Three Crucial Years – The Formation of Faith
Then came university and my conscious efforts to live “true to my atheistic convictions” that there is no God, no “word of God” and no divinely approved religion. True to my convictions I poured all my time and energy into my studies while socializing with my new friends. However, by my second year, partying became my main focus and I was on the brink of failing out of university. Then one day, after a night out with my friends, I had an epiphany: this is getting me nowhere! I could see where this lifestyle was leading and it wasn’t good at all. So, I began to search for something, some philosophy, some lifestyle, some guidance on how to enjoy life and yet live a life that mattered.
To make a long story, much shorter, that search led me to a place, a people and a book where I discovered the Jesus whom I didn’t know that I didn’t know. (Like Linus, I thought I had understood “the true meaning of Christmas;” but I didn’t get it at all.) Instead, I was drawn to the Jesus I read about in the Gospel accounts and I chose to believe that he was whom the authors of those accounts claimed him to be. And since I learned about this Jesus through the pages of the Bible, I decided that I needed to learn all that I could about this person and about “his” book. Off to Louisiana I went to spend two intense years in a school of Biblical Studies run by a congregation of the Churches of Christ. There, the foundation of my theology was laid.
That foundation was one that viewed the Bible–the Protestant version–as the literal, and thus inerrant, word of God. There are no inaccuracies or contradictions in the Bible. I was taught that…
- What appear to be examples of biblical errancy are the result of our own lack of understanding and improper hermeneutics.
- These so-called mistakes are misinformation perpetuated by an evil scheme to undermine our faith in the Scriptures and turn people away from God.
- Faithful interpretation can legitimately harmonize almost every claimed biblical contradiction and explain away every error of fact.
- The Bible, especially but not only, through the life of Jesus, gives us a clear and consistent portrayal of who God is, how God works in the universe and what God’s will is for our lives.
- The Bible shows us a God who is merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and thus willing and eager to forgive.
- The God of the Bible is also righteous and just and thus must oppose sin and punish the sinner who has not been forgiven. Heaven for the saved and hell for the sinners are certain realities.
- There is nothing God can’t and won’t do to ensure that as many as possible are saved but that those who either are unaware of God’s salvation or refuse to accept it will be cut off from God’s presence for all eternity in eternal, conscious torment.
- We live only once––and that life is like a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes––and then comes the judgement. Even those who are part of God’s house will be the first to face judgement!
I could go on, but you get the point, I’m sure.
The Next 25 Years: A Mostly Unquestioning Faith
Mine was a very evangelical, verging on fundamentalist, theology. One of the things that stood out in the churches of Christ was their emphasis on “the plan of salvation” which necessitated that those who receive salvation are only those who believe the gospel, repent of their sins and are baptized––immersed in water––for the forgiveness of their sins. These are the people who are “in Christ” and are thus added by God to “the body of Christ, which is the church.” I was taught this, I believed this, and I preached and taught this to literally thousands of others over the next 25 years!
Even though I didn’t go to Bible school to become a minister, a minister I became. I served in the full-time paid ministry for most of 1979 through 2017, in congregations small and large (20 to 1500 adult members) in the U.S., at first, but mostly back in Canada from 1984 on. What I believed about the Bible, its portrayal of God and the good news of Jesus, I taught vigorously and defending confidently (and, in retrospect, rather arrogantly).
Most of my personal study of, and reflection on, “all things biblical” resulted in reinforcing my evangelical theology. Yet, questions, doubts, and concerns were always there, shoved into some mental back room until the cognitive dissonance grew too great to ignore any longer. That awareness grew gradually, but significantly, in the first five years of the 21st century and was, in large part, my reason for attending a secular university (the University of British Columbia), rather than attend one of the local Christian Universities or Seminaries for a greater understanding and appreciation of the Bible and its context.
Part III: The Last 15 Years – An Ever-Evolving Faith (to be continued…)