One of the most disturbing books I have ever read was Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Written in the 1930’s, BNW envisions a dystopian society that is almost entirely engineered. Sexual exploration is encouraged from a very young age, mind altering drugs are distributed by the state, children are “made” in factories where they are chemically predetermined as to their standing and function in society, and the state raises the children. This is just a brief glimpse into what life is like in this tale.
A reasonable question at this point would be, “how do they maintain such a culture?” The answer is a calcified indoctrination. The society leadership sees to it that each citizen, from the earliest of ages, hears the same mantra over and over, with the goal being complete uniformity. The upper classes are told over and over that they are special and the lower classes are told the opposite. They have little speakers in their pillows that repeat the same information even in their sleep! There were statements which were “upwards of sixty-two thousand repetitions in the dark [and] had made them accept, not merely as true, but as axiomatic, self-evident, and utterly indisputable” (Huxley, 46). The poor souls in this broken view of the world were not taught doctrines. They were indoctrinated.
I had several pastors and youth pastors tell me that I was destined for ministry. What they saw in me is a mystery. What is even more mysterious is that one youth pastor who encouraged me to go into ministry didn’t have very flattering things to say about me on my Bible college application! Yes, I read it. Anyway, the idea was always there and it was front and center. This wasn’t anything I really had dreamed about. I actually wanted to go into law enforcement (which would have a been a bad idea) but the ministry thing kept coming up. And the last thing I wanted to be was a missionary! Our church hosted missionaries all the time and some of them were the most miserable, sad people I had ever seen. No thank you!
All that to say that the constant message was the highest state of Christianity was enrolling in Bible college and going into “full-time” ministry, or capital “M” ministry. Never mind that the New Testament assumes all Christians are in ministry…full-time!
The repeated messages in my own BNW were:
- God loves me
- Capital “M’, full-time, vocational Ministry is the most excellent thing I can do with my life
- Read the Bible, get the answer, move on
- Godly kids go to Bible college, wild kids go to a Christian liberal arts college, and degenerates go to state universities
- Do the “do’s’ and don’t do the “dont’s”
….Wash, rinse, repeat.
The message was constant, consistent, and clear. The fourth bullet is an obvious overstatement, but there is some truth to it. The point is that none of those things are true by virtue of rote repetition. Just because you convince yourself that you believe something does not mean that it corresponds to reality. Sure, the message might be consistent, and it should be! The real question is does a person’s belief measure up to the way reality really is? If, dear reader, you stay with this blog until the end, you will see how important this becomes.
Most of my high school class enrolled at the local community college and I followed suit. I registered as a Criminal Justice major and found my classes to be about as academically rigorous as figuring out how to make the average calculator spell out “hello” – a feat my young children find mesmerizing. Our core classes were nothing more than listening to stories from our prof, who was a former detective, about the craziness he saw in the field. There were no tests and grades were based on attendance. Yes! Ok, the evening class on criminal law was a bit more strenuous, but we still treated it like a joke. Things were going great until I started to get tired, very, very tired.
I had no energy and I was beginning to develop severe cold symptoms. Staying awake in class became a herculean exercise. There would be times I put my head down on my desk and sleep so hard that I drooled on myself. The flu-like symptoms got worse with a debilitating sore throat. It was time to see the doctor. A simple blood test revealed that I had a raging case of mononucleosis.
A few of my friends had endured mono and it never seemed like a big deal to me. Appropriately nicknamed the “sleeping sickness”, they would nap off the virus and be back in action in a week or so. That’s not so bad. I can sleep like a champ! A week in bed was a welcomed albeit inconvenient respite. Except things didn’t work out as I thought.
Mono is a strange illness that can affect just about any bodily function. The usual major side effect is strep throat. Check. For me the worst part was a case of heart burn that would be near the center of Dante’s Inferno. Everything I ate or drank would set my esophagus ablaze and not even a Maalox Big Gulp would bring relief. It got so bad that my doctor was going to prescribe an oral novocaine if things didn’t improve. For me, mono was not a long, restful nap. It was a state of semiconsciousness that left me miserable for three long weeks.
At the height of my misery…it happened.
The inner voice was clear and distinct. It asked me if I was done. The Holy Spirit seals, guides, convicts, and communicates to the life of the believer. In my lowest moment, God asked if I was ready to start following Him instead of my own desires. I was! How little I knew where this conversation would lead nearly three decades later.
Because I missed so many classes, I had to drop out of school. The next year allowed me to work in order to save some money, meet my future wife, become a Rolaids spokesmodel and mono-awareness champion, not really, and…enroll in Bible college. I was on my way to fulfilling the “prophecies” of my betters.
I have found that there are three general attitudes toward Bible college: shock, rebellion, and normalcy. For me it was the third. Some students are just overwhelmed with the level of discipline that comes with such an environment. Others want to just break the system. Then there’s me. It felt like everything else in my life. There was a dress code, a definitive standard of conduct, Bible and theology classes – some of which used the same textbooks I had in high school – and new level of calcification. I was comfortable.
I should remind you that this entire story is not about slamming the Church, Christianity, or my alma mater. I learned so much during those years in college and I was also given the opportunity to make a foray into youth ministry. I am thankful. But I did learn a new twist on “the-Bible-says-so” argument. It would happen in theology class. Just like in high school, a student would ask how we know belief X to be true. The response was the one I expected: the Bible tells us and God gives that knowledge conviction. But this wasn’t high school, it didn’t end there. Sometimes a student would be so bold (and sometimes inappropriately rude) to push harder and further. While not always the case, the exasperated prof would say something like, “well, you signed the doctrinal statement in order to get into this school. You either agree, fail, or leave.” Boom! How can you argue with that? Take that you snotty, know-it-all, freshman!
To sum up, here is what I understood about belief so far:
- Questioning beliefs, primary or secondary, is discouraged and sometimes considered sin
- Authority is the ultimate trump card
- Uniformity masquerades as community
- It is best to live by a hardened set of principles. Rigid. Calcified.
Next week we will explore how these principles shaped my early ministry years. We are going to camp!
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