In Search of Meaning – Erik Manning’s story

Jul 23, 2021

Side B Stories
In Search of Meaning - Erik Manning's story
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Believing that science provided better answers than religion, and faced with the problem of evil in the world, Erik viewed Christianity as just a pleasant myth. But after becoming dissatisfied with his conclusions, his search for meaning led him to affirm the truth and reliability of the Christian faith.

If you’d like to know more about Erik or his apologetics work, you can follow him on:

Erik mentioned these resources on the podcast:


Episode Transcript

Hello, and thanks for joining me today. I’m Jana Harmon, and you’re listening to the Side B Podcast, where we listen to the other side. We all want to make sense of the world around us, of the world within us. We want our lives to mean something, to be going somewhere. We want our lives to be valuable and satisfying. When life doesn’t seem to offer that and we don’t know where to find it, it can leave us feeling a bit confused and conflicted, wondering if there’s anything more to life than we know or experience. Is this all there is?

This existential dissatisfaction can prompt a thinking person to reconsider where they are and who they are in life. It can cause them to take a closer look at their own beliefs, because ideas have consequences. They affect not only the way we think but also the way we live, and even whether life is worth living at all.  Cognitive or emotional dissidence, while sometimes uncomfortable, can become unlivable. This tension can spark a desire to search for truth that brings real meaning and satisfaction to life, that helps us make sense of the world, of others, and of ourselves. That’s the story we’ll be listening to today, but it also rings true for many stories, perhaps for your story, for we all want to make sense of our lives to find out what, at times, seems so illusive.

So I hope you’ll enjoy listening to Erik Manning. He’s a former atheist who’s been down this path but finally found what he had been looking for in the place he had been avoiding for a very long time. Hello, Erik, and welcome to the Side B Podcast.

Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

Erik, as we’re getting started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re from, what you do, where you live perhaps?

Sure. My name is Erik Manning, and live in Marion, Iowa, which is just right outside of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and I am a freelance website designer and also home-school my four kids. Well, I have five kids total, including a baby, but they’re still a ways from being school age. And my wife owns a business out of our home, a vintage decor business, and then I also have a website, IsJesusAlive.com, which is like a blog dedicated to providing information about the Christian worldview and mostly historical apologetics, like reasons to believe that the New Testament is historically reliable.

That sounds very interesting, and obviously you’ve come a long way from atheism, so I’ll be interested to hear more about that as we go, now that you have, it sounds like, kind of a public apologetics ministry. That’s really fascinating. So let’s go to the flip side of that, and I want to hear the beginning of your story. Because you weren’t always into a apologetics or Christianity. You were more along the atheistic understanding of life and worldview. So tell me how your story towards atheism started. Take me back to where you grew up, perhaps your family, and any view of God there.

Sure. Well, I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, actually, until I was about seven or eight years old. I went to catholic school. My father actually taught at a catholic school. My grandparents were very heavily into Catholicism and made sure that they took us to Mass every Sunday, and I even had my First Communion. And then we moved away. They lived in Michigan, and we ended up moving to St. Louis. My parents took jobs there. And my parents… Well, my grandparents were very religious. My parents weren’t really as religious at all, and my dad was kind of more agnostic, I would say, and even had some kind of hostility towards God. He’s not that way now. He has become a Christian since then. And then my mom was just very—oh, I don’t know. She just kind of thought that there was many ways to God and kind of relativistic as far as religion goes, and so, once we moved away to St. Louis, we barely kept up with our church attendance at all, and so it just wasn’t something that they were any longer interested in. As a child, I remember at times praying and talking to God. I wasn’t closed off to God.

But things really changed as I became a teenager, and so what happened is I just started to observe the world around me a little bit. My parents were into alcohol, and that kind of made things rough growing up, and then a lot of my friends also came from pretty broken homes as well. A lot of single-parent homes. Around this time in St. Louis, there was a huge flood that got a lot of national attention, and so you see these disasters and then—you just look at the history of the world and all these wars and pain and suffering and looking at my own life and my friends’ lives and just seeing all this pain and suffering, and that’s when I began to become very skeptical of God and religion. And along the way, too, I mean you’re going to school and you are hearing things about like Neo-Darwinism, and that seemed to explain human origins to me a little bit better than a couple in a garden talking to a snake or something like that. I remember reading those stories as a kid and then hearing these things in my science class, and I’m not saying they had some sort of anti-God agenda by teaching me that, but it just brought me to a conclusion that maybe science has better answers than religion and also if God exists—it’s just kind of the typical problem of evil. How could He allow all of these things to happen, so He just probably doesn’t exist, and so that’s how I eventually became an atheist.

So just a combination of a lot of different things, the observation of the world around you, inside of you, just things seemed to be rather broken, plus science had a better explanation.

Right.

So you had had some kind of positive experiences of God as a child, but that obviously faded away as these doubts arose and you became kind of, I guess, more informed in terms of things of the world and things in education, and it just didn’t seem convincing to you anymore. So I just wonder, even as a teenager, as you were drifting away from “the God thing,” in your mind, what was belief in God or Christianity or religion—what was that to you? Was it some kind of a fairy tale or mythology?

Yeah. I would say so. It just seemed to me like it was like a pleasant myth that people wanted to believe, maybe really wished very strongly to believe, but to me, it just seemed like those people were just kind of blinded and duped and deceived, and if they really were as thoughtful as other people, they would’ve obviously realized this. And so that’s just basically how I viewed Christians and Christianity. I didn’t really have a whole lot of interaction with too many Christians. I’ve had, like, a friend across the street from me that invited me to a church lock-in one time, but it didn’t really make much of a difference to me. I was probably there more for games and free food.

Yeah.

So this was just at a younger age. This was around 14, 15 years old or so. And so there was that. I just kind of thought that these people were, like I said, just wanted to believe something to maybe give them hope or feel better about their lives or feel comforted, but I didn’t think that it had any sort of basis whatsoever, and I just kind of thought that they were just going by what everybody else had taught and just didn’t really think these things through for themselves.

I’m curious. As you, again, were becoming more and more skeptical of belief in God and Christianity, did you ever ask any questions to any kind of church leader or any other Christian that you knew of, how they could perhaps answer questions about the relationship of science and belief in God?

No.

How would they… No?

Yeah, no. I just… I never sought anybody out to ask the questions. It’s strange because a lot of times people become an atheist or a Christian because somebody really reached out to them one way or the other and tried to persuade them. In my case, I just mostly… I was just, on my own, thinking through these things, I guess. Of course, as I became a Christian, I wouldn’t at all downplay the role of the Holy Spirit. Without Him, I’d definitely wouldn’t have changed my mind, but I was just really on my own. I didn’t really know who I could ask questions to. I didn’t really know who I could even really reach out to, and no Christians, aside from, like I said, a friend who invited me to church, really reached out to me a whole lot. Or even tried to talk to me about these things.

So as you were shedding, I guess, the superstition and the delusion of Christianity behind and you took God off the table, as it were, did you understand or really think about what you were embracing, in terms of a naturalistic, atheistic worldview and all the implications of that?

Yeah. I would say so. As an atheist, I thought right and wrong couldn’t possibly exist. I was very morally nihilistic. Because if there is no God, I just believed that there was no real basis for morality. And there was no point of just being moral for the sake of convention. I would just act in pretty much whatever way served my best interest at the moment. Not that I wanted to be the worst person in the world, but I just had a very kind of grim outlook on life. I got involved a lot into drugs and different things like that. I got into a crowd of people that were not necessarily a great group of people. A lot of high school drop-outs, a lot of people that lived out of kind of like a low-income housing project that were involved in some things that weren’t necessarily great. Although I never got really involved into all of the things that they got involved in, I very much could have gone down a path that they did. A lot of these kids that I knew, these friends of mine, got arrested, ended up in juvenile hall. One of the guys that I’m friends with out of this group just got out of prison not that long ago.

Oh, okay.

Yeah. And so just running around with a group of people that weren’t necessarily the best influence on me. And like I said, I wasn’t trying to necessarily be the worst person in the world, but I just figured right and wrong are just a matter of convention, and so if lying here might benefit me or not hurt somebody else’s feelings, there’s nothing objectively wrong with that. And I just felt like life was very meaningless. It was kind of pointless and depressing, and I think that’s probably where some of the drugs and distractions of hanging around with the wrong people came from. And so yeah it was just a pretty grim outlook. And it was really hard to be consistent with that, because one moment you’re saying, “There’s no real right and wrong,” but the next minute, if somebody wrongs you, you’re like, “Hey! Something bad has happened. There’s been an injustice,” you know? And it’s like, “Okay, well where does that idea come from?” It’s hard to be consistent and just go, “Well, I guess that’s just my feelings,” and so… yeah.

Just a lot of involvement in some of the wrong things, and again, I don’t think that everybody who is an atheist and is even a moral nihilist is going to go that route. It’s just the route that I ended up drifting off to, but I think part of that, too, just came from being in a home that wasn’t the most secure and searching for acceptance and belonging in the wrong kind of group.

So that inconsistency that you’re describing, that sensibility that you know in your own worldview you don’t have perhaps grounding for moral facts or why you’re sensing that something is really right or wrong, but yet you know that that seems to be an inherent part of the way you think and act, and so I wonder: Did that inconsistency cause any dissonance in you? I mean, was it something that was disturbing enough for you to resolve? Or was it just something that you kind of lived with?

It was mostly something that I kind of lived with. And maybe I didn’t always see that inconsistency, but it was kind of like a stone in my shoe at times, because it just didn’t seem to jive with the way reality really is. And so that was a problem. I would say that the other things that caused me to reconsider was, while I couldn’t understand maybe where humans came from—and I told you that science seemed to tell us origins of people and all the life that we see, seemed to explain that. It was kind of hard to explain, you know, “Where did the universe come from? How is it just here for no reason at all and completely un-caused and have this appearance of beauty and even purpose and design. How are all of my intuitions about all of these things, and everybody else’s intuitions about these things, seemingly wrong? It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

And so these things started to bother me, and eventually, I sort of became more like an agnostic, I guess, but I would lean towards maybe deism. I thought, “Well, maybe God created the universe, but He’s not really involved. He’s not really active in the universe.” And so I began to become open.

And then there was also the fact that there were kids I went to school with that were involved with an accident and had died at like 16 years old. They were just at work, and I think there were some downed power lines, and something tragic happened there. I had another friend who was just in the wrong place in the city, in St. Louis, and was—well, I’d call him more of an acquaintance, I guess, than a friend, but he got shot. A classmate. And so I started to think about mortality, and is there life after death, and if there is possibly a God, then life after death isn’t something that would be implausible, and it would be something absolutely desirable. And so this caused me to become a little bit more open. And so I would say I would’ve leaned towards a deism, but even then, that didn’t make a lot of sense to me, either. Because if God just created the world and gave us these moral intuitions, why doesn’t He do more? Why doesn’t He step and at least say hello?

So that’s when I became a little bit more open to the possibility that maybe there could be some kind of a religion that could be true.

So I’m just curious in terms of the timeline how long you lived in an atheistic worldview and then moved towards being a little skeptical of your own skepticism. Did that turn around in short order? Or was that a prolonged process?

It was a couple of years. And so I think I spent a lot of that time just not even thinking about it, just being busy doing the dumb and irresponsible things I was probably into. And then just as time went on, I just felt very dissatisfied with that. And just began to reconsider these questions. As I was nearing the end of high school, I started thinking like—you know how it is. You just start to think, “What am I going to do with my life? What am I going to do after I get out of school?” And just seeing, again, these broken homes around me and seeing my parents and my friends’ parents just living kind of boring, miserable, mundane lives that they feel like they have to kind of self medicate themselves with alcohol and things like that. I just was like, “I don’t want life to be like that.” And just so many people, they get up, they go to work, and they put food on the table, and they entertain themselves and maybe go on vacation and then hope to retire. And I just thought, “I don’t want my life to be like that. I don’t want to live a boring life like that. I hope that there’s more meaning than this,” and I don’t think that you’re going to find meaning in some of these other ways that other people try to find meaning, maybe through fame or some sort of popularity, or different things like that, and so just seeing the meaninglessness of life and the absurdity of life just made me kind of hungry and hoping that there was at least more.

So obviously you were then more open towards considering another perspective. So when you became open, did you start looking at God in a Christian sense because that was your childhood reference, in a sense?

I had hoped Christianity wasn’t true.

Oh, okay.

So I wanted there to be something else besides Christianity to be true, and so I didn’t start there. It sounds funny, but I actually started with Islam a little bit. And this sounds kind of immature and silly, but Spike Lee’s Malcolm X movie was very popular at that time, and I didn’t really… At first it seemed like it was all this racial stuff, but towards the end of the movie, he made his pilgrimage to Mecca, and he had kind of an enlightenment experience about things, and I don’t know, that just sort of stuck out to me. And I know it sounds maybe kind of immature, but it was impactful to me, and so… Now, I’m going to tell my age a little bit. I’m 41, so at that time I couldn’t just go to Google and start researching Islam or other religions, and so I had to go to the library, and I would look at… And my dad had a book on Islam. And so I would read some of that, and I would try and study it, and I just didn’t get very far before I realized that this just didn’t have the ring of truth, and it just seemed a little archaic and odd and strange, and I’m sure if I kept reading I would’ve found some of the troubling passages that seem to incite violence, and there’s just a lot of inconsistencies with Islam. But anyway, I didn’t really get that far. I just got far enough to realize, like, “I don’t think this appeals to me very much, and I’m going to at least put it on the shelf for now and look at something else.”

And so then I started looking at non-canonical Christian scriptures, from the library, just wondering if maybe some sort of off brand of Christianity could possibly be true, which, again, I was just a 17-year-old kid. I didn’t know a whole lot. Nobody had taught me these things. But I tried to read through that, and that stuff was just woo woo. I mean it just didn’t seem to be very historical or interesting to me at all. And so I remembered that my grandma, when I had my First Communion, she gave me a Bible. And it was buried in our basement after 10 years of it probably sitting there, and I went and I dug it up, and thankfully I was able to find it, and I just started reading the Bible. I started reading the Bible almost every day after school. I mean I still was involved in some goofy stuff with my friends, but I probably would read the Bible sometimes several hours a day.

Oh, my!

And so I just was interested and hoped that maybe there were answers there, and I just wanted to at least give it the time of day before I made a decision.

So again, I’m just curious. In your life, you were reading the Bible, and you were reading these stories in the Bible, but there was no one in your life that really embodied Christianity in the way it was being lived out? That you could read the Bible and go, “Oh, yeah. I see. I know a person like that who calls themself a Christian who actually adheres to or believes in what I’m reading in the scripture.”

There was finally one person that I also helped maybe to become a little bit more open. And he was my favorite teacher. I always—no matter how my grades were in school, history was always something that I just loved and enjoyed. And that’s probably why I do have so much of a focus on historical apologetics in the New Testament. I’ve always just been drawn to history. And I had a teacher, Mr. [Hollam 24:58], which one of these days I need to reach out to him and thank him, but he was a Nazarene man. His dad was a pastor, and he would talk about his personal life and just tell stories. Somehow it would mix in through sociology class or history class or something. And he was just a really down to earth guy. He was funny. He was extremely kind, extremely nice. If I needed mercy for some reason. Maybe I forgot a homework assignment. He was always merciful. He was also very intelligent, and I just thought, “Well, he’s an intelligent guy, and so if he believes this stuff, then maybe it isn’t just for the unthinking, unwashed masses. Maybe there is something to this.” And so I think he was a real light to me, and I’m very grateful for the influence that he had on me.

It sounds like he really did have an impact on your life in terms of creating an openness towards the Bible. Especially if he taught history and you were interested in history. And I’m curious: As you were beginning to read the Bible, considering you had read these other religious texts. I know that the Bible has different kinds of literary genre in it, but did you find a sense of history or historical reality in what you were reading?

Well, that was part of my problem, at first at least, but yes eventually I did. The problem that I had when I would read the Bible is the miracles. Because I had never experienced a miracle. I had never seen a miracle. I didn’t know anybody else, at least in my circle of influence or friends, that had ever experienced a miracle, that I knew about, at least, and so when I would read the stories in the gospels about Jesus healing people or feeding 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, I thought, “Well, what kind of a weird story is this?” I’m reading the Sermon on the Mount, and I think, “These are really profound ethical teachings that are just very interesting and very fascinating, and something that I would imagine would be something I should try and strive to live my life after,” but then I’d get to the miracle stories, and I thought, “Well, is there a lesson that’s trying to be taught here? What is going on?” And no, they were actually trying to give us historical reports, and I just thought, “Well, these have to be legends or these just have to be some sort of weird lessons that I’m not understanding,” but when you read the healing narratives or the miracle narratives, they just read like, “This is what happened, and we’re not embarrassed to say it.”

And so those would trouble me. Those would kind of stick out to me, and I just had a hard time dismissing those. Eventually I’m sure I came to Paul’s writings where he talks about resurrection appearances, and the way that he reported those, as if like, “Yes, these really happened,” and I thought, “Well, that’s a bit strange.” And then, reading 1 John, the first few verses in the First Epistle of John, where he talks about that which we’ve seen and handled with our own hands, and I just thought, “Okay, well this is a supernatural Jesus from start to finish. There is no really watering this down, and so I have to come to these claims that this is really what they believed,” and I couldn’t just dismiss it.

So then I guess it wasn’t off-putting enough or too uncomfortable that you didn’t continue to read, actually. So what was compelling you to read, despite the fact that you were, in some ways, pushing against it intellectually?

Well, I would read the Psalms, and I really would see David’s fearlessness towards death. He would say things like, “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Of whom shall I fear?” and again I had that fear of death that I think every human being, whether they’d like to admit it or not, it does drive them, and I just thought, “Well, that’s really awesome, how he’s just so bold and unafraid,” and that really would stick out to me. I thought the practical wisdom of the proverbs were very interesting to me. It was a lot of the moral teaching that actually really stuck out to me. Like I said, reading the Sermon on the Mount. It’s just like, “Well, whoever this Jesus guy is, one thing I can’t really say is that he’s not a very strong moral teacher,” you know? And so I just thought his personality and what he taught was very interesting, even though there were some times there would be uncomfortable sayings that I didn’t always fully understand.

I would read occasionally the epistles, and sometimes I wouldn’t understand it, sometimes I would, but the teaching on love and different things like that. It just seemed to me like, “This is a very high ethical way to live, which is very different than what I have been living,” and it just felt like a meaningful way to live. And so there were existential reasons that I was really drawn to it. Even though my head was bucking against all the miracle stuff. And I also read Ecclesiastes, and when he’s talking about “meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless,” I’m like, “Yeah. I can resonate with that, Buddy.”

Yeah! Yeah.

And so that really stuck out to me. But at the end, he concludes that, like, “Hey, fear God and keep his commandments, and this is what’s important and what every man ought to do,” and I’m like, “Well, even he’s concluding that this is the way to live after all of that ranting about there is nothing new under the sun and it’s all vain and meaningless. And so those things kept me hooked, I would say, enough to keep looking. At least hoping that it could possibly be true, and so yeah, I would say that my feelings changed from being hostile to at least sort of hoping that it was true, even though I knew I’d really have to radically change my life, and I think doing that was still a bit scary to me.

I’m sure. I’m sure. Because when you believe the claims of the Bible as true, there are, in a sense… There’s a certain demand on your life if you accept that truth. So there was something attractive about a life that you found there. Morally, ethically, existentially, it provided a lot of meaning. That there would be no fear of death. All of those things were seemingly attractive to you. So what happened from there? How did you resolve this intellectual kind of existential tension that was going on?

Yeah. Well, as I said, it did seem like they were really reporting genuine miracles, and so, even though I didn’t understand them, I thought, “Well, they at least believe they’re giving historical accounts,” and one day I did get to 1 John, and it just stuck out to me, and I thought, “Well, I’m going to read this.”

Well, let me back up real quick. Before I say that, one thing that also kept me going—and this is kind of a side journey, and then I’ll answer your question. I was working. I worked at a restaurant, and somebody handed me a little bag with some Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, which is still my favorite candy to this day. I could probably live off of a diet of peanut butter if I had to, but anyway, in that, there was a little gospel tract by Billy Graham. That was the very first time that I heard the Gospel presented, a message of… Man is sinful, that we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God, that God so loved the world that He gave His son, so that, if we believe in Him, we could have everlasting life, that He solves the sin problem, that He reconciles us to God, and even though I didn’t believe it or accept it at that point, it was the first time where I was like, “Oh, I actually understand the logic of the Gospel.” Finally. Even though I went to Catholic school for however long. And I’m not badmouthing Catholics whatsoever, but I’m just saying I was a kid, and I probably just didn’t remember. But that was the first time I really heard it. And that was my bookmark. That tract became my bookmark in my Bible.

But for whatever reason, I kept reading, and after months and months and months, I started to really read the First Epistle of John, and I got to the part where he says, “Do not love the world. All the things in the world, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life, those things will pass away.” But he who lives for God, basically, who does the will of the Lord, shall live forever. And I don’t know why, but that just really hit me like a ton of bricks, and I just thought about, “I have loved the world. I have just kind of lived for the pride of life and the lust of the flesh and all of this stuff,” and as I read it, there was this Presence in the room, and at first I was like, “What is going on? It feels like there is somebody else in this room with me,” and it just felt very palpable and really hard to deny, and it was very, very overwhelming. And I was kind of nervous and kind of scared, and I thought, like, “Am I delusional or something?” and as I was sitting there thinking about it, I’m like, “This is God. I have prayed along this time and said, ‘God, if You’re real, I’m open. You can show me.'” And this overwhelming sense of God was suddenly in my room.

And I don’t remember what I said. All I know is I got down on my knees because I was raised Catholic, and that’s the position you pray in, I guess. But I got down on my knees, and I just—I don’t know what I said, but I repented and believed, and I just felt this huge weight lift off me, and I was just surrounded in this bubble of peace and joy, and I just knew I had been accepted and that God loves me, and I have this surreal peace, and it was just very overwhelming almost and hard to deny, and so I guess a lot of people would just call this a religious experience.

And so that just kind of overwhelmed my sense of doubt because it was like, “I don’t believe in miracles,” and I know this wouldn’t qualify as a miracle. I didn’t see water get turned into wine or something, but it was just this palpable sense of the presence of God that just pushed me over the edge, and that’s how I became a Christian.

So you believed that God was real and that He wasn’t hidden, that He was actually in your room.

Yeah. Absolutely. And it was just really, like I said, just so hard to deny, and so this experience was just overwhelming, and so yeah. It just kind of overcame whatever objections that I may have had in my head. Not to say that I haven’t taken the time since to look at those things and find answers for those things, but for where I was at at the time, as an almost 18-year-old kid, that was definitely enough for me at that moment.

Wow! That sounds like an amazing experience. So convincing for you at that moment. I’m impressed, too, by the reality that you actually prayed to God that you were open and for Him to show you, and I guess He answered that prayer.

Yeah. Absolutely.

So then you considered yourself a Christian after that point. And you went on to, I guess in some ways, resolve those preexisting intellectual doubts. What did you do with miracles? I guess after you experienced the reality of the presence of God, perhaps the reality or the possibility of miracles becomes possible, I guess.

Well, yeah. If God does exist, and He wants to reveal himself in a way that would be unmistakable, or just reach out and help somebody, then miracles would absolutely be possible. Yeah. That was basically my line of thinking. It was like, “Well, if He wants to reveal Himself, who am I to tell Him what he can and can’t do?” And even those problems of evil that kind of stuck out to me before, I just thought, “Well, He would definitely be in a better position than I am. Epistemically, there’s a pretty big distance between me and God.”

And so I think the problem of evil got resolved for me that way, and then just realizing, well, if God does exist and he created the universe, then Him healing somebody or raising Lazarus from the dead or being resurrected himself just doesn’t seem like it’s all that far fetched now.

So you were also then able to integrate your understanding of science and your belief in God? That those two things weren’t necessarily opposed to each other but actually perhaps complementary?

That happened much later down the road. I was trying to talk to a couple of people that I worked with. This was, oh, I don’t know, maybe 15 years later, and so I had been to Bible school since then. To me, the evidence for God that I had, at least at that moment, was I’ve had other experiences with God or maybe I felt like He has led me down certain paths and helped me make certain decisions in life or answered certain prayers, and so I felt like that was enough evidence for me at that particular time, but I was at work with a couple of skeptical friends, and somehow the subject got turned to religion, and I started to kind of share with them, because I thought, “Okay, well here’s a good opportunity to maybe be a witness.” And they just shot me down. One of the guys was very educated. He was very much into science and engineering and all kinds of different things like that. That was his jam. That’s what he did in his spare time was just learn more about science and physics and all of this other kind of stuff, and he just shot me down, said the Bible was totally incompatible, and that really pushed me into apologetics. I just felt really like I had failed.

And so I began to search on YouTube and through Google and all these different things, and I came across ministries like Reasonable Faith and William Lane Craig, and I came across other ministries that seemed to be able to help me resolve these issues, and I began to see that really good science leads us to understand that God is the best explanation for the origin of the universe or the appearance of design in the universe. And I was able to share some of these things with them, and I was surprised. He kind of became open to the idea of intelligent design, and so I don’t know if he had already seen some of these things and was already becoming open previous, but that was something that helped me resolve some of those tensions for sure, and if anything, it just really strengthened my faith, but because I’ve always been really drawn to history, I also started looking at a lot of the historical stuff, particularly the resurrection. I think the very first time I heard Gary Habermas give a presentation on the resurrection on YouTube, I was just enthralled. And I just thought, “Wow! I believed in the resurrection, but I didn’t understand that there was so much good historical evidence to back up my belief in the resurrection,” and it just kind of married an interest of mine to my faith, and from there, I just really started digging into that kind of thing.

So you developed, I guess, what you would call a much more integrated understanding of reality, whereas as an atheist, there were certain things that you couldn’t make sense of in your world, in your worldview, but it sounds like, as a Christian, you were able to pull all the parts together, whether it’s the way you live existentially, the way you think about history and science, the big questions, the big questions of the origin of the universe, the design, and even the resurrection, which a lot of people would probably think you just believe that on faith, but no, there’s actually historical grounding for that. That must be, in a sense, very intellectually satisfying, as well as existentially satisfying, that all of these parts come together.

Yeah. For me, it was like just this extra… What’s the word that I’m looking for? Just another kind of peg in the stool to help support what I had already believed, and so I felt like I had very good experiential reasons to believe in God, from, like I said, times of answered prayer or a sense of guidance or a sense of maybe spiritual experience, and I felt like I had good existential reasons to believe in God because I felt like it made the most sense, of sin and death and some of the meaning and purpose and value and different things like that. But when that faith was challenged by people when I tried to share my faith and I didn’t know how to answer, that became very frustrating to me, and so, like I said, that just really pushed me into seeing, like, “Okay, well are there good intellectual reasons to believe this?” And I came to find out that, yeah, there absolutely are. And so that’s really become a quest of mine, to help arm Christians to be able to better defend and articulate their faith in an intelligent way, because in this day and age, in order to do any sort of evangelism whatsoever, you have to be trained in apologetics of some sort.

While I think being able to tell your testimony and your experience is powerful, you could also support that with evidence for the resurrection, or maybe you can give people arguments for the existence of God. When I sat and looked back at my testimony, for example, and I thought, “Well, even though nobody sat and told me the moral argument, the moral argument reasoning, the reasoning behind that argument, helped me get back to theism eventually,” and so that was another argument that just really stood out to me and is something I’ve endeavored to master. And so, once I saw those intellectual reasons, it just increased my confidence more in seeing that there are good defenses against the problem of evil or objections against miracles, like what Hume articulated is kind of what I was thinking as a teenager, but seeing that those objections can be readily met just increased my confidence so much more, and that’s what I endeavor to do with my website now, is to help equip and train, like I said, believers in seeing that there are good answers out there.

That’s fantastic! And can you tell us the name of your website again, please?

Yeah. It’s IsJesusAlive.com. And also on there there is a link. I have a YouTube channel I’m starting. It’s kind of a little bit of a fledgling YouTuber at the moment, but I am putting some of those answers in a video format as well that are out there, so yeah. People are free to check that out.

Well, that’s fantastic! I guess that would be really beneficial, not only for Christians who are looking to substantiate their worldview or their faith, but it would also be interesting for perhaps a curious skeptic who wants to see if there could be intellectual grounding for the Christian worldview.

Yeah, absolutely. Pretty much, my aim is to… There are doubters in both camps. There are people who were like me, that were kind of doubting their skepticism, and then there are Christians who might be doubting their own faith, and then there are believers who want to help somebody else in those two categories, and so it would be beneficial for anybody in those three different groups.

That’s fantastic. This is a wonderful story, Erik, and I’m curious: There’s not many people that you meet who were once atheist and are now Christian and understand it from both sides, but because you are and you’ve actually heard both sides and lived both sides, I wonder what you would tell the curious skeptic if they were perhaps open towards another point of view. If you had a moment to tell them something, what would you advise them?

What I would say to the curious skeptic is stay curious. I prayed, as I said, and said, “Well, God, I don’t know if You’re real, but if You are real, I am open.” And be genuine. So many skeptics I meet are almost looking to disprove, and so be open. Think about the existential reasons and give those deep consideration. I wouldn’t encourage them to want to believe something and therefore put their blinders on and just come to belief for bad reasons, but just be open and be honest with God, and again, say, “God, if You’re real, help me. You know what my doubts are. Help me to find those answers, and help me to find maybe the people or the resources that can help me overcome these things.” And just read the Bible. Give it its day in court like I did. Just keep reading and stay open, and if you have questions, again, there are so many resources. I wish I had the resources that are online today than when I was younger.

And so find the best answers, and I’m not at all intimidated by the other side and what they have to say. Listen to what they have to say, too, and weigh it out, but I believe if you are sincere, God will absolutely reveal Himself to you, to that curious seeking skeptic.

Yeah, it’s amazing to me, in all of the stories that I’ve heard in my research, the number of people who’ve called out to God or prayed to God or opened themselves to God in some way, and God did show up. In different ways for different people. Certainly, He showed up for you in a very profound way. But yeah, there’s something to be said for that, just being open. And to the Christian, Erik, what advice would you give to the Christian? I know you’ve already given some with regard to just preparing.

Yeah. I would say definitely prepare. Again, in order to do evangelism, you really do need to have some basic understanding of apologetics. There are so many good resources out there on YouTube, podcasts, books. There’s really just no excuse anymore not to be trained. But also reach out. I had one person hand me a tract, and I had one high school teacher just be kind of a good character witness, and that was about the most interaction I had with Christians that I’m aware of. Maybe people were praying for me behind the scenes, and I definitely wouldn’t understate the importance of that, so possibly that had some effect, but sometimes I just think back, and I’m like, “I know there were Christians at my school. Why didn’t any of them come talk to me?” And so… Do something. Say something. In my case, somebody handed me candy and a Billy Graham tract. That might be enough to help sow a good seed into somebody, but too many Christians are so tight lipped and just don’t even think about it and are so oblivious that there really is a world around you of people who, like me at that time, felt pretty hopeless and that there wasn’t much meaning to life, and if an intelligent, thoughtful Christian came by and talked to me sooner, maybe I wouldn’t have wasted as much time as I did. I don’t know.

So don’t be afraid to reach out. And I think one reason why so many Christians are afraid is because they are afraid of those objections, and so train yourself on that. I know, for me, that made me so much more of a bold witness to people and unafraid to share the gospel with people, because I can anticipate objections and have a good idea, at least, where to go, and that definitely… Knowledge does give confidence there, and so that absolutely is key as well. And so there’s the boldness aspect and of course prayer, the spiritual aspect, and then just the mental preparation aspect of being prepared in apologetics.

That’s some terrific advice. One thing that strikes me as I’m listening to your story, so many times the narrative for people excepting Jesus or coming to faith is because they’re just part of a culture or a family that does that and so that just becomes part of the hobby or the movement of the family, or it’s just cultural, but what’s interesting about your story is a really counter narrative to that. You were very independent, really, throughout your journeying, whether it was towards atheism, towards agnosticism, or even towards Christianity, although I must say perhaps not all alone, because it seems to me that God was showing up in different places throughout your journey and pointing you as He was drawing you to Himself, and you, at some point, became willing to see. So it was really a beautiful journey, though, and I’m so grateful that you’ve come on our podcast today to share that. So thank you so much for coming on, Erik.

Yes. Definitely. Thank God for His grace and patience with me as He slowly led me along the way and yeah, it’s absolutely been a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

Thanks for tuning in to the Side B Podcast to hear Erik’s story. You can connect with Erik on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and his website, all of which I’ve included on the episode notes. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can reach me at email at thesidebpodcast@cslewisinstitute.org. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please consider subscribing and sharing this podcast with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we’ll be listening to the other side.

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