Not an outsider

As a former Christian, let me start by identifying with Pascal and many other believers reading this. The Bible is an incredible book in many ways. It has shaped our culture, and on a personal level, it has had a dramatic impact upon my life. I do not hate the Bible – far from it. Let me walk you through some of the ways it has influenced me.

As a small child I heard made-for-children versions of some of the common Bible stories via a cassette tape at my grandfather’s house. I loved those stories and they taught me a lot about how to behave and interact with others and with God. At around 6 or 7 I earned $10 by winning a books-of-the-Bible speed recitation contest. That was near the time I committed my life to Christ and my grandfather baptized me in our swimming pool. I read the Bible some in the years following, but my parents stopped going to church soon after my salvation. Other than the occasional evangelism trips as a child with my grandparents, my next serious dedication to studying the Bible didn’t come until I was given the opportunity to chose Job for a high-school book report. Around that time I also chose an elective class called Theory of Knowledge, which introduced me to epistemology, philosophy, logic, theology, and many religions from around the world. A report on Taoism left me feeling very sympathetic for the plight of those well-meaning, earnest, but lost souls. If only they could see the Bible and be saved. Their religion had such appeal, and I could see how easy it would be to believe it if I had grown up in their culture. I began to wonder about the eternal fate of those good people and despair for my close high-school friends who couldn’t believe in a God who would send the Jews, and countless other souls who didn’t accept Christ, to Hell for eternity. That meant my friends who doubted were damned to the same fate. I tried convincing them, and prayed for them and with them often, but I knew I needed to learn the Bible better. I was convinced that it held all the answers to their questions, and my own.

I began going to a Catholic church with a friend when I turned 16 and started to drive. They had a few more books in their Bibles than mine had, and I enjoyed the Bible study groups. The church services included regular assigned readings from their pamphlet of sermons. It was the opposite of the spirit-led small Pentecostal churches of my youth. Still, I had very few friends who actually went to church at all, and my best friend went to the Catholic church, so I joined them regularly. I was concerned about their seemingly equal reliance on Catholic tradition and the Bible. In one Sunday School I spoke up about this concern, proposing that perhaps we should defer to the Bible rather than the tradition when things aren’t clear. I felt really small and mean for challenging someone’s point of view in a matter that is somewhat subjective. In my late high-school years I followed my friend’s family members (of a different faith) by investigating and spending some time trying to understand or practice some aspects of their eastern religions – seeing auras, interpreting dreams, passing energy to friends by thought, meditation, crystal healing, being one with the universe, and general spirituality. I read the books and joined them in the exercises, but none of it stuck. It was just an interesting experience. I never got into it because the books I checked out of the library or purchased weren’t anything like the Bible.

In college I took all the 5 biblical courses offered. I saved for months to pay almost $200 for my own audio CD bible that I could listen to in the car. I read the entire Bible all the way through. Some parts were tough to get through, others were a joy. I struggled a little with some of the laws in Leviticus, the number of the tribes in Numbers, who begot who begot who begot who, how to build the ark of the covenant and the temple, which animals were clean, what would make people unclean, how to prepare the animals for sacrifice, etc. I loved the Old Testament stories and had a special fondness for the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. I created tools to help myself memorize Bible verses and shared these tools with many others. I engaged in Bible studies, cross-reference books, study guides, and Strong’s concordances with enthusiasm. I put together and led college campus ministries to spread the Bible (and pray over campus). As an example, we read Proverbs, Psalms and the New Testament straight through and out loud at the main secular hangout spot on campus. I followed the Bible and was officially baptized in a Baptist church as a witness of my faith in Christ.

After college, I was enthralled with the wisdom in the Bible. I loved Peter, Paul, James, and John. I worshipped as I read, slowly, praying earnestly and following the Bible’s lessons when I could. Proverbs taught me to call out for wisdom. I begged God for wisdom above all, and faith and increasing love for him and others. I asked God for small tasks I could only do by relying on him. I was leading Bible studies, worship, college ministries and post-college ministries, and doing my best to stay in the spirit by praying continually. I was praying 2 Chronicles 7:14 daily. As I returned from passing out tracts and roses at the mall (or tracts and sandwich bags in the struggling parts of town) to my chair at the coffee shop and opened the Bible, I studied. Not just at surface level, at a deeper and deeper level. I was trying to sift through the nuance to find the meaning for me in those precious words. Filtering them through the spirit in my heart. The Bible convicted me of my sins and called me to repentance. It taught me about Jesus and how to strive to die to myself and live for him. The words in black were surreal in how they penetrated my soul, but they were nothing like the words in red. Just seeing the red in my lower visual field as I read filled me with joyful anticipation. I would soon be absorbing, not just the love letter from the creator of the universe, but the actual words directly from the one who is the reason for each breath I take, the one who holds all things together… “For in him we live and move and have our being.” – Acts 17:28

I wanted to fulfill the verse to “become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” – Philippians 2:16

I sought to be able to say each day, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” – Psalms 119:11
“I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.” – Psalms 119:15-16

I began letters to friends with Philippians 1:3-6 and other verses.

I believed that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – Timothy 3:16-17

I came very close to working for a company whose goal was to get the Bible in as many hands as possible. Before I did I spent a lot of time sifting through the Bible verses that would be beneficial for memorization. I created ways to get these verses in the hands of thousands of people with desire to share in God’s word.

I knew that the Bible contained the only Truth that existed. The occasional church practice to raise your hand or stand up if “you know that you know that you know that Jesus is real” was an easy thing for me to participate in. The Bible had proved itself through it’s ability to pierce the heart of man (specifically this man… it knew me and convicted me of my sin), its understanding of the universe (science had never refuted a single Bible claim and archeology continued to confirm it’s claims), its unchanging moral perfections, its prophecies which were literally impossible to be fulfilled by chance, and its inerrancy (it was perfectly preserved all this time). No other book was like this. I was worthless in any other state than complete faith in Jesus, and He was only comprehensible through the Bible. Many biblical meanings were hidden from the wise and the proud, but through humility and prayer, and through no deed of my own, God was gracious enough to choose me, and to grant me special insight to understand his Word through his Spirit. This was my world view, and it was a product of the Bible.

In short, I was moved to take action in ways I never would have considered without the Bible’s influence in my life. My faith was my own. As a thinking adult I’d studied the scriptures and seen God’s faithfulness lived out in my life through the Bible, through the spirit within me, and through my personal relationship with Jesus. The Bible wasn’t just a great book. It was the pearl of great price to me. It not only showed me the way to Heaven, but offered the full life of heaven on earth here and now. The joy accompanying my life of studying the Bible and applying its lessons was as real as life itself. And the promise of an eternal fate spurred me to action, for myself and my fellow souls (both lost and found).

Now that I’ve identified with Pascal, I will likely disagree with him in coming posts. But let this introduction give assurance that I’m not an outsider to the power of conviction that comes from abiding in scripture. I once had full confidence in this book that Pascal loves, and it is with gentleness and respect that I will soon attempt to explain why I no longer do.

–Russell

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