Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Journeyman's Training, Part I

So how does a Southern Baptist preacher boy become an Anglican priest?  It's a long story, as the old saying goes, a story that covers forty-five years of spiritual pilgrimage.

I was baptized into the Christian Faith by the Rev. Clyde B. Spann at the Thackerville Baptist Church, Love County, Oklahoma in August 1967.  Very shortly after that I began to speak in churches as a Baptist "preacher boy."  I was as dumb as a sack of hammers.  Dumb, but educable, as one of my friends used to say.  But, I was a winning personality, with a natural ease before a crowd and a gift of gab.  I had always been an avid reader, with a thirst for knowledge and my daddy's steel-trap memory.  Rev. Spann, who was also my high school English teacher, began to put books in my hands.  One of the most important of these was W.T. Conner's Christian Doctrine.  Little by little, I began to understand something of the Christian Faith I was trying to preach.  I also memorized long passages from the Bible.  My public speaking skills were being honed to a sharp edge.

As I entered Oklahoma Baptist University in 1970, I read myself into a very high Calvinistic theological position, indeed, an almost hyper-calvinist position.  These were the days of great foment in the Southern Baptist Convention and its institutions of higher learning, with men and women teaching in the universities and seminaries things contrary to the faith held by most Baptists.  Under this perceived attack on my own faith, I began to read the work of the founders of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.  This work was grounded in a high view of the Bible's inspiration, as well as a solidly Reformed theology.  This helped me to survive the subtle attacks on the Bible's trustworthiness that was the daily classroom diet at OBU at the time.

In time, I tired of the battle and decided to attend the Moody Bible Institute.  Here, I was plunged into an environment that was just the opposite I had known in Oklahoma.  At MBI the emphasis was upon evangelism, Bible teaching, and missions, all based on the unquestioned authority of the Bible.  Little by little, I began to suffer from a overload of this emphasis.  Here we were, in the middle of one of the world's great cities, a treasure house of history, art, and culture, and it was as if nothing existed but the enclave at 820 North LaSalle Avenue.

And then I discovered Francis and Edith Schaeffer.  I began to devour their books.  Here is what I had been looking for and had failed to find both at OBU and at MBI.  Here was a faith that affirmed on every hand the Bible, but simultaneously celebrated the goodness of creation and of creation pursuits.  It was only a matter of time before I had read myself out of the Bible college ethos.

But, Chicago also did something else for me.  In the loneliness and homesickness of that bleak Lake Michigan winter of 1972-73, I was broken in a way that I had never been before.  My practical Christian work assignment from MBI meant that every week I traveled on the subway to preach to the denizens of a run-down hotel on the North Side of Chicago.  Here I began to learn to love the people I was preaching to almost as much as I loved preaching.  I spent many hours at the Art Institute and began to love in a deep way the great art of the Western canon.  I began to read outside the fundamentalist box I had been nurtured in.  When I drove away from Chicago in the Spring of 1973, I was a different young man from the country boy who had arrived nine months earlier.  Theologically, I had come to understand that the creation mattered and that creation pursuits like art and work mattered as much a salvation pursuits like preaching and teaching.  More importantly, I had come to see that people matter.

For the next 33 years I would work out the implications of all this in pastoral ministry in two Baptist churches.  During the earliest parts of these years, I would be a trenchant critic of much that I have come to embrace.  But, little by little, I would come to have doubts about it all.  The doubts were the result of seeing two central things clearly:  What we were doing was not working and what we were trying to do had already been done.  All of this would be the result of two influences.