Back when I first started this blog, I thought I should start a Twitter account (@IsJesusAlive) to share some of my writings. As I went along, I met a lot of other up-and-coming Christian apologist bloggers and YouTubers. I also met a lot of skeptics. Some met me with hostility and derision, some were more thoughtful and challenged me on my Christian claims.
One of the smarter and more thoughtful skeptics who was replying to apologists on Twitter was a guy who went by the handle Counter Apologia. He was a former seminary student that sadly lost his faith along the way while preparing for ministry. We had some friendly exchanges, and at times we were a pain in each other’s side! I was just one of a good handful of Christians interacting with him.
But as time went on, Counter Apologia started to re-examine the Christian worldview, and this past January he announced that he was coming home to Christ.
As you could imagine, this sent shockwaves around social media among atheists and Christian apologists. He now has changed his moniker to Theologia Apologia (@TheoApologia) on Twitter and was kind enough to answer a few questions about his return to the faith.
Thanks for agreeing to do this. I think this will be a blessing to a lot of people for sure.
Thanks for the opportunity to share my story, Erik.
So it’s my understanding you lost your faith while you were in seminary. I think a lot of people might be interested in how your spiritual deconstruction happened, but I’m curious what led you to seminary in the first place. Did you sense a call to ministry?
I did. I felt that God was calling me to ministry, but I didn’t fully ground myself in the faith before I began my studies. I still sense a call to ministry, but I think one of the things that’s different this time around is that I’m not rushing into anything. It was hard for me to have intimacy with God when I was devoting a lot more time to reading and studying about the Bible for a class than I was to reading and studying the Bible devotionally, or when I wrote 10-page papers about a biblical theology of prayer while my personal prayer life was scarce. That’s not to say that seminary students aren’t seeking the Lord in those ways, but I struggled to do so because I was too busy trying to prove myself. I don’t feel that pressure anymore.
So while you were in seminary, what were some of the factors that caused you to question your faith?
I hadn’t been a follower of Christ for very long when I signed up for my first semester at a Christian university. So, here I am learning about textual criticism, hermeneutics, systematic theology, apologetics, and biblical scholarship, and I couldn’t find Nahum or Obadiah in my Bible. It was a recipe for disaster. My advice for young Christians thinking about a theological degree program is to think through what they believe and why they believe it.
Seminary only accelerated the problem. The seeker-sensitive churches I had attended weren’t dealing with the issues I was studying in seminary. I had never heard of many of the alleged problems with the Bible or the intellectual objections to the faith. I asked myself, “Why aren’t they discussing these issues?” I felt lied to. I became very bitter and disillusioned. It made me start looking at the answers that Christian gave through a lens of suspicion.
How did your immediate family or friends handle your deconversion?
This answer may surprise some of your readers. Many of my closest loved ones didn’t know that I had deconverted. They still don’t. Even though they’re mostly nominal Christians at best, I was less than transparent about what was going on behind the scenes. I suspect they knew something was amiss when I’d dodge questions about my ministry plans after graduation, but they probably didn’t press me on it because they knew I tend to be a private person.
As far as some of my Christian friends, I only told the ones who sought me out to have a conversation about my post-seminary plans or why they hadn’t seen me at church recently. So, some knew; some didn’t. Some that knew handled it well. Some that knew treat me like an outcast. Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t give up on the outcasts. Neither should we.
You were very active on social media and vocal about sharing your skepticism and criticism of Christianity as an atheist. There’s quite a community on Twitter of atheists out there. What is your take on the community as a whole?
As a whole, they’ve earned a reputation alongside Bernie Bros and cage-stage Calvinists as unpleasant, rude, arrogant, and shallow. We can talk about whether that’s fair, but I think that’s how they’re viewed by others outside their camp. Thankfully, you and I know atheists that are thoughtful and decent interlocutors that don’t fit that perception.
This may sound harsh, but the reason I bring it up is they often talk about the poor reputation of Christian apologists. Does anyone outside of the apologetics community and the atheists interested in countering their arguments really care about or have an opinion of Christian apologetics? I don’t think so. In fact, I’m sure most individuals don’t even know what Christian apologetics is. A lot of Christians are unfamiliar with the field.
They’re generally familiar with atheists on the internet. When it comes to pop culture, the perception of atheists on the internet is keyboard warriors taking digs at God as an imaginary friend or Santa for adults. I remember being in a local atheist group on Facebook where they were discussing why this perception exists. I hope the atheist community on Twitter asks themselves why that perception exists.
Certainly, as Christians, we should listen to constructive criticism and acknowledge when we fall short. There are plenty of examples of immature Christians behaving badly. I don’t want to give the impressions that there aren’t problems within the apologetics community. But my advice for our atheist friends would be to take the plank out of their eye before they point out the speck in ours.
You also encountered a lot of Christian apologists on social media. What is your experience with the apologist community, and what role, if any, in your coming back to Christ?
I found the Christian apologists who regurgitated Lee Strobel or William Lane Craig, and the typical canned responses they had memorized from popular evangelical apologetics websites, to be completely unhelpful. I smugly dismissed them as an atheist. That’s not a knock on apologetics websites or Strobel or Craig. They’re fine sources for finding answers to tough questions about the Christian faith. My point is that we should be ready to give a defense, but I think we should ask ourselves if the approach we’re using is helpful and winsome.
When I spoke with you and my friend Karsten Friske (@SomeApologist) privately on Twitter, you’d listen to my objections and had a real conversation with me. I didn’t feel as though you were flipping through your Christian apologetics manual to the section on the objection I was raised to give me an answer that been vetted by the apologetics community. By all means, use Reasonable Faith or other apologetics resources. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. But in my experience, the Christian apologists who were the most effective in reaching me were the ones who showed me they were real people who could have real conversations. Showing the individual that you actually care for them and their well-being is key. What does it matter if you’ve demonstrated your mastery of theology, philosophy, and apologetics, and you’ve technically won an argument but you lost the person in the process?
If you could give Christian apologists any advice, what would it be?
When you’re having a discussion with an atheist or skeptic, make sure you’re listening to understand rather than merely listening to respond. I think sometimes we’re so used to certain objections that when we start to hear them, we’re already looking for our canned answer. Especially if you’re dealing with an atheist or skeptic that has heard these answers before, it may not be helpful to give them an answer they’re already anticipating.
Listen to what’s behind the objection. If it’s the problem of evil, is there a reason this objection is so meaningful to them? Don’t miss an opportunity to succor and minister to their need because you’re rushing to your memorized Ravi Zacharias line.
Do you plan on sharing your journey in some kind of media format going forward? Do you still plan on pursuing ministry in your life?
That’s a really good question. As I said, I’m not rushing into anything right now. I had plans for a blog, but I decided to indefinitely postpone the project for now. It may be the case that a blog doesn’t happen at all. I’m exploring other options, such as a YouTube channel or podcast. My bachelor’s degree was in Church Ministries, so I’m considering other church and ministry opportunities down the road as well. If your readers want to keep up on where God leads me and future ministry plans, they can follow me on Twitter @TheoApologia.
See also TheoApologia’s interview with Adherent Apologetics.
Erik is a Reasonable Faith Chapter Director located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He’s a former freelance baseball writer and the co-owner of a vintage and handmade decor business with his wife, Dawn. He is passionate about the intersection of apologetics and evangelism.