E-mail me at: bible.apologetics[at]yahoo[dot]com.
About the Author
I'm a sub-deacon in the Eastern Orthodox Church (consecr. St. George's Day, May 6, 2006). I was born into it, but I became a real, born-again Christian when I was 16 in the summer of 2005. I'd found a small icon of Christ while doing community service at a library earlier that year, and I'd put it on the top of my desk's bookshelf, propped against some books. I came home after school one day and as I lay on my bed looking up at the icon, I said to myself, "Christ was right." The second time I said it, I was immediately filled with the Holy Spirit: in every classic, cliché sense of the phrase you can imagine. Just like how it's described in Acts about Pentecost or anywhere else where the Bible mentions being "filled with the Holy Spirit" (e.g. 1 Sam. 19:23). It irks me a bit that I don't remember exactly what day it happened on, especially since my birthday is July 14, 1989, so how symbolic would it have been if I was born again literally on my birthday? The date was sometime between July 5-25, but I actually think it was a few days after my birthday, July 19. A bit fitting like Paul says, "one born untimely" (1 Cor. 15:8), though in his case there were much stronger reasons than a 16 year old's.
When this happened, I felt an overwhelming and irresistible love and love of love. I immediately repented of my sins, not out of compulsion or fear, but out of the beauty and peace of righteousness. Things I'd never known or heard before - repentance - became immediately clear. I was alone when this happened. Neither my parents nor anyone I'd known had ever been religious. I didn't even know what sin was, nor did I remember even having heard the word before. So this was certainly not a subjective experience or one out of some kind of pressure.
The first thing I remember was how much joy it was to be filled with love. I'd tell everyone around me, but of course, nobody could really understand. Naturally, I started reading more of the Bible as well as about it. I formed some kind of (pseudo) logical arguments about the existence of God, which were even less convincing than my personal testimony. One in particular was that the afterlife must exist, and it must be eternal, or else none of us would experience the here and now - or it'd be swallowed up by the infinite oblivion that followed; or else how would 1 moment exist in the middle of an infinitude of non-existence? This is, of course, false since not only do we forget things all the time, but if there followed an "infinitude" of moments instead of oblivion, it's still 1 moment vs infinity; and these paradoxes were resolved by Cantor's Set Theory and the solution to Zeno's paradoxes.
So I dropped that line of reasoning. I also realized that others were deeply disinterested, plus I noticed that any preaching I did would most likely create more atheists. In the end, the elect are elect, right? God won't let any slip through His fingers (John 10:27-29). When reading Jesus' more impassioned words like the Sermon on the Mount, I feel like no one can deny their humble moral truths. Most of it is natural wisdom anyway (e.g. Golden Rule), but it's stated in a very direct and honest way in my opinion. He's also clever at escaping traps such as the question on taxes, which he gets away with by supporting their payment without inciting a riot: simply by returning attention toward God (render unto Caesar). I suppose balance is always vital. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears: she tries each soup until finding the right one: proof of the fact that we only learn from induction. As Kant put it, none of us ever scientifically proved that a piece of bread would feed us: we only assumed it from trusting others and from experience. Most of us don't even have proof that the Sun will rise tomorrow. We all have beliefs, and these reflect our values.
Coupled with Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems, this means that none of us can truly prove anything. Of what use then is skepticism? Isn't a Boltzmann Brain much more likely than our biological one? Isn't a chaotic universe much more likely? What guarantee do we have that one day the law of gravity won't be false? What if the laws of physics are just temporary; a ticking timer running out? That's what a nucleated false vacuum would do, and we'd never know it until it hit us. Everything could just be part of a dog's dream until it wakes up - it wouldn't be any less possible or real than characters in a dream who believe they're real. Of course, unlike the Greek Skeptics who denied certain knowledge, we must use Cicero's golden mean of the probable. But in the grand scheme of things, belief isn't any more of an assumption than knowledge is.
Eventually I realized how much deeper and more sophisticated a lot of the issues were. I remember specifically understanding higher textual criticism's significance around April 2006. At the time I didn't have any tools to interact with the information, so it wasn't until a year and a half later at the university library that I had access to some more serious resources: mainly Georg Werner Kümmel's Introduction to the New Testament (14th edition). I had read some Christian apologetics websites prior but aside from some archaeological and historical confirmation of the Bible (mainly the Old Testament as expected), and some ideas against evolution, I didn't know much. I never got to the apologetics books that were popular like Strobel's, Archer's, or others, because I didn't know about them (or they didn't exist yet). I also preferred the older, more technical books because they were more specific and exposed the issues quicker since they often disagreed with my point of view. That made me prefer them because I wanted to see the other side's arguments faster and directly from there, undiluted from sympathetic refutations.
Another experience left a deep impression. Like most unusual philosophy, this starts with an Egyptian. In December 2011 I visited a friend who at one point explained to me how he spoke with others about Christianity on campus. Specifically, he gave me a very logical explanation about why Hell was eternal yet not cruel; though after some years I saw it wasn't sufficient. But I was captivated! He explained it so clearly. I remember sitting there on a big tire at his brother's mechanic shop, with 110% at attention: it'd been a long time since I listened to anything so carefully. But what truly felt like he split the atom for me was that he broke down theology through logic. I'm sure I was ignorant, but I'd never heard anything like it before. Theology wasn't just an abstract: it was essentially logic that started with a few givens (reality of sin, Jesus' sacrifice, etc). This didn't really begin an active process until I John L. Mothershead's Ethics (1967), which I found at a swapmeet, gave another example of this when the author presented John Dewey's proof that the Ends don't justify the Means.
Some years later, I found a few historical similarities between situations in the Bible and secular history. I realized that a lot of contested Gospel and Old Testament narrative details had parallels in reliable records, and I always liked reading ancient and Medieval subjects anyway.
What seemed very unattractive in the scholarly historical discussion of the Bible to me was the implicit but quite open push towards a positive reconstruction of what "really happened" either in biblical history or biblical text. "Moses' tabernacle as described has been noted as unfit for desert travel" says Bultmann, without a citation or a word explaining why. "Miracles are impossible because the laws of physics are immutable" relates Adolf von Harnack in a 1909 lecture (untrue as they can be undone by, for example, nucleation). Ernst Haenchen even outright claims that to defend Acts on Claudius' "universal" famine to mean world=Judea is a Christian apologetic! This trend is an extension of the 19th century hypercriticism where many secular and religious texts were under scrutiny: Herodotus, Tacitus, old Greek playwrights and others. Like many of them, the Bible has had some rehabilitation, but for Gustav Hoelscher to complain in his 1942 Hesekiel that the book of Ezekiel has too long escaped the knife of textual criticism speaks volumes. My feelings could not be better expressed than J.A.T. Robinson citing at the end of his Redating the New Testament (1976) a letter by C.H. Dodd that plainly states those defending the authenticity of the biblical texts stand out like "sticks in the mud".
Essentially this is a record of a few ideas so they're not forgotten and no time wasted rethinking them in case they actually make sense, or hopefully be a part of an answer to anything. If they're wrong at least the mistake won't be repeated. The enemies I saw weren't individuals but ideas, which I wanted to marginalize with the same focus as the author in Wisdom of Solomon 4:19. After all, reality happens only once, so why not do this before Judgment Day? This compelled me to write down every idea that showed up in my head in notes, some of which I organized into the articles.
I don't believe facts or friendly smiles can ultimately convince anyone who has free will of their own. I can only admire men like the Arian Theoderic who did not persecute Catholics because, "no man should have compulsion in matters of conscience." I remember once speaking to an old man and asking him if he'd repented. To my surprise he knew what penitence was but he said he'd never heard anyone saying to repent. Personally, in the end, apologetics has been more or less just a "side-errand" of answering technical objections so I could get back to the soup analogy.
Not just the speculative nature of philosophy and theology, but much of history has to be gleaned from between the lines with hypotheses stacked upon hypotheses. How much of this is true is always on the mind, no matter how much certainty there is. Just as the Socratic Paradox and Plato's cave, I believe it's important that arrogance doesn't accompany one's belief of knowledge. I can think of no better example than the mysteriously abrupt ending to Aquinas' Summa Theologica. The popular story is he had a revelation where he learned of things that made him repudiate his work as "chaff" (straw; nonsense). In my imagination quite a bit of scientific knowledge was revealed to him that was completely unknown in his day (he considers Hell to be physically underground I believe).
A man cannot learn what he already thinks he knows. -Epictetus