For the past year I have been meditating and restudying over long held positions of belief. I have changed my mind about several things, mostly due to abandoning the CENI and “pattern” hermeneutics which kept me from being able to understand and apply many Bible passages. Along the way I have run across your web pages; also those of Alan Maxey, Dallas Burdette, Edward Fudge and others and find myself in agreement with much of what I find there because it is based on scripture.
I am a graduate of the [school of preaching]. I had great respect for [the founder of the school] and loved him very much. I thought he was a wonderful Bible student. I fancy that had he been given the opportunity to study with someone like you that he would have re-examined many of his beliefs and begun to implement changes in his theology. Of course, that is just my opinion and some might call it wishful thinking; but I hold that idea because I knew him well enough to know that he was a very studious and very sincere Christian. I hold no ill will toward him or the teachers of the school of preaching for teaching me what I now believe to be an abbreviated gospel. They were doing their very best. And when I, as a young student, wanted to be overly strict on others they cautioned me in kindness- a lesson I wish had taken to heart more at the time.
However, now that you and others are trying to gently pry the scales from our eyes I find that I am beginning to harbor a resentment for people like [certain prominent conservative preachers] and others who seem to be doing everything they can to “crazy glue’ the scales back onto the eyes of people searching the scriptures. Some of their Biblical arguments seem so simple minded I wonder at how I could have taken them seriously for so long. I have a decent mind, but I know that many of them are really much smarter and more learned than am I. And this knowledge gives rise in me to a resentment towards them for trying to keep me in the darkness to which they seem to have grown very accustomed. My concern is that their legalism is soiling the gospel in the minds of Christians and others who might otherwise accept the grace of the Lord. —-and that might actually be one of those ‘salvation issues’ which they like to talk about.
I know that I will have little opportunity to affect the thinking or preaching of the main stream guys who are holding back Christians from better Bible study. What I am concerned about is my own attitude toward these men. I pray for them. I ask God to help me have a kind heart. I remind myself that everyone will not come to the same understanding at the same time (just as I did not). I remind myself that I certainly have not arrived to a complete understanding of scripture either. But when I read some of their stuff, it just burns me. —so I try not to read it. I am reading from the more progressive teachers as I do my Bible study.
Have you got any thoughts that may help me “calm my butt down” as my Dad used to say?
Thanks for your blog and the wonderful teaching there. God bless you and your family.
I thank you this email, because the questions you pose are questions I wrestle with every day — with varying degrees of success. And it’s good for me to have to articulate a theory of how to cope with this divide. Maybe it will help me do better.
I want to take this on in two parts. First, I need to repeat some thoughts I shared a while back about how many (not all) of us transitioned from legalism to grace. For me, it was like this —
1. I was raised in legalism and therefore felt superior to the “denominations” and “liberals,” but never felt entirely comfortable in my legalist skin. It just didn’t quite make sense, you know, but I couldn’t find my way out on my own.
2. While I was in school at Lipscomb, I had some classes under Dr. Harvey Floyd that cracked the door to grace open, but didn’t give me the whole story. But they gave me the tools to dig more deeply. Later on, I sorted through the issues, with great difficulty, and eventually came to reject legalism.
3. This led to a time of arrogance. My arrogant condescension toward the “denominations” and “liberals” was replaced with arrogance toward the conservatives. I celebrate the grace I’d discovered, taught it as best I could, and looked down on those still trapped in legalism.
4. But there was also a streak of anger. I mean, it made me angry when I began to see the misery being imposed on good people. Over and over I had students in my classes tearfully share with me how miserable they had been, never able to believe themselves saved. So it was a huge ego boost to have helped them, and angering to hear how awful they’d felt for decades and how they grieved for family members still trapped in legalism.
Arrogance and anger can be very unattractive, you know. In fact, some my writing from that time is quite hostile, and some of my classes were very caustic toward the conservatives.
5. Over time, however, I began to feel a great sorrow for those trapped in this awful theology and felt a calling to do more about it than teach my Bible class. Somewhere in all that, the anger was (largely) replaced by compassion for the victims of legalism. Moreover, grace eventually led me to realize that I have to respond to God’s grace with … grace.
But it’s not easy for me. I still get angry, and anger can be entirely justified — but it’s not a very effective means of persuasion. When you come across as angry, even your allies stop listening to you. The anger has to be channeled into passion.
If you’ve read this blog for a while, you can see that some readers are still at the anger stage. They can be very dismissive of the conservative Churches, arguing that we shouldn’t even waste our effort to persuade them of their error. And, trust me, I understand. But I disagree.
Although we aren’t all called to teach grace to the conservative Churches, some of us have to take on that task or else we doom a million people to misery — and even damnation. After all, many of the children of the most conservative Churches are leaving Christianity altogether. And I really think that legalism can be the “different gospel” Paul condemns in Galatians. It’s a deeply scary thought to me.