Many churches tend to focus on experiencing God during the service, often they have a large congregation of twenty and thirty somethings, and the worship becomes the focus.
Drew Dyck listed another study on deconversion, “the most frequently mentioned role of Christians in deconversion was in amplifying existing doubt. How did Christians manage to amplify existing doubt? The study found that deconverts reported sharing their doubts with a Christian friend or family member only to receive trite, unhelpful answers. The outcome was predictable.” 6
Drew also interviewed Mark Mittelberg who wrote the book, The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, and Mittelberg said, “A lot of young people look at their parents and say, ‘You don’t know why you believe this stuff. You don’t have any answers.'”7
I am reminded of the old saying that describes faith, feeling, and fact. The three of them were walking on a narrow wall with Faith in the lead, followed by Feeling, and finally Fact. Faith kept looking back to see how Feeling was doing, suddenly Faith and Feeling lost their balance. Fact reached out and steadied both till they all could continue on their journey.
1. McHargue, Mike. Finding God In The Waves, Convergent, 2016. pp. Book Cover.
2. Lewis, Kevin. “Responding to the Cults.” Christian Apologetics Certificate Program. Biola University, La Mirada. n.d. Lecture.
3. Dyck, Drew. “Speaking to Modern Leavers.” Generation Ex-Christian, Moody Publishers, 2010, pp. 97
4. Kinnaman, David. “Shallow” You Lost Me. Baker Books, 2011. pp. 127
6. Dyck, Drew. “Speaking to Modern Leavers.” Generation Ex-Christian, Moody Publishers, 2010, pp. 101
Never Lose Sight by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.