The Secular Barbershop Podcast: Absence of Christ Interview

Last week I was interviewed by The Secular Barbershop ; a podcast “Run by an Secularist of Color; For Secularists of all Colors.” Below is a link to listen to us talk about speaking in tongues and other weirdnesses of the Charismatic culture within Christianity:

The Secular Barbershop Podcast: Absence of Christ Interview

While you’re at it follow him on Twitter and like him on Facebook:

The Secular Barbershop Facebook
The Secular Barbershop Twitter

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Podcast: Everyone’s Agnostic Interview With Absence Of Christ

I was recently interviewed by a deconversion podcast out of Nashville called Everyone’s Agnostic.  Below is a link for the show.  This podcast has a lot of great interviews by others who have left the faith, so be sure to check those out too.

Podcast: Everyone’s Agnostic Interview With Absence of Christ

What I Personally Believed When I Was A Christian

I never really got into explaining my beliefs and influences that helped shape my personal theology when I was a believer.  I won’t go into much history in this post, since I’ve already done that in my last few posts.  I just want to talk about what I believed and who influenced my beliefs.

Spiritual Beliefs:
 My hyper spiritual belief’s weren’t always there. Like I said in a couple of my earlier posts, I was starting to flirt with agnosticism before my conversion into the Charismatic side of Christianity.  I grew up in a non-denominational house church that got hit with the Toronto Blessing in the mid-90s when I was in elementary school.  Even as a child I was a little skeptical of all the charismania going on in my church at the time.  But I trusted the people around me to think that it may be real Godly experiences they were having.  Even though I didn’t have my own experiences as a child, I still looked to the Toronto Blessing as a big influence on what I believed God can do to a person.
The renewal meetings that got me involved in the Charismatic culture I talked about in my post God Encounter; or Not influenced me in what it may be like to encounter God.  I started reading books like Bill Johnson’s Supernatural Power of a Transformed Mind, Graham Cooke’s When Heaven Opens: Discovering the Power of Divine Encounters, John Crowder’s Miracle Workers, Reformers and the New Mystics and lots of others in that vein.
Supernatural stories I heard about Heidi Baker, David Hogan, Todd Bentley, Randy Clark’s Global Awakening, the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry and some of the Kansas IHOP stories were an influence. As well as miracle stories I heard from missionaries I knew personally.
The Supernatural School of Ministry also influenced my spiritual beliefs in that God was a miraculous God and we, the Church, are Christ’s body so we can do the miracles, signs and wonders of Christ, plus more (John 14:12).
The Gospel of John, the Book of Acts as well as other mystical passages and stories in the Bible were huge influences on my belief in what it was to be a spiritual follower of Christ.  I use to read John and Acts constantly for encouragement.

Social Beliefs:
Coming out of a liberal punk scene before my conversion into the Charismatic culture I had a hard time finding anything I could relate to or believe in the more Conservative and Fundamentalist cultures of Christianity. So I found my inspiration in the social gospel.  I saw the social gospel as more on the lines of what Jesus was all about.
I loved the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke. The stories of Jesus driving out the money changers in the temple, calling out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, feeding the multitude and his love and care for the “least of these” made me want to be more like Him.
I was inspired by books like Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution (even wanted to spend time at his Simple Way community in Philadelphia) and Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You.  I read and listened to Tony Campolo.
Other inspirations were the Catholic Worker Movement activists like Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin and Ammon Hennacy, the Catonsville Nine, Christian Civil Rights and Labor activists. I also loved knowing that Bill McKibben, the environmentalist author and founder of 350.org was a Christian.
The early Jesus People movement in the 1960’s and early 70’s was also a source of inspiration.
During the Occupy Wall Street days I often imagined God had a place for me in that movement.

Other beliefs:
– I always believed in evolution.  I thought evolution was God’s way of creating all the living things on earth. So even as a Christian there was no doubt in my mind that evolution was a reality.  I just thought it was a mystery on when exactly God breathed his Spirit into the animal called Man.
– I was on the fence about Hell.  I had a hard time believing that Hell was a reality with a loving God in control of the universe.  I wasn’t sure what to believe about it.
– Homosexuality was another hard thing for me to put my head around.  I had a lot of gay friends and had trouble figuring out why it would be a sin.  I wasn’t sure what to believe about the nature of homosexuality with a Christian worldview.  I tried to stay away from the topic. But would always end up siding with the homosexual community.
– The Rapture was a joke.  I knew enough about the history of Christianity to know it was only a recent belief within Christendom.  I believed the Church was the Second Coming of Christ, because we were the Body of Christ. And we were here to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth.

How I thought Christianity should be:
With my beliefs coming together I thought Christians were to live a radical life similar to that found within the Social Gospel movements while performing miracles, signs and wonders, because we are the Body of Christ.  All of this together would bring the Kingdom of God to Earth.

And that was the fantastical Christian utopia I believed in.

God Encounter; or Not

Before getting into this part of my story I want to mention what a “third heaven encounter” is within the Charismatic and Pentecostal cultures, since this part has much to do with that.  The “first heaven” is the physical realm that we immediately see and experience now. The “second heaven” is the realm of angels and demons on Earth.  The “third heaven” is the realm of God, basically Heaven.  A third heaven encounter is an experience with the heavenly realm of God.  This would include visitations from angels, a physical encounter with Jesus or other Biblical characters, seeing and exploring Heaven as if you are really there, seeing God as if He is really physically there, etc.

My Charismatic phase began in July of 2007 after experiencing and becoming a part of a year long renewal at the church I grew up in.  Before the renewal I wasn’t really a hard practicing Christian.  I believed in Christ, but was starting to lean into agnosticism, because I wasn’t seeing the demonstrated power in my life that Christ supposedly can offer.  I was in a punk band that just got back from a 2 month U.S. tour.  I was getting burned out touring with the band members, because they were always very negative and angry and it got annoying.  I wanted to quit the band, but touring and putting out records was the only thing keeping myself from living an average life.

The last week of the tour I was in Austin, Texas when my dad called me to tell me about all the miracles happening at the church.  He told me about a pastor from Texas who has been speaking at the meetings that had a third heaven encounter with Jesus during a mission trip in Brazil.  After telling of his encounter with Jesus multiple people at the church started having visions of Jesus and angels.  My dad asked me to come to church after the tour to see everything that was happening.  I wasn’t opposed to going to church and liked the idea that miracles might be happening, so I told him I would go.  I have been to these type of meetings before when the church was going through another renewal around the same time  the Toronto Blessing was happening in the mid-90’s.  I was just expecting to see a lot of people drunk in the Spirit, falling down, laughing and crying.

The night after coming back home from tour I went to the church.  The church was packed to standing room only (The church, which is an old YMCA gym, holds about 600 people).  I learned the meetings that were happening started out as a weekend long conference that turned into a nightly meeting with the title God Encounter, after people at the conference were starting to have divine encounters never before experienced in the 40 year history of the church.  The church leaders and the congregation didn’t want to quench the Spirit by ending the conference on the second night, so it was turned into a nightly meeting.  Word got around to the other Charismatic and Pentecostal churches in the area, so people from all over the city were visiting to see what our Pentecost was all about.  The main focus of the meetings was to pray for the city, press into God’s presence and have a divine encounter.

The meeting started with the usual worship routine – beginning with fast energetic songs about the joy of the lord and ending with soft emotional songs about the love of God.  Being a music snob and mostly into punk and post-punk stuff, worship music never really played much with my emotions and influence my spiritual life, so I just sat in my seat and observed everyone worshiping.  It wasn’t until the pastor from Texas started to speak that I felt something in my spirit move. He talked about his visions of Jesus and how angels visit his bedroom at night on occassion.  He talked about how history will be changed.  I don’t know how I got caught up in what he was saying. Maybe it was because I was frustrated where my life was going, tired of negative and emotional vampire friends and wanted something new and exciting in my life. I wanted the visions he saw.  I wanted the miracles.  I wanted my life changed.  I wanted to change the world.  He called everyone up to the stage to be imparted with his spiritual gift of visions and prophecy.  I went up and I was imparted this gift.

I was unemployed at the time, so the day after this first meeting the church asked me to work at the meetings every night because there was no telling when it would end.  For the next year, 5 days a week, I worked at these meetings setting up, tearing down, stacking chairs, cleaning up after people and locking up the building after everyone had left. I became close to a lot of the people who attended and some of the church leaders from all around the city.  I couldn’t get away from the renewal.

These meetings became known all around California within the Charismatic and Pentecostal circles.  Over the year we had visitors from all over the state.  This was going on around the same time as the Lakeland Revival in Florida that Todd Bentley started, so it felt like God was doing something with America and getting ready to bring revival to our generation.  We had well known speakers come in to help kindle the fire like Bill Johnson and his Supernatural School of Ministries from the Bethel Church in Redding, Mark Dupont from the Toronto Blessing, Lance Wallnau came in with his New Apostolic dominionist ideas about the Seven Mountains of Influence and lots and lots of others.  I was surrounded by people speaking about pressing into the presence of God to have divine encounters.  The speakers were always talking about their visions and angelic ecstasies, third heaven encounters with bible characters, healing testimonies and prophecies.  People in the congregation would start seeing and having these experiences. One woman even claimed to see Jesus mounted on a white horse riding between the aisles.  Gold dust, and feathers were seen falling from thin air during worship.  People claimed to have gold teeth and feelings mysteriously appear in their mouth during the meetings.  It seemed like magic was happening all around me.

Dying for my own encounter with God, in the Fall of 2007 I enrolled in the churches Supernatural School of Ministry, where I can learn how to be in the presence of the Holy Spirit, learn to perform miracles signs and wonders and learn the ways the Spirit speaks to me.  I figured an enrollment in this school that Fall was the perfect time to learn how to be the hands and feet of Christ, since our church was going through a revival.  I wanted to see miracles, perform miracles and experience miracles in my own life, but most of all I wanted to see angels and have a divine third heaven encounter of my own.

At this school I learned how to prophesy, give words of knowledge, pray for healing, prepare sermons and speak in public.  We did a lot of street ministry on the weekends.  I did very well in healing and prophecy.  Some of the nights in class were spent in silence trying to hear God and sit in his presence.  This was always hard for me because I could never feel anything or see anything.  Most of my classmates would talk about how they felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and talk about their visions, but I had nothing. This frustrated me.

For months I would lay in my bed every night praying that I would have an encounter with the Lord.  I’d pray for my eyes to be open to see angels.  I’d pray that I’d see Jesus.  Some of those who have had these kinds of experiences would prophesy that I’d have divine encounters regularly.  I looked to those prophetic words as encouragement that someday I will have an encounter with the third heaven.  I’d try to sit in the Lord’s presence while working at the renewal meetings and it seemed the people around me were having these amazing experiences but nothing was happening to me.  I was getting tired.

The renewal meetings came to a quick end after about a year when the pastor from Texas was caught cheating on his wife with one of his assistants.  He was told by the church leaders that he couldn’t lead the meetings any longer.  This was brought up publicly to the congregation at one of the meetings.  The meetings were still to go on without him, but the attendance at the meetings dropped after that night.  I started questioning his stories about his encounters with Jesus and angels.  And I started wondering why people would leave the renewal meetings if they really believed they were experiencing God, with or without this cheating pastor. The meetings were originally about praying for the city and pressing in to have a God encounter. So wouldn’t God’s presence be all you needed to not be bothered by a man who cheated on his wife?  Didn’t the city still need prayer?  When the attendance dropped so did all the stories of divine experiences.

For a couple years I still tried to press on.  I still experienced nothing.  Not one physical manifestation of God, only the occasional dream I’d convince myself was from God.  I never fell down in the Spirit, I never felt drunk in the Spirit and I never cried or laughed or had any feelings take over me.  I wondered if anything was wrong with me.  Was I using too much of my head?

Yes, I was using too much of my head and that isn’t a bad thing.  I started to figure out that it was all just mass hysteria.  The reason the divine encounters stopped when the attendance dropped was because the excitement and stories of everyone in the congregation wasn’t there to make someone think they were experiencing something miraculous.  The other’s who may not have been taken by mass hysteria may have just been lying about their experiences.  The gold teeth and feelings that would appear were most likely always there; no dental records were ever shown.  When I cleaned up after the meetings I never saw any feathers or gold dust left over on the ground or chairs.  After thinking about all that I’ve noticed first hand working at a revival meeting, being part of a supernatural ministry school for a year and taking into account my lack of experience I came to the conclusion that miracles of this kind don’t happen and if I can’t experience God then there may not even be a God.