My Father has a very good singing voice. My mother could hold her own in a choir. My other brothers and sister play instruments (multiple each) and also sing very well. These abilities are considered benefits in the Church Service. Needless to say, Dad was in the choir, sang special music, and if need be, led singing. The rest of my family also took part, either in choirs, or solos, or groups, or instruments. They got the big parts in the Christmas and Easter Cantatas.
Me? I was a shepherd, with the desperate hope that all the other shepherd’s voices singing “While Shepherds Watched their flocks by Night” would drown out the horrible screeching sound that was exuding from my mouth.
My friend, Steven, lived next door to me. (In the country, that means there were only three cornfields between our houses. Seriously.) His mother was the Music Director for our church. His family was equally musically talented. For three long years my mother faithfully sent me for piano lessons with Steven’s poor Mother. Imagine being able to play Bach so beautifully that tears would come to your eyes, and be forced to teach a person with absolutely, positively NO musical talent whatsoever, “The Hopping Bunny.” Those weren’t tears—those were sobs!
After torturing this saint of a woman, who held her suffering with Job-like patience, we decided that it was no use. My parents had used up every single musical gene in creating my brothers and sister. By the time it came to me—they were completely tapped out. I was forever relegated to Shepherdom for the Christmas Cantata and Rioter for the Easter.
What I lack for in musical ability, I made up in intelligence. I was that kid you hated. You know—the one that blew the bell curve? Remember the student that was really smart, but didn’t have the ability to take tests, so they did not do so well on the SAT, or on the final? That wasn’t me. I loved tests. I took tests very well.
Worse, I didn’t care about grades, so I barely applied myself. I found by only half-hearted exertion, I could maintain a 3.5 average. Why bother breaking a sweat? (I told you I am the kid you hated.) I rarely studied, never had homework, and breezed my way through school. (Law school set me back, admittedly. No breezing there!)
Between my kindergarten and First grade, my family, along with dozens of other Christian families in the community, started a Christian school. The last public school I ever attended was that kindergarten year. I went to a Baptist school through ninth grade. Then a non-denominational school through High School Graduation. To a Baptist College for my freshman year. Back to Non-denominational Christian college until I got my degree. And finally a Catholic Law School.
What this means, is that for 12 years of Elementary through High School, instead of having just six classes of the standard Math, Science, English, History sort, we had an additional seventh class of Bible teaching. We had Bible history. Old Testament Survey. New Testament Survey. Prophets, Minor. Prophets, Major. Prophecy. Doctrine and Theology. Church History. Poetry.
It was here that we learned the nuts and bolts of the Bible. At church, we may learn how to apply the claim of Jesus living in the Temple of our heart. At school we learned the dimensions of the Temple, when it was built, what it looked like, when it was destroyed, when the Second Temple was built, what it looked like, and when it was destroyed.
We learned how many good kings there were in divided Israel. We memorized the names of the kings of Judah. We created charts, made models of Arks, traced timelines, and had quizzes on Jacob’s wives.
These were Christian students, (who believed the Bible was true) sent to a school by Christian parents (who believe the Bible was true) and taught by Christian teachers. In point of fact, a teacher that dared question or raise an issue as to the truthfulness of the Bible would have been fired. I do not recall much presentation of alternative views in any viable sense. Oh, we knew they were there. But when referred to (if referred to at all), it would have been in a mocking tone, as if such a belief should be relegated to a flat earth belief, or claims of aliens blocked by tinfoil helmets.
My 11th and 12th Grade Bible teacher was my favorite teacher in my entire school experience. He was the one that introduced me to apologetics. For the first time, we were informed of alternate views, and what those view’s arguments were (even had to memorize them!). Yes, in retrospect, it was from a very decidedly Christian slant, and not completely forthright—but that was to be expected, really. Here we had to read “Evidence that Demands a Verdict.” (Hey—Strobel was unheard of, at this point. “Intelligent Design” was a thing of the future. We were still battling OEC’s and Evolutionists back then.)
We learned the historical arguments for a resurrection. (Very McDowellian.) We learned the arguments for God. (Uncaused Cause was my favorite. Again, this was before Craig and Kalaam’s Cosmological.) We debated the Problem of Evil. (The resolution of “Evil is the absence of Good.”)
It is slightly amusing as I write, to think back to these arguments we learned in 1983 and 1984, which are still prevalent today. I remember the argument that there is no such thing as an atheist, because to say, “There is no god” would mean we have to know everything, which would make us a god. Therefore, one has to admit (not being a god) not knowing everything, so therefore, they cannot know there is no god. They must, therefore, be an agnostic.
Don’t we still see that?
I met with this teacher on numerous occasions after school, because we got along so well. We debated off-campus more dangerous topics, such as the legality of drinking or dancing, or the fact that he was not a Pre-Tribulation, Pre-Millenniumist. (Both strictly forbidden at school, of course.) We talked about Age of Accountability, or Divorce, or Pre-marital sex. We were able to discuss and debate much more freely than time (and administration) allowed.
When returning from college at breaks, I would look him up, and we would catch up on each other’s lives. I did it so long; we reached a point where we were having a beer together. And we would still laugh and joke and debate.
He eventually moved away, and we lost contact.
At some point in my deconversion process, I realized that I was in trouble regarding the apparent weakness in Christian arguments. I needed some guidance, and my normal points of reference would not do. I needed to go “off the grid” and find out how bad it was. Without hesitation, it was this man that my mind turned to.
I looked him up, and found an e-mail address at his new location. After an initial exchange of “Is that you?” “Oh, my—is that YOU?” and “You won’t believe who I married…” I explained my situation—that I was debating infidels and some of their arguments appeared sound. Sound enough, that I was having trouble continuing with the tired, unconvincing defenses. I may not have explained the depth of my own concern.
I do not specifically recall what all I mentioned, but it must have been something about the resurrection of Christ, because he responded back with a cryptic note about non-Christian writings confirming Christ, such as Thallus.
Thallus? He relied upon Thallus? (If you don’t know--Eusebuis quotes from a scrap of Julius Africanus about a fellow named Thallus claiming the darkness was an eclipse. We have no writing of Thallus, and only supposition as to what time period he was writing.)
I fired back an e-mail, laying out the problems with Thallus, and the issues with the Christian apologetical claims attempting to shoe-horn this into an independent verification of Jesus’ crucifixion. In my mind, I was picking up where we had last left off. More debate. This was what I was looking for—a fresh perspective from the non-theistic world in which I was immersed.
He replied with a one sentence e-mail. “I will not debate this with you.” I was devastated. Here was a fellow that we could discuss anything, even forbidden topics. Someone that understood my intellectual craving. Oh, I could reach out and grab any number of people that would pray for me, or tell me to “seek Jesus” or give me some trite platitude as to how to maintain belief in Christianity—but this was a person who could give me actual intelligent Christian conversation. (Thanks, Dr. Mohler for the by-line.)
And he decided to not. I never heard from him again. (This was to become standard operating procedure in the next few months to come. With other discussions with other ex-pastors, ex-friends and ex-associates.)
Following High School, I attended a Baptist College. It was required to have a “Bible” minor, so once again, I picked up Bible courses. Having done so for so long, there was nothing unique about it. After my first year, I was not given the option to return (a story in itself) and I completed my college courses at a non-denominational Christian College. While Bible was not a required minor, I enjoyed it so much, I took the classes anyway. The same familiar regimen—Old Testament Survey, New Testament survey, Hermeneutics, Homiletics, History of Israel, Church History, Gospels, Pauline writings, etc. In fact, as it turned out, I took so many classes; I ended up with a Bible Minor (and then some) without even trying for it!
I flirted with the idea of attending Seminary.
What is curious is that with all that study, I don’t recall ever discussing the Synoptic Problem. I recall very little discussion of Textual Criticism, and even then it was brushed aside as a “resolved” problem. As if, long ago, there were these issues, but with the advent of modern times, very little, if any, discrepancies remain. I certainly did not study Documentary Hypothesis.
I never had a single science course that gave evolution even the remotest possibility of credibility. Not even a hint.
I completed my education at a Catholic Law School. This is not saying very much, since it was Catholic in name only. No Bible classes or Mass was required. Probably one of the funniest moments of my Law School career was in Family Law in which the professor asked (to generate discussion) who was anti-abortion. In a class of 50 people, only one person raised their hand—me! I looked around and said, “This is a Catholic School!?” What made it humorous was that only 4 or 5 students even understood the connection.
In retrospect, my only regret, with all that Biblical background, was my failure to take Greek. Languages are not my strong suit, and do not come easily for me. (In order to cram in my language requirements, I took Spanish 201, French 101 and German 101 all in the same semester. My professors took pity on me.)
If there is any point in this history of my schooling, it is that I enjoyed the study of Christianity, the Bible and its God. What is disturbing is how much I did Bible study, but how little I studied the Bible. In all these courses, we either presumed the Bible was true, or only discussed proofs that supported the Bible was true. It was decidedly one-sided.