Normally when we think of this process, we assume that people become closer to their acknowledgement of God. Not in this case. Recently, I read a blog on Thought Catalog by Jerry Dewitt and his transition from minister to atheist in five easy steps. Well, not easy but the spiritual process is never really easy or finished. Here is some of his process:
My story inevitably provokes this question, and it’s almost always phrased the same way: “How in the world does a Pentecostal preacher become an Atheist?”
It’s a simple question, but as you would expect, not a simple answer. The answer took a lifetime to live and it has taken an entire book to detail. As I traveled the country explaining it to people, I’ve realized that the only way my journey from believer to ardent non-believer can be explained is through a series of steps. I realize I don’t have much time here, so I will keep those steps brief. (I was gratified to see even the prominent philosopher Daniel Dennett work my steps into his presentation at the Global Atheist convention in Australia.)
The understanding gained through the following steps ultimately lead to a confident theist becoming a humble atheist at the age 42.
1. God LOVES everyone
Influential Person – My Pentecostal grandmother. Despite the fact that the Pentecostal doctrine is judgmental and exclusionary, my grandmother was an example of inclusion and unconditional love very early in my life. My grandmother set an example that few people ever lived up to. Because of which, I joined the church, ministry, and mission that came closest to the lofty vision my grandmother created for me. The church and its message were simply called Grace. And it wasn’t until I became actively engaged in the ministry that I realized being “Christ-like” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.
Influential Reference – Biblical verses, such as John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Theological View – Grace. “God’s Righteousness At Christ’s Expense.” Unlike most of my fellow Pentecostals, I was starting to believe that our good works weren’t good enough, and that instead, Jesus’ death had completely paid the price for our sins… not just the sins of the believer but the sins (actually “sin,” singular) of the whole world, if only the whole world would believe it!
Transitional Concept – Eternal punishment. Whatever comfort I received from believing that God loved the whole world was morally challenged by the question: if he loves them, why doesn’t he save them? And for that matter, why allow them to be “lost” in the first place? During one of my more insecure childhood experiences, I was overcome with jealously when my dog answered my friend’s beckoning and not mine. Could the creator of the universe be as needy as an eight-year-old boy?
2. God SAVES everyone
Influential Person – William Morrison Branham. A cassette tape containing one of the late Brother Branham’s messages was the very first time I heard a minister challenge the idea of Hell, and it wouldn’t be the last. Though Branham didn’t teach that God ultimately saves all souls, he did do away with the notion of eternal punishment, and did so while remaining the foremost Pentecostal of his day. For me this was a winning combination. Of course there were numerous versions of the concept of eternal punishment, but almost all of them were proposed by non-Pentecostals. This voided their relevance to me in the earliest days of my ministry. Later, I would grow out of my prejudices and would allow myself to be exposed to the works of Universalist from every ilk.
Influential Reference – Biblical verses, such as 2 Corinthians 5:19 — “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.”
Theological View – Universalism. The idea that every person whom ever lived would ultimately share in and enjoy the bliss of a heavenly residence seemed to muffle, if not in some small way justify the suffering displayed in the Bible and in the real world. Admittedly, it was a stretch, but it was the best and most humane explanation I had at the time.
Transitional Concept – Sonship. “Sonship” is a doctrinal expression referencing the family-like union between God the father and the saved individual. The sinner’s justification is so complete that his standing in God’s eyes is equal to that of Christ’s, the only begotten “son” of god. Thus the use of the positional title, Sonship.
The original questions, though somewhat shelved by Universalism, still remained, but were temporarily eclipsed by more technical questions. Questions such as how and when does God “save” everyone? Are they saved at death or were they saved before they were even born? Will they get a second chance for salvation in heaven or were they simply saved when Jesus died on the cross? What about those who died before Jesus’ crucifixion? When does Sonship technically begin?
I love how he laid out each step based upon the concept. You can read the rest here. Has anyone ever made a similar transition? Atheist-Minister? Are any of these steps relevant to your own spirituality?