Dr. Holly Ordway has published a book titled Not God’s Type, telling her personal story. She begins “I had never in my life said a prayer, never been to a church service. Christmas meant presents and Easter meant chocolate bunnies–nothing more.” But her views get hardened: “In college, I absorbed the idea that Christianity was historical curiosity, or a blemish on modern civilization, or perhaps both. My college science classes presented Christians as illiterate anti-intellectuals who, because they didn’t embrace Darwinism, threatened the advancement of knowledge. My history classes omitted or downplayed references to historical figures’ faith.” Still later, “At thirty-one years old, I was an atheist college professor–and I delighted in thinking of myself that way. I got a kick out of being an unbeliever; it was fun to consider myself superior to the unenlightened, superstitious masses, and to make snide comments about Christians.” (p. 15-16)
Ordway was a trained academic without a history in religion. But she was no disinterested intellectual: “There was something about the idea of faith that made it stick with me. I didn’t have faith, I didn’t want faith, but I felt compelled to have a good reason why not. I constructed an elaborate analogy for myself, one that I felt gave satisfying explanation of why ‘faith’ was impossible. . . I could not believe, no matter how much I might want to . . .I thought ‘faith’ was a meaningless word, that so-called believers were either hypocrites or self-deluded fools, and that it was a waste of time to consider any claim that Christians made about the truth. . . . 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 smarter and more 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.” (p. 17-18)
Ordway had carefully built up a defense, but not so careful as to protect her mind from the ideas of the great English poets. She speaks of being surprised by such writers as John Keats, John Donne, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, men who wrote of a beautiful concept: hope.
The rest of Ordway’s book tells of her meeting a fencing coach that she trusted, a person who she did not discover was a Christian until after she had begun working with him. He and his wife merely answered her questions, not pressing anything religious on her. Ordway was intellectually honest enough to investigate the sources, and when she asked for reasonable works on the resurrection of Jesus, she was given N. T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, 740 pages of scholarly examination. She reads Lewis’ Surprised By Joy, and Does God Exist? by Kreeft and Moreland, among others.
Both Ordway and C. S. Lewis were credentialed professors of literature before becoming Christians. Both were committed atheists who had created intellectual defenses against belief in Jesus. However, there was far more to the story of Jesus, “I read through the Gospel narratives again, trying to take in what they said. I had to admit that — even apart from everything else I had learned — I recognized that they were fact, not story. I’d been steeped in folklore, fantasy, legend, and myth ever since I was a child, and I had studied these literary genres as an adult; I knew their cadences, their flavor, their rhythm. None of these stylistic fingerprints appeared in the New Testament books that I was reading.” (p. 117)
So here we have a trained, experienced, atheist professor of literature, who if anything knows a myth when she sees it, declaring that it is not such, but rather “The Gospels had the ineffable texture of history, with all the odd clarity of detail that comes when the author is recounting something so huge that even as he tells it, he doesn’t see all the implications.” (p. 117) Like Lewis, who was a professor of literature at Oxford and Cambridge, Ordway made the conclusion as an expert in literature, that the New Testament was a generally reliable historical account of the historical Jesus.
Ordway gives a very personal account of what it was like to be changed, speaking of how difficult and fearful it was for her to change her beliefs and become a Christian, “It is a hard thing to look at the truth when it runs contrary to what you’ve always believed. The experience is like pulling back the curtains in a dimly lit room and looking out the window to see what’s really inside. When your eyes are used to artificial light, the bright sunlight is almost blinding; your eyes may sting and even water at the brightness, and the temptation is to turn away to the more comfortable dimness.”
But in the end she knew her intellectual drive for truth could not let her turn away. She knew she was drawn to the truth, that the New Testament is true and Jesus is real.