A Not-so-Brief History of Rich and Mary Kathryn
Mary Kathryn and I were united in marriage on July 29th, 2017. Considering that we are now in our late 40’s (at the time of writing), you might be wondering about our previous lives.
We often half-jokingly say that we’re going to write a book for young Christian people called “How NOT to Live the First Half of Your Life”. We are the first to confess that we spent decades living for all of the wrong things—the things that our culture and media teach us to pursue at every turn.
Mary Kathryn’s Story
For Mary Kathryn, this mostly centered around living out the iconic suburban “American Dream”. She completed her master’s degree, moved to Atlanta, and got married in the late 1990’s. Her then-husband and her moved to a nice upper-middle-class neighborhood in one of the most up-and-coming communities in metro Atlanta. They had a nice house with a two-car garage and a pool. They had many friends from work and from their neighborhood who they enjoyed mingling with and entertaining. They had a son, Ben, in 2004. By all obvious accounts, everything was looking good!
But the so-called “American Dream” ended up being, as literally millions of people can attest, a mirage. It was an illusion. All of the things our society tells you that will make you feel fulfilled, complete, accomplished proved incapable of delivering on those lofty promises. Neither Mary nor her husband had any meaningful faith in God, and they drifted further and further apart. In 2009, her now ex-husband filed for divorce on the advice of a well-intentioned but misinformed secular counselor. Their marriage would be another victim of the “no-fault” divorce trend that has divided millions of homes in America since delivered to us by the secular humanists in the 1970’s.
Amid the inevitable emotional turmoil and dramatic life change that accompanies divorce, Mary’s older brother Jay reached out to her. Jay had been a convinced atheist from the time he was a mathematics major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. However, after his and his wife Leah’s third child was born, Jay came to a radical change of mind and heart about Jesus of Nazareth. He renounced atheism and became a follower of Jesus.
Jay sent Mary Kathryn a study Bible and would call her on the phone every week encouraging her to read it. At first, she was very reluctant. She had long ago dismissed the Bible as just some old book that had little if any relevance to life in 21st century America. She told her brother that, while she believed Jesus was a great moral teacher of his day, the claims about him being the Son of God, walking on water, and rising from the dead were just hyperbolic expressions used by authors to capture his charisma and the power of his message.
Jay persisted. He asked her to just read one chapter and then report back. Finally, Mary Kathryn conceded to do that. She reported back that it was boring and she didn’t understand why Jay was expecting her to do this! Still, Jay pressed on and encouraged her to read one more chapter.
Somehow, through reading the gospels, God did what only God can do. He turned on the light in Mary Kathryn’s heart. He gave her ears to hear and a soft heart to receive the seed of the Word. Her brother Jay got a surprise when his inquiries were no longer met with boredom and slight irritation but with genuine interest and conviction! Like Jay, Mary Kathryn renounced her secularism and selfish way of life and surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus!
My (Rich’s) story followed some similar themes but was a good bit “sloppier” as far as my conversion was concerned. It’s also quite a bit longer and harder to tell, so buckle your seat belt!
As with Mary Kathryn, I had also devoted myself to the pursuit of the “American Dream” from my mid-20’s through mid-’30s. I moved with my now ex-wife from Morgantown, West Virginia to Savannah, Georgia in 1999. She had just completed medical school at West Virginia University and matched with a residency program at Memorial Hospital in Savannah.
I got a bit of a late start in higher education. (I joined the United States Marine Corps as a reservist and worked construction as an electrician apprentice for a few years after high school.) As my now ex-wife was completing medical school, I was just finishing up my undergraduate studies in Communication and Psychology at WVU. My aspirations were to complete a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology and to work with veterans with PTSD, as my father is a Vietnam veteran who has been severely affected by that disorder and others.
The program that recruited my now ex-wife assured me that they would help me find a job in Savannah that I could work as I transitioned into my graduate education in pursuit of becoming a licensed clinical psychologist. That didn’t happen. Instead, I wound up passing the next year working at Oglethorpe Mall and applying to graduate programs.
Although I had a perfect GPA throughout my undergraduate degrees and very high GRE scores, I was turned away from all of the clinical psychology Ph.D. programs I applied to because I had no research experience. They all told me to get a year’s worth of experience and reapply and that my application would be looked upon very favorably. However, there were no opportunities for me to do that now that I was in Savannah, several hundreds of miles away from the professors I knew.
I decided to look for a “backdoor” into clinical psychology. As a backup plan, I applied to the “Biopsychology” graduate program at the University of Georgia. As part of my application materials, I submitted the best writing sample I had from my undergraduate years—a literature review on “cognitive mapping” skills of monkeys. Although I had no real interest in monkeys or their cognitive mapping skills, it just so happened that one of the senior professors at UGA did. My application was accepted, and I came to UGA as a first-year graduate student in August 2000.
Much to the displeasure of that professor, I went to work under a different professor in the Department of Psychology at UGA instead—a young Brown University alumna conducting behavioral pharmacology experiments with rats. I still (quite mistakenly) believed I could “jump over” to the clinical program and become a clinician. By the time I figured out that you can’t really do that, I was experiencing great success as a graduate student, mostly due to the stellar research acumen and pedigree of my major professor.
After finishing my master’s in 2003, I was offered a graduate teaching assistant (GTA) position in which I could make a not-insubstantial paycheck for a grad student and also continue to qualify for tuition and fee waivers. I had zero desire to teach and, in fact, quite dreaded it at first. Since I was a middle-schooler, public speaking has overwhelmed me with fear and apprehension. I remember delivering a horrible speech in middle school because I was so overcome by angst that my vision blurred to the point of not being able to read my note cards!
For the next two years (including summer sessions), teaching would be merely a means to the end of finishing my Ph.D. and building my curriculum vita (i.e. research and teaching resume) in order to compete for the best post-doctoral research fellowship possible. However, at the same time, I was finishing my Ph.D. in late 2005, my marriage was also very much on the rocks and crumbling. My ex-wife and I ended up legally separating in 2006, although we ended up getting back together temporarily in order to have our third daughter, Lola.
As my ex-wife had just partnered into her medical practice in a rural Georgia community and was in no way willing to move to accommodate my post-doctoral fellowship and since we now had three very young daughters who I was in no way willing to only see on an occasional basis, I took a job UGA offered me as an undergraduate instructor. The following year, I was “promoted” (a very nominal promotion) to the position of undergraduate lecturer, which is basically the university equivalent of a high school teacher. I would end up reluctantly holding this position until I finally left UGA in May 2015 to enter vocational ministry.
Everyone copes with divorce differently, although there are definitely patterns that tend to be followed. As a single-again college “professor” (actually just a lecturer which is not at all the same type of thing) in his mid-30’s, I turned to relationships and atheism. Clearly, I didn’t appreciate at the time how bad these decisions were. The year following my divorce, I ended up in a two-year relationship with a former student who had since graduated but remained at UGA to assist a clinical psychology professor before heading to graduate school in Minnesota.
My very intentional plunge into the “new atheism” occurred quite abruptly, although the ideological legwork leading up to that decision had been in place since my first year of graduate school. My good friend and mentor Tom Short has a saying about people who grow up “Christian” only to surrender their belief in God. He says that, if you ask them what led to their change of heart, there is almost always two reasons. There’s the reason that sounds good, and then there’s the real reason. The reason that sounds good often goes something like this: “I left Christianity when I started thinking for myself and learning science. I learned all the evidence for evolution and how Christianity has been used for centuries to persecute and enslave people and I just couldn’t believe in the Bible anymore”. The real reason—which precious few will be honest and humble enough to tell you—is more along these lines: “I got to college and started being drawn to the party life. I met my girlfriend at a bar, and we started sleeping together a few days later. Now we share an apartment. This conflicts with what I know in my heart to be true about God, so I’m trying to change my beliefs to align with my behaviors.”
Well, that wasn’t exactly my story (at least not at this point), but it followed that same predictable pattern. In grad school, I was being inculcated with the philosophy of atheistic materialism—the belief that all that exists is energy/matter and all that occurs is physical laws acting on energy/matter. A foundational axiom of neuroscience is that the mind is what the brain does. In other words, there is no true “spiritual” reality, no transcendent higher power, no incorporeal “soul” that continues on after we die. You and I are, quite literally, brains encased in bodies. We got here by blind evolutionary processes playing out over millions or even billions of years. There is no “purpose” in life. Purpose is illusory. There is only function. And our biological function, like all species, is to do our best to get as many copies of our genes as possible into the next generations—to leave a genetic legacy.
At home, my (now ex-) wife and I were struggling to negotiate our extremely busy schedules and being new parents. We argued about anything and everything. I sought escape in researching muscle cars and building a more muscular body. I became somewhat obsessed with exercise and fitness and I adamantly avoided putting in the work required to be an effective husband or better father. Although we placed membership at a local church and attended a few times each month, it was obvious to me that I would never fit in there—and I also didn’t want to fit in, because I knew that if I started hanging out with guys who took the Bible seriously, it would have implications for how I lived my life. At the same time that I was experiencing more frustration and failure to connect at home and in our rural community, I felt ever more important and accomplished in my studies and research. At some point about halfway through my Ph.D. program, I think my core identity shifted from the former to the latter.
After we made a few efforts at counseling (as well as attempting to plug in more at church and let some of our peers know we were struggling, to no avail), the decision was made that it was in our best interest to divorce while the girls were still young. I say “the decision was made” because it wasn’t so much my decision as it was something I reluctantly agreed to. My ex-wife was eager to end our marriage. I, on the other hand, was ambivalent. While it was true that I had more negative feelings for her than positive and even contemplated the relief being away from her and the constant bickering would bring, something deep in my core knew that divorce was wrong. I knew that we were supposed to stay together and try harder, especially for the sake of our children. (Incidentally, Mary Kathryn felt very much the same way about her divorce when her ex-husband filed.)
I bought my first motorcycle the same spring that we separated for good, pending the divorce, and moved twenty miles away to Athens, Georgia, where I worked. Having been recently diagnosed with rather pronounced adult ADHD and prescribed Adderall, I filled much of that spring and summer up with two activities: running and riding my motorcycle. I set my alarm for 5:30 every morning to awaken and pop a 20 mg capsule of Adderall. A half an hour later, I’d be out on the streets or trails, often running anywhere between eight and twelve miles before I started the rest of my day. My weight plummeted forty pounds, and I was by no means overweight to begin with. By the end of summer, I had logged thirty-thousand miles on a motorcycle I purchased in March.
The “no-fault” divorce (i.e., the determination that the marriage was “irretrievably broken”) went through in July. By late that fall, I had gotten very preoccupied with the young lady mentioned earlier, some fourteen years my junior, who had just graduated from UGA and went to work as a research assistant with an Emory University psychiatrist as she prepared for graduate studies. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it is so obvious to me now, looking back, that I was using that relationship and my exercise obsession to mask the pain of a failed marriage.
At work (UGA), I felt very much stuck in a dead-end job. I liked teaching neuroscience, but it always bothered me that I had settled for a non-tenure-track teaching position instead of pursuing a post-doc fellowship with a much brighter future after my Ph.D. graduation. When the chair of my Ph.D. committee left UGA to accept a very prestigious position as the director of a pain research program at Indiana University Medical Center, she offered to bring me along under her wings as a post-doctoral research fellow. Yet in the same breath, she acknowledged what both she and I knew to be the reality of the matter: I was bound and determined to stay at UGA and work a teaching job that never truly satisfied or fulfilled me so that I could be an active part of my daughters’ lives as they grew up. While that is true, I want to be clear that in no way do I regret that decision!
It was amid this psychosocial milieu that I launched full scale into militant atheism. In my core being, I was as jaded as could be with life, relationships, academics, teaching. I was very angry and discontent. I craved an entity to react against—to blame, if you will, for my life not turning out the way I had imagined it would, for my feeling like I had made so many sacrifices for others only to be discarded when there were challenges and setbacks. I don’t know just how consciously aware I was of these factors at the time, but—again—looking back from the vantage point I now have, it seems as clear as day.
The new atheism gave me a “rush” at first. It felt liberating and empowering. As I lashed out against God in a dozen different ways, I felt like I was somehow “striking back” against a long-time oppressor. I felt like I was evening the score with someone or something who was hellbent on tormenting me with as many bad outcomes and failed projects in life (including marriage and family) as possible. More than that, this extracurricular activity gave me a sense of fulfillment that teaching the same four classes every semester—fall semester, spring semester, summer semester, copy, paste, repeat—never led to. This was fresh. This was exciting. This had potential to be something bigger and something that could really give my ego a tremendous boost.
It goes without saying that I devoured materials from prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, Michael Shermer, Dan Barker, and others. I also became an aficionado of the YouTube broadcast “The Atheist Experience”, featuring Matt Dillahunty and others of the Atheist Community of Austin (Texas). During the first summer of my sojourn into atheism, I would often stay up until 2 AM or later watching back episodes and listening to Matt dismantle the overly-confident theists who would call in to debate a given topic. I was so impressed with this show, in fact, that I was beginning to work on plans to begin a similar atheist community and internet broadcast from UGA/Athens. This was a major reason I agreed to serve as the faculty advisor for the student organization known as UGAtheists (formerly and since known as the Secular Student Association).
I had grand plans for furthering the cause against God that fall at UGA, but I didn’t get very far. I was tasked with launching a brand new physiological psychology lab course and also appointed as a faculty senator. Between my duties on campus and my role as the father of three children in preschool and elementary school, I had precious little time to invest in the atheist community. The first year I served as faculty advisor for UGAtheists, I did little more than drop in on a few random meetings and signed some required paperwork. The following year, I was determined to do more. And I did…at least initially.
That fall semester, I composed and delivered a series of talks aimed at dismantling faith in general and Biblical Christianity in particular. I specifically recall one talk called “Won’t Stop Believing” that was aimed at deconstructing the story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I began actively reaching out to like-minded (i.e. militant, “evangelistic” atheist) colleagues to start a conversation about birthing the Atheist Community of Athens. I would never have imagined at the time how close I was to a radical change of mind and heart.
I received a text message from my ex-wife. Our oldest daughter, Annabel, wanted to be baptized at the small town Baptist church where she had been attending Sunday School. My agnostic girlfriend and I rolled our eyes, chuckled, and scoffed. But I realized that I needed to be a “good dad” and attend, smile, and take some pictures. I determined to sit her down a week or two later and tell her that it’s okay to have a religion as long as you don’t take it too seriously. (“After all, you don’t really believe there is some invisible man living in the sky who will punish you if you don’t believe and do just the right things, do you?”) So, somewhat reluctantly, I attended the service the day she was baptized. I still have the picture of me kneeling next to her as she stood with wet hair clutching her gift Bible. Next weekend, when she was with me, we would have the talk.
We never had the talk. I wasn’t able. I fully intended to, but the words just wouldn’t leave my lips. Cognitive dissonance began to set in. There I was, the faculty advisor for UGAtheists, on the cusp of organizing the Atheist Community of Athens, vehemently opposed to religious dogma in general and especially to Biblical Christianity. And here was a person I loved more than myself and my life who has embraced faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, I could not speak a single word to dissuade her or to attempt to minimize or contextualize her childlike faith. More than that, an undeniable joy in response to her commitment to Christ made my “daddy heart” to grin! What in the world was going on? Why was it that atheism seemed good enough for me but not good enough for my daughters? Why did it entail a worldview I was resolved to live out but was thankful when they refused to?
It would be several months before I would formally renounce atheism, but that day was the first pivot back towards God. I’m nothing if not a deeply contemplative and introspective person. I’m one of those crazy people that will drive for several hours by myself in the car and never bother turning on the radio. I usually prefer to just be alone with my thoughts. I’ll hike for hours without earbuds. That’s certifiable lunacy these days.
Right away, I had an epiphany (or perhaps I was given the epiphany). I had been passionately and pointedly critical of faith, especially the Christian faith. I had trained my brain to question religious claims and worldviews at every point. Yet I had never applied a similar skepticism to atheism. Looking back, I realized that I was cultured into it and merrily swallowed all of its assumptions hook, line, and sinker. Atheism entailed some bold claims. Was it up to the task of providing satisfactory and logically coherent support for those claims? It didn’t take me long to conclude that it wasn’t. (You can read more about this intellectual journey in my essay/booklet Five Philosophical Failures of Atheism.)
That spring semester, I quietly retreated from atheism. This was to be a private reorienting of my life and beliefs—an opportunity to be led by an undefined “higher power” toward the healing I very much needed in the wake of a broken family and adjusting to life as the single-again father of three young daughters. I hadn’t even planned on making an announcement. I would simply inform the UGAtheists that I enjoyed my time with them but was too tied up with other projects and they would likely be better served by another faculty advisor. I had no plans whatsoever to make my departure from atheism more pronounced or public than that. But God had different plans.
It was early afternoon on “Good Friday”—the Friday before Easter. We were approaching the end of the spring semester, and the campus was mostly devoid of students. I decided to get a quick lunch from the Bulldog Café at Tate Student Center. As I walked towards the Tate Plaza commons area, I was approached by a young man who asked me if I had a few minutes for a survey. I asked him what it was about, and he told me it was a “spiritual” survey. Right away, I realized that it was some type of Christian evangelistic campaign. Although I had jettisoned atheism in my heart a couple of months earlier, I decided to give him the “atheist answers” to his questions, just for sport.
Mark and I finished the survey and were engaged in some lighthearted and friendly debate when his friend David, a pastor at his church, walked up to introduce himself. Pastor David and I continued to talk for well over an hour, and I shared with him that I was in the process of exiting atheism, although I still considered myself skeptical of many of the claims of the Bible. We exchanged contact information and agreed to meet outside of downtown Athens Starbucks for a longer conversation after the semester ended.
During those discussions, I shared with Pastor David that something in my heart was fascinated with the person of Jesus of Nazareth but that I currently found it impossible to believe certain outrageous claims of the Bible (e.g., Adam and Eve, the great flood of Noah, et cetera) that flatly contradicted the “science” I had been taught. At some point, David asked me what my belief was about the central claim of Christianity—the resurrection of Jesus. It immediately flashed through my mind that I had just a few months back given a talk that was aimed at convincing people that Jesus’ resurrection probably didn’t happen and that psychology could explain the story of the resurrection. Yet I knew for sure that I wasn’t so sure. After all, if there is a God who at least sometimes works miracles, then the resurrection of Jesus is not impossible.
After two weeks of meeting for coffee, Pastor David challenged me to read the gospel of John before our third meeting. He confirmed that I had a Bible. (I knew there was the old NIV Study Bible I had since I was a teenager somewhere on my bookshelf.) He asked me to read it and to pray a prayer along these lines: “God, if you’re real and Jesus Christ really is the way to know you personally, please reveal that to me as I read”. I agreed to do that, but in my head, I was thinking, “I’ll do it, but what difference will it make? I already know what the Bible says. I grew up memorizing Bible verses every week!”
I almost forgot to do it. The evening before I was to meet with David again, I found myself dusting my bookshelf. That’s when it caught my eye. There between neuroscience and a psychopharmacology book was my NIV Study Bible—very much in need of dusting off! I slid it off the shelf, remembering my promise to read it. As I sat by myself on the couch and opened to the Gospel of John, the thought again crossed my head: “I’ll read this, but it won’t make any difference. I already know the Bible says Jesus rose from the dead. It isn’t going to convince me that it actually happened”.
Reading the Gospel of John brought back memories of many Bible lessons during my formative years, from being a preschool student in Sunday School to navigating my undergraduate years at WVU and participating in Friday evening church devotionals (which I even led on occasion). Jesus’ statements about himself—his “I AM” statements—always fascinated me. How could a mere man make such audacious claims without doing something unprecedented to back them up? And if he wasn’t able to back it up, then why are we still talking about him today, halfway around the world and two-thousand years later? If he just died and stayed dead, like every other alleged prophet and every other messiah figure, then why didn’t Christianity go the way of the movements begun by all of those other charismatic figures and revolutionaries? Those are pointed questions that literally every educated and intellectually-honest person must confront.
For reasons only God knows, the game changer for me—the next giant pivot back towards God—came as I read and absorbed John chapter eleven. Jesus’ close friend Lazarus fell ill and died. Four days after his death, Jesus arrives in Bethany where Lazarus had been buried and where his sisters, Mary and Martha, are in mourning. The sisters appear frustrated and confused by the fact that Jesus could have arrived earlier and healed their brother. After all, he is the “great physician”, and his ministry involved healing countless people of physical infirmities.
The sisters question why Jesus didn’t show up earlier to save their brother. Jesus replies that Lazarus will rise again. They respond that they know that he will rise again in “the resurrection on the last day”. Then, in the fourth of his astonishing “I AM” statements, Jesus assures Lazarus’ sisters that they don’t need to wait until then to experience resurrection power. “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus declares, “Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and anyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26, ESV). Resurrection is not just something that Jesus can do. It’s not just a miracle that God can perform. Resurrection is woven into the very fabric of who God, in Jesus Christ, is. Jesus’ identity is Resurrection and Life. The Resurrection is not just an event; the Resurrection is a Person!
Those last four words pierced my heart like an arrow. “Do you believe this?” Suddenly, I was acutely aware that this wasn’t merely a question posed to Lazarus’ sister Martha two-thousand years ago. Jesus was asking me this very same question. And I already knew that he knew the answer, as did I. “Yes, Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
How I wish, looking back, that this moment marked the point of my complete surrender to Jesus Christ. I would be among the worst of liars if I made that claim. The message of the gospel had invaded my mind like never before and it reverberated into my heart. I knew then that this message would invariably change the rest of my life, but that was much more of a process than I could ever have imagined. I confess that to my deep chagrin.
For the next two and a half years, I was equal parts “cultural Christian” and hypocrite. I won’t go into detail. All I will say is that like so many “Christians”—especially in the Bible Belt—I did my best to keep one foot in the church and the other in the world. The “world” to me involved continuing to make the same kind of poor relationship decisions I had made since my divorce and looking to another person instead of to God to define the basis of my identity. In one of the most beautiful in terrifying verses in the Bible, we are told that “for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6). I can promise you that being received by God is the height of fulfillment, meaning, and purpose. I can also promise you that being scourged by God in order to bring you there can be an absolutely crushing experience!
My crushing occurred in November 2014. A personal issue one official had with me was made into an administrative issue. Feeling backed into a corner, I (stupidly, in retrospect) reported this issue to the campus newspaper. Inaccurate reporting created the (false) impression that I had been fired from UGA, but I was not fired. Stated briefly, this lone administrator, who appeared to be mostly motivated by my public renouncing of atheism and conversion to Biblical Christianity, went on a mission to get me fired for something—meaning anything.
After attempting (and failing) to establish that I had made an inappropriate comment during a lecture from a previous semester, this official then alleged that I had entered an inappropriate dating relationship with a female doctoral (Ph.D.) candidate. However, that relationship that had been expressly approved by the associate department head who explicitly stated that the relationship would not be problematic because I did not teach or have any type of supervisory authority over that doctoral candidate. (It should also be noted that the doctoral candidate in question was in a different academic department at the university.)
Long story short: this official was never able to substantiate this alleged infraction. The official was supposed to present this “case” before a neutral judiciary panel of my peers, but—realizing that there was no evidence to support this alleged violation and much against it—the issue was not pursued any further.
Contrary to what a few media outlets reported (without checking the facts), I remained employed by UGA for eight more months, through the completion of my annual contract with UGA. I had informed my department that I wished to leave the university for other pursuits at that time, which I did. Incidentally, I have retained detailed documentation of this incident (including emails from the then-associate department head) that clearly shows that the alleged violation of UGA policy was, in fact, not a violation of any policy. I am happy to answer any questions and even share this documentation with anyone who has more questions.
While the administrative issue that led to my choosing to leave UGA was the result of a single person’s history of animus towards me, I want to make it abundantly clear that I recognize the poor relationship choices I made in the immediate aftermath of my divorce. I especially want to be clear in confessing that these relationships involved sinful patterns of behavior that were certainly not in line with living as a follower of Jesus Christ. Because of those patterns of sinful behavior, it is by no means clear to me that I actually had a living relationship with Jesus Christ prior to November 2014. Certainly, many people have positive beliefs about Christ but no living, obedient relationship with Christ. Thankfully, God granted me grace and repentance and delivered me from that lifestyle of sin and deceit and death in late 2014. It would take three years of being alone (no dating whatsoever) and devoting myself only to spiritual healing and the service of Jesus before I would be ready for a real, lifelong relationship with Mary Kathryn that God would lead us to in 2017.
I would devote four consecutive semesters, while I was completing as much of my seminary coursework as possible online, to serving as an intern and apprentice under evangelist and apologist Tom Short. With Tom and a team of interns, I traveled to campuses as far east as Wilmington, North Carolina, as far north as Grand Forks, North Dakota, as far south as Miami, FL, and as far west as San Diego, California. In total, I visited over fifty campuses for evangelistic outreach and apologetics engagement across those two years. As I traveled, I would keep in regular (sometimes almost daily) contact with Mary Kathryn, who was also learning how to leave the former things behind and devote herself to the wholehearted pursuit of the Kingdom of God.
Part of that indispensable journey, for both Mary Kathryn and me, involved becoming completely content in our singleness. We both had quite a history of poor relationship decisions (mine far worse than hers) like most people do when God is not truly at the center of their lives. God had to get us alone to accomplish the deep work of getting the “vertical” relationship right (i.e., the relationship with Him) before either of us would be ready for a “horizontal” relationship He could bless. In each of us, independently, God had to bring us to the point where our attitude was, “Lord, your will be done, whether that be a godly relationship with a spouse or a life of singleness devoted only to you”. Given my past, this process was neither quick nor easy, but it was very much worth it!
Mary Kathryn and I moved immediately from friendship to engagement to marriage within two months. After seeking counsel with several of our wisest brothers and sisters in the Lord, each with decades of devotion to Christ, it was clear that God was giving us the “green light” to get married and assuring us that our lives and ministries would be much more impactful for the Kingdom of God together than separate. On July 29, 2017, Pastor David Holt (yes, the same David I met on campus several years earlier while taking the “Great Exchange” survey!) officiated over our wedding at the chapel at Living Hope Church in Athens.
For more details about how the Lord worked in our lives to free us from our past selfishness, to bring us to Himself, and to unite our lives together, I encourage you to read the more detailed version of my journey from atheism to Jesus that will be available in the near future!
WHAT WE BELIEVE
Our beliefs align with historical confessional Protestant Christianity in the spirit of the Protestant Reformation. Accordingly, we affirm God as the eternal triune Creator of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ as the incarnate Word of God, coeternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the Bible as the inspired, infallible, inerrant word of God and the first and final authority in all matters pertaining to eternal life and godliness. We believe and confess that salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.
We warmly welcome any questions pertaining to the particulars of what we believe and why. Please contact us with your questions. The following links are provided to help expound what we believe and what we are convinced that all people who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior should believe and practice.
Although we are not Baptists, our beliefs align with the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 (which can be read in its entirety at https://bfm.sbc.net/bfm2000/#i-the-scriptures). We also hold to the doctrinal statement of our home church, Living Hope Church Athens, which can be found at https://www.livinghopeathens.org/distinctives as well as that of our campus apologetics alliance, Ratio Christ, which can be found at https://ratiochristi.org/about/beliefs/.
WHAT IS APOLOGETICS?
If you’ve ever watched a courtroom drama TV show or movie, you’re familiar with the role of a defense attorney. A defendant has been arrested and charged with a crime. The state, represented by the district attorney (D.A.), is tasked with making the case beyond a reasonable doubt for the culpability of the defendant. Opposite the D.A. is the defense attorney, who will be making the case that the defendant is not guilty of the charges the D.A. has brought against him or her.
The word “apologetics” is based on the Greek word “apologia” which refers to a defense that is prepared on one’s behalf. In other words, an “apologia” amounts to the case that is made in one’s favor. Accordingly, apologetics has nothing to do with the word “apology” as it is used in modern English. Rather, apologetics is concerned with making a reasoned case, not for a person and his actions, but for a system of belief in practice. Christian apologetics endeavors to make a compelling case for the existence of God, the truth of the Bible, and the life, death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and the Messiah.
As you might imagine, Christian apologetics is an incredibly diverse subject. In general, though, the project can be divided into two spanning categories—positive apologetics and negative apologetics. Positive apologetics involves building a positive case, based on evidence and reason, for belief (or, more precisely, trust) in God, the Bible, and Jesus. Negative apologetics aims to refute claims that would undermine historical Biblical Christianity.
It involves no exaggeration to claim that sound apologetics is more vital in the 21st century than ever before! The latter part of the 20th century has been referred to as the “Information Age” due to the rapid and pervasive rise of information technologies—radio, television, computers and, most significantly, the internet. While these technologies have been used by Christians to carry the message of Jesus Christ around the globe in unprecedented ways, they have also brought a new host of challenges to the Christian message. After all, misinformation about the Christian faith is more common on the internet than good information. Moreover, the expansive role of the internet (and especially social media) in socializing our young people and thereby shaping their biases, assumptions, and prejudices is difficult to overestimate.
As a result, there is no dearth of bad arguments against historic Biblical Christianity that common get passed along with little or no cross-examination or challenge.
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