Deconstructing Pt. 1

A week or so ago I wrote about some of the influences on my spiritual journey. It was a brief intro into authors who influenced my thinking. Francis Schaeffer, John Ortberg, Rob Bell are the three I mentioned. We’ll dig in a little here and begin tracing my journey out of american christianity.

A funny thing happened as I grew into my late 40’s. I began to question. As a Baptist, questioning was kinda frowned on. I was big into Apologetics from my mid 30’s into my 40’s, but this was something different. The apologetics and authors I read and listened to had justified why I was right to believe what I believed. I thought I was getting a balanced view, but actually I wasn’t. Lee Strobel’s Case For Faith and the following Case for… books were telling me that I was right to think and believe as I did as an evangelical christian. At first this was very comforting to me. Sure in the Old Testament God ordered the slaughter of entire groups of people, but apologist Norman Giesler convinced me that it was “humane” for God to order the killing of the children, because they would go to heaven as they were too young to understand they were sinners. But in the back of my mind, the nagging thought that something was wrong with this kind of thinking was still there.

And then something big happened. I was already starting to battle with the thought that all who didn’t specifically ask Jesus into their hearts would burn for eternity in hell. And my religious world view was starting to be rocked by Rob Bell’s book Velvet Elvis. But then Bell wrote a book about questioning the concept of hell, called Love Wins. He didn’t come out and say there was no hell, just asked a lot of very good questions, gave a lot of very good information about Jewish beliefs around the time of Christ. Suddenly I was free to question and think and study. Bell’s book blew my mind because I was raised to believe unconditionally that hell was a real place. I began to read and study, and more importantly to tell my wife what I was doing.

Funny thing, my wife had grown up in fundamentalism and she was not happy with what I was telling her. She was worried I was losing my salvation and going to hell. So she did what she is great at, she dug in and began to study, with the intention of showing me how wrong I was. The interesting thing was, I would bring home something I had read and she would research it and find that what we had believed wasn’t so black and white after all. This caused her to dig in even farther. We began to study Universalism. Now when I was growing up, and into my adult years, I always thought that universalism was a mixed bag of all roads lead to god kind of thing. New age or some mumbo jumbo. But our studies led us to the finding that in the early church universalism was a popular teaching. Now, there are several schools of thought about what happens when we die in universalism, and I won’t get into that here. But the main idea is that God doesn’t burn anyone for eternity in hell.

I was shocked at what we were finding and shocked that I had never been told about this line of thinking in the early NT church. I went to bible school, I grew up in the church, I served as a deacon and small group leader. You would have thought it would have come up somewhere, besides being mentioned as “all roads lead to” heresy. During this time, my wife and I watched a documentary called “Hellbound?” that dived into the thinking and controversy around universalism. Not intended to be overly in-depth, but instead to present an overview of the three main thoughts (universalism, Annihilationism, eternal conscious torment) about hell that the church has had over the last 2,000 years, we found it fascinating. Faced with what we had learned over the period of a couple of years, we planted our faith flag in Universalism and thought we had arrived. We were wrong, our journey wasn’t over. We’ll pickup the trail in the next post Deconstructing Pt. 2.

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Influencers Along The Way

Screen Shot 2018-03-27 at 1.13.20 PMIt’s been a few days since I posted. I think we’ll veer slightly into the spiritual realm here. I’ve been thinking about the writers/speakers that have influenced me along my spiritual journey. Maybe a little background first. My dad was a Baptist preacher for much of my life growing up. He also was a teacher, and for a brief two year span was a janitor. We’ll get to that in another post. So my formative years were in the church. There’s lot of ground we could cover, and again, we’ll save that for another day. But my dad was definitely the main guiding force during my early days. After high school I went to a christian college, a conservative one, in Miami. I attended churches that, while not baptist, were still in that line of thought for the three years that I attended the college. I spent the next two years attending an art school in Ft. Lauderdale, and attending church bit more sporadically. But I never left the conservative teaching that I grew up with, even as I tried to balance my tastes in music and art and culture with those beliefs. Eventually I married my wife, who grew up in a fundamentalist environment, and we set off having kids and starting our new lives. We became very involved in a local baptist church, eventually serving in many capacities, sunday school teachers, deacon, advisory board, young adult group leaders, Wednesday night kid’s group teachers, etc. I became very interested in christian apologetics during this time, and the advent of the internet gave me resources beyond just books. Francis Schaeffer in particular was very influential in my thinking during this time frame. His video series “How Should We Then Live” blew my mind. So we’ll put Schaeffer in as a big influence. A few years down the road, my wife and I were growing in what we viewed as the Christian walk and we were introduced to the concept of small groups by a close friend of mine. We were amazed by the community that could happen in them. My friend’s church sponsored my wife and I to go to a mega-church in Chicago for a small group conference. The first speaker we heard was John Ortberg, a teaching pastor and author. His teaching was eye opening. My conservative roots were worried but but I was enthralled by John’s teaching. To this day I love his writing. So Ortberg was a great eye opener and influence. Fast forward a few more years to a huge christian music event known as Creationfest. In addition to music, the event has daily speakers. The second year we went, they had a speaker I had never heard of by the name Rob Bell. I had never heard anybody like him, his teaching opened doors and thoughts like no one I had heard. I bought and read his book “Velvet Elvis” and I was never the same. It was the beginning of the end in some ways and the beginning of the future in other ways. So, Francis Schaeffer, John Ortberg, Rob Bell. I read and listened to many others, but these three were the big influences. I’ll explain how in future posts. Feedback time, who has influenced you?