Craig Keener: From Atheism to Christianity

I wasn’t raised in church. I knew Christians but I wasn’t raised in a Christian home. I had grandparents who were Christians and other relatives who were Christians but by probably around the age of nine, I was an atheist. I remember talking with my mom at that time and saying I don’t believe in life after death and we had an interesting conversation at that point because I don’t think she did either. When I was about 13, I started reading Plato and Plato got me thinking about life after death, not that his arguments were all that persuasive, like the pre-existence of the soul. I wasn’t persuaded by his arguments but it really got me thinking about what life was really about. If it was just this finite segment, it seemed to be virtually meaningless in light of eternity. I started thinking the only way that we could have an infinite life would be if we were plugged into something or somebody that was infinite who could guarantee that. And that would also have to be something or someone that was infinite cared about us. Why would it care about us because we were finite? If it cared about us because it was loving, I knew I wasn’t loving, I just want to keep existing.

The Bible says that a person, by striving with their intellect, can’t find God that way. There was enough there to let me know that God would be the solution if there was a solution. I couldn’t find God that way but finally even though I was an atheist, I started saying, “God, if you’re out there, please show me” but I didn’t know if anything could happen. One day I ran into a couple of Christians on the street who stopped me and began telling me about how I could have eternal life if I believed in Jesus, that he died for me and rose again. I argued with them for 45 minutes because they were showing me from the Bible and I don’t believe in the Bible, I’m an atheist. Can you give me anything else to convince me? I was a hard-nosed atheist and I made fun of Christians but it wasn’t so hard-nosed that I wasn’t willing to be persuaded if somebody could give me evidence. But I thought they weren’t giving me evidence. Finally I said “If there’s a God, how did the dinosaur bones get there?” If you ask a stupid question, you get a stupid answer. They said “God put it there.” I said “I can’t take this, I’m leaving, this is crazy.” I turned around to leave and what they said to me at that point wasn’t very pleasant. They didn’t know paleontology and they didn’t know too much about apologetics but they were the only people in the street who were sharing their faith. I knew Christians who didn’t share their faith with me.  Some of them tried but I shut them down. I’m walking home.

I’ve studied different religions. Mainly I just made fun of Christians because it seemed like the dominant belief in the US but it seemed to me like the Christians didn’t really take it seriously. They didn’t live like they believed God was their maker. If I ever believed there was a God, I’d give God everything because that would be what I was made for. As I was walking home, this was different from everything I’d studied, from the conversations I had, I felt God’s presence, the presence of someone that I hadn’t acknowledged. I got to my room and I was going back and forth in my heart but finally I said, “God, I can’t deny that you’re right here in the room with me.” This isn’t something that’s gonna persuade other people who wouldl say this was subjective but because I experienced this, for me it was like a reality. It was so real, just as real as anybody talking to me. God’s presence was in the room with me and he wasn’t going to let me alone until I either accept it or reject it. This is what I wanted if it was true so I said “God, I don’t understand that Jesus dying for me and rising from the dead can save me but if that’s what you say, I’ll believe it. God, I don’t know how to be saved so if you want to save me, you’re gonna have to do it yourself.” All of a sudden, I felt simply rushing through my body like I never felt before. I jumped up. I had no idea what was happening to me except if I ever found out there was a God, I was gonna serve Him. Now I found out and now I am gonna serve him.  I ended up going to a nearby church that Sunday. The little kids in Sunday school knew more about the Bible than me. I didn’t know anything so I had to really start cramming to catch up. If you read 40 chapters of the Bible a day, you can get through the New Testament every week or through the Bible every month. I did that for some time trying to trying to catch up.