John serves on TCP's Screening Committee.
Where to start??? I grew up in the home of a Southern Baptist minister in North Carolina. I started Wake Forest College (WF) in 1960 and graduated in 1967. I would say that is because I am a slow learner but the truth is I dropped out of college in the fall of my sophomore year and spent the next 3 years in the US Army (doesn’t mean that I’m NOT a slow learner!). Was sent to Taiwan after specialized training in the ASA (Army Security Agency). The best part about that tour of duty was learning to love freshly brewed hot tea! I drink a lot of it every day. (I think that is what gives me my youthful appearance so clearly seen in my picture above!).
I returned to WF in the summer of 1964 and graduated with a BA in Classical Greek in 1967 (June 5th). The next day WF became WFU! My wife (Janet) and I moved to Louisville, KY so I could attend SBTS. We stayed there 8 years while I earned the MDiv and PhD degrees. It was while there that I began to start having serious doubts about the way I was brought up to believe the Bible. There was nothing like an epiphany. Just the gradual drop by drop suspicion that the Bible is not what I was taught as a child: too many contradicting voices, etc. But I managed to still hold on to a kind of pan-en-theistic god thanks to the influence of people such as Charles Hartshorne. I guess technically speaking I was already an a-theist in the literal meaning of the word.
During this period (1972) I was ordained in the First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC (we had been members there while at WF). I couldn’t find a teaching job after graduation so I took a pastorate in Bluefield, WV (college Avenue Baptist Church) beginning in the fall of 1975. I left the following summer to take a position as Assistant Professor of Religion at Hardin-Simmons U. in Abilene, TX. I lasted only a year because of how I was teaching the Hebrew Bible…you know…the world wasn’t really created by some warrior god, YHWH, 6000 years ago, etc. etc.
Went from Abilene to West Palm Beach, Fl., to teach at Palm Beach Atlantic College (now PBAU). I lasted there for TWO years. Hey, that was 100% improvement over HS!! In 1979 we came to Danville, VA, where I taught for 32 years at Averett College (now university, of course). Retired last year (June 30) so my wife could become the new VPAA (I was told I couldn’t keep teaching because she would be my immediate supervisor)! I told the President, hell, she’s been that for over 45 years!. But now I’m a kept man, which ain’t all bad!
In 1978 I (while at PBAC) I was able to get involved in archaeological field work in Israel, first at Tel Dan (1978-1980); then Capernaum (1981-1987); then Banias (Caesarea Philippi) 1989-2000; and spent one year (2003) at Kursi (the traditional site of Jesus and the swine story). One of my major professors at Southern was Joseph Callaway, an internationally know archaeologist in his own right. Studying under him is what motivated me to get involved in field work. It is a unique experience and you get to meet a lot of interesting people, especially the students who came year after year (usually not the same ones, of course). Moreover, studying archaeology also made me realize more than ever that there was no or little archaeological evidence to support the historicity of such stories as the Patriarchs, Moses, Joshua, and other biblical stories and that they were probably fictional [This seems almost certain for the patriarchs, Moses (exodus) and Joshua (conquest)]. This has become more obvious with recent archaeological work and publications by people such as Israel Finkelstein, Bill Dever, Amihai Mazar and others. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to publish and speak about archaeological issues through the years and still do on occasion.
So my journey from a committed Baptist with Sunday School attendance pins down to my navel to atheism was a slow but progressive process. Nothing sudden. Just one hint after another that a god as understood in theistic religions made no more sense to me.
I have a few atheistic friends here in Danville so I have not felt alone as some Clergy Project members do. But it is great to have fellow travelers with whom to share the journey.