I experienced two “potholes” in my journey that compelled me to choose a different road than Southern Baptist Christianity. Roughly speaking, they involved the Bible and their values regarding life in the world.
As a disclaimer: I like Baptists. I have several friends whom I greatly love and respect studying at Baptist seminaries. I should remind you here that in two weeks, I will be one of them. I have great respect for the Baptist tradition, and have found a great deal of truth and liberty in it, and been blessed by the hands of those who bear it. This is not a post about Baptists, or about some people being bad or others being enlightened. This is a snapshot of two important moments in my journey, and my theological reflections on them.
I enjoyed reading the Bible very much, as well as all manner of study notes. I looked forward to doing this in an academic setting at Georgetown College, as well as the seminary environment later on. I even began to think about getting a Ph.D. in the stuff, to be as educated as I possibly could (because at the time, education = spiritual formation and maturity) before doing church ministry. A minister in my church informed me that because of the suspicion of theological education in many churches, the more (and better) degrees I got, the harder it would be to find and keep a job. This seemed bizarre to me. If course, I did and do believe him (now more than before!), but that’s still bizarre. One day, I wandered into his office to ask the meaning of this “inerrancy” thing everyone was talking about. It was time someone told me the facts of SBC life, and I’m glad he did. He explained it in about 10 minutes, and neither this term nor its definition made any sense to me at all. In all my reading of Scripture, I had never thought to see the Bible in the terms he explained to me. I told him this, only to learn that if I didn’t believe in a “perfect” Bible, I couldn’t have trustworthy information about Jesus, and therefore couldn’t have a relationship with Jesus and therefore couldn’t be saved. I left feeling quite annoyed, as I left with the same high opinion of Scripture and rigorous reading habits with which I’d come in. Only now I was “unsaved” because I didn’t understand this strange thing called “inerrancy.” The minister was (and is) a good man, but I feared his Jesus was a fickle master indeed.
The intellectual struggle necessary to affirm that set of doctrinal positions sounded suspiciously like a “works salvation,” another phrase that conjured great fears in that milieu. I’ve expounded before in this space about the error of inerrancy, so I won’t do it again. I will mention a recent argument I was discussing with friends: this would be a Jesus who is dependant upon me believing all the right things about the Bible, and all the right things about who he is (with no mixture of error) before he can actual be who he is: the savior of the world, and the redeemer of my own life.
Jesus is not so weak as my own apprehension of him. I don’t need to be right all the time. It’s a liberating thing to know when I’m wrong, and have the freedom to submit to Jesus and my friends. I still cannot believe that I have to be right all the time in order to be in a state of grace.
Other people clearly do; why else is it so hard to discuss religion with so many people?
My problem with the ethical focus is more straightforward. When I visited the big Lifeway store in Nashville with my a friend, we found all kinds of books. I of course started looking through them because theology and the bible excited me, but then I wandered into the “contemporary issues” section. I found a book on gambling, two on alcoholism, perhaps a couple of tomes on sexual abuse and one about healing prayer. You know, the places where real people lead their lives. Oh, and also 22,560,342 books on “the endtimes,” where many Christians apparently really wished they lived.
I knew that was wrong, and I just couldn’t be there. It wasn’t an atmosphere that could sustain relationship with Jesus, or the life of the Church in the world. I didn’t know what could.
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