One of the most difficult and rewarding experiences I have had in my journey with the Lord is having my beliefs challenged by my friends at undergraduate Bible School. Yes, I did go to the University of Oklahoma and the University of Central Oklahoma for most of my undergraduate. But when I decided that I was going to seminary, I decided to finish my degree at a place that might prepare me a little in Bible and languages. The only place close to me at the time was a place called the University of Biblical Studies and Seminary.
When I enrolled, I was one of only one hundred on-campus students. What I did not know when I enrolled was that they were all charismatics. Not only this, but most of them were pretty radical charismatics. Every one of them spoke in tongues. Every one looked for prophets. And all believed very deeply that we should expect God to work miraculously in our lives. Now, if you knew me at the time, you would know that I felt that I was in the devil’s den. In 1997, I was sure that if you spoke in tongues, you probably had a demon.
However, after a few months of being in class with these “demon-filled-maniacs,” the ice began to break. It was very challenging for me, as I wanted my heart (and head) to stay in the freezer. But as I sat next to this one young man each day (I don’t even remember his name), did projects with other students, and fellowshipped over lunch with so many of the students and teachers, I could not help but allow the culture shock move me toward a massive reorientation of perspective. I remember thinking to myself, “This guy I sit next to each day is a great guy.” He did not seem to be demon-possessed at all. In fact, his basic confession about Christ, the Bible, and so many other things were the same as mine. Many of the students, I remember thinking, live out their Christian life with greater passion and love than I do.
So there I was, taking classes on interpreting dreams, dodging “prophets” who came to prophesy over students during chapel, and remaining silent while other students told of their bizarre experiences, having fellowship with brothers and sisters in the Lord who were very different from me. Sheesh, they even elected me as Student Council president—the one guy who not only did not speak in tongues, but did not believe in it.
Simply put, this experience broke my heart. It was the first time I realized I did not have everything figured out. And it would not have come without the culture shock.
Take a turn with me for a moment…
One thing I often told people as a physical fitness trainer is that they would have to change their routine in order to stimulate muscle growth and strength change. The basic principle is this: if someone sticks with the same routine for too long, their muscles will adapt and not be challenged any longer. Therefore, they must continually be mixing things up. Sometimes this routine change would be minor, like changing from one group of machines (Cybex) to another (Icarian), or going from light to heavy weight. Another minor change would be simply to adjust the way one sits on a machine.
Other times the changes would be more radical like doing the same chest press machine for a total of one hundred repetitions, instead of the normal three sets of fifteen on three different chest press machines.
But every once in a while, I would have people do something more unorthodox. I would have them exercise with someone who has entirely different goals in their training. This would sometimes involved doing aerobics or kick boxing. Other times it might be swimming laps instead of doing weights. The point is to drastically change your workout ever so often to stimulate advancement, change, and growth. The goal in each of these is to “shock the muscles,” as us trainers would call it.
This same principle holds true when it comes to theological and intellectual growth. We must be continually challenging ourselves in many ways. Some of these will be minor and some will seem downright unorthodox. But if you do not do this, your education will be limited to a confirmation of prejudice – which is not really education at all. If you do not do this, at best, there will be no change; at worst, your intellectual muscles will begin to atrophy. Your heart will be ice when God does not want it to be.
Ways to shock your theological/intellectual muscles:
- Make sure that you have unbelieving friends who can challenge you. They ask great questions.
- Make sure you have friends of other theological traditions. Treat them well. Listen to them. Watch their lives.
- Examine the best defense of positions with which you currently do not agree. Their adherents have reasons for believing the way they do; they are not just stupid.
- Attend a church outside your tradition at least six times a year. Why six? It just sounded like a good number.
- Blog your thoughts and interact with others on other blogs. This will force you to articulate your thinking in a much more precise way.
- Get out of your cultural environment at least once a year. This may be something minor like visiting the homeless shelter downtown, or it may be something more like going on a mission trip to the other side of the world.
- Enter into discussions in web forums of other traditions and beliefs (though don’t neglect fellowship with those who agree with you).
In all of these things, be ready to change. You are not doing this to solidify your own position, but to learn.
While we all have a exercise routine that is very valuable, we need a shock every so often. We also have a spiritual and theological routine. It needs a shock as well.
While I have not changed in my basic position about the charismatic gifts, I no longer think all charismatics are demon-possessed! I have changed in my attitude, assurance, and disposition concerning those who disagree with me. More importantly, this lesson goes well beyond my relationship with charismatics. I now try to be very careful with how I judge others. This is the best lesson I could have learned.