Tyler Vela, a Calvinist apologist and an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church in America who converted from atheism to Christianity as a young man, graduated with a Pre-seminary B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies from the Moody Bible Institute, and was partway through a Masters of Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary, has announced his deconversion at his Youtube channel, The Freed Thinker. Recently, he was interviewed by Derek Lambert of Mythvision on his reasons for leaving Christianity, several months ago. The interview may be viewed here:
Vela on what finally made him abandon the Christian faith, late in 2022, after wrestling with a mountain of objections to Christianity:
“The problem of Divine hiddenness was the thing that, like, sealed the deal for me. That made me, like, give up even being faithful anymore, because there’s a sense where it’s like, I’m a non-resistant non-believer at this point. I am actually proactively doing everything I can to be faithful, to pray, to read the Bible – not in the [good] works, not in the ‘You, God, you owe me anything’ [sense], but just, like, I’m doing everything I can to have this relationship, and still it’s crickets. I still have NOTHING. And so, if God wanted to have some type of relationship with me, that would have been the easiest time… I’m not asking for miracles, I’m not asking for money, healing, nothing… I remember begging and saying [to God], ‘It could literally be an intrinsic, you know, the Mormons call [it] a burning of the bosom, it could be anything that I could just internally know, that I could never defend to an atheist. I don’t care. I just want something [where] I know that you’re my Heavenly Father, and that you love me. That’s it. Or that you even care. Anything like that.’ That was, like, the final straw.” (12:31)
Vela on why he still respects Reformed Calvinism:
I actually think [that] as far as systematic theology goes, if you’re going to hold … an inerrantist view, a view of the Scripture as a comprehensive message from One Divine Author with human authors writing down… all that kind of stuff, [in accordance] with the Chicago Statement on [Biblical] Inerrancy… I actually think reformed Calvinism is the most consistent way you’re going to do it. (14:17)
Vela on his present theological beliefs:
I’m still a classical theist. I still think God is omnimax. I still think God is simple, a se [i.e. not dependent on any creature for anything], necessary, I still hold to those types of beliefs. (14:58)
Vela on the factors that led him to doubt Christianity in the first place:
There was actually a strong disconnect between that very high view of God and the very national, pagan Yahweh of the Old Testament, and even getting into the New Testament, you know, the way that Jesus looked at God and religion… It was very tribal… As I started reading through a whole bunch of the other myths of the ancient Near East … which honestly made me love the Bible more… I still love the Bible. I think literarily, it’s the master, it is a pinnacle of literary mastery… But at the same time, there were certain things where I was like, not only does this high view [of God] that I think is philosophically defensible – I have a hard time understanding how classical theism wouldn’t be true, because of certain arguments – [but] that just came into conflict with the Bible. And so as I started reading those other myths, those two systems clashed. (15:07)
Vela on open theism:
Like, I always joke – kind of joke – I’m actually being somewhat serious, although in a little snarky way, I actually think open theists, their view of God is like a mega-Zeus… Their view of Yahweh in the Old Testament – I mean, I don’t know how you can get much more pagan of a view within Christian theology [than open theism], because He’s finite, He’s in time, He makes mistakes, He learns, He adapts, He can’t always get His way, He has to do these things in time … It is a Zeus story. It’s just a mega-Zeus, because He’s bigger and more powerful and somehow transcendent and more good… (18:08)
Vela on whether he would ever consider becoming a Christian again:
I will confess, you know, I am… like, if someone could convince me that it was true again,… I’d be totally fine with it. (22:02)
Vela on what caused his gradual drift away from belief in the inerrancy of Scripture: not Genesis 1, but hermeneutics
…I still think that the most likely thing that’s happening in Genesis 1 is that it’s an ancient Near Eastern temple text… It’s not talking about material creation – kind of like a John Walton type of view … mixed with a little bit of a Klinean Framework Theory … but I did a whole series on that. What I think that did was, it trained me to also – that’s where I got a lot of my training in hermeneutics and understanding ancient Near Eastern contexts and backgrounds, all that kind of stuff… So a lot of people will be like, “Oh, well, your view of Genesis 1 is the thing that did you in.” And indirectly, it might have, because it’s the thing where I was like, “Hey, but like, good, historical hermeneutics, dealing with the history, the grammar and the context and backgrounds,” all that kind of stuff, when we start employing that, kind of across the board, … that hermeneutic is the thing that I think started doing me in, not necessarily just my view of Genesis 1… That hermeneutic of reading things within their historical context and seeing the way that the Biblical text is actually interacting with those things, and then carrying that forward into the New Testament, and seeing the way that they’re interacting with the literature of their day… So there’s all these kinds of interactions that are happening, that don’t necessarily … mean that Christianity is false or that the Bible is false… You can, and I did for a long time, I read these as … “That’s the literary genre that they’re doing, and that’s OK,” but those types of things just start to build and build and build and build and balloon, and so there’s so many of them, that it becomes a point that it’s like, OK, there’s so many of these, and it addresses almost everything, that at what point do I think that any of this is actually true anymore? It’s interesting, and it’s fascinating, … but at what point does this now matter for salvation anymore? (24:45)
Vela’s view of Scripture nowadays
I haven’t fully jumped ship or anything, right? So I’m not out here being like, “Oh, you know, the Gospels are … entirely myth, because they get one little detail wrong … Right? You could go like a [Mike] Licona route. You could go down there and you could say, “Well, these are minor discrepancies,” and all that kind of stuff. You could remain a Christian. You could be a progressive, you could be a Randall Rauser and you could say, “They [the Gospels] get the gist right. Overall, they’re still reliable.” I don’t think that my girlfriend, when she doesn’t get the time [right], you know, her and her friends get the time five minutes off, or a day off or something like that, what happened thirty years ago… [that] they’re totally [wrong], it’s all garbage, right? That wouldn’t be the argument that I would make. But what it does is, it says, “OK. What can’t be the case … It’s like, I don’t see how inerrancy can be the case anymore, I don’t see how infallibility can be the case anymore. And when your systematic [theology] is built on that, and when you’re done trying to harmonize it, what happens is those anchor points come loose, right? And so there’s a trickle-down effect… I still look at the Gospels and I’m like, “OK. I think the Gospels are probably generally reliable about what an apocalyptic teacher [named Jesus] thought. I think they’re probably close to what he was teaching his disciples. They probably, they almost certainly theologized like crazy, they almost certainly slanted it towards the theological inclinations of the communities that they’re writing for… there’s all that stuff that’s happened… But … I’m not out there trying to say, … “Well, therefore, … you can throw the entire thing out.” (33:15)
A fallacy in contemporary apologetics
…[T]he reason why I think this is important is, what I find now – and I started to see this when I was still in apologetics, but it’s like, full-force now – there’s a Motte-and-Bailey fallacy that happens a lot in apologetics, where in order to defend, like “minimal facts” Resurrection, or even “maximal facts” Resurrection, or inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, they defend reliability. And they’re like, “Oh, well. They [the Gospels] get this, like, minimal reliability… They get cities and places and geography – except for when they don’t, because like, Quirinius – but like, even, I mean, Josephus gets things wrong. And we’re not like, “To hell with Josephus! Get that guy out of here!”, you know, whatever. But what happens, though, is [that] they say, “See? It’s reliable! Therefore we can trust all these Resurrection stories.” And I’m like, “That’s such a Motte-and-Bailey. You cannot do that… You have so much more spade work, to get from ‘It’s generally reliable’ to ‘Therefore, we can trust what it says about the Resurrection.'” (34:56)
Vela on the fear of Hell as a reason for remaining a Christian
I was never – and maybe this was the problem – I was never afraid of Hell… Maybe that would have kept me in line. But for me, the Pascalian [wager] was more of, like, in a relationship, where it’s like, “Look, I’m not feeling any more of that stuff, but I’m going to stay committed, and you know, I’m going to commit to therapy, and I’m going to commit to doing all the things that I can do to possibly salvage this.” … Because at the time, I was like, “I could be wrong, I could be having a … they talk about dark nights of the soul all the time, for a millennium in Christianity. For years, it could be a dark night of the soul, and then, you know, people have these rapturous experiences afterwards, so … it could be one of those things. I’m going to stay faithful committed. I’m going to try to live out these promises, all that kind of stuff.” But at the end of the day, there was a certain point where I was like, … I started thinking about it in context of, you know, I’m a father to my kids. [God is a] Heavenly Father to His children… And I started thinking about [the verse in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount]: “How do you, if you’re sinful, know to give good things to your children?” And I started thinking about that in the context of, like, love and comfort for my kids. Because sometimes I might do things that my kids don’t like, and [that] are uncomfortable for them, but it’s for their benefit, it’s for their good. But I started to think about, like, if my kids were literally telling me, like, “We don’t think you love us, we don’t know you, we don’t know you’re round, … we don’t feel safe here, we don’t feel comfortable at all,” and all that kind of stuff – if I was a loving father, that would break my heart, and I would do everything I could – like I don’t want to spoil them and give them a Mercedes – but I’m going to make sure that they know that I love them. (40:53)
Would any other kind of Christianity appeal to him, apart from Calvinism?
You [Derek] are exactly right [in insisting that the Bible portrays God as hardening people’s hearts]. And … this is why, when I did [the video], “Part One of my Deconversion,” I said, “You know, well, look!” Because people were like, “Oh, well, you could just become another type of Christian.” And I’m like, I mean, “The only other type of Christian I think I could become is maybe a progressive.” But at that point, I don’t even know why I care about the Bible anymore, because it’s just a wax nose for progressives at that point. Like, if I want to take the Bible seriously, right, I think that Reformed theology and Calvinism is the one that does it, as the most consistent with what the text actually says. Because what happens is, you get all these [texts] – and this is where, you know, when I was a Calvinist and I was debating non-Calvinists, I did a lot of those types of debates. But you know, they would, you know, [defend] the Free Will Theodicy, [and say], “God doesn’t – God allows evil but He doesn’t cause evil.” And I’m like, I mean, “That’s garbage. That’s BS. Like, here are like all these passages in the Bible where God, whatever you want to make of it, however you want to try to gymnastic out of it, like God takes causal credit for it. Whatever you think the metaphysics of how He does it or allows it or whatever, He is taking credit for the outcome, and the outcome is someone sinning, someone being deluded, someone having a false belief, someone being … whatever … So, I have tons of examples of them, and I would use this as a Calvinist, and I would say, when debating non-Calvinists, “You’re like, God just allows the free will decision, blah blah blah blah blah.” And I’d be like, “First of all, you have Biblical texts that directly contradict that, because He takes causal credit for it. It’s by his hand that Pilate and the Jews and Herod crucified Jesus, right? But it literally says, ‘by His hand,’ … by His foreordination, by His hand. In the next verse, His hand is the thing that heals. His hand is always causally active in any Scripture passages, right? You know, He deludes people in [St. Paul’s] second [letter to the] Thessalonians… And in 2 Thessalonians 2, where it says He sends a deluding spirit, and you follow the causal chain, it’s so that they’ll believe what’s false. Why? So that He can judge them, right? So he [St. Paul] literally says that God makes, God intentionally deludes them, so that He can judge them.” Now again, Calvinists will bite that bullet. They’ll go hardline. It’s fine. It takes the text seriously. So I look at these other views, these open theistic views, and I’m like, “If I’m going to take the Bible seriously, that’s just not an option, that’s just not a live option for me.”
Why does Vela think the problem of evil is an insuperable one, even for non-Calvinist Christians?
Yeah, so one more. So, the other thing that happened in responding to non-Calvinists is [that] I’m saying, “Well, God actually does cause, takes causal credit for evil.” But I also say, “Well, let’s imagine your view is right. Let’s imagine that it is allowing all that kind of stuff. And I remember, this was something that also turned the tide. It’s an argument that I used against non-Calvinists. And I said, “Look. Think of the book of Job, right? And imagine for a second that it’s not God, right? Imagine that if I moved into a neighborhood and I knew that there was a psychopathic, sociopathic serial killer next to me. And I went to him, like, “Hey, have you considered my favorite son?” And he’s like, “Yeah, but you protect him.” And I’m like, “OK, but I’m going to leave town, so you can do whatever you want to him. You can kill all of his friends,” because Satan didn’t just kill Job, it was all his friends, they were there, he took out everything by natural causes, took out his friends, killed everyone, killed the whole family, took his wealth, killed his day laborers, everybody. And then, you know, round two he’s like, “Oh, he still hasn’t cursed you.” And God’s like, “OK, well, like, you can do more if you want to, just don’t kill him.” So now he [Satan] gave him boils and all that kind of stuff. And imagine that I did that with the serial killer. “You can do that with my kids, you can kill all his friends, you can kill the rest of my family. You could do all that kind of stuff. You could burn down the house. You can do all that kind of stuff. You can give him leukemia, you can give him boils, you can make him as sick as you can, you just can’t kill him. And it’s OK because at the end of the day, I’m going to give my son back more friends than he had to begin with.” … Like, how many of you would call me good? (48:43)
I shall stop here, and throw the discussion open to readers. What do you think of Tyler Vela’s arguments?
UPDATE ON THE PROBLEM OF EVIL:
Over at the Community page on his Youtube blogsite, Tyler Vela posed a tough question in a comment addressed to his readers:
Christian, would you permit, allow, decree, ordain, predestine (whatever your preferred theology) someone to rape and torture and murder your 6 year old child for any of these reasons (with a straight face) AND expect other people to think you were good for doing so:
1. To not violate the freewill is the rapist, or freewill just in principle.
2. For the soul building of other people.
3. That it would make other people more likely to be saints.
4. Because sinners are going to sin and you’ll punish them later for it.
5. So you can show the raping-murderer forgiveness later (if they want it).
I really doubt any of you would if you were being truthful. Hopefully that helps you see why many of us just aren’t satisfied with those kinds of responses to the problem of evil when posed to the God of historic Christianity.
When one reader objected, “So God doesn’t exist because bad things happen now? This is a new low for you man,” Vela replied, “Where did I say God doesn’t exist? I’m a THEIST. This isn’t an objection to God’s existence. This is an objection to several of the theodicies proposed by Christian apologists. Try reading to understand before simply reacting.” Later, he added, “I don’t believe YWHW exists. I believe in the God of classical theism very much like the God of the philosophers.”
I’d like to offer my two cents’ worth, in response to Tyler Vela’s question. It’s a very tough one, since it comes straight from the heart.
First, given that a six-year-old child is involved here, given that God’s goodness is in question, and given that Vela rejects (a) the manifestation of God’s character (e.g. His mercy and/or justice), (b) the exercise of human free-will, and (c) long-term benefits to either the child, or the rapist, or other people, as legitimate reasons for a good God permitting the rape of the child, it is pretty hard to see what other possible reasons could legitimate God’s permitting such a horrendous evil. This is important, because it shows that the problem posed by Vela is not just a problem for Christianity. It applies equally well to any religious view which affirms both God’s goodness and the fact of children being raped.
Second, if Vela wants to affirm God’s existence (as he continues to do, given his professed belief in classical theism, despite his recent rejection of Christianity) then it seems to me that the only option he has left is to deny God’s goodness. He could argue, for instance, that “good” is an anthropomorphic term, and that God is beyond good and evil. I don’t know why anybody would want to worship a God of that sort, but one could still believe in such a God.
Third, I can’t help wondering if Hinduism (or something like it) is the religion best equipped to address Vela’s question. The reason why I’m leaning this way is that I’ve recently been watching some Next Level Soul videos on Near Death Experiences, in which various individuals who have had NDEs learn on the other side that they chose the life they lived, with all the evils that they risked being subjected to, before they were born, and that they made this choice as mature spiritual beings, and not as children. On this scenario, the reason why they made this choice was that they wanted to acquire some virtue that would take them to a higher plane of existence, despite the horrendous emotional suffering involved. I freely acknowledge that the above scenario is mind-boggling and that it comes with a fair bit of metaphysical baggage (e.g. pre-existence of souls, and belief in reincarnation), but if a mature spiritual being insists on undergoing an incarnation, knowing the emotional risks involved, then I cannot see any reason why it would be incompatible with the goodness of God for him to accede to their wishes. (However, the critical assumption that I would question here is the claim that there are some virtues that can only be acquired through being raped or tortured. These, it seems to me, are not soul-making evils, but soul-breaking evils.)
Fourth, it strikes me that there’s one thing that Vela’s scenario overlooks. While the six-year-old is indeed God’s child, God is not a human father. Clearly, God has certain responsibilities towards the child, but they are not identical with the responsibilities that a human father has. In some ways, God (as Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and as the Heavenly Father of each and every human individual) is more responsible for the child than any human father could be. In other ways, God is less responsible: He is not the child’s primary caregiver, for instance. What that means is that there may be some situations in everyday life where evil befalls a child, and it’s not God’s responsibility to prevent it. Still, I freely admit that in the scenario described by Vela, the traditional Christian theodicies fail to get God off the hook. Clearly, Christians have a lot of hard thinking to do. And if they don’t come up with a good answer in the next few years, they’re going to lose the next generation of young people in Europe and North and South America to atheism, agnosticism, Deism or maybe Hinduism.
My two cents.