I’ve written a lot of posts about Jerry DeWitt because he’s such a compelling guy: An ex-Pentecostal preacher who is now a graduate of the clergy project, Jerry has become a voice for atheism as well as a strong supporter of non-religious communities (similar to the ones seen in the religious world). His newly-released book Hope after Faith: An Ex-Pastor’s Journey from Belief to Atheism, written with Ethan Brown, documents his journey from hard-core Christian to preaching atheist:
The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book (reprinted with permission of Da Capo Press):
As I immersed myself in Bible study in my mother’s trailer in Rosepine, no one — not even [wife] Kelli — knew that I was undergoing a profound spiritual transformation. I kept my new, life-altering perspectives on faith a secret. I didn’t betray change on the outside because I still saw myself as a Pentecostal culturally, if not a Pentecostal doctrinally. The façade I created was a necessity because the transformation, while deeply painful for me, would have destroyed the image my family and friends held of me. The contrast between my outward appearance — still that of a young Pentecostal preacher eager to grow a ministry of his own — and my internal struggle over my faith was mirrored in the schizoid nature of the struggle itself. On the one hand, my months of Bible study felt like a dark night of the soul — I was totally alone and questioning everything I ever believed. There in my mother’s trailer, I truly understood the cliché that the hardest thing about searching for the truth is that sometimes you find it. On the other hand, I was completely energized and enthralled by my revelations about the Bible. It felt like the library of Alexandria had not been destroyed and I was one of the first people to walk through it and discover its scrolls. I had prayed with the Branhamites and the Goodwinites in search of these spiritual truths. But what made this moment different and more exciting was that I could actually see these truths on paper, sustained by the weight of actual evidence versus being upheld by the power of a particular preacher’s personality. If I came to a historical fact about, say, Paul, I could confirm it through a source outside the Bible, like the Catholic Encyclopedia, and find out that, yes, that’s just the way it happened.
My faith was no longer centered around an argument or a popularity contest between differing Pentecostal worldviews espoused by charismatic preachers; it was about discovering ideas about God and Christianity that were provable. It was heartbreaking to finally break through the last piece of my long-held belief that doctrine was divinely inspired because it had ramifications for every aspect of my faith. If the Bible is no longer God’s voice into the pen of the prophet but is instead a historical reference of an actual event or person, then the idea of, for example, divine healing seen in Isaiah 53:5 — “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” — ceases to have relevance and, more importantly, the whole concept of divine healing comes into question. If the divine Bible verse from Isaiah is what the entire fortress of divine healing rests upon, then if the verse has a human author the structure of divine healing collapses. My faith had been anchored to idea that the Bible was not only divinely written but also had eternal implications. So if the Bible has an eternal author then what he wrote four thousand years ago applies to all of us today. But if, as I was coming to realize, the Bible has a temporal author then that specific idea died with him or soon after. The Bible, then, becomes like literature or poetry — I could be moved by it but I did not have to receive it as eternal truth nor as divinely composed.
Hope after Faith: An Ex-Pastor’s Journey from Belief to Atheism is now available on Amazon and in bookstores.
If you’d like to win a copy of the book, just tell us what inspired you to become an atheist and leave the hashtag #HopeAfterFaith at the end of the comment. I’ll contact a random winner next week!