Here are some thoughts on how I came to trust in Jesus; historical and conceptual, and hopefully real. Not chronological – that can await another edition. This piece is too flattering towards me, and leaves out some of the realities which have constituted my life. Such is autobiography; read it, if you will, with a grain of salt. The question of ‘why I continue to trust in Jesus daily’ would get a different answer – basically, because it continues to make sense of my life and to shape it on a daily basis.
I was baptised at the age of 19, towards the end of January in 2009. Since then I have poured a lot of energy into the Church, in various contexts. I love Jesus, and want to serve the people He is gathering. Why? Here’s an attempt to work through some of it. It’s quite likely that many people think I have a dry and rationalistic conservative faith, and that it was probably inherited from my family. I suspect such people don’t really know me or my family.
In 2008 I had started university, and amongst various other disruptions, my faith was challenged. I had entered uni quite confident, with some background in Christian apologetics, and knowing that my faith would be challenged. I had underestimated the power of peer-pressure and the ways in which militant secularism can be intimidating. I vaguely remember losing sleep over it, and certainly considered how I might feasibly become an atheist, on various occasions. It was a very live option indeed. What would my family, friends, and church think? They had no good answers to give me to prevent the shift in worldview, of this I was fairly sure. In hindsight, this was all overly dramatic of me and there was little basis for it other than a sense that sophisticated people didn’t believe in Christian stuff; but this kind of perspective can be hard to find in the midst of spiritual crisis.
In a way, I wish I’d kept a diary of this time, as now I only have scattered recollections. In any case, I worked through the issues (obsessively so, at points) and found credible people – in books, websites, and in person – who had stuck with Christian faith or who had even converted to it. The arguments for atheism looked shakier, and often downright silly. I attended a debate featuring William Lane Craig, and a class on human nature lectured by a Christian philosopher at my university. I emailed a Bible college lecturer I met at an event and received some helpful advice and was passed on to someone else who has been a lot of help to me over the years since. Good God, I was naive back then!! 5 years on from now, no doubt I’ll cringe at things I’ve done this year (in fact, I already do), but thank God that He does not leave us as He finds us.
This may sound silly, but I decided to make a stand on the truth of the gospel and to be baptised. At the time, it felt risky. I had few Christian friends, and fewer still who were wrestling well with the big questions. I was in the middle of a philosophy of religion course in summer school which re-raised a bunch of issues, and I realised that if I was going to remain a Christian I would have to be intentional about it – hence the baptism. In hindsight, that was an excellent decision.
As I type this, I realise that my early emails are still available. After a quick search, I see in 2008 I was wrestling with some questions that still occupy my mind; I guess there’s nothing new under the sun! I concluded one email with “Thank you – & I will continue to think about it, but perhaps especially once I have a year or three more of biology/philosophy, so I know what I’m thinking about.” After 4 and a bit years of philosophy and biology, things have become both a little more clear and more murky. Praise God that I am more confident now than I was then, and that I have got my priorities more or less sorted.
I have been privileged to have been raised in a Christian family, going to church since the age of 5. Before that, life was messier, but that is another story. I thank God regularly for His grace in my life as regards my family situation. I think it helps give me perspective, too.
As such, I have long considered myself a Christian. I was for many years religious, but I fear I was not saved. While I knew more about God-related-things than most of my peers, I trusted in myself, and didn’t think I needed God. Only over the course of my teenage years did I come to really see my need, but God’s solution seldom made much sense or held much appeal to me. I guess I assumed that I could earn his pleasure, but more often, I just didn’t think about it – my own pleasure was of far more concern.
Early in my teens, I had a health scare which helped wake me up a little to my own mortality and fragility. A brief bout of intensely experienced faith following a time of some personal desperation wore off slowly; once I was back to health, I could trust myself for my success, or could try to. I was a theist, probably a Christian; I’m not too sure, perhaps I phased in and out; but whatever it was, it was largely a matter of routine and duty. My faith, such as it was, hung off the faith of my community – my church and extended family – and it was only barely my own.
In 2006, I attended a large Easter camp in Hamilton, and things clicked into place in a remarkable way. In response to talks from David Pierce, I reassessed my life. I developed a passion for the gospel and for the Bible, and a tangible excitement. David is not the kind of person you might expect that I would respond to (see here). But his message was real – I accepted that God was real and powerful, not just an idea. The patient witness of a number of sincere Christians around me over the years finally bore fruit in repentance for sin, of which I felt convicted, and in joy, which I now had a grasp on.
Bizarrely, while I threw myself (somewhat crazily) into Christian things, the rest of that year went on to be the best of my life so far, in terms of success in secular terms. I came first equal in a national economics competition, and did well in a range of other competitions, including one in legal mooting, during which I was commended for the confidence with which I laid out my argument – I had earlier despised public speaking, but came to get a thrill out of it (since then I’ve participated in a number of debates and forums). People knew who I was, and respected my achievements; I was admirably fulfilling the stereotype of the middleclass nerd making it in the world, whilst somewhat inexplicably being a Christian on the side. The natural move would’ve been to go on to study law and economics at uni and to be generally successful, but fortunately that didn’t happen!
At the same time I read the Bible and books about its historicity (how I had the stamina to power through decades-old books of biblical archaeology I do not know), and worked on finding answers to how science could fit with it. The reorientation of my life that had been triggered by what was perhaps an emotional or experience-based response to the gospel message was soon backed up with facts. Four books, I think all read in ’06, stirred an interest in molecular biology and evolution, starting me on a path which led to my current thesis project. Three of them were by agnostics/atheists (Paul Davies, Michael Denton, and Franklin Harold), and one was by a Christian (Michael Behe). I saw room for God in science, and my newfound love of God led to a new love of science.
This led on to and was intertwined with an interest in philosophy and apologetics. At uni I planned to study chemistry and economics, with side interests of biology and philosophy. The chemistry got pushed aside and economics was taught in a boring way, so I ended up focussing on the biology and philosophy – another result for which I am very grateful; I would’ve been considerably more boring if I had taken the intended course of action, and I’m not sure I could’ve mentally coped with it.
So, this all led to my baptism, and my baptism was followed by an even more crazy pouring of myself into Christian service than had occurred in my last two years of highschool. A recurring theme for me, correlated with commitment, has been early mornings [I mean that when I’m committed to something, I will happily be up early for it – contrast this with arriving late to 8 or 9am lectures] – early morning prayer meetings at highschool (that was a really interesting time – seldom since have I experienced such a sense of anticipation from a group of people. The highschool is secular, but many of its student leaders over recent years have been Christians or have become Christians – the more I think about it, the more remarkable the situation is), and early morning flyer drops at uni are two instances. Service and initiative weren’t coming out of a sense of duty or obligation, but out of a recognition of the need and in grateful response to God’s graciousness. In a short sentence, I care about this stuff because I’m occasionally aware of the extent to which God has cared about me.
I don’t have an estimable background, and I have felt that I have got a few reasons to be insecure, bitter, and inwards-focussed, but I have been captivated by Christ, and that changes things.