771: The Freedom To Fly

As a glutton for positive feedback I have greatly appreciated the response to the Bible stories I have been sharing lately. In particular, I want to shout out Benjamin who was so gracious as to include a link to one of these stories on his blog.

In sharing my post Benjamin made an interesting comment in regard to debating scripture. In fact, this is an area in which I have some amount of experience.

I grew up in a stalwart Evangelical family, where faith and religion were considered the answer to everything. I spent several years on a power house Bible quizzing team, which was a real contender for the National Bible Quizzing championship. (A title the team did end up winning the year after I graduated.)

As a result of this background I memorized large portions of the New Testament, including the book of Philippians. My parents separated the year I graduated high school, and after a stint picking apples at an orchard I got a job in a local feed mill.

Up until this time I had been seen as a bright, up and coming star at my family’s church. My younger brother was never treated with quite as much enthusiasm, in fact his presence tended to fly under the radar. So when he made a comment about the church being a cult which happened to work its back to the pastor it was my older brother and I, not the younger brother who had actually made the comment, who got singled out.

My older brother and I were at the church one day when the pastor showed up and demanded that we see him in his office. There, backed up by three church elders, he proceeded to scream and rant for about an hour and a half. Having no idea what had triggered this inquisition in the first place, it all seemed very nonsensical to me.

The coupe de gras from the pastor’s point of view was when he leaned mere inches away from my faced and screamed that I was thinking too much. Christianity didn’t approve of rational thought, and he had scripture to back it up. It was all in Philippians.

He must have been very pleased with himself.

Of course, I actually had Philippians memorized at this point, and my interpretation was slightly different than his. If I hadn’t been inclined to agree with my younger brother’s assessment on the state of that church beforehand I certainly was after that.

(As a matter of fact his religious heritage ran back to an individual by the name of John Alexander Dowie, an interesting character himself. This account of a woman from Brazil who attended the Bible school with which the pastor was deeply associated describes his theological influences fairly accurately)

So that was in the fall of 2008. Right before Christmas my boss at the feed mill cussed me out because I couldn’t work late one day, and and bragged about how he had once fired his entire crew because they refused to work on Christmas. I decided it was time to look for greener pastures, but since this was podunk middle America smack in the middle of a major economic crash pastures were few.

So I made an entirely un-researched, uninformed decision and enrolled in a Christian college I had heard about in the Twin Cities, where classes concerning the Bible were a major focal point of the curriculum. Due to the flavor and geography of this institution, one of the most venerated religious figures amongst the student body at the time was a man by the name of John Piper.

On a personal level I have nothing against John Piper, but he holds some opinions on which I tend to disagree with him. Piper is a Calvinist. One of the major tenants of Calvinism is the idea that all outcomes are predetermined by God. In the language of Calvinism it’s called predestination. This idea didn’t sit very well with me at the time, but many people expended great amounts of energy trying to convince me that all matters of existence were predetermined. I patiently explained to them that I was predestined not to believe what they were telling me, which I thought was hilarious but only seemed to rile them up more.

The hard core Calvinist were convinced that they had a heretic on their hands, and it was quite entertaining. If you’ve never been cornered in a library basement by half a dozen ardent Calvinists attempting to dissuade you from the error of your ways I strongly encourage you to give it a try.

One of the people who showed an extreme concern for my position on this issue was my RA, a tall, lanky, utterly serious, midwestern teenager who, if not albino, was one of the blondest people I have ever met. He invited me to breakfast one day, where he proceeded to show me the error of my ways, and lead me into the pure light of Calvinistic thinking. We were sitting in a basement, beneath a casement window, and he was suddenly struck with a brilliant illustration which explained the nuances of Calvinist thought.

“You see that window?” He said, gesturing to the window above our heads. “I have the freedom to fly out of that window, I just don’t have the ability.”

I’m still not entirely sure what he was trying to say, but if you believe something fervently enough every argument in its favor will make sense. That’s why I, like Benjamin, am reticent to engage in debates surrounding the Bible. My feeling is that the debates often revolve around preconceived notions regarding scripture rather than the actual substance of the scripture itself. As I told Benjamin, I know a butt load of crap about the Bible. But at some level that doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’s better to approach these things as if you know nothing.

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25 thoughts on “771: The Freedom To Fly

  1. I loved John Dowie’s fancy frock!
    I could prove, or disprove, lots of things by quoting the Bible but it would suit only those who wanted to believe what I said. Does that prove anything? I think not. Who wrote those words? How many times have they been translated and altered? Were they original thoughts or were they reported? Does it really matter?

  2. Actions speak louder than words in my view, you see the person by their behaviour is my experience, and yes, much theology is empty opinion (Luther’s comment on people arguing over how many angels fit on the head of pin is a case in point and makes me smile).

  3. Thank you for sharing part of your life with us. I agree with Bruce, you are at your best when you share some of these things. I am sorry you had such an experience, it was so clearly wrong and wrongheaded.

  4. Wow, whether or not that church was a cult, it was most assuredly not a genuine Christian church and your pastor was most certainly not a true Christian convert indwelt by the Spirit of God. As someone whose life has been saved and transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ and who reveres His name, it always grieves me when I see wickedness masquerading as righteousness and using His name in vain.

    You surely had your run of bad encounters with religionists, didn’t you? By the way, your quip about being predestined not to believe the hard-core Calvinists made me laugh out loud, good one! I always remind myself that the existence of the counterfeit generally serves to support the existence of the genuine, and certainly in no way disproves it. Jesus said “by their fruit you will recognize them” (false teachers) and Paul made clear what the fruit of the Spirit looks like in his letter to the Galatians. Clearly not much fruit growing in either your first church or your Christian college.

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