Back to series
Listen or Download the Podcast
EPISODE 67: Finding the Real God
Former skeptic Chris Waghorn left his belief in the Christian God behind to embrace an Eastern, universal view of god. After several years, he rediscovered the Christian God as the One who is both truth and real.
- Twitter: @CJMindBody
- The Bible League Australia: https://bl.org.au
Resources/authors recommended by Chris for further study on Christianity:
- William Lane Craig
- C. S. Lewis
- Tim Keller
- John Lennox
- Atheists Finding God by Jana Harmon (2023). Use promo code: LXFANDF30
Hello and thanks for joining in. I'm Jana Harmon, and you're listening to Side B Stories, where we see how skeptics slip the record of their lives. Each podcast, we listen to someone who has once been an atheist or skeptic but who became a Christian against all odds. You can hear more of these stories at our Side B Stories website, www.sidebstories.com. We also welcome your comments on these stories at our Side B Stories Facebook page or through email at [email protected].
Believing that something is true enough to give your life to it is not always clear or straightforward or easy, especially when it comes to religious belief, something that is not necessarily tangible in the ordinary sense. Religion not only entails answers to the big questions of life, but by its very nature, it also makes claims regarding the supernatural realm, that it is real, that God is real. And if God is real, then He can and does interact with our natural world.
When someone is considering religious claims, there is a difference between intellectually believing that something is objectively true, such as God exists or the biblical text is reliable and for good reason, and the subjective spiritual sense that God is real, as felt through a personal encounter or religious experience. That is, for some, belief in God may not come easily through arguments or evidence, although this grounding may open the door towards serious consideration of God's reality. Rather, belief comes through a wooing of the Holy Spirit, as the former skeptic describes in this story today.
Although Chris Waghorn encountered a substantive intellectual reason for belief and even a touch of God's presence, setting him on a path towards following after Christ, he left that behind to explore the world and its offerings. A few years later, he found the God he had left behind as both true and real. What made him reconsider? I hope you'll come and join in to find out.
Welcome to Side B Stories, Chris. It's so great to have you with me today.
It's great to be here, Jana. Thanks for inviting me.
Oh, you’re so welcome. As we're getting started, so the listeners can know just a bit about you, Chris, tell us about who you are, where you live, a little bit about yourself.
Right. I'm a Brit living in Australia. I currently live in Melbourne in the Yarra Valley foothills. My wife is an Australian, a Melbournian, so no choice in destination, although I'm not regretting it at all. We moved over here in 2019, and I'm originally from Hampshire, Petersfield in Hampshire, a small little village outside Petersfield, a traditional sort of place with a shop and three pubs, and blink and you'll miss it. So I grew up there, and then I went up to study at King's College London.
Okay. All right. So you're a Brit who lives in Australia. So let's start back, then, in your early life and your British life growing up in what sounds like a very lovely small community in Britain, in England. Tell me about what your life was like growing up. Tell me about your family of origin. Did you go to church? Was it any part of your picture growing up?
Well, religion was really no part of my picture when I was growing up. I was raised as a Catholic, and my mother and my father, they went to Catholic school. My sister went to Catholic school, but I didn't go to Catholic school. I had no real interest in religion, and because of growing up in England and being a Catholic, we were always kind of relegated to the chapel down the alley. We didn't have the nice big churches that the Protestants had. But anyway, I always knew perhaps there was something a little bit different there, but I don't think it was religion…. Even at school. I don't think it was really at the forefront of anyone's minds.
So, even as your mother was going to Catholic church or your sister going to Catholic school, did you get the impression at all that they had a personal or expressed faith? Or was it more of a ritual or just something that they did, more of an activity than a belief?
Well, just to come back to that, actually, even though my mother and my father and my sister went to Catholic schools, they didn't go to church at all. And we didn't go to church as a family. In fact, we only really went to church at Easter time and Christmas time, which I think made us what's known as C of E Catholics. So Christmas and occasional Easter. That was our experience. So no real interest.
I don't think that there was really any sense of belief. I wouldn't say that any one of my family were Christians, certainly not born again Christians. I think the kind of Catholicism or Christianity that they believed in was really relegated to tradition, that that’s something that happens in church. You can sort of believe it or not. It was kind of an optional thing. So I was brought up in a secular household, I think I could say, and there was a very vague nod to religion, but it wasn't something that was really necessarily talked about, certainly not practiced. We were never the type of family to go to church every Sunday.
Okay. All right. So you grew up in a secular household, and it was a piece or a part of your life, but it sounds like relegated a little bit to the edges. So you grew up… I guess you could call it fairly non religious, but was there any discussion with regard to God or faith or any sense of what that was, other than just tradition?
No, I really don't think there was. I can't remember any conversation that I had about faith or anything like that with my family, not until I started to do my own investigations and I began to want to talk about it. But that was much later on in life. As I probably went past 16 and 17, I started to get kind of more interested, I guess, in those questions.
Okay. All right. So growing up as a teenager, it was just not a part of your life, but what caused you to start asking questions about religion or God or those kinds of things?
Well, when I was at school, I was really blessed with some very inspiring religious studies teachers, or RE, or religious education, whatever you call it. They were very inspiring from the point that they were intellectual. They were very passionate about their subject. And I remember at school, I was studying I think it was Luke's gospel, and I was just taken aback with the wisdom that I was coming across that I was reading about. It just struck me, and I actually do remember that—at school, I had a natural aptitude to writing essays in RS, and I remember one comment that I had from one of my RS teachers in the margin, saying, “Chris, you're literally streets ahead of your peers,” so I think there was a natural—how could I say? A natural appreciation. But there was no faith at this stage.
So you considered yourself somewhat secular, I would imagine. Did you ever place a label on yourself or an identity of, like, “Oh, I'm agnostic,” or, “I'm atheistic.” As someone who grew up in a secular household, did you even think on those terms? So that when you came to Scripture, too, I’m just curious how someone of a more secular mindset would even look at the Bible.
I think the only tag that I would have given myself at school was rebel, because that's what I was. Yeah, so to give you some idea, I used to have long hair. I smoked. I never used to do up my top button. I always had to see the headmaster after school. Well, actually not after school, after assembly. It became quite kind of embarrassing in the end. And then, after one assembly, I wasn't actually asked to see the headmaster, and he came to find me, to ask me if everything was okay.
So I think he quite liked me in the end, but I think no. I don't think I had any sort of label that I would apply to myself. I marched to my own drumbeat very much at school. And I think I was very interested in literature. I was very interested in religious studies. I was very interested in the humanities. I think that's where I was kind of heading, because there seemed to be—I mean, I think, from reading the Gospel of Luke on this specific occasion, I remember I was quite amazed at the sense of, as I mentioned just now, the sense of wisdom in the gospel. And I wanted to find out more. I think it kind of piqued my interest. That's what happened at the time.
So it piqued your interest and then did you do anything with that interest? Or did you just let it pass?
No, not at all. Well, what actually happened was, at the time of my A levels in the sixth form, I was looking at what to do at university, and I wanted to study law at university. I fancied myself at the bar. So I was actually applying for all the different universities, and I put, of course, King’s, Birmingham, Oxford, all these other universities, and I thought I wanted to study law. And then, when I was putting down my choices, I was quite interested in the EU and Europe and all that kind of kind of stuff at the time, which is quite ironic. And I actually thought, there's this great course at Exeter, European Law. I remember I thought I would apply for that because, being a lawyer, it would be secure. My father would have my back and everything.
And then, just as I was filling in the application form, my RS teacher walked past, and he asked me what I was doing. And I told him, and he said, “If I could just give you one piece of advice, whatever you decide to do at university, always follow your heart.” And this seemed to make sense to me at the time. And I said, “Well, what do you mean by that?” And he said, “Well, what do you really enjoy doing?” And I said, “Well, I really enjoy the humanities. I enjoy history. I enjoy classics. Of course, I enjoy RS, Sir.” And he said, “Well, why don't you study theology?” And I said, “Yes, but what do you do with that? What can you do with theology?” And he said, “That’s not the point.”
He said, “That’s not the point.” So I thought, “Okay, I'm going to read theology at university. Why not? It’s not as if there's anything else that could keep me at university for three years,” because I was quite rebellious at the time, and I thought kind of following your heart, it sounded like good advice at the time. So that's what I did.
That is very, very interesting. For someone who was raised in a secular household. You enjoyed the humanities and literature. Of course, theology is the study of God. Now, at this point, again, as someone with a secular mind, what did you think religion was at this point? Did you think that there was a possibility that God was real? Or was this you just enjoyed thinking about these deeper issues and these issues of humanity?
Well, I think all of the above, really.
Okay, okay, so when you wanted to essentially demythologize the Bible, or scripture, I wonder, for those who are listening, what you mean by that. Like, for example, when you read the Gospel of Luke, and there are all kinds of things in there that seem rather supernatural or miraculous. I wonder, were those the kinds of things that you wanted to strip away from the text because they didn't make sense for perhaps a more modernized understanding or a more progressive understanding of religion and scripture? Talk with us about what you were thinking.
Sure. Well, this is actually going back quite a long time. I was about 16 when I read the Gospel of Luke, so I’ll have to cast my mind back. But I think, at that point in my life, I thought, “What’s all this supernatural stuff about? Is it real? Let's look at the historical Jesus. Let's look at the Christ of faith. Let's see how much evidence there is outside of New Testament writings to the historical Jesus.” Those are the kind of questions that I was interested in. And I think those… and early church history, patristics, you know, from Irenaeus all the way up through to Nicea and the Council of Trent and going all the way through that. I was interested in early church history and how the whole thing came about. So that's what I was really interested in.
I mean, at the time when I started reading theology, I had no interest in going to church, and I had no interest into the church, for example, but in the UK—and it might be slightly different in the States. It’s certainly different in Australia. You can read theology as an intellectual, as a liberal art. You don't necessarily—and you probably know this from your studies at Birmingham. When you study theology at university, you're not necessarily at seminary or Bible college. So I came very much from the outside to study faith and religion.
And actually what ended up happening at King’s was the complete opposite of what I set out to achieve, because actually what happened: I went in with the demythologization mindset, but actually what happened was the case for the Christian faith, the intellectual case for the Christian faith, began to stack up. And it began to stack up because I was studying theology, all of the units, and going to lectures and writing dissertations, and actually, far from disproving Christianity or the historicity of Christ, it actually went into actually building a case for the Gospels. And that really surprised me, and I didn't expect that to happen. And, yeah, we had some really good lecturers and professors at King’s, and some of them were ministers.
So I think at the time, Jana, I heard bits of the gospel, but I didn't hear the whole gospel. I did hear bits of the gospel at King’s, but then, as I think I mentioned, I did have an extraordinary experience in my third year at King’s, which left a lasting impression on me.
Can you describe that experience?
Yes, yes, I can. So what happened was I was in my third year and it was before my finals, before my final exams, and I'd been going through a really, really difficult period. I was a penniless student in an expensive city, as London is, and I was living in a bedsit in southeast London, in Peckham, which is—no disrespect to people who live in Peckham, but at the time it wasn't a particularly nice place, and I'd been going through a difficult period. I'd experienced bouts of intense sadness, and I was kind of becoming quite depressed and sad. I remember crying a lot at this time. I was about 20 or 21 years of years of age, so it was quite a confusing time. And I really struggled as well with theology, with reading theology, because it was extremely challenging to understand. I don't know if you've ever tried to understand Soren Kierkegaard or Hegel or Kant or Aquinas or any of these minds. And remember, not being a Christian, it was really, really difficult. And I remember drawing maps of, “What are these people trying to say? I don't understand.” Reading the same chapters and pages fifteen, twenty times, trying to understand where they're coming from, and the whole thing was just quite difficult.
And then I actually related my experience of being quite sad and struggling to cope with life in London and being a student, etc., and I spoke about it with this guy on the course, this other student on the course. He was a Christian, in fact. He was from Peru originally, but he had perfect English. And I remember telling him about my life and everything, and he said, “Well, don't worry about it, Chris, because you're just being wooed by the Holy Spirit.” And I thought this guy was completely insane because I didn't understand what he was saying. It made absolutely no sense. I just thought he was another one of those idiot Christians. But, that said, some part of what he said made sense to me at the time.
And I remember waking up one Friday morning in my bedsit, and I knew that I had to get to the chapel at King's College. So you take the train in from Peckham, and the chapel at King's College is on the first floor. It's a very kind of Greek Orthodox type of type of place, so it's…. It’s a really beautiful chapel, actually. And I arrived there, and I immediately got down onto my knees. I was in the pews, and I just started saying, “I'm sorry. I'm sorry,” and I started saying I'm sorry from the bottom of my heart. I started crying from my guts. I don't know if you ever had that experience. And I was bawling my eyes out. And then from nowhere, I heard a voice that said, “Go in peace.” It was like a command.
It was like a command. And, you know, since then, I've tried to psychoanalyze that voice and think, “Well, maybe I heard that voice because I was going through a very difficult emotional time,” et cetera, but in that moment, when I was told to go in peace, I felt incredibly light, like all my burdens had been lifted, and I knew that I had crossed Lessing's ditch, and I had gone from skepticism to theism, and there was no going back, because that voice was a command. I’ve thought about it a lot since it happened, and I recognized the voice, but I didn't know who it was. It's quite strange. It's a difficult, I think, concept to get across, but it means I recognized the voice, but I didn't understand Who it was at the time.
And some time after this had happened, I walked out of the lift in the McAdam building, and there was a friend of mine, Christina, standing there in front of me, and she looked at me, and she said that my face was shining. And she she started crying. She said she knew what had happened.
So it was… So I committed to a church I went to for a period of about six months. I started going to church, and it was quite a charismatic church. And this was the first time in my life, really, I'd been to church willingly after my very dry and wooden experience of going to a Catholic church when I was a kid at Christmas or Easter. It was a very charismatic church, and there was a lot of charismatic expression. And at the time, I kind of felt a little bit uncomfortable with that, so I pulled out after about six months, and it wasn't the right time in my life to, I think, continue with that, going to church. And I was very young in the head. I still had a lot of living to do, but I think in the context of my entire journey, God is patient. I still felt that God had His hand on me.
Yes, yes. So just to clarify: You went through this theological education. You were expecting to debunk it. Instead, you found yourself kind of compelled by the intellectual grounding of it. So there was some element of you were finding some truth or belief, perhaps, and then you had this religious experience, to where it felt personally and palpably real. So you grabbed hold of it. It grabbed hold of you, I guess, for a period of time, but just for a period of time. Is that right?
Yes, that's right. Yeah. I just think I was too young in the head. I couldn't commit to it. I think I was very wild at the time. I had a lot of living to do, and I just wasn't ready to make that commitment in faith. In retrospect, that's where I think I was with things at that particular point in my life. I was about 20, 21 at the time, and that was that. But it never left me, it never left me, and it still hasn't left me. That was something that really did change my life at the time, and it was an extremely powerful thing that happened. And I only told a few of my friends about it because it was pretty extraordinary.
Oh, I bet. Something like that would definitely be life changing. For sure.
But, like you say, you were young and not ready to commit to the fullness of what it means to follow Christ. So what happened next, then?
Well, I had to go out and get a proper job after I graduated. And, at that point in my life, I think I wanted to see the world and I wanted to travel, and I did end up traveling extensively. So I had to cut my hair and put on a suit, and I really hated that. And I was told at one of the companies I worked for that I wasn't a very good cog in the machine.
Okay. You were still the rebel of sorts.
Absolutely. So I just said thank you very much. I said thank you because I thought it was a compliment, but actually it wasn't a compliment. And I was frogmarched out of the building, and I ended up, in the late nineties, going to India, because that's a country that I'd always wanted to visit and go to. For me, it was really exotic and exciting and different. So that's what I ended up doing. And I ended up deciding that I wanted to stay in India, and I was intent on not rejoining the rat race in London, so I kind of took the entrepreneurial route. So I set up my first business buying textiles in India, and I used to import the textiles back to London and Paris, and I had a stall on the Portobello Road, and I became very, very Indianized during this process, and that's what I did for a few years. I followed the sun for a few years, which was a wonderful experience as a young man, and I had a motorbike in India, and I went out into the villages to find these textiles and learned scuba diving, and I just had an amazing time.
And actually, on one of those buying missions, in a place called Rishikesh in the Himalayas, I was introduced to yoga and yoga meditation. So, yes, so that's when I developed my interest in my studies in that. I think, from a theological perspective, because I probably didn't continue the route of committing myself to my journey with the Lord, I think because I was a theist at the time, I thought that you could find God in all things. What I didn't realize, of course, is that all these different pathways have different concepts of God, and they actually lead to very different places. But I didn't know that when I was 21. And I actually remember, when I was in India, going to my swami’s—which is teacher in Sanskrit—going to my swami's quarters and challenging him about one of the lectures that he delivered. And he actually turned around to me and said he was surprised because he was being challenged. He's not always challenged. And he asked me, “By whose authority do you come?” which I thought was a very strange question to ask because I was just asking the question, but…. I can't remember his answer because it's such a long time ago, but I should imagine that probably his position wouldn’t be able to put up with too much scrutiny.
I doubt that his worldview was defensible, when push comes to shove. I think that's where that conversation would have ended up. But, of course, that's with twenty odd years of hindsight.
So when you ran into, or you became invested somewhat, in another worldview, in another world, across the world, and you were considering that God was multifaceted, perhaps. That there were all these roads, but then you were questioning that. You were questioning this particular road, and you found some resistance. Did that make you think, “Well, perhaps they're not all the same.” Perhaps, like you say, it doesn't come from the same place or lead to the same god.
Did that kind of stir up that intellectual part of you that said that they can't all be true?
Oh, sure, yes. I mean, I never went to India to find God. Or I was never trying to find God in India, which is an extremely good position to go in, because I think, as a Westerner, if you go to India to find God, you're going to find millions. And I think, because of my experience in the chapel, more than the study of theology at university, I kind of knew in my heart who God was. So for me, yoga was only ever a physical type of practice that was done in order to be healthy, for its therapeutic value, and because I went into teaching it in the end, because of my studies in theology, I could understand what Vedanta was, and I could lecture about it. I could inform people about what it was, where it was from. And I think what I'm trying to say is that I didn't mix physiology with metaphysics, if you know what I mean, or anatomy with metaphysics. I was always able to be really clear about, “This is what this bit is about, and this is what that bit is about.” I didn't fuse them. I was always quite kind of objective about its practice.
Yeah. Thank you for clarifying that, because I think oftentimes there's a conflation of yoga, that you buy into its full metaphysics implications if you're practicing yoga, and it sounds to me that you really tried to separate the physicality from the metaphysic.
So how long were you there in this world and teaching? And where was God or faith or the God that you had experienced back in the chapel? Where was He in any or all of this?
Yeah, I think that's a really good question, Jana, because what ended up happening is I think that the God that I experienced in the chapel gradually began to dissipate. And, because I was spending so much time in India, I began to bring in other views into my understanding, which were kind of more vedantic views of God and vedantic philosophy, so that's what I ended up doing.
And I went out, and I made a name for myself teaching. I majored on teaching one to ones, but when I started, I did classes, and my name got out there as a yoga teacher, and I made sure that I was well networked, and I taught various VIPs and stuff, and I had the ear of the press as well. And my kind of work, inverted commas, was kind of in quite a few of the national pages of the health press and magazines and stuff, so I managed to really scale it out there. And during this period, I developed a product range as well, which I got out into shops and national chains and kind of more at the high end.
So by the time we get to 2015, I really had very little interest in the church, the Christian faith, Jesus, et cetera. The only Christians, by about 2015, that I knew was my neighbor Mike. He was a Christian, but I always felt that he was a bit too Christian, “But I'll put up with him.” And of course, the other Christian I knew in my life was Cliff Richard, but I didn't know him, but I just knew that he was a Christian, so I didn't really have any… I felt that the church was an anachronism. I thought that all Christians were narrow minded and bigoted, and I thought my understanding, by that stage, of what Jesus was all about was far more sophisticated than the Christian theological understanding. And of course, what I didn't realize is that I'd actually become quite bigoted myself, intellectually bigoted, and of course my views and my understanding were very unfounded, I think, at the time.
I had to come back to London in the year 2000 because I'd had quite a serious injury, and I broke my neck in the year 2000. So I had to stop traveling and traveling overseas, and I was laid up in hospital, and so I had to recover from that. And it was after that I thought, “Actually, what I could really do now is, because I've done so much study in it, is I’ll go into teaching yoga and meditation,” which is what I ended up doing.
Okay. All right.
Yeah. And then you had this lovely neighbor.
That's right. That’s right.
Yeah. Yeah. But you didn't think too much of Christians at that point.
No, I didn't. I didn't. But I remember actually going around to his house. He lived in Twickenham in southwest London, and it was actually when I was thinking about moving into the area. I'd been living in North London until this point, and he was actually renting out rooms of his house. He had lodgers. And I remember when I first met him, we had an incredible conversation about theology and Christian theology, and I thought, “Well, I'm always going to know this man. I know I don't want to live here because I’ve kind of decided that I wanted my own place, but I know I'm always going to know him.” And in fact, he became the godfather of one of my children later on. Yeah, that's right.
But he's an amazing guy, and we used to spend quite a lot of time theologizing at his house. And of course, I came from a very kind of universalist perspective, a very kind of John Hick type of perspective, a liberal perspective, I guess you could say. And at one point, during one conversation we had, and this is a long time before I'd even begun to go down that Christian path or began to commit myself, he said to me, “Chris, at some point, at some stage, you are going to have to name Him.”
What did he mean by that?
Well, I think, because my perspective was so universalist, kind of fluid, and that… I don't know what he meant. Well, I think what he meant is, “Chris, you're going to have to be more specific. You're going to have to…. Your lines of argumentation, you have to start being able to defend them.” You're going to have to back up what you're saying, basically. And when he said that to me, “Chris, one day you're going to have to name Him.” I don't know if you ever had one of those experiences when the whole of your world kind of becomes slightly fuzzy at the edges and stops. Well, it was kind of one of those moments. I think what happened was it was a prick of my conscience. It was just a prick of my conscience.
So he challenged you. And so how did you respond to that?
Well, I can't remember how I responded. I just remember being really taken aback by the question and just standing there and probably thinking to myself, “Well, yeah, gee, I think he's right. At some point, I'm going to have to think through these things properly.”
So did you go back into kind of a more intellectual mode in terms of trying to look at this question and become more specific about who God is and what you believe? Or how did you approach that question?
Well, actually, what happened, Jana, is during this time, my coming to faith was actually more of a process that kind of occurred between 2015 and 2017. What I'd like to do is I'd like to share some of those moments, I think, which were really kind of important moments in that journey. And what happened at the time is my wife did an Alpha course.
Now, what drew her to an Alpha course? I'm just curious. Was your wife a Christian or just curious?
Well, we lived across the road from the church we ended up going to, and it's St. Stephen’s in Twickenham. And I'd actually been living across the road from this church for ten years without ever stepping foot inside. And I didn't step foot inside because I smelt the whiff of evangelism, I'd read theology at King’s, I thought I knew everything, and, of course, it ended up I knew very little. Very little.
So what happened is, my wife started going to an Alpha course, and she actually asked me if I'd like to join her, and I'm slightly embarrassed to say that I declined. I didn't want to go. I didn't want to join her. I had no interest in the church or the Christian faith or Jesus or anything like that. I just wasn't interested. And I started to see that her behavior started to change.
When I got back into our apartment, she was listening to kind of contemporary worship music. I can't remember what else, but I remember thinking to myself, “My goodness! She’s got it badly, this whole Christian thing. She's got it badly.” I remember thinking that.
Okay, so she started really absorbing Christianity and the culture. Did she take up on a personal belief in God and Jesus at that time?
So at that time, when she was doing to a Christmas service across the road at St. Stephen's, and during the service. They were showing a black and white film of the Virgin Mary. And I remember thinking to myself at the time, I remember thinking—it was a very good production, and I began to think, “What if?” And I thought to myself, “Something like this probably did happen.” And then the next Sunday, we went to a service, a family service, and we were really embraced by the people who went to St. Stephen's with open arms. And we were really encouraged. And I was invited to join a Bible group, a men's Bible group, called Fishers of Men.
And I remember, during a service, I remember we were singing some kind of contemporary worship music, and I saw on the screen Christ described as lovely and beautiful, and it was… and I saw, at the same time, there were a couple of the people in the church raising their arms, and I really wanted to be one of them.
No longer was God an intellectual type of primary cause or first mover or those kind of things. And to get any kind of understanding that God was for me was really radical to me. It was quite insane, really. I began to think, “Why would God be interested in me?” And then I think, during that process, I came to understand who Christ is and who Christ was, and it was really, really powerful.
But one of the deciding factors was my wife once came back into our apartment. I was standing in the kitchen, and we were struggling to conceive at the time. We'd waited about five years, and we were involved with IVF-assisted conception. And my wife came into the kitchen, and she announced, or she told me, that, while she was in prayer on the train coming back from King's College, where the IVF was actually happening at the time, she said that God had spoken to her and had given her the word Nathan. And she said that she didn't know any Nathan. So she Googled the word Nathaniel, and it means, Nathaniel means God has given. And it was so out of the ordinary, my wife saying that, because she's not the kind of person to say that kind of thing. I just thought, “What are you talking about? God spoke to you on the train? What are you what are you saying?”
But what I did remember in that moment, Jana, is how God spoke to me in the chapel when He said, “Go in peace.”
So I knew that God talks to His creation. I knew that, because that was the experience I had. And I went to the church on the Sunday, and I spoke with this lovely American lady called Annie, who was on one of the help desks there. And I said, “Annie, you're never going to believe it! You're never going to believe it! My wife's pregnant!” And of course, I saw Annie's face, and it was just this…. This picture of awe just came over her face and amazement and reverence, and it really, really is difficult to describe, but I knew that she had been praying for us, and I knew a lot of people at that church had been praying for us. So a lot of things were happening and had started to happen.
And there was another moment as well. I was exhibiting with my business at a… New Age kind of show. And I was there exhibiting with my business, and I had a look at the floor plan, and I saw…. It was about this period, and I was very, very excited because I kind of felt that things were happening, and I had this newfound faith. And I saw on the floor plan that there was this one Christian organization. It was like a prayer organization in the middle of that smorgasbord of New Age businesses. And I made a beeline for that spot. And I said to the woman—she sat down, and I just said to her… I was really excited, and I said, “Isn’t it just amazing that Christ died for my sins and was resurrected on the third day?” And I was just so enamored and passionate about it. And I think I made her feel a little bit uncomfortable, because she kind of looked away. I think she felt that I was probably one of the Looney Tunes from the trade show, from one of the other kind of New Age businesses. But what I realized at the time was that this was a new position. This was a new position for me in life. This was a supernaturally assisted position. This was not somewhere I could have got to myself. And this is what ended up happening. And yes, I was just amazed.
Yeah. So your friend had encouraged you to kind of figure things out, to find your way towards God, the God. Not any god, but the God, right? And so He was finding his way towards you, and you were finding your way towards Him.
Yeah. That’s right.
Yeah. And through your wife. And you were putting yourself in a position of really belief and coming to faith, seeing these things happening in your wife's life, in your life, and obviously you became very excited about… you were describing Christ's death, burial, and resurrection and what that meant for you. I love what you say, that you learned that God was for you.
Yes, that's right.
And that’s what the gospel is, right? That God is for you. And that He came to bring you to Himself. So you were coming to a place of really true personal belief, it sounds like.
Yeah. That’s right. It was no longer just an intellectual thing. It was no longer He was, as I mentioned earlier, the first cause or the unmoved mover. He had become irreducibly personal in my life. And when I had this conversation with this woman at the trade fair, it became evident to me that I'd become a Christian.
You surprised yourself.
I did. Because I had no plans, I had no plans to become a Christian. I didn't want to become a Christian. I didn't really try to seek it out, but, yes, there I was, and it was a radically new supernaturally assisted position and an irreducibly Christian view of the world, and that's where I got to.
And I remember another quick story that I'd love to tell you about was when I was with a friend, and all my friends had noticed something was happening in my life, something was going on. And a very good friend of mine turned around one day while I was visiting him in North London, and he said, “Surely you don't believe all that stuff.” And I said to him, “Oh, no! I believe that Jesus Christ lived 2,000 years ago. He was crucified. The Gospels are very, very accurate, and He most definitely resurrected. And not only that, He died for my sins.” And I said it with such weight that, when I'd stopped, my friend just turned around to me, and he said, “OMG.”
I guess he was stunned. He was stunned at your passion, I presume.
Well, yes, and it kind of felt like it wasn't me who was saying that. It was something else.
It was the Spirit of God. Right!
It was just so powerful. And then a few months later, he'd come down to Twickenham to see me, and we were walking down the road. We weren't talking about faith or Christ or anything. And then he pointed across the road at the church where I was going to, and he asked me. He said, “Is that where you go to church?” It was just really funny when he asked me, because I just thought, “Yeah. Yes, it is. That's where I go to church.” And that was it. But the point is, I knew that what I'd said had made an impact on him.
Right. Yeah. I’m sure it did.
And I hadn't even thought about it. I hadn't thought about it. But he was thinking about it. So it just goes to show how many hungry people there are out there.
Yeah, there really are. And speaking of that, Chris, I'm sure that there are a lot of people who are listening who are hungry. Some recognize the hunger. Some actually probably don't even know that they're hungry. They just are looking for something, and they're not really sure. But how would you encourage someone who is a curious skeptic or who might be looking in the direction of God or trying to figure things out? What would you encourage them to think about or to do?
I think it depends what kind of nonbeliever or skeptic that you're talking about. But if they do have a sincere heart, and they are interested, I think a really great place to start is reading. I'm an avid reader, and there's a plethora of good books out there that will help to address the issues or the questions that these people might have. And I think what a really good thing to do would be to find out the types of problems that they may have with where they're at in terms of their faith journey, even if they know it's a journey or not. And maybe just to gently put a put a book in their hands, because you're never given enough time, the time you need to really go into too much depth or to talk about it in as much detail or necessarily have all the answers there at hand to talk to someone who does have lots and lots of questions.
Since I came to faith, I have to say, before I became a Christian, I heard all about when you come to faith, you become the enemy. And that's been my experience. That really has been my experience. And I'm not playing a victim card at all, but I've really, really noticed that. Because I was the one who had the business and, you know, the business had a profile, etc., etc., but since I've come to faith, a lot of my friends think I've gone insane, that I've gone crazy, and I'm stupid, or this, that, or the other.
So I think there's a lot of arrogance out there, a lot of intellectual arrogance, but actually, I think the truth is it's not intellectual arrogance, because I think it really is mainly emotionally driven, because if you had a proper intellectual conversation about all of these issues, my belief is that it can only lead you to Christ. So I think what I'm trying to say is I think the obstacles people have to faith, certainly to the Christian faith, often I find that they're emotionally driven atheists, for example.
So to a hard-nosed skeptic who has rejected the Christian faith out of hand, I'd always say to them, “Well, you have to consider the evidence no matter where it comes from, because if you're not willing to consider the evidence wherever it comes from, then this effectively will make you intellectually dishonest, so you have to be able to consider these things without dismissing them or rejecting them out of hand.” And I've had a lot of those types of conversations, and I enjoy asking people questions. I've never been the kind of apologist who tries to preach at people, but really just to ask some very, very gentle questions. Because often I find that skeptics, or certain types of skeptics, are often just repeating caricatures of Christianity or the Christian faith or repeating slogans without actually ever really truly understanding what it is they're talking about.
I would consider myself to be quite a new Christian still, but that's been my limited experience so far. And when I get into a conversation; I love getting into these sorts of conversations. I often say to people who are curious about Christ and the Christian faith or religion or whatever, I'd always say, “Look, I'm not an expert, but I'd love to share my story with you and see what you think. See if that helps.”
Yeah. Have you found some reception to that?
Oh, yeah, very much. Yes. That’s right. Yes, I have. But I've also been—because, you see, when I came to faith, I expected the whole world to come to faith, which of course, didn't happen, because you realize something's true, and you're so enthusiastic about it. I've learned the hard way, obviously, but when I first came to faith, I was picking people up on social media and saying, “Well, you can't just say something like that. Have you considered this?” And hoping that people would start to question their assumptions, etc., but kind of in a gentle way. And I think a lot of the time people just need to be able to be given permission to be able to even ask these sorts of questions, I think especially in the scientific communities and people who consider themselves to be of a scientific mindset.
And you mentioned putting a book in someone's hand. I suppose it may depend on the kinds of questions or objections that someone might have, but are there any particular books that come to mind, just off the top of your head, that you like to give? That you feel are helpful?
Yeah, yeah. I mean there are tons of great books. I love Bill Craig. I think he is a fantastic apologist. He's just so clear and succinct, the way that he puts things across. And what's really great these days is that you've got tons of Bill Craig on YouTube. So if you've got a quick question to ask about, well, you know, suffering, even in suffering, for example, well, see what Bill Craig has to say about it, because for all the questions that you have, someone has probably answered that question. Just do a bit of research. So, yeah, you've got Bill Craig, you've got C.S. Lewis, you've got Timothy Keller, who I think is just wonderful, the way he speaks into that cultural space, and how he grew the Redeemer in Manhattan in a very secular environment. What did he do? How is he addressing his audience? And he's written some great stuff. He's very accessible. He's not too intellectual, but he's just intellectual enough for those very educated people of Manhattan who are very similar to the people that you meet in London, who are very similar to the people you meet in Melbourne and Sydney. John Lennox is great. Gosh, who else have we got here? Yeah, we've got lots and lots of people. Yeah. So I think those are good people to start with.
Yeah. I think those are really great recommendations. Now, for the Christian to engage with the nonbeliever, you’ve already given a lot of advice about asking questions and offering resources and just listening. Is there anything else there?
I think never underestimate the power of a good question. I think the question, “Why would you say that?” is a really powerful apologetic question. Because if you ask that question, people will start to question their own assumptions. And usually those assumptions are only one or two or three in line for their argument to fall down, or certainly their position to fall down, because they realize that their position is vacuous. There's nothing there. I don't know if that made any sense, by the way, but-
No, it makes perfect sense. Yeah. It helps someone to think about why they believe what they believe, rather than just throwing out a slogan or a caricature, like you were saying before, of our faith. But, yes, I think you can't underestimate the value of a question. I think it's tremendous for everyone to think about why they believe what they believe, Christians and non.
I was just going to say as well, I think, when you ask a question, it's never about winning the war, especially in the job that I'm doing at the moment. I've met all sorts of Christians now, and it's never even about winning the battle, it's just about giving people the permission to ask that question. And maybe just making them feel a little bit uncomfortable. I think it's Koukl who refers to it as just putting a stone in someone's shoe.
And I think that's where you want to start. And then pray and let the Holy Spirit do His work.
Yes. The Holy Spirit would woo them as he wooed you.
Yeah. That’s right.
Yeah. Oh, what a beautiful story, Chris. I would say it's a very circuitous story. It takes all kinds of twists and turns, a little bit unexpected, but you found your way back to the one God Who is true and Who is real, Who had revealed Himself to you earlier in your life, and now it's obvious to me that he has transformed your life. And you work now, actually, for a Christian ministry, don't you?
Yes, that's right. When I came to Australia, I wanted to explore my Christian convictions. I've actually stepped out of my business. And yeah, I've stepped out of it. And I work for an organization called Bible League, and Bible League resources the under-resourced global church through the provision of Bibles and biblical resources. It's actually a mission that started in Illinois in the 1930s and came to Australia in the 1970s. And what I do is I work as a development officer in Victoria. So I support our supporters. I visit them and make sure everything is okay. And then on the other side of things, I go into churches on Sundays, and it can be at any denomination. So we work right across the spectrum. One Sunday, I'll be talking in a Baptist church, the next Sunday I'll be talking a Presbyterian church and then an Anglican church, and then Christian Reformed, Pentecostal. And I'm often asked to share my testimony, and sometimes I do messages and sermons as well.
So it's been an incredible transformation and change when I think about what I was doing just a few years ago, and I think one story kind of encapsulates this very, very well. I was on my way to actually delivering a sermon on a Sunday morning, and when it's morning in Australia, it's the previous evening in London, and I was having a conversation with my friends, who were all out together in a pub somewhere, and my friend asked me, “So what are you doing?” And I said, “Well, I'm actually on my way to a church to deliver a sermon,” and he just said, “Oh, wow!”
It's a silly story, but it kind of shows you the difference between what I was doing five years ago as compared to what I'm doing now in my life.
Yes. Dramatic transformation. Totally unexpected for him, I'm sure. And that will probably not be the last time someone looks at you and says, “Oh, wow! I can't believe where you are now.” But thank God for your story, for your life, and for the change that he's made in your life. It's so obvious. And too, how wonderful that he brought both your wife and you at the same time. What a blessing that would be, that you came to Christ together and that your family obviously gets the blessing of that.
But thank you so much, Chris, for coming on today.
Thank you, Jana.
And for sharing your story and your insight and your wisdom. And I just am so thankful for what He’s done in your life, and I'm just so pleased to share it. Thank you for coming on.
Yes. Thank you so much, Jana. I really enjoyed sharing my story with you today.
Thanks for tuning in to Side B Stories to hear Chris's story. You can find out more about his work at the Bible League, as well as other contact information, in the episode notes. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can contact me directly at our email at [email protected]. Also, if you're a skeptic or atheist who would like to connect with a former atheist with questions, please contact us, again through our website, our email address, and we'll get you connected. I hope you enjoyed this episode and that you'll follow, rate, review, 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 another skeptic flips the record of their life.