I was sort of brought up as Christian. What I mean by that is, I was dedicated as a baby, my mother took me to Sunday school and church, my Catholic grandmother taught me how to pray and I believed in God and Jesus…But my father and his side of the family were non-believers, so I did not have a cohesive family worldview to grow up in. Christianity was how I came to understand a lot of the world, but naturalism, materialism or atheism (call it what you will) was the default alternative view in my environment.
The type of Christianity I grew up with was Pentecostalism from a range of different churches – sometimes of the mainstream variety, sometimes a little on the extreme, “Word of Faith”, borderline heretical kind of side (eg; at one, we watched creepy videos of Kenneth Copeland’s daughter as “Commander Kelly”). I can remember “asking Jesus into my heart” at around 7 (probably the first of several times) and attending a range of groups for children and youth and singing Hillsong tunes, thinking they had been around for as long as any hymn (when in fact they were often off the latest CD!)
Naturally, I can’t remember a lot of the specifics I learned at church and Sunday school, due to the time lapse. But this kind of Christianity was “normal” to me as I proceeded through childhood. I sometimes doubted God’s existence during these years, but never for long. The existence of the Christian God was always the default position I returned to and His existence did have an impact on how I thought about life and death.
Sometimes I got a sense that something was wrong with me spiritually, like when I sang “Lord I give you my heart, I give you my soul, I live for you alone” – and knew it wasn’t true. Or when the good feeling of going to church suddenly disappeared when I fought with my sister in the car as we left the church car park. These were matters I’d take, unresolved, into teenagehood.
Towards the end of primary school I did find myself in a different kind of church for the first time. We attended a Church of Christ in Logan City for a couple of years from when I was around 11 or 12. My impression of this church looking back is mostly positive. The youth leaders seemed to have a genuine love for us and wanted to ensure we not only had a good time, but learned the truth about Christ. I’m convinced that the Church of Christ’s non-denominational, restorationist kind of ethos had a big impact on me for the rest of my life. Though I find it hard to see how the Churches of Christ are not a functional denomination themselves, their emphasis on simply being “Christians” is something that has long resonated with me. I believe the church had a formative influence on me in terms of how I understood evangelical Christianity as I went into my teenage years.
However, that church was to be the last one I’d attend for many years. I hated getting out of bed early on a Sunday morning and gradually I went from losing the fight with my mother about getting up to go to church as a young boy, to consistently winning it as a teenager.
There was a time when I tried to return, after some time away, but I found the in-crowd of young people too hard to break into after my time of absence. And so, I turned my back on going to church – but not on Christianity. I still saw myself as a Christian in the years to come, more of which I’ll relate about in part 2.