Aaron Ghilhoni and Benjamin Myers have shared their top 20 theological experiences. Books are important, but they are not usually as formative as we give them credit for. That is certainly true for me, although I would not entirely discount my voracious appetite for books as part of how I’ve come to wherever it is I currently am theologically. The more I thought about the experiences, environments, and relationships that have shaped my theology, the longer this post got! I’ve decided to break it up into two installments, of which this is the first.
The Making of a Platypus, Part One
1. My parents. They took me to church every Sunday, and I watched them live what they believe every day. Their faith is not “sophisticated,” but it is real. It made a difference in them, and that made a difference in me.
2. The rural, southern church of my youth. I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit in a church that might as well have been lifted up from rural Kentucky or Tennessee and plopped down in the Midwest. Southern gospel, crewcuts, and the King James Bible were always in evidence. It was basic meat and potatoes Protestant Christianity.
3. The suburban, African American church of my youth. Starting when I was a pre-teen, the immediate neighborhood of our church underwent a demographic transition to overwhemingly African American. The church was determined to remain active in ministry to the community, so it called an African American pastor and, over the next 5-10 years, navigated about as successful a transition from predominantly white modes of worship and ministry to predominantly black ones as could be imagined. My folks, inner-city high school teachers, never blinked as the church underwent this transition (see #1 above), and in the process I learned about race, sensitivity to others, and how culture influences church life. Along the way, I learned to love black gospel music (and thanks to my wife, I’m listening to some new acquisitions even now!)
4. Dungeons and Dragons. Not the game but the people with whom I played it—still good friends today although I don’t stay in touch nearly as much as I ought. Ed, John, and I have all changed dramatically in the past 20-some years, none of us in the same directions, although all of us, I think, have grown in faith by learning to put up with each other.
5. The Second Chapter of Acts. The Bible chapter is great, but I’m thinking about the music group. Ed (see #4 above) loved their vocals even before he became a Christian. I’ve lost track of how many concerts we all attended together, especially the one where Ed nearly broke every bone in my hand! From them, I learned about worship, was first exposed to contemporary Christian music, and began to appreciate some of the better features of the charismatic movement.
6. The pastor with a first name. That would be Paul Calmes, my college pastor. He was the first pastor I ever knew who wanted people to call him by his first name. One Sunday he was preaching on the Emmaus disciples (Lk 24) and how Jesus opened their ears to understand the Scripture. He said, “There is a difference between studying the Bible and meeting the Author.” I wrote it in the margin of my Bible that minute. I hold it in my heart to this day.
7. The campus minister who had my number. Rick Brawner first pushed me to preach (on a Baptist Student Union worship team) and encouraged me to hone my nascent teaching skills. So I guess a lot of what follows is at least in part his fault.
8. The Belle of Louisville. A bunch of us incoming seminarians took a riverboat ride during orientation week (courtesy of Crescent Hill Baptist Church). Picture a bunch of fundamentalists, liberals, closet Pentecostals, and wannabe Episcopalians sitting together on the upper deck, singing traditional hymns and feeling the movement of the Holy Spirit. It was our own little ecumenical movement, and it taught me never to be too sure that my own faith was all that different from the faith of anyone else who calls on the name of the Lord.
9. Going through hell seminary. I wasn’t exactly a fundamentalist at Southern Seminary, but I wasn’t entirely at home with the predominant theological attitude at that time, either. Mostly, however, I came to understand that I didn’t want anything to do with the folks who were trying to take the place over. I’ve heard Southern in the 1980’s called the exposed nerve of the Southern Baptist Convention. Everything that the SBC was experiencing, we felt it at our Louisville campus. Boy did we feel it! Being who I am, I’ve been privileged at various times to be both the token “conservative” in “liberal” groups and the token “liberal” in “conservative” groups. I’ll take the former just about any day of the week. At least in the circles I run in, the “liberals” usually act like they know and love Jesus.
10. The Mission. There is a scene in this movie where Robert DeNiro’s character, who chose as his penance for killing a man to drag around his armor tied to his body, is set free when a Guaraní cuts him lose and lets the armor fall down a ravine. At that point, DeNiro breaks down in tears and, eventually, emerges a transformed man. It was a powerful parable about sin and forgiveness.