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The One Minute Apologist on doubting well

Popular North Carolina pastor talks about wrestling with his own doubts and shepherding others through theirs

Bobby Conway Facebook

The One Minute Apologist on doubting well

Bobby Conway is a pastor and author, but millions of people know him as the One Minute Apologist. Over the past decade, Conway has uploaded more than 800 short videos to YouTube, offering short, sharp answers to questions such as “Is Jesus God?” and “If God is good, all-powerful, and loving, why would He allow evil in the world?” Conway is a recovering alcoholic who is honest about his spiritual journey, including struggles with depression and doubt. It is that transparency that, in part, has turned the church he pastors, Life Fellowship, into one of the fastest-growing churches in Charlotte, N.C.

I want to ask you about your own story. How did you come to faith? I grew up in California and I never heard the gospel, believe it or not, till I was 19. Sure, I heard the name of Jesus. Christmas and Easter would come and go. You’d see somebody hanging on a cross. I had no context. I really did not understand what was going on there. About the age of 15, I started acting out. I got involved with lots of promiscuity. Was always looking for the next girl. Partying. Drinking hard. Smoking marijuana. Taking LSD. The only thing good I had going for me, it seemed like, was baseball. I could pitch a baseball, but I was totally uneducated. In fact, when I got out of high school, I failed the test to get in the military, the ASVAP, on three different occasions. Totally uneducated, didn’t know what to do with my lusts and passions, so I acted out on them. I had no sense of understanding of what my purpose in life was.

When I went down to Southern California to play [baseball] at a community college because I didn’t have the grades to go to a four-year school, I was trying to get two questions answered. What’s my purpose in life? And how do I deal with my guilt? Because of my lifestyle, I collected a lot of guilt and I felt aimless. A teammate took me to hear an evangelist at Chuck Smith’s church in Calvary Chapel by the name of Greg Laurie. Greg Laurie would show up on Monday nights. He’d get up and he used words like dude, cool, bro, and stoked. I could resonate with him. I understood him. He wore jeans. He was saved in the ’70s, in the Jesus movement. … I ended up giving my life to Jesus because I believed that Jesus gave purpose in life. “I’ve come to give you life and life abundantly.” And at the cross he dealt with my guilt. That’s how I came to Christ.

You were still pretty uneducated and had a lot of doubts, right? It was like the world became unzipped and God was there and it went from being this hard-cover world to a convertible world where I’m in a relationship with God. The first year and a half of being a Christian was tough, though, because I struggled to get clean. Oct. 9, 1994, I go to AA. That’s when I quit drinking. I do over 400 AA meetings in my first year of sobriety. After that, I wanted to tell everything that moved about Jesus. In fact, my nickname at the Ritz Carlton, were I was a valet and bellman, became “The Reverend.” Funny, I was the guy that no parents wanted their kids hanging out with, and now my nickname is The Reverend. I’m sold out. I’m out witnessing to 50-100 people a week in personal evangelism. Not because I was being taught that so much, though I’d learned a little bit about it, but my burden took me and taught me. Soon, the honeymoon stage was over. When I became a Christian, I was only looking to answer two questions. Depending upon which kind of a church you get put in, they have a longer list. You believe in Jesus, but some churches have long lists. If you start thinking about things outside that list, you can start feeling like you’re doing something wrong. Really, I was just using my mind. I was just trying to think. These doubts began to really grow as I started reading and thinking about the faith more.

What did you do with those doubts? I went to Bible college, and I went to a very, very conservative type of Bible college that would give you more of a limited view on doctrinal standpoints. Then, I would go off to Dallas Theological Seminary, and I began to learn the three to four different views for everything. You learn the one view, but then you got to seminary and oh, there’s actually three views to every one view. Then you start learning there’s all these sub-views. At this stage, I’m actually working on my second doctorate. I’m doing a Ph.D. in philosophy of religion at the University of Birmingham in England. I know that my educational process has certainly taught me a lot.

I … want to help new Christians. I want to give them a big box to think in. We need some sort of box, otherwise you have no boundaries. You just destroy yourself. If you put a new believer in too small of a box, if they’re creative, if they’re intellectual, if they’re analytical, we could set them up for a future bout with doubt because we’ve stuck them in a box that’s too small. I think we need to allow people some flexibility to think and let them know that there is lots of room. I tell my kids, I want you to enjoy thinking. I want you to know that maturity is not figuring out where you stand on every single doctrinal viewpoint. Those things took a long time to come to. Maturity is loving Jesus, becoming like Jesus, and then enjoying learning. Know that in the journey, you’re going to bump up against a lot of different views. You don’t have to panic because I’m not trying to give you just one way to look at things. Enjoy that journey of learning, and that can help people to not end up with so much doubt in their life.

As you have gone on this journey, you’ve gotten more interested in apologetics, as well. You do the One Minute Apologist videos. We have over 800 videos. We do five per week. What got us started with it is, I was hanging out with our worship pastor, and we were popping popcorn one night at my house. I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to put together, on YouTube, just some short videos where we answer questions that people have and provide credible answers to curious questions. … Boy, I didn’t expect it to take off the way that it did. It’s been a real fun ride.

As you’ve done these videos, you have probably heard many of the doubts of others. I’ve come to be convinced though, that doubt is not a Christian problem. It’s a human problem. In the [absence] of certainty, there will always be room for doubt. The question is, which worldview best closes the doubt gap? If Adam and Eve could doubt in the Garden of Eden, how much more are we susceptible to doubting in paradise lost? If John the Baptist could doubt and the followers of Jesus could doubt, how much more are we susceptible to it? I don’t think God is panicked by our doubts. There’s a proper way to doubt. Doubt means to be in two minds. You can doubt toward unbelief or you can doubt toward faith.

You said God doesn’t panic but sometimes we do. How are we supposed to deal with doubts when they do show up in our lives? I love the story about John the Baptist. Here the one who said, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” The cousin of Jesus. He baptizes Jesus. He is so bold, but then all of a sudden, he’s on death row and he has a bout with doubt. Then he sends his disciples off with his doubts. Can you imagine them on the walk? Wait a second, John, we followed you because you told us that Jesus was the way. Now, we’re carrying your doubts to Jesus. When Jesus hears about John’s doubts, what does Jesus do? He doesn’t freak out. He doesn’t panic. Why? Because Jesus can handle our doubts. Then he says, like a great Christian apologist—Jesus is the greatest apologist ever— go tell John that the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk.

In other words, what the Old Testament said the Messiah would be like, go tell John it’s happening. What did John need? He just needed some good old fashioned comfort. What caused John to doubt? Perhaps being on death row. Perhaps thinking, you know what? This isn’t the way it’s supposed to work out. If you’re really the Messiah, why am I sitting in a dungeon here? Why am I on death row? Why is my head getting ready to go to the chopping block? Suffering can cause doubts.

Living in a world where we struggle with addiction year after year can cause doubts. I think the church can create doubts for people because they see us as so confused. We’re contradicting each other at times. I think pluralism can cause doubts for people. Apparent Bible contradictions can cause doubts. I think the pastors, they don’t help often, because … people come to them with their doubts, and then they’re threatened by them or they minimize their doubts. That’s doesn’t help people either. Jesus can handle our doubts, and I think that we as pastors should be ready to handle them. The church should be able to handle them. … There’s some people that are antagonistic in their doubts. Other people are authentic in their doubts, and we need to discern the difference and help those who genuinely have questions.

I see sin causing a lot of doubts, as well. People will start engaging in sin and they want to rationalize. It creates cognitive dissonance between their behavior and what they know to be true, so it becomes easier to reject the truth rather than to give up the behavior. I’ve thought about the way the moral trajectory works. ... It goes like this. We reject something, then we tolerate it. Then we accept it. Then we celebrate it. … Think about maybe homosexuality. There was a time when that was rejected. Or divorce. It was rejected. Then it was tolerated. Then it was accepted. Then it was celebrated. Now, there’s divorce parties. We celebrate it and now, we reject those who are not accepting our divorce, so to speak.

It goes full circle from rejection to tolerating, to accepting, to celebrating, to rejection. That can look like moral relativism in some ways, at times. We go, “How do we know there’s really moral absolutes?” Sin. People want to cave into their own ways and it destroys their lives, so, what do we do when we feel guilty? We seek to lower God’s standards or we seek to erase them all together.

You talked about your depression that you’ve experienced as a pastor, as an author. Were you afraid that your church would reject you or your elders would reject you or the people who think that you’ve got it all together would think badly of you? One of the hardest things about being a pastor is the temptation to manage everybody’s expectations. We can’t manage those expectations. We have to be faithful to the Lord. One of the things that I want to be faithful in is just modeling my own story and my own struggles. I’m so fortunate to be a part of an elder team and a church that, by and large, embraces that. When I’ve went through my doubts I tried to be responsible with the way that I handle that with the flock, which is to let them know that I don’t have this all figured out. I’m getting confused. I started the church when I was 31. My wife was 29. I’m now 42. It’s been a quarter of my life where I’ve served here. It would be crazy for me to think that I’m going to go through a quarter of my life and not have any struggles. … I’m honest about the struggle of prayer. The struggle of marriage. The struggle of parenting. The struggle of finances. The struggle of my own doubts. I have found that when I’m honest, transparency is my survival medicine.

How do you want to be remembered? What kind of legacy do you want to leave? This is the prayer I’ve prayed more than any other prayer in my life. Help me to be, God, an authentic man of humble integrity who passionately loves you, my family, the lost, and the body of Christ. That’s what I’d hope I could be. When it comes to things like success … this was my prayer: God, help my character to be bigger than my platforms. I know that if I have a big platform without character, I’m just a target that’s going to make a big mess in the future. Frankly, I’d ask the audience to pray for me. I’m thankful that God’s allowed me to have a fruitful life, but if you were to say, Bobby, what is it you fear the most about life? I’d say, well, me. I fear myself. I fear, on a bad emotional day, my own stupidity. Saying the wrong thing. Doing the wrong thing.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed when I look out and think, boy, I could live 40 more years. How am I not going to mess this all up? God, give me the grace to live one day at a time. To be faithful to you. To make it to the end. That’s what I want.

Listen to Warren Smith’s complete conversation with Bobby Conway on Listening In.

Warren Cole Smith

Warren is the host of WORLD Radio’s Listening In. He previously served as WORLD’s vice president and associate publisher. He currently serves as president of MinistryWatch and has written or co-written several books, including Restoring All Things: God's Audacious Plan To Change the World Through Everyday People. Warren resides in Charlotte, N.C.



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