In this post, I’d like to present a condensed (though still rather lengthy) description of my faith journey and how it has culminated in a Statement of Faith, which you can download for free at the end of the article if you would like to.
In this article I won’t be describing the long and difficult spiritual journey I went through before I became interested in Christianity, but that is something I have done in my book The Philosophy of a Mad Man (reissued in 2019) which you can find, along with all my other published works, on the Books page.
In my first years as a Christian, I explored a number of different Christian denominations. I began going to a Catholic church which was associated with the psychiatric hospital in which I first became a Christian after reading the Bible in my hospital room and attending a weekly service held at the hospital. I also attended some services at the church itself (St Anselm’s in Tooting Bec, London), and attended a private introduction to Catholic baptism with a wonderful priest named Gary who also visited me and prayed with me on the hospital ward a number of times. Gary was a very kind soul and I loved him dearly.
The ritualistic side of Catholicism, as well as the very sombre services, didn’t chime with my excitement about being a new Christian, and before long I began to explore other churches. At a live music event I went to at The Bedford pub in Balham, a stranger mentioned Hillsong Church to me, and it sounded like something worth investigating. I checked out the Hillsong Church London website and was amazed that it looked exactly like the kind of worship that I felt I wanted to participate in but that was absent from the Catholic church services I had been attending.
I went along to Hillsong Church London at the Dominion Theatre in central London the next Sunday, and it was my first experience of a large modern church. It really blew my mind (in a positive way). I loved the music, I felt a strong presence of the Holy Spirit, and the people were amazingly friendly. I also loved the way the pastor on the stage prayed, and the invitation in the service to repent and accept Jesus. I immediately felt at home and gladly accepted the invitation to receive a phone call from a pastor and get connected into the church.
When a pastor called a few days later (his name was Chris) I was overflowing with ideas concerning how I wanted to make Jesus known in my local community. I had a vision, for instance, of putting on an Ultraviolet Worship Party, where there would be scriptures painted on the walls in fluorescent paint and a DJ playing uplifting worship music while people danced in clothes that shone brightly under UV lighting. Chris was very kind and invited me to some events and before long helped to get me plugged into a house group in my local area.
I’ve always been a deep thinker and before long I was getting immersed in Biblical theology. I had already spent quite a few years exploring different spiritual traditions and I asked Gary the priest and his assistant James at the hospital where the best place in London to study philosophy was, as I felt somehow that philosophy was part of my calling. Gary and James agreed that the best place to study would be Heythrop College, part of the University of London. I remember asking for leave from hospital so I could attend an Open Day at the college, and before long I was interviewed and then enrolled to study an MA in Philosophy and Religion.
Heythrop College, where I studied, was a Jesuit Catholic college, and in all honesty the atmosphere was far too cerebral, stressful, and joyless for me. It was the kind of college where no one really spoke to each other, but everyone spent the whole time reading dense systematic theology books that were so obscure that no one really understood them, and yet for some strange reason they were held in high esteem. It’s not that I don’t regard myself as academically inclined — during my undergraduate degree I spent most of my time in the library devouring a wide range of books, and I loved it, because the atmosphere in the place was friendly and warm. By contrast, I found Heythrop to be cold and lifeless, although I did make some friends and went for the occasional drink with them.
Before finishing the course, I became mentally unwell and ended up being admitted to psychiatric hospital again (this was my third admission). I was unable to complete the MA because of this, although I did manage to graduate with a Postgraduate Certificate as I had successfully completed half the modules in the curriculum. The course did provide a really interesting introduction to ancient Greek philosophy, and I loved the Contemporary Christian Thought module which introduced me to some theologians and theological ideas that I hadn’t encountered before.
A couple of years later, I was admitted to hospital again and my friend Chris from Hillsong came to support me and pray with me regularly. I had also made a number of other friends at Hillsong who were very supportive and either visited me or passed on gifts. I was, however, struggling with some areas of theology which my Christian friends were unable to help with, and this was when the theological predicament concerning the incompatibility of divine sovereignty and human free will started to become really important to me. I strongly believed God is sovereign over all events, due to both some spiritual experiences I had gone through and rationally reflecting on the nature of the God/world relationship. I felt unable to reconcile my understanding of God’s sovereign control of everything that happens with Biblical theology as I understood it at the time.
The problems I was unable to resolve in relation to Christian theology led me to withdraw from the faith somewhat, and I began to see myself more as a philosopher than a theologian. When I was discharged from hospital for the fourth time (this was in 2013) I had stopped regularly attending church, and because I was living for the first time in housing within the mental health system, interpersonal problems somewhat overshadowed my spiritual journey for a while, though I would take the bus to Westminster Cathedral to pray a couple of times each week. I didn’t feel as though I could identify as a Christian during this time, and I lost touch with many of my Hillsong friends. There was a local Anglican church near the shared house where I was living and I attended services there from time to time.
Not far from where I was then living (in Wandsworth in South London) there were a group of Christians from a local church who met every Saturday to do outreach. I enjoyed sitting and chatting with them and buying them the odd coffee, though I was battling with theological issues that I didn’t feel they really understood, so the conversations we had were pretty lighthearted. I was finding my struggle with Christian theology really difficult, and on one occasion I was in tears talking to the pastor from the church as I was feeling so frustrated that I desperately wanted to be a Christian but my understanding of theology wouldn’t allow it.
I continued to pray about everything, and I’m quite sure there were lots of people praying for me as well, and despite still being unhappy theologically, there was an occasion when I decided to read the book of Revelation in one sitting, and I found the book utterly enthralling in the way it described the future of the planet and the End Times. I remember sitting in bed one evening after reading Revelation and just feeling like this book, with all it’s grandiose imagery and frightening prophecy, couldn’t be ignored. Then the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said I was going to get baptised and I was going to take communion. I had been considering baptism and praying about it for quite some time, but at Hillsong I hadn’t felt confident that I understood the Bible well enough to get baptised; I regarded baptism as a big commitment and wanted to fully understand the implications first.
The other thing that prompted me to get baptised was that I was suffering from a heart condition, which was giving me severe palpitations on a regular basis. I felt as though I could die at any time, and I was so fearful of dying outside of the Christian faith that I wanted to make a commitment to God through baptism as quickly as possible. As soon as I could, I went to visit the Christians in their outreach location and shared the news that I would like to get baptised. We discussed the situation and I felt I would like to get baptised in their church, East Hill Baptist Church.
When I got baptised in 2015, this was something that I did while still unconvinced about some areas of Christian theology. It was out of obedience to the person of Jesus, and a fear of the wrath of God, that I took the decision, despite still having many unanswered questions. My blog was very important to me during this time, and I published many articles exploring philosophical and theological matters related to Christianity in depth.
Not long before my baptism in water I had moved to Balham, a neighbouring town. I continued to go to East Hill Baptist Church for some time, but once again the theological struggles came to the surface of my mind repeatedly and I didn’t have any conversations that made me feel better about them. I was still convinced that God unfolds every aspect of creation, and I still couldn’t reconcile this understanding with ideas like sin and judgement, which seemed to be inescapably bound up with the idea of free will, which I knew human beings don’t have.
My Christian journey took an unexpected twist when I discovered the Last Reformation movement while browsing online. I found the teaching of Torben Sondergaard utterly compelling, and it convicted me in a profound way. I felt I had to get involved with this community, and be brave and join in with street evangelism and praying for miraculous healing. I made some new friends through the Last Reformation community, and participated in some street healing evangelism. It was also through this movement that I experienced Holy Spirit baptism, which was a striking experience, and made me feel more confident of being chosen and accepted by God.
But still, my theological predicament in relation to God’s sovereignty and free will remained unsolved! After very many more blog posts written, books read, books written, and videos watched, I finally landed upon a way that I felt the predicament could be resolved. If double predestination was truly taught in the Bible, this was a way that I could finally reconcile God’s absolute sovereignty with Biblical theology. I wrote a book entitled The Only Question You Ever Need Ask which focused entirely on double predestination, including a discussion of several views of hell.
The conclusion that I came to in the book was that I could only embrace Biblical Christianity if double predestination were true. But I doubted the doctrine of double predestination because, I argued, how could God be so cruel as to condemn millions of human beings to everlasting torment before they are even born and not because of anything they have done freely (because there is no free will)?
The conclusion I came to, which troubled me greatly, was that double predestination was very unlikely to be true, because I couldn’t imagine God would be as cruel as the doctrine seemed to suggest. So I concluded that a perspective of religious pluralism, and the understanding that God has created all human beings (including non-Christians) with a meaningful purpose, was the most satisfactory theological position I could arrive at.
However, not long after publishing the book, I was studying the Bible and the book of Revelation again, and I was thinking about all the suffering I have experienced in my life, and also all of the very many horrific wars that have taken place throughout history. I realised that my argument for dismissing Biblical theology on the grounds that God is unlikely to be ‘cruel’ was a weak argument, because the testimony of both history and Scripture inescapably shows that God does cause people to suffer terribly at times. It’s an unavoidable fact. I was also conscious of the passage in Romans where Paul questions what right the clay (human beings) has to say to the potter (God) that He is doing something wrong. I believe God is infinitely wise and should be honoured as such.
I revisited the conclusion I had written in my book The Only Question You Ever Need Ask and added an epilogue saying that I had come to a new conclusion, which is that because I had no reason to doubt the severity of God, double predestination did actually make sense, and so I could finally reconcile God’s absolute sovereignty over all events with the Christian faith, and therefore embrace Christianity.
But there is one final afterword to the epilogue that I must now add, and it relates to the doctrine of hell. Despite being convinced that the argument for Biblical Christianity was theologically compelling in light of the doctrine of double predestination, I couldn’t bear the severity of the God it depicted. Even though (as I stated above) I knew that God can be very severe, I felt that the everlasting torment of the damned was too cruel an idea for me to embrace. I would embrace it, I felt, if the Bible demanded it, but I struggled to understand how I could truly love God and evangelise with my whole heart if I had to tell people God is a God who tortures people for eternity. Having tasted a little suffering myself, and being a sensitive person, the idea that any sentient being would be made to suffer eternal conscious torment troubled me greatly, and seemed to be a punishment too severe for even the worst crime.
After much prayer and reflection on the subject, I discovered through some online research that a significant minority of Christians embrace the idea of annihilationism, which says that after death those human beings who are not of the elect are made to suffer for their sins, but then their bodies and souls are annihilated. Actually, for quite a few days God was repeatedly bringing the word ‘annihilation’ to my mind, and exploring this theological position was like the icing on the theological cake when it came to my finally finding I could embrace Biblical Christianity. I read the arguments of a theologian who advocated for this position, and I became convinced that there are valid arguments that can be made from Scripture in defence of this position. This was so important to me because it meant I could actually understand God to be just in His punishment, making it much easier to love Him, as Jesus commands that I do.
I cannot guarantee that further obstacles in my spiritual journey won’t arise, but I can say that I have finally come to an understanding of Biblical theology that allows me to embrace the Christian faith wholeheartedly, and in doing so to pursue a fully committed Christian life, with a genuine hope for salvation and a genuine gospel that I can preach to others. If the good news really is good news, then to my mind this is a truly wonderful thing, and I thank God if He has been glorified in any way through my spiritual journey and the many books and blog posts I have written along the way, as well as the many helpful discussions I’ve had with readers from around the world in the comment sections of this blog.
I have written a five-point statement of faith, with supporting notes and Scripture citations, which encapsulates the understanding of Christianity that I have arrived at and embraced. You can download it below if you would like to.
Read Steven’s Statement of Faith
(Click the cover image above and scroll down to select your preferred format. You will be asked to name a price, feel free to enter zero. Alternatively, the document is available via the Amazon website for a small fee. If you experience technical problems, please email me and I can email you a copy)
I hope you have enjoyed reading about the journey I have gone through while exploring the Christian faith. Please note that there is much that I haven’t covered in this article, and I invite you to explore my books page to view all of my philosophical and theological publications to date. You’re welcome to leave a comment below with your reactions to this post, but please be polite and respectful. Thank you for reading and God bless you!