Former skeptic Craig thought he was too intelligent to believe in God, but after a series of sobering events, he was shocked to find himself affirming the truth of Christ.
Hello, and thanks for joining in. I’m Jana Harmon, and you’re listening to the Side B Podcast, where we see how someone flips the record of their life, more specifically where an atheist unexpected becomes a Christian. There’s something fascinating about dramatic life change, when someone becomes entirely different than they were before, in the way they think and act, in the way they see and live life, their perspectives and purposes completely changed. This kind of life transformation not only surprises the people around them, but it often stuns even the one who was changed, for they never saw it coming. Most atheists never consider even a remote possibility of believing in God, much less becoming a passionate follower of Jesus Christ, and yet, it actually can and does happen.
But that kind of radical change takes everyone off guard and raises a sense of curiosity. It causes everyone to wonder how someone could shift their understanding of themselves and the world in such a striking and powerful way. What happened? More importantly, why did it happen? In our story today, Craig Northwood found himself on the other side of a tremendous paradigm shift ten years ago, moving from a self-described atheist, alcoholic, drug user, and fairly unpleasant character, to someone who now passionately proclaims his Christian faith as both real and true. In fact, he has made this his life’s mission as a Christian pastor and apologist, now running an apologetics organization, and we’ll let him tell us about all of that. But that’s quite a change. Let’s take a listen to see what prompted this startling transformation, why it happened, and how his life has changed?
Welcome to the Side B Podcast, Craig. It’s so great to have you.
It’s wonderful to be here. Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.
Yes, absolutely! Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, where we can locate that wonderful dialect of yours?
My Welsh accent, which I try to cover up. Yes. My name’s Craig, as you know, Craig Northwood. I live in South Wales. I live in a little town at the moment called Ystrad Mynach, which almost sounds like you’re trying to clear your throat or something. I didn’t grow up here. I grew up in a slightly larger town in South Wales. I’ve been a Christian for… I actually realized this today. I’ve been a Christian for… I was actually saved ten years ago this week, but I only realized that earlier today, which was a nice way to spend my anniversary, I suppose.
Yes, it is! I’m looking forward to really unraveling that story and what happened prior to your conversion because obviously I think there’s a lot to it, and I’m just excited to know your story. So why don’t we start back in your childhood, really. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about where you grew up, your family, and whether or not religion was on the radar or in the picture at all in your culture and in your family?
Okay. I did grow up in South Wales. I’m from a fairly large family. I have two brothers and two sisters. And religion wasn’t really a large part of when I was growing up. My parents did occasionally take us to church when I was quite young. I’ve got a vague recollection that my mother was hurt by somebody in the church, but I think I was about ten when we stopped going, if that, so it’s all quite a distant memory, really. My mother continued to believe. My father kind of continued to believe, I think, in some sense, but they were never active in the church. They never really went on a regular basis. We certainly never went on a regular basis, and as I was growing up, I didn’t really have anything to do with Christianity.
My elder brother and sister did for a short time. They went to Christian youth groups, but they kind of drifted away, and I didn’t really have any interest in Christianity, and then, as I was growing up, I kind of got to my teenage years, and I was sort of cursed with this idea that I was very clever, and I now know that I wasn’t particularly clever. I was just interested in things that clever people do and clever people write about, but I thought I was very clever, so that kind of made me extremely arrogant, unfortunately, so as far as I was concerned, I was very much thinking along the same sort of lines as New Atheism, where if you can’t prove it scientifically to me, then it’s obviously rubbish, so I didn’t have any time for Christianity, and as I got older, that became more and more pronounced, so I wasn’t very pleasant towards anyone with any sort of religious belief, really.
Okay. Would you consider South Wales and where you grew up… Was it nominally Christian? Would you say that there was very much of a Christian influence? Were there friends in your culture that had what you would consider any kind of real faith at all?
No. No, not really at all. I think, South Wales in particular now, it’s very secular. I knew very few people who were Christians as I was growing up. I don’t know if that was just because we weren’t plugged into that bit of the culture, but very, very rarely would I meet anybody who would identify as a Christian. The UK is not a particularly Christian country, I think. I think we’re seeing a bit of a resurgence in big cities now, but you tend to find the older generation, especially where I’ve lived, the older generation would be more inclined towards going to church but certainly not in my age group, so I wasn’t really exposed to a great deal of Christianity.
And when your brother and sister went to youth group, was it just more of an activity, you think? There was no real connection with it there, either?
I’m not really sure. I think because I wasn’t interested in it, I never really took in whether or not they were that serious about it. I know that I used to play role-playing games… You know Dungeons & Dragons and all of that kind of thing? When I was a teenager, I used to play those quite a lot, and my sister was convinced that this was basically the work of the Antichrist invading my life, and Satan was going to come and take me away because I was interested in these games, and she used to give me these dreadful pamphlets about how evil role-playing games were and things. In a sense, looking back on them now, some of it can be a little bit dark, I suppose, but that was my only experience of it, was my sister giving me, as a teenager, these dreadful pamphlets, and me just thinking, “You must be kidding. You don’t really believe this, do you?” So that, in a sense, probably drove me a little bit further away.
Yeah. So it probably put you off towards the moralism of religion and that sort of thing. So when you were embracing atheistic thought, you were reading? Were you reading some atheistic literature or listening to some of the New Atheists?
I think a little bit. I mean, when I was a teenager, you know, the internet wasn’t really a thing. I think it was just kind of getting up and running, so I wasn’t really exposed to any kind of atheist social media or anything like that. And I was a big fiction reader, but I wasn’t much of a reader of anything along those… I was kind of aware of Richard Dawkins, and I think I might have had one of his books which I kind of flipped through a bit, but the little bits that I looked at, I just… It kind of resonated with me, and I thought, “Yes, yes, this is all….” I was still in my extremely arrogant phase, and I was like, “Yes, yes. I know all of this. Yes, the God of the Bible is really, really bad and horrible,” and I didn’t actually know anything about it. Looking back on it now, I didn’t really know anything about Christianity, but I kind of made all these assumptions and had all these ideas about, you know, the crusades and hypocrisy and the Catholic Church covering up all these things, and all kind of business. And I just kind of removed myself from it in that way, really. So it wasn’t so much a case of studying it and coming to that conclusion. I just kind of was very unpleasant, as I said.
So yes. There’s sometimes just a general presumption about Christians and Christianity, whether it be institutional or just the church or the people associated with it. You had mentioned a lot of negative attributes that you attributed to people who believed in religion and faith and I guess particularly coming from a place of being clever or one of the brights or however you wanted to see yourself. It was probably a relatively easy place to be. When you’re in a position of presuming one position and then there’s someone else over there that you’re presuming who they are, would you say that there are a lot of… Like you said, you hadn’t really investigated it. It was just something you presumed. Kind of a default position, if you will, because it served your purposes in a sense, would you say?
Yeah, yeah. Very much. I think I was just more comfortable with the idea of thinking that I knew better than people and thinking that I understood things better than they did. And in my mind, it was probably more trouble than it was worth investigating it because, as far as I was concerned, I’d made up my mind, anyway, that they were wrong and I was right. So I would just kind of distance myself from anything like that, really.
Yeah. Sometimes I’m very interested in the idea of dismissing or dismissing Christianity, and that’s one thing, but sometimes it seems that, among those who dismiss it, are also a bit contemptuous of it, I guess you could say.
What do you suppose fuels a contemptuousness for faith and religion and Christianity?
That’s a very good question. I mean I think that could go any number of ways. From my personal perspective, at the risk of sort of repeating myself, because I was under this impression that I was very clever, because I was very arrogant and very full of myself, people who believed something that I thought I understood better than… I thought I understood things better than them, so to me they were just ignorant and just blind and just… I used to think anybody that was religious was really stupid, which is a horrible thing to think, really. But yeah, yeah. I think it was just kind of a self superiority from my perspective. I know obviously that wouldn’t be the case for everybody.
So there was a sense of rational superiority in a sense.
So this was in, you said, your teenage years, in high school.
Did you have friends that believed similarly to you? Or was this kind of something that you just decided, and in an independent way, just forged through and decided you were an atheist?
I can remember one specific conversation, actually. A few of us were sitting around one morning just before school, waiting for the register to be taken, and one guy in my group started saying something about how he had been told or he had read somewhere or something that the idea of the devil was made up in the Middle Ages and it was just Old English for evil, and God was basically just Old English for good and just coming out with this absolute nonsense, but because I was coming to a point in my life where I wanted to believe this kind of thing, I seized on this, and I think, in a strange way, this accelerated the speed at which I distanced myself from Christianity, and I looked down more and more on people who were Christians, because I seized on this idea that it had all been made up in the Middle Ages as some sort of control or something like that. And I just kind of ran with that. And it didn’t occur to me to investigate it or to ask anybody about it or to wonder whether or not wherever he got this information from was reliable. It was basically just feeding my prejudice.
It fed into my biases, and I think that can be a case with a lot of people, Christian and non-Christian. I wouldn’t want to pigeonhole anybody. I think that it’s very easy to be given something that confirms what we already think and just run with it and have no regard whatsoever for the possibility that it might not be correct. But yeah, I was especially prone to that when I was younger, so that probably sped me along somewhat.
Yeah, I think we’re all guilty of confirmation bias-
Confirmation bias. That was what I was trying to think of.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. In many regards, we oftentimes live in an echo chamber of hearing the things we want to hear. I heard you say, “I wanted to believe it.”
So it’s easy to grab onto something that seems to confirm your perspective, and it really takes a lot, I think, to get beyond your bubble, in a sense, and to really see reality and be willing to investigate and hear both sides of the story. So I think we’re all guilty of that in certain ways at different times in our lives. So you wanted to believe atheism, and you grabbed hold of it, and you ran with it, and so this was when you were still in high school. So walk us along from here.
From there, then, I went on to college and surrounded myself probably with quite similar people. I’m not sure how familiar you are with sort of how our education system plays out. So our high school finishes sort of at 16 and then you do something called A levels, which is like pre-university education, so I did an A level, then, in philosophy, and that… You would’ve thought that that would have opened my mind up a little bit, and you would’ve hoped that I would have sort of gathered a little bit more critical thinking skills and started to question things and my own beliefs properly, but all I really did was… Any element of religious philosophy that was included in that… I mean it wasn’t in any way particularly an in-depth course. I was 17, 18 years old, and it was just kind of a… I’d never really looked at philosophy before.
But again, feeding into my own kind of arrogance, I thought, “Well, this will make me sound clever to people, if I’m doing this A level in philosophy.” So any religious philosophy element that was there, I would just sort of look at the traditional arguments for God, and then I’d be far more interested in the ways they could be refuted. and I’d be far more interested in the counter arguments than I was in the arguments for. So I finished that. I then went to university very briefly, then. I think I was there for three or four months, and I was doing a joint degree in English and philosophy, literature and philosophy. I left there then. I decided after a few months I didn’t want to do humanities. I wanted to do a science. So I wanted to do a physics degree. That’s what I really wanted.
But some circumstances, through a number of circumstances, really, I then didn’t end up going back to university. So I got a not particularly fulfilling job. I kind of drifted about a bit. I wandered from this thing to that thing. And I was drinking more and more heavily at this point. I think, you know, the majority of teenagers experiment with alcohol, and I was kind of the one in the group who people would occasionally say, “Oh, you’re a bit fond of your drink, aren’t you?” And sort of hint in that kind of direction. But I obviously didn’t take any notice of that. But as I was reaching my early twenties, I was just drinking more and more. I started playing in bands. I was more and more involved in the drinking kind of culture. And through my twenties, then, I became more unpleasant. I became more arrogant. I became more contemptuous of people who had any sort of religious belief.
I became more convinced of my own superiority, and then, as I got towards sort of my thirties, it sort of turned from being somebody who drinks too much and people occasionally pointing it out to occasionally needing a drink first thing in the morning to kind of steady myself a little bit, you know? To try and sort of feel a bit better from the night before, so that I could go into work. My parents then divorced when I was in my early thirties, and about the same time, I had a blood clot on my brain.
And we only discovered this when I started having seizures, so I developed epilepsy. They sent me for MRI scan, which discovered the clot on my brain. This made me, as you’d imagine, particularly ill. Foolishly, I started… I was then off work sick for some months before I had an operation to remove it, and when I had the operation, they said to me, “You need to stay off work now for at least…” I think it was six months they gave me, so I was in the position where I was sitting around the house. I was still being paid for period… I was still being fully paid for a period of my sick leave, so I was sitting around the house on my own, very full of myself, with a gradually accelerating drink problem, and with money coming in, so from there on, it was just rapidly downhill, and I then got to the stage where I was… It got to the point where I would literally lose a week to two weeks at a time, and I wouldn’t know where I’d been or what I’d done. I was living with my mother by this point. I was sort of a thirty-something-year-old guy living with my mother, sitting in the spare room all day, drinking cheap vodka. I’d lost my job. I was living on benefits. My poor mother doing her best to just basically try and get me to see that I needed help.
And at this point, because I was drinking so much, this point is a little bit hazy in my memory, but I’ll do my best to piece it together. So at this point two people… I can’t remember how the meeting came about, but a couple dear friends of mine, a couple by the name of Faye and Kenny Brandy. They were from Scotland originally. They came around to my house, and they came around to tell me about how Jesus had freed them both from a life of crime and heroin addiction. And I was a little bit full of myself during this meeting, sitting there with a large vodka in my hand, listening to them talk, and I would sort of give them difficult questions, and they were so loving and so gracious, and they did their best, and they were there for a long time, and eventually they left, and before they left, they gave me a number, and they said, “We work for a Christian rehabilitation unit,” and they said, “If you need help, we will help you.”
And, to me, that just absolutely… and I never would have admitted it at the time, and I wouldn’t have admitted it for a long time after, but to me, that was just the most unbelievable thing, that these people who I had never met before had come to my house and dealt with me sitting there being extremely rude and extremely arrogant, to their faces, while they were trying to tell me about how Jesus had changed their lives and offering to help me, and… There was a bit of me that wanted them to just get fed up with me and leave and never come back, but to close out our meeting with, “If you want help, we will help you,” that really struck a chord with me.
And it was some weeks before I eventually phoned them, and I just said, “I do need help. Please help me.” So I went into the rehab, but I still went in with this idea, “You’re all deluded. You’re all idiots. I know better than you. I’m going to go into this rehab for a few weeks and get myself off the drink, and then I’m going to go, and I don’t want any of your Bible stuff, and I don’t want any of your Jesus nonsense, and I don’t want any of you preaching at me or anything like that.”
Wow! Craig, when you were in this place, obviously you knew you needed help physically, and you were willing to submit, even in a Christian environment, to whatever nonsense they had if they could help you with your addiction, withdrawal, or you know. I wonder, in those months and those weeks where you were isolated, sitting by yourself, and I know you had said you hadn’t really known or investigated much about Christianity. You just had kind of an animus towards it. Had you really thought about—especially through your blood clot on your brain, that surgery, and all of that—did you really confront what death was or meaning in life as you were sitting there within an atheist worldview? Did you contemplate your own naturalistic atheism and what that meant for your life at all?
Honestly, no. And you would think that I would. You would think that something like that would cause somebody to sit back and take notice, but I think I’d been drinking so much by this point… At this point in my life, probably partly due to the amount that I was drinking, but I was just ridiculously depressed. By the time I went for the operation, I wasn’t particularly concerned about whether or not I would survive it, which is awful, looking back on it, but I was just very disinterested in anything, so I think the neurosurgeon… I went to meet him before the operation, and he sort of laid out everything, and he explained the risks and everything like that, and he said, “Do you have any questions?” And I just said, “No, not really,” and I think that surprised him because I think the majority of people probably would have had something they wanted to talk about, some questions that they wanted to know about possibly their chances of coming out of this unscathed or something, but I didn’t really care, and I continued to not care after I came out. I didn’t really care when I lost my job. I didn’t really care when all of my friends just kind of gradually gave up on me. I didn’t really care about anything. So I wasn’t really questioning anything. I was just kind of sitting there and drinking, and I wasn’t really thinking anything past my next bottle of cheap vodka, to be honest. Quite bleak, really.
Yes. Yeah. Very, very bleak. So all the more reason why it would be really extraordinary for someone to come in and say, “We’ll help you,” even at the point when you really didn’t care. But there must have been something there or some reason to live or some desire for your life to be better than it was that made decide, “Okay, I’ll submit myself to whatever this is.” It’s got to be better than what you were experiencing at the time, I would imagine.
Just thinking back on it now, I think the only thing really that sort of led me to finally go and get the help that they were offering was my mother. And it wasn’t through her sort of begging me to go or anything like that. Somehow after that meeting, I gradually became aware, finally, of the sheer misery that I must be putting her through and how dreadfully I’d treated her and what an awful son and an awful human being I was for basically living in her house. I wasn’t giving her any money towards bills. She was working. She was basically keeping a roof over my head when I was… I was roundabout a 30-year-old man at that point, and she’d come home, and she’d find me passed out drunk on the floor, and I think I gradually came to realize how badly I treated her, and I just thought, “Well, I don’t care what happens to my life, but she shouldn’t have to put up with this.” And I think that’s all that really finally broke through my skull, really, was realizing that I couldn’t do that to my mother anymore. And that was it. It wasn’t any sense of self preservation or anything.
There’s something beautiful, though, about at least there was a selflessness on some level, to care about your mother, who had cared so much for you. So you went into this facility, whatever it was. Why don’t you talk to us about that?
So I went in there thinking, “I don’t want any of your Jesus nonsense or your Bible rubbish,” and fortunately really but from my perspective then unfortunately, it was very, very much, as you’d imagine, focused on Jesus and focused on the Bible. It was kind of a rehab home, really. There were ten men living there, and it was a very structured day, and I wasn’t, obviously, used to structure. Most of the people in there had come from heroin or cocaine addiction. There were one or two others there that had come from a drink background.
Almost everybody in there, the day that I arrived, there were ten of us in total. I think nine of them were from Scotland, and the Scottish accent is… It can be quite impenetrable when you’ve got two Scotsmen talking to each other, and their accent sort of… They kind of tone their accent down, I think, a little bit. When you’re from the far north of Scotland, they tone their accent down a little bit when they’re talking to somebody who isn’t from Scotland. Well, I was just withdrawing from the drink, so my brain was completely gone. I didn’t know where I was. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t concentrate. And I was surrounded by all these men who were talking, and I couldn’t understand anything they were saying.
The program there, the structure really was they would give us… You had a half hour meeting every morning, which was pray and reading the Bible and a very brief message, very brief word from the guy who was running the house, and then we would have a work program, which usually involved us going and… There was a church attached to the rehab. Or should I say the rehab was attached to a church. And it was quite a large church by the standards of South Wales, probably quite small compared to most American churches, but it was a fairly large building, and we used to go there every day, and we would be in charge of cleaning it, the maintenance. They had a little cafe and coffee shop there that we would be in charge of cleaning and running, and then we’d have to go home, and we’d have to sort of clean the house, and we’d have to do any repairs on the house and things like that, and then in the evening, there’d be another Bible study, another devotional. We had to go to church on Saturday night and on Sunday morning and on Sunday evening every weekend.
So to my mind it was quite intense. It was a lot of this God stuff. And I stayed there, thinking, “I’ll just be here for a couple of weeks, and then I’m going,” and all of the people there, and all of the people that were involved, the staff, the different people that were coming in out of the home, they were just so gracious and so loving, and all of the people were at various stages in their walk. Some of them had been saved. Some of them, like me, had no real interest in it. And I continued to try to be… I wasn’t deliberately being extremely difficult then because I was off the drink and I had at least some sort of sense of propriety.
I thought, “Well, these people are helping me. I can’t be rude to them all the time,” but I used to delight in asking them all the difficult questions that I could get my hands on, and as we were looking in the Bible, I thought, “Oh, well I’ll ask them about this bit where it says He hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Does that mean we’ve got no free will?” And all of the kind of typical questions that people will try and trip people up with the Bible. And they continued to be loving and gracious and kind, and they would try to answer my questions, and they would be helpful as they could, and for a long time, I kind of resisted, and I didn’t want to know. But there were a lot of books in the house that had been donated. It was quite an impressive library that they had that had been donated. Some very old books and some very expensive-looking books, and I gradually started tentatively looking at one or two of them, and I didn’t read a great deal when I was there, but I read just some bits and pieces offering some kind of basic apologetic argument. And for the first time, I started thinking, “There is a slight possibility that there might be a little bit of truth to some of this.” And that was the little crack in my armor.
And that was all that happened for quite a long time, and I was there for almost four months, and I’ll never forget the day… Obviously, I’ll never forget the day that I was saved. Because we were in a church service which I had to go to, and it was a Saturday night meeting, and the gentleman who’d actually come to my house, Kenny. The one that had come to me, and I’d been extremely rude to him, he was preaching there. He was one of the preachers, and he was preaching on Matthew 11. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And I remember, at the end of the service… and I’d walked into the service with the same mindset: “There is a very slight possibility there might be a little bit of truth to some of this, but I still don’t want your Christian nonsense.” And I listened to everything he said, and at the end of the service, they said, “We’ll bow our heads to pray now,” and I put my head down to pray, and I can’t really describe… The best way I can describe what happened is it was almost as if somebody told me something that I’d never heard before, and I instantly believed them.
All of a sudden, I knew that it was all true. And there was no sort of massive choir of angels. There was no enormous religious experience. There was no dramatic event going on in my head or anything like that. It was almost like somebody just flicked a little switch, and I knew in some way that I can’t possibly describe that, without doubt, it is all absolutely true. And I can’t describe the shock that went through me. I just thought, “How did I not believe this before?” And it just kind of… It was almost like a very, very small firework going off in my head, and I just knew. And at the same moment, I thought, “Jesus really did die for me, and I really do owe everything to Him, and He can release me from everything, and He will save me if repent and if I turn to Him,” and all this stuff just went through in a fraction of a second, and at that point, I was saved, and I think I was more surprised than anybody, although a lot of people were very surprised.
Wow. So you had this sudden, kind of intuitive knowledge that it was all true. Like a switch. That’s so interesting. Like a sudden paradigm shift. It wasn’t as if you had this prolonged intellectual struggle. It was like you were introduced to the truth by the book or maybe something you read, that somehow infiltrated your mind and your heart, and then I guess, at some point, being exposed to what you were exposed to… You spoke about the possibility or the presence and the person of Jesus and who He was and that He could save you. In certain Christian terms, it’s called the gospel. There was something true about that for you. Can you… For those who really may not know what that realization was, or what the gospel is, could you explain that just briefly?
Yes, absolutely. I mean I sort of heard, in plenty of meetings, whether in church meetings or meetings in the house, that everyone, every man, every woman, every child, is essentially sinful. Every one of us is a sinner. Every one of us is imperfect. Nobody, no matter how hard they try, can possibly live a perfect life, and yet God’s perfect law requires that of us. And yet at the same time, because He’s so loving and because He’s so just and merciful, He understands that we can’t live up to that. He understands that we can’t live up to that law. And rather than insisting that we do, rather than insisting that we pay the price for our sins, He sent Jesus Christ. He sent His only Son. God in the flesh came, and He died, and He sacrificed himself, and He allowed himself to absorb the full weight of my sin and the full punishment for my sin, and rather than me trying to earn my way into God’s good books, all that was required of me was to completely put my faith in Jesus Christ and the work that He did and the sacrifice that He made and to repent of my sins, to acknowledge my sin and acknowledge that I need him and I can’t earn my salvation and I can’t earn His love, and to just completely surrender myself to Him and give myself to Him and know that every sin that I have committed and every sin that I will commit has been paid for by His blood, just because I put my faith in Him.
That must have been really, like you say, a relief of burden. Like the passage that was read that evening, that you give your burden over to Christ, and that He carries it for you.
And these really a beautiful thing. Once you surrendered to that reality and surrendered to the person of Jesus. I love what you said, that you were surprised just as much as everyone around you. I can’t imagine, really. I mean, you put your head down for a prayer, and there was obviously some willingness to participate in the prayer. Then, you raise your head really with a whole new world and a whole new worldview, it sounds like. Why don’t you describe what happened after that point?
I was always slightly jealous, and I realize jealousy isn’t a very Christian thing to feel. But I have to confess, I’m occasionally when jealous when I hear of other’s people’s conversion experiences, the moments when other people sort of come to this knowledge, come to this understanding of Jesus and His grace, and some people have this very dramatic encounter with the Lord. They’ll have a… Very occasionally, I think some people will have a vision, or some people will have this enormous kind of physical feeling, or something huge will happen to them. To me, I was just kind of wandering about in a state almost of shock for a few days, and I wanted there to be some enormous transformation in my life, but the reality was, although I knew and I understood that I was saved, as the sort of shock gradually moved away, I hoped that I’d be a much, much better person straightaway, and of course, the sad reality is that it doesn’t always work like that.
The one thing that definitely did happen right at that moment was, up until that point, I’d been in the rehab for a few months, I kind of knew that, although I hadn’t drunk anything for a few months, I knew that I still was at a stage where, if I left, it wouldn’t be long before I fell down the hole again. I knew that I was kind of drifting through on willpower. I knew that it was only because I was there, surrounded by support, surrounded by people who cared, surrounded by rules and structure, that I hadn’t drunk. And I knew that if I left I would. And I was kind of waiting for that to go away. And then, from that day until this, so 10 years ago this week, I have never, for even the slightest moment, had any inclination whatsoever to drink again, and I am constantly baffled that I ever wanted to. And I’m not judgmental towards people who do like a drink or even people who struggle with drink, but I’ll walk past a bar or something, and I’ll see people drinking, and it just seems an alien thing to me. I think, “Well, why did I want to do that?” And that was the biggest transformation that happened immediately.
But then, sort of gradually, I came to realize that I didn’t want to leave the rehab yet because I was surrounded by all these people who suddenly were my brothers in Christ. And I was going to a church with all these people who were essentially like my family, my adoptive family, you know? And gradually I began to change. And gradually I became very sorrowful about the dreadful person that I’d been and, at the same time, thankful to Jesus that He was beginning to change me, and it was at this point that I realized that I’d spent all my life thinking I was very clever and then, all of a sudden, I realized that I wasn’t, which I think was His way of kindly showing me, “You’ve got no place being arrogant and looking down on people.”
Yes, and then I stayed in the rehab then for… I stayed on for quite some time, and I eventually became staff there, and I volunteered as a staff member, and I lived in the home, and I helped with new people coming in and mentoring people, and I also was then involved with the worship at the church, so I then used to lead worship. I played guitar and sang, and I became very active in the church, actually. I was helping with discipleship. I was helping out with the youth groups. I was still going up every day and cleaning and doing maintenance and things like that, and all of a sudden, this whole new world opened up to me, and instead of being in this rehab, desperately hoping that I wouldn’t start drinking again, all of a sudden it wasn’t a rehab to me. It was home to me, and the church became my life, and my fellow Christians became my life, and I wanted to do things to help, and I wanted to sort of pour myself into the church community, really, so it was a pretty dramatic change gradually.
Yes, it sounds amazing, and I first want to say congratulations on your sobriety, but I totally appreciate the fact here that you’re really… What I hear you saying is that this is part of the transformation that God made in your heart, this sudden disinclination to drink. That’s just an amazing, amazing thing, that you lost the desire totally.
Absolutely. When I tell people that I used to be an alcoholic and I was terrible, a really, really awful alcoholic. Like I said earlier, I would lose weeks at a time. Weeks at a time would just disappear, and I wouldn’t have the faintest idea, and sometimes I’d wake up in the street at 3:00 in the morning, sleeping behind a bin or something. I had no idea where I’d been. I’d wake up with bruises. I think I used to get into fights and things I don’t remember. And I would tell people about these things, and they’d say, “Oh, that’s wonderful! Well done, you,” and I always try and explain to them it’s nothing to do with me, and I try not to come across with this sort of false modesty and things, but I say it’s genuinely nothing to do with me. It would be almost like congratulating me for having the blood clot on my brain removed, and I’d have to go, “Look, I didn’t do anything. They just gave me anesthetic, and the surgeon took it.”
You can’t congratulate me on getting rid of my blood clot, and in the same way, I don’t want people to congratulate me for being sober for a little over 10 years now. Jesus Christ took out… As it says in the Bible, “I will take out your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” He took out those dreadful things in me, and He put better things in me, and the ways that I’ve hopefully changed now and become something of a better person, and I definitely have my flaws and my faults, but the good things about me now are entirely because of Jesus and the change that He’s worked in my life, and the bad things about me now are just the things that I’m foolishly hanging on to and I need to get rid of. So yes, I’ve changed so much that I definitely don’t want to drink again, but it’s entirely Jesus that’s done it.
Wow. That’s really amazing and an amazing testimony, really, of the power of Christ in someone’s life once they surrender. And surrender’s a very, very difficult thing, but your putting hands in the One who wants what’s best for you and that you can find an abundant life, it sounds like you have found.
And I do have a question: When you came to a place of surrender, you said that you had come also to a place of understanding a bit of a knowledge of God and who Christ was and what He did and that you accepted that, and you moved into where church is your adopted family, which, again, is a beautiful picture of what the church should be. But I’m curious, though, in terms of… What about? Remember when you were an atheist, and you were raising all those difficult questions and hard places in scripture, and what about this and what about that? What about all those things, those intellectual issues that you once raised? As a Christian who was coming to know more about God and about Christ and the Bible and someone who’s naturally clever, I would say, again by the grace of God, you have probably a very decent intellect, and I’m sure you’re a curious person and want to resolve some of those issues that are often posed against Christianity. In the last ten years, have you addressed some of those issues? Have you taken an intellectual kind of path in your faith as well?
Yes. I’ve definitely tried to. I find, as time goes by, I’m more and more interested. I think initially I kind of had to tuck those questions away, and I hated the idea of switching my brain off. I didn’t necessarily just decide that I wasn’t going to try and answer those, but initially, I just kind of thought… I realized in some strange way, on some level, that Jesus had a lot of work to do in me, and I kind of saw him doing it gradually, so I tucked those things away for some time. Some of the difficult questions, then, I started to resolve just by reading the Bible more. And then, as time went by then, I became more and more interested in them, and I’ve almost erred more towards the intellectual side of reading around Christianity, I think, because that’s kind of how God wired me, and then I became fairly interested in apologetics some years ago, and I started buying more books, and I started attending seminars and conferences and things like that, and all of a sudden, now, I’ve got several hundred books that I desperately want to read that I think would resolve a lot of questions, but I also have two small children, so I find that, as my desire for more understanding and more knowledge grows, the amount of time that I have has shrunk rapidly, but what I am hoping is that, as time goes by, I will be able to sort of do more reading and more studying things. But I did start… I think I mentioned to you previously. I started my own apologetics organization, and I’m by no means particularly knowledgeable about apologetics, but my interest was I want to try and find answers, and I think other people want answers as well, so let’s look at them together. So I wanted to sort of aim for that kind of aspect of Christianity, because I know very well that there are answers out there, and I think that there are answers that… Christianity hasn’t just popped up. It’s been around for 2,000 years. I would be foolish to think that I was the first person that had these questions, so yes, I have erred towards the sort of more intellectual side, and some of the questions I’ve answered, but a lot of them are still to be answered, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m just looking forward to finding the answers really.
First of all, I want to affirm that I love that you’ve started some kind of an apologetics organization and your posture towards it, that we’re learning together. I think that’s an amazing reflection of your humility but also your intellectual curiosity and your openness to go wherever the evidence leads, which is where we should all be. I do wonder. I can hear the skeptic scratching his head. Going back earlier in your conversation, where you were drawn towards atheism because you wanted it to be true, in a sense, and so you were looking towards that and looking for things that affirmed that and statements and things. I can just hear, in the back of my head, a skeptic saying, “Well, you just want Christianity to be true, and so you’re going to look for answers that confirm your perspective.” How would you speak to someone who raised that objection?
Probably in a few ways, really. To begin with, I desperately wanted Christianity to not be true, right up to the moment when I suddenly realized it was. And it’s difficult to intellectualize what I suppose we’d call a religious experience, whatever that religious experience might be, whether it’s extremely dramatic or whether it’s quite understated, as mine was. So I had that moment, I had that experience, and I knew it was true, and you know, all of the epistemologists out there will be sort of ready to pounce on me or disregard that, I suppose. And yet I desperately wanted atheism to be true, so I decided that it was and didn’t really do a great deal of investigation into it either way, whereas with Christianity, I didn’t want it to be true, and I suddenly realized that it was in a way that I can’t put into words how certain I am.
There must have been something. Something outside of me put that into me because I wasn’t looking for it, and I didn’t want it, and it suddenly popped up with a conviction that I couldn’t possibly overturn. And since then, I have investigated it, and I have looked at the questions, and I have sort of thought about some of the evidence, and I have thought about things like the historicity of the resurrection, the reliability of the Bible, the transmission of Bible documents, some of the philosophical arguments regarding… the argument for moral knowledge and cosmological arguments and all this kind of thing. And it’s very difficult to deny that there is something about Christianity that has withstood the intellectual assault of 2000 years and has stood extremely strongly, and there are aspects of Christianity that are accepted even by the most hostile opponents, really.
You get… People like Bart Ehrman will defend to the hilt the fact that somebody called Jesus really walked around the earth. He’ll defend the transmission of the Bible documents to some extent. And atheist philosophers of religion will say theism is an intellectually credible position if you really look at the arguments. Now, they won’t accept those arguments, but even people who are extremely intelligent, extremely well read, and extremely knowledgeable about all of the facts will say there is some nugget of possible truth that they don’t accept themselves.
So all that’s just kind of a roundabout way of saying I didn’t want Christianity to be true, and now that I’ve looked at it after having my experience, I can say, if you look at the evidence it is genuinely overwhelming. And if anybody is listening and they have considered the possibility of looking at the evidence, start with the evidence for the resurrection and the historicity of Jesus and go from there. Because it’s genuinely just enormously overwhelming.
That’s good advice, especially for someone who might actually be open enough to consider looking at what is out there to be seen and to be read and to be considered. Is there anything else that you would like to advise perhaps someone who might be listening who is a curious skeptic? Who might be open to consider or think about the things of God?
I think one of the most popular ways to attack Christianity in general is to point out the ways that Christians have failed and then use that to try and undermine the truths of Christianity, whereby the Bible is very clear, and any thinking Christian will be very up front about saying, “We are all fallible. We are all sinful. We all make mistakes,” so you can’t judge Christianity by the actions of Christians because we make a lot of mistakes, and goodness knows I make enough mistakes, but just look at Christ and don’t, for now, worry about Christians.
And obviously that’s not saying that Christians should have license to act however they want. We should be held to a higher standard. But yeah. Focus on Christ, rather than on us.
I think that’s great advice. And to those Christians who are listening who, probably very compelled by your story, especially by those who entered into your life, Kenny and Faye. And the example that they provided. And those in the rehab, just continually loving, kind, patient, serving you, just listening and waiting in the face of your, I guess, lack of gracious response. I’m very impressed by that. How would you advice Christians best to engage with those who are resistant or not interested or not willing, kind of like what you were?
First of all, I think probably one of the most important rules of any kind of personal evangelism or anything like that is to treat every individual as an individual, because I think it can be very easy to get into a conversation with a nonbeliever, whether they’re hostile or open or neutral to the whole idea of Christianity, it’s so easy to approach the conversation with a kind of preconceived idea of, “Well, you know, you’re an atheist, so you believe in Darwinian evolution and you believe that science has all of the answers to everything and you believe that Jesus was a myth,” and I think that your preconceptions can distort the way that you have a conversation with them. But they’re all individuals, and whether they’re hostile or open, they have a reason for that.
I remember I went to an apologetics training weekend, and I went there still a little bit full of myself, thinking, “Yeah, I’ll learn all these apologetics arguments, and I’ll be able to convince somebody into Christianity,” and I was still thinking that way then. And the first session that we actually had, the lecturer stood up, and he said, “If you’ve come here thinking that you’re going to learn five irrefutable logical arguments for Christianity and you’ll be some kind of apologetics ninja and you’ll convince somebody into Christianity,” he said, “you’re starting with the wrong mindset. We’re about talking to people, and we’re about engaging with people, and you can’t treat a person as an argument.” Sorry, I got rather long-winded then, but yes, in a nutshell, just approach them as an individual and a person and ask them why they believe or don’t believe whatever it is they believe or disbelieve, and think properly and deeply about their reasons for it.
Well, Craig, I do appreciate your story, your transparency. You have lived a beautiful and tragic life, or a tragic and a beautiful life. However that works and whatever it is, in whatever form, I’m sure you’re very grateful for everything that’s happened in your life because it has brought you to the person that you are now, to the faith that you have now, and the purposes you have now, and obviously, you have a beautiful family-
I do, yes.
… and a lot… Just a dramatic transformation in your life. Just so much to celebrate!
And we’re privileged to be a part of listening to your story, so thank you for coming on today-
It’s really my pleasure.
… and sharing it all. Yeah. And I hope that… What is the name of your apologetics organization and contact, so that, if people are interested in more about what that is, could you tell us a little bit about that?
Yes. It’s 136 Apologetics. I wanted to sort of always be aware that evangelism and apologetics really have to be driven by Jesus, so it’s named after 1 Corinthians 3:6, where Paul wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase,” so yes, 136 Apologetics. My main personal interest is outreach to Jehovah’s Witnesses, which a whole different story again, but that’s what I tend to personally focus on a lot, but we do organize seminars and things that like for general apologetics as well. You can find us on Facebook. We’re on Twitter. We’re on YouTube. And we’re hoping, obviously, to, once COVID is all over and all of the lock downs stop and everything, we’re hoping to have a lot more general training and outreach to people and just learning more and more about all the difficult questions together. And yeah. And hopefully taking the gospel to the world.
That’s terrific. I’ll include information about your organization in the episode notes for anybody, again, who wants to learn more about it or perhaps reach out to you.
Thanks again, Craig, for coming onboard, and we are just leaving encouraged by your story. So thank you.
Thank you very much.
Thanks for tuning in to the Side B Podcast today to hear Craig’s story. You can find out more about 136 Apologetics and how to connect with Craig in the episode notes. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you enjoyed it, I hope you’ll subscribe and share this podcast with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I’ll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we’ll see how someone else flips the record of their life.