Kirsten Powers’ reluctant journey from atheism

November 6, 2013

By Mark Ellis

Kirsten Powers

Kirsten Powers

She worked for the Clinton administration, became a liberal pundit for the Daily Beast and a regular Democratic contributor to Fox News. On top of that, all her friends were agnostics or atheists. So when God pursued and won her reluctant heart, she was more surprised than anyone else.

“If there was one thing in which I was completely secure, it was that I would never adhere to any religion—especially to evangelical Christianity, which I held in particular contempt,” writes Kirsten Powers, in a first-person account of her conversion published in Christianity Today.

The daughter of archeologist parents, she attended the Episcopal Church in Fairbanks, Alaska, but never really believed. Whatever shred of nominal faith she possessed was due to respect for her father, a brilliant man who taught himself to speak and read Russian.

After her father began to express his own doubts about Christianity while she was in college, she fell headlong into unbelief.

“What little faith I had couldn’t withstand this revelation,” she noted. “From my early 20s on, I would waver between atheism and agnosticism, never coming close to considering that God could be real.”

Powers worked in the Clinton administration for six years and rarely saw any open expressions of religiosity. Then she moved to New York to work in Democratic politics.  “My world became aggressively secular. Everyone I knew was politically left-leaning, and my group of friends was overwhelmingly atheist,” she observes.

The first crack in her anti-faith armor emerged when she dated a Christian man. Immediately before this, she told a friend the only deal breaker in her dating world would be someone religious.

After they dated a few months, her boyfriend called to say he had something important to discuss. When he came over to her New York apartment he looked at her intently and asked, “Do you believe Jesus is your Savior?”

Her heart sank when she heard the question. She thought he might be slightly crazy. “No,” she replied.

“Do you think you could ever believe it?” he asked. Then he told Powers he wanted to get married and felt that she might be the one, but he couldn’t marry a non-believer.

“I don’t want to mislead you—I could never believe in Jesus,” Powers told him.

“Do you think you could keep an open mind about it?” he asked, hopefully.

“Of course; I’m very open-minded!” she replied, even though she knew it was not completely true in this instance. Inwardly, she found his faith “an oddity to overlook, not a point in his favor.”

A few weeks later they went to church together, and a few things surprised her. First, she didn’t realize a Presbyterian could be an evangelical. “When we arrived at the Upper East Side service of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, I was shocked and repelled by what I saw. I was used to the high-church liturgy of my youth. We were meeting in an auditorium with a band playing what I later learned was ‘praise music.’ I thought, How am I going to tell him I can never come back?” she writes in Christianity Today.

But when Pastor Tim Keller began to speak, she found herself completely engrossed in his message. “I had never heard a pastor talk about the things he did. Tim Keller’s sermon was intellectually rigorous, weaving in art and history and philosophy. I decided to come back to hear him again.”

She found herself returning for more, but one thing disappointed her about his messages – his mention of Jesus. She left each week with some frustration, wondering, Why did he have to ruin a perfectly good talk with this Jesus nonsense?

As Keller propounded the case for Christ, she began to question her atheism. “He expertly exposed the intellectual weaknesses of a purely secular worldview. I came to realize that even if Christianity wasn’t the real thing, neither was atheism.”

Soon Powers found herself reading the Bible. At the same time, her boyfriend was praying that God would reveal Himself to Powers. After eight months of listening to Keller, she concluded that the weight of evidence was on the side of Christianity.

Still, she didn’t feel any particular connection to God. “I continued to think that people who talked of hearing from God or experiencing God were either delusional or lying. In my most generous moments, I allowed that they were just imagining things that made them feel good.”

Encounter with Jesus

Then something very unusual happened to Powers on a trip to Taiwan in 2006.

“I woke up in what felt like a strange cross between a dream and reality. Jesus came to me and said, ‘Here I am.’

“It felt so real. I didn’t know what to make of it,” she recalls.  She called her boyfriend the next day, but before she could tell him what happened, he said he had been praying the night before and felt they were supposed to break up.

While she was upset by the break up, she was more “traumatized” by the mystical, mysterious visitation by Jesus. “I tried to write off the experience as misfiring synapses, but I couldn’t shake it,” she notes.

Powers returned to New York a few days later, but felt lost and confused as she tried to process her growing consciousness of God’s presence. “I suddenly felt God everywhere and it was terrifying. More important, it was unwelcome. It felt like an invasion. I started to fear I was going crazy.”

She sought out the advice of a friend, author and cultural commentator Eric Metaxas, whom she knew to be a Christian. “You need to be in a Bible study,” he told her. He recommended a study taught by Pastor Tim Keller’s wife.

When she walked into the Bible study she felt desperate, unsure how she would ever tell family or friends about her emerging faith.  She thought no one would understand because she didn’t really comprehend the changes unfolding in her heart. “I had a knot in my stomach. In my mind, only weirdoes and zealots went to Bible studies.”

Powers doesn’t recall what Kathy Keller taught on that day, but when she left the Bible study she knew everything had changed. “I’ll never forget standing outside that apartment on the Upper East Side and saying to myself, ‘It’s true. It’s completely true.’ The world looked entirely different, like a veil had been lifted off it. I had not an iota of doubt. I was filled with indescribable joy.”

In the next few months, a tug-of-war between faith and doubt returned at intervals. She did her best “to wrestle away from God,” but found it was futile to run from Him.

“Everywhere I turned, there He was. Slowly there was less fear and more joy. The Hound of Heaven had pursued me and caught me—whether I liked it or not.”

 

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