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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Another Former Evangelical Tells His Story

From time to time, I will post on my blog the stories (testimonies) of former evangelicals. Today, I present the story of Howard Pepper. I have known Howard for several years and highly respect him. Here is his story:

I'm new to this website and was fascinated by your story, Former Fundy, largely because it has so many similarities to mine. I can appreciate virtually everything you related. In the extent of our formal education and involvement in ministry/teaching, most of the other participants might not be able to grasp our experience, but I know many have come a similar path, and experienced the same basic things.

From that talk of "experience" I'll shift to the rational/analytical side of issues of faith. I was always fairly intellectual and very curious. Raised in a conservative Christian family and church, I was "saved" around six, and became a serious Bible student by 15 or so, began witnessing, etc. I went to Biola University here on the "left coast." Then on to Talbot School of Theology for an M.Div., and back to Biola for a MA in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling, which I practiced for 10 years. I was also heavily involved with apologetics, especially under Dr. Walter Martin for 4 years, leading his research and writing department for a year, after seminary. During that period, and after, I encountered nearly every kind of major challenge to Christianity. I thought they all had good answers at the time, and I doled them out.

We (Martin's Christian Research Inst.) were right down the street from Dr. John W. Montgomery, and Josh McDowell, a Talbot grad, came around on occasion. I conversed with Norm Geisler and a few other such notables during those years or prior, and so on. I say this to give you a flavor of my immersion and affiliations--my exposure to top level apologetics.

In retrospect, it's fair to say I became smug. And it would be many more years before I questioned anything at the core of Evangelical theology. You put your finger on what I consider the main reason very few with extensive education and involvement in the Evangelical/Fundamentalist world leave, despite doubts that often crop up--it's too hard to even let oneself question deeply, and too threatening to important relationships, one's own ego, etc., let alone having to deal with possible spiritual fears, which you mentioned--Satan's deception, being damned, etc.

Well, during years of practicing Christian-based counseling, I also went further into apologetics, teaching Francis Schaeffer and the Christian worldview as well as psychology from a Christian perspective. I was also still into biblical and theological studies, and decided I wanted to get a Ph.D., but from a school with a broader perspective. I got into Claremont School of Theology (progressive/Process Theology bastion of Methodism and liberal Protestantism). The program was "Theology and Personality [psychology] with Emphasis in Religious Education." It actually had a good number of conservative students in the Ph.D., as well as other programs, some even more conservative than I. I was there part-time for 4 years, finishing the coursework, but I got derailed and never finished the dissertation and exams.

It wasn't primarily the liberal exposure at Claremont that convinced me Evangelicalism had gotten critical things seriously wrong, but I know the experience helped open me. (It wan't till about a year after leaving that I became convinced, on rational, theological bases, that I needed a new brand of faith. For one, I realized that I had created caricatures (with a lot of help from things Evangelicals wrote and my profs and friends said) of liberals and "liberalism." They hardly resembled, at least at Claremont, what I'd come to expect. Rather, they tended to be consistent in applying "tolerance" (better put as inclusiveness, though with limits), being respectful of me and my views, as well as other conservatives. They were seemingly as devout and spiritually minded as Evangelicals. They liked to pray, worship, etc.

But their theology was clearly very different and they were comfortable in it, and excited. (None of which makes it right, of course--for the still-Evangelicals looking in.)

I'll cut the story short, but share a couple of the key points that finally convinced me I'd been perceiving and interpreting things poorly all those years.

First, it was largely theological. With enough exposure and reading, one does tend to realize the "differing interpretations" point you made is a critical tip-off. It indicates just what you emphasized, that there is little true clarity or "simplicity" in "The Gospel." The "faith once for all delivered..." is wishful thinking--a backwards extrapolation, and not identifiable in the NT. Objectively read, the NT authors are seen to differ significantly, many of them particularly out to defend their brand of orthodoxy, which is actually impossible to fully ascertain without creating a patchwork theology of many authors by "cutting and pasting" (and Jefferson is often ridiculed for an only slightly crasser form of the same).

As you imply, the only viable conclusion is Scripture (the OT as well) is a fascinating, profound, often inspirational human creation, but only that. I also systematically re-examined the supposed evidences for inspiration, Messianic prophecy (and others) being fulfilled, an historical basis for the resurrection, etc., etc., and realized how there was no real substance there, but rather, a strong base of tradition that is tough to see around, partly because it started being built up during and right after the writing of the NT. I came to see that "apostolic authority" in relation to NT books was merely an invention of the proto-orthodox not long after the completion of works that would be eventually canonized.

So a realization of there being no evidence for a Holy Spirit-guided process of recognition of authoritative books--NT or OT--was another key point. There was no reason to take a given book or set of books (e.g., the four Gospels), as uniquely revealed or inspired above other writings of the same periods. There were plenty of other writings, as well, though we have few early-enough copies to clearly establish
dating, just as for most of the NT books. I can't go into specifics here, but I continue to study Christian origins and NT scholarship, and the more I do, the stronger and stronger is the confirmation of the clear insights I began to get about the nature of scripture and the earliest Church, around 11 years ago. (Like you, I have more detail written up, & more yet to come, at

There are a lot more aspects of insights, historical and literary data (e.g., literary analysis and comparison of the NT w/ intertestamental Jewish works, Greek hero stories, Cynic philosophy, Philo, etc.), scientific and archeological data, etc. that went into my changing conclusions. It surely helped that knowledge of psychology, sociology, and anthropology, and even some theoretical physics and astronomy, made it easier for me than the typical Bible student to see that there were very good (not just get-by type) alternate explanations for all key elements of Christian dogma and related experience. That includes conversion experiences, Christian growth dynamics (not taking out, in my view, all spirit/Spirit elements), Christian origins, etc. I think I made sure every important category was covered before I was willing to conclude there was neither good evidence for nor any real need to hold to an Evangelical or "historic Christian faith" kind of theology.

Anyway, thanks, Former Fundy, for your courage and intellectual honesty in what you did years ago, and in sharing it with us. I know there are more like you "out there," but I encounter very few who share the kind of background with me that you do, and I hope we can collaborate more in the future.


  1. The first fact is that Pepper was heavily involved in apologetics. The second fact is that Pepper went to Claremont School of Theology where he reject the love of Jesus after hearing from the professors at that school.

    The history of his doubts are very clear from the beginning. I wonder what Pepper is not telling us about his moral struggle within.

    A person who knows the love of God would never turn away from the faith.

    The fact that Pepper never overcame the struggle with selfishness later resulting in swallowing the arguments made by liberal professors is not evidence that Christianity is not true.

    Pepper merely demonstrates that he rejected the love of God that is found in Christ Jesus after losing the battle between love and selfish desire.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. Thanks for the interesting post, Pepper! It's too bad you had to "cut the story short" - I'd like to hear the details. I Guess I'll have to head over to your blog...

    Ooo, and I know I'm not supposed to talk about it, but I have a theory about ZDENNY. I used to think that it is roughly twelve years old, because it writes so poorly and makes ad hominems and non-sequiturs galore. But I'm beginning to think that it is in fact an internet infidel posing as a Christian in order to fertilize our contempt for Fundies in general. Thoughts anyone? It? Can you read this?

  3. Interesting apology, Mr. Pepper.

    Even after 1 - 3 years of being directly taught by Jesus himself, the Apostles did not understand who Jesus was nor what exactly he was up to (The Gospels depict a Jesus often complaining about this himself and the disillusionment and desertion by the Apostles at the crucifixion as the Gospels plainly prove.)

    Facts prove too that Evangelicals can not get a Plan of Salvation out of the Synoptic Gospels (Hey, simply read some Gospels tracts), but at the same time, they have no problem getting salvation out of Romans (a letter written by a man who probably never saw nor heard the historical Jesus).

    New Testament facts also show that it is really in the Book of Acts and the letters of Paul that Christianity is given some form doctrinal bases; especially that the Jewish covenant with Yahweh is now open to pagan gentiles.

    Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity is kept alive by manipulation of data along with the strict limitation on, not only what courses can be taught at conservative Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries, but just who is allowed to teach.  Both these limitations ensure that any view of Christianity presented is to enforce only an artificial dogmatic and creedal stance which has more in common with fighting heresy than with objective historical truth.

    By limiting courses (Example:  Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic Text with that of the LXX, Targums (Aramaic / Syriac), cogent studies with first century Judaisms and their vast apocryphal religious texts) coupled with courses taught by professors who themselves were never exposed to the totality of the Christian tradition, conservative schools have subjectively created a Christian illusion that never existed.

    The theological views that are presented in Paul, especially his final systematic tractate called Romans, is now read over the Synoptic Gospels just as the theology of the New Testament is read over the Hebrew Bible.

    One is left with an artificial and a subjectively creedal Jesus and apostles preaching on main street and handing out salvation tracts; one not supported by reading the earliest Gospels accounts themselves, especially Mark.

  4. Good point, Harry.

    Suppose an ancient church had only the gospel of Matthew in its possession (which isn't hard to imagine). Do evangelicals think such a church would ever arrive at the deity of Christ, the trinity, salvation by grace through faith, penal substitution or the need for a supernatural regeneration? Those ideas hardly leap from the pages of the first gospel.

  5. Great points Steve. Thanks.

    Doctrinal Christianity needs “Sinful Man” to create an inspirited Bible while at the same time, “Sinful Man” denies this fact by invention of and the adhering to Original Sin and it brother, sinful depravity; thus a Catch 22 scenario.

    The historical development of Christianity proves that while Catholicism and it’s off shot of Protestantism (Baptists included here)accepted it, neither Judaism nor the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions EVER believed in this dogma.

    Like the so-called evangelical Plan of Salvation, scholars now know that the theology of Original Sin was injected into Christianity by Paul who got the idea out of reading Jewish apocryphal texts such as the Wisdom of Solomon.

  6. Harry, thanks for your comments. I especially agree with the following: Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity is kept alive by manipulation of data along with the strict limitation on, not only what courses can be taught at conservative Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries, but just who is allowed to teach. Both these limitations ensure that any view of Christianity presented is to enforce only an artificial dogmatic and creedal stance which has more in common with fighting heresy than with objective historical truth.

    The fundamentalist movement especially is very much inbred. They only hire professors from "one of their sister schools."

  7. Steve, Excellent point that you make. I don't know why its not more obvious to evangelicals that their theology is "man-made."

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  9. Ken,

    When I was an undergraduate at Southern Wesleyan University, I called Bob Jones University and talked with Dr. Steward Custer about giving a rebuttal to the New International Version. I knew Dr. Custer from my year spent at BJU (1971-’72). My school (SWU) just had a Dr. Taylor (who headed the New Testament portion of the NIV) in chapel a month earlier. (While a student at BJU, I thought Steward Custer was Batman‘s Boy Wonder when it came to fundamentalist apologetics.)

    I remember meeting Custer in front of the chapel as he arrived in his 1963 Plymouth Valiant and it was I who introduced him to the faculty and students.

    During chapel, Custer compared the Dynamic Equivalence of the NIV to the American Standard Bible and the King James Version all the time trying to prove the faulty use of the NIV’s Greek in the New Testament (he did make some good points).

    After chapel, I asked Dr. Custer to meet with myself and any other students who wanted to engage in an in-depth discussion of Biblical translation history. (Again, based on my BJU days, I had such high hopes about Custer.)

    However, my hopes were dashed to pieces when I compared the KJV to a Model T Ford and asked him how could God expect an out dated Elizabethan worded Bible to convey God’s word to modern man.

    To my surprise, Custer was at a lose as to what to say (I guess this type of question was not presented at BJU).

    To make a long story short, Custer suddenly said he had to leave and Batman’s Boy Wonder turned out to be the Joker.

    Last year I sent Steward Custer an email to his church (Trinity Bible Church in Greer, SC ) telling him I was the student who had asked him to come to SWU 37 years ago and thanking him for coming. He never responded.

    I guess he never forgave me of my question about the KJV.

  10. Harry, Thanks for the information. Yes, I had several classes with Stewart Custer and he was the chairman of my dissertation committee. He was and I guess still is "highly revered" at BJU. The man was very unusual. He was a "book wormish" man with an encyclopedic knowledge of NT Greek and theology. He systematically read every book in the BJU library on the subjects.

    While the man knew an incredible amount of facts, he could not think "outside the box." He had swallowed fundamentalist Christianity "hook, line, and sinker" and interpreted everything within that context.

  11. Pepper, thank you for your most inciteful post. It is refreshing for me to see and know that at least two people (yourself and Mr. Pulliam) that have had extensive training in the bible and the history of that time, have come to the conclusion that christianity is a fabrication and myth. As non believers in the U.S. are such a minority, and my family was/is catholic, I feel somewhat alone in my lifelong battle against christianity. Even as an altar boy at an early age, I had serious questions about the logic of christianity. The non believers like me are shouted down by the majority. The few bible experts use their superior knowledge of the bible along with their skills at twisting words and meanings, and translations of words from Greek to English, to ridcule and lambast non believers, so that we slither away, lest we infect the believing crowd with our heresy. A way "burning at the stake" but in modern times with the twisted and tortured words of apologists and priests.
    Nice to see there are well learned men that have seen the light, and who can answer those who inject obscure events in ancient history or a multitude of different translations. Sometimes, I ask myself if this entire world is crazy, and am I one of the few sane ones. I've learned that a christian belief is due to man's need to be saved, to be loved, to escape death, and to be and remain with the majority who insist the story really is true, in spite of all evidence and logic against it.

  12. The mechanical success of our civilization has led many to basic materialism. Are western men divided into those humanists who think that there is 'only this material world' and those who believe in a spiritual world ? Humanists now proudly work for many praiseworthy goals, but also accept malthusiastic concepts such as overpopulation. So they declare some to be 'unter-menschen', killing babies before they become human and easing away the senile. In contrast, the laws given by spiritual decree forbid unprincipled behavior by believers. God made our world for successive generations and plans to shut it down when the number of saints is full.
    A new book, 'Techie Worlds' (available from looks at some teachings of the Galilean. They are ridiculous and cannot happen if there is 'only this world'. But viewed in the light of Flatland's contiguous dimensional worlds, they make simple mechanistic sense. This is the way of science: to look at phenomena to see if they are explained by a theory. If they are, that theory is accepted as true. So the Galilean logically based his statements on a spiritual world that truly exists and is superior to ours. 'Techie Worlds' discusses teachings about the Trinity, soul, resurrection, judgment, hell and Satan and others.
    As Jews, Muslims, and pagans learn that the spiritual world of Christ is real, wars and terror will pass and the reign of Love will ennoble our world for the wellbeing of all.

  13. Pullman is further evidence of the true statement that "Just because you live in a garage doesn't make you a car." Judas was also a part of Christ's inner circle for 3 years, but was in the end finally identified by Christ as a devil. I don't know Pullman so I let him decide where he rightfully ultimately belongs.

  14. Heininger,

    It is Dr. Pulliam.

    Save your ideas for a blog where people care. Actually since you don't know Pulliam (no one here has ever heard of you), it's better if you abstain from any comments.

  15. I guess this blog site is a "closed shop" where one has to follow the party line. What I said is beyond dispute, namely that just because someone has served the Christian cause in the past doesn't makes them a Christian. It's not where you start but where you finish that determines the true measure of you Christian status, as the apostle Paul states, and as Judas well knew. The fact that I don't know Pulliam, and have never heard about him, in itself reveals that his commitment to the faith had little or no relevance. One only has to do a google search to check the level and sincerity of the Christian commitment of any person making the claims that Pullian makes.

    I studied under Dr Montgomery and Walter Martin,and have never heard of Pulliam, such was his impact.

  16. It's been quite a while since I visited this site. I am currently writing a book titled "How Science Went Mad, Without God" and did a Google review of comments I had posted. Pulliam tells us he is an "agnostic atheist" an indication that he somewhat confused. As agnosticism is not atheism. Being an atheist show he is in a far worst intellectual state than where he started. And now believes the unbelievable. Here's why: Atheists and Mainstream Scientism live in a surreal world of their own making, far removed from reality: A HYPOTHETICAL world where the impossible happens all the time, and always in reverse. Its a surreal hypothetical world where in explanatory particles supposedly pop into existence from nowhere, to make up a running down dying universe of ever increasing entropy that cannot explain or sustain itself. Its a surreal world where an evolutionary effect is not only "far greater" than the cause, but actually OPPOSITE to the cause: Where something comes from nothing; where dead matter brings itself to life; where intelligence comes from non-intelligence; where consciousness comes from non-consciousness, where reason comes from non-reason and values come from no values. It's a surreal place where an evolutionary process that operates on the "survival of the fittest" and "nature red in tooth and claw" produces altruistic, caring and sacrificial human beings. Its a surreal world where "natural selection", which Darwin declared "only preserves that which is useful" actually preserves within humanity the religious-spiritual instinct. Along with the widespread need for the vast majority of humanity to believe in a God and supernatural world that supposedly doesn't exist. Moreover, atheists blindly believe that all these 'natural' miracles happened without a self-existing or self-creating miracle worker anywhere to found. Which all us theists we would have to concede is "really miraculous". See Here: