Eagle’s Story, Part 2 : Atheism, An Illness, A Friend and Redeemer of Arlington

  • “To you I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the Loyal Opposition." Woody Allen link
  • “If you don't get lost, there's a chance you may never be found.” link
  • "If a man happens to find himself, he has a mansion which he can inhabit with dignity all the days of his life" James A. Michener link

http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=15976&picture=eagle-landingEagle Landing

Reminder: We will post on the suicide of Braxton Caner tomorrow and then not post again until Friday. Believe me, there will be much to discuss.

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As I reviewed Eagle's post, I remember walking through much of this with him.The thing I remember most is Eagle's persistence in pursuing his questions. There were many long talks, late at night, as we wrestled together on the issue of grace.The other thing we discussed is the overall Scriptural narrative and how, in the big picture, the Bible seems to answer many of the big questions. However, questions will remain until we see Him in glory. Are the answers we do have enough? And so, his story continues. Next Monday will be the big reveal. Deep disappointment and betrayal leads to a changed life. Its almost …biblical.

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As 2010 started, I lost a good portion of contacts through pulling back, shunning and avoiding many Christians. I was angry, wanted space and needed to be alone. I felt betrayed by Christianity, and I felt sick at the thought of God. At this time I identified with agnosticism.  With the exception of Danny and James, I really didn’t interact with any Christians at all. Danny I maintained because I trusted him. He was caring and compassionate, and I didn’t feel like he was a threat. I knew that he would love me regardless. Plus, I didn’t feel like I was his project or a trophy to be won. I trusted him, and we began to have discussions which were helpful.

The relationship with James was frazzled for reasons I won’t go into. I tried to shake him at one point, but he clearly told me that he would not walk away. I harshly hammered him while he was in Kenya. But James still pursued the relationship with me from abroad, as well as when he returned to the United States. He told me that when he moved back to Washington, D.C., he wanted to hang and talk. I slowly had a yearning to speak to someone and engage in deep intellectual discussion regarding philosophical issues and matters of faith.

I was not going to attend a church, as I didn’t trust most churches.  I hoped that someone would come along who would be different than other evangelicals; someone who would be kind, loving, and able to engage in deep discussions. Given where I was, I also wondered how I could find a way to maintain a such a relationship since we would be on opposite sides of the spectrum. I would be an agnostic, and he would be a Christian.

Finding a Fellow Train Nerd

In February of 2010, one such person crossed into my life. I stumbled across him on Facebook by accident. In order for you to understand the next part, there’s something you need to know about me.

I’m a train nerd. I’m a member of a train club in the Washington, D.C. area, and I *railfanCSX Transportation in Maryland. I’m a member of the railroad historical societies for the Milwaukee Road, which was the last transcontinental railroad built in the United States, as well as the Northern Pacific, which was the first transcontinental railroad built across the northern part of the country.

During a discussion on a model railroad page on Facebook, I happened to cross paths with Scott. Through Facebook I discovered that he worked in a homeless mission in Kansas City and was a graduate of Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. I was impressed and hoped that we could have deep discussions about theology. Furthermore, I noticed Scott is also a train addict who likes to model the former New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad (called the Nickel Plate Road).

So after wrestling with it for a few days, I initiated contact through Facebook in February. I explained my story, what I was looking for, and asked for a forum in which we could discuss theology. Scott responded warmly, and we built a relationship. By having a mutual interest in trains, we had something we could both lean on during difficult conversations.

I would throw difficult questions at him through email, and he would respond. Some of the emails he sent me were 2 to 3 pages long. For the next 3 years, there were so many emails and discussions that it was really incredible. I threw a lot at him.  If the discussions got too heated, we would change the topic over to trains. I would ask him detailed questions about the Nickel Plate Road. He would ask me questions about the Montana Rail Link and Milwaukee Road electric operations in Montana. And that was how we carried on.

In late 2010 I had a chance to travel to Kansas and Missouri for a wedding, and I met Scott. One of the neatest experiences in life was standing next to him on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe mainline in Kansas City and just talking theology and asking questions while watching trains. But there was another thing that Scott did that touched me deeply. He told me that no matter how my faith turned out, he wanted me to know how much he loved and cared for me. This still moves me. He became a lifeline in addition to James and Danny.

While all this was transpiring in Washington, D.C., I had not told my family in California that I couldn’t believe in God. I dropped a couple of hints while in Butte, Montana for my grandmother’s funeral, but for the most part I kept it to myself. I believe it was Christmas 2010 when my family was gathered around the dinner table. My Mom, who sat across the way, beamed at me and said, “You’re not going to church anymore are you?” I was stunned and blurted out “How did you know?” My Mom looked at me and said, “I’m your Mother, Eagle, I know these things…” It amazed me how Mothers have that sixth sense. The fact that I had stopped going to church altogether deeply disturbed my Mom.

As much as I enjoyed talking to Scott, I hoped that I could have this kind of conversation with someone in the D.C. area. This was already occurring with Danny, but I also wanted to talk with someone else. I was frustrated, trying to figure things out and I felt this sense of urgency to find a resolution to this stage of my life. I still had no idea where things were going and was drowning in questions.

In November 2010, another person finally crossed my path in the D.C. area. I still wanted nothing to do with church and continued to feel sick about Christianity. However, I did want to discuss my concerns. It was during this time that I met Andrew White. He made some comments about faith to me. I took a huge gamble and opened up to him about my loss of faith. Andrew didn’t mix faith and politics like other evangelicals, and he came across as sincere. Plus, I was impressed with his demeanor. I was anxious to find someone to speak to, and Andrew was quite willing. Andrew responded with warmth and was excited with my bravery in opening up the discussion. He decided we needed to meet over lots of coffee.

Andrew had been involved in the Navigators and was currently a Care Group Leader in his church. At our first meeting he gave me a $40.00 ESV Bible, which I took home and didn’t touch. He also told me that he was involved in a church that was part of a family of churches called Sovereign Grace Ministries. I was not yet familiar with SGM, and I was grateful that we could have discussions. Since I felt sick about church, with Andrew I felt like I found a channel outside of the church to discuss faith. During the next few years ongoing discussions were occurring simultaneously with Andrew White, James Crestwood, Scott, and Danny Risch.

The Blogs

During this time of searching, I discovered something that would became a part of my life. In 2010 I Googled “Where does a Christian go during a spiritual crisis?” and one of the top items that appeared was a blog by a guy known as the Christian Monist. He was a burned out Navigator missionary who had hit bottom and had to rebuild his life. I read his post and began to think there were others who might understand what I was going through.

The Christian Monist led to another great blog called Internet Monk which talks about problems and issues in the “Post Evangelical Wilderness”. I became involved in Internet Monk first by lurking and then commenting. My questions were bold and brash. I also know that they were very argumentative. Around September 2011, I stumbled across The Wartburg Watch and met Dee Parsons and Deb Martin. It was like an oasis in the middle of a desert. Finally, someone was analyzing John Piper, modern Christian trends, and other issues. I was even more impressed with the passion and determination of these two women. I had hoped to get answers to my questions about the problem of evil and other issues in cyber space, and I felt comfortable having these discussions in this venue.

It was during 2010 that I descended into online communities creating nicknames or using established ones that encompassed modern Christian issues and trends. For example, a Fundagelical was an evangelical with fundamentalist tendencies. The Reformed Industrial Complex meant Christians consumed by books, books, books, conferences, conferences, conferences and, oh yeah, more books. John Piper became known as Pope Piper the First, and his followers became the Christian TalibanFundamentalism 2.0 referred to those who in Neo-Reformed theology. In many ways these blogs became my refuge from the wasteland that is modern evangelical Christianity. It was also there that I held no punches and was pretty bold in ranting about how Christianity is a cancer in the United States.

A Friend and Sovereign Grace Ministries

It was during 2011 that Andrew started to invite me to his Sovereign Grace church. His first invitation came when we were exercising together. At first I said no to him, because I was still burned out and wanted nothing to do with a church. I still was not ready to attend church. When eating with him once he mentioned a Sovereign Grace blog called SGM Survivors and how another friend warned him about the organization. At the time I thought nothing of it and assumed that it was disgruntled former member. But, due to the invitation to Redeemer of Arlington, I eventually decided to research the organization. As an aside, not long ago Redeemer withdrew from the SGM 'family of churches', but many of the pastors and members came from other Sovereign Grace churches.

With that, I read, read, and read about Sovereign Grace Ministries. When I finally got my mind around the organization, I was shocked and deeply disturbed. I found a number of blogs and websites that reported on spiritual abuse, domestic abuse, child molestation cover-up and pastors coaching members not to report crimes to law enforcement. At the blog SGM Refuge (no longer online), I was stunned by the story of Esther. She was a member of Sovereign Grace Chesapeake. It was a horrific case of domestic violence in which Esther was beaten by her drug addict husband. She was allegedly ordered by the pastors to stay in the marriage. As I recall, she said she was counseled not to seek protection or help from outside the church.

I read the story of Happymom and Noel and how their children were sexually abused. This was allegedly covered up at Sovereign Grace Fairfax which was just down the street from where I live. I read about Taylor, whose husband molested her daughter. The pastors at this particular Sovereign Grace church allegedly told her not to go to police. They also allegedly advised her to put a lock on the inside of the daughter’s bedroom door and to submit to and make herself more sexually available to her pedophile husband. She talked about how scared she was that her husband was going to molest her daughter again. Plus she mentioned how sick she would feel after having sex with her husband while trying to follow her SGM pastor’s advice. 

I followed the online debate by former members as to whether or not Sovereign Grace Ministries is a cult. More and more, I couldn’t believe what I was reading about this "family of churches" by former members. On the SGM Survivors and SGM Refuge blog, I was stunned by the number of SGM churches being discussed in a similar negative light. These included Covenant Fellowship Church (in Pennsylvania), Covenant Life Church, SGM Fairfax, SGM Fredericksburg, SGM Bristol, as well as churches in North Carolina and Florida. It appeared that Sovereign Grace Ministries had embraced elements of the shepherding movement, which was rejected as being un-Biblical and dangerous by many orthodox Christian groups. The problems appeared to be system-wide and involved many of the 100 or so churches that make up the SGM network.

I was horrified with what I was finding and could not understand why Andrew would want me to attend such a church. During this time, my faith crisis kept getting darker and I was drifting further into agnosticism. I became concerned about Andrew’s ability to practice discernment due to his choice of church. 

During this bleak time, there were two main issues that deeply disturbed me. First, I was fearful of getting sucked into an SGM church through a friendship. Years earlier, my friendship with James Crestwood caused me to become involved with National Community Church.  Secondly, given my dalliance with Mormonism, the Sovereign Grace survivor blogs reminded me of the Ex-Mormon blogs which educated me about the issues involved with the Latter Day Saints. This was the first time since my exploration of Mormonism that a religious organization had set off red flags. Andrew kept pressuring me to come to his church, and I began to wonder….what am I being invited to?

Regrets on My Part

Before I continue, let me state that there are a number of things that I said to Andrew in the heat of the moment of which I am deeply and personally ashamed. Parts of this are hard to reflect upon, but I am writing this so you can understand how much of a mess this became in my life. There are things that still haunt me — things I wish I could take back.

Both Andrew and I deeply hurt each other at times. I take full responsibility for the things I said. Andrew was kind, loving and caring…probably one of the nicest individuals I have ever crossed paths with in my life. I was increasingly bothered by our growing conflict, but I was deeply concerned about Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Consequently, I was working through a faith crisis and now, due to Andrew, I had to contend with the growing issues I had with SGM. In all honesty, this was the last thing I needed. As these faith discussions with Andrew became heated arguments centered around SGM, I also began to post questions on the SGM Survivors blogs about Andrew's church, Redeemer of Arlington. As I asked questions, people warned me that the organization was not healthy. I was contacted by a couple of former members of SGM who expressed a number of concerns. For me the message was crystal clear, and I became determined to avoid SGM. As an agnostic, I decided that I would not explore Christianity at Redeemer of Arlington.

One day over on the SGM Survivors blog, I read a transcript, which alleged that C.J. Mahaney had blackmailed his ministry partner Larry Tomczak, threatening to disclose personal information. This drove Tomczak away from People of Destiny International, which not long after was shortened to PDI International and then transformed into Sovereign Grace Ministries. This calculated move allowed SGM to adopt Reformed theology.

I could not understand why people would follow Mahaney. I contacted Andrew and told him that I believed C.J. was a fraud and that I believed such a threat (involving Larry Tomczak) was a heinous crime. Andrew blew up at me and got terribly upset. He later told me that he became so disturbed that he couldn’t get any work done that day.

When Cancer Is Not a Gift

In December of 2011, I was at home visiting my family in California. I was sitting alone in my old room with the door open. My mom came in and asked to speak with me. The conversation wasn’t planned at all. She closed the door, pulled up a chair and told me “Eagle, cancer is not a gift…” and she started to cry. When I realized what the conversation was going to be about, I became frantic. I felt like I wanted to die. I wanted to crawl into a hole in the wall and disappear. My mom was referencing the John Piper pamphlet that I had given her years earlier when she was recovering from pancreatic cancer. I got passionate and pleaded with my mom for forgiveness. I explained that I had a different fundamentalist mindset at the time.

My mom boldly and bravely confronted me. She continued to recall her fears when she dealt with pancreatic cancer. She told me about how worried she was for my father and wondered how he would survive without her. She expressed concern for my sister as well. It was a painful conversation. This was an example of how fundamentalism can bite you later on. While crying, my mom, who is Polish Catholic, told me that she dealt with pancreatic cancer by offering her suffering up to God since Jesus suffered for her on the cross. She said she hoped that I hadn’t given John Piper’s pamphlet out to other people. I sat on my old bed and couldn’t believe we were having this discussion.

Also my mom was deeply upset that I wasn’t going to church anymore and even more upset that I had told her I couldn’t believe in God due the problem of evil. She didn’t want her son to be an agnostic. My Mom forgave me for giving her the John Piper pamphlet years before. However, I couldn’t accept that forgiveness because I was so angry with myself. As the conversation drew to a close, my mom got up out of her chair, and said, “Eagle…evangelical Christianity really screwed you up.”  At that point, having seen the harm that fundamentalism can do, I was in full agreement with her. Evangelical Christianity did screw me up.

Phillip Yancey Makes Sense

Although I had thrown out many of my books, I discovered that I still had Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey. To this day, I don’t know why I kept it. Is it possible that I thought the book was an atheist work? Possibly…I was really puzzled by the title because after all…who is disappointed in God?  In the years I was an evangelical — from my time in an Evangelical Free Church to Campus Crusade(CRU) to National Community Church — I never heard a pastor or ministry leader give a sermon or talk about how God let them down or express why they were disappointed with God. Mostly, what I heard was the *Happy Clappy* story.

I started to read it and was blown away. When I read the story of Richard in Chapter 2, I thought I was reading about myself. Richard was a grad student at Wheaton who had a major faith crisis. Pain and suffering, along with frustration with God, helped him reach his tipping point. He took a lot of his Christian material to a outdoor grill in the middle of the night and started burning it. He took particular delight in burning his Bible before the local Fire Department stopped him.

While I read atheist material online and listened to YouTube presentations, Philip Yancey would soon become the only Christian author whom I would read during this time. His topics on pain, suffering, evil, etc… deeply resonated with me. When Borders was going out of business, I purchased his What Good Is God?, Soul Survivor, Where is God When It Hurts, The Jesus I Never Knew and What's So Amazing About Grace.

Escalating Conflicts With Andrew

The relationship with Danny, Scott, James and Andrew continued into 2012. With Danny it consisted of meetings at Panera Bread and having deep discussions on the problem of evil. Scott and I continued talking by phone, email, and text. The relationship with Scott actually grew to be quite deep. We spent a lot of time talking about theology and trains. And James still texted me, wanted to talk and hang out. He stayed close and wanted to be involved. As time passed, my love for James grew. I was grateful that the friendship with him survived. The one relationship that had the most tension during this time was with Andrew and that was due to his devotion to SGM. We had a cycle of a blow-up, forgiveness and trying the friendship again.

What made the relationship especially difficult was that after we’d reconciled, more information about Sovereign Grace Ministries would hemorrhage out onto the Survivor blogs. I would ask him questions and then we would have another fight. Andrew called the blogs “stupid". I looked at them as red flags. As I told him once, I would be asking lots of questions if I saw a large online community of hurt people at a blog called “National Community Church Survivors”.

I couldn’t understand why someone would want to be closely associated with a church movement that was the focus of such horrific stories of spiritual, physical or sexual abuse. Also, a new angle developed with Andrew because he was a Care Group Leader. On SGM Survivors, I had read stories of Care Group Leaders who would write up reports behind members backs and submit them to church officials. The reports were of those who disagreed with pastors, raised concerns, etc., and these reports were allegedly often used to shun and discipline those who didn’t toe the line which would drive them out of the organization. 

This sort of action was a form of spiritual abuse that was a trademark of the shepherding movement. Some of the earliest members and leaders of SGM (called TAG back then) had ties to the shepherding movement. Honestly, I have to say the more I learned about SGM, the more stunned I became. It appeared to me that they had created a sort of totalitarian police state that would be the envy of the East Germans and the Soviet Union. Due to Andrew’s position as a Care Group Leader at Redeemer and the discussions we were having, I wondered if our conversations were being written up and submitted to Redeemer of Arlington.

So I confronted him and he pushed back, claiming he would never do such a thing and that he had never heard of anything like that. But I had also read at SGM Survivors that Care Group Leaders are taught to deny this when confronted. I struggled to understand whether Andrew was telling me the truth. Because of these reports, I had difficulty trusting Andrew. I told him point blank that he was involved in a cult and asked him often, “Where does Sovereign Grace end and Andrew White begin?”

I really hammered him at times, and some of this would eventually cause me to be filled with deep shame. I had become so argumentative, but it was awkward because I was also under pressure by Andrew to come to his church. That pressure came in emails, text messages, phone calls, and personal face-to-face invitations. Sometimes he invited me when he knew my answer would be no, which became increasingly uncomfortable in my life. 

The relationship with Andrew was filled with a lot of conflict. In reflecting upon this, I wish I would have acted differently in many ways. I think Andrew wanted to be the evangelical who saved me, but the difficulty rested in the fact that I had read up and informed myself about SGM. Once Andrew remarked that I was a hound chasing after all of this information. He also called me an encyclopedia for what I knew about theology. He declared that I had a good knowledge of Scripture, especially in our Bible discussions where I pushed back and asked hard questions.

However, I don’t think Andrew understood how deep my faith crisis had become. I knew he cared and loved me as a friend. But I don’t think he appreciated how far I had descended in agnosticism. At the same time, I don’t think he comprehended how scarred I was from my Mormon experience. The more I learned about SGM, the more my defenses went up.

Andrew had a big and loving heart, but I don’t think he fully understood me. Two positive experiences with Andrew include the following. Early on in the relationship, I introduced Andrew to James, and we had pizza one evening in James’ apartment. On another night, Andrew introduced me to a friend of his from Redeemer. We had a discussion about pain and suffering. His friend talked about the loss of a loved one, and it was a meaningful dialogue.

During this time the invitations to Redeemer kept coming. At one point (while in a Smoothie shop) after being invited to Redeemer of Arlington yet again, I told Andrew directly that I would not explore Christianity at any Sovereign Grace church because there were too many red flags. I did tell him that if he was involved in any other church and he invited me to meet with his pastor, go to church, etc., I would have no problem giving it a try and I would give it an honest effort. Andrew sat there for a couple of minutes and stared…just frustrated by my insistence to say no.

My Father’s Illness

On January 12, 2012, my family’s life was turned upside down when my father was diagnosed with a Stage 3 brain tumor. I couldn’t pray for my father at all, since I just didn’t believe in God. So I did the next best thing. I asked others to pray for him. Andrew and James responded quickly. Andrew said I could call him and wake him up if need be. The news from California kept getting worse and worse. Finally, in the early morning hours, James said, "Why don’t you come on over?" So I drove in the middle of the night to Capitol Hill and showed up at James' door around 2:00 a.m. We hugged, I cried, and we spoke briefly before I tried to get some sleep on his couch. It was comforting to know that I was not suffering alone. The next morning Andrew called to see how I was doing. Andrew’s kindness and follow up meant a lot to me as well.

Andrew Yells at Me in Public

One of ugliest things I ever saw a Christian do came from Andrew in early 2012, and it happened in a crowded eating area. In a booth he ordered me to stop asking questions. He leaned across the table, pointing his finger just inches from my face. He spoke loudly with an authoritative tone and declared: “I want you to have what I have!” He was referencing his faith. I thought of how stupid his action was due to his threatening demeanor. As an agnostic, I was also amused, thinking, “What’s he going to do? Yell me into Christianity?…Are you kidding?”

Being yelled at in a public eating area was not only embarrassing to me, but it reminded me of something I used to see in Milwaukee. Before attending Marquette basketball games in the Bradley Center, there used to be a guy who would yell Christian messages through a bullhorn at people who were walking into the entertainment complex. It was ugly, making Christianity look horrible. The difference, of course, is the guy outside the Bradley Center didn’t know the people he was yelling at, whereas Andrew — the guy sitting three feet across from me — did.

There were other times that he embarrassed me. He could be condescending and arrogant. To his credit, he admitted to me that he realized he could act this way. Once I raised objections to the ESV Bible and he scolded me and said, “Get over it!” When I saw the crowd that endorsed it, CJ Mahaney, Mark Driscoll, etc… my reaction was “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!!” and that Bible eventually went back to Andrew.

Are you wondering why this relationship continued since there was this much conflict? The answer is that I had a difficult time finding people with whom I could speak about these issues. In spite of the help offered by Scott and Danny, my doubts were literally on fire. I was consumed and controlled by my questions. During this time, I had the strength to pop up at different churches such as non-denominational, Evangelical Free, Presbyterian, etc… and try to speak with people and pastors. But I was stunned about how hard it was to find someone to speak to. As an outsider, it startled me how many places spoke about evangelism and reaching people but when an agnostic walked through the door asking difficult questions, many places didn’t know how to respond or how to engage someone. It seemed to me that many evangelical churches live and operate in a bubble.

Meanwhile, in an email to James, I baited him to attend a presentation on the concept of an Evil God which was held on March 5, 2012, by the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Center for Inquiry. Here is an example of their ad campaign. The Center of Inquiry hosts many atheist events and pushes secular humanism and science. I believe Christopher Hitchens was involved with this organization.

To my surprise, James agreed to attend. I was stunned when we got to the Bus Boys and Poets restaurant in D.C., and he walked into this room full of hard core atheists, sat at a table on the side and pulled out a Bible and laid it firmly on the table. The woman sitting next to him gave him an evil eye. James was quite courageous, and I was impressed that he was willing to come.

That same day, tornadoes brought about destruction in the state of Indiana. After thee Center for Inquiry presentation, on the Internet Monk blog, I ranted about how I always associate tornadoes with John Piper.  Pat Robertson is predictable when it comes to hurricanes, and John Piper is predictable when it comes to tornadoes. Since I believe that John Piper is nothing but a Reformed Pat Robertson, I privately wondered when John Piper would tie this horrific disaster in Indiana to ”God’s wrath”. Piper did not let me down.  Desiring God published his post on March 5, 2012. The next day Chaplain Mike wrote a follow-up rebuttal at The Internet Monk. What can I say? Fundamentalists are easily predictable.

The Reason Rally and the Beginning of a Shift in My Thinking

On March 24, 2012, the Reason Rally on the National Mall was held in Washington, D.C. It was the largest gathering of atheists in the United States. Depending upon the source, 10,000 to 20,000 people turned out for it. A partial line up of speakers for the event included:  Jessica Ahlquist, Greta Christina, Dan Barker, Nate Phelps, Herment Mehta, David Silverman and Richard Dawkins.  I attended the rally and looked forward to the day's events. That Saturday morning was overcast, drizzling and cold; and I had wondered whether I would see evangelicals picketing the event. Speaker after speaker talked about the dangers of fundamentalism and religion. The crowd was lively and diverse in age, sex, and since many were standing in a light rain, you also had the dedicated people in attendance.

I listened to Herment Mehta speak followed by Jessica Ahlquist. Jessica successfully sued to have a prayer removed from a high school auditorium in Rhode Island. In the process she dealt with harassment, hate mail, death threats, and was called “an evil little thing”. In her speech, explaining why she took a stand as an atheist, she also called all of the people at the rally “evil little things".

In a moving speech, renowned atheist blogger Greta Christina listed all the reasons why atheists have a right to be angry. I listened and cheered. Early in the talk Greta Christina roared about how she was angry that there are evangelical preachers who teach women to submit to their abusers in a marriage. I cheered as she railed about this topic, thinking about John Piper’s teaching on why a woman should “endure domestic abuse for the night”.

Christina railed against the Catholic Church cover-up of the sexual abuse scandal. When she was talking about sexual abuse cover-up, I thought of some of the stories I read over at SGM Survivors. She closed out her speech saying:

“Atheists aren't angry because we're selfish, or bitter, or joyless. Atheists are angry because we have compassion. Atheists are angry because we have a sense of justice. Atheists are angry because we see millions of people being terribly harmed by religion, and our hearts go out to them, and we feel motivated to do something about it."

And this captured perfectly how I felt about evangelicalism.

During the rally, I got a text from James telling me that I needed to step back or I was going to become so full of hate. I ignored it and continued to listen. I stopped by some of the tents and booths they had there, and I saw something that slowly began to bother me. Almost every booth I visited had paperwork about doctor-assisted suicide or end of life options. With my Dad struggling with a brain tumor and with his fate unknown, I was puzzled why there was the strong doctor-assisted suicide identity. Is this a knee jerk reaction by atheists to many Christians who are opposed to abortion?

Due to the cold weather I stepped inside one of the Smithsonian museums before going back outside. It was at the Reason Rally that my thinking started to shift. It had begun to dawn on me that…

I had traded the fundamentalism of John Piper for the fundamentalism of someone like Richard Dawkins.

Agnosticism and atheism were a faith system, and I realized that I had run from religion only to find myself neck deep in another one. I was crushed and personally disillusioned. In the end I hadn’t moved very far from where I started.

This posed new problems for me. While I still didn’t believe in God, I now couldn’t believe in agnosticism either. It made me quite uncomfortable, so uncomfortable in fact that I left the rally early and headed on over to James’ apartment on Capitol Hill. After discussing with James what happened that morning, I left and noticed a Catholic Church on the corner. I went in and sat in the back thinking about what I had experienced.

I felt stuck and didn’t know how to proceed. With this development I felt more of a need to somehow find a resolution, but I didn’t know what to do. I had problems with God, and I had problems with agnosticism. I didn’t know where to turn. From this point, I still proclaimed myself to be agnostic publicly, but privately I knew I was experiencing tension over that proclamation.  I became anxious to find a resolution to this conflict.

Throughout 2012 I continued to speak to Denny, Andrew, Scott and James. I was consumed by my doubts and was looking for new material to read. During this time I also stumbled upon Greg Boyd’s Letters to a Skeptic and read part of it. On Internet Monk, Jeff Dunn wanted to read and have a discussion on Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster, which dealt with a genocidal God. (We never discussed it by the way!)

I still did not know how to deal with the problem of evil. Through the Internet and email, I reached out to crime victims who were Christians and asked them, “How could you worship a God who knew your child was going to be molested?” (or whatever happened to them.) Their answers startled me. However, I just couldn’t accept that they still loved God. It made no sense to me why anyone could worship an omniscient God who allows evil to occur.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

In late January, I saw a movie by chance called Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which portrayed pain and suffering. It is the story of Oskar Schell who lost his father in the World Trade Center on September 11. Oskar calls it “the worst day”. The movie shows how different people react to suffering, such as Oskar’s mother who has to continue living and moving on. It featured Oskar, being stuck and searching for an answer, as well as his grandfather (I believe), a man who survived the Fire Raids in Dresden, Germany during World War II and who couldn’t speak. He never recovered or found a way to deal with the issue of pain and suffering.

In the movie two themes are developed. One is that there are some questions for which there are no answers. In this following scene the thought was planted in my noodle that there is no answer for the Problem of Evil.  

Secondly, everyone suffers to some degree…suffering with cancer, a divorce, illness in the family, long-term disease or disability, that their child is not going to become the person they had hoped, scars from a spouse cheating on them, job not going as well, family tension, betrayal from a friend, maybe even a veteran with mental wounds from war. Everyone suffers. In this tender scene, Oskar came to his own personal closure with suffering, his father’s death and his realization that he could move on. 

Further Experiences with Andrew

There was one personal conflict internally that continued to grow. I was willing to walk into a church and meet with pastors or other people to discuss the doubts which were raging within me. Each place I visited, I researched beforehand. I did this while I kept telling Andrew that I would not attend a Sovereign Grace church. Due to this growing tension, I felt like a terrible friend to Andrew for constantly turning him down, while accepting other requests to visit churches.

Andrew still was incredibly persistent in inviting me to Redeemer while pursuing a lot of faith-based discussions, some of which were heated. In one such conversation, we came close to a shouting match. He defended his church as the healthiest he had ever been involved in. He told me that his pastor and elders were godly and that he wanted to imitate them. I was puzzled…isn’t the goal of the Christian to be like Jesus? Yet, Andrew wanted to be like his pastor. In my usual blunt fashion, I told Andrew that he looked at Eric Simmons and his elders in the same way that Mormons look upon Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. I couldn’t see any difference. Andrew was livid. I was seeing more and more behavior from Andrew that reminded me of what I had experienced in Mormonism years ago. None of my other Christian friends behaved in this manner. I was baffled by what I was seeing in Andrew.

However, I don’t want to give a distorted image of Andrew. Not every conversation was always tense. There were tender and loving times as well. Sometimes he sent me caring text messages which said that he was praying for me. When I met with another pastor to talk about my doubts, he said he would pray during the meeting. He told me how much he loved me as a brother. There was one time where he came to church with me to check it out. Andrew had a big heart. He wanted to help, be involved, and be engaged. I respected his motives and, as I said earlier, I believe that he wanted to be the evangelical who would save me.

Please remember what contributed to this tension was the fact that I was in a severe faith crisis. I didn't know who I was or was going to be — a reluctant agnostic or a Christian — although at this point I didn’t see how that was even possible. I was in a very dark place; and at times I reacted in ways I wish I had not. Recently, in the privacy of my home, there have been times I have cried over some of the things I said to Andrew. As I reflect back on this entire season of my life, I wish he knew how much I grieve for the conflict that took place.

During this period of my life, I thanked him for his spiritual concern from time to time, and I felt bad for hammering him so much on SGM. Due to how much he was evangelizing me, I told Andrew that if I ever decided to become a Christian, he could baptize me. In one text message I joked that, for all the ways I hammered him on SGM, I would let him hold me under water for an additional five minutes. Andrew texted me back and said it would be ten minutes.

One of the doubts that tore me apart was solved in his kitchen. Andrew had asked me to come over to his condo to talk. He started the conversation by saying, “I’ve been doing some thinking, and I don’t think you’re an agnostic. I think something happened and you became incredibly angry at God.” I had not expected to hear that point of view. We had a discussion on the issue of the Second Adam.  It was like a light bulb went off, and just like that, one of the doubts that tore me apart was resolved.

At this stage in my life, I didn’t think I would ever get out of the agnostic period I was in, and that conversation with Andrew gave me hope to continue wrestling with other doubts and not quitting. At this point I felt I was on the verge of quitting, and that conversation kept me moving forward. So there were times when Andrew was deeply helpful to me spiritually. And there were times I was thankful for some of the conversations he and I had.

A Visit to Redeemer of Arlington

Finally, I agreed to attend Redeemer of Arlington for one service on Easter 2012. I had gone to another church service in the morning and lurked in the back thinking or picking apart what was being taught. Andrew texted me the details of when and where the service was to be held, and I returned the text by saying I’ll read up on SGM Survivors before showing up in the afternoon. He responded by saying that I needed to repent of reading the SGM Survivor blogs!

Throughout  the afternoon I had a growing feeling of uneasiness in my stomach. I drove there and sat outside in the car. Looking out the window, I saw Andrew and his wife speaking to a couple of people and felt sick to my stomach as I thought of all I had read on the SGM Survivor and SGM Refuge blogs. I considered driving away, but I had remembered my promise to Andrew. I said to myself, “Listen Eagle…you went to a number of Mormon services earlier in life and you got through that…you can get through one service at a questionable church.”

And with that I grabbed my NLT (The old fundamentalists were KJV only, while the new fundamentalists are ESV only; thus I had to be a rebel and use my NLT 😛 )  and walked into Redeemer of Arlington. Due to what I read on SGM Survivors, I eyed the congregation and the service like a hawk (or an Eagle!). I was on guard for any love bombing, a common tactic in SGM churches. I saw Andrew, walked up to him and slapped him on the shoulder. He lit up when he saw me. “Where do you want to sit?” he asked. Jokingly I said, “Well…the car would be nice.” He laughed and we chose a seat.

Eric Simmons was to speak on Colossians 3. The service, however, began with a testimony. A member of Redeemer spoke about how his best friend committed suicide just so he could know Christ. I sat there and wrote a note in my Bible and asked Andrew, “Did God foreordain this suicide?” Andrew said he’d explain later. One thing I learned about Andrew is that if it was controversial, difficult or went against his church, he avoided the entire discussion. So he never followed up on my question.

As Eric Simmons preached I took out my pen and decided to write down how many times Jesus was mentioned (out of personal curiosity). I have observed that much of Neo-Calvinism has what I would call “Christ-less Preaching”, meaning you preach more from the Gospel of Paul than the Gospel of Jesus. I kept track of how many times Jesus and Paul were mentioned. In the end Jesus beat Paul out ever so slightly. I didn’t see any love bombing when I was there.

Two things bothered me deeply. The first was that I had developed a feeling in my gut, which I had not had in years, telling me that Redeemer of Arlington is not a healthy church. The last time I got this feeling was when I explored Mormonism. I used to get this feeling when I sat in the pew at the local LDS Ward. When I looked into Mormonism, I felt confused, dizzy and in a haze. That feeling started to return during Redeemer’s Easter service. It deeply bothered me.

The other thing that bothered me, which startled Andrew when I told him, was the push for membership. This was Easter, and although it was to be the only service I would ever attend at Redeemer, I felt the strong, overwhelming pressure about membership. The pressure reminded me of the same pressure the Mormons placed on me when I was 19, except that pressure was to get baptized into Mormonism.

One thing that personally hurt me is that I often shared with Andrew from my past religious experiences. Those experiences include discernment, knowledge, and information. Andrew sometimes ignored or brushed aside what I had learned about Mormonism and the similarities to evangelicalism. I overlooked that and didn’t press him too much because I think it reflected both his youth and his pride.

When the service ended, I drove home relieved it was over. I tossed and turned as I thought about it and got up late in the night and blogged about it.

9 Marks and SGM

I had never before seen this fierce kind of blind loyalty that Andrew exhibited towards his church. Even though I was on the outside of Christianity, I still knew the Bible incredibly well. How could he be a Berean when what he mostly did was defend and worship his leaders and doctrinal beliefs? Please understand I am not trying to mock Andrew — I note this as an outsider. Also please remember that while I was critical or offered my observations, I also did that with other churches. One time in talking with Andrew, he espoused the Sovereign Grace Pastor’s College. I pushed back hard, “Why? It’s not even an academically accredited institution! It's not Dallas Theological Seminary, Moody, Trinity, Westminster, SEBTS, Fuller, etc…” Andrew changed the topic. I did respect those who received theological training at accredited institutions. I chose to open up a dialog with someone in Kansas City who attended Moody.

At another point he talked about how important church discipline was. I pushed back hard, “Why should the alcoholic in the congregation face discipline when Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, and their ilk are exempt?” I wasn’t trying to argue. I was hoping he would answer me. Andrew, however, changed the topic and asked me if I had ever heard of 9 Marks. I said “Mark Dever made the 9 Marks useless when he let C.J. Mahaney run with his tail between his legs to Capitol Hill Baptist.” In what would become a pattern, the topic would be changed by Andrew in order to avoid hard questions. I last ran into this kind of evasive behavior when I was looking into Mormonism, and this was a red flag for me.

I later pointed out all the "9 Marks" that Mark Dever violated when he allowed C.J. Mahaney to run to Capitol Hill Baptist and avoid church discipline. I wanted to know…is Christianity in the United States going to duplicate the current Caste System in India? Are members of congregations now the new Dalits? Are the Pastors above all law or even scripture? I also scrutinized Redeemer’s church constitution (from The Gospel Coalition) and took my NLT and tore through it. I discovered that they were engaged in proof texting and that Redeemer even referenced a verse in scripture that didn’t exist. I can’t remember what the verse is, but it was something like Acts 30:2. I gave it back to Andrew, and he had no response. As an agnostic, I loved this!!

Due to how many in the modern Reformed movement view authority, I actually jokingly suggested to Andrew that Redeemer of Arlington’s next retreat should take place in North Korea. With the way that John Calvin governed Geneva, there was much that can be learned from how Kim Jong Il governed Pyongyang. At this time I still read and participated on the blogs. As I was really vocal on Internet Monk and asking hard questions, discussing theology, and sharing my story, a funny thing happened. In the ranking of all the Christian blogs, Internet Monk was one of the top blogs that people visited in the country. I joked with Andrew, “Do you realize how lucky you are — you are evangelizing one of the top agnostics in Christian cyberspace?” 

Due to a violent windstorm that suddenly hit the Washington, D.C. area in late June 2012, I lost power for several days. Again, as a train nerd this created an opportunity for me to head down to Spencer, North Carolina for a public event hosted by Norfolk Southern Railroad celebrating their 30th anniversary as a company. As I drove down to North Carolina I gave Dee Parsons a phone call and explained that I was passing through and to see if she wanted to get together. She called back, “The Eagle is coming to North Carolina!” and we agreed to meet. In a hotel in the Raleigh-Durham area, Andrew called up, and we had a pleasant chat. The following morning I met Dee Parsons at a Panera Bread. It was an animated and pleasant conversation. We discussed the problem of evil, and she spent a considerable amount of time trying to teach me about grace. She actually gave me a book to read as well. When I was leaving, her final words were about learning grace. The talk lasted a couple of hours, and we parted company and stayed in touch by phone from time to time. The following day as a train nerd I was in heaven, having the privilege of going to the one of the neatest railroad industry events in modern history that was open to the public.

A Serious Illness

On July 29, 2012, I found myself incredibly sick and thought I had the flu. I woke up in the middle of the night violently shaking, and my leg looked strange. I drove to an emergency clinic. I had a bacterial infection in my leg, and the infection had moved into my blood stream and was aggressively spreading. I was going into shock, my heart beat soared to 180 beats per minute and my blood pleasure plunged to 70/40. I laid there on the table of the emergency room clinic with medical technicians working around me. 

One thing on my mind as I lay in the emergency clinic was that I committed to help Danny Risch move and load up his van as he was leaving D.C. Now I couldn’t do that, and I felt guilty. Meanwhile emergency technicians were trying to get my blood pressure up. I sent out a text to a few people. Andrew responded immediately that he was praying for me. That deeply moved me. But even in the midst of a major medical crisis and being in the hospital for nearly a month, I never once asked God for help. I just couldn’t believe in God at this time even amidst a full blown medical crisis, but I was okay with other people praying for me. In the next three weeks, despite the uncertainty of was happening, I never attempted to pray to God. I was transferred from the Clinic and ended up in the ICU and was pumped with antibiotics. My leg swelled due to the infection and the skin came off. I was in intense pain, and the doctors were following the situation.

I have heard competing stories on whether my leg was at risk of being lost; some thought yes, others unsure, or said clearly no. (Dee’s husband said he was deeply concerned.)  Early on in the crisis, I sent a text to Dee and word leaked out on the internet that I was in the ER. It became a prayer request, and people from around the country prayed for me.

Chaplin Mike at Internet Monk wrote a very tender post while I was in the hospital in which he compared and contrasted how Christians reacted to my situation, compared to the support shown to Chick-Fil-A on August 1, 2012. There were updates on Internet Monk and The Wartburg Watch. During this time I learned that churches in Arizona, Oklahoma, New York, and other parts of the country were praying for me. As time passed I was stunned that people were praying for me, and sometimes in the middle of the night I lay in my hospital bed and stared at the ceiling and wondered, “Why? I thought….especially with the way I’ve raged about Christianity being a cancer?” I often wondered with all that transpired and the love I was shown and asked myself….is this what grace is?

During the next week I had more visitors than I could acknowledge. I got notes, flowers, gifts, and food. James and his wife visited and we talked. I had complete strangers that brought me books or magazines to read. Andrew stopped by and gave me a Subway sandwich. The biggest surprise was when Dee Parsons, who is a registered nurse and from a medical family, drove up from North Carolina for a couple of days to offer medical guidance. I was stunned by her hospitality. About 10 days later I was discharged but I couldn’t go home due to the condition of my leg. So I was transferred to a rehab facility. It was technically a nursing home, and I was the youngest resident there by a few decades.  I was very much in pain but I limped around and I noticed that elderly residents would watch me as I walked. The atmosphere of the nursing home was beyond depressing, and unlike anything I had seen. During all this James stopped by with some clothes for me to wear. We we’re probably the youngest people in the nursing home by decades. He had also checked my mail and place, and I was deeply grateful for his fellowship in the nursing home. As the meals were bad and with a severely injured leg, I managed to walk out the door and grab some food at a nearby grocery store. As I would walk into the place, many residents sitting in their wheelchairs would watch me and stare as I moved around the floor.

A couple of days later my fever returned and was inching up. My parents and Dee were worried about the fever and thought I should be in the hospital. On the last day there, I heard a conversation which will forever haunt me. One of the nursing home residents who watched me leave my room and wander the hall sat outside my door. As I was inside the room reading a Vince Flynn book, I heard this hysterical sobbing. Surprised, I peaked out my door and it was the guy who watched me leave the room crying to a social worker. And he poured out his fears to the social worker. I went back into my room and lay on my bed trying to read and ignore the sobbing.

But I couldn’t…he was too loud, and the conversation really invaded my space. This resident proceeded to tell the social worker about how he was going to die alone. How he had no family that would visit. How he had no friends outside the nursing home. How he was running out of money. And how he was going to live out his life in that nursing home. He told the social worker how lonely he was and how he craved company. And this was all between hysterical sobbing. After hearing that I decided I had to leave. I just had to get out!  This was probably one of the most distressing situations I had ever encountered. And it showed me how if Christians truly were serious about The Gospel they proclaim…well they have a lot of work to do. After my experience in the nursing home, my prediction or analysis is that as the population ages you will see an increase in doctor assisted suicide, or euthanasia, due to people’s determination to avoid nursing homes. And I can personally see why.

A fever landed me back in Fairfax INOVA Hospital. I had more visitors including Andrew. At this time in our relationship, Andrew and I had stopped having meals and discussing faith. He brought me some Eggplant Lasagna that his wife made and then he raised the issue of us not having discussions again. Andrew professed that he missed the discussions, and he asked if we can resume them. I told him that was fine and that in the future we could resume them. Andrew was happy that the faith discussions would continue, and he also checked my home and grabbed the mail and a new cell phone since my cell phone was stolen apparently in the ER.

Eventually, I was discharged but I would be at home for another few weeks. I was home bound and hooked up to an IV machine. During this time James and his wife made a couple of meals for me. I was deeply touched by the grace that James and his wife showed me. But the cutest thing I ever saw happened in the dining room of my condo. Even today as I think about this it still melts my heart. James came to visit, and he brought his daughter. She was thirsty so I gave her some orange juice. While I sat at the table hooked up to an IV machine, James’ 3 year old daughter reached into her pocket and pulled out a band-aid and gave it to me. It melted me and was probably one of the most innocent, pure and amazing acts of grace that I had ever seen in my life. I was deeply touched — so touched that I’ve never been able to throw away that band aid and I save it as a reminder of how much I am loved. 

Sadly Danny was gone, but James was still around and Andrew wanted to meet and have more faith based discussions. The relationship with Andrew would become further strained when the lawsuit against Sovereign Grace kicked off. There would be a lot of friction and tension, which I wish had not been the case, but sadly it happened.

The SGM Lawsuit and Andrew

On October 17, 2012, the lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Miinistries kicked off, and I was angry by what I read in the Washington Post. I texted Andrew and asked him about the allegations of his denomination actively discouraging members from reporting crimes to local law enforcement. What happened to following Romans 13 I asked? He responded saying they should have. When I read that SGM allegedly forced a 3 year old to forgive her molester, I was furious! Going forward I started to ask Andrew routinely, “Is it the Gospel to force a 3 year old to forgive her molester?” Andrew just believed it was an isolated incident and not a systemic problem, which stunned me.

While we bickered over SGM, Andrew started to ask me to read my Bible. He’d come up to me and say, “Eagle pick 5 books and then read them 3 times,” I remember sitting at my kitchen table trying this and thinking to myself, “This is a waste of time….” On October 22, 2012, Andrew wanted to have dinner to discuss theology. And he wanted me to journal, so he gave me a journal. In it Andrew wrote:

To: Eagle
From: Andrew White
Date: October 22, 2012

Eagle, I hope and pray that this journal can be a practical tool to capture your journey wrestling with God, face-to-face. May its privacy be encouragement to be brutally honest with God as you try to find peace.

Thank you for the friendship
Andrew White

According to Andrew in a congregation meeting at Redeemer of Arlington, Pastor Eric Simmons talked about how nervous he was of the SGM lawsuit and how he had a difficult time sleeping at night. He also said that he knew one of the litigants in the lawsuit against Covenant Life Church, as they were close friends from childhood. Despite hearing stuff like this, Andrew still called Redeemer of Arlington the “healthiest church he has known”.

Upon hearing such information as an outsider, even though I was agnostic, it raised major red flags in my mind. When, I wondered, would the largest lawsuit in evangelical history ensnare Redeemer of Arlington? The odds were quite high as I contemplated this since the church was planted by the epicenter of the lawsuit, Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and had strong ties to Sovereign Grace Fairfax, which was bleeding its own child abuse stories. The question I raised to Andrew (which he completely ignored) was how much information regarding child sexual abuse at Covenant Llfe Church did Eric Simmons know when he was a leader there? In a shepherding organization, which I believe characterized SGM, I thought it was more than likely that Eric Simmons (as a CLC leader) knew that child abuse had occurred. Again, this was my analysis and critical thinking skills at play, but hopefully I am wrong, as I would not wish malice upon anyone.

The discussions with Andrew became sharper, and I started to ask him more questions about SGM. For years I had ranted that Christianity is a cancer and that it is corrupt. Now, with a growing lawsuit and horrific details, I began to associate SGM with corruption, decadence and abuse. Andrew’s defense of Redeemer of Arlington was still strong. I commented that he would have made a good Mormon due to how he seemed to be able to ignore the facts. Andrew said that I was confusing SGM and Redeemer and pointed out that Redeemer broke away from SGM. True…it has, but for me it begged the question — Was there really change?  Or as the old saying goes, "You can take the boy out of the country, but can you take the country out of the boy." With Eric Simmons at the helm — a man conceived and born in PDI, reared in SGM, accountability partner with Josh Harris, and SGM Pastor’s College trainee, etc… was there going to be healthy change? I didn’t think so. But I told Andrew I would like to be proven wrong. 

During this season I was still in my “If they’re in an evangelical stage they must be burned” I had a friend who was down in Atlanta and part of an Acts 29 church. As a militant skeptic, I used the Problem of Evil to decimate him. It was entirely inappropriate, but at the time I didn’t care. Christopher Hitchens claimed that he had a right to be openly contemptuous of religion. As I read and watched so much of hard core atheistic material on the internet, I did something similar. I posted something on “Archie Griffin's” Facebook page in Atlanta after his wife gave birth. It permanently destroyed our relationship, but I really didn’t care. Right after it happened, Andrew and I met at a Starbucks and had coffee. I told him what happened, and he said that was not good. He challenged me to make the situation right by contacting “Archie”. I let the issue drop, and in my faith crisis I continued to march on.

The next stage of the SGM lawsuit occurred when Susan Burke filed the Amended Complaint on January 14, 2013.I read the complaint and felt physically sick to my stomach. It was probably the most disturbing information I had ever read in my lifetime. The graphic and lewd accusations about child sexual abuse so disturbed me that I paced in my apartment and was unable to sleep. I was stunned. I also wondered what Andrew would say. On top of that, this horrific child abuse story raised another issue. Many evangelicals, in my mind, have permanently forfeited their right to talk about sexual sin. How can they talk seriously about the sin of gay marriage, co-habitation, pornography, sex outside of marriage and then totally ignore, enable, or cover-up child sex abuse? I just couldn’t get it. After the Amended Compliant was filed, I seriously embarrassed Andrew and he was upset with me.

When the amended complaint went forward, I was curious as to what Redeemer of Arlington was saying about the lawsuit. I told Andrew that I was willing to come. Andrew jumped at the opportunity and said they were going to have a Q & A, and that I could ask my questions then. With my tradition and knowledge of questionable religious organizations, I  wondered if this meeting would indeed be held.

However, given the sarcasm I possessed, I thought of a way to deeply embarrass Andrew. With the Amended Complaint in the lawsuit dealing with an SGM Pastor who stripped and spanked an adult female with a plastic rod or wooden spoon, I did the following. I went to Target and grabbed a nice wooden spoon for $10.00 in the housewares section. That Sunday afternoon Andrew was looking forward to me attending Redeemer. I  saw him in the lobby speaking to a couple of his friends. I slapped him on the back and gave him the wooden spoon saying, “Since it's The Gospel to strip and spank an adult woman, this gift will help you practice your faith.” Andrew held the spoon and was irritated and told his friends, “Do you see what I have to put up with from this guy?”

We grabbed a seat, and I paid close attention to the service. Then I saw something that was too much. I was amazed as to how I restrained my laughter. The Gosnell trial situation with the doctor who performed illegal, late term abortions in Philadelphia was ongoing. Redeemer of Arlington wanted to mark the anniversary of the legalization of abortion in Roe vs. Wade. They mentioned how sacred life is and discussed the evil of abortion. I sat there hearing about how precious children are, and I thought of the ties that Redeemer had – EVEN informally – to SGM. The guy I was sitting next to was consuming the works of Mark Dever who was propping up C.J. Mahaney and SGM, who were accused of covering up the child abuse crimes. It was too much hypocrisy, and I almost roared out in laughter. I couldn’t take what I was hearing seriously. The hypocrisy was about the worst I had encountered in Christianity. And it was ugly. Wouldn’t that have been something if I stopped a fundagelical service due to how hard I was laughing!! That said, I refrained and held back.

Eric Simmons had a family emergency, and the Q & A was canceled. However, despite this family emergency Eric Simmons had said that he stayed to give an expository sermon. Now, I want to be clear…I empathize with a family emergency. But I was confused with why Eric Simmons could stay for the sermon and not stick around for an additional 10 or 15 minutes in a Q & A? If the emergency was that severe, why wouldn't he have left right away and had another elder give the talk?  I wondered…did Andrew tip them that I was coming? Was the Q & A canceled due to the Amended Compliant? Who knows?

One thing I found interesting was that Eric Simmons made a comment about how atheism is a faith system. I leaned over to whisper to Andrew that I had learned that the previous year at the Reason Rally. The other comment that Eric Simmons made which for me was too much was when he claimed that “in our reformed tradition…” I thought of the long-term history of SGM from its origins as a group of Catholic Charismatics in the 1970s from Massachusetts Avenue in D.C. to today. I wanted to stop the service and ask, “What Reformed tradition? Sovereign Grace has none. It went in the Reformed direction because that is the latest fad in evangelicalism, and that is where the money is.”

After the service Andrew wanted to grab dinner, and he told me that I was mean and disrespectful to him. He said I asked difficult questions as a way to jab him. I listened and acknowledged that I asked hard questions, but I also wanted answers. Ours was a deeply troubled relationship.

Shopping with James Crestwood

During this time I still kept in touch with Danny Risch by phone and discussed things with Scott. James’ wife was pregnant, and they were expecting their second child. James still called and stayed close. One weekend in the early spring of 2013, James called up and asked if I could take him grocery shopping. Of all the items he needed to hunt down was a particular type of toilet paper his wife wanted. So after raiding Aldi and finding the right toilet paper, we talked in the car. In the spring my thinking was slowly changing, and James was happy that it was. He remarked about how exciting it was that I seemed to be slowly moving back in a faith direction. He wanted to lead me in a prayer, and I held off because I still had some qualms with God.   One of the funniest things happened in my faith journey shortly after James’ offer.

We needed to get some additional items and visited Safeway. I asked James if they had a name picked out for his soon to be born daughter. They did, and he explained that the name was tied to Kansas history. So I asked a few questions and tried to guess the name. I tried to think of female names from Kansas and asked, “Is it Nancy?” (as in Nancy Kassenbaum?).  James said that it was tied to transportation and I tried to think….a female with ties to Kansas who is a pioneer in transportation. As we were walking down the aisle in Safeway the name Amelia Earhart popped in my mind, and I remembered her aviation history and link to Kansas. So I asked James, “Is it Amelia?” And he stopped in the middle of the grocery store aisle and said, “I can’t believe you did that?!?” I could have rolled on the floor in laughter; I never have guessed the name of a friend’s child before. But shopping in a grocery store with a close friend was an incredible way to fellowship with James.

Interaction with Andrew

In March Andrew called and left a voicemail saying that his wife was out of town. He asked me to stay with him because he wanted some company, and he thought we could have some theological discussions. I told him “Sure”. With that I went over for a couple of days. One night Andrew and I got into a dispute about John Piper’s teaching on a wife submitting to domestic abuse. In the heat of the moment I said something I wish I could take back. Andrew looked at me while standing in his kitchen and said, “I know Eagle…I’m worthless” I went to bed that night thinking, “Eagle what a fool you are. He invites you over, and you get into an argument at his place. That’s stupid…” The next night Andrew showed me pictures on his Android of his daughter and also walked me through his wedding album. Around this time Andrew also was purportedly optimistic that I was slowly moving in a Christian faith direction again. As he was asking me to read the Bible regularly again, he pointed out that a couple of months back I would not have done that. He seemed excited.

Since Andrew continued evangelizing me, I had a slew of questions. I wanted to ask about Jonathan Edwards who was a slave holder. Did this have more to do with 18th century class status of owning slaves instead of honoring God? Also, when Paul wrote about how slaves were to be treated in Colossians, did that apply to slavery in 18th century America, especially New England? Another topic that I would have loved to ask is that some believe that Jonathan Edwards suffered from mental illness.  If that was indeed the case, could that have influenced Jonathan Edwards to teach a darker form of depravity that was un-Biblical? After all, members of his congregation did commit suicide.

I decided to address this topic, instead. Many who hold to Neo-Reformed/Neo-Puritan theology appear to view God’s sovereignty as being deterministic. I would suggest that this makes the problem of evil worse. Scott McKnight writes about this in an essay about “meticulous sovereignty”.

I thought of this essay when I read that some of John Piper’s “Christian Taliban” circle pointed out that Matthew Warren’s suicide (Rick Warren’s son) was predetermined by God. I asked Andrew a series of questions regarding how involved God was in Matthew Warren’s suicide. Did God foreordain the gun that would be used? Did God even foreordain the trajectory of the bullet? As I see it, and have discussed with others, the determinism and minute control will always be a problem for Neo-Calvinism….and one of the key issues that undermines Neo-Reformed theology.

And then…a horrific betrayal occurred by Andrew which sent me into the darkest season of my life.  

Link to Eagle's Story, Part One

Lydia's Corner:    Micah 5:1-7:20   Revelation 7:1-17   Psalm 135:1-21   Proverbs 30:5-6

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Eagle’s Story, Part 2 : Atheism, An Illness, A Friend and Redeemer of Arlington — 185 Comments

  1. Last Monday you met James Crestwood and Danny Risch. Today you are going to meet 2 more people who crossed paths with me during my faith crisis. The first one is Scott. Scott is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and today works full time in one of the Homeless Missions in Kansas City, Missouri. In this mission he teaches, helps the homeless and recently started working with youth. He is also an Elder in his church in Missouri. This would be a unique relationship and one that became quite deep.

    The second person you are going to meet today is Andrew White. And before I proceed I have a request that I would like to ask everyone posting here to abide. I am going to ask you to shower him with grace, love, and compassion. Treat him like you would your brother or son. Please do not drag him through the mud. I can’t tell you how strongly I feel about this and this is the reason why. Next Monday you will read about my journey of redemption and seeking forgiveness from 140 people (roughly). You will also learn that the relationship with Andrew is an in awkward spot. I am still praying that there can be more peace amongst us, and that it can be redeemed. This is the reason why I am asking you not to drag him through the mud. Please show him a lot of love and grace.

    Andrew’s path crossed with mine and he spent a lot of time inviting me to Redeemer of Arlington. Andrew felt passionately and defended Redeemer as “the healthiest church” he has known. Now please note when I put that in quotes it’s not because I am trying to mock, be mean or belittle him, I am trying to repeat in his words to the best of my ability how he feels about Redeemer. So with that I am asking you to be careful in what you say about Andrew. We can discuss Sovereign Grace and Redeemer and I believe we should. It was through Andrew that Sovereign Grace became an issue in my faith crisis.

  2. I asked Dee to close with the video “Creation Calls”. I want to explain something that I described to my Fairfax Community Church small group. Years ago when I pushed back from Christianity I was overwhelmed with a lot of my doubts. But in some ways I also had to wrestle with a couple of atheist doubts as well. This never occurred to me. As time passed by and I looked and reflected in nature I felt an incredible sense of frustration. Something hit a nerve and bothered me deeply. I would look at all the majesty in the world and feel perplexed. And in this time I reflected on the following:

    1.Seeing the Belt Mountains (part of the Rocky Mountain’s in Montana) in all their majesty and splendor.
    2.Reflecting upon what I had seen in Yellowstone, Glacier, and Yosemite National Parks.
    3.Walking on the beach as a kid in Monterey, California and watching the Pacific Ocean crashing on the beach.
    4. Driving through Door County in Wisconsin and seeing the coves, inlets, and beauty.

    I saw all this as an agnostic and I would reflect and think to myself….who created all this? It bothered me deeply. I remember telling Andrew multiple times, “something had to create all this?” I also believe I told this to James and Scott a few times as well.

    At some point I was reading Philip Yancey and I think he quoted from GK Chesterton and said something like the following, “One of the most difficult things about being an atheist is to look at creation and have no one to thank” I read that and I got so pissed off, and angry. Yancey had hit a nerve…the fact that I saw all that I saw and couldn’t thank God for creation because I didn’t believe in him. At this point I struggled to believe in him. I found this video on Youtube by chance and I used to watch it over, and over…just baffled. All this majesty and nature which had to be created by God yet I couldn’t accept it . One of the things I learned during this faith crisis is that even atheists and agnostics can deal with doubts in different ways. It was a process that led me to weigh all the doubts and consider everything. But both Christianity and atheism have pluses and minuses. Strengths and weaknesses.

  3. If I was going to reflect on the years from 2008 to 2014 these are the highlights that I think are crucial moments that affected me or played a key role in how I thought and/or changed. These are the key moments in my faith crisis I would say that deeply affected me. They are not ranked in order of importance.

    1. My Mom confronting me on John Piper’s “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” article that I gave her. First of all my Mom doesn’t know much about evangelicalism. My Mom is a Polish Catholic and spent her entire life in the Roman Catholic faith as it’s near and dear to her. But giving my Mom that pamphlet revealed as to how brainwashed I was into fundamentalism to the point where I didn’t realize how much pain I was causing others. My Mom went through hell when she had pancreatic cancer, and since they caught it early, the amazing thing is that she survived. I believe my Mom is in the 1% survival rate, meaning that the kind of cancer she had usually results in death 99% of the time. The cancer and chemotherapy was rough on her body. I remember seeing my Mom after the operation, chemo, etc… It looked like she aged 20 years and lost a great deal of weight. I was afraid of hugging her because she looked that frail. It took a lot of courage for my Mom to confront me and I wish many of the Christian Taliban who lap onto every word John Piper says would step back and realize the danger and harm that they do. My Mom survived and forgives me…but what if she had not survived? How would I move forward knowing the harm I did to my dying mother if I couldn’t have closure? What would I have done if I learned afterward how much it hurt her? How could I live with myself? Furthermore it also showed me how much kool-aid I had consumed and how out of it I was. As I said earlier my Mom was courageous for calling me on the carpet and I am glad she did. She knows nothing about Neo-Puritan theology at all, but she knows garbage when she sees it. And this was nothing but garbage from John Piper. As for me this is why I react and have a strong dislike for John Piper today. When I realized what I had done…it was years after the fact. And yet I was in the depths of a spiritual meltdown. But it took me years to forgive myself and move forward. This for me is too big to ignore and even if John Piper had such profound wisdom – which I deeply doubt (Yes I know this is difficult…but so be it) due to this pain that was caused anything John Piper says is disqualified in my book. Too many people give John Piper the benefit of the doubt and excuse his poor theology and yet he’s nothing but the Reformed Pat Robertson. And that really has to stop.

    2. Another key moment was going to the Reason Rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It was at the Reason Rally that my thinking really started to shift. I began to realize that atheism and agnosticism are faith systems. Atheism and agnosticism have their evangelists, their key doctrine, secondary and primary issues…in other words all the marks of a faith system. But the faith was in different areas, it was in secular humanism, philosophy, science, etc… And let me just state there is nothing wrong with philosophy and science. When I was studying history in college one of the precepts I learned is that fascism and communism are much closer to each other than either form of government would acknowledge. Likewise the same can be said that Richard Dawkins as a fundamentalist has more in common with John Piper than either can admit. It was at the Reason Rally that I learned that fundamentalism is a mindset that is learned and acquired. Fundamentalism is not limited to Christianity, but you can find fundamentalism in atheism, Judaism, Islam, politics, sporting programs, heck even the Poodle Club of Northern Virginia will have their members who subscribe to a fundamentalist mindset of how to race or breed a dog. Personally for me long term going to this event was a key moment in helping me realize that I couldn’t be an agnostic. I wanted to flee religion and here I was neck deep in another religion…just another faith system. But where to go? That was the hard question for me. I had no idea…I had problems with God so that was out of the question, but for me it ratcheted up the uncomfortable question of who was I going to be?

    3. This next one I realized a few months back when I started to reflect on the entire faith crisis. It was a conversation that I had with Andrew White. In the story above you read about how Andrew invited me over to his home where we had a discussion on the issue of the 2nd Adam. Here is what was going on in my life and what I was facing in my mind before the conversation. I was banging my head against the wall and I didn’t see where any of these discussions I was having with people were going. I just couldn’t get past any of the doubts I had. In William Lobdell’s book “Losing My Religion” he talks about how he didn’t want to be an atheist and he kept searching but slowly came to the conclusion that you either have faith, or you don’t. And with that he came to the understanding that he was not meant to have faith and moved on from religion and let go of God. Kind of a reluctant atheist. This description by William Lobdell deeply resonates with me today, and after what I walked through I can see how a person can come to that conclusion where you either have faith or you don’t. Shortly before Andrew White invited me over to his place to discuss theology I had differing conversations with another person where they remarked that I was putting myself through hell. This actually proved to be a critical juncture in my life because I was on the verge of giving up and just accepting the fact that I was to be an agnostic, and to stop seeking answers and let go of faith and move on with my life. That is what I was considering when Andrew asked me to come over. We were having this discussion on the 2nd Adam when it was a like a light bulb went off and I found a resolution to the issue of the 2nd Adam. Just like that one of the biggest doubts I had was resolved. Actually it was the first time I resolved one of my major doubts. When this happened I was shocked, and blown away. What was not supposed to happen, did happen. And just when I was thinking of letting go of faith and God and moving on I decided against that and to continue asking questions about my other doubts and move forward. Had this conversation had not happened with Andrew White I don’t think I would believe in God today. It was a pivotal conversation that helped me to hold on and move forward. Today when I go to small group or church this conversation pops up in my mind. And though Andrew and I are somewhat estranged today when I realized this a number of months back after passing through my faith crisis I started to pray that one day I could thank him for the conversation that he pursued with me. Today I’m still praying that I can thank him for this conversation. I know Andrew probably wanted to be the evangelical who saved me…well in a way I guess he can lay claim to that fact.

    4. The next one was when I stumbled across the book “Disappointment with God” by Philip Yancey. I find it amazing today that here I was reading all this atheist material, watching presentations on Youtube, showing up at a couple of atheist events…and while I was doing that Philip Yancey was the only Christian who I read. I stumbled across his book by accident. I had no idea what it was. It gave me pause and as I read it I thought I was reading about myself when I read the story of Richard. The book planted this one thought in my mind that no evangelical ministry, church, teacher, etc… had even breached; it’s okay to angry or disappointed with God. Actually its Biblical to be disappointed with God. Today looking back I am amazed as to how many times in the Old Testament Prophets yelled at and challenged God. From what I read two-thirds of the Psalms are filled with lament and questions of “why?” and “how long?” And despite that many fundagelical churches plow forward with this happy clappy message that in many ways can be poisonous. It also bothered me as to why so many people downplay or neglect Philip Yancey. I would suggest that his work is stronger, deeper and I wish pushed more than Matt Chandler or the likes of Mark Dever. But reading “Disappointment with God” proved to be a surprise and it helped me immensely. It took a few years to appreciate and understand this. Maybe it’s me but one of these days it would be cool to met Philip Yancey give him a hug and say “thank you”.

    5. The final critical moment for me was baptism at Fairfax Community Church on November 24, 2014. We’ll talk more about this next Monday. Baptism for me meant closure. It also was a symbolic end to a period of hell in my life. I still have doubts and I am still sensitive to a few issues but I have learned that faith is about living in the tension. What made the baptism so beautiful is going back, repenting of the way I hurt some people and reconciling with others. The feeling of freedom after having sought and been forgiven by close to 140 people made the baptism especially rich. In the process I felt at peace and I was stunned by how many people came out to support me in my baptism. There were people who I reconciled with who I hadn’t seen in years. There were people from Fairfax Community’s Homeless Ministry who turned out. Several people from my Small Group. People from SGM Survivors showed up. Dee Parsons and her husband Bill drove up from Raleigh, North Carolina. It was just a perfect way to have closure. And for all those who couldn’t show up I was amazed as to the number of texts, messages, etc… from people right before hand. As I believe many evangelicals can sometimes be flippant about baptism for me I decided that this is the last baptism I will have. There is no need to have another one. But the number of people who came out and supported was amazing.

  4. There are two 12 ton elephants in the room that I firmly believe need to be discussed. They cannot be ignored and avoided. Yet, I cringe in asking the following questions but they must be asked if we are going to discuss the Sovereign Grace movement. So here is the first question to ask:

    Originally there were about 100 churches in SGM proper and during the legal battle and subsequent dumping of Brent Detwiler’s documents today a total of 40/41 churches left SGM. I won’t list the names of all 40 churches, but here in the Washington, D.C. area the churches that left SGM are Sovereign Grace Fairfax, Covenant Life Church and Redeemer of Arlington. Using Redeemer of Arlington as a discussion the question needs to be asked….how healthy is Redeemer? Is it possible for a church like Redeemer to separate from SGM proper and experience healthy change?

    When you look at Eric Simmons here is a guy with a past that includes the following:

    1. Reared in CLC culture
    2. Attended the SGM Pastor’s College
    3. Josh Harris’ accountability partner
    4. His involvement in the Megan and Kerrin situation

    To the best of my knowledge Eric Simmons has never repented of being in Sovereign Grace. And he has never repented of shepherding theology which SGM has embraced and practiced for years. So is it possible for Redeemer of Arlington to change? I guess it depends upon how one defines “healthy”. As for me just by using critical thinking skills and employing deductive reasoning I came to the conclusion that Redeemer is NOT a healthy church and that it has too many issues which are going to bog it down. I desperately want to be proven wrong, I really do; but so far nothing I’ve read about Eric Simmons on SGM Survivors or elsewhere has led me to think differently. Now what would change my mind? If any of the following situations took place:

    1. Eric Simmons leading the church in repenting of its past involvement in Sovereign Grace.
    2. Eric Simmons leading the church in repenting of shepherding theology and demonstrating concrete actions that it has been abandoned and no longer practiced. How this is to be determined is yet to be certain.
    3. Eric Simmons and every member of Redeemer going back and asking for forgiveness and working out past mistakes and shunning that took place.
    4. Redeemer of Arlington dropping its 9 Marks affiliation.
    5. Redeemer becoming more transparent in their activities.

    So let me ask you here at TWW. What would be an indicator that Redeemer is a healthy church? Do you believe it’s a healthy church? If so why? I wouldn’t mind hearing from a couple of members of Redeemer in this forum. I would just ask that they explain themselves in detail and be articulate. A “yes it’s healthy and this is the healthiest church I have been involved with” really doesn’t say too much. A good answer would be “I consider it to be healthy because and list the reasons why in detail, A, B, C, D, etc..”

    For those of you who used to be in Sovereign Grace how would you asses Redeemer of Arlington? I’d love to have your thoughts as well.

  5. Okay this brings us to the second question about Sovereign Grace. This is the second elephant in the room that needs to be discussed. Before I dive into the issue at hand let me go back a few years and walk through this issue.

    Nearly 20 years ago (God I feel old as I write this…) when I was in college the internet rolled out. At the time I was exploring the Mormon faith. Most of my research on it was from material the Mormon missionaries gave me, and later on things I started to read in my college’s library. One of the oldest religious blogs that exists on the internet is this one. It’s called ex-Mormon.org. Here is a link to the blog:

    http://www.exmormon.org/

    Its a blog that came out in the mid 1990’s that helps people recover from Mormonism. In this blog you will see how Mormonism has torn apart families, friends, and how ex-Mormons in Utah face employment discrimination by Mormons. People will anonymously talk about how they don’t believe in Mormonism but go to the Mormon church to keep their family together and prevent their marriage from ending in divorce. The saddest posts I read were of Mormon missionaries abroad who violate the LDS rules, sneak off to an internet cafe in Africa or Asia and post about the problems they have with the Mormon faith and how they don’t believe what they are teaching others. This blog ex-Mormon helped keep me out of the Mormon faith and was an eye-opener.

    So in the early 2000’s years after I pushed back from Mormonism I was told by Christians that cults and unhealthy religious groups have a trail of debris, destroyed lives, and damage. I was told that unhealthy religious groups bleed negative publicity and press. For me this made perfect sense and the blog ex-Mormon.org fit the bill.

    Fast forward to 2011 when I started to be invited to Sovereign Grace. In the beginning I was still hurt and in pain over prior church and ministry experiences. I still was crushed and overwhelmed with doubts. I feared church considerably. Over a meal Andrew told me about SGM Survivors and how another person warned him about the organization. At the time I thought nothing of it. I thought it was a disgruntled person whining and complaining. Again I thought it was 1 person. When I started to research SGM online I discovered SGM Survivors and learned that Sovereign Grace has an extremely negative internet presence. The amount of information about SGM bleeding out on the internet shocked and horrified me. It led me to wonder why would a person want to go to a church that had such a negative presence and so many problems.

    SGM Survivors wasn’t just one disgruntled person. It was on online community of story after story after story of brokenness, pain, divided families, devastated marriages, criminal activity being covered up, child abuse, shunning, Mahaney’s alleged blackmail of Tomczak, etc… . It was exactly similar to exMormon.org for me. Both blogs are large red flags – one for Mormonism the other for Sovereign Grace.

    So the question I have is this…why would a person want to attend a Sovereign Grace church given all the problems that it has. I mean…

    1. You can’t invite co-workers
    2. You can’t invite neighbors
    3. You can’t invite friends
    4. You can’t invite your exercise buddy
    5. You can’t invite the President of the Northern Virginia Poodle Chapter

    I mean you can invite them, but as soon as they learn all the problems that exist with SGM and online blogs….they are going to push back and turn you down. When you read stories like the one below:

    Letty
    January 7th, 2014 at 6:33 pm
    I can’t speak to all of the issues swirling around the SGM organization. My contact with them has been through my son, who joined them in college, about 8 years ago. My family attended a few SGM services when we visited him out of respect for him; we were very uncomfortable with what appeared to be SGM manipulation but he did not recognize it. Over a period of years I have watched him slowly break his ties with his family. We don’t know what is going on since he will not talk, and seems stressed and sad.

    Why would anyone want to get involved in a Sovereign Grace church? It also begs the following question. If you can’t invite people to church because of how corrupt it is or the problems it has it begs the following questions:

    1. What kind of Gospel are you committed to?
    2. Are you following a particular brand or Jesus?
    3. What does this say about a person’s discernment?
    4. Why go to a denomination bleeding sex abuse stories and needlessly expose your children to the potential of being molested?

    Guys…this is cognitive dissonance on steroids. I went through this once with Mormonism and found myself grappling with it again due to being invited to Redeemer of Arlington.

    When I saw what Andrew was inviting me to, for him it was game over. As an agnostic at the time I would not explore Christianity in a denomination bleeding such horrific stories. Ultimately the opportunity that fell in Andrew’s lap to share the Gospel was at worst lost. At best it was deeply compromised. I hesitate to write this but these are questions that need to be asked. And how can Redeemer of Arlington distance itself and be so quiet, and act like its another normal church when its roots are in a troubled, broken and corrupt ministry such as SGM? For those of you who were involved in Sovereign Grace how did the blogs affect you? For those of you who read who are attending a Sovereign Grace church why do you still attend with such negative publicity? And please don’t tell me that “my church is different…” I just won’t buy that.

  6. Since we are going to be discussing cognitive dissonance in religion I think it’s only fair for me to open up and discuss how I had cognitive dissonance when I explored Mormonism in college. For me I had this fascination with Mormonism. I looked up at it as being deep, serious, and rigorous. I looked at the LDS missionaries, how clean they were, dressed well, etc.. and I thought to myself, that’s who I want to be.

    When I moved to college in my sophomore year I had finally had my chance. I read a lot of material and took it in. The Mormon missionaries gave me a lot of material to read and I took it in hook, line, and sinker. In the course of time my parents and friends found on they were upset. These were some of the situations that took place.

    1. My parents asked me to speak to a Catholic Priest. I did so, however, me having drunk the kool-aid and believing it, I was angry when the Priest called Mormonism a cult. The priest apologized to me for having Catholic education fail me.
    2. A college friend asked me, “What the hell are you doing?” (or something like that) He called the LDS a cult and was point blank. I blew. I didn’t understand how the Mormons could be a cult. They were the most sincere, nicest, loving people I had known. They were the real deal due to how they lived.

    And this was how I was for nearly 2 years. I heard some bad personal stories about Mormonism and I dismissed it. My thinking at the time was that this would not happen to me. That my experience in Mormonism would be different. I was under a lot of pressure to be baptized and resisted it. I thought highly of the LDS but I wanted to convert when I was ready. I was still asking questions. Several things happened that started to challenge my thinking.

    1. I read the book “No Man Knows My History” by Fawn Brodie. It was an unflattering portrait of Joseph Smith. I was angry at what I read because it threatened the Mormon lifestyle and community which I was attracted to. But the doubts I had about Joseph Smith, his polygamy, false prophecies, etc… were planted. And they started to bother me.
    2. I used to ride to the LDS Ward with the Mormon missionaries. They used to give a ride to a recent convert who was poor. She was on food stamps and in the poverty level. On Sunday morning as a 20/21 year old kid I stood in the hallway of the Ward. She crossed paths with me and I could tell she was crying. The Mormon Bishop had dressed her down on her tithing, and yelled at her. Again as I recall she was crying. She told me that she didn’t have enough money at times to buy her children milk. (or something like that). I was stunned seeing this. It didn’t resonate with all the smiling happy commercials I saw on TV. “How could this be I thought? Its not supposed to be like this?” This experience was deeply unsettling but I still wanted to believe.
    3. The tipping point for me happened over the issue of Godhood. I was reading and hearing from others that Mormon males believed that they would become a God in heaven. I dismissed much of this as “anti-Mormon material” When I asked the missionaries about it they told me to stop reading evangelical Christian material. That much of it was “anti-Mormon” and it was slanderous, not true, and highly critical. So I thought like that… One Sunday in Sunday school (Gospel Doctrine) I was listening to teaching and the teacher was talking about how men, “are going to become like heavenly father” I was puzzled. It sounded like he believed that Mormons were going to become like Gods? I was told that LDS don’t believe this. So with the Mormon missionaries in the class sitting next to me I raised my hand stopped the class, and asked, “Do you believe you’re going to become a God?” And the Sunday school teacher looked at the LDS Missionaries and one of them leaned over to me and told me, “Eagle, there’s a lot of material we still need to cover…” I was stunned. I realized…I was lied to. All of the stories I had read in Christian material about God hood, stuff I was reading at exMormon.org about dishonest Mormon evangelism techniques. It was all true. I wondered if the Mormon missionaries and LDS church lied about that….well what else were they lying about? And from that period forward I focused on trying to find a way out of Mormonism. Fortunately I never baptized but I came close.

    People in Sovereign Grace need to dismiss Survivors and call the blogs, slanderous, stupid, etc… In Mormonism I called critical material with a different viewpoint, “anti-Mormon material” It was just how I thought.

    So in my case eventually the cognitive dissonance was shattered when I was being lied to. I realized if it happened to others then it will happen to me. I was not above or beyond the questionable behavior of the organization and eventually I would be hurt. .

    So what will it take for a person to exit the Sovereign Grace system? I think it has to be something horrific. Something like the molestation of your child or the sexual abuse of your young son. Then I think that will shatter the cognitive dissonance in the system. I shared in this comment how my cognitive dissonance was shattered in Mormonism. Here’s the deal…it was painful for a 20-22 year old kid to learn. It was confusing, hard, and tough. But today I am grateful for having that rough lesson when I was young. It grew me, matured me. I no longer give churches benefit of the doubt. I ask hard questions. My Mormon experience is what helped keep me out and away from Sovereign Grace.

  7. In the story above one of the cool things that happened occurred with James Crestwood and his daughter. There is other information I have to share that I think is both neat, and tender. After James’ daughter gave me that band aid I just could not bear to throw it out! For me it became a symbol of both grace and love, and knowing how it was given to me…by a 2-3 year old who was so innocent, I just couldn’t part with it. Even today I still have it. I actually have it on my bulletin board at work within my cube. I look at it almost daily and every time I turn off my cube light I see it. But the funny thing that happened was that even after I got out of the hospital James Crestwood’s daughter would still continue to pray for me to be discharged. James and his wife would explain to her “Eagle’s out of the hospital…” and despite that his daughter would still continue to pray for me. This happened for up to a year and beyond. It really warms my heart to say that…it’s also quite cute!

  8. One thing I have to credit the Crestwoods for is the following. James and his wife are very open, grace filled and loving with their children. Let me explain…and I realized this in the course of time of just knowing and interacting both James and his wife quite frequently. James and his wife are quite involved in ministry. They have done a lot – Kenya, Washington, D.C., and Kansas. In the process they involve their children in the world in which they engage.

    Here’s the deal; children as I see it are a blessing from the Lord. Christians are temporary stewards of children. They are called to love, raise, rear and walk a child through life into adult hood. When they become adults they let them go hoping that they will make the right decisions, because as we all know faith can’t be forced upon someone. As an adult they will choose to practice or not practice. I would suggest that many evangelicals forget that they are temporary stewards and that in the end their children belong to the Lord. Its’ sad…because what often happens is that when evangelicals have children what they often do is turn inward. They disengage from the world and end relationships with friends, withdraw within their own denomination, pull back from many others and surround themselves with other like minded families or situations. In the process they forget that what belongs to God should be shared with the world. And there are many evangelicals who become self centered in the process. Ministry opportunities are denied, exposure to the world is denied, and the evangelical culture and those outside suffer due to this behavior.

    What I have to credit James and his wife for doing is to engage the world with their children. They use their children to bless the world and those around them. They found time to work and share with a single professional in the DC culture like me, or as I recall a former homeless person trying to get back on their feet. I learned this from James and did so when his daughter gave me that band aid in my condo. It was then that I saw all the opportunities that are missed and squandered by evangelicals.

    But I have to say after knowing James and his wife for years, their heart is just beautiful. And the Gospel message really shines in their marriage, love for each other and the love they show others.

  9. I could almost write a post on what it was like to show up at different churches as an agnostic/atheist. Many evangelicals have no clue how to reach out to them, love, show grace, etc… I would say that many evangelicals live in fear of atheists and anyone who thinks differently. This is a result of living in a bubble I would suggest. Before my faith crisis I looked upon atheists with suspicion and weariness. Due to my faith collapse I had a lot of fear about attending a church. I often forced myself to go in trying to figure things out. Even to this day I remember how nervous I would be in the car before popping through the door of a church. I was anxious and remember sitting in the car beforehand asking myself, “what am I doing?” My biggest fear is that I would be recognized. And due to that fear dominating my mind showing up at church, as an agnostic at the time; I would have preferred to be recognized in a pornography shop than I would at a church. I felt that strongly about it. Actually one time at one of the churches I checked out I was recognized and that stunned and that filled me with fear. It was someone who I casually knew and he thought that our meeting was divine. It did lead to a friendship and after pulling through my faith crisis we still keep in touch today. But here is a brief roundup of my experiences of walking into different churches as an agnostic at the time. This happened in the Washington, D.C. area and I am not going to mention specific church names. One more point….each church I showed up at I researched. I looked in news websites, church websites, blogs, researched the pastors in the church to learn if there was news about them, looked at Google reviews, and used theological journals a couple of times online. I was very intense and through.

    1. At a church that advertised itself as a non-denom Bible church in Fairfax, VA they had a couple of reserved parking spots for first time visitor’s right front and center of the building. I was mortified. I parked in the parking lot away from those spaces. It was a fairly small congregation. No one really introduced themselves to me. One couple did and I spoke Christianese to get them to back down. I really paid attention to the sermon like a hawk.
    2. At a non-denom church in Chantilly that met in the school I just blended into the crowd. Actually the place was too seeker sensitive to me and didn’t have much in teaching. They explained the rules for communion, only for believers, but when I saw the entire congregation go up and me be the only one who stayed behind I was frightened that people would approach, and corner me in an effort to evangelize me. So as an agnostic I stepped up and took communion just to fit in the crowd and not be singled out.
    3. I went to a Presbyterian Church in the McLean, Virginia area and I walked through the door and saw their young career program ministry. They were introducing a new pastor and the person explained to me that this would be a great opportunity to meet the new pastor. So I sat at the table and the pastor was taking questions by text, and a lot of the questions were all fluff. Things like, “How did you met your wife?” and “What was the most embarrassing moment in high school?” Meanwhile I was texting in questions like “How would you explain the Problem of Evil?” or “What are the top 5 theologians who influence you” or “How do you view women and teaching?” None of my questions were answered. Afterward as I sat at the table someone at the table introduced themselves to me and I explained that I was agnostic. She went and grabbed another pastor and connected us. In 5 minutes I told this guy my story and his jaw dropped when he learned that I gave my Mom who suffered through pancreatic cancer John Piper’s “Don’t Waste Your Cancer”. The guy was like “Can we talk?” and made a comment about how John Piper’s followers caused him harm in his faith journey. He actually told me that he could hook me up with a Seminary Professor and have discussions on the Problem of Evil. It looked promising it really did, and he gave me his email. I emailed the pastor I think 6 times over a couple of weeks and they never responded, and with that I was disappointed and decided to move on.
    4. I went to another non-denom church in Fairfax and met with the pastor. This pastor told me that he didn’t know if he would be able to help and commented that I probably read more about the Problem of Evil than he did. We met once for a couple of hours and I committed to church for a while. I discussed the church with Scott in Kansas City, and he examined their doctrinal statement (I actually ran a lot of things by Scott to get a second viewpoint. Everything from this to SGM Survivors which he looked at and read, etc…) This pastor actually visited me in the hospital which really meant a lot, I can’t express how I felt about that. Then when I went back after getting out of the hospital he closed a talk by talking about how they were going to evangelize and engage the community and reach the world. I asked him if we could meet and talk about the issue of omniscience in the Problem of Evil. He looked at me and said until I realized God was good there wouldn’t be much benefit to the conversation. (I can’t remember word for word what was said, all I know is that I realized I wasn’t going to get my answers and it was time to move on.)
    5. I went to a non-denom church in Arlington that met in a middle school. I listened to the sermon and then after the service I went to one of the people on the prayer team and asked if this church was affiliated with John MacArthur’s network. (I’m not going to give the church name out as that would give it away). The person was not sure and hooked me up with a pastor. The pastor said no and I almost interrogated this pastor with questions. I asked things like, “What seminary did you go to?”, “Who influences you theologically?” , “Are you affiliated with the Gospel Coalition?” etc…. I really caught the pastor off guard. I got the vibe that he wasn’t used to someone asking these kinds of questions. I learned that the pastor had been trained in an Assembly of God seminary. His main theological influence was Tim Keller. He asked me to listen to the sermon series online. In this case I never went back but this place became a strong contender.
    6. I went to an Evangelical Free Church in Manassas, Virginia one Sunday morning. I would soon learn that this church had some issues. The week before I attended I emailed the senior pastor some questions. When I attended I also left follow up information but they never contacted me. Which given this church’s theological shift was just fine with me because I had no interest. This church had partnered in doing a Hyper-reformed plant in Washington, D.C. I also saw advertisements for the movie Courageous which was a strong patriarchy influence which bothered me. As I sat in the sermon I noticed the pastor quoting John Calvin often and that sealed the deal that I would not follow up. After the service I went to the “Welcome” desk and the woman manning it gave me a mug. I told her that I noticed that this church was partnering with Mark Driscoll’s ministry. And she asked, ‘Who is Mark Driscoll?’ and I told her who he was and how he is from Mars Hill Seattle and his claim about the Biblical basis of oral sex and anal sex. First time I had such a conversation with a female in a church lobby. Her jaw dropped and her eyes popped open. It was awkward, but such is the state of evangelicalism today. After researching how many Evangelical Free Churches in the DC area are a part of the Gospel Coalition despite my old history with the Evangelical Free Church I decided to kiss the Evangelical Free church good-bye and not explore faith there. This church never got back to me but to be honest I was happy about that fact.
    7. Then I decided to try online and watched a mega church service occasionally in Las Vegas. They were not too helpful either. When I asked them my questions about the Problem of Evil, etc… they sent me an email about reading Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. And I told them that I read that, knew the book already but that my questions are related to a lot of things. They never responded, and I stopped watching.
    8. I also attended a service at a Methodist church. Too liberal for me, at the Methodist church I attended they didn’t seem to stand much for anything and I decided to keep looking.

    In looking for a place to discuss the Problem of Evil and so many doubts I decided to avoid Hyper-reformed churches, Calvary Chapels, The Evangelical Free Church, and certain part of the SBC. I also avoided Pentecostal, Holiness churches, etc… I also decided not to look at mega churches. I’ve had enough of mega churches to last me a life time.

  10. There is one other reason why I think my faith crisis was hell. Let me backtrack for a second….in 1994 Mark Noll published a ground breaking book called, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” From what I have read in this book he lamented how evangelicalism is anti-intellectual. I believe he also wrote about how evangelicals view arts and science with suspicion. From what I have read he wrote this book as someone who felt betrayed by evangelicalism. It remains a watershed work.

    I think his thesis holds water and that 20 years late his claims have been validated. Just look at the evidence…we have everything from Ken Ham being held up using “psuedo-science” (which I would claim is more propaganda than anything else) while he and others attack science. You also have folks like David Barton doing pseudo history which is an affront to the scholarly field of history. On top of that you also have the Neo-Cals re-writing and doing revisionism with history in regards to Jonathan Edwards. I will address Edwards more down below, but let me finish this comment. And then you have organizations and ministries which while maybe their goal was to engage in the end they create “bubbles” in university campuses. I think this is one of the errors that organizations like the Navigators or Cru can do. Instead of teaching people how to wrestle through things like evolution or contradicting historical claims to scripture. Students instead are taught a siege mentality to where they withdraw into a bubble while at a university and view intellectualism and academia with suspicion. Just wait for what happens when they leave that bubble.

    Mark Noll is correct about evangelicalism being anti -intellectual. The Catholic church worked through some of these issues centuries ago when science, and scientists like Keppler and Galileo were challenging official Catholic teachings. In my case many of my doubts were intellectual. And I came to the conclusion that my faith crisis was so prolonged, so severe due to the evangelical culture. When I showed up at churches trying to get help and tackle intellectual doubts the evangelical church for the most part couldn’t help me because it’s anti-intellectual nature prevented it. It was unprepared for someone like me.

    There is one more by-product I would suggest to Noll’s thesis and it’s this thought. The anti-intellectualism that evangelicalism has today is the reason why so many evangelicals cannot practice discernment. This is the reason why many evangelicals cannot realize that Mark Driscoll is a fraud. It’s a reason why people cannot realize that CJ Mahaney is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and that as a wolf his ministry has been devouring sheep. It’s a reason people can’t see the fallacies and shortcomings in the 9 Marks movement and how Mark Dever is a master manipulator. And it shows itself in how ordinary people select and choose churches that are highly questionable. Everything from the Calvary Chapel movement, to Sovereign Grace, to prosperity gospel churches. This is brutal I know but I am speaking from my gut.

    You know the other day I was thinking….when you see what launched the Protestant reformation – corruption, indulgences, Papal abuse of authority, etc.. I am amazed as to what Protestants have thrown off and then embraced in its place today. You’re going to throw off a tyrannical Pope in Rome and replace him with a tyrant Pastor in Seattle (Mark Driscoll) whose plagiarism, corruption, and talk about a pussyified nation is sickening. Or replace him with another tyrant Pastor who fled Covenant Life Church to Capital Hill Baptist and didn’t even practice what he preached, before fleeing to Louisville. Unbelievable…. When you consider the corruption and problems in American Protestantism today -specifically evangelicalism. Doesn’t it make you wonder why the Protestant reformation even took place?

  11. There is one additional thing that I have to give Andrew kudos for. I meant to put this in the above story and forgot. I remembered it afterward. One is that he was the first guy that I prayed with in years. He wanted to meet with me and pray with me when my Dad was having his surgery to remove his brain tumor. At the time I was pessimistic about prayer and I have to give Andrew credit. I struggled with the prayer and as he prayed I was thinking to myself, “what are you doing?” First time I tried praying with someone in years. I never got to thank Andrew for this…it’s been on my mind. Andrew if we ever have a chance to speak again, I do want to thank you for this.

  12. I believe that Andrew meant well, but it seemed like every time I turned around I was invited yet again to Redeemer of Arlington. In the light of processing more and more information about Sovereign Grace, from SGM Survivors and other blogs and websites I felt sick to my stomach every time I was invited to Redeemer. I was often uncomfortable and I felt the pressure being placed on me to go. At times I even felt the pressure in our friendship which bothered me. I reacted strongly (too strongly I have to admit to this…) to all this as this was not what I had anticipated. I was trying to find answers, and trying to figure out a way forward. But Sovereign Grace is not the answer. You have to remember I still had scars from Mormonism when I was in college, and for the first time in 17, 18 years I found myself face to face with a highly questionable religious organization that I was being invited. I was determined not to get involved in anything related to SGM, or an ex-SGM church and as an agnostic looking for answers I made up my mind that I was not going to pursue Christianity at Redeemer. There were too many red flags. If I had attended regularly I would have to dismiss and ignore all the warning signs that I had. And in good conscious I can’t do that…..I have to follow my conscious.

    The last time I faced this kind of issue was when I was confronted with Mormonism in college in Montana. What especially crushed and broke me was how often Andrew dismissed my concerns, discernment or past experiences. For example when I attended one service on Easter at Redeemer, I got a feeling in my gut that told me this was not a healthy church. I paid close attention to that feeling, and remembered that the last time I felt like this was when I was going to a Mormon church service. It was so disturbing, so troubling for me because I had promised myself after Mormonism that I would not become involved in a questionable religious organization again. When I told Andrew about my experiences, concerns, etc… he just dismissed it, didn’t bother to hear me out and once told me that “I was reading SGM Survivors too much” I was personally crushed that I had all this experiences, discernment, and knowledge that was being utilized and Andrew just brushed it aside. It was sad.

    Despite that I still care for him and I am still praying that things can be worked out. After I returned back to faith I discussed this with a lot of Christians and heard them out. I believe its important to have a lot of people in your life who offer differing points of view as that will help keep me honest. There is strength in diverse opinion and thinking. This is one of the biggest criticisms I have about the Hyper-reformed camp…the fact that they listen only to their own and shut out other points of view.

  13. In regards to SGM and even ex-SGM churches there are lots of questions that people ask…such as why would someone join such a troubled church or movement? Reflecting back in my own life let me share some more information and talk about how everyone is vulnerable. Cults like the Mormons and questionable religious organizations do have their own benefits. I remember years ago once reading that cults and questionable religious organizations are the baggage of the church. And with what I have seen I couldn’t agree more.

    There can be a lot of perks and benefits to being involved in a highly questionable religious organization. Here are a few.

    1. Instant “community”
    2. Instant “friendship”
    3. Close tight knit environment
    4. “Sound doctrine”
    5. Social activities
    6. Sense of purpose and a feeling of belonging.

    Anyone here can be sucked into these groups. I learned this the hard way as a 19 year old kid in college when I was drawn into Mormonism. This comment applies to JW, Boston Church of Christ, LDS, Church Universal Triumphant, Scientology, Sovereign Grace, John MacArthur’s movement, 9 Marks Church, etc…. But what do you do if you have family, friends, etc… who are sucked into such an organization?

    The one advice I have is to be on your guard. Everyone is vulnerable or will be vulnerable at certain times in your life. Never say this won’t happen to me. Things that can cause people to join these kinds of churches or movements are the following:

    1. College kids away from home who are lonely and homesick.
    2. People who had a major tragedy in their life who are vulnerable. That could be…loss of spouse, child, loss of job, divorce, illness, etc…
    3. People who live in transient areas with a large turnover. For example cities like Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. Chicago, New York, etc… I’ve lived in DC for 8 years and I can’t tell you how lonely I feel here. In one year alone most of my close friends moved away and I am the process of finding new community. But I’ve also accepted the fact that as long as I live in DC community is going to be elusive.
    4. People in the military – USMC, USN, USA, USAF, USCG, people who serve who have to move every 3 years (PCS). Some of these individuals are incredibly lonely and get sucked in by the “warm” and “loving” community that presents itself. After I walked away from Mormonism I heard stories of people in the military (in this case the Air Force) who would get sucked into LDS theology because of Mormon basketball leagues, church socials, etc… And some people joined the LDS faith not because they totally believed but they were looking for friendship, love and community.

  14. There is one thing also to add and I think it’s crucial because it’s a twist on the anti-intellectual basis of evangelicalism but in the Hyper-Reformed crowd it’s a twist. But before I get into the issue of Jonathan Edwards being a slave holder let me back track a bit.

    When I was in grad school I took a class on 18th century historiography. It had a lot of writing and researching and the goal of the class was to grow critical thinking skills. The professor that I had (his name is escaping me and he retired years ago…) spoke about his admiration for Thomas Jefferson. One of the professors he knew was Fawn Brodie who was a historian at UCLA out in California. Brodie researched and wrote the landmark biography on Joseph Smith called “No Man Knows My History”. Publishing that book got her excommunicated from the Mormon Church. What makes that book a monumental work is that she had access to primary sources in the Mormon Church and was able to get her hands on resources that other historians would not be able to obtain. If I remember correctly it was because she was related to David McKay who was a heavy hitter in the LDS faith and held a high church position. Brodie pioneered a new work called psychological history. And while it flopped with her book on Richard Nixon, it shined in her book on Joseph Smith and Thomas Jefferson. Brodie was the historian that in her research and writings unearthed that Thomas Jefferson had a child through a slave – Sally Hemmings. The entire reason why the issue of Sally Hemmings and her relationship to Thomas Jefferson which historians have examined is due to Brodie.

    My professor spoke about the challenges of admiring Jefferson while also struggling with the fact that he was a slave holder. And really it puts a dark twist on the author of the Declaration of Independence, who also owned slaves. If you go to Monticello today outside Charlottesville, Virginia you can see the remains of the residences where slaves lived.

    When you wrestle with people and personalities in history you do have to wrestle with the issue of how do you handle unflattering information. Every historian has had to do that…and whether it be Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Lyndon Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Richard Daley, or Jonathan Edwards they are all flawed people. And it should be remembered carefully that their actions and teachings are reflective of the culture they lived, and the time they lived.

    Jonathan Edwards was a slave holder. This is a major issue one has to weigh when looking at Edwards. And unlike Jefferson or George Washington (who also owned slaves) I find the issue of Edwards being a slave holder to be much more damning. This is a problem for Yale which holds his papers, and its problem for historians that look at him. The only ones that do not seem to have a problem with Jonathan Edwards being a slave holder is the likes of John Pipers, etc… and I would suggest that is because neither Piper or other Neo-Cal theologians are academically trained in history. They don’t have the historical nor contextual understanding to write what they write or say what they say. Theology without context becomes slanted, one-sided, and dangerous.

    That said, let me just say this. Edwards may have been a gifted speaker but in my book Jonathan Edwards is not that great.

    The difference between him and Thomas Jefferson and George Washington in being a slaver holder is that I would suggest that Edwards is more damned for being a slave holder because it shows how he was governed more by the American and 18th class values in which he lived, as compared to being a preacher being governed by scripture. You might ask what about Jefferson? Jefferson was a deist and not an orthodox Christian, and Washington had his own theological challenges. Don’t get me wrong I am not tearing down Jefferson or Washington; they are some of the many founding fathers who made the United States what it is. Their leadership principles are still to be commended and looked upon with thanks.

    Jonathan Edwards I view differently due to him being both a preacher and a slave holder. Slavery is sin; it caused some ruckus among some Christians at the time – even though some of them may have been on the margins. But as for Edwards his ownership of a slaves is much more grievous and it needs to be remembered in the context of his society. Edwards held slaves because the wealthy in New England had slaves. Edwards was not special, set apart, or exemplary. He was a broken and flawed person and not the idol that John Piper has made him to be. It would be in the best interest if some of these guys stopped drinking the kool-aide, and enroll in an academic history program at places like Harvard, UCLA, USC, Yale, University of Maryland, etc… American evangelicalism would be better off if they did.

  15. I have been so busy, Eagle, and so behind on so many things. It’s a good kind of busy (like a much needed vacation, etc).
    But the down side of good business is being behind places like here. I hope to have some down time soon so I can get caught up with your story, one I have been waiting to read for some time.

  16. Oh, Andrew does remind me of so many people, myself included (well, one time, when I was in high school- never did it again.)

    It makes a certain kind of sense. You’re on a sinking ship, you know where the life boats are, but no one else believes you. Of course you’d scream and cajole and do almost anything. “You don’t have to believe the ship is sinking, just come sit in this life boat with me, PLEASE!” If you think that the ship is sinking, you HAVE to tell people. It would be horrible not to!

    The problem is that Earth is not a sinking ship. It’s a battleground. The tide of battle has already turned toward victory for our side. The victorious head of the army, God, is moving through the battlefield, mopping up skirmishes as we speak. We aren’t sinking at all, we’re being reconquered.

    We are not responsible for our salvation; God is. Furthermore, we are not responsible for the salvation of OTHERS; God is. I understand the impulse, I really do. But the message in so many evangelical churches, that we had better be out there converting the masses, really denies both what God is able to do AND what we are called to do.

    Nowhere does Jesus say “Whoever converteth 9 souls shall gain heaven.” The Kingdom of God is not a pyramid scheme. We’re called to witness. In the American legal context, a lay witness’s job is to testify to the court *about what they experienced*. Not their opinions, not what they think the trier of fact (in this case, the non-believer) should do, only what they experienced, only what they know.

    Jesus called us to take up our cross and follow Him. Who knows where that’s gonna lead, maybe it WILL lead to being part of other people’s faith journeys. But the obsession with converting people (“God put this person in my life so I could bring him/her to God1”) is just another flavor of the old sin- idolatry. Because who is more responsible for your salvation, God who died for it or the person who told about it? In my mind, the idea is to love people and if God works in them in part through your love, you need to be so unaware of it that you have to have it pointed out. If you’re trying to convert, you’re doing it wrong.

    My 2 cents.

  17. “But I was stunned about how hard it was to find someone to speak to. As an outsider, it startled me how many places spoke about evangelism and reaching people but when an agnostic walked through the door asking difficult questions, many places didn’t know how to respond or how to engage someone. It seemed to me that many evangelical churches live and operate in a bubble. ”

    This is a huge problem. There is no “engagement” in that world. You are to come, listen and follow. I think they are threatened by engagement.

    I have been watching with sadness the interaction on a pastors blog with a former rabid Calvinist pastor who is now an atheist and the pastors he used to blog around with. They do not know what to do with him. He might as well be an alien from another planet not to mention the fact they automatically feel goaded by him when I think he actually holds back. He was quite the biblical expert with the Reformed crowd for many years and easily took on the non Reformed pastor blogging crowd.

    But that only shows how the convo has always been directed in the wrong way. Christianity is all about relationship. Not perfect doctrine.

    All he did was trade one determinism for another. It makes perfect sense to me.

    Faith is not about having all the answers and being totally sure. One does not need faith if they are “totally sure” about every single aspect. Faith is about commitment to a course of action/life, etc. And quite frankly, you don’t really need a guru for that. You need Jesus Christ.

  18. @ Eagle:

    It is weird. If we are certain, we don’t need “faith”. Embarrassed to admit it took me a while to wrap my head around that. On the other hand, it is a good thing to seek truth. And doubt can be a great motivator to seek truth.

  19. Eagle, I am really enjoying reading about your journey. I interacted w/ you by email back in 2012. I had attended Redeemer and CLC. I am now on some kind of crazy spiritual journey myself. I don’t know what I believe right now, but I’m still searching. Many of your questions & experiences mirror my own, but I don’t know where my story is leading. I’m glad you are able to write down all of this; it’s helping other people.

  20. Of course Lydia! This is so helpful to me:

    Lydia wrote:

    Faith is not about having all the answers and being totally sure. One does not need faith if they are “totally sure” about every single aspect. Faith is about commitment to a course of action/life, etc. And quite frankly, you don’t really need a guru for that. You need Jesus Christ.

  21. I think the thing that always bothered me the most was about grief. I have lost all of my family except one brother. All were either drug related or long drawn out horrid illnesses where I was one of the primary care givers. Bringing it up, asking to much for prayer or God forbid crying was viewed with utter contempt. I can say I got through the last few deaths without showing any outward sign of grief, not once and I will never as long as I live. I learned that real well as a Christian.

  22. brian wrote:

    I think the thing that always bothered me the most was about grief. I have lost all of my family except one brother. All were either drug related or long drawn out horrid illnesses where I was one of the primary care givers. Bringing it up, asking to much for prayer or God forbid crying was viewed with utter contempt. I can say I got through the last few deaths without showing any outward sign of grief, not once and I will never as long as I live. I learned that real well as a Christian.

    Brian, I know something about where you are and have been. Please do not listen to those Churchian miserable comforters who do not speak what the Lord would say. They speak from their own wisdom while really seeking their own comfort. They do not speak or act with the comfort of the One who wept at the death of his friend. God is not offended or shocked by our tears–he shares them, just as we see Jesus sharing the grief of his friends and even his enemies in Jerusalem. I could not see him through my grief, but he was there all the time. Weep and even rage at the awfulness you have witnessed. Do not let anyone shame you. Jesus is not surprised by our pain, and he will be there for you though it may not seem like it. I will pray for you, Brian, and I think others here will as well.

  23. @ Jenster:

    Jenster, I want to take a moment and say thank you for reaching out to me and expressing your concern about Redeemer. When I was being invited to Redeemer I saw the Red Flags as I researched the place. SGM Survivors had a lot of information about Redeemer and Eric Simmons. I used to follow both on SGM Survivors as I was being invited. Some people point out the Redeemer separated from SGM, which in itself is good. However, Redeemer has never repented, refuted or did anything publicly to show that it was distancing itself from SGM. I wonder if that is due to the number of people in Redeemer who have ties to SGM “Royalty”. Plus you also had the Megan and Kerrin situation, which has Eric Simmons fingerprints all over it as well. (Kris’s favorite topic at SGM Survivors) This is another red flag about Redeemer.

    As I was figuring out who I am, and what I was going to be, the red flags for this church only set off alarm bells in my head. Christianity (please read the other comment about showing up at other churches as well….) should not be this difficult or complex. Many places have lost “the Gospel” and made doctrine or Jonathan Edwards an idol. God is not being worshipped but Jonathan Edwards, “doctrine” or John Piper is today’s Golden Calf. This goes back to the problem of discernment which I believe has roots in the anti-intellectual basis of much of evangelicalism.

    But as I saw the red flags you’re reaching out to be to express concerns meant a lot to me. I was in a faith crisis that was pure hell. It was a dark, lonely, and frustrating time of my life. And I had enough scars from my brush with Mormonism. Quite simply I didn’t need any more religious baggage. Thanks for doing what you did, and thanks for expressing your concerns. I deeply appreciated your discernment and the initiative you took. Holler if you ever need anything.

  24. This Andrew guy sounds dangerous. Props to Eagle for being friends with him for so long. I’ve cut ties with many Andrew types who can’t seem to care for you apart from their doctrine or church.

    I’ve also experienced that type of pressure to come to a specific church. Many believers seem to treat their church like it’s their own personal lord and savior, and may have been. Doesn’t make it any less wrong or creepy.

    And that feeling of being reported on…yeah, I’ve experienced that as well. I knew for a fact many conversations I was having with trusted friends were being reported back to the head pastor. All out of love and concern, of course. Because the head pastor knows the Holy Spirit more intimately than anyone else so he’s speaking ex cathedra almost. It’s an incredibly deep, wounding betrayal.

  25. You know I’m still waiting for the following books to be published as part of the “Neo-Calvinist Industrial Complex”

    1. CJ Mahaney’s “Don’t Waste Your Blackmail”
    2. Josh Harris “I Kissed Reality Goodbye”
    3. Mark Driscoll “Don’t Waste that Oral Sex”
    4. Mark Driscoll “Don’t Waste Your Plagiarism”
    5. DA Carson “How one’s Plagiarized Work can Still Glorify God”

    You know for a group of people who speak so loudly about “The Gospel” the sad thing is the atheists who are being created and how other parts of society are viewing them. Not long ago I read about Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism and fraud against the new York Times being discussed on a publishing forum. It’s deeply disturbing.

  26. I’m not finished reading today’s entire part 2, but had to stop for a minute to say how this bothered me:

    Are you wondering why this relationship continued since there was this much conflict? The answer is that I had a difficult time finding people with whom I could speak about these issues.

    I was so saddened by this, Eagle. It should be a lesson to us of how important it is for us to make ourselves available to just listen to those struggling with issues of any kind. And that without judging or thinking we have to have all the answers. Sometimes just a listening ear and compassion helps.

    OK…back to reading your heartfelt, honest journey with all the pain and struggles.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, Eagle.

  27. @ StuartB:

    I think Andrew meant well but I think he made a number of mistakes. I think as he ages this is going to start to bother him more and more. Out of the people who were intimately Andrew was the only one who walked away. He had a difficult time with my questions. Again I think he meant well, and that he cared. But I think he made some ugly mistakes. The pressure he placed on me at times was intense. And yelling at me from across a table in public was horrific.

    Andrew is the only Christian out of 140 people were there is still unfinished business. I am still praying for him and that we can be at peace. The ice was broken but there is still much to work out.

    Also I need to be clear that I did things to him that fill me with deep regret. even today there have been a couple of times where I cried to myself when I consider some of the things that I said. So I also bear some of the burden for this mess. This was a mess created by both Andrew and I, and while I have done all that I can to bring peace to it, Andrew still has things he needs to clean up from his perspective.

  28. 1. Instant “community”
    2. Instant “friendship”
    3. Close tight knit environment
    4. “Sound doctrine”
    5. Social activities
    6. Sense of purpose and a feeling of belonging.

    THIS RIGHT HERE. It explains most if not all young adulthood conversions and religious experiences. Get them while they are young and recently away from parents.

  29. Hi Eagle, thank you for your story, it’s a privilege to read it. I need to make one correction, though, it wasn’t just people across the country praying for you, there were people in various parts of the globe holding you up in prayer, too, including one South African.
    Ok, now back to reading.

  30. 1. Instant “community”
    2. Instant “friendship”
    3. Close tight knit environment
    4. “Sound doctrine”
    5. Social activities
    6. Sense of purpose and a feeling of belonging. ”

    This right here is what sucks in well educated people into cultish organizations/churches. It has never ceased to amaze me how we all can be so easily deceived by the above. We want it to be a good thing and ignore warning signs. Then they tell us: Believe the best. Or in the case of megas years back: Trust positive intentions. That was a big one in those circles.

    And so we do because we are decent people who want to give benefit of the doubt when those red flags crop up. So your decency, vulnerability and tolerance is used against you to eventually control you so the leaders can have power and your money. It really is insidious.

  31. @ Eagle:

    A short time back I told you all that I knew too little about Piper and was getting some of his stuff to read. One of the things I got was “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.” I wanted to see if he had anything to say that corresponded to my own experience in that area. Piper says that he wrote that on the eve of his own surgery for cancer. As of 2011, the copyright date on the pamphlet and according to him 5 years down the road, he is hopeful of a cure, but admits that you never know with this sort of thing. He wrote from the depth of his own dealing with his own cancer, and he did it within the confines of his own belief system.

    One year ago I was exactly where he was, on the eve of cancer surgery. Been there and done that. My cancer was operable but not curable, and there is 100% probability that it will be fatal unless some other disease intervenes and I do not live long enough for the cancer to run its course. I read Piper’s pamphlet one year into the process (a couple of weeks ago) and after I had already experienced my own solutions to the issues, within the range of my own belief system. Of the eleven (11) things that Piper said I found several quite good. For example #4: “We waste our cancer if we seek comfort from our odds rather than from God.” I like #6: “We waste our cancer if we think that “beating” cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.” Two more: #8: “We waste our cancer if we let it drive us into solitude instead of deepen our relationships with manifest affection.” and #9: We waste our cancer if we grieve as those who have no hope.” Only #2 and #3 did I find too tied to calvinism to be helpful.

    I am sorry your mother was hurt by this pamphlet. I am glad she seems to have a cure. I am glad she has a belief system that has enabled her to deal with suffering. But I do think that in this particular thing that Piper has written there may be some things that would be of help and encouragement to some cancer patients. People deal with things in different ways, and they need to be affirmed in whatever way within their own belief system they find effective.

  32. Eagle–I hear your pain loud and strong and am so glad you have come to peace.

    Our struggle was with the polar flip side in evangelicalism–the Finneyesque guilt layers of Wesleyan Holiness theology done wrong. We are still mostly Wesleyan, in an Anabaptist sort of way, attending an SBC church (not joining) most Sundays. The last straw for us under the system done so poorly (good system, bad local execution of it) was sitting and listening to a sermon based on the idea that we would enjoy heaven, sure, but just imagine how many lost people that we were supposed to reach with the gospel we would watch roast in hell endlessly while we “enjoyed” heaven. Yeah, that would be a riot of hilarious enjoyment, right? Punish them for our failures? Huh?

    Fortunately we have also experienced the beautiful freedom and joy of free will teaching, along with Reformed teaching done beautifully also. So we know now it isn’t always the system, but how it is put into play.

    As to people not wanting to answer hard questions? Yes, sadly it does happen. But sometimes it also happens that the asker doesn’t want to hear hard answers. They may have decided xyz is wrong, then find a system that teaches it, and pester people constantly to try and defend xyz. At that point, better to walk away and let the Holy Spirit deal with them.

    Right now we have a person attending at “our” church who interrupts the service every Sunday with a long rant about how Christians are unloving, don’t spend enough time with people, don’t do enough for people, and always finishes with a challenge to give more of ourselves to lost and hurting people.

    Fair enough. But this individual does not want to step up and take responsibility to do for himself what he is very well capable of doing. Without too much information, lets just say he is very codependent and seeking to be enabled. Soon the church officials will have to find a way to redirect his comments so the service can proceed normally.

    It has been good for me to reminded that we need to watch out for spiritual abusers. We need to watch out that we are not being spiritual abusers. We need to be aware of those who come to our services and reach out to them, but we need also to remember we cannot travel their quest to faith for them. And when we are the attenders rather than the leaders, we need to consider the spiritual needs of all the people there, not just be focused on getting our own needs met or questions answered.

  33. Almost every booth I visited had paperwork about doctor-assisted suicide or end of life options. With my Dad struggling with a brain tumor and with his fate unknown, I was puzzled why there was the strong doctor-assisted suicide identity.

    I share your confusion. Why would assisted suicide be viewed as that important? I thought the rally was about opposing religion/upholding reason over and against faith. Is it what you said about a knee-jerk reaction against abortion? Are they trying to go boldly into the nonexistent afterlife by choosing to die?

  34. Eagle: Lydia… many evangelicals have made certainty an idol. That’s a huge problem.

    Lydia: It is weird. If we are certain, we don’t need “faith”.

    Scripture never presents faith in this way. On the contrary, faith is the assurance and conviction of things hoped for and yet unseen: faith is certainty (Heb. 11).

  35. Hey Eagle, it’s a riveting tale and I’m certainly enjoying it I did have one minor quibble with something you wrote.

    Agnosticism and atheism were a faith system, and I realized that I had run from religion only to find myself neck deep in another one.

    Atheism is not a religion. If atheism is a religion, then not collecting stamps is a hobby, or bald is a hair color. There is no creed, no clergy, no shared faith. There are some atheistic religions: Humanists, Pastafarians, Laveyian Satanists, but being atheist is nothing more then a lack of belief in deities. Pet peeve of mine, pedant mode off. 🙂

    I hear you about it being really hard to find people to talk to about a lot of the big issues of faith or morality or existence. It can be hard to talk about that stuff in a lot of Christian environments, since for some people it seems to threaten their own belief.

  36. On a lighter note, Eagle, have you ever seen the movie “The Station Agent”? It’s about a train nerd, and one of my favorite movies.

  37. @ notyourtypical:

    No problem. I simply disagree with your understanding of Hebrews 11. What you cannot see or prove is not certainty. You take it on “faith” that it is true. I realize many see the scriptures as “proof” but I don’t think that argument can be hold up in depth (interpretations, inerrancy, etc) as we are actually talking about a spiritual trust relationship. People are more apt to believe us when they see us living out our faith. Not just telling them that it is “certain”.

    I think it is a big mistake to insist on certainty as that is not “faith”. And conviction/assurance is too personal to insist others have the same sort of conviction you do. We either believe it or not and take it on faith. But one thing we must do is make a commitment to live out our faith.

    Insisting on defining “faith” as certainty turns a lot of people away and is an impossible standard. In fact, it is the number one reason for so much acrimony within Christendom. Certainty is also used to push patriarchy, ESS, Calvinism and many other doctrines. We end up spending too much time defending our pet certainties (guilty!) and so when some young believer cannot prove some “certainty” they were taught such as YEC/OEC, their faith is shaken. There is no need for that.

    It is good to question, to seek truth and even have doubts. It is what matures us. With all that said, I know my Redeemer lives.

    What I am trying to explain (albeit badly) is that I cannot tell someone else that Faith IS certainty. Faith is a choice we commit to. If you ever want to know why so many teens go off to college and ditch their beliefs, the insistence on certainty is one of them. If they had been told it is ok to doubt, to test, to question, and even read atheists, etc and Faith is a choice, then perhaps, it would not be such an crisis when a prof says there is no God and another says the earth is billions years old.

    I am also not saying that some believers have experiences that prove to them that God is real. But their experience does not prove certainty to others.

    I don’t think this disses Jesus Christ at all. He showed Thomas His hands while commending those who did not seek proof. I believe He wants us to freely choose Him and put our faith and trust in Him.

    Now with that said, I love to debate doctrine with those who have faith. :o)

  38. @ Albuquerque Blue:
    Bah, hit the wrong key and posted to early. Where was I…

    That’s one of the great things I’ve discovered has become easier via the web. Talking about this, removed via avatars and text makes it so much smoother to discuss tough topics with cordiality and goodwill. I lost a good friend last year of high school (Christian k-12) do the blow out effect of me learning TULIP and of Calvinism and the questioning that followed. You’d think it would have been easier, but it was to close I think. So the people in my life I can have those crazy talks with, I treasure them.

    This blog is certainly a nice and friendly place for it as well. 🙂

  39. Lydia wrote:
    <blockquote
    What I am trying to explain (albeit badly) is that I cannot tell someone else that Faith IS certainty. Faith is a choice we commit to.

    Lydia, I respect your honesty and forthrightness about your faith, and I appreciate you laying it out very plainly like that.

  40. Nancy wrote:

    We waste our cancer

    Nancy I hear what you’re saying & yet the problem I have with Piper’s take on cancer really starts with this phrase ‘we waste our….’ as if these are golden opportunities sent to us (a special present just for us from the loving hand of Jesus)that we have to do something right with. Piper’s Calvinism really teaches that these things are intimately designed for us by Jesus for our spiritual formation, & all his points need to be read with that as a baseline. I’m pretty sure you come at this with a less deterministic view, which mitigates the dark dark flavour Piper’s presupposition gives all those clauses otherwise.

    As you know (& I know I speak to someone older & so much wiser)sometimes just surviving an illness is all we can do, rather than being able to make any spiritual gains from it. This was my experience with grief, which others seem to gain from spiritually. I wish I could say that was true in my case, I thought God would make it so, but it was not to be.Piper would sincerely believe I wasted my grief, because some of his points are true for me since that experience. I don’t trust God like I once did, & it was not a chosen path, but a terrifying rollercoaster away from beliefs I held very dear.

    Now, as one who walked through my Mum’s terminal cancer with her, if I could have ‘wasted’ her cancer, if I could have ripped it from her lungs with my bare hands & thrown it into the fire, well, it would have been done. That is almost the only way I can use the word waste here…I just hate the added burden of spiritual achievement to that of serious illness.

    And may I just say how glad I am that you are here, & that we all have a chance to know you.

  41. @ Eagle:
    Eagle, one of the churches you mention is mine. I am going to try to address your interaction with them–and their lack of interaction with you. This is not right. Blessings!

  42. @ Nancy:

    Nancy, my Mother shouldn’t have survived. It’s amazing that she did. This is a dark topic to discuss but in my family we all know that my Mom dodged the bullet. We all know she should not have survived. Recently I had to have surgery and had to meet with a Gastroenterologist who when she reviewe my family’s medical history was stunned by telling her my Mom survived pancreatic cancer. A good chunk of the visit was her curiosity in asking questions. She told me that she should not be living and that in her years of medical practice she only knew a handful of people who survived. For most people it is a death sentence. When John Piper wrote that article he was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health the survival rate for Prostate Cancer is 99% in 5 years. Now let’s compare and contrast with other cancers. http://www.cancer.gov/statistics/find

    Colon Cancer survival rate is 65% for 5 years
    Leukemia survival rate is 57% for 5 years
    Lung Cancer survival rate is 17% for 5 years
    Pancreatic Cancer survival rate is 7% for 5 years
    Stomach Cancer survival rate is 28% for 5 years
    Liver Cancer survival rate is 17% for 5 years
    Esophageal Cancer survival rate is 18% for 5 years

    Can you imagine being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given a few months to live and then being told that , “Hey it’s a gift from God!” John Piper is a shock jock Nancy. I’d really like to see Piper write something like that if he were diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic, liver, or stomach cancer. That is quite different.

  43. Lydia wrote:

    @ notyourtypical:
    No problem. I simply disagree with your understanding of Hebrews 11. What you cannot see or prove is not certainty. You take it on “faith” that it is true. I realize many see the scriptures as “proof” but I don’t think that argument can be hold up in depth (interpretations, inerrancy, etc) as we are actually talking about a spiritual trust relationship. People are more apt to believe us when they see us living out our faith. Not just telling them that it is “certain”.

    Again, you miss the entire point of Heb. 11. Faith has nothing to do with what is provable or demonstrable, faith is the believing response to God’s revelation. You’ve got the cart before the horse; faith is not the product of the doubting mind working out its salvation, as philosophers would have it. How can it be, in light of Moses ‘leaving Egypt by faith’? He fled in fear. No, the author can say Moses left Egypt in faith because he believed God’s promise to Abraham concerning the Israelites. It was this conviction that led him, misguidedly, to murder an Egyptian taskmaster and subsequently flee to Midian.

    I think it is a big mistake to insist on certainty as that is not “faith”. And conviction/assurance is too personal to insist others have the same sort of conviction you do. We either believe it or not and take it on faith. But one thing we must do is make a commitment to live out our faith.
    Insisting on defining “faith” as certainty turns a lot of people away and is an impossible standard. In fact, it is the number one reason for so much acrimony within Christendom. Certainty is also used to push patriarchy, ESS, Calvinism and many other doctrines. We end up spending too much time defending our pet certainties (guilty!) and so when some young believer cannot prove some “certainty” they were taught such as YEC/OEC, their faith is shaken. There is no need for that.
    It is good to question, to seek truth and even have doubts. It is what matures us. With all that said, I know my Redeemer lives.

    Is not Christianity, at its core, the proclamation that the creator of the universe came to earth in the man Jesus the Messiah, crucified and risen, and that, in light of this event all people are to repent and acknowledge him as Lord and creator, bringing this news to the end of the earth? And if faith is the assurance of this, then in what world is that too personal to insist that others have that same conviction? Of course there are impossible standards, every standard for God’s people is impossible; hence the incarnation, death and resurrection. But that in no way nullifies the fact that they exist, nor that Christians should not testify to the certainty of what they believe.

    What I am trying to explain (albeit badly) is that I cannot tell someone else that Faith IS certainty. Faith is a choice we commit to. If you ever want to know why so many teens go off to college and ditch their beliefs, the insistence on certainty is one of them. If they had been told it is ok to doubt, to test, to question, and even read atheists, etc and Faith is a choice, then perhaps, it would not be such an crisis when a prof says there is no God and another says the earth is billions years old.

    This is a sad occurrence, no doubt, but to lay blame upon the presentation of the scriptures as trustworthy is misplaced. These are spiritual issues, not intellectual ones. It is far more likely that young people are enticed by the pleasures of this world and competing claims of lordship. Who owns me and to whom to I owe my allegiance: myself or Christ? This is the question college students face. Its the question all face when confronted with Jesus.

    And I’m genuinely curious: In the backlash against certainty, what does one tell their kids, and does it hold up any better to competing worldviews? “I’m a Christian, kid, but I can’t really tell you what’s certain about it, but you should try it out and see if it floats your boat.” I don’t think this is what you have in mind, so what’s the middle ground? How do you tell your kids how the world really is without insisting that you are sure you know how the world really is? Would not the same professors have a field day with this as well?

    I am also not saying that some believers have experiences that prove to them that God is real. But their experience does not prove certainty to others.
    I don’t think this disses Jesus Christ at all. He showed Thomas His hands while commending those who did not seek proof. I believe He wants us to freely choose Him and put our faith and trust in Him.
    Now with that said, I love to debate doctrine with those who have faith. :o)

    Of course other’s experiences are not universal proof, because that’s the job of the Spirit. He is the seal and guarantee of our redemption. But this in no way means that the Christian who has such an experience cannot speak with authority that is experience and testimony of the event is true, and he, as one of God’s people is commanded to bear witness to the truth of the experience. I’m glad you brought up Thomas, as he illustrates this point quite well. Thomas is not doubting the resurrection, he is doubting that Jesus is the Messiah. And the Messiah’s words to him bear my point completely: “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. In other words, “those who are more fortunate than you, Thomas, are those who believe that I am the Messiah sight unseen”. Thomas gets a rare chance to say “show me” and have it shown to him, and he is not praised for it. The rest of us are in Hebrews 11: with faith that is the assurance and conviction of things hoped for and yet unseen. Why would we desire to be ourselves, or make others more like Thomas?

  44. @ Eagle:

    One of my favorite SF authors from my college days died of Pancreatic Cancer in the early 2000s.

    My mother died of small-cell lung cancer in 1975. I had a ringside seat.

    My father — Mesothelioma in 1994. Didn’t see it, as we were estranged at the time.

    Last year I went through a Prostate Cancer scare (and am still under urologist’s surveillance) and someone I know was just diagnosed with it. (From last year’s experience, I told him to start packing a baseball bat/attitude adjuster because now everyone he meets will be geased and compelled to tell him all about everyone they heard who died from it. The bat could also come in VERY handy if anyone tries to unload that Piper tract on him.)

  45. Hester wrote:

    I share your confusion. Why would assisted suicide be viewed as that important? I thought the rally was about opposing religion/upholding reason over and against faith. Is it what you said about a knee-jerk reaction against abortion? Are they trying to go boldly into the nonexistent afterlife by choosing to die?

    Sometimes it’s sheer contrariness and/or tribal identity litmus test:
    “If the Enemy does A, We MUST Do the Opposite of A.”

  46. StuartB wrote:

    This Andrew guy sounds dangerous. Props to Eagle for being friends with him for so long. I’ve cut ties with many Andrew types who can’t seem to care for you apart from their doctrine or church.

    “This Andrew guy” sounds like an SGM/Redeemer of Arlington fanboy. It’s so much a part of his identity it’s like the Tragedian’s Puppet in The Great Divorce.

  47. Beakerj wrote:

    Nancy I hear what you’re saying & yet the problem I have with Piper’s take on cancer really starts with this phrase ‘we waste our….’ as if these are golden opportunities sent to us (a special present just for us from the loving hand of Jesus)that we have to do something right with. Piper’s Calvinism really teaches that these things are intimately designed for us by Jesus for our spiritual formation, & all his points need to be read with that as a baseline. I’m pretty sure you come at this with a less deterministic view, which mitigates the dark dark flavour Piper’s presupposition gives all those clauses otherwise.

    A misunderstanding of ‘Piper’s Calvinism’ would surely lead one to think that he feels cancer is a special present from a loving Jesus. If you really think that’s what he’s said, you may want to back that one up. I am far from a Piper devotee, but I think a better, and less based on cynicism, interpretation of ‘wasting your…’ is a call to Christian living in any circumstance, the kind Paul speaks of in Philippians 4 when he declares that he can live faithfully in all these hardships through Christ’s strength.

    As you know (& I know I speak to someone older & so much wiser)sometimes just surviving an illness is all we can do, rather than being able to make any spiritual gains from it.

    In no area of life is the Christian called to merely make it through. We may unfortunately do this all too often, but that is on us, and not the way it should be. The fullness of heaven and the Father’s resources have been made available to us in Christ. We are called to so much more, why settle for less? Couldn’t that be what Piper is getting at when he says “don’t waste your…”?

  48. @ Estelle:

    Thanks! I really appreciate it deeply. Many people did pray I can’t deny that fact. But thanks for teh love and grace that you showed me from S. Africa.

  49. @ notyourtypical:

    The mistake made is to assume that anything is a waste. All the while he stands behind SGM and helps prop up a corrupt and decadant organization. But nothing is a waste, that book is more of a theological error than anything. God redeems and restores, that means nothing is a waste. Even if you drank the SGM kool-aide at CLC for 30 years God still redeems and restores. But one other concern I have is you have all these people spitting out Piper quotes and theology, who have no fricken idea of what they believe. That is something that I am grateful for from my faith crisis. After what I went through with the Problem of Evil I am at a point of peace with where I am at. Too many people know what Piper thinks and spit out his theology but don’t have a darn clue as to what they beleive. This is one of the things that bothers me about “celebrity pastors” whihc is also an oxymoron.

  50. Beakerj wrote:

    Nancy I hear what you’re saying & yet the problem I have with Piper’s take on cancer really starts with this phrase ‘we waste our….’ as if these are golden opportunities sent to us (a special present just for us from the loving hand of Jesus)that we have to do something right with. Piper’s Calvinism really teaches that these things are intimately designed for us by Jesus for our spiritual formation, & all his points need to be read with that as a baseline. I’m pretty sure you come at this with a less deterministic view, which mitigates the dark dark flavour Piper’s presupposition gives all those clauses otherwise.

    This is exactly my thoughts as well. The starting point with Piper (and his pamphlet) is his hyper-sovereignty perspective. In other words, you are wasting “what God sent to you” (cancer) if you don’t embrace these points. I find this thinking just plain wrong. A person in this position doesn’t need a pamphlet like this placed in front of them. I do believe Eagle had good intentions, but didn’t have any other frame of reference but that of the system he was in at the time.

  51. @ Eagle:

    Your mother is very fortunate. I believe that Ruth Bader Ginsberg also had pancreatic cancer. It is quite uncommon to get such good results. I know you all must be very thankful.

  52. @ notyourtypical:

    I find it interesting that some of the folks at the local cancer center take the approach with the patient that “this is your opportunity to…” pamper yourself. Do some things while you are recuperating that your may have been too busy for until now. Use the opportunity to get into good shape. And let us talk to you about end of life instructions. And of course any legal matters that may need tended to. In other words, use this opportunity…

    So, the attitude of “this is your opportunity to” is fine if it comes out of the mouth of a health care professional but it is not OK if that attitude comes from somebody like Piper?

    I am not a Calvinist. Statistics on disease do not support any theory that God is slinging disease around as reward or punishment. However, seeing something like a chronic progressive life threatening disease and “an opportunity to..” just makes a lot of sense to me. And, personally, I have used that attitude to good effect in my life.

  53. @ notyourtypical:

    I debated whether to go in depth with you but think it is not wise on this thread. I will say that when it comes to teens we had best be modeling our “Faith” with not just words but deeds. I would prefer they not go “out there” and be blindsided. I would prefer they learn to think, question, study other systems, positions, etc. I would prefer they are thinkers who own their Faith as a commitment no matter what is thrown at them. I think this is best with believing parents living out their faith not indoctrinating “certainty”. IN other words it is ok to question and doubt while seeking truth. We want them to seek truth and own it.

    Then when so much is thrown at them, they have confidence they can discuss it, analyze it without worrying about “losing their Faith” or feeling they have to defend patriarchy or they are in sin and all those other warnings from indoctrination. Instead many of them who have been indoctrinated become angry when the prof makes a good case for OEC. Or, they get caught up in high controlling groups like some Cru chapters with their indoctrinating gurus. Not good.

  54. @ Nancy:

    OK. One more “one last thing.” I used to watch Mother Angelica on EWTN. She used to end her talks often by saying that in like one has the opportunity to become a saint. And then she would say “don’t miss the opportunity.” Maybe that is where I first hear it and took up the notion.

  55. @ Nancy:

    “heard” It is 8:30 and past my bedtime. I have to quit before I really mess up. (I get up at 5:00 just because that is how my brain works.)

  56. @Eagle – thanks again for sharing all of this. It’s so comforting to me to hear your struggle. Hopeful for continued resolution to some of my struggles as well.

    I have to say I am not as patient as your are (e.g. with Andrew). And why was he inviting you to his church so much. Give it up, dude! But that said, you are an example to me, who tends to walk away when people annoy me too much.

  57. @ Nancy: I think the attitude promoted by the cancer center comes from a whole different universe than what John Piper says about the matter. If you really want to know how he acts and talks, see his remarks on the Minneapolis bridge collapse and the ones Eagle mentioned re. tornadoes. He had the temerity to not only refer to the tornadoes as God’s judgment, but began several of his sentences with the following –

    “God killed…”
    “Jesus killed…”

    And on top of that, his focus was entirely on judgment; there was barely a thought to spare for those who were suffering, had lost homes and loved ones.

    I believe he is a total crank, albeit a very dangerous one – because people actually believe what he says.

    Finally, some close relatives of mine drove hell for leather out of Joplin, fleeing ahead of the twister, on the day those storms hit. Their the 3 year-old daughter wassd in the car with them, so you can imagine how anxious they were to get her out of harm’s way. If anything *had* happened to them, I would be ready to tell Piper off to his face for his incredible insensitivity and (let’s face it) egotism.

  58. notyourtypical wrote:

    This is a sad occurrence, no doubt, but to lay blame upon the presentation of the scriptures as trustworthy is misplaced. These are spiritual issues, not intellectual ones.

    I believe the problem here is how Scripture is presented. For some Scripture becomes a science book and needs to be taken in a wooden literal sense. Therefore, the Earth is 6,000 years old. I do not know of your experience but I can certainly speak to mine as well as to some well known folks like Hugh Ross and others who have seen students reject the faith because they were told that all “good” Xians believe the earth is 6000 years old.

    i have watched a number of kids leave the faith over the ridiculous insistence on YEC. So have some well known folks. To say that kids leave the faith because they want to sin is a stretch. Having observed Christians in action for a long time, I can say that, without a doubt, that one can remain a Christian and sin in just about any area you choose.

  59. @ numo:

    One more thing many of the Neo-Cals are showing how backward they are with church history. For example John Piper in his tornado declarations is actually practicing gnosticism. How does he know God was out to destroy an ELCA church in Minneapolis…did John….

    Get a text message from God?
    Get an email from God?
    Was an instant messenger and God told him?
    Did God send a tweet on John Piper on Twitter?
    Did God send John a Facebook message?

    The short answer is John Piper doesn’t know. Part of gnosticism is dealing with those who have hidden knowledge, to my understanding.

  60. notyourtypical wrote:

    A misunderstanding of ‘Piper’s Calvinism’ would surely lead one to think that he feels cancer is a special present from a loving Jesus.

    Misunderstanding? Hmmm I watched Piper giggle at a question about how much abuse a woman should tolerate. He said “one night.” This is a man who would tell a woman who was abused that she would never be free to marry again. He is a man who believes that God sends tornadoes to punish specific people and he claims to know which ones.

    This is a man who loooooves Mark Driscoll’s theology and “snatches” the chance to speak at CJ mahaney’s church. he is also a man who never once mentions the victims of these churches. he is the type of man who says a woman should take care not to usurp a man’s authority when she is asked to give him road directions.

    So, misunderstand? I don’t know about that. Piper strikes me as a depressive man who seems to rejoice when tragedy strikes so that he can lecture us on his view of how it demonstrates God’s glory. And, of course, Piper is the apple of God’s eye because God tells him why He sends tornadoes, etc.

    I don’t get Piper. Maybe he is a jolly guy behind the scenes but he strikes me as a sad man.

  61. @ Eagle: agreed. I was, though, referring to his horrible pronunciation of judgment via storm in Joplin, MO and the surrounding area, about which Chaplain Mike was very eloquent.

    Fwiw, I meant the same thing you did in referring to his egotism. How dare he claim to be God’s special messenger???!

  62. @ dee:

    I would venture to say that John Piper and many other Neo-Cal leaders are quite insecure. They can’t accept the fact that God loves them juts as they are. No….they have to do outlandish and create over the top legalism to justify their growing legalism. Kind of reminds me what some guy used to boast about in the Men’s Locker Room in Junior High. (rolls eyes)

  63. Eagle,
    Thanks so much for taking the time to write your story. It is helping me through some of my own struggles. I look forward to the next part.

  64. Due to SGM, Mars Hill Seattle and a number of other churches in chewing on the issue I think some of the “fruit” of this movement will be the following:

    1. Increased domestic abuse in evangelicalism
    2. Increased alcoholism
    3. Increased Spousal Rape due to extreme gender roles
    4. Increased child abuse stories
    5. The next round of atheists will be former members of this movement
    6. More “Islamic” in their “Christian theology”. Some of these guys due to the Sovereignty they believe have more in common with Sunni Islam than regular Christianity.

    The years to come are not going to be pretty. And if the behavior of Mark Dever, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney is any indicator when the %^$%# hits the fan they will look and say, “Who me? I didn’t make you join Sovereign Grace. You chose to sign the church covenant…”

  65. @ dee:

    You might like the first half or so of this article, called The Failure of the Church to Educate:

    http://www.tektonics.org/gk/indictment.php

    Holding only talks about theology/apologetics/Biblical studies but the basic idea is the same. We can’t just brush off people’s intellectual/scientific questions and we shouldn’t enable ignorance (esp. of the willful variety). I esp. like these, which Holding quoted from other authors:

    Despite the common stereotype, intellectual questions are not always merely a smokescreen for spiritual or moral problems. … We must refuse to dismiss objections to the faith as mere spiritual subterfuge and instead prepare ourselves to give what Schaeffer called “honest answers to honest questions.”

    The question that we must ask ourselves is a very simple one – Why? Why are people leaving the faith and at this epidemic and alarming rate? In my studies, I have found that the two primary reasons people leave the faith are 1) intellectual challenges and 2) bad theology or misplaced beliefs.

    Personally I’ve been getting more and more annoyed lately at Christians who feel they’re allowed to simply ignore science and scholarship whenever they tell them something they don’t like. And that problem involves waaaaaay more subjects than carbon dating.

  66. *sigh* I had to e-mail a pastor today that I needed a break from his church, because the church service didn’t give me any space to (figuratively) breathe. My nerves were absolutely *jangling* and I wasn’t able to sleep last night. Basically, I need time to decompress after fairly intense experiences and for some reason yesterday was just too much. (Back in the day, I used to take naps in my cube at law school between classes because my nerves would be frazzled. Nowadays I just come home from work and take a nap or bury my head in a book.) Church has so many trigger points that I usually get in a nice Sunday afternoon nap but that didn’t work out yesterday. Anyway, this pastor appears to think this might be a spiritual problem. Ah nope, it’s just life with Asperger’s. 0_o

  67. notyourtypical wrote:

    In no area of life is the Christian called to merely make it through. We may unfortunately do this all too often, but that is on us, and not the way it should be. The fullness of heaven and the Father’s resources have been made available to us in Christ. We are called to so much more, why settle for less? Couldn’t that be what Piper is getting at when he says “don’t waste your…”?

    I know this was not addressed to me, but I want to address it as it speaks to a theology under which I suffered abuse. The idea that we are called to live somehow unaffected by the pain and suffering is part of living on this planet…that we are somehow not doing it right if all we do is merely survive… that we are called to, as my former pastor coined (and trademarked), “live above the storm”…. It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? This idea that we can somehow get spiritual enough to live above and unaffected by the storms of this life on Earth. The thing is, that is not what Jesus taught. He taught that there would be trials and pains but that he would be there with us.

    When you take someone who is in an abusive situation and tell them that if they just try to be more spiritual, i.e., pray more, read the bible more, do what the pastor teaches more, believe harder, then they will be removed from their troubles….well, that is dangerous. It sets that person up for a false hope. Worse, when what is promised does not materialize, this victim of abuse is already primed to readily accept that whatever the fault is, it must be in them – they must not be good enough, strong enough, etc….and it can cause a backlash of despair.

    The things that have happened in my life….in my childhood, just surviving was really the best I could do. And to suggest that just making it through and surviving is somehow insufficient and “on us” and then throw in “why settle for less,” implying that simply making it through and surviving is settling for less than we should have….is a nicely couched way of blaming the victim.

    Honestly, if as a child, someone had told me that just surviving was settling for less than I should and I was not trying hard enough….that would probably have pushed me over the edge into insanity or death. And no, I am not being melodramatic – I am being bluntly factual. I had already taken on the bulk of the blame for my abuse, so to say that my misery was my choice due to settling for less than I should would have caused me to despair of ever being accepted or acceptable…because you see, simply surviving took all the emotional and mental and spiritual energy I had.

  68. Eagle, I really thank you for giving your story. It is powerful and shows your reaction to the dark side of Christianity, especially the fundagelical part. Many should hear this.

    And the “happy clappy” version of Christianity has never encountered the Psalms like I have. There was a period I was angry at God, thinking he had abandoned me and his love had petered out. Then I stumbled across Psalm 77, a song that these churches don’t dare sing, which was giving my sentiments at the time exactly. It shows my experience wasn’t unique at all, but common to us.

    Just a whimsical note, I too rebel against the prevalent ESV-Only tendency among modern fundagelicals, and use either the HCSB or the NLT a lot. But to really get their goat, use the 2011 NIV. That would really cause a howl of protest. btw, the ESV is really a lightly-revised RSV, which many had burned when it came out. Go figure. It caused Bruce Metzger to say that at least they only burned the translation. They used to burn the translators.

  69. Eagle, thank you for writing this. You should really turn this into a book; please cite sources ;-D

    I read the 2nd installment last night. But after reading my daily scripture this morning, it occurs to me how few of us Christians (the North American variety, anyway). And probably more specifically, many of our North American church “leaders” actually “smell” like this:

    “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2
    Btw, Yancey=good

  70. I’m having a hard time going back and seeing who wrote what. However, I do love the psalms, and some of the more gritty ones are particularly good when you’re going through very difficult things. During one period of my life, I read “Save me, oh God, for the water have come up to my neck” every day. It is SO true that sometimes life just stinks. Looking back, I should’ve had all kinds of red flags with my previous pastor because he kept giving formulas – e.g. if you do these seven things, you’ll have an amazing quality of life. I’m glad your life fits into that formula because my life frankly doesn’t, and I don’t think that’s what Jesus promised.

  71. Former CLC’er wrote:

    I’m glad your life fits into that formula because my life frankly doesn’t, and I don’t think that’s what Jesus promised.

    Nobody’s life fits into that formula. There is that old saying that life comes knocking on everybody’s door. The great issue for some people, it seems, is “why?” My position is that regardless of why or not why, the real question of immediate interest is what do I do now? How do I cope with it? And for that matter how do I fend off the roving herds who want to demand that I do it their way?

  72. notyourtypical wrote:

    We are called to so much more, why settle for less? Couldn’t that be what Piper is getting at when he says “don’t waste your…”

    If Jesus said “Let this cup pass from me but not My Will but Thine,” I reserve the right to just survive things.

  73. Eagle wrote:

    Due to SGM, Mars Hill Seattle and a number of other churches in chewing on the issue I think some of the “fruit” of this movement will be the following:
    1. Increased domestic abuse in evangelicalism
    2. Increased alcoholism
    3. Increased Spousal Rape due to extreme gender roles
    4. Increased child abuse stories
    5. The next round of atheists will be former members of this movement
    6. More “Islamic” in their “Christian theology”. Some of these guys due to the Sovereignty they believe have more in common with Sunni Islam than regular Christianity.
    The years to come are not going to be pretty. And if the behavior of Mark Dever, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney is any indicator when the %^$%# hits the fan they will look and say, “Who me? I didn’t make you join Sovereign Grace. You chose to sign the church covenant…”

    On Numbers 5 & 6, I literally have seen some former Baptists, evangelicals convert to Islam and atheism.
    In the their quest for power, money, whatever, these evangelicals are driving away so many people.

  74. Caitlin wrote:

    notyourtypical wrote:

    We are called to so much more, why settle for less? Couldn’t that be what Piper is getting at when he says “don’t waste your…”

    If Jesus said “Let this cup pass from me but not My Will but Thine,” I reserve the right to just survive things.

    Yes, Caitlin, exactly.

  75. @ Nancy:

    And for an example of “life” and its problems, we do finally have a budget in this state and it is a huge blow for veteran teachers. They did away with longevity pay, took the master’s supplement and “rolled it into” the new downgraded salary schedule, gave substantial raises to new teachers and are selling it to the public as an overall raise for teachers. Which it is–just not for veteran teachers. For my daughter it is an additional net loss of $3,800 for the coming year after no or extremely minimal raises since 2008 when they froze salaries. My daughter is now approximately $9,000 gross under what she would have been except for the recession, and the official numbers people at central office are saying that it is expected to be worse next year. She has two children to support with her salary and some state enforced child support from her former husband–for now. When I die, that is all she will have. The teacher’s associations are saying, and the local officials are saying, that the state is trying to drive veteran teachers out of the field to save as much money as possible on retirement outlay. The state, it seems, has no choice under the current economic situation. Everybody is hurting.

    So, (****) hits the fan. It always does.

    But, this happened to me in my mid fifties, when the hospital went under and I went to work for the federal government, at a significantly reduced income and in no way doing what I loved. Not a day of the nearly fifteen years I worked for the government that I did not go to work with tears in my heart, if not my eyes, over my trashed plans for my life. But, working a 40 hour week with no call and no nights and no weekends did free up time for other things. At retirement I was able to retire under FERS and continue my health insurance (at a reasonable cost) and because of this the current cancer has not bankrupted me. Plus I do get a bit of a pension which, in addition to SS and savings has enabled me to help my daughter and her children at a difficult time for them. Also, I met a lot of good people on the job.

    So, was it good or was it bad that my life fell in on me? Yes it was.

    Is it good or is it bad that my daughter’s life is falling in on her? Her tentative plan for economic survival shows some real promise, if it works out. Hard, drastic, but potentially promising.

    Is there God anywhere in all this? Well, I am with you always is something I read somewhere. And the thing about the bird falling to the ground is food for thought. IMO, we are not deserted by God regardless of what happens. So when my mother lay dead on the kitchen floor, was there God anywhere to be found? There was. Not that he killed Mom, but rather that we are not deserted regardless. Some folks want to leave God out of the equation entirely. They can do what they want; I do not choose that path. Some folks want to “blame” God for every detail. I do not see it that way either. What I think is that it is what it is and we are not alone.

  76. Gram3 wrote:

    brian wrote:
    I think the thing that always bothered me the most was about grief. I have lost all of my family except one brother. All were either drug related or long drawn out horrid illnesses where I was one of the primary care givers. Bringing it up, asking to much for prayer or God forbid crying was viewed with utter contempt. I can say I got through the last few deaths without showing any outward sign of grief, not once and I will never as long as I live. I learned that real well as a Christian.
    Brian, I know something about where you are and have been. Please do not listen to those Churchian miserable comforters who do not speak what the Lord would say. They speak from their own wisdom while really seeking their own comfort. They do not speak or act with the comfort of the One who wept at the death of his friend. God is not offended or shocked by our tears–he shares them, just as we see Jesus sharing the grief of his friends and even his enemies in Jerusalem. I could not see him through my grief, but he was there all the time. Weep and even rage at the awfulness you have witnessed. Do not let anyone shame you. Jesus is not surprised by our pain, and he will be there for you though it may not seem like it. I will pray for you, Brian, and I think others here will as well.

    The push to deny grief that exists in some religious communities is horrifying. Last night, my husband and I went to a visitation for the father of an old friend of his, a man who was not yet 70 and died from long term effects of his service in Vietnam. The family are devout Mormons. The conversation with the widow and every one of the man’s five children went like this: Husband: “We were so sorry to hear about (the deceased)”. Family member with immediate plastered on smile: “He is in a better place”. It was almost spooky and seemed forced and unnatural.

  77. Jeannette Altes wrote:

    I know this was not addressed to me, but I want to address it as it speaks to a theology under which I suffered abuse. The idea that we are called to live somehow unaffected by the pain and suffering is part of living on this planet…that we are somehow not doing it right if all we do is merely survive… that we are called to, as my former pastor coined (and trademarked), “live above the storm”…. It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? This idea that we can somehow get spiritual enough to live above and unaffected by the storms of this life on Earth. The thing is, that is not what Jesus taught. He taught that there would be trials and pains but that he would be there with us.

    When you take someone who is in an abusive situation and tell them that if they just try to be more spiritual, i.e., pray more, read the bible more, do what the pastor teaches more, believe harder, then they will be removed from their troubles….well, that is dangerous.

    Respectfully, you have completely misunderstood what I have written, perhaps because of your own experiences. The situation I addressed had nothing to do with abuse.

    Further, I in no way advocated for, as you seem to think, for some form of Christian stoicism. The fact that I referenced Philippians 4 should make this clear. One of the major themes of the letter is that Paul, though enduring many hardships and in chains for the gospel, proclaims Christ with joy and serves the churches. He does not say “I’m okay because in the spirit I can rise above this suffering as to be unaffected by it”. He does say “I’m okay because even though my situation is indeed terrible, the Spirit gives me joy and the strength to follow Christ in every situation, good or bad”.

  78. ar wrote:

    The conversation with the widow and every one of the man’s five children went like this: Husband: “We were so sorry to hear about (the deceased)”. Family member with immediate plastered on smile: “He is in a better place”. It was almost spooky and seemed forced and unnatural.

    Well… as someone who just lost her grandmother after a very painful and stressful final illness… sometimes this is actually a comforting thought coming from the family. My own position is fairly complicated. I wish she had been *healthy* (for an 83 year old) to come to my wedding. Having seen her, having weighed all the options for her care, having faced the possibility of another 5 or 10 years of semi-invasive and definitely painful intervention along with some major losses of dignity and burdens on my mother…. Well…

  79. Caitlin wrote:

    If Jesus said “Let this cup pass from me but not My Will but Thine,” I reserve the right to just survive things.

    And then he disregarded his desire, laid down his rights as creator of the universe, went to the cross, and died.

    That seems like an odd choice of passage to argue your point b

  80. @ Caitlin:

    I should expand: Joy is a lot to ask and emphasizing that joy comes from the Spirit is a sideways way of suggesting that if you don’t have joy, you don’t have the Spirit. I’m sure you don’t intend that implication, but it’s there. It’s one thing for Paul to report that he personally feels joy and knows that he shouldn’t given what he’s experienced, so it must come from God, but it’s entirely another to say to people in any sort of problem that proclaiming Christ with joy is a thing that should be happening. Hint: if your comfort to the hurting leads them to also question whether God loves them, it’s wrong-headed. Basically, though I think this is one of those “context” things- Paul is describing himself, not proscribing a Christian response to trials.

  81. @ notyourtypical:

    Not really.

    a. He’s GOD

    b. He started out with “I don’t want to do this.”

    So if even God starts out with “Gee, this is gonna be awful, do I have to?” I, a lowly human, have no qualms also saying “Gee, this is awful.”

    Being sad/upset/hurting is *not* an excuse to be disobedient or sinful. But having negative emotions is NOT sinful.

  82. notyourtypical wrote:

    In no area of life is the Christian called to merely make it through. We may unfortunately do this all too often, but that is on us, and not the way it should be. The fullness of heaven and the Father’s resources have been made available to us in Christ.

    I challenge you to spend a year living in a desert, with only its food/water available, and then return to tell us how you became starved in The True Christian Way, supported by “the fullness of heaven and the Father’s resources”.

  83. Caitlin wrote:

    ar wrote:
    The conversation with the widow and every one of the man’s five children went like this: Husband: “We were so sorry to hear about (the deceased)”. Family member with immediate plastered on smile: “He is in a better place”. It was almost spooky and seemed forced and unnatural.
    Well… as someone who just lost her grandmother after a very painful and stressful final illness… sometimes this is actually a comforting thought coming from the family. My own position is fairly complicated. I wish she had been *healthy* (for an 83 year old) to come to my wedding. Having seen her, having weighed all the options for her care, having faced the possibility of another 5 or 10 years of semi-invasive and definitely painful intervention along with some major losses of dignity and burdens on my mother…. Well…

    My father has stage iv cancer and chemo has caused him to lose his fine motor skills and ability to walk unaided. I don’t need a lecture on “oh, but suffering”. (Worst fault of the internet is that we too often feel we must explain things to people when we don’t know what they know themselves…I try to avoid it). Maybe you had to be there to see this. Maybe you had to understand that at least one was talking to one of his closest friends. Maybe I am crazy, but for six people to process this grief the EXACT same way with the exact same facial expression (that did not extend to the eyes) and the exact same words and tone was bizarre. It was like they rehearsed it and I overheard it repeated to others as well.

  84. ar wrote:

    Family member with immediate plastered on smile: “He is in a better place”. It was almost spooky and seemed forced and unnatural.

    If we do not in fact grieve as those who have no hope, what then is the hope we have if not this and the hope of the resurrection? Remembering that, and reassuring oneself of that, while standing in front of the casket is, of course, forced and difficult at that moment. However, the option to forsake that hope at that very moment is unthinkable. Who would want somebody to do that?

  85. Caitlin wrote:

    notyourtypical wrote:

    joy

    And here’s where my quibble is. Joy is a heck of a lot to ask.

    Yes, it is. It is quite impossible. I guess we should give up then.

    Oh! That’s right, Christians have the spirit of the resurrected Messiah dwelling in them. And one of the evidences of this Spirit is joy. Maybe it’s not impossible after all.

    Or maybe we should just ignore the hard things God requires of us and do what’s easy and comfortable.

  86. @ ar:

    I don’t disagree that there’s a weird undercurrent of “if they’re in heaven, you’re supposed to be happy about it somehow.” That’s definitely a thing. I just also know that you say all kinds of weird things at wakes/funerals, and a lot of it is repeated rote stuff. Things become cliched answers for a reason- sometimes you just don’t need to think/want to think, and it’s a lot easier to just reach for the first hallmark card response that comes to mind.

    It’s much worse/common when it’s the person *doing* the comforting who uses that line to the grieving family.

  87. notyourtypical wrote:

    Caitlin wrote:

    If Jesus said “Let this cup pass from me but not My Will but Thine,” I reserve the right to just survive things.

    And then he disregarded his desire, laid down his rights as creator of the universe, went to the cross, and died.
    That seems like an odd choice of passage to argue your point b

    Also Jesus: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

    Not much joy and strength expressed there, especially considering he was the only perfect human and also God.

    But Monty Python’s “Jesus” sang while on the cross, so there’s that.

  88. notyourtypical wrote:

    Or maybe we should just ignore the hard things God requires of us and do what’s easy and comfortable.

    What is the point of joy if it’s hard? What’s the definition of grief if it’s comfortable? If God gives me joy despite grief, I’ll be the first to let you know. If I ask for joy despite grief, I’m sure God will oblige. But I’ll cut my tongue out before I tell someone else that they ought to be asking for joy in the midst of sorrow.

  89. Nancy wrote:

    ar wrote:

    Family member with immediate plastered on smile: “He is in a better place”. It was almost spooky and seemed forced and unnatural.

    Of course it is unnatural, it is Divine peace! You know, the kind promised throughout scripture, and the kind Paul talks about in 1 Tim. 4?

    Why rag on somebody for actually displaying the qualities of Christ?

  90. Caitlin wrote:

    Things become cliched answers for a reason- sometimes you just don’t need to think/want to think, and it’s a lot easier to just reach for the first hallmark card response that comes to mind.

    That is one reason we have rituals, like funeral customs. People are able to do ritualized things at a time when they are about to fall off some cliff into some darkness. The rituals get us through until we can breathe and think again. Pain distorts thinking. It is good to have rituals and pre-thought behaviors and responses; it enables people to face unthinkable ultimate realities and encourage each other with hope and concern when they do not know how to do it.

  91. notyourtypical wrote:

    Why rag on somebody for actually displaying the qualities of Christ?

    I beg your pardon? Did you read what I wrote? Are you saying that I was ragging on somebody, or is that just how it looks in your “quote?”

  92. notyourtypical wrote:

    Of course it is unnatural, it is Divine peace! You know, the kind promised throughout scripture, and the kind Paul talks about in 1 Tim. 4?
    Why rag on somebody for actually displaying the qualities of Christ?

    Jesus wept at the only funeral we know about. He then raised the guy. Why did He even bother crying if He was five seconds from performing a miracle? Maybe because Lazarus was His friend and He was sad. Not exactly peaceful.

    Jesus flipped the tables at the temple. Not exactly peaceful.

    “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Not exactly peaceful.

    It’s okay, it really is. It doesn’t make a person less of a Christian. It doesn’t make God less God, less King of Kings.

  93. Caitlin wrote:

    What is the point of joy if it’s hard? What’s the definition of grief if it’s comfortable? If God gives me joy despite grief, I’ll be the first to let you know. If I ask for joy despite grief, I’m sure God will oblige. But I’ll cut my tongue out before I tell someone else that they ought to be asking for joy in the midst of sorrow.

    Because joy isn’t dependent on the circumstances of God’s people but God’s gracious presence with his people? See: Ignatius, Perpetua, Huss, Luther, Paul, Jesus, David, and Moses for a few examples.

    If one would prefer to wallow in misery rather than experience the fullness of what God offers in Christ, so be it. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best way, or that the Church shouldn’t encourage them to live according to the pattern of the one from whom they take their name.

  94. Nancy wrote:

    However, the option to forsake that hope at that very moment is unthinkable. Who would want somebody to do that?

    Sometimes people use “He’s in a better place” as a defense against “bearing one another’s burdens”. I’ve seen it done this way; it was cruel because away someone who was in deep need.

    Only those who have long sat with the griever can offer it helpfully, and then best done after the pain has abated enough for the griever to be compos mentis again. I’ve seen it used this way too, and it was truly beautiful.

  95. Caitlin wrote:

    Jesus wept at the only funeral we know about. He then raised the guy. Why did He even bother crying if He was five seconds from performing a miracle? Maybe because Lazarus was His friend and He was sad. Not exactly peaceful.

    Jesus flipped the tables at the temple. Not exactly peaceful.

    “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Not exactly peaceful.

    It’s okay, it really is. It doesn’t make a person less of a Christian. It doesn’t make God less God, less King of Kings.

    There is an important difference between joy/despair and happiness/sadness. And how scripture understands peace is markedly different from how you understand it. Peace, the result of God’s good and righteous rule. That’s a fruit of the spirit, what the Christian can experience at a funeral: a knowledge that death in this case is not final, because of what God has done and what God will do.

    Was there anguish on the cross? Absolutely. But to imply that this anguish excludes peace is a gross misunderstanding of said peace. Peace is there because God rules and will be faithful to his son, as the son was faithful to him. Or do you think that Jesus was worried that the Father would not raise him?

  96. Nancy wrote:

    notyourtypical wrote:
    Why rag on somebody for actually displaying the qualities of Christ?
    I beg your pardon? Did you read what I wrote? Are you saying that I was ragging on somebody, or is that just how it looks in your “quote?”

    It was directed at me.

    And I wasn’t ragging on them. I have simply never ever been to any funeral or visitation where the entire family showed no sign whatsoever of grief, sadness or pain and all recited the same rote answer to expressions of sympathy. I cannot emphasize enough that they all used precisely the exact same words said in the same tone with the same not quite sincere smiling expression on their faces. This was not a case of six people saying the same thing in different words in natural conversation or with any look or tone of regret or sadness. It was truly very strange. It felt like someone had told them this is how they should feel and respond.

    And before someone explains to me that I am young and naive and don’t understand funerals, etc…I am 43 years old tomorrow and have been to far more than my share of funerals in the last few years.

  97. notyourtypical wrote:

    If one would prefer to wallow in misery rather than experience the fullness of what God offers in Christ, so be it. But that doesn’t mean it’s the best way, or that the Church shouldn’t encourage them to live according to the pattern of the one from whom they take their name.

    Normal grief is not wallowing in misery. Jesus even wept over Jerusalem.

  98. notyourtypical wrote:

    Of course it is unnatural, it is Divine peace! You know, the kind promised throughout scripture, and the kind Paul talks about in 1 Tim. 4?

    Why rag on somebody for actually displaying the qualities of Christ?

    Jesus was not unnatural. He wept when Lazarus died and he also yelled at people.

    God does not stand in opposition to His creation. He stands in opposition to evil, a completely different thing. Evil attempts to destroy creation.

    You appear to have a severe case of mind&spirit/body dualism. It’s not healthy and will make you extra vulnerable when/if severe crises or traumas come to you.

  99. “Cognitive dissonance on steroids”….isn’t that the truth?! The unceasing chatter in my head during my reformed years trying to reconcile opposing “truths” ceased when I left the “church” for Jesus. To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes (I think), I can’t always explain what truth is, but I know it when I see it. I now trust my inner wisdom (the holy spirit) when presented with religious baloney. BTW, Eagle, it’s been a long painful couple of months but I look forward to chatting with you soon. I wish for you every goodness.

  100. @ Patrice:

    They probably do, but at the funerals of my parents I was glad to hear it, regardless of why the person said it or what their own thoughts would have been had they not said it. I was glad they showed up at the funerals, and I was glad they limited themselves to the usual and customary comments. Simply because that is what I wanted to hear and what I wanted to remind myself of. Whatever that may have meant to the person saying it, well, so what? They were not my concern at the moment. Holding it all together for myself was my concern at the moment.

    Someone else’s experiences may have been different. But if this was my experience there is no need to denigrate it or criticize it or come along with some measuring of just how people ought to do at funerals. Leave us alone while we grieve, and if we resort to religious platitudes, how is that anybody’s business? At my mother’s funeral it was all about was it suicide or not. There is nothing good to say at a time like that, and if I responded with the “better place” response and somebody did not like it, they no doubt knew where the door was and could leave like they came.

  101. @ notyourtypical:

    I think notyourtypical is not being very Christian to people who are in grief or are suffering. It is not Christian to ask another to be happy, joyful, or whatever, when they are not. Or to assert that they are somehow less Christian. Full of her/himself is the best description I have for that. The only other place I see this behavior is by abusive pastors.

  102. ar wrote:

    And I wasn’t ragging on them. I have simply never ever been to any funeral or visitation where the entire family showed no sign whatsoever of grief, sadness or pain and all recited the same rote answer to expressions of sympathy. I cannot emphasize enough that they all used precisely the exact same words said in the same tone with the same not quite sincere smiling expression on their faces. This was not a case of six people saying the same thing in different words in natural conversation or with any look or tone of regret or sadness.

    Sounds like something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers

  103. @ Nancy:
    Yes I can see that, but other kinds of people aren’t as sturdy as you. You are amazing that way, did you know? It’s lovely to know you a bit because of it. Anyway, most people aren’t like you, and if we are to bear one another’s burdens, it’s best to think whose burden it is we are bearing before taking it up.

    Tangentially and just for its curiosity, my family received a lot of “He’s in a better place” when attending my Reformed pastor-father’s funeral. It was deeply bizarre because our father had chronically sexually/physically abused us, but people didn’t know (long story). We stood paralyzed in a line with our mother at center, while people shook our hands and repeated it to us again and again. And I know that most of them meant it as the best kindness, with all their hearts.

  104. As far as I can tell, everyone grieves differently. There is no prescribed ‘way’ to do it. This is also what makes it difficult to know how to support someone who is grieveing. What is helpful to one person, can be detrimental to someone else. Communicating love verbally and offering to just be there for ‘whatever’ is one course to take. Other than that, I shut up and listen.

  105. Guys…I want to throw this out there. How does a person get out of an unhealthy church? For those of you in a former SGM or current SGM church..what did it? Why did you leave? I’d love to hear your responses.

  106. Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:

    But Monty Python’s “Jesus” sang while on the cross, so there’s that.

    I post this with some circumspection, because there are much deeper and more important things being discussed on this thread (to which I hope to contribute when I have time to compose something short enough to be readable). But just to clear up a minor misconception, Brian is not intended to be Jesus.

    Monty Python’s classic comedy did begin life as a short sketch parodying Jesus. But the more the team researched the subject, the more they realised that Jesus wasn’t their target at all.

  107. This was fascinating. I couldn’t stop reading.

    My older son was love-bombed by the Navigators at his college (a large state university famous for its football team; I shall say no more!). When they figured out that he wasn’t going to convert to “Pope Piper” Neo-Calvinism, they turned on him. The girls were especially vicious and back-bite-y. (Several of the guys remained loyal, true friends, thankfully.)

    My take on this: When you’re the Elect, and you’re “once saved, always saved,” you don’t have to be bothered with all that silly Love Stuff. It’s just “works righteousness,” right? 😉

    My son is still kind of bitter about his Navigators experiences, but he has moved on.

    General observation: As a Catholic, I find it so hard to relate to this stuff. I see so many self-appointed super-popes arrogating spiritual authority to themselves, without any basis for their power-grabs in the Bible or in Church History or in Sacred Tradition (apostolic succession and so on). It’s a recipe for spiritual abuse. I know my Church has boo-koo problems and issues, but it is dealing with them; and it has survived for 2,000 years and counting, so we must be doing at least a few things right.

    Anyway…thanks for sharing your story, Eagle. It is thought-provoking on so many levels.

  108. I really like what Mike Anderson (the former director of the Resurgence who left Mars Hill) said..I think it speaks volumes about Sovereign Grace and former SGM churches.

    http://mikeyanderson.com/hello-name-mike-im-recovering-true-believer

    “Have you ever sat next to a bug zapper on a warm night, and just watched? An insect buzzes by and is instantly transfixed. That little light draws them in, then *bzzzzzt*—they are fried.

    This is my own story of getting transfixed by a pretty light and getting fried in the end. I’ve seen many friends make bad choices in their 20s. For some, regular partying quickly turned into alcoholism; for others, prescription drugs led them into dark places. For me, it was religion.

    You see, I’m what they call a True Believer.

    I really like the idea of changing the world: sacrifice for the cause, single-minded drive for the “mission,” a charismatic leader. As a 19-year-old I was the kind of guy that was the ideal follower for the crazies of history—the Mussolinis and the Hitlers.”

  109. Arce wrote:

    I think notyourtypical is not being very Christian to people who are in grief or are suffering… The only other place I see this behavior is by abusive pastors.

    I would not put it so. All the more because the “abusive pastors” comparison is something of a Godwin’s Law reductio ad h1tlerum in this community.

    I think notyourtypical is at least being honest theologically. I don’t mean that everyone else is being dishonest, just that notyourtypical honestly holds to a theology that is perhaps less different from your own than it might appear. And actually, (s)he is presenting an important perspective in this whole discussion, not least because it is easily missed.

    It might be that, like the vast majority of people, notyourtypical lacks the “grace gift” or χαρίσμα of encouragement, as described in Romans 12. So do I. The true gift of encouragement is incredibly rare in my experience, and is usually swamped by our natural desire to present a struggling person with answers we wish we had. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate his/her contribution.

  110. @ notyourtypical:
    Interesting. If I may ask a clarifying question, what about when the Holy Spirit doesn’t give you joy or the strength? Like say in the last 20 years of Mother Theresa’s life where she had no joy of God? What does that mean in the context of what Paul is saying here, if someone does not have that feeling or support emanating from the Holy Spirit?

  111. @ Eagle:
    I enjoyed his article as well. Reading it all I could think was “There but for the vagaries of life, go I.” Heck, I’ve fallen in with jobs, politics, even friends and over committed myself, mentally, physically and time wise. Good on him for pulling back and discovering.

  112. Eagle wrote:

    I used to ride to the LDS Ward with the Mormon missionaries. They used to give a ride to a recent convert who was poor. She was on food stamps and in the poverty level. On Sunday morning as a 20/21 year old kid I stood in the hallway of the Ward. She crossed paths with me and I could tell she was crying. The Mormon Bishop had dressed her down on her tithing, and yelled at her. Again as I recall she was crying. She told me that she didn’t have enough money at times to buy her children milk. (or something like that).

    Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed;

    To turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless!

    ~ From the Prophet Isaiah ~

  113. Nick Bulbeck wrote:

    But just to clear up a minor misconception, Brian is not intended to be Jesus.

    Monty Python’s classic comedy did begin life as a short sketch parodying Jesus. But the more the team researched the subject, the more they realised that Jesus wasn’t their target at all.

    Patrice wrote:

    But Monty Python’s “Jesus” sang while on the cross, so there’s that.

    Yeah but three guys on crosses? Forgotten debris of the artistic process? These guys were super-experts of pop culture and its icons. I suspect their after-tale is further general tongue-in-cheekiness.

    (“B-B-But that’s not ONLY what we meant; I mean, it’s not even PRIMARILY what we meant. And after digging into it, we realized it’s not actually what we meant at ALL. Those images were left at the end because we simply forgot how people would see them.”)

  114. Eagle, I unceremoniously left several churches over my earlier decades. First it was because of abuse-in-parsonage, twice it was because of cruelty. But beyond/around that, I quit trying because of its culture, which was careful and clean with a kind of domestication that made me feel deeply ill-at-ease.

    I eventually began to understand it was a difference in personality/experiences. It took me much longer to recognize the absurdity of Christians having only a couple of different personalities/experiences. Of course that’s not true, but the cultural pressures makes it appear/function so, in many ways. I found it harder being alone in the church crowd with God than simply being alone with God, so I gave up.

    This was made worse by also being female. If I were to attend church again, it would be where there is open acknowledgement of females as full peer partners in this adventure of living. I am no longer willing to sit&hear a different spiel on it, to expend effort in convincing/coaxing, or to fight it out. I hold precious Jesus’ Two Greatest Commandments and IMO that excludes hierarchies among humans.

    I could possibly join a church if I could be as un-self-conscious inside of it as I am outside. But because of that requirement along with complications of ill-health, I have no hope for it.

  115. What I see missing from all of this is the Eucharist; did Eagle ever attend any churches during this miserable journey where the focus was on communion rather than preaching.

  116. Nancy wrote:

    notyourtypical wrote:
    Why rag on somebody for actually displaying the qualities of Christ?
    I beg your pardon? Did you read what I wrote? Are you saying that I was ragging on somebody, or is that just how it looks in your “quote?”

    Sorry, not at you, I don’t think. The quoting system here is quite horrendous, especially on a smartphone.

  117. Nick Bulbeck wrote:

    Arce wrote:
    I think notyourtypical is not being very Christian to people who are in grief or are suffering… The only other place I see this behavior is by abusive pastors.

    I would not put it so. All the more because the “abusive pastors” comparison is something of a Godwin’s Law reductio ad h1tlerum in this community.
    I think notyourtypical is at least being honest theologically. I don’t mean that everyone else is being dishonest, just that notyourtypical honestly holds to a theology that is perhaps less different from your own than it might appear. And actually, (s)he is presenting an important perspective in this whole discussion, not least because it is easily missed.

    Thank you. I posted 2 comments above because I saw something in the discussion which I thought should be addressed to balance out what was already written, namely: 1) faith it scripture is not primarily an action but a state of being in relation to God and 2) an accusation that Piper’s theology causes him to view cancer as a “sweet gift from a loving Jesus”. I realize that the second and its variations, especially, is tossed around here with much impunity, but it strikes me as an unfair characterization based on either a misunderstanding of what he actually believes or a strawman set up to make people of his theological persuasion look ridiculous. Putting aside whatever disdain you may have for the man, what he said is not out of line with the witness of the whole of Scripture. He’s basically attempted to contextualize Philippians for a modern audience.

    It might be that, like the vast majority of people, notyourtypical lacks the “grace gift” or χαρίσμα of encouragement, as described in Romans 12. So do I. The true gift of encouragement is incredibly rare in my experience, and is usually swamped by our natural desire to present a struggling person with answers we wish we had. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate his/her contribution.

    Or, perhaps, this is a text-only medium where you have never met me, I have never met you, and we can’t see each other or hear each other’s voices and intonations. And as such, you are free to run wild and interpret my words in whatever mode you want, cynically or sympathetically. I would humbly suggest, however, that if we both profess Christ, it may be best if we both assume that we each have each other’s best interests in mind, as we both have the Spirit.

    And I have no delusions that I do not have the spiritual gift of encouragement; it is not me. No one who knows me has ever accused me of being short on grace, nor do they say that I rush to provide answers. So thank you for your feedback, but I’ll take the opinions of those who know me personally with a greater weight than yours.

    I do find it interesting, though, that your reaction to my words is an attempt to label me and declare what may or may not be my shortcomings. I’m not sure what amounts to, “it’s okay, he’s said some good thing, but he’s one of those people” is necessarily helpful, nor a good representation of the Church. I may not be an arm, like you, and so I may not see the world as the arm, but the leg has something important to offer the body too.

  118. notyourtypical wrote:

    And I have no delusions that I do not have the spiritual gift of encouragement; it is not me. No one who knows me has ever accused me of being short on grace, nor do they say that I rush to provide answers. So thank you for your feedback, but I’ll take the opinions of those who know me personally with a greater weight than yours.

    You are also interacting with people on this blog who you do not know, yet you come across as one who knows what they need to hear. Since you actually don’t know the people here, I must say that you seem a bit like a bull in a china cabinet at the moment.

  119. Albuquerque Blue wrote:

    @ notyourtypical:
    Interesting. If I may ask a clarifying question, what about when the Holy Spirit doesn’t give you joy or the strength? Like say in the last 20 years of Mother Theresa’s life where she had no joy of God? What does that mean in the context of what Paul is saying here, if someone does not have that feeling or support emanating from the Holy Spirit?

    What about it? Isn’t this the basic tension of the whole of creation? God’s good creation and promises against the present reality of the world? The one Scripture wrestles with from the 3rd chapter all the way to the 3rd from the last?

    Can I ask, what would knowing what it meant mean for you? Honest question.

    Look, here’s what I’ll say: Either you take your current circumstances as a reflection of your Christian life or you don’t. In the former, then either God isn’t consistent with you: He’s holding out, not doing what he’s promised, doesn’t love you and doesn’t care about you, or it’s an issue with you. Your spiritual life isn’t right, you’re not trying hard enough, you’re not good enough, not spiritual enough.

    The latter is the dark side of ‘arminianism’. (Soteriology is irrelevant here, but I think it is good to acknowledge that when its us who come to God, it also pressures us to work hard to feel grace and despair when we don’t. This is not a calvinist argument alone, see: M. Luther, decidedly not a calvinist.) It leads to despair: “why even try, then, why not just make it through to better times, when it’s easier to try and be successful?” This, I think, was Caitlin’s position, although I am open to correction.

    But what if, for the sake of argument, what if God’s character is the same: regardless of our circumstances he is always good, loving, kind and merciful? What if, in the style of Psalm 13, one praises and declares God’s goodness despite not feeling it at all? Does praise in lament, faith in despair change anything? It certainly seemed to for David as he wrote the Psalm. But his circumstanced didn’t change immediately, and our might not either. They might never change, a scary thought!

    So, my question. What would knowing what it meant mean for you? Does it change the reality of who God is, what God’s has done or what he has promised to do? Does it make him less praiseworthy? Is God less good?

    I’ll give you my radical answer: God is always good, no matter what our current circumstances are. And in the example of Psalm 13, the path to joy is a heart that praises and worships him especially when we don’t feel like it. And that’s Paul’s answer too, just look at how many times he speaks about rejoicing in Philippians:

    1:3 “I thank God”
    1:18 “I rejoice. Yes I will rejoice”
    2:1 “complete my joy”
    2:17 “even as I am poured out like a drink offering, I am glad and rejoice”
    3:1 “finally, brothers, rejoice”
    4:4 “rejoice in the lord always”
    4:10 “I rejoiced in the lord”

    All from prison, in chains!

    Look, it is easy to get bogged down in our problems and to focus on our despair, but for what? This is not to say that our circumstances are pleasant or should be praised in themselves. No, call a spade a spade. But praise God in everything, because he is unfailingly good, no matter where we find ourselves. That praise, the outworking of faith, the gift of the spirit of the Messiah, is the key. It’s not just the result of Paul’s being in Christ, it is vital to his being in Christ at all!

  120. Bridget wrote:

    You are also interacting with people on this blog who you do not know, yet you come across as one who knows what they need to hear. Since you actually don’t know the people here, I must say that you seem a bit like a bull in a china cabinet at the moment.

    Hm. I must have missed where I prescribed exacting solutions for everyone.

    Unless you mean that, by offering a tempering view to what others put forth, I assume I know what people need to hear. This may be, but it is not how I assumed this discussion thread works based on my past experience with them. If that’s not how it is here, I’ll gladly move on. But why, again, do you assume the worst about me? That I’ve come to set all y’all straight, as it were?

  121. @ notyourtypical:
    Thank you for your answer Notyourtypical, I found it enlightening, honest and thorough. As to answering your question, I’m afraid I can’t since I’m not a Christian but a simple atheist. But I do appreciate you answering my question. It’s awesome how many different types, beliefs or flavors of Christianity I run into on this blog.

  122.   __

    “Body, Blood, Broken : We Remember Him, And The Angels Sing?”

    Yes William ,

    hey,

    hmmm…

    Sure, Communion, directs us to remember the Lord Jesus according to Scriptures… 

    …to remember what He did for us until He comes again…

    Yahooooooo!

    Certainly, we must find the very center and keep our eyes on ‘Jesus’. 

    Yep.

      To do that we must forget ourselves a bit, and thoughtfully observe Communion as Jesus said, “In remembrance of Me” (Lk. 22.19).

      In this proverbial light, we reverently seek to set Jesus before us, in out thoughts – His body broken, buried, and raised, He now seated at the right hand of God, who ever intercedes upon ‘our’ behalf, the Holy Spirit imparted, the Promise given, the true Word waiting for His enemies to be made a footstool for His feet.

    We get it!

    When we do ‘this’ communion thingy,  in respectful remembrance of our Savior, we must endeavor to remember where His bod sits NOW, and in who’s hands, the ‘world’ belongs…

    The angels sing, “Holy!”

    me too…

    (grin)

    Sopy
    __
    Intermission: Martha Tilton – “And The Angels Sing…”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1CPmjCjXUM

    Comic relief: Martha Tilton –  “What This Country Needs…” 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNNvRb5yosI

    Bonus: Ziggy Elman- “Bye ‘N Bye”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeHYAJ6Ac-M

    ;~)

  123. notyourtypical wrote:

    Bridget wrote:
    You are also interacting with people on this blog who you do not know, yet you come across as one who knows what they need to hear. Since you actually don’t know the people here, I must say that you seem a bit like a bull in a china cabinet at the moment.
    Hm. I must have missed where I prescribed exacting solutions for everyone.
    Unless you mean that, by offering a tempering view to what others put forth, I assume I know what people need to hear. This may be, but it is not how I assumed this discussion thread works based on my past experience with them. If that’s not how it is here, I’ll gladly move on. But why, again, do you assume the worst about me? That I’ve come to set all y’all straight, as it were?

    Why do you say I am assuming the worst of you? I’m not. I don’t know you. I am simply telling you what my experience/impression of you on this thread has been like. It may not be what you intend or think it is actually like, but that doesn’t change what someone else is experiencing.

  124. Eagle wrote:

    “Almost every booth I visited had paperwork about doctor-assisted suicide or end of life options. With my Dad struggling with a brain tumor and with his fate unknown, I was puzzled why there was the strong doctor-assisted suicide identity. Is this a knee jerk reaction by atheists to many Christians who are opposed to abortion?”

    “After my experience in the nursing home, my prediction or analysis is that as the population ages you will see an increase in doctor assisted suicide, or euthanasia, due to people’s determination to avoid nursing homes. And I can personally see why.”

    While it’s possible that a knee-jerk reaction was in play there, Christians have long been opposed to euthanasia as well as abortion. There are theological reasons for that, although I think the angle that needs to be played is actual examples of people being involuntarily euthanized due to pressures on the system. Googling phrases like the Groningen Protocol, or euthanasia within the U.K.’s NHS is hugely revealing. Some years ago there was a dustup in Oregon after a woman in a later stage of cancer was denied access to a new experimental drug, and instead offered information on physician assisted suicide.

    Some aging Baby Boomers may indeed resort to this to avoid nursing homes. My own father has expressed a similar sentiment after visiting more than one old friend in such places. Actually, what I’ve heard about in recent years are elderly who are completely dependent on Medicare/Medicaid being discriminated against in various ways because they don’t bring in as much $$$ as patients who are even partially paying their own way. I agree that this is one area where the Church has quite the looming ministry opportunity.

  125. notyourtypical wrote:

    But praise God in everything, because he is unfailingly good, no matter where we find ourselves. That praise, the outworking of faith, the gift of the spirit of the Messiah, is the key. It’s not just the result of Paul’s being in Christ, it is vital to his being in Christ at all!

    To hold tight to the fact of God’s goodness in the face of overwhelming evil has little to do with praise or peace (as you mentioned earlier). It functions more as a bl**dy insistence that waxes/wanes. And if alone in a crisis, there might be times when it becomes too much to bear, to the point that death would be welcome for its peace and for the wild hope of God’s promise of new life beyond.

    God did not see Job’s enraged and despairing responses as sinful nor did He find that it tore at their relationship. But He did see wrong in his friends’ chidings and sermonizing righteousness. They offered a naïve sureness that could only be expounded by people who hadn’t suffered to the endpoint of themselves and who also weren’t willing to put themselves in his place, with empathy.

    Your above quote, among others, does a little of that latter, and I suspect that’s what Bridge meant by “bull in a china cabinet”.

    But just because we think you are incorrect about this, doesn’t mean we wish you to disappear. It would be excellent if you could stay and deepen your obvious and lovely passion. 😉

  126. notyourtypical wrote:

    Or, perhaps, this is a text-only medium where you have never met me, I have never met you, and we can’t see each other or hear each other’s voices and intonations. And as such, you are free to run wild and interpret my words in whatever mode you want, cynically or sympathetically.

    I have had limited time to ponder the best response to this – it’s 11pm in Blighty and I’m going to bed once I’ve posted this – but I feel I owe you an apology, and a response.

    Firstly, the apology. My comments on the rarity of the gift of encouragement were actually in the broader context of the thread, in which much has been said about formulas and cheap answers and their prevalence in church circles. When I said you may not have this gift, I meant “may not” – you’re quite right in saying that I don’t know you. I was in the process of defending you from an accusation of being full of yourself, which I felt was unwarranted, and a comparison to abusive pastors that I felt was unfair. I also meant to imply that you were expressing a theological conviction rather than trying to encourage per se (someone with that gift would attempt to encourage much as they would breathe out). But I see that putting all of those thoughts in one paragraph looks like I was linking you with the proffering of cheap answers, and I apologise for this.

    Secondly…

    That stick points both ways. You don’t know me. My comment was the first thing I have ever written directly to you, to my knowledge. You, too, were free to interpret it cynically or sympathetically. In the very act of suggesting that we believe the best of each other, you chose the former. From the person who posted such a beautifully-worded defence of the idea of praise in the midst of suffering as comment 152954 above, I cannot tell you how disappointing that is.

  127. William G. wrote:

    What I see missing from all of this is the Eucharist; did Eagle ever attend any churches during this miserable journey where the focus was on communion rather than preaching.

    Oh my gosh — I wondered the same thing!!

  128. Sopwith wrote:

      __

    “Body, Blood, Broken : We Remember Him, And The Angels Sing?”

    Yes William ,

    hey,

    hmmm…

    Sure, Communion, directs us to remember the Lord Jesus according to Scriptures… 

    …to remember what He did for us until He comes again…

    Yahooooooo!

    Certainly, we must find the very center and keep our eyes on ‘Jesus’. 

    Yep.

      To do that we must forget ourselves a bit, and thoughtfully observe Communion as Jesus said, “In remembrance of Me” (Lk. 22.19).

      In this proverbial light, we reverently seek to set Jesus before us, in out thoughts – His body broken, buried, and raised, He now seated at the right hand of God, who ever intercedes upon ‘our’ behalf, the Holy Spirit imparted, the Promise given, the true Word waiting for His enemies to be made a footstool for His feet.

    We get it!

    When we do ‘this’ communion thingy,  in respectful remembrance of our Savior, we must endeavor to remember where His bod sits NOW, and in who’s hands, the ‘world’ belongs…

    The angels sing, “Holy!”

    me too…

    (grin)

    Sopy
    __
    Intermission: Martha Tilton – “And The Angels Sing…”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1CPmjCjXUM

    Comic relief: Martha Tilton –  ”What This Country Needs…” 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNNvRb5yosI

    Bonus: Ziggy Elman- “Bye ‘N Bye”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeHYAJ6Ac-M

    ;~)

    “This IS My Body…”

    Ok, off the Catholic soapbox now.

  129. @ notyourtypical:
    notyourtypical wrote:

    t leads to despair: “why even try, then, why not just make it through to better times, when it’s easier to try and be successful?” This, I think, was Caitlin’s position, although I am open to correction.

    No, That is certainly NOT my position.

    My position, as someone who is ACTUALLY GRIEVING LIKE AT THIS MOMENT (my grandmother died a week ago, not that you personally could know this) is that what I individually would do and what I would encourage someone ELSE to do are very vastly different. My point is that any talking about joy vis a vis God in the midst of actual acute suffering is 100% on the prerogative of the person suffering. God is available, God would be happy and willing to bear some of our burdens, God is grieving with us whether we ask Him to or not. But that has nothing to do with suggesting that the person in the depths of pain or grief OUGHT to be experiencing joy or the Holy Spirit is not *actually* working within them or suggesting that failing to ask that the Holy Spirit somehow replace grief with joy is a failure of faith.

    I don’t think you’re actually suggesting that Christians who grieve are somehow NOT Christian. But I think you are coming dangerously close to suggesting that allowing a person the room to just experience the sorrow without *wanting* joy or *expecting* joy means that the person is not Christian.

  130. notyourtypical wrote:

    But praise God in everything, because he is unfailingly good, no matter where we find ourselves

    I praise God where I am right now because God has not left me, not because God has made me joyful. I praise God *because* He weeps, not because he makes me rosy. I would be sickened if God came in and wiped away the sorrow I feel. It would feel cheap. it would feel gross. It would feel dishonest. God isn’t any of those things. God knows precisely what it is to grieve and God gives us love and space and time to do those things. It isn’t at all despair or hopelessness. It’s simply an acknowledgement that life on this earth is full of sorrow. God is a Man of Sorrows. He isn’t afraid of that. Why are you so afraid of it?

  131. @ Patrice:

    Precisely all this.

    Job yelled at God, called God out. God did likewise. God said “Who the heck are you? Where were you? Who are you to question me???”

    And yet.

    And yet, the sinful ones were his friends. The sinful ones were the ones who proclaimed to have answers. Job, and I’ve studied it pretty closely, Job is about questioning. It’s about not making human assumptions one way or another. It’s about a deeper understanding of where God lives in the midst of real, deep sorrow and pain. And to be honest, He doesn’t live in praise at that moment, He doesn’t live in “Oh, this is My glory”. When God let us see what His response to sorrow and suffer was, He wept. He stood there and He cried for a bit. THAT is where God lives. I don’t know where you’re getting the idea that I’m terribly fatalistic. I’m just basis my opinion off God’s actual reported response to sorrow. God. Cried.

    Let other people cry, okay? Let that happen.

  132. @ notyourtypical:

    I’m going to repeat what I’ve said before. It’s one thing to say “This is how Paul reacted” It’s one thing to say “This is how *I* reacted” It’s one thing to say “This is what God did for ME”

    It’s a WHOLE different thing to say “This is how you ought to react.”

    That is all. Do not dictate to others what their relationship to God *ought* to be. When you bring “The Holy Spirit does X thing” into the mix, you make it sound as if you are saying “And if X thing does not happen… well, the Holy Spirit isn’t with you.”

    If you can concede that we’re talking about two very different things, 1 a description of how you personally have responded and 2 how other people *ought* to respond, then there is no disconnect.

  133. Patrice wrote:

    God did not see Job’s enraged and despairing responses as sinful nor did He find that it tore at their relationship. But He did see wrong in his friends’ chidings and sermonizing righteousness. They offered a naïve sureness that could only be expounded by people who hadn’t suffered to the endpoint of themselves and who also weren’t willing to put themselves in his place, with empathy.

    Good catch Patrice. American Protestantism often has a round-a-bout and not so roundabout way of making the Apostle Paul the last word in all matters of faith and practice. In doing so it ignores a treasure trove of Psalms that are actually laments of pain and anger vented to the Almighty. They are also devoid of the flowery praise and fearful genuflecting we’ve all seen in the Lion and the Tin Woodman as they approached the great and powerful OZ.
    D.A. Carson wrote:
    “There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God. Theirs is not a faith that leads to dry-eyed stoicism, but to a faith so robust it wrestles with God”.

  134. Sopwith wrote:

      __
    “Body, Blood, Broken : We Remember Him, And The Angels Sing?”
    Yes William ,
    hey,
    hmmm…
    Sure, Communion, directs us to remember the Lord Jesus according to Scriptures… 
    …to remember what He did for us until He comes again…
    Yahooooooo!
    Certainly, we must find the very center and keep our eyes on ‘Jesus’. 
    Yep.
      To do that we must forget ourselves a bit, and thoughtfully observe Communion as Jesus said, “In remembrance of Me” (Lk. 22.19).
      In this proverbial light, we reverently seek to set Jesus before us, in out thoughts – His body broken, buried, and raised, He now seated at the right hand of God, who ever intercedes upon ‘our’ behalf, the Holy Spirit imparted, the Promise given, the true Word waiting for His enemies to be made a footstool for His feet.
    We get it!
    When we do ‘this’ communion thingy,  in respectful remembrance of our Savior, we must endeavor to remember where His bod sits NOW, and in who’s hands, the ‘world’ belongs…
    The angels sing, “Holy!”
    me too…
    (grin)
    Sopy
    __
    Intermission: Martha Tilton – “And The Angels Sing…”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1CPmjCjXUM
    Comic relief: Martha Tilton –  ”What This Country Needs…” 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNNvRb5yosI
    Bonus: Ziggy Elman- “Bye ‘N Bye”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeHYAJ6Ac-M
    ;~)

    That approach, to me, seems to intellectualize the Eucharist a bit too much. In the Orthodox church, we believe the Eucharist to be spiritual food; the true body and blood of Jesus Christ, given for the remission of sins and salvation unto life everlasting. Thus we give it even to infants (a tiny amount of wine with a speck of bread in it), and to disabled people. The Western doctrine that one must understand what the Eucharist is in order to partake of it is alien to the Eastern tradition; it was also largely alien in the Methodist church in which I grew up, where I first partook of the Eucharist at five, which began my life long love affair with Christianity.

    At first I thought it was just the delicious taste of bread dipped in grape juice or wine, but attempts at replicating the flavor on my own failed, and thus I came to the realization that what I was partaking of was truly supernatural. Even when taking it with grape juice, it would cause a tingling sensation in my mouth. Since then I’ve had the Eucharist cure an acute attack of nausea, and have benefited from it in other unusual ways; when I was recently staying overnight with a sick relative in hospital, on the very uncomfortable reclining chair provided for relatives, on such a timeline that I was prevented from attending the Sunday Eucharist as normal, I instead dreamed about the Eucharist, and this dream of partaking of it actually kept me going.

    In my humble and very private opinion and experience, no Christian who has experienced this would leave the faith. What facilitates this Eucharistic experience is not entirely uniform. I have also had one profoundly bad experience partaking of the Eucharist; at a parish of the Episcopal Church, USA, with a conservative pastor, when I consumed the Eucharist I received severe heartburn. I attribute this to knowledge on my part of the evil acts of the Presiding Bishop of that denomination to drive traditionalists out of their parish churches; the Priest according to most theories of sacramental theology vicariously represents his Bishop, who in turn represents Christ; if the Bishop is a heretic, this negates the ability of the Priest to validly confect the sacrament; however, this would seem to apply only to the Eucharist; if one applied it in general, or broadened the definition from the Bishop being in a state of open heresy, to the Bishop merely being a sinner, one would fall into the heresy of Donatism.

  135. Eagle’s story reminded me of a couple books I read and reviewed last year. If it’s okay, here is the review.
    ————————
    Saving Casper: A Christian and an Atheist Talk about Why We Need to Change the Conversion Conversation, by Jim Henderson and Matt Casper, Tyndale House, 2013.

    When you think about it, the typical church usually doesn’t get any honest feedback from the visitors it receives, except when they vote by their feet to leave after one visit, or to come back the next week. In their first book, Jim and Casper go to Church, Jim, a former pastor, and Casper, an atheist, visit at least eleven churches of different types around the country, with Casper giving his honest feedback on what he observed in the church service. These observations, or questions of bewilderment, are discussed for each visit, and give a sometimes startling look at how Christian churches of various Protestant stripes operate. Some of the churches visited were Saddleback, Willow Creek, Joel’s Osteen’s Lakewood, Mars Hill, and the Dream Center (Four-Square).

    In their second book, Saving Casper, Jim and Casper return with more musings and dialogue on their church visits, this time mostly concentrating on their experiences in travelling to talk about the first book. A lot of the same themes come up in this book, such as Casper’s observation that many churches seem more concerned about money or obtaining members or making people feel good, than in actually following what Jesus said to do in caring for the poor and needy. He also talks about how Christians often seemed more focused on getting people saved than in caring about them as persons. A particularly shameful thing was to hear how many times people would interact with Casper cordially, but end by reminding him he’s headed for hell if he doesn’t repent. In contrast, Casper recounts the death of his mother, and how her Catholic friends provided loving and honest support to him and his family, not caring that he is an atheist. All in all, though, Casper does realize that not all Christians are alike, and some do get it right in their honest friendship and outreach to others.

    This book presents a good case for any church to really examine the image it presents to outsiders, and for church members to examine how they interact with non-believers. Are we behaving in the ways the Bible tells us to treat others? Do we make non-Christians uncomfortable by an overemphasis on hell and salvation, or on collecting money for church projects? Are we really involved in the lives of others in the community? Granted, Casper’s views may over-emphasize the social aspects of the Gospel as being most important, as opposed to dealing with Jesus’s claims of being the Son of God, but there is still much to learn from both of these books.

  136. *
    *

      __

    So?

    hmmm…

    Albuquerque Blue,
    …i beg your pardon, thatz “wonderful” simple atheist!

    *
    ♩ ♪ ♫  ♬ hum, hum, hum…She pictures the broken glass, 
    Wearing a frown,
    She pictures the steam,
    She pictures a soul
    with no leak at the seam,
    She’s dreaming of mercy,
    Wearing her insides out,
    She’s lõõl’in for mercy,
    …Is it only a dream? [1]

    (sadface)

    Sopy
    __
    [1] adapted. Peter Gabriel – “Mercy Street” 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NX7zIypE2FE
    all rights reserved; Words written by Peter Gabriel
    http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/petergabriel/mercystreet.html
    Copyright: Real World Music Ltd.; Fair use adaptation, U.S. Title 17 copyright infringement unintended.

    ;~)

  137. *
    *
      __

    “Touch From Da Sky: Ascending ‘Red’ Descending ‘Purple’, Perhaps?”

    hmmm…

    Catholic Homeschooler ,

    hey,

      This Jesus, our precious Savior, who’s body was broken & bruised for us, who’s blood was shed for us as well, was taken up, and entered into Heaven. 

    Yeah!

    Just as the Passover meal was a faithful reminder of God’s tremendous deliverance of ‘Israel’ from their slavery in Egypt, even so in the Lord’s Supper demonstrates the story of our redemption from the slavery of sin by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ…

    (this end up)

    Now Jesus appears in the presence of God, Our Father, and intercedes on our behalf.

    Wonderful !

    (fast forward)

    Da next step…da Mount Of Olives…

    SKreeeeeeeeeetch !

    Jesus will come again in just the same way in which He left, so letz watch for Him, Ok?

    …for He who promised is ‘faithful’…

    Yahoo!

    *
    Your words O’ Lord, – You have faithfully written upon my heart,
    …my feet you have secured in the way…

    Serving a’risen Lord &  Heavenly seated King?

    U betcha!

    (smiley face goes here)

    ATB

    Sopy
    __
    Inspirational relief: Scottish Bagpipes- “Amazing Grace”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OO5y2O_hv3I

    Bonus: Da Virtual Beatles – “Rain”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBWl8QM6RGU

    ;~)

  138. notyourtypical wrote:

    I would humbly suggest, however, that if we both profess Christ, it may be best if we both assume that we each have each other’s best interests in mind

    The problem is that you can’t see that he IS assuming the best of you. The way you’ve come across is really not very flattering.
    Take your response to Beakerj, who was open and honest about her suffering, honest about going through a grief that made her feel that all she could do was survive. That kind of hurt is personal, and sharing it makes you vulnerable.
    You responded by essentially telling her that, really, that feeling was just evidence that she had screwed up (it is “on [her]” and she “settle[d] for less”. The direct implication of what you said was that God had a different experience in hand for her where she would be joyful, but instead she, to quote you downthread, “prefer[red] to wallow in misery rather than experience the fullness of what God offers in Christ.” Dear sweet goodness, man! That’s a horrible thing to say about someone!
    You can say that that wasn’t what you meant, and I’d really like to believe it wasn’t what you meant, but by golly it’s what you said.

    And for all your protests that you don’t advocate “Christian stoicism,” I would suspect responses like yours go a long way towards people being unable to share their pain openly. This is, perhaps, why people like brian upthread feel like they can’t ever express their grief. Why would they open up and be honest about their feelings if it will just be taken as evidence that they really aren’t spiritual enough in their response to pain?
    Have you ever thought that maybe it would make more sense to approach someone else’s pain with compassion rather than with criticism? Even if Beakerj feels like she just survived, who are you to say that she was somehow deficient in her response to her pain? God’s perspective is different from ours, and His judgments don’t take only the surface into account. We are all of us different in our experiences and perspectives, different in nature and temperament and different in age and maturity. How we respond to pain is going to be different too, and how God relates to us in those times will be different as well. And we are called to mourn along with them and to help bear their burden.

  139. In times of deep grief, a friend will offer to be with the griever, to sit, to walk, to listen. God does. And as a human, I can also ask the griever, if they wish, to tell me about their lost one, especially if it is an elder that I did not know well, to tell their stories of the deceased’s good times and survivals. Often that is the best therapy, to remember and talk about the deceased. “I did not know your ____ (as well as you); do you want to tell me about your _____, perhaps some good times with them?”

  140. ISTM the issues presented by notyourtypical are at the center of what I’d mentioned earlier as the “clean, tidy, domesticated” culture of the church, in which I don’t feel at home.

    A culture will be affected when a substantial proportion insists that God wants us to store all experiences in small boxes, to run from the “negative” emotions as if they are sin, and to be suspicious of pain. Parts of ourselves shut down when we force peace&praise into every nook&cranny. In my experience, what notyourtypical presents *is* typical.

    I came the loooong slow way around to the fine ideas everyone presented in this thread. Thanks much, all!

  141. Catholic Homeschooler wrote:

    without any basis for their power-grabs in the Bible or in Church History or in Sacred Tradition

    Good observation. It becomes a free-for-all for the power hungry sometimes.

  142. Catholic Homeschooler wrote:

    William G. wrote:
    What I see missing from all of this is the Eucharist; did Eagle ever attend any churches during this miserable journey where the focus was on communion rather than preaching.
    Oh my gosh — I wondered the same thing!!

    The above quote (s) come from one orthodox and one catholic person. I am neither, but let me say this about communion/ Holy Eucharist from two different viewpoints, one sacramental and one non-sacramental. One of the things about the sacramental approach is that the individual is given the opportunity to experience God in a way that is different from mere thinking. Thinking is fine, but I notice it is also where we have disagreements. Experiencing God in other ways is also powerful. For those who believe in sacraments, there are sacraments. For the charismatics, there are the charismatic experiences like perceiving the special presence of the Spirit in a corporate, not just individual, way, if I understand correctly.

    In my years in SBCdom I never, that would be never, heard the idea (at least not from the pulpit) that there was anything to be known or experienced of God beyond some doctrine or idea or concept. That is just not true. I get the “feel” that the neo-Puritans are pushing that concept. Explanations have their place, but they are only explanations; they are not the reality of the thing. Why do I think that? Explanations change. New ideas or new discoveries come along and then out with the old and in with the new explanation. We love that in medicine; at last we have a treatment for XYZ. We stroke out over that in religion, especially in explanation-driven religion.

    I like explanations, within reason. But I “like” the experience of the reality of God far more. These two things are not mutually exclusive. This is not a competition but rather a complexity.

  143. Pingback: Wednesday Link List | Thinking Out Loud UNITED STATES

  144. @ Nancy:

    A quick point…I have a deep respect for the Orthodox faith. That said, one of the things I like about Protestantism is their sermons. I do like good expository preaching and teaching, which said I do believe it needs balance. I go to Fairfax Community Church today and they offer communion every week while having a talk. One thing I learned is that every faith system has its plus and minus, its strengths and weaknesses. One of the pluses I think is how the Orthodox do the Eucharist , but two strikes against the Orthodox church for me is a dearth of good preaching, and I feel that the Orthodox church falls to nationalism and politics in differing ways. For example I think the Russian Orthodox can identify too much with the Russian government at times. During the Cold War I heard that the Romanian Orthodox cooperated closely with the Romanian government. Then you have the Orthodox Church in the Balkan crisis which I think helped fan the flames. I think this should be kept in mind when discussing the orthodox faith.

  145. @ Arce:

    In the above story one of the things I appreciated was how James Crestwood engaged and showed love the night my father was in the ER dealing with a brain tumor (we initially thought it to be a stroke). He responded with love, grace, asked me to come over at 2:00 AM and spoke with me. He empathized, expressed his sorrow and love. He also didn’t say “this is a theological lesson to show God’s sovereignty” etc… No John Piper talk, no “this was God’s will for your father”. Had he done that I probably would have punched him due to how I felt. This is one of the problems with the Neo-Calvinists and why I think they have more in common with Sunni Islam than with Christianity. Their response is one of “just submit” to whatever befalls you in life. Jesus wept, Job yelled at God, Mary expressed her anxiousness, Elijah begged God to take his life….but for the New-Cals its just submit and don’t ask questions. Sometimes I wonder when some of these guys are going to start to follow the Prophet Muhammad instead of Jesus. Their actions more resemble Islamic faith, than that of Christianity. The second time I visited Redeemer of Arlington Eric Simmons in his talk emphasize the importance of saying “I don’t know”. That was good, and remains a start. However it also fails because you can’t say that then turn around and push material from John Piper or Mark Dever who teach something different than that. This is why discernment is important and key…you have to weigh both a church’s teachings and actions.

  146. @ Arce:

    In the above story one of the things I appreciated was how James Crestwood engaged and showed love the night my father was in the ER dealing with a brain tumor (we initially thought it to be a stroke). He responded with love, grace, asked me to come over at 2:00 AM and spoke with me. He empathized, expressed his sorrow and love. He also didn’t say “this is a theological lesson to show God’s sovereignty” etc… No John Piper talk, no “this was God’s will for your father”. Had he done that I probably would have punched him due to how I felt. This is one of the problems with the Neo-Calvinists and why I think they have more in common with Sunni Islam than with Christianity. Their response is one of “just submit” to whatever befalls you in life. Jesus wept, Job yelled at God, Mary expressed her anxiousness, Elijah begged God to take his life….but for the New-Cals its just submit and don’t ask questions. Sometimes I wonder when some of these guys are going to start to follow the Prophet Muhammad instead of Jesus. Their actions more resemble Islamic faith, than that of Christianity. The second time I visited Redeemer of Arlington Eric Simmons in his talk emphasize the importance of saying “I don’t know”. That was good, and remains a start. However it also fails because you can’t say that then turn around and push material from John Piper or Mark Dever who teach something different than that. This is why discernment is important and key…you have to weigh both a church’s teachings and actions.

  147. *
    *
      __

    “Pass’d Over, N’ Peace Provided?”

    @ William G,
    @ Catholic Homeschooler,

    hmmm…

      As a believer, we experience Jesus, in our church, and in our home;  He is present with us in the marketplace during our daily business.

    “Abide in the vine”, Jesus said.

    Ok.

    “…’This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!'” , The Father said.

    Yep.

    ‘Abide’ & ‘Listen’ ..

    …good, ‘practical’, N’ ‘sound’ advice, huh?

    …from a passover lamb, and a guy who sayz ta take da sandals off your feet in His presence, huh?

    no biggie, for da ‘One’ who made da world…

    no biggie, for da ‘kind folk’ who believe, huh?

    (grin)

     As the deer pants for the cool waters, so my soul pants for Thee, please be so kind as to ‘fill’ up my cup, Lord!

    Thanx Bunches!

    ATB

    Sopy
    __
    intermission: Jean-Michel Jarre – Live in Monaco -The whole concert- (grin)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhrOkO3naaI

    ;~)

  148. Oh Nancy, our SBC experience is very different. Our churches have gone through the Experiencing God course, which borders on charismatic/contemplative experiencing Christ.

    In many ways we now out “Pentecostal” many of those in our area in terms of worship services and experience of God.

    Which is why I resist saying the SBC does this or that, or the UMC does this or that, or the RCC does this or that. Each individual church, and individual within them, is so different.

  149. Lydia wrote:

    @ Eagle:
    It is weird. If we are certain, we don’t need “faith”. Embarrassed to admit it took me a while to wrap my head around that. On the other hand, it is a good thing to seek truth. And doubt can be a great motivator to seek truth.

    That kind of statement always throws me off a bit. I do believe in faith but I also think that we have to have a certainty about God. Faith to to me is trusting that God will do what God has declared that God will do. If we want to know for sure that God exists and that God is good then I believe the Holy Spirit works to bring us to that place of certainty. If that certainty waivers then he works again to bring us to that certainty. I mean, sometimes, the doubts start creeping back in and ask him for help and then he does something every time that brings me to certainty again and I apologize for doubting. We either believe or we don’t believe. I think it’s impossible to will faith into existence, that’s not faith but wishful thinking.

  150. @ linda:

    Part 1

    My comment was to “second” an idea from what William had said and catholic homeschooler had referenced.

    Your experience sounds entirely different from my experience. It may be that we are from different generations also. In fact, I would be willing to bet on that, from the sound of what you are saying. The SBC has changed significantly at least twice since my youth. Nothing “pentecostal” would have been permitted in my day, and as I have said before I never actually heard the term “Holy Ghost” (that was the terminology back then) until I was about late elementary or early middle school age, and then from another kid outside of church. (Except, of course, in the lyrics of a hymn or two.) And, there was not and I see still is not a sacramental theology in The Baptist Faith and Message statement on line at SBC convention web site.

    When I first ran into sacramental thinking, and I learned about it from the catholics, I knew there was for me no going back to anything which did not include such thinking, at least to some degree. That is something William was saying and catholic homeschooler was replying to. So I took up the cause in my own way.

    (continued)

  151. @ Nancy:

    Part 2

    Now, I have to say, part of my feeling in this area is personal. Under the then baptist system I certainly learned to quote scripture and give devotions and “witness” and find stuff quickly in the bible and even sing close harmony (not well I must admit.) I learned to “testify” and raise money for missions and defend!! the faith. Especially I learned why we were right and other people were not. I played my violin in revivals and prayed for the conversion of sinners and the restoration of the wandering. And I lived all the current do and don’t cultural commands of the day. I did not find any of this onerous or tedious or otherwise abusive in any way. It was just one more thing to be learned, and I was “into” learning. Let me put this in perspective. I also learned how to sew and can and kill chickens and got better than most with my BB (avoiding moderation) and it was all just part of the package. I did, however, really believe (most of the time) so this is not a tale of some religious disaster.

    Years later, through a series of apparently separate events, I began to clue in to a larger picture. What happened is that the old baptist way of doing things fell apart (this was in the 60s and 70s) and I went looking for what we had lost for my children who were little at the time. This was all before the conservative resurgence. What I found, over time, revolutionized my thinking, for better or worse. And I regret that I did not venture forth beyond baptist circles long before I did. Some things in my personal spiritual experience and in my life circumstances would have been different if I had.

    I am not “preaching” anything for anybody else. I am delighted that you have had a better experience in this area than I did. I am not preaching at William or catholic homeschooler or Eagle or anybody. It is just that I have come to realize and experience some things that I found lacking in my religious formative years and training and which have been important to me.

  152. @ notyourtypical:
    I have a lot of things to say in response to this – but they will take thinking about & it’s late here & I just got in from work. If you have never been at the point where all you have left in you is survival then I’m glad for you…but think of the widow’s mite -we give out of what we have (which may be very little) not what we don’t, & God judges us accordingly. I have so much more to say, & will get to it over the next couple of days. My gut reaction is you have much to learn from the bruised reeds here, especially those, like me, who were compulsive over-achievers in every area, including spiritually.

  153. @ mirele:
    Like Haitch, I too relate. Mine’s from having stripped my psyche via too much trauma, and I do just what you do after any stimulating experience. It’s dose related, too—the more complexity/amount of stimuli, the more rest required.

    Best of luck with the clueless pastor…

  154. Been getting above response when trying to post on other thread, so wanted to see if here too. Nope. Will try again.

  155. @ Eagle:

    And then you’ve got Cage-Phase Orthodox out here on the Web. You know the type; no matter what the question, they have only one answer: “ORTHODOXY! ORTHODOXY! ORTHODOXY! (optional string of Greek theological terms)!”

    Though Fr OrthoCuban seems to indicate the characteristically Orthodox way to flake out is the “Monk-a-bee”, where you take on all the trappings (dress, beard, etc) of an ascetic Eastern-Rite monk without bothering to actually take vows or put yourself under an Abbot’s authority. It’s a “More ORTHODOX Than Thou” shtick.

  156. NJ wrote:

    Some aging Baby Boomers may indeed resort to this to avoid nursing homes. My own father has expressed a similar sentiment after visiting more than one old friend in such places. Actually, what I’ve heard about in recent years are elderly who are completely dependent on Medicare/Medicaid being discriminated against in various ways because they don’t bring in as much $$$ as patients who are even partially paying their own way. I agree that this is one area where the Church has quite the looming ministry opportunity.

    But will the Church take that opportunity?

    After all, it takes time & energy away from Culture War Without End and/or Perfectly Parsing Theology.

  157. Nick Bulbeck wrote:

    But just to clear up a minor misconception, Brian is not intended to be Jesus.

    As I understand it, Brian is a schlemozzel whose life vaguely parallels Jesus and sometimes gets mistaken for him.

    Monty Python’s classic comedy did begin life as a short sketch parodying Jesus. But the more the team researched the subject, the more they realised that Jesus wasn’t their target at all.

    And it turned into a comedy of errors about how people can misunderstand and screw up even the best things.

  158. Catholic Homeschooler wrote:

    My older son was love-bombed by the Navigators at his college (a large state university famous for its football team; I shall say no more!). When they figured out that he wasn’t going to convert to “Pope Piper” Neo-Calvinism, they turned on him. The girls were especially vicious and back-bite-y.

    When I was at Cal Poly Pomona in the Seventies (and on the fringes of CCC), the Navigators had a reputation for being the most X-Treme of the Christian groups on-campus, with the highest percentage of burnouts and flunkouts. (Though we also had one purely-local “Fellowship” that out-Naved the Navs.)

    JMJ over at Christian Monist is not only an ex-Nav, but a burned-out Nav missionary. Saw a lot of the dark side. Check his archives sometime for his experiences.

  159. Eagle wrote:

    @ Nancy:
    A quick point…I have a deep respect for the Orthodox faith. That said, one of the things I like about Protestantism is their sermons. I do like good expository preaching and teaching, which said I do believe it needs balance. I go to Fairfax Community Church today and they offer communion every week while having a talk. One thing I learned is that every faith system has its plus and minus, its strengths and weaknesses. One of the pluses I think is how the Orthodox do the Eucharist , but two strikes against the Orthodox church for me is a dearth of good preaching, and I feel that the Orthodox church falls to nationalism and politics in differing ways. For example I think the Russian Orthodox can identify too much with the Russian government at times. During the Cold War I heard that the Romanian Orthodox cooperated closely with the Romanian government. Then you have the Orthodox Church in the Balkan crisis which I think helped fan the flames. I think this should be kept in mind when discussing the orthodox faith.

    I’m a member of the persecuted Russian Orthodox Church Abroad which has no ties with the Moscow Patriarch or any other government. Our parishes in Russia keep burning down…

    I also have close relations with the Syriac Orthodox who are presently being slaughtered in Iraq. My point is that just as there are different favors of Protestantism, so too are there different favors of Orthodoxy. One should chose an Orthodox church that is persecuted, and not a persecutor; I won’t have anything to do with the Moscow Patriarchate or the Ecumenical Patriarchate for this reason. The Copts, who are being slaughtered in Egypt, are particularly good preachers, by the way. However, regarding the preaching deficit, we are Aware of the problem and are working to correct it, but you will never see preaching elevated above the Eucharist as in Baptist churches. We do need to work more to live up to the example of St. John Chrysostom, who wrote our most used liturgy and who was also the greatest preacher who ever lived.

  160. Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:

    @ Eagle:
    And then you’ve got Cage-Phase Orthodox out here on the Web. You know the type; no matter what the question, they have only one answer: “ORTHODOXY! ORTHODOXY! ORTHODOXY! (optional string of Greek theological terms)!”
    Though Fr OrthoCuban seems to indicate the characteristically Orthodox way to flake out is the “Monk-a-bee”, where you take on all the trappings (dress, beard, etc) of an ascetic Eastern-Rite monk without bothering to actually take vows or put yourself under an Abbot’s authority. It’s a “More ORTHODOX Than Thou” shtick.

    I myself have a great love for Anglicanism and would still be a Methodist had the UMC not been subdivided between left wing heretics and zealous contemporary worship Nazis with a 9 Marks style authoritarianism. Some time I might submit to Wartburg Watch my story, of how clerical abuse at two smaller Methodist parishes alienated me from the church into which I was baptized.

    On another note, I’ve never encountered any Orthodox who are not clergy who wear a zostikon (inner cassock) or the black robes you refer to, the exorason, or outer cassock; for a layman to wear an exorason would be as inappropriate as wearing a clerical collar. We have a 17 year old boy in our parish who is a tonsured Reader, and when he is assisting in the service he wears a black zostikon with no pectoral cross. Everyone else dresses normally; our lead choir singer wears a handsome blue business suit, and our most zealous and pious parishioner, who flies in from Oklahoma to attend our church, who is a convert, wears a bowtie, mustache and a motorists cap.

    I would urge you to stop talking about what Christians do when they “flake”, because for that matter, I’ve never personally met a Roman Catholic who is obsessed by Marian apparitions; I know they exist but they are uncommon. For that matter, many Protestant churches focus on the end times at the core of their message, and that can hardly be called flaking. When you use words like monkabee, you are really are saying something that could be profoundly hurtful to a lot of pious Christians.

    I myself am a pseudo-seminarian (I say pseudo because ROCA doesn’t have it’s own seminary, and thus the training of clergy is done the old fashioned way, via a mix of apprenticeship and monastic retreats; seminaries were a Catholic innovation to improve training standards for diocesan secular clergy during the Counter Reformation), but my beard predates this; I am a UNIX admin and UNIX admins like to wear beards.

    The Russian Old Believer men all wear beards because Cheiat had one. They view cutting the beard as a sin. I respect how far they go with puttimg iconographic theology into practice, but respectfully disagree.

    My main concern is that mega churches deny people a proper experience of the Eucharist. Thus I vigorously support all denominations with a healthy Eucharistic theology, but I feel like the persecuted Eastern churches such as the Syriacs, the Copts, ROCA, the Assyrians, and the , and related Eastern Catholics, offer the most real experience of Christianity presently available due to the persecution they suffer. Right now there are 30,000 Christians (Catholic and Orthodox) and Yazidi Kurds trapped in a mountain pass near Mosul, starving to death. That is where the real Church is, in my opinion.

    I would happily join them, except I have two sick parents I have to take care of. We all have our own crosses to bear.

  161. Nancy wrote:

    @ Nancy:
    Part 2
    Now, I have to say, part of my feeling in this area is personal. Under the then baptist system I certainly learned to quote scripture and give devotions and “witness” and find stuff quickly in the bible and even sing close harmony (not well I must admit.) I learned to “testify” and raise money for missions and defend!! the faith. Especially I learned why we were right and other people were not. I played my violin in revivals and prayed for the conversion of sinners and the restoration of the wandering. And I lived all the current do and don’t cultural commands of the day. I did not find any of this onerous or tedious or otherwise abusive in any way. It was just one more thing to be learned, and I was “into” learning. Let me put this in perspective. I also learned how to sew and can and kill chickens and got better than most with my BB (avoiding moderation) and it was all just part of the package. I did, however, really believe (most of the time) so this is not a tale of some religious disaster.
    Years later, through a series of apparently separate events, I began to clue in to a larger picture. What happened is that the old baptist way of doing things fell apart (this was in the 60s and 70s) and I went looking for what we had lost for my children who were little at the time. This was all before the conservative resurgence. What I found, over time, revolutionized my thinking, for better or worse. And I regret that I did not venture forth beyond baptist circles long before I did. Some things in my personal spiritual experience and in my life circumstances would have been different if I had.
    I am not “preaching” anything for anybody else. I am delighted that you have had a better experience in this area than I did. I am not preaching at William or catholic homeschooler or Eagle or anybody. It is just that I have come to realize and experience some things that I found lacking in my religious formative years and training and which have been important to me.

    You know, your experience is precisely the kind of thing that I think matters here; the dry, intellectual form of Christianity is not only spiritually deadening but it leads towards either alienation or blind fanaticism.

  162. Whew! Read everything, comments and all. Thanks Eagle and everyone. Best churchin’ in a long time.

  163. William G. wrote:

    You know, your experience is precisely the kind of thing that I think matters here; the dry, intellectual form of Christianity is not only spiritually deadening but it leads towards either alienation or blind fanaticism.

    Please do not distort what I said. My early years were neither dry, nor very intellectual, and I did not end up in either alienation of fanaticism. What I said was that It was incomplete, for me, in not including anything sacramental or “charismatic,” I do think that some approaches to christianity can seem to be excessively weighted toward doctrine at the expense of some other things. Let me add, I do not think that the christian life is “played out” in the church. It is, I think, played out in all of life of which church, per se, is only one aspect.

  164. Nancy wrote:

    William G. wrote:
    You know, your experience is precisely the kind of thing that I think matters here; the dry, intellectual form of Christianity is not only spiritually deadening but it leads towards either alienation or blind fanaticism.
    Please do not distort what I said. My early years were neither dry, nor very intellectual, and I did not end up in either alienation of fanaticism. What I said was that It was incomplete, for me, in not including anything sacramental or “charismatic,” I do think that some approaches to christianity can seem to be excessively weighted toward doctrine at the expense of some other things. Let me add, I do not think that the christian life is “played out” in the church. It is, I think, played out in all of life of which church, per se, is only one aspect.

    I do apologize Nancy, I should have made it clear that what you experienced would have affected me as dry and intellectual.

    I agree with you that Christian life is not played out in the Church, whether the Church is a building or the society of believers as a whole. For me personally the substance of Christian living ought to be in the struggle to be a light to the world, the salt of the Earth, perfect even as our father is perfect, with the liturgical life of the church including the Eucharist and preaching to sustain us (the Orthodox really need better preaching; I propose adding a long sermon to our mid morning pre Eucharistic service known as The Hours, which despite the name is ordinarily chanted in 15 minutes, to avoid disrupting the existing and otherworldly nature of the Divine Liturgy, or Mass).

  165. Eagle,
    Thank you for such a riveting narrative. I do think this can be such a help to those who wish to be there for people on a similar journey or who are going throughout this journey themselves.

    How is your leg now Eagle? This is where I was very taken aback and got emotional in this story because I just went through this with my daughter. My young daughter had an infection a few months ago in her leg. She was hospitalized, had two surgeries, and PICC line with antibiotics for weeks. Still waiting to find out that she has no damage to her growth plate, which will be a whole new journey if there is. Hoping your infection is completely resolved and your leg function is back to normal. Bacteria can really be dangerous when they get in the wrong place.

  166. William G. wrote:

    I would urge you to stop talking about what Christians do when they “flake”, because for that matter, I’ve never personally met a Roman Catholic who is obsessed by Marian apparitions; I know they exist but they are uncommon.

    That’s the Catholic way to flake out. Ever heard of a cult called “St Joseph’s Hill of Hope”? They started in my diocese some 20+ years ago with a “Mary Channeler”, and quickly became a West Coast version of the Baysiders. By the time the bishops of my & the two adjacent dioceses kicked them out hard, they were up to a five-person Trinity, with New Revelations almost daily. Last I heard they holed up in a cult compound in the hills where the three dioceses came together.

  167. Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:

    William G. wrote:
    I would urge you to stop talking about what Christians do when they “flake”, because for that matter, I’ve never personally met a Roman Catholic who is obsessed by Marian apparitions; I know they exist but they are uncommon.
    That’s the Catholic way to flake out. Ever heard of a cult called “St Joseph’s Hill of Hope”? They started in my diocese some 20+ years ago with a “Mary Channeler”, and quickly became a West Coast version of the Baysiders. By the time the bishops of my & the two adjacent dioceses kicked them out hard, they were up to a five-person Trinity, with New Revelations almost daily. Last I heard they holed up in a cult compound in the hills where the three dioceses came together.

    I would urge you again to stop talking about what people do when they “flake out.”. What is “flaking out?”. I of course am not speaking of the modern phrase, but from the standpoint of Biblical and Patristic theology. None of the holy Apostles or Parriarchs spoke of people “flaking out.”. Youre using a vague generalist for a range of religious behaviors from extreme personal piety to falling into heresy or delusion. In Orthodoxy it is permitted, although unusual, for a layman to wear the monastic zostikon and a beard; many lay ascetics and fools for Christ, dressed in such a manner, have become legendary saints. Within Roman Catholicism there are three Marian seers on average per century who receive some level of recognition; within the churches of the Radical Reformation a focus on eschatology is de rigeur.

    I am asking you to be more specific; “flaking out” in this very sensitive context comes across as a hurtful and over generalized smear. Soon my zostikon will arrive in the mail, but let’s say I drop out of seminary training, should I stop wearing it? Only the exorason and the Eucharistic vestments of the phenolion and sticherion are restricted to priests.

  168. @ Headless Unicorn Guy:

    One of the things I appreciate is the readiness to recognize religious excesses even when it may be within one’s own group. I have run into this readiness more times from catholics than from protestant fundamentalists. Just thought that I would give credit where credit is due.

  169. Hey @ Eagle,

    Interesting story; an engaging read. As far as my opinion about Redeemer of Arlington and the men in charge there, I have not seen or heard any clear acknowledgement of what was wrong with SGM and the teachings, practices or methodologies. Therefore, I would be very skeptical of anything really having changed there from it SGM roots. On an individual level or a “corporate” level, change cannot really happen without first acknowledging a problem and identifying a solution.

    I have attempted to “reach out” and converse with a couple of the leaders there (guys who I knew very well) over email. I’ve even done this quite recently. All that was acknowledged by them was that it was a “strong culture” in SGM and that prior to leaving SGM it was a “dark time” for them. I’ve challenged the use of the term “strong culture” and asked for clarification, which I received none. Same for “dark time,” which to me if someone is/was going through something they describe as a “dark time” they would have a depth of experience and words to describe that experience—in this case there seems to be none. Strange.

    To his credit, Eric did ask my forgiveness for a lie that I pushed him to acknowledge (wasn’t easy to get this admission, but it was pretty clear in an email what he wrote was antithetical to the truth). In the same email thread, he did deny SGM having any ties to the Shepherding Movement. And, as far as I know, he never reversed that opinion, so I’d imagine it’s still the same.

    Anyway, I think you dogged a bullet by not getting too involved there.

    Best,
    Kerrin

  170. Nancy wrote:

    @ Headless Unicorn Guy:
    One of the things I appreciate is the readiness to recognize religious excesses even when it may be within one’s own group. I have run into this readiness more times from catholics than from protestant fundamentalists. Just thought that I would give credit where credit is due.

    Just to clarify Nancy, are you talking about people, under the auspices of pious zeal, stepping over into pharisaism or cult like behavior?

  171. William G. wrote:

    Right now there are 30,000 Christians (Catholic and Orthodox) and Yazidi Kurds trapped in a mountain pass near Mosul, starving to death. That is where the real Church is, in my opinion.

    I would happily join them, except I have two sick parents I have to take care of. We all have our own crosses to bear.

    William, I’m sorry to hear you have a heavy caring burden. Can I ask, are you getting your information on those trapped in the mountain pass near Mosul from your own network, or from media sources? Have Open Doors been responding to this?

  172. Bridget wrote:

    notyourtypical wrote:

    And I have no delusions that I do not have the spiritual gift of encouragement; it is not me. No one who knows me has ever accused me of being short on grace, nor do they say that I rush to provide answers. So thank you for your feedback, but I’ll take the opinions of those who know me personally with a greater weight than yours.

    You are also interacting with people on this blog who you do not know, yet you come across as one who knows what they need to hear. Since you actually don’t know the people here, I must say that you seem a bit like a bull in a china cabinet at the moment.

    Precisely.