Today we are excited to be able to welcome our friend Phil Pennington as a guest poster. Phil is someone that Chris & I have known for a really long time and whom we introduced to Trevor a number of years ago. He’s one of the most genuine and intelligent people we know as well as one of the funniest. He’s someone who will send you random pictures of cats knife fighting simply because he thinks it’s funny. Yep, he’s THAT guy. When we started talking about a series on faith, Phil is a voice I immediately thought would add to our conversation because of the journey he’s been on in recent years. He is an honest thinker and yes, an agnostic atheist. Although to know Phil is to understand that label is way too restricting to describe him. So we are excited for you to read his thoughts here because he offers a unique perspective. If you’d like to ask him any questions or send some love his way, we encourage you to do so in the comments. I’m sure he’s more than willing to respond and engage because he’s an awesome guy. Thanks for doing this, Phil. We love you, man. — Allen
If you don’t know me, my name is Phil. I was a Christian for most of my life until about 4 years ago when I began to identify as an agnostic atheist. I know that there can be some baggage that comes attached to those particular labels, but I am still content to own them. I am not here to claim a superior world view or denigrate the beliefs of others. I am simply here to tell part of my story, and be a part of some healthy dialogue.
It is difficult to have a conversation about why someone chooses one particular belief system or another. Typically their reasons are numerous and the rationale behind them can have many layers. But what we can do is have discussions about certain aspects of our world views and how we arrived at those conclusions. It is through these exchanges that we begin to find common ground. When we do this we start to care about each other in a way that is more personal, because we begin to see ourselves in the individual sitting across from us.
“Now faith is the assurance that what we hope for will come about and the certainty that what we cannot see exists.” Hebrews 11:1 (ISV)
Then the author of Hebrews goes on to express that only through faith can a person understand the fantastic circumstances in which God created time and space. A whole chapter dedicated to the importance of a faith that allowed people to avoid physical death, overcome worldwide floods, and become the unlikely father to nations. Faith helped inferior forces route superior armies, the mortal to raise the dead, and martyrs to calmly accept horrific fates knowing that there was more to come after this life.
It was a call for the Christians of that time to stand up and boldly join the ranks of the most storied heroes of their traditions. It tied the Old Testament to the new covenant and brought everything full circle. All that was required to take seat alongside these legendary men and women was faith.
This used to be my favorite part of the Bible, but things have changed. Where I used to see a call to arms, now I see a reminder of why I do not call myself a Christian today. Because it seems that I lack the most essential ingredient that is required for Christianity, and that is Faith.
No matter what particular theology you happen to hold about who God is or how we are supposed to relate to Him, those thought processes never occur without a foundation of faith. What I found to be true about myself, is that I had completely taken faith for granted. I had paid faith lip service. When something good happened, I had faith that God was the one orchestrating events. When something bad happened, I had faith that God worked in mysterious ways. If I found scientific information that contradicted the infallibility of the Bible, I simply ignored it and credited the victory to my faith.
This was a bullet proof way to approach life and it allowed me to have the right answer for every scenario. Faith was my “get out of thinking free” card, and I played it quite often. But like any holes in our reasoning, with enough time and opportunity, they become exposed. A shallow faith can only keep doubt at bay for so long. Some people can avoid pulling at that thread for their whole lives, but I am not one of those people. I like having answers. I like knowing that what I am trying to sell to others is real. The more life I lived, the more questions I asked. The more I asked, the less I found myself able to accept the idea that there were questions to which faith would be my only answer.
The Bible is a hard book to read without having faith. The accounts of creation and the flood found in Genesis require faith that the Bible is more accurate than the efforts of science. Stories of God allowing the death of Job’s children, killing the innocent Egyptian first born, and demanding the genocide of the Amalekites are hard to reconcile without faith in God’s goodness. Talking donkeys, giant Nephilim, long-haired judges with super strength; these are all fantastic stories that require faith if they are believed to be historically accurate. And that is just the Old Testament. Jesus jumps on the scene through a virgin birth and we see miracles, the dead risen, divine revelation, and ascensions to heaven. If these things are not true and did not really happen, then where is the authority behind Christ’s call for us to follow Him? The Bible is how I knew who God was and what he was about. The Bible was the foundation of my faith. When my ability to trust the Bible was compromised, my faith followed soon after.
So here I am, a man without faith. I have no regrets about where I have ended up, because I know my journey began and continues with a desire to be honest about who I really am and what it is that I actually believe. I know that there are many out there who have had similar journeys and have come away with faith intact and strengthened. I also know that there are many who followed their doubt into a world without faith or God. But what I am sure of more than anything is that there are those out there who are just like I was and take faith for granted. To those I would say that it is time to trust yourself and dive into those difficult questions. You will either come away with a stronger belief or you will come away unburdened from a faith that you never really owned in the first place.
Thank you Allen, Trevor, and Chris for allowing me to share the margin you have created for these types of discussions. Thank you for not excluding me from your community, just because I approach the world a little differently than you. It means the world to me.
I love respectful dialogue and feedback, so feel free to comment and I will answer any questions that you may have.