70 years in the making

unklee4This page at a glance

What leads an (allegedly) otherwise intelligent person, after retiring from full time employment, to start this blog plus a website about the reasons to believe in God? Why do all that reading, writing, learning to code and responding to comments?

How did I go from Aussie boy to old man? How come I’m still a christian, almost seventy years after I was conceived? What has life taught me?

This is my story (if anyone’s interested); I guess you could call it my spiritual journey.

(This page is adapted from a similar page on my other website, Is there a God?)

I was born at a very early age …

I was born in 1945, right at the end of World War 2, the second of four sons. We lived an ordinary, frugal life in Sydney as Australia moved from post war austerity to mid 50’s boom. The high points of my young life were undoubtedly our camping holidays. Three times a year (because my dad was a teacher) we packed the car, drove to an out-of-the-way spot on the NSW coastline, crammed into a tent, explored the waterways and bush and enjoyed the freedom.

Not much spiritual here

unklee-4

We weren’t a christian family – God was almost never mentioned – but we were all sent to Sunday School, perhaps because mum thought it was the right thing to do. I must have been a trusting soul in those days, and I seemed to just accept all I was taught without really thinking about it.

I continued on into the church youth group, and here I was confronted with a more insistent form of christianity – would I give in to God, accept the offer of forgiveness available in Jesus, and live for him? I held out for about a year, thinking it was true but not wanting to give over any degree of control over my life to a God who might, well, might do anything.

The circumstances of finally making that decisions probably say a lot about me. An evangelistic crusade was coming to Sydney, a follow up to a Billy Graham crusade a couple of years earlier that had had an enormous impact on Sydney. The youth group was going, and I was afraid that I might be so overwhelmed by spirital emotion that I’d embarrass myself and have to “go forward” and make a public display of myself. To avoid that, I gave into God quietly – like CS Lewis, a most reluctant convert.

Boots and all

Once I’d made the choice, at 17 years of age and at the end of my first year at university avoiding studying Civil Engineering, I started to live with it, in two ways.

Firstly, I took the commands to live for Jesus seriously – the first passage I underlined in my Bible was Jesus’ command to take up our cross daily. Of course I did this very poorly, but I at least knew what I ought to be doing if I was to be consistent.

My other choice was quite far reaching. I didn’t want to be believing something that wasn’t true, and I wanted to be able to give other people reasons to believe too, so I started reading books that would help me understand what was true. My first choices presaged my life-long interests:

  • My first love was CS Lewis. Mere Christianity was like a shaft of pure sunlight, and I quickly followed it with the more challenging Miracles and some of his essays and talks. Lewis was, for me, deep (much more so than the mild reformed theology I received at church), sensible (not too much embarrassing emotion or devotion) and persuasive.
  • Frank Morison’s Who moved the stone? also made a deep impression, because he began writing more or less as a non-believer, and assumed only what a secular historian would endorse, yet found good evidence that Jesus was really resurrected.
  • I was also interested in whether the Bible was to be trusted, and FF Bruce’s The New Testament Documents: Are they reliable? gave me scholarly reassurance on that (though I later came to think he claimed a little too much).

Other influences – the good the bad and the ugly

The other big influences on me were perhaps a little unusual. For my 18th birthday a perceptive older friend gave me my first Bob Dylan album, The Times They Are A-Changing. Hardly anyone else could get past that nasal voice, but I just loved the passion, perception and the sense of justice. Suddenly music was no longer trite teen love and angst, but something much more gripping, and I felt the pull of living for a cause, and the attraction of thinking outside a fairly conservative mindset.

Another influence which led me to feed my inner rebel was the series of Saint books by Leslie Charteris – not about a christian hero but a fictional debonair modern day Robin Hood who used illegal methods to vanquish villains, rescue damsels, right wrongs and make a lot of money on the way. Somehow, while living the most normal suburban existence, I came to think that challenging authority and the status quo were ideals I could sometimes embrace.

It seemed in those days that there were two types of christians – those who made sure their doctrine was right and seemed to be averse to showing any religious emotion, and those who seemed much less concerned about doctrine but who were quite overt in their love for God. I was quite firmly in the doctrinal camp in those days, but I retained an interest in those strangers in the emotional camp, which later led me to (metaphorically) dancing with the Pentecostals for a time.

But perhaps the biggest influence of all was the quite normal amount of teenage hormones and angst that I experienced through my late teens. While I felt confident of eternal life in the next world, I was far from confident about life right now. I suppose I gave the appearance of being rational and intelligent, if a little too talkative, but many a night I sat at the desk in my room, without the modern distractions of computer, TV or private phone, and brooded on life, the uncertain future, truth, justice and my own inadequacies. I was fortunate there was no Mr Tambourine Man in my life to take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind, and I found my way through.

Defining moments

I have written before about a defining moment, that occurred when I was considering the way evangelical christians perceived evangelism, and how few or none of the Bible passages supporting that approach came from the mouth of Jesus. The thought went through my mind: Jesus wasn’t a very good evangelist. Immediately I thought it, I knew it must be wrong, by definition. If Jesus didn’t conform to our ideas of evangelism, then our ideas were wrong.

And so I began on a path to understand Jesus in his historical and cultural setting. Scottish theologian AM Hunter was the one who unlocked the door for me, showing me that Jesus was inaugurating the kingdom of God and showing us and telling us how we should live in that kingdom – a much ‘bigger’ and more exciting message than standard evangelical christianity of the time.

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The other big defining moment was finding the most wonderful girl and marrying at age 21. She has taught me so much about living and relating. In time we had three children. Living in the same house as someone you love deeply, and trying to raise three very different children despite your own imperfections, is a most sobering experience – quickly I came to understand my weaknesses and failings and was constantly challenged to live up to the standards I claimed.

Growing up, growing away

In the ensuing years, I completed my Engineering degree, served for two years as a conscript in the Australian Army during the Vietnam war, completed a Theology degree by private study, worked as a water engineer and environmental manager, and tried to serve God in several different churches and denominations. And my religious beliefs changed because of my experiences and reading.

When their beliefs are challenged, people often respond by either giving up their belief because the problems seem to overwhelm their reasons to believe, or else crawl into their shell and refuse to think of possible change. For some reason, I found my faith and understanding growing but changing in a whole lot of ways.

The church

It became clear to me very early on that the twentieth century western church was a very poor descendent of the first century church – they changed the world despite their imperfections, but we couldn’t even change ourselves. I came to believe that Jesus would be as critical of the church today as he was of the religious elite in his day – for a power-based rather than servant view of leadership, a lack of dependence on the Holy Spirit and the gifts he gives to all believers, and often a lack of compassion towards people’s needs, especially people not like us.

The Bible

From wanting to defend the Bible against every attack to accepting it as it is, has been a long journey. Accepting the early Old Testament as legend (which CS Lewis taught me), and accepting what the scholars say about the New Testament, hasn’t changed what I can and do believe about Jesus very much, but has enabled me to understand him better and apply his teachings better to the present day. I have been through times when this wasn’t so clear, because I was reading (at that time) a few ultra sceptical scholars, but the consensus of secular scholarship has been a great help to my faith, and the way I now present it to others.

Teachings

One by one, a few less important doctrines have dropped away:

  • I found the New Testament, understood correctly, didn’t teach the conventional view of hell as everlasting punishment. I believe we all make choices that determine whether this life is all we have, or whether we also receive life in the age to come.
  • For many years I accepted neither evolution nor the Genesis account as literal truth, but eventually came to accept the science of evolution.
  • I have become much more aware of social justice issues – global poverty, climate change, assisting the marginalised in Australia – and no longer think evangelism is more important than any of them. God calls us to holistic ministry.
  • I have never really believed that a patriarchal church, where women have a reduced role, was what God wanted today, but I feel clearer about that now. I am still unclear about God’s attitude to homosexuality, but I have an open mind.
  • In fact, I care a lot less about doctrine than I used to. I still believe truth is important, but love and obedience are more important, and we need the humility to recognise we don’t understand as much as we’d like to think we do.
Christians vs atheists

Almost a decade ago I joined the internet community and the discussion of religion. At first I was stunned by the vitriolic way some christians and unbelievers argued, and I tended to be polite but robust myself. I have learned and read a lot through these discussions, including learning to be less provocative and willing to walk away rather than step across an invisible line. I have considered the arguments presented to me, and what I think in reply, and learnt what makes sense (to me at least) and what doesn’t. I am a clearer thinker as a result.

There are things that other christians think that I cannot accept. There are things about the world that I find difficult to fit with the idea that it was created by a good God. But after half a century of grappling with these matters, I find that there are still many more things that don’t fit with the idea that there is no God. Believing in God and following Jesus still makes more sense to me than any alternative.

Been there, done that

Serving God, generally my wife and I together, has taken me into interesting areas. I’ve led youth groups and taught in Sunday School, including a group in our home for the kids in our street. I’ve been an evangelistic team leader, an elder and a preacher. I’ve helped churches develop strategic plans and I’ve edited newsletters and magazines. I’ve visited christian friends in gaol and psych ward, and sat in the gutter with a friend who may have overdosed and I had to work out what needed to be done. I have made friends with people on the fringes of our affluent society and led a cafe church for them. I’ve set up social justice programs in a church with no history or even much interest in them, and seen them thrive. I’ve been part of a long-running house church mostly comprising people 30 years younger than me and joined in baptising five of them in the creek behind the house where we met.

I’ve come from a doctrinal view that stressed God’s sovereignty and left little reason to pray, to a view where I see prayer as very important. And so the two of us spend half an hour (more or less) every morning praying for each other, our children, relatives and friends, the ministries we are involved in, and whatever else comes to mind.

In recent years I’ve set up my Is there a God? website and then this website too, participated in internet forums discussing religion, made a few apparent enemies, but also scores of friends from all over the world.

And most of all, I’m aware I’ve made so many mistakes, learnt I am a flawed human being, and have had to try to change in many ways. I have questioned my faith, let people down and said things at the wrong time, in the wrong way – or sometimes they should never have been said at all. But through it all, somehow I’ve kept believing. No matter how often I re-assess the evidence, it always seems to stack up. God isn’t a certain reality in my life, but believing him makes easily the most sense for me. I don’t think my life would have taken this course if he wasn’t actually there.

The future?

I’m now 69; who knows how long I have left? But we are clear in our minds that we will keep on as we have for the last 50 years. Keeping an open mind, trying to learn new things, trying to keep in touch with what is happening in the world and what God is doing. Sharing what we have learnt with anyone interested, especially encouraging younger generations to settle for nothing less that the truth that will set them free.

18 thoughts on “70 years in the making

  1. carmen says:

    Well, Eric, I cannot imagine that you have any enemies. If all christians were like you, no one would ever use a derisive word about a christian. I know that, from your point of view, your positive attributes come from God, but from my point of view, you make good choices, behave in a compassionate manner, and are probably,simply, a very nice man. I’m glad I’ve ‘met’ you. (and I like your story) 🙂

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  2. unkleE says:

    Hi Carmen, thanks so much for the compliments. I’m glad I’ve ‘met’ you too!

    I think you have seen me on my best behaviour. I have been more argumentative in the past, but hopefully I’m learning to be caring first and making a point second.

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  3. newport977 says:

    Hi Eric,

    It’s nice that our paths have crossed 🙂 the Internet is great like that and it’s been great to read your comments over the years.

    Thanks for sharing

    Like

  4. Peter says:

    It’s quite a long time since we were in touch with each other. A lot has changed for me especially over the last couple of years. Our stories are somewhat different even if we have both been rebels. I rejected what I was taught about the trinity in a Baptist church when I was 13 – and that was 65 years ago! With hindsight that questioning really went on for 57 years until I read ‘The Shack’ in 2007. I have no recollection of ever doubting the existence of God. I have an Anglican background and long ago rejected the traditional teachings of hell. I’ve spent a lot of time recently updating the introduction to my blog (I haven’t quite finished). I’d be interested in any thoughts you might have.

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  5. ignorantianescia says:

    This was interesting to read, UnkleE. You have mentioned much of it before, but you nonetheless have a knack for presenting personal stories in a way that captivates attention.

    And I suppose Newport has commented here on occasion for years, is that correct? I think I know under which handle. 🙂

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  6. geloofseun says:

    Blessings, Greetings, and Salutations to you 🙂

    Happened on your blog after a Google search, and, amongst quite a list of suggestions, I’ve clicked on WHAT THE SCHOLARS TELL US ABOUT THE OLD TESTAMENT. So glad I did, ’cause the thoughts/info you share is just what I am looking for! I’m a “believer” and follower of Jesus, but outside of organized religion. For some time I’m “going it alone” (humanly speaking) ’cause there’s just too many “things” I have to clarify for myself. Presently I just cannot accept the Jewish/Christian scriptures as infallible and inerrant. Sure, a lot of wonderful spiritual info contained therein, but also a lot of “uninspired” and “god-breathed” info belonging to another time and age…

    But I don’t throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water 😉

    I’ve enjoyed your personal story and recognized quite a lot of what you’ve shared, dovetailing with my own journey. I’m looking forward to explore the rest of your site as well as the sister-site. I’m very happy for having “happened” on your site…

    All the best on your personal journey.

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  7. unkleE says:

    Hi thanks for your comments and encouragement. I went to your website and saw that it was in (I presume) Dutch. Unfortunately, my Dutch is nowhere nearly as good as your English!

    You are exactly the sort of person this blog was created for, so you are especially welcome. I think there are more and more people following Jesus but less sure about some aspects of the church and unconvinced that the Bible is inerrant.

    I hope you do read more, and comment further – I’d be interested to hear a little of your story and what you think. Please feel free to email if that would be better (there is a link at the top).

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  8. Arno says:

    Thanks for the welcoming message, E [?], much appreciated, and yes, I’ve gathered that I’m in good company here…as in “birds of the same feather…” 😉

    You are quite perceptive/knowledgeable as far as my mother-tongue is concerned — well, almost. It’s actually Afrikaans and a derivative of Dutch. Afrikaans developed through time after Commander Jan van Riebeeck established a “refreshment-post” on 6 April 1652 at the southern tip of Africa, that is today known as South Africa. The progenitor of my clan (one of the French Huguenots, fled France for South Africa during 1688 after the repeal of the Edict of Nantes…and here I am today, after so many centuries still acting the good Protestant, although from a totally different angle. I guess they would have labeled me in yonder years an apostate to the faith 🙂

    Just thought I’ll give you some background info for the time-being…

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  9. unkleE says:

    Hi Arno, my name is Eric. I used to be nicknamed Uncle Eric at work, so I continued that name when I started on the web (but with a “k”), but I kind of wish I’d used my real name.

    Thanks for the background, I am always very interested in where people have come from (in all sense of that phrase). So your family background is French rather than Dutch – I didn’t know there were French people among the Afrikaaners.

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  10. Arno says:

    Eric, hi. Correct – my family background is French, if we stick to the biblical patriarchal tradition (which I *not* so quietly loathe.) My matriarchal lineage, on the other hand, is traced to the Dutch and German 😀

    The Huguenots formed their own *ghetto* at the Cape of Good Hope, but were encouraged to intermarry with colonists who in time arrived from all over the globe. I guess that, through a micro evolutionary process 😉 a communal dialect developed that in time was derogatively referred to as *kitchen language*, and among the Afrikaners eventually came to be known as Afrikaans. It was not until 1928 that Afrikaans received legal status. As an aside, the Afrikaners made use of the STATENBIJBEL as official translation of the scriptures until the first Afrikaans translation was launched in 1933, revised in 1953, and after another revision that was recieved by the three Dutch Reformed *Sister* Churches during 1983, all of a sudden blossomed into various interesting translations/versions. (I enjoy using DIE BOODSKAP [The Message] as an easy read…) Presently even the official translation of 1983 is in the process of revision :-\

    I have personally read the Bible (every time from Genesis to Revelation, and WITHOUT skipping all those tedious and boring genealogies and instructions of exactly how the tabernacle in the wilderness was to be built and later the so-called Temple of Solomon … Ugh, what an exercise 🙂 several times in Afrikaans, KJV, AV, NEB, etc. In so doing, more and more *cracks* appeared in the ecclesiastical armor this so-called BOOK of Books is cloaked with. Today I do not regret the time spent with all these different versions, because I came to be well grounded in the *contents* thereof if not the *theology*. So, when someone tends to become very vocal about their personal pet peeves with whatever they are peeved with, I am always tempted to ask, “But have you read ALL of it?”. I just feel people should be careful to not criticize if they have not taken time out to at least once read through the whole tome. I feel qualified to make the pronouncements I am making B-)

    Wow, sorry. I only intended to give a bit of additional info how it happened that Afrikaans is my mother-tongue… All the best until another time – I have some interesting reading to do!

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  11. unkleE says:

    Hi Arno, don’t apologise, that was most interesting I have some understanding of the situation in South Africa, for I have a good friend of Indian background from Durban who migrated to Australia many years ago because of apartheid, but I don’t think I have met anyone from an Afrikaner background before.

    I think it is very helpful to have read the entire Bible – which I have, twice I think, but only in English! 🙂 But I think the OT can give a wrong picture of God if it isn’t understood correctly and in context.

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  12. Luca says:

    1945…Thats alot of life expirience.
    Man. As a 15 year old that seems very. Big :p
    Thanks for all the help in this Blog!

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  13. unkleE says:

    Hi Luca, I can remember (just) when I was 15. It seems a long time ago now. But all you do is keep breathing, in and out, and one day you get to 71 (if you keep breathing!).

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