church bell from below

No Other Foundation

Reflections from Fr. Lawrence Farley

Every so often one encounters something that breaks the head as well as the heart.  By that I refer to things that not only wring the heart with grief, but also confound the head because they are so perversely stupid.  One such thing is the recent conversion of a Tasmanian Orthodox priest by the name of David Gould who had been Orthodox for 45 years and who then converted to Islam two years after becoming a priest.  He now goes by the name of Abdul Rahman.

       His story, as he tells it, is interesting.  He converted to Orthodoxy in 1978 from within an Orthodox group in Tasmania that did not have a resident priest from 1973 to 1994.  The church community was, he says, “a kind of community without leadership, and that helped shape my religious life.”  He said that he was persuaded to take up theological studies after his bishop asked him to become a priest to serve his community.  He was a priest for his group for only two years before he left Orthodoxy to become a Muslim.

       In an interview with him, he shared that he was always “struggling with Christianity…my search for God wasn’t really complete in Orthodoxy”.  During his time as an Orthodox he said that he “looked elsewhere [i.e. outside Christianity], saying ‘Is this [Christian faith] right?’”  He also said that in his studies he discovered that the four Gospels were not written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but by “authors unknown”, and that “so much that is in the Bible was shaped by theologians and the Fathers of the Church many years and centuries after Christ was on this earth”.  He spoke of “massive accretions, doctrinal additions that got perfected in the Constantinoplan [sic] creed” so that the doctrine of the Trinity could not be found in the Bible.  

       But, he further shared, “it was not an intellectual conviction that brought me to Islam”, but an emotional one, one centered around several quiet visits to a nearby mosque while he was staying in Perth for his brother-in-law’s funeral.  During this trip, after several visits to the mosque, he went back to his hotel room, prostrated himself before God and asked Him to reveal the truth to him, and then got up, read from a Qur’an that he was given by the imam there and was convinced that he should become a Muslim.  So, he did.  He then wrote to his bishop and resigned from his parish.  (He was not a stipendiary priest in his small parish, but made his living as a hospital social worker, so the transition was made somewhat easier financially.)

       Not surprisingly, Muslim websites are jubilant over such a conversion, even if they do get some of the facts wrong.  One website announced that the conversion took place after him “serving 45 years in Church” giving the impression that he had been a priest for 45 years, whereas he clarified in his interview that in fact he had been a priest for only “two years and a bit”. 

       What is one to think about this former cleric?  It is hard not to feel sorry for him.  Despite chanting for many years the words in the Orthodox Liturgy that “We have found the true faith!”, it is clear that he had done nothing of the sort.  That is, despite his years in his Orthodox parish as a layman and then briefly as a priest, it is clear that he never had a saving encounter with the living Christ or found the true faith.  Though sad, this is hardly surprising given that his community was without a pastor for two decades.  Such a pastor could have taught him, and led him to an actual saving experience of Jesus.  In the absence of such an experience, it is not surprising that Orthodoxy remained a mere intellectual abstraction in his life.

       This difficulty seems to have been furthered by his inexplicable conclusions from his theological studies.  The conclusions he drew from his reading remain mystifying to me, given that they are incompatible with any first year theological or historical textbook.  That is, he concluded that “the Bible was shaped by theologians and the Fathers of the Church many years and centuries after Christ was on this earth”, whereas any textbook will tell you that the New Testament material preceded the conclusions of the theologians and Fathers of the Church that came after them.   

It hardly matters whether or not Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John wrote the Gospels (although the historical evidence for their involvement and authorship is overwhelming).  Even if the Gospels were written by “authors unknown”, they were nonetheless written by persons in the first century—which is of course why they were quoted and cited by the “theologians and Fathers of the Church” in the second century (such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus).  And those first century texts record Jesus as making astounding claims to divine authority, such that Thomas, upon seeing Jesus after He arose from the dead, fell down before Him crying, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).  (See here for more details.)

Please note:  the assertions of Jesus’ divinity were not concocted by St. Paul or later Fathers of the Church; they were not accretions added “many years and centuries after Christ was on this earth”.  The assertions were made by Jesus Himself and so were recorded in the first century Gospels.  (Those wondering whether the Gospels we now have are the same ones written in the first century are referred to the science called “textual criticism”.  Spoiler alert:  the Gospels we now read are the same ones written by the Evangelists.)  One may dispute the divinity of Christ.  What is indisputable is that Christ claimed such divinity.  One is left wondering what Mr. Gould was actually reading.  Were his theological textbooks written by Richard Dawkins?

The second thing that breaks the head is Mr. Gould’s conversion to Islam—a religion centered on a book that was clearly not dictated by God, but produced by someone in the seventh century who had no real familiarity with contents of the Bible.  This would explain the Qur’an’s complete ignorance of such basic Biblical concepts as the election of the people of Israel, the concept of Messiah, of how prophets functioned among the covenant people, and of the centrality of sacrifice.  It also explains its egregious errors such as identifying “the Holy Spirit” with the angel Gabriel and confusing Miriam the sister of Moses with Miriam the mother of Jesus.  

This means that the author of the Qur’an was not God but someone who had a limited, passing, and ultimately erroneous knowledge of the Old Testament and practically no knowledge of the New Testament.  To put it bluntly:  God did not dictate the Qur’an as Islam contends.  Muhammad was therefore a false prophet, and Islam a false religion, whatever virtues individual Muslims may indeed possess.  There is, sadly, no evidence that Mr. Gould did any kind of examination of Islam’s credentials in his hotel room before accepting its claims.  That is, I suggest, a great tragedy—as he himself will discover immediately upon entering the next life.

Ultimately the story in the news is not about the celebrated and feted conversion to Islam by an Orthodox priest.   It is about the necessity of coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ—which is what membership in the Church is all about.  The tragedy is not just that Mr. Gould could embrace a faith so utterly devoid of real credentials, but that he could have stood in a Christian congregation at Liturgy for so many years and still somehow managed to avoid meeting Jesus Christ.  His sad fate and foolish decisions should spur us toward making sure that those attending church truly know the Lord.

 Note:  The book that I wrote about Islam was written precisely to forestall disastrous decisions like the one taken by Mr. Gould.  The book can be ordered here.


Fr. Lawrence Farley

About Fr. Lawrence Farley

Fr. Lawrence serves as pastor of St. Herman's Orthodox Church in Langley, BC. He is also author of the Orthodox Bible Companion Series along with a number of other publications.