Holly Ordway was a highly educated atheist who thought Christianity was "a historical curiosity" or "a blemish on modern civilization," or both.
"Smart people don’t become Christians," she thought, according to Biola University.
Her worldview, however, began to change at age 31. She recounts her journey from atheism to Christianity in the recently released Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith.
"It is no light matter to meet God after having denied Him all one’s life," she writes in the book. "Coming to Him was only the beginning. I can point to a day and time and place of my conversion, and yet since then I have come to understand that He calls me to a fresh conversion every day."
Ordway, a professor of English and literature at a San Diego-area community college, wasn't raised in any religious faith. She never said a prayer in her life and she never went to a church service. Her exposure to Christianity while growing up was minimal and her few encounters with Christians involved televangelists or hellfire and damnation preachers.
"Religion seemed like a story that people told themselves, and I had no evidence to the contrary," she said in an interview with Biola University, where she is currently studying for her second MA, in Christian Apologetics.
To her, the Bible was a collection of folktales and myths – no different than the stories of Zeus or Cinderella.
"I was a college professor – logical, intellectual, rational – and an atheist," she writes.
Though she knew next to nothing about Christianity, she began to mock Christians and belittle their faith, intelligence and character.
"[I]t was fun to consider myself superior to the unenlightened, superstitious masses, and to make snide comments about Christians," Ordway writes.
She was convinced that faith was by definition irrational.
Evangelical invitations to "come to Jesus and get eternal life" sounded like "believing something irrational on demand to get a prize."
"I thought I knew exactly what faith was, and so I declined to look further," she writes. "Or perhaps I was afraid that there was more to it than I was willing to credit – but I didn’t want to deal with that. Easier by far to read only books by atheists that told me what I wanted to hear – that I was much smarter and intellectually honest and morally superior than the poor, deluded Christians.
"I had built myself a fortress of atheism, secure against any attack by irrational faith. And I lived in it, alone."
Ordway wasn't looking for God. She didn't believe He existed. But she began to be drawn to matters of faith.
One reason for her interest, she explains, is that her "naturalistic worldview was inadequate to explain the nature of reality in a coherent way: it could not explain the origin of the universe, nor could it explain morality."
"On the other hand, the theistic worldview was both consistent and powerfully explanatory: it offered a convincing, rationally consistent, and logical explanation for everything that the naturalistic worldview explained plus all the things that the naturalistic worldview couldn’t."
After a series of conversations with a mentor and exposure to the writings of authors like J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Ordway went from denying God to committing herself to Christ.
"I was startled to find that Christian theism had significantly better explanatory power than atheistic naturalism, in terms of explaining why the world is the way it is, and in accounting for my own experiences within it," she recounted, according to Biola. "Learning more about the Incarnation and about God, the most holy Trinity, has further reinforced my confidence that Christianity really does make sense of the world in a way no other worldview does."
She found that "St. Paul's forthright declaration that Christianity is based on the historical, witnessed events of Christ’s death and resurrection," that "theology and philosophy offered real answers" to her questions and weren't an appeal to blind faith, and that "the history of the Church did not conform to [her] image of the Christian faith as a self-serving, politically useful fiction."
Her intellectual pride was broken and she was humbled by God's goodness as she began to see herself as a sinner.
"I don’t 'believe' because I like the idea and want it to be true. I don’t 'believe' because I think Christianity makes sense intellectually (although that was a necessary foundation to my faith). In fact, I wouldn’t say that I 'believe' in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or that I 'believe' I have a personal relationship with Him: I would say that I know these things to be true," the former atheist emphatically stated in a 2007 blog entry.
Ordway currently attends St. Michael's by-the-Sea in Southern California where she says she has grown in her Christian faith. She's hoping her book will help Christians – who may be familiar with the ideas that atheists believe but not understand what it's like to believe those things – in their evangelism.
Offering some advice to those who approach atheists, she said, "Really, it doesn’t matter whether we like Christianity or not; what matters is, is it true? That approach may not resonate with everyone, but it was what opened the door for me."
Moreover, discipleship is critical, she said.
"I think one of the central elements of my own discipleship so far has been my pastors’ focus on the Cross," she said in the Biola interview. "The way of Jesus is the way of the cross. It is terribly painful to give up one’s sins and self-will, to allow one’s old self to be crucified along with Jesus ... and I have been very grateful to my pastors who acknowledge how hard and painful it can be along this Christian journey. But the way of the cross is also the way of life and peace."