Yet again I was speaking at a camp with limited wifi. Sorry. There will be two updates this week.
The summer of 2008 was over and it was time to get back to normal. Normalcy was serving as a volunteer pastor at my church and working as an admissions counselor. The busyness of it all loomed before me, but there was one significant difference. Instead of doing a few mental victory laps for the marathon ministry I had just completed, I was still stuck on one idea: I knew what I believed but I didn’t know why.
Now what? It felt as though the diplomas from Bible college and seminary mocked me from their dust covered places on the wall. I perused my burgeoning library in search of something, anything, that would would point me in the right direction. Amidst the random novels, popular non-fiction, and history books, I had two basic categories. The first were title on how to preach, lead, teach, counsel, team build, brand make, marry and bury. The second were either Bible commentary and word study or related directly to doctrine. Just as I thought! I had nothing to help me get to the ‘why’. My world was saturated with the ‘what’ and ‘how’.
Make no mistake. These are essential in order to minister. But I had convinced myself that they were the only, or at least the primary, means to an end. I had ingested a full helping of this dichotomy. I really thought that if I had expertise in a particular area (like preaching), than I knew everything about it. The truth is just because you know how to do something doesn’t necessarily mean you know what it is. It is the essential difference between being a technician and a teacher. Having skills does not necessarily mean you have knowledge. Jesus of Nazareth perfectly united these two worlds. The old clash between Plato’s “is” and Aristotle’s “does” was united in God’s Son. He was both an expert teacher and a master technician.
The Matrix exploded onto movie screens in 1999. It told the story of Neo, a human unknowingly trapped in an artificial world created by sentient machines which lived on the heat and electromagnetic energy of their “creations”. Neo, who has always questioned his reality, is awakened by the character Morpheus. It is Morpheus who offers Neo one of two pills. The blue pill will allow him to stay in his current state. The red pill will help him to see the danger that he and all humans live in…and the mission he must take in order to free them. I had my own Morpheus in seminary.
For just one semester, every Monday night was a three-hour mental respite. My classmates, my friends, and I would settle into Jim’s class for what amounted to shear adventure. The class was called Contemporary Theological Issues. Here we looked at the Emerging Church, postmodernism, Pentecostalism, and a host of other issues. Unlike other classes that seemed to only see one side, Jim led us to think through these issues. He taught us to ask questions and not to simply make hasty accusations. This class was among the most atypical experiences of my formal education. This was different.
No Bad Habits to Unlearn
I made a beeline for Jim’s office as soon as I got back from that summer’s travel. In rushed sentences and faltering words, I tried to explain to Jim what was going on in my mind. I found my explanations difficult because I didn’t have the right mental categories to even process what I was thinking and feeling.
Jim listened patiently. This was certainly a comfort to me, but the big grin on his face was not. He knew, he just knew. And I think he was waiting for something like this to happen. He had warned me time and again that I was getting far too comfortable in my role. He affirmed my gifting and God-given skill set, but he also saw that I was creating my own “Matrix”. He just knew.
You would think because I was deeply entrenched at the college that I knew all that was going on at the school. Sadly, that was not the case. I listened with rapt attention as Jim gave me what he believed to be a game plan to satisfy my most pressing question. He told me that the graduate school had just launched a new MA program entitled Worldview.
I knew a worldview to be a perception of reality. I had no idea how this would transition into a full, academic MA degree. Jim told me that this program was a Great Books based education. That means that we would be reading some the greatest literature of the western world and forcing it through the grid of the Bible. I soon realized that if I signed up for this program that I would be reading and studying many of the things I believed to be evil, or at least things that had no part in a Christian’s life. I shuddered inwardly at the thought of laying my eyes on the written works of Plato, Homer, Nietzsche, and Dante to name a few.
This did seem like the only way available for me to get to the bottom of my questions. I called Steve, the prof who designed and oversaw the program, to tell him that I was interested but I had exactly ZERO background in such things. His reply? “Good! I don’t have to help you unlearn any bad habits.”
I dove in. My world was soon consumed with reading, writing, and discussing. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. My classmates were highly motivated and much more intelligent and prepared than I. This was home; I found my niche.
We studied how humans have been asking the same fundamental questions for thousands of years. Things that I thought were only in the realm of religion were emblazoned on the pages that have survived for generations. We looked at issues of theology, ethics, knowledge, politics, and faith. I finally began to see the the structure of faith. This was not because men like Aristotle had more to say about good living than St. Paul. It was because I questioned what I believed and I found nothing but confidence! I found that doubt can lead toward good and better questions. If the seeker is truly looking for truth HE.WILL.FIND.IT.
The next part, coming THIS Friday, will tell of how this simple preacher boy made his way to west coast and to the conversation that set me upon a new course and a complete crisis of faith.