Faith after High-Demand Church

Big question markHave you left a spiritually abusive group, only to find that now your faith in God is wavering? The most meaningful part of your life seems confused and shattered? You may feel like you aren't even a Christian anymore. It is very common for Christians to feel, after suffering spiritual abuse or betrayal, that they are angry with God, that he is distant and mean, that they are "allergic" to the very core elements of faith - the Bible and church. It normally takes 3 to 8 years to recover, even longer.

If you are worried about your spiritual state, you can hang onto these truths....

If spiritual issues are bothering you, it's a sign of spiritual life. If you weren't a child of God you wouldn't care that you are angry with him, that he seems so distant, and you feel so spiritually dead. Therefore--
--God still loves you, even if you're not sure you trust him anymore...
--And You still have the Holy Spirit. ---He hasn't left you, he is always there with you, he will see you through this.
--There is a big cosmic battle over your faith--the Adversary is actively trying to destroy it (remember Job). The mind and the will responding with even a feeble wiggle in the direction of God is huge.
--Salvation can't just be "lost", although you can uncaringly drift away, or intentionally walk away.
--It's okay, in fact it's a sign of recovery, to begin to desensitize yourself to triggers by exposing yourself to them in tiny little bits. Like just picking up a Bible--a different one--and holding it for a few moments.
--Be patient and stay hopeful that light will dawn in the darkness. It takes time to heal spiritual wounds, but God's intention is that you have the joy of your salvation.

• Does Faith Make Sense?
• Can the Bible Be Trusted?
• Why Does God Allow Tragedy & Evil?
• Apologetics Strengthens Faltering Faith
• Science & Faith
• Resources for Students
• Other Encouragements to faith

Does Faith Make Sense?

Jude 1:3 tells us to "contend earnestly for the faith." Paul used philosophical arguments, fulfilled prophecy, and especially the evidence for the resurrection to convince and persuade people of the truth of Christianity. The Assembly avoided this approach, for reasons that are explored elsewhere on this website, mainly because critical thinking was a danger to the system. 

Consequently, people who came to Christ through Assembly outreaches may be susceptible to attacks on the reasonableness of their faith. But to quote Brady Lenardos, "The fact is that the Christian position holds the high intellectual ground." Articles and resources in this section are mainly apologetic, to help buttress faith and to give those who seem to have lost given up on faith some things to chew over.

(The philosophical term "apologetics" is used a few times in this section. It comes from the Greek word "apologia" which means "to defend." For example, Socrates defended himself at the court of Athens in Plato’s "The Apology of Socrates.") 

Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, posts about his own doubts, and the factors that keep him still believing. A powerful article. In another post he responds to a blogger who has lost his Christian faith. Spencer isn't afraid of the hard questions and does not reply with irritating glib answers.

Dave Sable has a wise observation about faith and feelings.

Dr. Ken Samples presents Five Reasons God Exists on You Tube. Ken is founder and president of Augustine Fellowship Study Center, Instructor of Philosophy and Religion at Cerritos College (Cerritos, CA) and College of the Desert (CA), Director of Education at Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, and also serves on the editorial and communication staff at Reasons to Believe (Dr. Hugh Ross).

Why Should I Believe My Belief?, a dialogue by J. Budziszewski, argues for the reasonability of faith in a creator God. Budziszewski is a former atheist, former political radical, and former shipyard welder. Now a Yale Ph.D., he is a professor in the Government and Philosophy Departments at the University of Texas in Austin.

Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston University, presents a very strong argument for The Divinity of Christ: "When the first Christian apologists began to give a reason for the faith that was in them to unbelievers, the doctrine of Christ's divinity naturally came under attack, for it was almost as incredible to Gentiles as it was scandalous to Jews...The argument the early apologists used to defend this apparently indefensible doctrine has become a classic one. [It can be summarized] in the trilemma, 'Lord, liar, or lunatic?' Those are the only options."

Dr. Kreeft has also written on evidence for the resurrection of Christ: "We believe Christ's resurrection can be proved with at least as much certainty as any universally believed and well-documented event in ancient history. To prove this, we do not need to presuppose anything controversial (e.g. that miracles happen).

But the skeptic must also not presuppose anything (e.g. that they do not). We do not need to presuppose that the New Testament is infallible, or divinely inspired or even true. We do not need to presuppose that there really was an empty tomb or post-resurrection appearances, as recorded.

We need to presuppose only two things, both of which are hard data, empirical data, which no one denies: The existence of the New Testament texts as we have them, and the existence (but not necessarily the truth) of the Christian religion as we find it today." Read the article here

In his article The Psychology of Atheism, by Dr. Paul C. Vitz, presents the idea that a key element in the development of atheism is the perception that fathers, including God, are defective. He gives many biographical examples of how skepticism developed in well-known atheists that may resonate with many who've experienced spiritual betrayal. We have been bitterly betrayed by our "spiritual father," George Geftakys, and his leaders.  It makes sense if we now tend to distrust a "defective" Father God who did not protect us.

Understanding why one seems to be losing one's faith may be prerequisite to finding it again. Dr. Vitz, a professor of psychology at New York University, became an atheist in college. He presents an amusing and relevant account of why this happened.  He remained an atheist-skeptic until his late thirties, when he came back to faith, as he says, "...much to my surprise, in the very secular environment of academic psychology in New York City." Listen or download the audio of this presentation.

The philosopher Blaise Pascal formulated a famous argument for belief in the existence of God called "The Wager", which Dr. Samples discusses in this article, "The Wager: Gambling on God".

Here are some brief articles that are good reminders that the Christian faith is not unreasonable.

Dr. Hugh Ross presents scholarly, in-depth evidence supporting the rationality of faith in God in Design Evidences in the Cosmos. Elsewhere he says, "The more astronomers learn about the origin and development of the universe, the more evidence they accumulate for the God of the Bible.

"Ironically, those who fought hardest against God as the explanation for the cosmos often were the ones whose work provided the most powerful new evidence for Him. Today, with the measuring of the creation has come the scientific equipment to make a positive identification of the Creator.

"Though not many who write about these new measurements acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, they typically confess that the only explanation for the universe we observe is the action of an entity beyond the space-time continuum of the universe who/that is capable of design and of carrying out that design.

"All they typically lack is the theological knowledge or the courage to recognize that in their confession they have testified of none other than the God of the Bible."

The Time Magazine cover story for the week of November 5, 2006, was a debate between atheist scientist Richard Dawkins, and Francis Collins, Christian head of the Human Genome Project.  

Dr. Anthony Flew is a legendary British philosopher and atheist, and has been an icon and champion for unbelievers for decades. His change of mind from atheist to theist was significant news in 2004, not only about his personal journey, but also about the persuasive power of the arguments modern theists have been using to challenge atheistic naturalism. He was interviewed by Gary Habermas in 2004. Listen or download a debate between Flew and Habermas on the Resurrection at Cal Poly SLO in 2003.

Can the Bible be trusted?

Why You Can Believe the Bible, an introduction to the issues, with many good links for further investigation.

Are the Biblical Documents Reliable? by James Williams, of Probe Ministries. Discusses the existing manuscripts, dating, procedures for establishing validity, the early church father's, etc.

The Historicity of the New Testament, chapter 5 from J. P. Moreland's book, Scaling the Secular City.

The wide popularity of The Da Vinci Code, and Dr. Bart Ehrman's book, Misquoting Jesus, fueled a wave of skepticism about Christianity and the validity of the Bible. This can feel either like an attack on your faith, or like welcome justification for withdrawing from God, depending on where you are with faith after the Assembly. There are good arguments against the ideas proposed by Dan Brown and Bart Ehrman. Dr. Erhman and Dr. William Lane Craig debated the topic, "Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?" in 2006. Michael Spencer comments on the debate, "It’s impressive in many ways: scope, depth, congeniality, candor and readability." The text of the debate is here.

Misanalyzing Text Criticism--Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus--Dr. Ben Witherington comments on Ehrman's book and quotes comments by Dr. Dan Wallace. Both these men are scholarly peers of Erhman, well qualified to critique his work.

Dr. Wallace is Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and senior editor of the NET Bible. Wikipedia says, "Wallace is considered an authority on textual criticism among evangelical scholars." Dr. Witherington is  Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary and an elected member of the prestigious SNTS, a society dedicated to New Testament studies. He has taught at Vanderbilt University, Duke Divinity School and Gordon-Conwell.

Misquoting_JesusBen Witherington has a post on Bart Ehrman’s book, Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the hidden contradictions in the Bible (and why we didn’t know about them). Dr. Witherington approaches it on a scholarly level, eschewing any fundamentalistic emotional rant on inerrancy. He deftly teases out the weaknesses in Ehrman’s arguments and brings the conversation around to the big picture of the reliability of the Bible as we have it. Thought-provoking reading for those who would like to dismiss Christianity after a devastating church experience.

The Da Vinci Code: The Facts Behind the Fiction covers Primetime's special on Elizabeth Vargas' investigation into the claims made in The Da Vinci Code.

In The "Gospel of Judas": National Geographic attacks Christianity with biased research, Rich Deem points out false statements regarding authorship, dating of the document, etc., based on a pro-gnostic bias. The content of the artifact itself clearly states who wrote it (not Judas), and its explicit purpose - to counter Christian beliefs with polytheistic Gnostic mythology.

Why Does God Allow Evil and Tragedy?

Michael Spencer posts on The Ecclesiastes Attitude, pondering "the mixture of causation" of events in our lives, and noting that God's purposes seem more often to be in our mistakes and their consequences than in our successes.

Book cover Peter Kreeft gives the bottom line to Making Sense of Suffering with the incisiveness of a Christian philosopher. This article is an excerpt from chapter seven of his book.

Does God care about us if he allows tragedies to happen? The question, "Why?" is one that probably everyone who has left the Assemblies has struggled with. M. Irons offers one perspective.

Steve Saint, who lost his missionary father to the poisoned arrows of the Waorani Indians when he was five years old, tells how he found an answer to his lifelong questions, "Did my dad have to die? Couldn't there have been another way?"

Misty Irons blogged on Dec 21, 2006 on the difficult question of suffering and evil. A worthwhile read! Misty holds a B. A. in Asian studies from UCLA, and an M. A. in Christian education from Westminster Theological Seminary.

Gregory Koukl had a scholarly and in-depth article,  A Good Reason for Evil.

Ravi Zacharias responded to the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech shootings.

Apologetics Strengthen Faltering Faith.

Book cover Without a Doubt, by Kenneth R. Samples. A great little resource to bolster wavering faith. "One of the unique aspects of Christianity is that it stands up to honest intellectual scrutiny...Without a Doubt covers questions on everything from the doctrine of the incarnation to religious pluralism, from evolution to moral relativism, with rational answers for even the most stubborn skeptic." Samples also has a blog post on "The Historic Alignment of Christianity and Science."

Stand To Reason - The internet extension of the radio ministry of Greg Koukl, a ministry dedicated to equipping Christians to rationally engage others about the truths of Christianity.

DVD cover The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel. The Case for Faith is also excellent. The subtitle is "A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity".

The Ultimate Christian Apologetics Website - G. Brady Lenardos and many others.

Ankerberg Theological Research Institute - Apologetic articles from many different perspectives. Site is difficult to navigate, but worth it.

Science & Faith

Reasons to Believe: Providing Powerful New Reasons from Science to Believe in Christ  - Website of Dr. Hugh Ross's premier science-faith think tank. Multimedia, articles, scientific papers links and more. Tom Maddux volunteers for RTB.

The God and Science site is recommended by Tom Maddux. Sections on "Answers for Atheists", "Design vs. Evolution", "Biblical Creation", Biblical Authenticity", slides, discussion forum and more. Dr. Rich Deem, who runs the site, is a molecular biologist doing immunology research at Cedars-Sinai Hospital.

DVD cover The Language of God - A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, by Dr. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project. Available in print and audio. "The experience of sequencing the human genome, and uncovering this most remarkable of all texts, was both a stunning scientific achievement and an occasion of worship." Here is a review of the book by J. W. Haas, professor of chemistry at Gordon College.

DVD cover Journey Toward Creation - DVD. "Explore the astronomical evidence for a universe that is meticulously fine tuned for the benefit of human life. Astronomer Hugh Ross whisks viewers through the solar system, past stars, galaxies and quasars--all the way back to the moment when light first sprang from the darkness." This is awesome.

DVD cover The Privileged Planet - DVD. "The more we learn about single-cell creatures (as demonstrated in "Unlocking the Mystery of Life,"), the more obvious it seems that our universe is intentionally designed. The same is true when go into the opposite direction. Though the universe is vast beyond imagination, "The Privileged Planet" argues that the earth is unique indeed. The many conditions necessary for life converge on the earth, something unlikely to occur anywhere else."

DVD cover Unlocking the Mystery of Life - DVD. "No one looking at a rotary motor says, 'Wonderful little accident here.' What if scientists discovered a 'rotary motor' inside a human cell? See some of the surprises that awaited researchers when high-tech instruments gave them a close-up view of the cell's intricate inner workings." This excellently produced account goes well with Dr. Collins' book, The Language of God.

Resources for Students

Probe Ministries - Mainly geared to college students from the perspective of integrating faith and learning. Huge library, many apologetics articles. - Developed by Campus Crusade for Christ. Offers personal responses to email questions about God.

Summit Ministries - Conducts conferences for students, as well as adults, and provides a complete range of homeschool curricula. Part of their mission statement includes presenting Christianity as "an intelligent and defensible position in the market place of ideas". Dr. JP Moreland is on their staff.

"Boundless Webzine - Has many fine articles by Dr. J. P. Moreland, Professor of Philosophy at Talbot Theological Seminary.

Other encouragements to Faith

Kirk C., formerly of the San Luis Obispo Assembly, wrote The Beach of Glass, a short but encouraging meditation on Joel 2:25, "I will restore to you the years the cankerworm has eaten."

Bono, lead singer for U2, wrote the introduction to a British edition of the Psalms in 1999. It's encouraging to see a bit of the background of his faith and his quite literate expression of it.

On Faith's Crumbling Edge: Restoring the Uprooted Assurance of the Ordinary Christian is an essay from the Internet Monk archives. It's good medicine for those who find themselves devoid of the zeal and intense faith they once had, and now may even doubt their salvation.

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Comments from Readers

October 25, 2008, A thinking reader:  "Does God want to exist or does God have to exist even against His will? I am thinking God can't have wanted to exist because since God has no beginning God can't have wished God into existence, so then God just has to exist whether God would wish to or not. If God has no end or beginning, then God presumably can't destroy God, but if that is the case would it not be incorrect to call God omnipotent?"

Ed.: The question you are asking is similar to another one that had been posed by skeptics - Can God create a rock so heavy He can't lift it? Here is a link about it. There are links on the page to other similar questions. Notice the recommendation at the bottom of the page: Knowing God, by J. I. Packer - very good book.

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