Like Jacob in the book of Genesis, my spiritual journey has been one of wrestling with God. Not physical wrestling, like that engaged in by Jacob, but wrestling intellectually with the questions and implications that have arisen from my realisation that God exists and Jesus Christ actually, in reality, rose from the grave.
I was not raised a Christian; in my early years my family attended an Anglican Church. This was part of the residual Anglicanism which is part of New Zealand’s heritage as a British colony. We ceased attending in the early 80’s when I was around 6. I was raised in a very secular environment where what are commonly referred to as ‘liberal ideals and values’ were taken for granted.
Something kept drawing me to the reality of God. New Zealand has an amazingly beautiful country-side, which I spent a lot of my youth hiking and exploring in; I kept being aware of a spiritual presence, a glory, an amazingly awesome being reflected in the world around me and I felt it was providentially guiding me. I engaged in theological debates at intermediate and high school as I explored this sense.
Then at 16 I began to ask serious questions about morality and my life. My parents had divorced, my friends were promiscuous, doing drugs and breaking the law. I had attended a very conservative upper-class boarding school and I had also attended a very permissive public school by then. I began to ask questions about how I should live, were the beliefs I had correct, what sort of person did I want to be? Who was correct, the Christians from the past or the moderns of today? And how do we tell – how can I know?
These questions lead me to attend a Church in 1991, which was enthralled by the teachings of Bishop Spong. Spong was teaching that the bible was not authoritative, Christ did not rise from the dead, Christians needed to revise their views on sexuality, and so on. I was puzzled as to why a Church would teach things like this. The elders recommended I read some “modern critical scholarship”. This led me to encounter the debate over many of these issues for the first time. I discovered Josh McDowell, Alistair McGrath, Francis Schaeffer and serious evangelical scholarship for the first time.
At a youth camp ran by the Methodist church in 1991 I ran into a small group of evangelicals who began sharing with me the Christian faith. I came before God in prayer and committed by life to following him. This was the most dramatic life changing experience I have ever had.
I started University the next year. Waikato University was the most secular university in New Zealand, and my new beliefs came under concerted intellectual attack. For time-tabling reasons I was forced to do a philosophy degree and from day one everything I had committed to was assaulted intellectually in my classes. My wrestling with God continued. As my interlocutors raised questions I went to the library to find literature that was not on the reading lists, which helped me address these questions.
I discovered the writings of Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, William Lane Craig and J P Moreland. I began to ask questions about how my faith related to politics or history or to the theoretical disciplines I was studying. There was no real place I knew of where evangelicals could get these questions answered so I went to the library and began to skim through the books on the shelf and read. I began using what I discovered to respond to my sceptical interlocutors. I soon found they were quite unprepared for the answers I gave. It seemed to me Christianity had lost the cultural battle by default with skeptics raising age-old questions that Christian writers had already addressed and taking the silent response as acquiescence.
I also began to discover the great classics from Christian history. After disagreeing sharply with the very skeptical lecturer of my religious studies class I began checking primary sources. This led me to begin reading Athanasius, Augustine’s City of God, Calvin’s Institutes, sections of Aquinas and so on. I began to discover there was a wealth of history that I had not been made aware of and which my culture had caricatured.
My wrestling with these questions transformed me radically. I went on to do a Masters degree in philosophy on the relationship between faith, reason and scholarship and a PhD thesis on ethics. I found myself estranged from the very anti-intellectual, pietistic evangelical traditions that dominate in New Zealand. I also felt estrangement from the mainstream academic community due to my commitment to a fairly conservative Christian faith.
Despite this, I have felt in doing this I have been faithful to the call I perceived on my life at a young age. It ignited in me a passion to assist other Christians to wrestle with these questions and to come up with credible answers with which to engage the secular culture credibly. It has led me to having a very Socratic pedagogy and a demand for a high level of logical rigour, cultural awareness, and faithful theological commitment to my endeavours. This is why I blog at MandM.
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