Friday, April 14, 2006
I grew up in, what I view today as, an incredibly narrow atmosphere in North Alabama. For a while, until I was 19, I wrestled with even believing in Christianity because of the rancor and hypocrisy I saw . . . especially in the rampant racism. Don't go to the prom and don't use a piano or you will go to hell but you could be bigot and they make you a deacon or elder! That did not compute even as a worldly teen.
It was not uncommon for congregations to have large ads in the local paper about the “liberal” church down the road. At 19, however, I embraced the faith as I had known it. I read my American Standard Version faithfully, even if I did not quite grasp its prose.
But in 1988 my journey to a new view began. Several “happenings” occured at once, or in close proximity, that started the ball moving. Some of these were quite painful and caused some serious soul searching. Conversely not all change was readily apparent at the time and occured more slowly and imperceptively. Perhaps you have had a similar experience. I do not intend on rehearsing those happenings in this blog however there were other things (i.e. Books) that also helped mold and shape a new view of God, the Holy Spirit and what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
First in college. The bookstore had a large shipment of NIVs from the International Bible Society. They had wide margins -- and best of all they were less than 5 dollars. So I bought one. I began reading in the Old Testament and it was a brand new book. In two weeks I had read the entire (what I now call) the Hebrew Bible. I quickly ditched the ASV. I never really got "fired up" about simply reading the Bible -- this was a beginning. Each of the following books has a story that was significant at the time I read them -- all of them I have read several times since. (The dates correspond to when I encountered the book not the publication date). These books that follow have been key to shaping this Stoned-Campbell Disciple.
1) The NIV Bible (1988). Having grown up on the KJV and the ASV, as a person who speaks modern English, I cannot tell you what a breath of fresh air finding the NIV was. In OT survey I had struggled to get through the Pentateuch in the ASV. Much of the "English" was nearly as obscure as the Hebrew text at the time. I probably would not have the love I have for the Bible today if not for my discovery of the NIV. Since that time, through study, I have come to appreciate older translations as well.
2) The Worldly Church: A Call To Biblical Renewal, Leonard Allen, Richard Hughes, Michael Weed (1988). I must comment on this book. In 1988 this book was the buzz of the brotherhood. If I remember correctly we had a special conference on it at the college I went to. I bought it and read it. It ROCKED my little world. I could clearly see the worldliness the authors spoke of. Its roots and causes caused me to do more soul searching than most anything else. My view of God, the Spirit, etc was taking a severe rattling.
3) How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart (1989). This book has literally altered the way I read the Bible. I believe every serious Bible student should not only have a copy of this book but regularly consult it. It not difficult to read and it is worth its weight in gold. For the first time in my life I recognized the parts of the Bible are not all alike (Scripture is not "flat"). A psalm is not to be read (interpreted) in the same manner as law, Gospels are not epistles, Proverbs are not set in stone. Hermeneutics was about actually reading the Scripture and not playing what I call "hop-scotch" where one jumps from place to place with little real regard for context. This is a hugely practical book and was the beginning of the death of CENI in my world ...
4) The Gist of Romans, K.C. Moser (Summer 1989). Next to Worldly Church this book has had the most profound impact on my thinking. This was a required text in my summer Romans class with Jim Massey. It was certainly like NOTHING I had ever heard. I must confess that I struggled with this book. Not because it was difficult to read or understand but because of what he said Romans said. Moser simply grasps Romans and lets it speak in all its glory and power. Since that time I have researched Moser’s life in great detail having read every known publication by him.
5) I Just Want to Be a Christian, Rubel Shelly, (1990). This book, like Worldly Church, introduced me to aspects of our heritage in the American Restoration Movement that I had never heard of. I had rarely heard the unity theme growing up and even more rarely witnessed it practiced. This book threw out a challenge to my thinking that I am still wrestling with. I could be a Christian and not a sectarian. This book showed me that we can pursue unity with integrity
6) Distant Voices, Leonard Allen (1993). This the book that spurred my abiding interest in the Stone-Campbell Movement to the point that I went to get a Master's degree in the area under John Mark Hicks. I was so amazed by its contents that I literally did not believe the author. Yet, he was correct and now I have documented every line in the book. This book convinced me that ours was indeed a great and awesome heritage. It also revealed to me just how distorted my personal experience had been from the founding goals of the Stone-Campbell Movement.
7) The Crucified God, Jurgen Moltmann (1993). Changed the way I look at the Cross and God. This is by far the most academic book on this list but it is worth reading. Moltmann is not a difficult author to get into. Just how central was the cross . . . truly . . . in my thinking. It should have been front and center all along but sometimes another can help us see more clearly.
8) Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, Lerone Bennett, Jr. (1994) This is a book I, at that time, most likely would never have picked up to read. I grew up in a family where what color a person was not an issue even in the slightest. Robert Birt, an African American minster in New Orleans, opened my eyes to many things however. This book opened my heart and my head to a side of American history that I simply had no clue about . . . and like many did not want to know. Bennett is passionate about his material and even if not all his interpretations are correct this book altered my life forever.
9) Rich Christians In an Age of Hunger, Ronald J. Sider (1995). This book not only challenged my head but my lifestyle. I have never been more personally examined by a book than by Sider's. I changed my view of the Christian and economics after reading this book. I saw biblical truth that I had never noticed about the poor and justice. Do not read this book if you are not prepared to hear the voice of God. There have been other books that have impacted my thought. However these have done more than that, they have shaped my life and thought. I have not mirrored them but have integrated and revised and grown. I does not follow that I endorse or agree with every thought contained in any of these books yet I have been challenged to think, to reflect and change. That is what our journey of faith is about.
10) Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster (1998). For a long time, even after I was heading into that "new direction" Christianity was largely a head exercise for me. In Grenada, Mississippi, I had taught a woman about Jesus and baptized her in Christ. She asked a question that caused major cognitive dissonance for me. It was simple, and even logical, question. It was "Could you teach me how to pray?" I shocked because I had never been asked that simple question before . . . and I had no answer at all for her. Prayer ... indeed the entire notion of "spirituality" was foreign to me. Foster opened me up to not just letting God have my head but all of me.