Daniels' evangelical credentials are impeccable. He was born on the mission field and reared by missionary parents. He graduated from LeTourneau University and Columbia Biblical Seminary. He joined Wycliffe Bible Translators soon after graduation from Seminary and began linguistic studies in order to translate the Bible into the dialect of a particular tribe in Africa. He spent a number of years in Africa as a missionary among these peoples. Daniels commitment and dedication cannot be questioned. Yet, he, as I, found that he had to be intellectually honest with himself and leave the faith. This was an incredibly hard thing to do. He was on the mission field, churches were supporting him, his entire family on both sides were Christians, all of his friends were Christians, his whole life revolved around Christianity. He writes:
If I could patch things up by forcing myself to believe again, I would do so in a heartbeat. Unfortunately I have tried that several times, only to be besieged again by doubt, and have come to the conclusion that attempting to will myself to believe that which in my heart I do not believe is futile.I can fully relate to Daniel's statement. You cannot force yourself to believe something that you sincerely know is false. It just doesn't work no matter how hard you try.
Often ex-believers are asked why we don't just drift off into the sunset. Why do we find it necessary to explain why we have de-converted from the faith? Is it because we feel the need to justify our unbelief? Daniels gives one of his reasons:
It grieves me to witness bright, promising young men and women distracted by the study of fundamentalist theology, or by the prospect of traveling the world to convert people from one empirically unverifiable form of supernaturalism to another. I regret having used up the best years of my youth pursuing religious goals.I agree. When you consider all of the man hours as well as all of the money that is invested in religion, its mind-boggling. What if all these resources were poured into a purely humanitarian effort? Wouldn't the world be a better place?
Another reason why we former Christians feel the need to explain why we left the faith is because our motives are constantly being judged. Daniels elaborates:
Some of my readers might wonder, "Why did he do it? Why did he leave the riches of his faith for the despair and danger of unbelief? It couldn't be that he sincerely believes Christianity to be untrue; there must be some deep underlying issues he's dealing with, some flaw, some hidden agenda, some dashed expectation." I have been asked this question directly, and my response has been this: you can dig as deeply as you like, and when you get to the bottom of it, you'll find I believe what I believe because I think it's true. There may indeed be some hidden issues that have driven me to this point, but if so, they are as hidden to me as to anyone else. I have shared freely with others and with God the matters I consider relevant to the question, but nothing definitive has turned up.Christians, especially conservative evangelicals, have a very difficult time accepting the notion that one could leave the faith for intellectual reasons. There has to be a deeper reason, they muse. He probably has a secret sin that he wants to indulge in and he doesn't want to submit to the authority of God and the Bible, or he has been hurt personally by Christians or a church and has taken it out on God, or some difficulty in his life has caused him to become bitter against God and Christianity. Daniels explains how a Christian might "internally process" a de-conversion story like his:
He appears to be sincere, and he seems to have been a genuine believer, but he has now rejected God, so despite appearances, it may be that he never experienced a true relationship with God. According to Hebrews 10:26-27, the penalty for rejecting Christ after having followed him is divine judgment with no further hope for redemption, so Ken must be in danger of this fate. He claims his motives are pure, and that he truly perceives Christianity to be untrue, but there must be some fundamental flaw in him, something that marks him off from other believers who remain faithful to the faith, or he could not justly be subject to the judgment described in Hebrews 10. I don't know what it is, but I trust God's word over Ken's. His willingness to embrace something as problematic as evolution and to believe that the universe could have formed by chance must indicate an underlying desire to disbelieve despite the evidence for God and the Bible. At times he displays an argumentative, arrogant spirit, which may reveal a willful rebellion against God. Perhaps his motives are not as pure as he claims.We former believers are usually told that we were not "real" Christians. If we had been true believers we would not have departed the faith (I John 2:19) [see this link, especially comment 7]. My former Pastor had a saying, not sure where he picked it up, a faith that fizzles at the finish had a fatal flaw at the first . His brand of Calvinism demanded that he explain apostates in this fashion. The problem with saying that, however, is two-fold. 1) These individuals do not know my heart. I was as sincere in my belief and trust in Christ as I think anyone could be. 2) If I was not really saved, even though I thought I was, they cannot know for sure that they are genuine believers today. If, as Calvinism says, all genuine believers will persevere in their faith until the end, how does one know that his or her faith is genuine until the very end? There is always the possiblity that they may turn away sometime before they die thus proving that their faith was not real. So, there is no assurance of salvation for the consistent Calvinist.
On the other hand, he does seem to be aware that he's putting the eternal fate of his soul in jeopardy if he turns out to be wrong, so he must have a high degree of confidence in his belief that the gospel is not true. What could possibly have motivated him and driven him to such a degree of certainty that he would be willing to invite the disapproval of his friends, family, supporters and mission board, to live without the hope of a hereafter, to abandon his calling and sense of purpose, and to risk divine judgment? Perhaps 2 Thessalonians 2:10b-11 pertains to him: "They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie ..." This could mean he truly does believe what he says he believes, but God has brought this on him because of his rebellious spirit and his failure to acknowledge God for who he is.
I will be sharing some additonal insights from Ken Daniels' book in upcoming posts. Again, I highly recommend it.