How Believers Become Unbelievers: A Review of Alec Ryrie’s Emotional History of Doubt

Deconstruction. That is the popular word used nowadays to talk about how certain Christians go through severe periods of doubt about their faith. Some recover from these periods of deconstruction, and continue on with a stronger, renewed faith. Others do not, either hoping to hang onto some sliver or strand of faith, couched within a progressivist view of Christianity, while others simply become agnostics, or even, perhaps, atheists.

It is a phenomenon that hits people ranging from Christian musicians to Bible scholars… I remember the terrible feeling I had, in the pit of my stomach, when I first read Bart Ehrman’s introduction to Misquoting Jesus, one of the first of his many New York Times bestsellers, where he chronicled his story of deconstruction, in the process of becoming a Bible scholar. The scary part was just how similar his story was to mine, at least initially. Ehrman had grown up in a mainline Episcopal Church, with a pretty nominal Christian upbringing, until he got involved with a vibrant evangelical youth ministry, where he describes himself as becoming a “born-again” Christian, in high school.  However, I went off to a secular college, and was strengthened in my faith through my college Christian fellowship. In contrast, shortly after Erhman’s “born-again” experience, Ehrman was drawn into a very “fundamentalist” type of Christian faith, that propelled him towards attending Moody Bible Institute, and then to transfer to Wheaton College.

Wheaton was a more “sophisticated” brand of evangelical Christianity back then, as compared to Moody, but Ehrman was still deeply steeped in a rather rigid form of Christian belief. It was only during his years in graduate school, at Princeton Seminary, when the wheels fell off of his faith. He first lost confidence in the inerrancy of Scripture, but finally became disillusioned with the Christian answer to the problem of evil and suffering. How was it that a person with such a classically evangelical pedigree, having been educated at some of the best and well known conservative Christian institutions of higher learning, end up throwing away his faith in God? Today, Bart Ehrman is perhaps the world’s most recognizable skeptic of Christianity, having a rather large Internet following, who enjoys a highly visible presence on YouTube. I have personally experienced a number of seasons of doubt, in my own Christian walk, but nothing to the extent to which Ehrman himself went through. Sadly, stories like Ehrman’s have become more frequent in the age of the Internet.

Pastor Joshua Ryan Butler argues that there are four main causes behind deconstruction: (1) hurt experienced in the church, (2) poor Bible teaching, (3) a desire to sin, and (4) street cred; that is, it has become hip these days to doubt. As compared to previous generations, it seems like the propensity towards doubting Christianity has been on the rise. As a blogger writing for an apologetics blog, I still believe that the Christian faith still offers the best explanation for reality. I am confident that not all seasons of deconstruction lead to a completely unraveled faith. Nevertheless, I am still left with the question: What are the historical roots behind deconstruction in our post-modern world? A deeply thoughtful book by Alec Ryrie has been written in an attempt to probe this question for answers.

An Emotional History of Doubt

Alec Ryrie’s Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt comes as an aid to help one understand why it is that those from certain Christian backgrounds go through periods of deconstruction. Ryrie, a professor of Christian history at Durham University in the U.K., and an expert in the history of the Protestant Reformation, analyzes how societies that were once overwhelmingly Christian, at the start of the Protestant Reformation, became so secular. Charles Taylor, the Roman Catholic and Canadian philosopher, and author of the monumental, The Secular Age, wondered why “it was virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but inescapable?

Ryrie tackles Taylor’s question by providing his own answer. Doubts that lead to atheism are not first prompted by philosophical inquiry, as many believe. Instead, intense periods of doubting are first triggered by emotions born of anxiety, buoyed by changing cultural trends. A reorientation of someone’s moral framework can easily lead to the sentiment of anger, where such feelings are often directed against those in religious authority. The abandonment of time-honored traditions only amplifies the problem. In response, more radically-oriented, liberal Protestants have recast Christian theology in terms of ethics, which ironically has only made the problem worse. The rapid decline of mainline liberal Protestant Christianity provides evidence that this trend tends towards promoting secularism, thus demonstrating the difficulty in sustaining such a revisionist understanding of faith across multiple generations.

I would add that going to an extreme in the opposite direction, from liberal Protestantism, also exacerbates the problem. Certain forms of Christian fundamentalism, in responding to our age of anger and anxiety, end up seeking to double-down on certain theological commitments, as a means of safeguarding theological certainty. But in doing so, the apologetic complexities and strenuous efforts required to sustain such theological commitments become so unwieldy, that they can create a type of emotional exhaustion, all of its own. Once one reaches a certain threshold of that exhaustion, the floodgates of doubt are let loose. Like pulling a loose thread on a sweater, faith begins to completely unravel.

Ryrie makes a case for an emotional history of doubt, as opposed to the typical intellectual history of doubt, as told by many skeptics themselves (think of Edward Gibbon’s 18th century classic apologetic for modernistic skepticism, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire). Ryrie’s argument parallels the theme of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, reviewed here on Veracity, which posits that human beings are moved primarily by intuitions, and only secondarily moved by evidence-based argumentation.

 

Historical Factors Behind the Deconstruction of Christian Faith

Ryrie locates the beginning of the cultural acceptance of atheism, not at the start of the Protestant Reformation, but during the medieval period.  In other words, the seed for the post-modern trend for rejecting Christian faith was planted during the Middle Ages, as the state church started to become crippled by corruption from within, as book reviewer Andrew Wilson observed.

Ryrie’s thesis goes on to indict the Protestant movement for adding fuel to the fire in enabling atheism to grow and flourish in the West, as summarized in Graham Hillard’s review of the book in The National Review. What resonated with me the most in Unbelievers is just how much the variety of conflicting opinions given by religious authorities, in how to interpret the Bible, feeds into skepticism about the Bible itself. Christian group “A” believes that the Bible teaches doctrine “X”, while Christian group “B” believes the Bible teaches doctrine “Y”, which flatly contradicts doctrine “X”. Sadly, this state of affairs has all been done in the name of upholding the Protestant claim of “sola Scriptura;” that is, believing that the Bible, and the Bible alone, teaches authoritative truth.

Ryrie devotes most of his writing to telling stories of how the deconstruction of Christian faith impacted uncertain believers, between the age of Martin Luther in the early 16th century and the beginnings of historical criticism associated with Baruch Spinoza in the 1670s. It was very insightful to learn that such explorations of doubt rarely had much to do with the so-called contemporary conflict between the Bible and science. Instead, deconstruction before the modern era was driven more by anxiety about the instability of one’s personal theological beliefs, and anger at established church authorities for failing to guide and unite believers. As it has been often repeated, “division in the church leads to atheism in the world.” As a book reviewer for the Wall Street Journal, Jeffery Collins, put it, “It wasn’t the books of Hobbes and Spinoza that shook the faith of the people. Rather, the people’s weakening religious certainty cleared the ground for godless philosophers.”

The connection between anger and deconstruction suggests a way of understanding why unbelief has proliferated so much in modern and post-modern periods. Evangelical Christianity enjoyed its greatest hegemony in the United States up until the eve of the Civil War. While some Christians believe that it was the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 that prompted the decline of this hegemony, I would argue instead that it was the moral outrage behind the Civil War that sparked this movement towards skepticism. The failure of evangelical Christianity to address the moral problem of slavery, without triggering a bloody Civil War, only increased anger towards historically orthodox Christianity. We see this also in the decline of Christianity in 20th century Europe, in the wake of two world wars primarily fought on European soil, where religion was used as a justification for the perpetuation of violent atrocities. I would then continue to make the case that moral outrage over the perceived inability of Christianity to ward off the evils of racism, misogyny, hatred towards sexual minorities, and exclusivism (think of the doctrine of hell and divine judgment) fuels the move towards deconstruction in 21st century America. In my conversations with critics of Christian faith, it is the anger towards the perceived lack of an adequate moral vision in Christianity that triggers the process of personal deconstruction more than anything else.

In the last chapter of Unbelievers, Ryrie offers two insights that helps to describe why unbelief has risen so much in the West, particularly since the end of World War 2. First, Ryrie observes that the phenomena of “Jesus Mythicism,” the belief that Jesus never existed, owes itself less to rigorous historical inquiry, and more to the claim that Christianity has lost the moral high ground. Napoleon himself denied the existence of Jesus on several occasions, but Ryrie identifies Napoleon’s reasoning here as based on Napoleon’s resentment towards the “moral authority of a dead Galilean peasant” (p. 196). Secondly, Ryrie argues that the positive moral authority of Jesus, in the modern age, has been superseded by the negative moral authority of Adolf Hitler, as Nazism has largely replaced Satan and all of his minions as being the ultimate expression of the demonic. Ryrie’s conclusion is that the trend towards unbelief will continue, but that at the same time, unbelief will not dominate, as both the believer and unbeliever ironically have an equally vested interest in the future of the Christian faith.

Anger and Anxiety: Unbelief Is Not Just about Questions of the Intellect

Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt is an invitation to skeptics to consider how much the emotional dimension of doubt will often supersede the intellectual dimension. With that in mind, Alec Ryrie’s efforts here are less about persuasion, and more about encouraging self-reflection. In other words, rational argumentation rarely works to convince someone out of unbelief. Likewise, for believers undergoing periods of doubt, it is worth considering the role intuitions play in instilling anxiety about faith, as opposed to purely evidenced-based logic.

Personally, I am glad I read Tom Holland’s Dominion last year, before reading Ryrie’s Unbelievers, as Holland successfully argues that even for those disenchanted with Christian belief, the thought streams of a Christian worldview are deeply embedded in Western culture. It is simply in the water that we drink and the air that we breath. In other words, the truth claims of the Gospel of Jesus will continue to haunt the skeptic, even if one accepts atheism. The influence of Jesus of Nazareth is simply unescapable.

In my own spiritual journey, I have experienced extended periods of doubt, but I always find myself sensing that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is that “Hound of Heaven,” who never stops pursuing me, and who will not let me go. Nevertheless, both Christians wrestling with their own faith journey, along with agnostics and atheists, will find Unbelievers to be a helpful tool to process how developments within culture impact personal experiences of doubt in today’s world.

Alec Ryrie offers the following lecture based on the content of his book.


Did the Apostle Peter Really Write 2 Peter?

Here is a thorny question that Christians seldom consider, but it is pretty important: How do we know if the Apostle Peter actually wrote 2 Peter? Let us take a deep dive into exploring the answer.

Christians have long believed that there is an authoritative New Testament “canon”, or rule, by which the teachings of the church can be measured. Protestant scholars speak of the “self-authenticating” nature of Scripture, and Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox scholars speak of the magisterial authority of popes and bishops that have received the twenty-seven books that we have in our New Testament canon.

However, many Christians wrongly assume that the table of contents in their Bibles were somehow dropped down out of heaven, like the tablets of Moses at Mount Sinai. Rather, the development of the New Testament canon was a process that happened over many decades during the history of the early church. The 2nd century heretic, Marcion, had first developed his own list of authoritative New Testament books, but others in the church believed that Marcion’s list was far too restrictive. Others proposed that certain popular books read in church could be included within the New Testament canon, but doubts arose as some questioned the apostolic authenticity of those certain books. It was not until the last quarter of the 4th century C.E. when the church across the Roman empire finally received our list of twenty-seven books.

How then was a book received into the New Testament canon? Generally, a New Testament book needed to conform to the “rule of faith,” a common body of teaching that could be traced back to the early apostles of the Christian movement. Furthermore, a New Testament book must have been authored by one of those early apostles, or someone who moved within that early circle of apostles.

This document, Papyrus Bodmer VIII, is considered to be the oldest copy of 2 Peter we possess. It is dated to the 3rd or 4th century. Scholars are divided as to the date the original manuscript for 2 Peter was written…along with actual identity of its author. (credit: Wikipedia)

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Founding Brothers, by Joseph Ellis. A Short Review

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, associated with turkey, stuffing, football, and time with family and friends. This year for me, it is also a time to remember some American history about the founding of the republic.

Joseph Ellis’ Founding Brothers is a Pultizer Prize winning book detailing some of the more important incidents in the founding years of America. Ellis relates to the reader several stories that show how men like Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and others all worked together to form the American experiment. Sometimes those efforts were in harmony with one another, at other times, not so much. Such tales include the infamous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, and the story of how George Washington issued his famous “Farewell” address after serving as America’s first president.

I normally review books that have theologically-minded content, whereas Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation is mostly political history. But theological potent topics are not avoided by Ellis. The story of how the debate over slavery nearly divided the early American republic is carefully handled by Ellis, as appeals to the Bible were part of that contentious debate. That “revolutionary generation,” from Adams to Jefferson, was not able to resolve the issue, and they essentially agreed not to talk about it, preferring that the next generation handle the matter.

Ellis’ insights into the “founding brothers” reveals a wide-breadth of research. For example, I gained a better understanding as to how Thomas Paine, the author of the American Revolution’s most popular pamphlet, loaded with arguments from the Bible, Common Sense, became increasingly unpopular as a political critic. When Washington announced that he would no longer serve as president, due to failing health, Paine caustically wrote a newspaper article asking if Washington had become a traitor to the cause of the Revolution. Paine also prayed for the President’s imminent death! Wow. This little nugget of information helps to explain why Paine had the boldness to wage a full-scale attack against historically orthodox Christian faith, with his book promoting Deism, The Age of Reason.

George Washington has been remembered as someone who was “untouchable,” but the division between Washington and Paine illustrate the beginnings of partisanship that still plague our 2-party political system today, Washington being on the more “conservative” side and Paine on the more “liberal” side.

My favorite part of Founding Brothers was Ellis’ description of the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, during the early years of the American experiment. Adams and Jefferson, who eerily died the same day, exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, were originally close friends during the Revolutionary War period. But their friendship broke apart when Adams served as President and Jefferson served as Vice President. It would take close to a decade before their friendship would begin to mend, through a series of letters shared back and forth between the two men, in the waning years of their lives.

My biggest take away from Founding Brothers was in realizing just how much these “founding brothers” had in common. Though very few of them would have considered themselves as fully embracing an historically orthodox commitment to the Christian faith, they nearly all largely held to a common Judeo-Christian worldview, with respect to the importance of public virtue and in sharing similar moral values. For example, while both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson viewed the Christian notion of the afterlife as being nothing more than a metaphor, both men embraced the moral teachings found within the New Testament as being foundational for the success of American democracy. It is difficult to imagine how the American experiment could ever be successfully re-created in our day, when so many fundamental assumptions linked between Western culture and Christianity are under contention, in popular discourse.

If you like learning about the history of the “Revolutionary Generation” you will enjoy Joseph Ellis’ Founding Brothers.


Still Time to Care: Moving from Cure to Care for Those with Unwanted Same-Sex Attraction

When did Christians move from an ethic of care to an ethic of cure of unwanted, same-sex attraction persons? And what can Christians do to move back towards an ethic of care?

These are the central questions addressed in pastor Greg Johnson’s Still Time to Care: What We Can Learn from the Church’s Failed Attempt to Cure HomosexualityBefore the aftermath of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, talk about “homosexuality” was largely a taboo subject. But in Johnson’s book, he chronicles numerous anecdotes of Christian leaders caring for persons who experience unwanted, same-sex attraction, in those years.

 

How Christians A Few Decades Ago Cared For Same-Sex Attracted Persons

One of C.S. Lewis’ childhood friends, Arthur Greeves, would have then probably classified himself as a “homosexual.” Lewis, perhaps the most well-known English speaking Christian apologist of all time, greatly treasured his friendship with Greeves, above all others. When Lewis became a believer in Jesus, Lewis first entrusted his story of conversion to Christianity with Greeves. Even though Lewis fully supported the Bible’s teaching on sexuality, and Greeves never experienced a change in his sexual orientation, Lewis never wavered in his friendship with Arthur Greeves.

When Francis Schaeffer first entertained guests at L’Abri in the 1950s, many seekers of truth who struggled with unwanted same-sex attraction were welcomed at the famous Swiss Christian study center. Schaeffer’s focus was on engaging seekers with their larger faith questions, as opposed to singling out issues regarding sexuality. When a high-profile member of President Lyndon Johnson’s administration was outed out of the closet as being a homosexual, Reverend Billy Graham urged Johnson to have compassion on the man as a human being, as opposed to categorically rejecting him out of condemnation.

These are all examples that author Greg Johnson has in his book of Christian leaders, who while upholding the biblical teaching that reserves marriage as being between one man and one woman for one lifetime, nevertheless modeled how other Christians can serve others by choosing to care for those who experience unwanted same-sex attraction.

This all seemed to change by the late 1970s, when such efforts to care for others were replaced by efforts to cure homosexuality, by offering the promise to make homosexuals into becoming heterosexual.  The so-called “Ex-Gay” movement was born.

 

How the “Ex-Gay” Movement Changed the Popular Narrative for Christians… and How It Eventually Failed

At the head of the “Ex-Gay” movement was Exodus International, an umbrella organization encompassing many smaller ministries that sent the message that “change is possible,” suggesting that certain techniques could be followed that could change someone’s sexual orientation. Exodus International was dissolved in 2013, when its then president, Alan Chambers, publicly stated that Exodus had oversold its claim that “change is possible.”

What led to the rise and then ultimate fall of Exodus International? As the story unfolds in Still Time to Care, groups like Exodus International were using reparative therapy (what others call conversion therapy) to try to change someone’s sexual orientation. Reparative therapy is based on a controversial application of Freudian psychology, based on the assumption that homosexuality is a correctable mental health ailment. In 2012 however, Chambers had declared, after years of Exodus trying to use reparative therapy, that “the majority of people that I have met, and I would say the majority meaning 99.9% of them, have not experienced a change in their orientation.” Popular media outlets, like with Netflix’ 2021 documentary Pray Away, features interviews with other former Exodus leaders coming to the same conclusion as Chambers (Unfamiliar with the documentary? Preston Sprinkle interviews Tony Scarcello about it on YouTube).

Author Greg Johnson uses the analogy of a “Potemkin Village” to describe what Exodus had tried and failed to achieve. In 1787, Grigory Potemkin was a provincial political authority in Crimea and a love interest in the Russian Empress, Catherine the Great. When Catherine the Great toured Crimea via boat along the Dnieper River, Potemkin sought to impress the Empress by dressing up peasants as wealthy merchants and setting up temporary village facades alongside the riverbanks, giving the illusion that the area was experiencing prosperity, despite the actual desperate poverty of the region. Once Catherine’s entourage left one of these temporary villages, Potemkin had his hired peasants breakdown the village facades and move them down the river ahead of Catherine, and then reassemble the same village in another location, in an effort to continue to impress Catherine as she resumed her river tour.

Exodus International, collaborating with other ministries like James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, had for years paraded individuals at fund-raising events and conferences as examples of those whose orientation had changed from gay to straight. In many if not most of these cases, those same individuals would later renounce their “conversions” as yet mere facades, repeated examples of a Potemkin Village. Tragically, Johnson also documents other former Exodus leaders who committed suicide, to further hide the shame of such facade conversions to heterosexuality.

The meteoric rise and fall of many Exodus leaders and the rebound effect throughout the larger culture has been nothing short of spectacular, particularly over the last decade. For example, when President Obama first took office in 2009, he was publicly committed to honoring traditional marriage as being between one man and one woman. But by the end of Obama’s second term, the broader cultural views about marriage had dramatically shifted, along with the President’s. Prohibitions against same-sex marriage, at the federal level, were declared unconstitutional. The language of “LGBTQ” was no longer a taboo in polite, civil conversation, becoming an accepted dimension of post-modern culture. All of this happened during those waning years of Exodus International’s dissolution.

Estimates vary, but Johnson notes that about 700,000 persons over a near 50 year period went through some sort of reparative therapy. Various studies over that period indicate that despite recorded claims of high-success rates, the actual success rate for changing one’s sexual orientation has been extremely low, perhaps as low as 2%. That means that some 98% of those 700,000 persons have walked away from reparative therapy with an extremely disillusioned, if not outright angry attitude towards the “Ex-Gay” movement.

 

Changing the Emphasis From “Becoming Heterosexual” to “Becoming Holy”

Pastor Greg Johnson laments the once well-intended yet ultimate failure of reparative therapy organizations. But he is hopeful that Christians can and are returning to an ethic of care, as opposed to an ethic of cure. The goal for ministry with those who experience unwanted sexual attraction should not be to try to “pray the gay away,” and convert someone from being a homosexual to becoming heterosexual. Rather, the emphasis should be on becoming holy.

What makes Still Time to Care so invaluable a resource is that pastor Greg Johnson himself is one of those persons who experiences unwanted same-sex attraction. However, instead of following the cultural trend affirming same-sex marriage, Johnson still believes in the traditional, Christian sexual ethic of marriage being between a man and a woman, for a lifetime. For those like Johnson, this might mean a life of celibacy, surrounded by supportive friends. For others, it might mean living in a mixed-orientation marriage, where one spouse is heterosexual and the other is not.

Johnson believes that even those like himself can flourish as Christians and human beings, while seeking to mortify the flesh against the spiritually devastating effects of sin, and by resisting temptation. However, the key to doing this is by being apart of Christian communities that offer emotional and spiritual support along that journey towards sanctification and holiness. In other words, one can live without sex but you can not live without friends.

While many churches wrestle with the wider cultural trends to affirm same-sex marriage, and entire denominations are splitting over the issue, Still Time to Care offers a vision for historically, orthodox Christians to return to an ethic of care, inviting people to share their stories and be a part of authentic Christian community.

Greg Johnson’s Still Time to Care offers a history of how the “Ex-Gay” movement created a Potemkin Village for almost 50 years, a great facade to look at, but not much really behind it.

Sadly, too many Christians still get hung up over terminology. Granted, most sensitive thinkers tend to shy away from terminology like “homosexual,” as that term sounds too clinical and impersonal. However, when it comes to historically orthodox-minded believers in the midst of the struggle, should such persons be called “celibate gay Christians,” “single gay Christians,” or “Christians who experience same-sex attraction?”

There are some who argue that any of the above language is somehow still a concession to worldliness, and therefore inappropriate for Christians to use about themselves. Thankfully, there are newer Christian ministries, like Revoice, that are trying to help Christians move past such debates over terminology and towards providing supportive communities for believers at all stages along the journey. Greg Johnson’s message is hopeful: Yes, there is still time to care!

 

Moving From a “Sexual Prosperity Gospel” to a Gospel of Care

Lest someone think that books like Still Time to Care represent some type of “trojan horse,” a harmful ideology being injected subversively into the church, one should note that Greg Johnson includes a whole chapter carefully dismantling the revisionist arguments presented by those like Western Seminary’s James Brownson, in his Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships, and Karen Keen’s Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships. For example, Brownson borrows from William Webb’s “redemptive-movement hermeneutic” argument to make his case for same-sex marriage. Keen states in her book “The biblical authors don’t write about the morality of consensual same-sex relationships as we know them today…. To say that the biblical authors object to prostitution or pederasty is not to say that the authors object to monogamous, covenanted relationships.”  Sadly, a wide range of evangelicals, including former Christianity Today editor David Neff, author Tony Campolo, the late Rachel Held Evans, and MOPS speaker Jen Hatmaker have embraced such revisionist arguments, thus undermining an historically orthodox sexual ethic. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book.  (See this short essay by Johnson summarizing his critique of this form of revisionism).

Christians, who desire to uphold the historic Scriptural teaching on marriage, may still find themselves at a loss in terms of how to care for persons, experiencing such sexual attractions, who either embrace revisionist views on Christian marriage, or who reject Christianity outright. The old Christian adage of “loving the sinner, and yet hating the sin,” can ring very hollow in the ears of those disillusioned by the unthoughtful efforts of Christians to try to change them. However, one can still have a positive relationship with someone else, even if there is no agreement on the definition of marriage. Learning to care about others does not necessarily entail having perfect agreement on these matters. Rather, caring does require learning how to listen to others, and empathizing with their story.

Is change still possible, for altering someone’s same-sex orientation? I would not want to preclude the idea that God performs miracles (I believe God does), but we must very careful here: My conclusion from reading Still Time to Care is that yes, it might be possible, but not likely. That might sound pessimistic, but it is better to be realistic than misleading people with a false hope, however well-intentioned it is. We can not try to “force God’s hand” to do something which does not appear to be within his sovereign plan and purpose. Furthermore, even if some do claim a radical transformation, in terms of sexual orientation change, it is wholly inappropriate to promise that everyone will have such an experience.

Just as the “prosperity gospel” offers a false hope that any and everyone who follows Jesus will have the best health, the best career, the best automobile, and the best marriage, and so on, so it is with a “sexual prosperity gospel” associated with the “Ex-Gay” movement, that promises that following some religious formula will automatically lead to a sexual orientation change. An inappropriate emphasis on seeking after such change can be a setup for future failure, in a person’s walk with Jesus.

Though some still cling to the optimistic aspirations of the “Ex-Gay” movement, focusing on sexual orientation change, like Andrew Comiskey’s Desert Stream Ministries, Andrew Rodriguez’ PyschoBible, and Stephen Black’s First Stone Ministries, and others affiliated with the Restored Hope Network, the personal failures left in the wake of Exodus International’s demise have left a negative taste in the mouth of thousands and thousands of people, a tragic situation which is difficult to ignore. Admittedly, even those in the Restored Hope Network are shying away from reparative therapy these days, while still pursuing other possible avenues for change. The sad tales that Still Time to Care documents continues to serve as warnings for us all.

On the other hand, efforts like pastor Greg Johnson to promote care, as opposed to cure, are welcomed by those disillusioned with the “Ex-Gay” movement. A renewed emphasis on listening, community, and encouraging friendships is deeply needed, particularly as hostility towards historically orthodox Christians views on marriage increase in our culture. We need a new generation of C.S. Lewis’, Francis Schaeffer’s, and Billy Graham’s who can demonstrate what it really means to care for others in the name of Jesus.

Look here for more information about Greg Johnson’s book, Still Time to Care. I listened to the audio version of the book, but  the print and Kindle versions of the book should be released in December, 2021.

For more posts on this topic, please consider the following blog entries at Veracity:

Looking for more help if you struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction, or if someone you love has that struggle?

  • The Revoice Conference. Sponsors an annual conference where fellow Christians, who experience same-sex attraction, but who want to uphold the historic Christian ethic can find support.
  • The Center for Faith, Sexuality, and Gender. Directed by author and theologian Preston Sprinkle, the Center provides valuable resources for parents, individuals and churches, in the areas of sexuality and gender identity, with endorsements from trusted authors and leaders like Jackie Hill Perry, Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, and Karen Swallow Prior.

Halloween is Not Pagan

All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day, is upon us again, along with a plethora of social media stories about the supposed pagan origins of Halloween. A quick Google search gives you countless reports of Halloween originating from an Irish Celtic new year festival, Samhain, and being connected to ancient pagan worship practices. I remember first hearing this story given by a well-meaning local pastor who visited a Christian college fellowship back in the 1980s.

Admittedly, I can understand why many Christians today have serious misgivings about Halloween. As a high school teenager years ago, I was part of the problem. When I could hear young trick or treaters walking down our street, I would put my Pink Floyd Echoes album on my turntable, and crank up the speakers to scare the kids. Halloween has indeed become a time of mischief, and the glorification of the occult.

However, if you take a closer look at history, the development of these darker traditions and celebrations popularized by contemporary Wiccan and neopagan groups actually originated in a mishmash of superstitions and religious practices that have arisen since the 19th century, primarily here in America. Contrary to the popular idea that Christians “stole” Halloween from pagan cults, like the Druids, the real origin of Halloween goes back hundreds of years prior to today’s “trick or treating,” when Pope Gregory in the 9th century instigated the move of the Western date for All Saints Day from the springtime to November 1st. This had nothing to do with the Irish Celts. If anything, the Irish more probably picked up the November 1st date from the English, as the Irish were known for celebrating All Saints Day on April 20, which is actually closer to the Christian practice in the springtime, more common in the Christian East.

Christian apologist and YouTuber Michael Jones at Inspiring Philosophy has a helpful short video sorting out fact from fiction about Halloween. For a concise and highly educational article summarizing the same, I would recommend a new blog post by Tim O’Neill at HistoryForAtheists, who specializes in debunking bad history being promoted by atheists and other skeptics.

In the meantime, have a wonderful All Saints Day (and its eve), which might better be remembered as Reformation Day!


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