Dan Barker of the Freedom from Religion Foundation tells of his past in evangelical Christianity
I was a "doer of the word and not a hearer only." I went to a Christian college, majored in Religion/Philosophy, became ordained and served in a pastoral capacity in three California churches. I personally led many people to Jesus Christ, and encouraged many young people to consider full-time Christian service. (Here)
And here's his conversion to atheism as told to a journalist here
[Barker] lay on a burlap cot in a church in a Mexican border town where he'd come to give a guest sermon. As he peered out at a splash of stars, Barker had a sudden profound sensation that had nothing to do with intellect, the kind of deeply felt moment more commonly associated with finding God than losing Him. He was, Barker understood, utterly alone here.
"For my whole life there had been this giant eyeball looking at me, this god, this holy spirit, this church history, and this Bible. And not only everything I did but everything I thought was being judged: Was God pleased? I realized that that wasn't there anymore. It occurred to me, 'I own these thoughts. Nobody knows what I'm thinking right now. There's no fear of hell, no fear of judgment, I don't have to be right or wrong, I can just be me.'" It felt as if charges had been dropped for a crime for which he had been falsely accused. It was exhilarating and frightening all at once. "When you're ready to jump out of an airplane to skydive, you can be terrified but excited at the same time," he says. "There's a point where you go, all right, let's do this."
It strongly reminded me of John Bunyan's conversion:
"As I was passing in the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience . . . suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul, Thy righteousness is in heaven; and, methought withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God's right hand, there, I say, is my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was a-doing, God could not say of me, He wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, the same yesterday and today for ever (Heb. 13:8)."
"Now did my chains fall from my legs indeed, I was loosed from my affliction and irons, my temptations also fled away, so that from that time, those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now also went I home rejoicing for the grace and love of God."
In both conversions naturally enough it was their view of God that changed and that changed them. Both were weighed down under the scrutiny of Heaven. Both found a joyful liberation in the death of God. (Of course Barker's empty heaven does not remove his spiritual masters but multiplies them).
Nonetheless, I think the similarities are very instructive.
Because what did/does Barker need? More theistic proofs? These would only have strengthened his notion of a 'giant eyeball' in the sky. And who could blame him if he wants to be free of that?
Yet there are apologetic strategies that drive the Barkers of this world firmly into atheism, not away.
What should we do instead?
Let's seek to give them what Bunyan got - true freedom through Christ crucified. It's the death of all the old gods and the life of the new man, free from the eye-ball in the sky.