After my virtual meltdown on social media in the last few months, I found myself reflecting on whom I’ve become and why I’ve reacted the ways that I have. Why did I react the way I did? Could I not have done better? Now, I am no psychologist and don’t make any claims that my psyche has universal experience. But I feel a little examination may be helpful.
I think my background has a lot to do with things. See, I was raised as an Independent Fundamental Baptist. We fit in the Bob Jones University side of things. We were an odd bunch within Fundamentalism though. My pastor was one of the few who preached exegetically. We used the NASB not the KJV. But we had the normal IFB beliefs and standards: dress, music, alcohol, etc. And yes, separation was more important than unity.
I was convinced that our church was the only church that wanted to please God. I believed that if people really read their Bibles and submitted to the text that they would look like us. I was fully convinced of all the standards. And I truly believed that there was no rational thought outside of Christianity. Evolution was a lot of nonsense garbage. And atheism was intellectually vapid. I believed that there were no arguments which came close to swaying me from my convictions.
There was one fundamental conviction though that I had and still have that began to undo the others. Surprisingly, I suppose, it was the very thing I was taught through my growing up years: the Bible is the sole authority and basis for the Christian. Tradition was to be subservient to the Bible. And all beliefs must conform to it. In the words I heard so often, I was “to be a Berean and see if the pastor’s words lined up with Scripture.” And that’s what I did.
Life changed when I went to college. No, not some secular school—I went to BJU. And there I began to broaden my understanding. I began to cut through the tradition and read the text as it stood. I began to understand good versus bad arguments, contextual examination, and theological method. I began to read the text and compare them to what I’ve been taught. And my impenetrable worldview began to crumble.
On the first level, I found that most of my standards did not align with the exact meaning of Scripture. You must realize, to me these standards were the true and biblical way of life. These standards, so I was taught, were the only right biblical position. But then I read scripture. And I found that indeed much of what I believed was layered interpretation over the text.
But it wasn’t just that I changed my beliefs then and there. I didn’t. I held hope that someone smarter than me would explain it better. But as I listened to the arguments for the standards, I found they all failed the Scriptures.
I remember the teacher and the classroom where I gave up all my belief that rock music (by that I mean any music with a beat) was inherently bad. I remember another teacher whose arguments against dancing were so bad that he convinced me dancing was moot.
And I remember there was a week where chapel was about how alcohol was bad. One speaker gave his personal testimony which I appreciated. One speaker made a decent (though unconvincing) case about how alcohol was always diluted in Biblical times. But there was another speaker who spoke with such arrogance and who murdered the Bible so blatantly that I was ultimately convinced away from his position. Time after time, I found the best defenses and the best speakers could not make a reasonable case for those absolute standards from the Scriptures.
For, you see, I was taught these standards as near infallible truths from God’s word. But then I found they weren’t. I don’t know the exact psychological words here, but it caused tremendous cognitive dissonance. I could not trust what many of my authorities said because they did not align themselves with Scripture. I was angry at being deceived. I was in pain about hearing opinions proclaimed as Bible. But I didn’t lash out during this time. I moved away mentally from them.
In the second place, I began to do research in grad-school. In a master-level class, I was taught that higher-criticism and related branches were simply conspiracy theories. In a doctoral level class, I was made to memorize lists of “good” versus “bad” theologians in order to “pick out the sheep among the wolves.”
But then I started reading these scholars. I found that many of the higher critics had legitimate critiques of fundamentalist theology. I found that the conspiracy theories weren’t so conspiratorial at all. I found that many “bad” scholars had good points and many “good” scholars had bad points. In short, the simple bifurcation of academia (notice, I speak of academia, not of man’s personal standing before God) into the sons of light versus the sons of darkness was not true.
As a side note, some of higher criticism and its theories are truly conspiratorial. Welhausen (I’ve read and summarized his Prolegomena) falls into this category in my opinion. Many of the “bad” scholars are indeed unorthodox. And so, I reject their views based on the same reason I reject many fundamentalist views: because they don’t align with Scripture.
Where this left me was in further distrust and pain. Distrust because I couldn’t necessarily trust what my teachers said concerning this or that author. Pain because I felt again that I was taught—not purposely, mind you—a falsehood. I don’t believe my teachers would teach me anything they thought was wrong. And perhaps this is just how learning goes. And perhaps I am too naïve and trusting. I don’t know. But I remember growing more frustrated at the constant identification of “our” view as the right one, and nobody from the other side has anything else worth listening too. This view wasn’t stated as such. But it was plenty implied.
In the third place, I was sent to research racism and the Bible. I knew nothing in this field. So I did what any student should do: read. I read conservative, liberal, and communist politics. I read fundamentalist, Calvinist, liberation, and Catholic theologies. I read histories, statistics, personal stories, and verified accounts. I listened to podcasts from all viewpoints. I’m not sure how many hours I spent on this, but it consumed my life.
At the end of the day, I came away realizing that my Republican views not only were wrong but they caused some of the wrong. My views legitimized indirect oppression of pretending there are no more race issues and African Americans should just forget about their complaints.
Further, I saw the politicians, talk show hosts, and Fox News manipulating Christians. And Christians flock and drink in the manipulations. And I saw the lack of love that my political ideology embraced. So, I changed my views following the same pattern: I fit them to Scripture.
But I still felt betrayed. Betrayed because the political ideology (which I was taught was the only Christian ideology) was not only non-Christian, but anti-Christian in a lot of ways. I was tired of being manipulated by people and coerced by a series of half truths to do the will of politicians.
With all this swirling inside, COVID-19 hit. I watched as the nation went to the edge of self destruction. But the hardest part for me to watch was the Christian rage at being told to save lives. The argumentative fallacies and conspiracy theories took precedence over “love your neighbor.” We were more concerned with our rights than the lives of others. These observations just caused the pot to boil over.
So, what was going on inside me?
Betrayal, anger, bitterness; conceit, arrogance, pride; contentiousness, wars, and envies. But these are symptoms of a deeper, more excruciating pains.
The pain of loss. I had, though with a monstrous amount of imperfection, sought to align my beliefs with those of scripture. I exchanged my worldview for that which I believe the Scripture presents. It rent my soul. I felt like something died in me.
Turning to the Scripture meant losing friends. My attitude also inflamed by the loss lashed out at more friends so I lost others I wouldn’t have otherwise lost. The losses seemed daily to me. Most were my own pathetic fault.
Fear also welled up within me. See, it drained my emotions to stand where I believe the Bible stands. And being exposed as such brought the fear. Fear I’d lose more. Fear I’m rejected. Fear my work isn’t good enough. Fear I’d hurt my wife and kids. And fear that I am utterly and completely wrong.
Frustration also filled me. I was continually frustrated at people who used Scripture to control others inappropriately. This is why I lashed out at Trump, because of his manipulation of Christians for his own ends. This is why I argue against fundamentalism, because many times controlling people abuse others.
And this is why I argue against Calvinism. In addition to the reason that I think Calvinism is wrong biblically and distorts the justice of God, it is becoming a narrative for people to control others. It always has been, I suppose, since Geneva. It is following the same path of intolerance that fundamentalism took. It defines itself as the only Christian worldview and the only true church. It is known to attract the arrogant. And to leave no one uncondemned who does not agree with them. Worst of all, it is placing the doctrine of Calvin over that of the Scriptures. And it will not tolerate questions. It frustrates me to see people use this system to control and enslave the minds of others.
Loss, fear, frustration—these led to a fourth emotion: failure. I feel as if I’ve failed my family, my friends, and the churches that reared me. I’ve failed the pastors that have invested in me. I’ve failed my teachers who educated me. I’ve failed my parents who greatly love me. In striving to live as I think the Bible teaches, I have utterly failed to meet the expectations of those who worked hard on my life.
But God help me—here I stand. Though I cry and weep, I stand where I believe the Bible stands. Though I’ll never see what could have been, I stand where I believe God tells me too. Though my friends and family should forsake me, Lord God, here I stand.
I will fail, Lord God, I will fail. I am an idiot, but I am your idiot. God, you are all I have. I have sworn my allegiance to you, not America. And though I am your problem subject, I submit through your Spirit to your power. I have given myself to you to be sacrificed as an offering for your Name. Accept what little worth my broken soul is worth. And may it be a pleasing aroma before you.