EDITOR'S NOTE:  The following is an excerpt from The Christian Atheist by Craig Goeschel (Zondervan).

Hi, my name is Craig Groeschel, and I'm a Christian Atheist.

For as long as I can remember, I've believed in God, but I haven't always lived like he exists. Today my Christian Atheism isn't as large of a problem as it once was, but I still struggle with it. Like a recovering alcoholic careful never to take sobriety for granted, I have to take life one day at a time.

You might think it's odd for a pastor to struggle with living like there is no God. However, in my corner of the world, Christian Atheism is a fast-spreading spiritual pandemic which can poison, sicken, and even kill eternally. Yet Christian Atheism is extremely difficult to recognize — especially by those who are infected.

My story illustrates the symptoms. I was born into a "Christian" family. We believed in God and attended church when convenient — and always on Christmas or Easter. And when we did attend, it was always boring. Some older man wearing what looked like a dress would stand at the pulpit for what seemed like forever, talking about stuff that didn't make any sense to me. I remember counting how many times the preacher raised one hand in the air — fifty-three in one sermon may still be the world record.

Even though I never carried a Bible to church, we did own a yellowish-gold Bible that was the size of a small U-haul truck and sat prominently on our living room coffee table. The pictures gave me warm, tingly, spiritual feelings, but the words were an impenetrable web of thees and thous.

Two of my friends' parents always made us pray before meals: "God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for this food." It always bothered me that this prayer didn't rhyme, even though it seemed like it should, and wondered if it bothered God too. At my grandparent's house, we prayed, "Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed." Neither prayer mattered to me, but at least the second one actually rhymed.

Hell No

When I was eight, I attended a backyard vacation Bible school. I was a little nervous, but the games, prizes, stories, and unlimited animal crackers with grape-flavored Kool-Aid won me over. The kids seemed normal enough, except for Alex, who wet his pants twice in one day. (Alex, if you're reading this, you owe me big time for leaving out your last name.)

Turns out it was all a setup for the final day, when the teachers brought the spiritual heat. Like Nolan Ryan's ninety-five-mile-an-hour fastball, they brushed me back from the plate. "Close your eyes. Bow your heads," said Grownup 1, her tone deadly serious. "I don't want anyone looking around." She paused dramatically. "If you were to die tonight, do you know for certain that you'd spend eternity in heaven? If you're not sure, please raise your hand."

Still buzzing from dozens of animal crackers, and certainly not certain about my eternal destiny, I raised my right hand. Suddenly Grownup 2 joined Grownup 1, and they picked me up underneath both arms and carried me to the back of the garage. One escape route was blocked by the garage itself, another was blocked by a chain-link fence, and the grownups' glares completed the triangle.

I was trapped and completely unprepared for what came next.

"If you don't know for sure where you'll spend eternity, then if you die, you'll go to hell."

Hell! Hell? At that moment, hell seemed like the safer option. Looking back, I'm certain these caring adults had nothing but pure intentions, but at the time they scared the animal crackers out of me. Taking my cue from the Little Rascals, I crouched down and darted between Grownup 2's legs, then sprinted faster than Forrest Gump all the way home. Still terrified of that nasty devil and the sulfuric fire he had reserved for kids like me, I barricaded myself in my closet and cried out to God, "Please don't send me to hell!"