A few months ago, I was asked to guest lecture on Anglicanism in a professor's Christianity in the Modern World course. I unfortunately was unable to deliver it due to time contraints and the demands of the syllabus, but I did write an essay from my notes that cover a sort of "spiritual autobiography," which recounts my conversion to Christianity, my disillusionment with Baptist life, and discovery of Anglicanism.
I will reproduce it here in several installments for your reading pleasure. Comments and questions are very welcome.
I was raised in a non-religious family, but when I was sixteen I started attending worship services with friends in a small Baptist congregation. I found their religion to be very interesting, and the things they said about Jesus to be even more so. The Christians were kind to me, and I started to trust their Jesus. I had considered their God to be an aloof, voyeuristic moralist, but that congregation presented to me a Jesus who was interested in people for good reasons: he loved them.
I converted after about six months in that fellowship, at age 16. While I was a Southern Baptist Christian, it is a matter of some importance that I never got into the conservative/liberal debates of some of the folks around me; I never heard of “inerrancy,” had no questions about ordination and gender, church government or anything of the sort. (Those, by the way, are the issues that make one conservative or liberal in that world.) Those Baptists told me that the Bible was the bedrock of the faith, and being a Christian meant reading one’s Bible and praying. This remains some of the best advice I’ve ever been given, and that’s exactly what I did, with a little bit of C.S. Lewis on the side. I was very interested in the goings on of the Southern Baptist Convention in terms of mission and evangelism, however, and really wanted to do any manner of “Christian work.” During my senior year of high school I “felt a call to preach,” and even spoke in my own congregation and a couple of others on various occasions.
At 18 started attending another church that had a youth group: I wanted to be a Christian with people my own age, which I hadn’t experienced yet. I knew “church-going” kids in high school, but one discerned very quickly that the foundation of their faith was fear: a deep and abiding terror of Jesus and the hell into which he was prepared to cast them. I didn’t understand this fixation, with its endless debates on appropriate baptism, and how “sinful” one can be and still “go to heaven” or not, and whether one could really be “100% sure” this would occur. While I did hold beliefs about judgment and perdition, I didn’t share the obsession of my religious peers. I found all that stuff pretty freaky, if I may be frank. That wasn’t the Jesus I was learning about, even while reading my KJV Nelson Study Bible, which boasted as its general editor the illustrious and reverend Dr. Jerry Falwell. I read the New Testament voraciously, and developed a good familiarity with its contents during my teen years.
When I was 18, I experienced two “watershed” events. I’ll share these tomorrow.
Next: "Falling Away"
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