Before I begin a series on Lenten spirituality (come back on Ash Wednesday), it would be beneficial to tell you a bit about myself. If you’re going to find truth in what I say, I suppose you’ll need to see that Truth lives in me.
I was raised in a strict Christian home where I, like many others, quickly lost interest in the gospel. Rather, I lost interest in what I misunderstood the gospel to be—that disgusting imposter of a gospel; that anathema of shame and guilt and hiddenness. At 18 I left home to “go to college” in Reno. Within two months I was ejected from the dorms for drinking and making fake ID’s and, shortly thereafter, failed out. After several years of hitchhiking, drugs, and enough Pink Floyd for a lifetime (if that’s even possible) I wound up in jail for theft. It was a long time coming. But it was there, in a western Montana county jail, where I found out who King Jesus really was. I heard that I could been set free from sin—sin that had kept my spirit down for so long—by his resurrection power; that I didn’t have to wear a mask; that I had gifts to learn and imagine and teach, gifts I hadn’t known growing up. And now, this one who should’ve never understood, this drugged up hitchhiking thief—at the table with the King of kings? Invited into a community of passionate grace and gentleness and humility? I’m convinced that there are none “too far gone.”
I moved a hundred miles northwest and began a new life in Missoula. I enrolled at the University of Montana and involved myself with the InterVarsity chapter there. After a semester with that community the staff team asked me to lead “Evangelism Team”—I couldn’t, and still cannot, keep from telling people about how good my King is. I began my undergraduate work as a physics major, but was continuously drawn to philosophy and religious studies electives. The latter won out and I’ll be graduating in May with a BA in Religious Studies and a minor in Classical Greek. I love the academic life. But it hasn’t been all lovely. The University of Montana is a secular(istic) Liberal Arts school and several of the professors are antagonistically atheist. A number of my classes have left me drained and second-guessing my responses or lack thereof: “Should I have spoken up when he said that? What did that girl sitting next to me think? Will the professor grade my papers differently because I pushed back? How should I tell him about Jesus? Should I?”
And then there’s my own pride. If left unchecked my academic success and theological interest get to my head and a poison creeps into my thoughts, telling me that I’m better than other Christians.
J.I. Packer speaks directly to this pride in Knowing God:
“If the decisive factor [of theology] was notional correctness, then obviously the most learned biblical scholars would know God better that anyone else. But it is not; you can have all the right notions in your head without ever tasting in your heart the realities to which they refer; and a simple Bible reader and sermon hearer who is full of the Holy Spirit will develop a far deeper acquaintance with his God and Savior than a more learned scholar who is content with being theologically correct” (Packer, 1993).
Hard—but oh so vital—words for the academic. More than two millennia earlier Plato’s Socrates leveled practically the same judgment against the self-proclaimed “wise” in Athens. “It seemed to me, as I pursued my investigation at the god’s command, that the people with the greatest reputations were almost entirely deficient, while others who were supposed to be their inferiors were much better qualified in practical intelligence” (Apology; Hamilton and Cairns, 1963). The statistics of apostasy are quite devastating for the Christian in the Academy, and it is, to my mind, directly related to Packer’s concern. We lovers of wisdom, we academics, can forget from where our lifeblood comes. We can lose ourselves in subtle pride and the tangled brambles of knowledge, forgetting about our simple, pure and sustaining first love: Jesus, the King.
Last week I received an acceptance call from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. My wife, Tiffany, just returned from an interview for a staff position with InterVarsity in Boston. Here we go. Gordon Conwell is a member school in the Boston Theological Institute, the largest consortium of theological schools in the world. I’ll be able to take classes on ten campuses, including Harvard Divinity, Boston College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary. And I pray that my King will draw me into intimacy with Him; that He’ll meet me in meditation and communion; and that He won’t leave me to myself, grinding through exegesis and theological calculations in the musty basement of an old divinity school. I hope, with an eager expectation, that whether I’m doing exegesis in that musty basement, interacting in an energy-filled classroom, or walking through a grove of maples in the city park, He’ll be leading me.
Join me during this season of Lent as I combine theological inquiry and Greek exegesis with the practice of biblical meditation and communion with God. I’ll be focusing on selected readings and themes of the liturgical calendar. Without the presence of the risen King, theology and exegesis are, as the author of Ecclesiastes put it so long ago, “vanity and a striving after wind” (2:11). But when done in communion with the Spirit for the King’s purposes, the fruit of diligent study is unmatched. It is my hope that God takes this series and uses it to shape us into the image of His Son, together.