Category Archives: Faith

DAVID MOORE AND DECONVERT, BRANDON WITHROW, IN CONVERSATION

I am grateful to Brandon Withrow for his willingness to engage in this conversation.

WITHROW: First, just a little about my background. I’m a pastor’s kid. I was raised in the church. I went to Christian schools to earn my B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. I taught the history of Christianity (and other courses) at a divinity school, a seminary, and in a religious studies program at a local university. I published several books with Christian publishers. Essentially, my job and faith were intertwined. When I left Christianity, I left my seminary faculty position, which I felt was the only right thing to do. (I wrote about that at The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Guardian.)

I now consider myself a secular humanist. It is my preferred moniker over “atheist,” simply because it is about affirming something positive, rather than identifying just with the negative statement of “there is no God.”

Why did I leave Christianity? The short version is to say that it no longer made sense to me and I had to be honest with myself about that.

There are, however, any number of reasons—complex and simple—that cause someone to reject a faith. I believe that motivated reasoning plays a larger role in faith commitments than most of us recognize—at least, I know it did with me. Part of my deconversion story begins with putting my own motivations under the microscope, to realize that when you want something badly enough you’ll make all sorts of room for it, even when it no longer makes sense.

Motivated reasoning is the creation of an argument to reach a desired conclusion. This takes advantage of our unconscious biases, many of which are supplied to us by nature as short-cuts for decision-making, but which also cloud our perspective(s) and lead to blind spots. I frequently see this happening in the hurdles one might have to take to embrace the Bible—at least, as it was the case for me.

So, for example, it is not a new thing that there are parts of the Bible that seem to contradict each other, or that its record of history that doesn’t connect with what we know, or that descriptions of the universe that don’t represent the scientific evidence, etc. Ancient Christians recognized some of these difficulties and the list of difficulties for a modern Christian is even larger now than it was in the early Church. Many have seen these as being reason enough to part with the Bible entirely.

Even the responses to these problems related to the Bible run along a spectrum and aren’t necessarily new.

One response might be an inerrantist approach, rejecting the validity of scientific or historical facts out of a deep love and devotion to Scripture. A flawed Bible, after all, would not be inspired by a perfect God, according to this type of view. Others might say that the Bible speaks according to the language and understanding of the day—likened to baby talk—a concept not rare among ancient Christians (e.g., Origen). God, in other words, is incarnational in his approach to humanity, communicating within our flawed limitations on science, history, and morality at the time of composition.

Others might say that the Bible is not so much divinely inspired in the details, as it is in the “how to live” category, or even that the Bible is just one record (among many) of humans seeking God or the transcendent (like the Vedas or Quran), and therefore contains errors that are expected from ancient human beings. And in all of these approaches, when the details don’t line up—when the Bible doesn’t seem to make sense—theologians might employ a final appeal to “mystery.” In other words, it might be said that since God is bigger than all of us, so be humble and submit to mystery when things don’t make sense.

In all these approaches, and every shade between, readers craft responses to the Bible that enable them to keep it as divine or sacred.

I believe these responses to difficulties with the Bible are essentially genuine responses, and not consciously trying to overlook the issues or be deceptive. I don’t deny that those who use them have a genuine feeling that the problem has been resolved through re-entrenchment or an adjustment to one’s epistemology, or just “a better theology”—which I now see as translating as “a theology that they feel good about.” But, in all of this, I don’t question their sincerity in trying to be theologically creative. I don’t do this because I know that I was sincerely seeking understanding when I found inerrancy no longer satisfying and when mystery appeared to be a handy solution.

So, I think that we do get in our own way. Having a creative solution is not the same as having the right or a better perspective. When we are faced with conclusions that do not match the evidence we’re faced with, we find ourselves in cognitive dissonance, and the only way to move forward is to have dissonance reduction. And that reduction comes through creative theological thinking, which isn’t necessarily about discarding the bad ideas, but finding a way to live with them by reframing the problem as needing a better theology. 

And this is where we need to ask ourselves—where I asked myself—how are we doing that? What is the motivated reasoning driving our conclusions? Cognitive biases—like confirmation and disconfirmation bias, or bias blind spot—allow us to avoid an inevitable conclusion we find uncomfortable. But this isn’t a process that announces itself; we don’t usually know it’s happening.

For my story, I found that for every hole I stumbled on in the Bible, and every difficulty I had with how the writer’s treat ethical/moral issues related to human rights (e.g., slaves and women, for example), I looked for a new way to understand it so I wouldn’t have to leave the Bible for good. I rotated my definition of what it means for the Bible to be God’s revelation, making it a moving target.

After all, maybe the Bible feels like such a human book because God was just speaking in the language of the day or maybe it isn’t God speaking, but humans seeking, etc., and now it needs to be reimagined within a modern context.

One has to eventually ask (I think) the question: at what point, after fixing every potential problem only to discover a new one, am I willing to say that the Bible isn’t what I think it is? What if this book only made sense of my world because I found theological ways to help it along? I wondered why do we keep making exceptions for the Bible.

There was a day, for example, when humans discovered Mercury’s retrograde orbit and they had to craft any number of reasons for it. Given geocentrism, it made little sense to see a planet go backwards in the sky. People frequently saw that deviant behavior as an omen, believing that when in retrograde, bad things were going to happen here on Earth. Of course, now we know that retrograde is the result of an optical illusion. Mercury doesn’t actually change direction.

With the original reason for retrograde—its very foundation—as demonstrably just an optical illusion, surely that meant that astrologers would give up the idea of bad luck attached to it, right? No. As one astrologer put it, retrograde may not be a “scientific fact,” but it is a metaphor and an “astrological fact” (which is not a thing). There is, therefore, a spiritual retrograde—dissonance resolved.

And I know that there are any number of evangelicals who would argue that there is no reason to accept astrology, and especially this idea of retrograde, and that if the facts do not back it up, then the idea should die. I would agree with that. And yet, this is where I think similar exceptions are made for the Bible. 

The Bible may regularly miss the mark on scientific and historical evidence and human rights, and Christians may (like I did) regularly change their approach to reading and interpreting it. But when all of the evidence points to a human book—even though an interesting one—the desire to keep it divine and sacred means (as it did for me) finding a new way to talk around the difficulties.

I find that many Christians may not give the same leeway to other ideas or faiths which face similar difficulties. For many, a critical view of the Quran or other sacred texts would lead to seeing it only as a human book and rejecting it. But if the Bible has similar flaws, should it be given an exemption just because it’s a beloved Christian text?

I eventually came to see this as bias blind spot on my part and ended my own exemptions.

I get why one’s love for the Bible as holy may not see this as I do, so I’m not surprised if there are immediate theological responses to this perspective. I get it because I was once there. Over time, I noticed that I moved from faith seeking understanding to faith seeking rationalization and dissonance reduction. If my take is one in which the Bible is eventually indiscernible from a human text, maybe Ockham’s razor entails that it is just that. Given this sort of thing, I came to the conclusion that it was no longer for me. It was a long process, but an inevitable one on my part.

MOORE: My own confidence in the reliability of Scripture is due to many things.  Space here does not permit me to enumerate them, but let me mention one thing that may be helpful.  Lesslie Newbigin wrote a terrific book called Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship.  In it he describes how so-called liberal and so-called conservative Christians look to the Enlightenment understanding of truth in determining how confident one can be about the Christian faith.  Liberals think that there is no way you can have a high degree of confidence in the Bible’s reliability, so therefore conclude that the Christian faith has little rational basis.  Conservative Christians tend to think it is fairly “obvious” that the claims of the faith are true, and so conclude that you can have a high degree of confidence in the Bible’s reliability.  According to Newbigin, and I would agree, both have missed the reality of “faith seeking understanding.”  Christians who have come from the conservative side of things can be unwittingly set up for doubts when they begin to realize that there are challenging and difficult things to understand.  As one who has experienced heart-rending doubts I gain my footing by knowing that God already made it clear that not all would be clear (Deut. 29:29: Isa. 55:8,9: II Cor. 13:12: II Pet. 3:16).  My earlier quest for certitude was a fool’s errand.

WITHROW:  There are any number of other discussions one can have about what constitutes as evidence for the Bible as divine or for Christianity as the one true religion. As one person once put it to me, “Jesus changes lives and that’s how I know he’s God.” I believe that many things Jesus teaches are potentially life changing. For example, loving one’s enemies may help avoid war. I also know Christians who became very different people after their conversions, but I don’t think this is necessarily evidence of the truthfulness of one’s faith over another’s.

There are those who became Buddhists or Muslims and found relief from violence or alcoholism or any number of problems. If change for the better is evidence for the truthfulness of Christianity, it would have to be so for these faiths too.

But I don’t see this sort of thing as necessarily consistent evidence. I’ve known many Christians who were also terrible people and who hold terrible views. Presumably, these bad actors would be contrary evidence, though what I normally see as a response to these situations is the “not a true Christian,” claim or “God is not finished with me yet.”

So what I’ve seen is that sometimes people who are struggling to be better individuals find what they need to motivate them to better behavior, whether it is through Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, secularity, or group therapy. And I see bad actors as frequently converting to faith to find a divine sanction on their ideas or as an opportunity for power. There is a spectrum between, as, for example, where decent people under the influence of bad actors can perform bad actions.

In other words, as the Bible looks and appears human to me in what it says, the behavior of others within a faith is also very human—that is, people are frequently following what they are already inclined to do. If Christianity were a pharmaceutical, therefore, I’m not sure I’d see enough evidence of a higher spiritual transformation to take it over other options. But if religion is a human construct, I expect it to have good and bad ideas; I expect it to attract people of all motivations.

I should add something here. People have asked me if someone “did something bad to me” to push me to reject the faith? I recognize that good ideas can have bad people attached to them. Brilliant people have also been known to be horrid people. So, it is not a case of “I’m hurt, therefore I’m leaving,” but rather what does this behavior tell me about humanity and the real draw of religion. It is to say that when I see how people behave in a faith, I just see it as reflective of being human regardless of which world religion one belongs to, where people find the tools they need for whatever conscious or unconscious motivation they have, good or bad.

MOORE: What constitutes bona fide change can be a bit slippery.  How much change needs to occur for it to count?  Much more challenging is how can we assess someone’s motives for change?  I’ve known some people who made significant changes for the better without any religious motivation.   I’ve also met many who said their lives were dramatically changed by Jesus.  I’ve also seen changes in my own life that I am quite confident could not come from sheer dint of will.  I’m quite aware how weak my will is.  As to the former, I will briefly mention former drug addicts who deeply fell in love with the Jesus revealed in the gospels.  In fact, many of these drug addicts did not believe in Jesus before going into rehab, but became attracted to the ways Jesus treated the marginalized.  Later, many of them embraced Jesus’s claims to be true. 

Downplaying or dismissing sinful behavior is clearly wrong.  However, the perversion of a truth does not make the truth any less true.  Richard Bauckham has described how Christianity has unique, built in resources to correct abuse.  Christianity has a founder whose own self-sacrifice and cries against injustice point His followers in the direction they should go.  Granted, some who call on Christ do not follow well, but that would not undermine the truthfulness of the Christian faith.

WITHROW:  I’ve also been asked, if someone did not accept Christianity, couldn’t they still accept the idea of God or embrace another religion? Yes, they could, and regularly do. I also considered other faiths and approaches.

But—and it is really too big to explain it all here—I landed on the idea that the religious drive is a human default provided by our evolutionary story. I think there is a growing case made for this among (religious and non-religious) cognitive scientists studying religion, though I recognize that—unlike the evidence behind general relativity, for example—there is significantly more work to be done in that area and there are experimental limitations.

Because I find the argument compelling enough that religion is an evolutionary byproduct, and because I haven’t seen real evidence for a divine being, I’ve decided to move on from the idea of a God. That is not to say I wouldn’t be open to evidence, but that I have not found a convincing case.

Lastly—and I can’t put too fine a point on this—I’m not of the opinion that someone in a faith is somehow less intelligent than a nonbeliever, or that bias infects only the religious, or that believers are automatically bad people. There are many secular humanists, like myself, who work with people of faith in shared efforts to bring social change to our communities. I would rather have a good Christian as a friend than a terrible atheist, and vice versa.

So when I endeavor to understand religion, I am frequently seeking an understanding of human nature and what it does for us as a species. We are a complicated, wonderful, and terrible species. We are also an immensely creative species, and religion is an impressive example of that. 

MOORE: Appeals to “science” need clarification since scientific discoveries are hardly static.  Thomas Kuhn described it well in his seminal book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  Furthermore, science is not devoid of faith.  Michael Polanyi has well described this dynamic.  Why does a scientist go with a certain hunch or not in conducting her experiment?  Why do certain scientists continue to believe certain things when the evidence remains inconclusive?  Science involves both faith and reason, just as the Christian faith entails both.

Pascal said there are two excesses: “to exclude reason, to admit nothing but reason.”  In similar fashion, Chesterton added, “The poet [think of less “rational” more imaginative types] only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician [Mr. or Mrs. Rationalist] who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits…The madman is not the person who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who lost everything except his reason.”

Several years back I corresponded with the well-known New Testament scholar and deconvert, Bart Ehrman. He graciously exchanged several emails with me. My first note to him posed this question:

Hi Bart, I recently saw your latest book [Misquoting Jesus] and had a question that continues to nag. You well know that scholars like Gerald Hawthorne [one of Bart’s teachers at Wheaton] and Bruce Metzger [Bart’s main teacher at Princeton for Ph.D. studies] are familiar with the same manuscripts, history of transmission, etc. as you. But they come to very different conclusions. I am curious as to how you would explain this phenomenon. Thanks so much for you time! Dave

Bart wrote this in response:

I guess it’s rooted in different religious proclivities. I think it’s not a matter of    knowledge, but of what one makes of the knowledge.

“Bart [Ehrman] was, like a lot of people who were converted to fundamental evangelicalism, converted to the certainty of it all, of having all the answers,” added Dale Martin, Woolsey Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University, and a friend of three decades. “When he found out they were lying to him, he just didn’t want anything to do with it.”  

I’ve seen too many bail on Christianity because they concluded that honestly bringing their struggles to God was antithetical to having integrity in living out one’s faith.  I believe otherwise.

Thanks Brandon!  Though our conversation is just a starter, I greatly appreciate your willingness to have this exchange.

REJOICING IN LAMENT

J. Todd Billings is the Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI.  He is an award-winning author of various books including Union with Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/books/union-with-christ/327520.

Todd’s latest book, Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer & Life in Christ http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/books/rejoicing-in-lament/349560 framed this interview.

Moore: Please give our readers a sense of why Rejoicing in Lament is not the kind of book you thought you would ever write.

Billings: At age 39, married and with two children ages 1 and 3, a diagnosis of incurable cancer seemed unimaginable. I never imagined that I would write Rejoicing in Lament because it’s not how I imagined my life-story. Of course, throughout my life I’ve imagined all sorts of possibilities about my death. Reading novels and watching films can make you go there. But a cancer diagnosis is an odd way to enter into dying: it’s a bit like a death-sentence, but one that may come soon or relatively far down the road. It’s unpredictable.

After my diagnosis, my feeling was not of self-pity, as much as of lament. I lamented for my children in particular. My prayer was an adaptation of Psalm 102: Why, O Lord, would you take away their dad midcourse through their childhood? I’m incredibly grateful for the gift of life, and the goodness the Lord has lavished upon me in 40 years. I recognize that many people never live to 40. But my love for my family drove me to lament.

Lamenting with the Psalms led me down a path that I never expected to walk. The psalmists led me to ask questions like: “O Lord, why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your face from me?” (Ps. 88:14) What are we to make of apparently “senseless” suffering and death, in light of God’s promise? And ultimately: how do our stories of suffering — with all of the broken edges — fit into the story of God in Christ? These are not abstract questions, but ones that I asked with urgency in the early days of my diagnosis and they are the questions that guide the pages of Rejoicing in Lament.

Moore: From my own ministry and personal suffering I know that no two sufferers are identical in what best brings comfort.  We all desire compassion and a confidence that there is “a bigger purpose,” but how that is all conveyed varies from person to person.  For example, some people want to talk about things while too much talk exhausts others. To further complicate matters the same person can be encouraged one day by something, which another day brings discouragement, even anger.  Help us to better navigate these tricky waters.

Billings: Each path of suffering is its own. For some, the suffering comes through a traumatic event. For others, it’s the dripping faucet of anxiety, eating away at one’s well-being day by day. So, we need to get over the idea that there is one “perfect thing to say” to anyone who is suffering, because the paths of suffering are diverse.

So, my general advice is this: Be present. Listen. Pray. And pray, specifically, with the Psalms. Don’t try to be the hero to someone who is suffering by trying to fix everything yourself. And don’t assume that the person just wants to weep or mourn. They may want to laugh. They may want to tell stories about good times, or make jokes. You won’t know if you set the agenda for the conversation and fail to be present and listen first. After my cancer diagnosis, my own feelings were beyond my own ability to express. I was incredibly grateful for each moment; and yet I was overwhelmed with the physical and emotional effects of the intensive chemotherapy. And yet simultaneously I was also lamenting for my family. Paul says we are to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). I used to think that the rejoicing and the weeping are two different sets of people. But for many who are suffering, they are both at the same time.

Pray. We cannot handle a calamity on our own. Advice won’t fix a crisis. And talk can be cheap in the end. Praying on behalf of someone else is an incredible gift, bringing them before the Almighty even if they may feel too weak or overwhelmed to go there by themselves. And pray the Psalms. The Psalms keep us away from prayers that can sound cliché or sentimental to the sufferer. They are the real deal. They come before God in trust in a way that brings our whole, complex range of emotions into the presence of our gracious Lord.

Moore: You make it clear that we need to disabuse ourselves of thinking there is a satisfying answer to suffering this side of eternity.  Job, of course, makes that case quite convincingly.  In light of our limited understanding, how do we cultivate confidence that God truly is loving, kind, and has our best intentions in mind?

Billings: I work with the problem of suffering, or the problem of evil, in several chapters in the book. In sum, I think that scripture teaches that we should not give a theoretical answer to the problem. The answer lies beyond human wisdom. In saying that, I’m not saying, “the Bible addressed it, but didn’t come up with an answer.” No. I’m saying that as the Bible addresses the problem of evil (in the book of Job, for example), we are taught that we should not pretend we know God’s mind about why he would allow evil and suffering.

Instead of a theodicy, scripture gives us a prayer book. The Psalms shape our response to evil through laments, which focus our eyes upon God’s promise to make things right, even when things are a mess and through thanksgiving, which rightly recognizes that we are not “entitled” to good things, but the goods of creation and redemption come from the gracious hand of God. I think that we cultivate our confidence in God and his promise through prayer, through worship – feeding upon Christ by Word and Sacrament in community – and through compassionate service. As I say at one point in the book, “we should not pretend that we are the authors of history who can say what reasons could possibly justify this [evil]. We don’t know. But there is one thing that Christians know without a doubt: that suffering and evil require our compassionate response.”

Moore: Pardon the length of my thoughts here, but I think it is necessary for this one.

The best teaching I’ve heard on Job came from an agnostic Jewish scholar.  He was perfectly fine leaving the loose ends hanging.  Too many evangelical preachers I’ve heard like to underscore how it all worked out in the end for Job because he got his health back, lived a long life, and had ten more children.  Those certainly are wonderful things that should not be diminished.  Even the commentary in Job underscores that with the final line of “And Job died, an old man and full of days.”  But mystery remains, right?  Why did Job have to go through all of this suffering?  Who is excited about losing their present children for a new batch?  Not me.  So it seems we Christians can presume we know a whole bunch more than we really do.

Billings: The book of Job should cut through our pretensions that the righteous do not suffer unjustly. (And of course, the life and death of Jesus should break through that pretension in an even more powerful way!) Even at the end of the narrative, Job has no idea of the “reasons” as to why God could allow this evil to befall him– and neither do the readers of Job receive a reason. But in many ways, that’s the point.

Postulating “God’s reasons” for allowing suffering is moving beyond human wisdom. It’s dangerous. It forgets that God is God and we are not. And in the midst of my own cancer journey, when people have said “this must be the reason God has allowed the cancer,” it has not encouraged my life of faith. We don’t know. We want to know. But we don’t know why the Almighty, good God has allowed suffering that appears senseless. To admit this is not a statement of unfaith – as the Psalmists remind us repeatedly – it’s a sign of trust to admit the limits of our understanding and to bring our questions and complaints to the Lord. In the words of the complaint of Psalm 73: “Such are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been plagued, and am punished every morning.” At the end of the Psalm, the psalmist declares in trust that the Lord will set things right. That is our trust and hope. But things are not yet right, and the Psalmist doesn’t know why.

Moore: Job’s friends were at their best when they silently sat with Job (Job 2:13).  Unfortunately, they went from compassionate friends to presumptuous theologians.  I tend to think that Job’s friends were more mature spiritually than many of today’s Christians.  If I am remotely close in my assumption, then how can we be wise in the counsel we receive, especially during times of suffering, when we are the most vulnerable and impressionable?

Billings: Yes, at the beginning of Job, his friends show astonishing solidarity and wisdom: “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (2:13) Things went downhill from there. I think that there is a place for talking with the suffering – especially for prayer, and the Psalms, as I noted above. But that’s after first being present to the sufferer and listening to them. Ultimately, the goal of our care of the suffering should not be the opportunity to share our clever theological ideas. The goal of our care of the suffering should be the same as the goal of all of the Psalms: to honestly bring who we are, with all of our confusion and turmoil, before the face of the Almighty.

Moore: Years ago, I read A Sacred Sorrow by Michael Card.  One of my marginal notes reads, “American Christians know how to cry, but not lament.”  In my estimation one of the most important truths you underscore is that Job’s repentance did not include repenting over his lament.  Unpack that some for us.

Billings: In the book I draw upon Ellen Davis, Roland Murphy and others who translate Job 42:6 as a recanting of Job’s case before the Almighty, but not a repentance for lamenting. “I recant and relent, being but dust and ashes.” In the words of Carol Bechtel, in this act Job “admits that his own wisdom is limited; he bows to a God whose wisdom is limitless.”

The irony is that rather than rebuking Job for his lament, God twice declares that Job’s friends – who are trying to defend God –  “have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7-8).  God judges the friends for the presumption of speaking for God in a way that assumed Job was somehow to be blamed for his own suffering. Thanking God, lamenting to God – those are healthy human, creaturely things to do. Giving a theoretical theodicy which claims to know God’s reasons for suffering – that is sophistry based on a denial of our finitude and creatureliness. As I mention in the book, I think that there can be a place for a “defense” of the basic rationality of the Christian faith, showing how it can be rational to believe in a good, almighty God even if we don’t know the reasons for evil. But giving a theodicy proper which claims to actually know God’s reasons for allowing evil is dangerous – to our relationship with God and with others. Instead of joining Job’s friends, we can join the Psalmists in bringing grief and protest and joy and thanksgiving before the God of the universe.

Moore: Your book does not shrink from describing the raw realties of suffering.  Like parallel train tracks, it also makes clear that we can truly trust God in the darkest places.  Thanks Todd for writing both an honest and hopeful book!

Pray for Todd: I asked Todd how the Jesus Community could pray for him and here is what he shared: I would welcome anyone to join me in praying Psalm 27, praying that God would continue to graciously show his face to my family and me as we continue to struggle with the enemy of cancer, and I undergo chemotherapy treatments as I teach and write. 

 

 

HITLER’S CROSS

Hitler's Cross: How the Cross Was Used to Promote the Nazi Agenda  -     By: Erwin Lutzer<br />

Lutzer, the longtime pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, has made an important contribution to our understanding of Nazi Germany.

Hitler’s Cross is a troubling account of how moral decay and timidity results in disaster. And the disaster, as was the case in Nazi Germany, is usually far more reaching than we could ever imagine.

I appreciated this book very much except for the author’s desire to tie Nazi ideology to a certain view of end times. For those who don’t hold to dispensational theology, they might be tempted to write the author off, and thus would sadly miss an important book.

IS JESUS GOD?

The man in the picture is biblical scholar and agnostic, Bart Ehrman.  His story of leaving the Christian faith is well-known.  His books are widely read and vigorously debated.
In my own correspondence with Ehrman I found him quite candid about doubt.  He admitted that how one chooses to look at the evidence for the Bible’s reliability greatly influences what conclusion one comes to.  For one scholar who came to a wholly different conclusion than Ehrman:

WH AUDEN AND GOD

“…in later years he made a point of quoting Georg Christoph Lichtenberg: ‘There is a great difference between still believing something and believing it again.’ All his beliefs were beliefs again.”

As one who has experienced some severe seasons of doubt about the Christian faith, I definitely resonate with this quote.

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2007/dec/06/auden-and-god/?pagination=false