Don’t worry, he was an atheist then, and now he’s pastor Matt, thanks to God’s grace.
I am sometimes asked, by both skeptics and believers alike, why I was once an atheist and what convinced me to become a Christian. I will answer the latter in another post but let me deal with the former now.
I am a “PK” or “preacher’s kid.” My father served as the founding pastor of the largest church in southern Ohio. It is a non-denominational, evangelical congregation that grew very quickly.
As a PK, I was privy to a lot of “inside information” and it was not encouraging. I learned men and women who sang hymns with passion and shouted “Amen!” with gusto during the sermon were cheating on their spouse or on their taxes.
By the time I was a teenager I understood why those who called themselves Christians lived secret lives–they wanted to believe but really didn’t. I understood because I became one of them.
I was an active member of an ’80′s evangelical youth group. So, I rocked out to Stryper, had comedian Pat Hurley tapes and volunteered for the children’s ministry, which consisted of videotaping episodes of Superbook and The Flying House for the kids. However, I actually seriously doubted if God even existed.
I was struggling with the normal sins of a teenager and begged for help in prayer. I also petitioned God on a regular basis to feel His presence but that didn’t happen either.
I eventually came to the conclusion that Christianity simply didn’t work. I declared myself an atheist at age fifteen and remained an unbeliever for the next ten years.
I ran away from home at age fifteen as well eventually making my way to Hollywood. During those days I partied like it was 1999 (until 1997) and like Aldous Huxley is quoted as saying decades before, I came to not even want God to be real because even the possibility interfered with my desire to create my own morality.
Christianity is not something where you just profess it and suddenly you are automatically perfect. You get the gift of eternal life immediately by faith in Christ, but becoming more like Christ takes time. It’s easier to act consistently with the teachings of Christ if you have spent the time studying, practicing and growing as a Christian. You shouldn’t expect perfect behavior on day one – that is crazy. You should expect that as your beliefs become more solid, then your outward actions will change naturally. And often what you hear at home and in the church is not the best for finding truth through investigation and debate.
It would be terrible to have to put out “good” actions when you never settled the questions of what is true and how are we going to apply what is true in our own decisions. Sometimes, I think that young Christians face too much pressure to appear to be perfect when no one has been willing to help them work through the grounding for the behaviors they are expected to display. And I think a lot of the behaviors they are expected to display are either not important or not Biblical. Behaving like a Christian should be natural – it should proceed from free inquiry, not dogmatism.
Now I’m skipping a lot, but here is his advice for people who were in his situation:
I’ll get to my conversion later but keep in mind: (1) just because a person attends a church, even if they are a PK, that he or she truly comprehends the Gospel because I didn’t a full understanding; (2) pastors need to constantly remind their parishioners that sin is easy and living for Christ is difficult because believers are part of a cosmic struggle; (3) the spiritual disciplines are invaluable especially so for young people; and (4) there are many solid arguments for the existence of God and few for materialism and all Christians deserve to know them.
I’ve spent some time mentoring young Christians who had fallen away for some period of time, and I always make a point of asking them why. Their answer is usually something like this: “I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but I didn’t care because no one else cared.” The first thing to do with a person who is rebelling is to get in there and start to ask them questions and get involved in helping them to succeed in their lives. People do bad things because they feel that no one cares. So you better start caring for these young people, whether they are smart, dumb, pretty, ugly, poor, rich, popular, unpopular – it doesn’t matter. They all have souls, and they were all made to know God. Get in there and be real with them before they make a mess of their lives.