A Journey . . . to Wonder

Starry Night, Van Gogh

By Chaplain Mike

I have spent my adult life primarily in Bible-believing, non-denominational church settings.

I experienced a conversion during the “Jesus Movement” of the late 60’s and early 70’s.

I went forward during an invitation in a Southern Baptist church. Got dunked.

Our youth group was serious about Bible study.

We attended Bill Gothard, “Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts” seminars.

I still remember listening to the first Maranatha “Praise” album. On vinyl.

I myself wrote testimonial songs about Jesus and sang them with my guitar.

I once sang in meetings for an evangelist who wore a white belt and shoes.

I wore a wooden cross around my neck.

I cut my hair so I could go to Bible college.

We studied dispensationalism there and read the Bible through that grid.

We suspected that Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College might be liberal.

We certainly did not trust the amillennialists. They spiritualized the Scriptures!

No way would we approve of baptizing babies.

Or wearing robes in the pulpit.

Or using the RSV.

Or, heaven forbid! the Good News Bible!

Roman Catholicism? We quietly considered it a cult.

I never even heard of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Some of our professors thought Francis Schaeffer was off his rocker.

The “Church Fathers” to us were Lewis Sperry Chafer and C. I. Scofield.

Calvin and Luther were OK, as long as you stuck with, “The just shall live by faith.” They were awfully weak in their ecclesiology and eschatology, however.

Billy Graham allowed liberals on the platform. A definite no-no.

Our pastoral department frowned on public invitations. Too much appeal to the emotions. Just teach the Word!

Charismatics were deluded. Maybe not even Christians.

Denominations were apostate.

Women preachers? What are you, crazy?

We were forbidden to listen to anything that might be interpreted as “rock” music.

I think we were “soft”fundamentalists though. A pastor once turned his back on me at the table when he found out where I went to school. He was from Bob Jones University. He considered our school, and therefore me by association, compromised.

All I wanted to do was teach the Bible.

I carried all this into my first church at the wise old age of 22.

Kyrie eleison!

I preached expository Bible messages.

We sang hymns and choruses. With organ, piano, sometimes guitar.

We baptized those who got saved.

I visited the shut-ins, led the youth group, held “sword drill” with the kids, separated myself from the sinners, performed a lot of funerals, tried to dry all that wetness behind my ears.

We had a baby.

I was ready for seminary. We moved back to Chicago.

In my heart, I was moving away from fundamentalism, but I had no conception of leaving the Bible-believing nondenominational way of life and church.

I found I couldn’t subscribe to dispensationalism anymore. At least not the pre-trib variety.

I liked rock music too much.

I was ready to think for myself a little bit.

We settled in an independent fundamentalist church anyway.

We thought Willow Creek was liberal, maybe even heretical.

And so it continued…

…it took a long time to break free.

I’m still breaking free.

Why? What’s so bad about this environment of faith? Why must I break free?

Certainly not because I no longer believe the Bible. I trust and value God’s Word more than at any other time in my life. It’s the Story in which I found life, the Story in which I live, the Story that continually brings Jesus to me.

Not because the people I’ve known in those circles were bad. They remain dear friends, and I love them, and we love Jesus together.

Not because I got hurt or disillusioned in some personal way.

Not because God didn’t work in and through us in those settings.

Rather, it is because I can no longer believe that God confines himself to those settings.

Because it all looks to me now like a little tunnel where people hide from a great big scary world. Where I hid too.

But now I see that that world is exactly where God is and has been all the time.

Because I now believe, even though I don’t remember it consciously, that God was there when my parents brought me to the font to be baptized as an infant.

And he was there when I looked with curiosity and fascination through the books we had at home about Jesus and the twelve disciples.

And when I was a young child and wanting to stay with my parents in “big church” to see the light streaming through stained glass, the colorful robed people processing down aisles and across balconies, the somber vision of the white-haired minister kneeling to pray before worship; the rhythm of his words when he preached. Singing, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Amen.”

My mom taught me to follow the words in the hymnal by tracing a path with her finger. I loved hearing her sing.

I remember times after youth choir practice, wandering around the dark hallways of the church building and coming upon a little chapel lit by an eternal flame. The smell of the old wood. The feeling of silence.

I remember the wonder. He was there.

I recall the pastor visiting my grandparents in their home, always friendly and kind.

Kneeling at the altar rail for communion.

Wishing I could be an acolyte carrying the flame.

Singing my first solo as a robed elementary choir member.

Joking with our choir director and having so much fun.

I remember, though vaguely, my confirmation class. The white-haired minister spoke to us in somber tones about how God met him and changed his life. I felt so serious as I bowed my head in prayer.

Standing outside at night after youth group as the snow fell upon the old stone church building.

He was there.

Somehow, one day that world ended.

It was dark for what seemed like forever. And then…

…a newborn fundamentalist came into the world.

In my born-again mindset, I have looked back on childhood as the time when I was lost and knew nothing of God. Is that right?

Now I wonder.

Don’t get me wrong. Whatever my “conversion” experience as a young adult actually involved spiritually, I know for sure that I needed God’s intervention to turn me around at that point. I was the prodigal son. However, for years now, I’ve known that the narrow-minded path I started walking on at that moment is not enough, at least for me. It’s not a big enough God. It’s not a big enough life. It’s not a big enough vocation.

I hope I’m going forward now into something newer, bigger, more wonder-filled.

But in doing so, I find I’m looking back a lot.

Perhaps my desire for an “ancient-future” faith is a longing for nothing more ancient than the childhood where God first made himself known to me in ways that made a child dream.

Stained glass.

Eternal flame.

Brilliant robes.

Smell of old wood.


84 thoughts on “A Journey . . . to Wonder

  1. That’s about right. And it was in the second century that waiting periods and religious rites of passage before baptism for new converts started to take shape. In the time of Constantine, it was also a common practice for people to wait until their deathbeds to be baptised — due to the belief that baptism only granted forgiveness of sins committed up to that point in time. The birth-to-death system of sin forgiveness through the lifelong observance of sacraments and priestly administrations developed in early medieval times — perhaps in part as a resolution to the obvious problems created by the aforementioned belief. And as baptism eventually became a prerequisite in order to be recognized as a legitimate member of feudal European society, local church records of baptised infants became the medieval equivalent of modern birth certificates. Unless you were a Jew, then not being baptised was not really an option in Europe during the Middle Ages. I don’t thnk the retention of infant baptism by most of early Protestantism was really as much a doctrinal decision as it was just the continuation of a functionally necessary element of feudal society. And in those regions where Prostestantism came to dominate, they also retained the basic feudal model of the state-church relationship — basically because adopting some other model would have required a complete reinvention of the social structure. Of course, that reinvention (or revolution) eventually came about, but it took time. Later, however, Luther’s doctrine of salvation through individual faith, the increase of religious freedoms, and the rise of the secular state ultimately ended baptism’s equation with citizenship and led to the re-definition of baptism as the outward symbol of a person’s individual choice to follow Christ in most of the newer Protestant denominations. Baptism’s earliest origins as a Jewish purification rite is markedly different in both method and meaning than what it eventually became under either Catholicism or Protestantism.
    But what all this means as far as who’s right or who’s wrong, I’ll leave entirely up to you. Sorry if I muddied the waters.


  2. Your impressions of great Cathedrals are the same as mine; awe-inspiring. I have my favorites, especially Lichfield where my wife is from. The views I expressed on St. Peter’s have unavoidably been influenced by my own tradition’s Tetzel-phobia. Having said that, I’m a northern country boy who just moved to Woodlands, Texas. I never saw a Lifeway store before, so all my life I’ve been missing the plastic kids’ Armor of God toy and the waterproof camo-covered bibles. I’ve never been in a big box church the size of a 747 hangar. I’m getting quickly oriented into 21st Century American Christian Culture, and I am totally lost. I’ll take the Cathedrals.


  3. Hi Stuart,

    Please, if I may comment on your impression of St Peters in Rome. All over Italy, France Europe, one will find extraordinary Cathedrals, Basilicas, churches. They are pieces of art on many if not all levels between the architecture, the paintings, the marble, the gold highlights etc.

    First of all, I believe we must remember these all came from a period in time in which sacred art, truly sacred art just as Jeff Dunn have so reminded us of, was part of the fabric of the culture and society. This can be seen in the music as well as in the structures built. This overwhelming sense of awe of the sacred expressed in art forms is not something that has been part of the fabric of society in recent generations, including the present. The artists and architects and laborers of the buildings saw their labor and it’s magnificent results as giving Glory to God, expressing His Magnificence. There was a thought process of God owning all the Gold and silver and gemstones etc., and that only the most precious and valuable things should be used to build the places He was to be worshiped – reminds me of the precious and highly valuable oil used to anoint Jesus….

    We also must keep in mind these were times when modern day electronics, mean of communication and travel etc., did not exist. Life ,though hard, was extremely simple in what made up day to day affairs. People had the time to dedicate to these enormous works of art….most of them took years, decades, some centuries to finish. Many who were part of the beginnings of these structures never saw their completion.

    While many bazaar events took place in raising funds for these churches we mustn’t let the broken sinful nature of human beings drown out the spirit behind all that was made with these funds; Not selfish structures to glorify man but incredible expressions of the gifts God gave to humankind both in talent and materials all used to present His magnificence and Glory to the world. People back then weren’t out selling records of their music or photos or prints of their art work….something that today could possibly become a form of selfishness.


  4. During a reading of 1 John 2:12-14 a while ago, I fancied there were three “-eives” characterizing the blessings associated with different stages in life: receiving, achieving and perceiving. It seems to fit the shifts in capacity of many a human life, and perhaps could be said to come full circle.


  5. Thanks for sharing this! I’m getting lots of those questions too…for following Christ out of suburbia and into our city’s inner core. “Make sure you are seeking God’s will.” “God has blessed you so you can bless others.” “It’s not wrong to help in the ways you are already helping your new friends.” I don’t disagree with them, but they don’t believe me when I say we’re only looking to go because God is making it quite clear in leading us. How can we not? Anyway, thanks for sharing your story. I resonate with you in many ways.


  6. Yep. And it was while reading a quaint and curious volume discussing the nature of the Godhead (and the supposedly right versus wrong views of it) that I threw up my hands at one point and thought, “Is the church right to disfellowship or refuse communion to people who hold somewhat different views of what by its very nature is not fully comprehendable nor explicitly laid out in Scripture?”


  7. Although I do think there may be more of a tendency to give people a little more space and time to grow into understanding about various matters, and also a narrower definition of what actually should be confronted, I don’t think where I am now makes me any less ready to confront when necessary.

    Matthew, also keep in mind the nature of this blog. With some limits, this is a blog that welcomes discussion and often allows discussions to play out, even when people say things that might be confronted in other settings.


  8. I wish more people would read that book. I keep on wanting to reference it, but no-one I know (in meatspace, at least) knows anything about it.


  9. Many things said here resonate with me . . . with a nearly life-long case of liturgy-envy, growing up in very conservative evangelical circles. It seems as if nearly every time communion was celebrated (not all that often) or someone was baptized the pastor would say, “Now, there’s nothing magical in this.”

    Well, if there’s nothing “magical,” nothing that reaches beyond the physical and touches the transcendent, what’s the point of passing around grape juice and crackers or dunking people?

    I encountered that sense of transcendence in nature, in literature, in music and services from those evil, apostate churches–but it is not just forbidden, it is not even comprehended as a factor in the churches I grew up in. Belief is mental assent and obedience to rules. Imaginations need not apply.

    As I have started looking for something with some liturgy and historic connection, everybody asks, “But do they preach the Gospel?” And they don’t quite believe me when I try to explain that the whole service is the Gospel. Every week. Not out there trying to sign a commitment from any stray unbeliever who wandered in, but there as food and drink for all.

    And I’d like to toss in the suggestion that this sense of beauty is not tied to costly buildings. The tiny Anglican plant we’ve visited meets in a truly hideous community hall. The altar is decorated with materials picked up at thrift stores. It’s beautiful.

    At the same time, I have to admit that I haven’t yet found a home from a practical standpoint. Having small children does make it more challenging to attend a church where hardly any other head isn’t gray. Not for lack of welcome, just for difficulty of connection and community.


  10. Mike – my comment seems to jhave gotten lost / mixed up in other discussion….

    Here it is again: Thanks for this Mike – a great read.

    The first question that comes to mind is; do you place little to no importance on a number of things you mentioned in your reflection of ‘growing up’?

    I am left with the feeling sometimes , whilst this ‘letting go’ can be healthy – particularly when immature attitudes and conduct is involved, that this stance can lead to comprimise.

    We could get so comfortable and feel a certain ‘liberation’ in the “post evangelical wilderness” that we fail to correct, indentify and reproof…….

    Is a by product of this mode of thinking/living weak in its apporoach to correcting error – I think of penal substitution , which is flat out denied by a number of readers here – and as a result of ‘letting go’ we can reactionarily avoid proclaiming truth that must be taught.

    Dont get me wrong – I understand that there is a freedom [and a healthy one] in not getting caught up in churchianty and all the doctrine fraternity – it is just that I see to much sitting around a campfire singing kum by yah……

    I hope this makes sense.


  11. Hi Pete,

    We don’t know for sure. The New Testament is silent on the subject. Origen stated (early third century) that it had been done from apostolic times, though most scholars dispute this. It definitely dates from at the latest the early third century, though there was some discomfort with it at the time.

    Darryl Pursiful has quite a good series about it . You can start reading it here. Then browse forward through the posts.


  12. Perhaps we don’t have a common line so much as a common Spirit. maybe the line is a little different for each..


  13. Someone can surely help me better understand the passage, but I have always been under the impression that Luke might have phrased the Philippian jailer account in Acts 16, where the entire family was baptized, more narrowly to identify an exclusion, had infant baptism not been an accepted practice even in the apostolic era.


  14. distracts us…

    Maybe. Like discussing and contemplating the Trinity or the Incarnation, contemplating and trying to understand and express or teach the atonement can lead to profound worship as one wrestles with one’s understanding or one’s inability to understand.


  15. Thanks for this post, and for this whole series. As the ancient-future path has also been my own, I am enjoying the articles and everyone’s responses.

    CM, I loved your description of your path through the movement. I know exaclt what you are referencing, except that I am too young to have seen all of it, but rather have traveled across all these circles in a short time. Ah, Bob Jones and Bill Gothard, how some of my friends have knwon ye both, yea even I thy textbooks. We share the same alma mater too I think, though in different decades.

    Some musings to add into the mix:

    I do not have any childhood religious memories connected to church as my family did not attend. I had a deep emotional attachment to the natural world, which one might classify as a religious feeling. Anyway, my first Christian moment involved coming across a Bible story book, which I had ironically never read, and feeling inexplicably drawn to it. Thus started my churchgoing at age 11 at my own request, and my family later attended evangelical churches after having a positive experience at a home school camp.

    I owe the evangelical movement and my high school church home a great deal, esp. For introducing me to Bible study, the concept of discipleship, and for fostering my formative jr high nd high school religious experiences. The one really dark cloud for me was that all of this happened in the 1990s, so I imbibed an understanding of faith that was heavily based on being able to outline and defend a Christian “woldview” against its real and imagined enemies and fighting the culture war on all its various fronts. Spiritual experiences, like intellectual ones, were very immediate and certainty in both areas was prized. So long as I remained zealous and a bit cocky,all was well, but when I discovered that many issues were in fact more complicated and that my conclusions were looking humbler and doubtful, I felt rather like I had lost my faith or was deficinet. Then there was college, at an evangelical instution I had selected in order to be Safe and Equipped for Battle, and I for the first time came face to face with what my assumptions looked like when it became a self-contained subculture. We’ll just say that my capacity for self-criticism as greatly heightened.

    Liturgy pretty much rescued me when I began to feel completely lost at sea and drowned in uncertainties. A lot of the worship I had experienced until that point really looked for strong, immediate experience; rapture at the fourth round of Shine, Jesus, Shine. I had never been good at the emotuinal highs other people experienced this way (temperamentally, I am cerebrial and calm and so I am viscerally suspicious of sudden, violent emotion.) But here was something else — worship focused not on my own confidence or inner states, but on looking past myself to God, something that is Wonderful. Likewise, liturgy and the sacraments gave me a new way to believe. My old way that been to construct, affirm, and feel passionate about a whole system of beliefs and feelings; I thought I no longer believed because I had doubts. But in liturgy and in taking the bread and wine I could do something else entirely. Following the gospel narrative through the service allowed me to hear and mentally affirm (or merely make myself open to, when that seemed impossible) belief. I could practice it by goign through the the physical motions of kneeling, standing and reciting, Every time, I could choose to believe in Gods mercy and presence in the sacraments. This has become very precious to me as a way to hold my will to believe and my doubts simultaneously and to let my whole self come into Gods presence and allow God do with me what God wishes.

    At first, I appreciated the novelty, but 8 years later I appreciate the ongoing nurture and the recovery of that deep longing that I first felt.


  16. My persistence on the subject is with a curious spirit, not a harsh one. Does anyone have resource explaining at what point the church decided to begin the practice? I see the potential value of the tradition, but in my experience traditions are most valuable to me when I see how and why they began.


  17. Pete,

    It might help you in this question is to consider the Jewish circumcision. It was done to boys when quite young infants, and yet marked them as part of the Jewish family for the rest of their lives.

    Did that make all of them good, faithful followers of God? Nope, that depends upon their raising, and how they respond to that.

    Infant baptism is something similar. As a Catholic, I believe that it is a sacrament, but a person has to choose whether to follow or not.


  18. The fact that what David has said strikes me as extremely wise shall not keep me from picking at it a bit!

    Trying to explain atonement — and exploring the various and competing rationales of atonement through meditations and arguments — does not take away any of the power of the atonement. But it certainly distracts us from abiding in that power.


  19. Thanks for this post. That’s quite a journey. I grew up pretty conservative evangelical but not full on fundamentalist. I’ve come along some of the same path, especially with regard to gaining an appreciation for awe and mystery and wonder. I love the physcal settings that can help evoke this and help show us a part of God that we cannot really ever fully grasp this side of heaven. Arguments and syllogisms and neat doctrinal statements don’t really capture this, which probably explains the discomfort and even suspicion it can raise in some corners of Christendom.

    Sometimes we do have to cover our mouths, put away our commentaries and books, shut out the well-meaning voices, and bow before God in wonder and mystery. Sometimes it’s both all we can do and the best thing we can do.


  20. Thanks for the book recommendation Eric. I just finished “A History of Christian Thought” by Jonathan Hill, which looks similar in focus.


  21. just to clarify. I’m not calling anyone’s salvation into question., but trying to understand how they got there.


  22. Well, the Bible only records the baptisms of first-generation believers, meaning we don’t know about their children, so both believer’s baptism and infant baptism are extrapolations. But, as you note, there are instances of entire families being baptized.

    To me it comes back to Tradition, and thinking about whether over a thousand year’s worth of church fathers – including Luther, Calvin and Augustine and whomever – who were baptized as infants got it wrong and so were not “saved.”

    Growing up where all I ever knew about was believer’s baptism, it was a joy for me to see how infants are baptized in the Methodist church and grow in their faith their entire life. Just as there is no conscious decision for us to be Americans, there is no conscious decision for them to be Christians. It’s something that is always there, a part of life, from birth to death (unless they backslide, of course). How wonderful it is to be part of a congregation reciting the vows to help raise an infant, and then being formally introduced to our new brother/sister/niece/nephew in Christ.


  23. Great question. I actually think there is something to be learned from this discussion on Tradition. I have a sense many of us know more than we’ll admit when something seems wrong. When we observe without discernment in the name of freedom, we’ve lost a sense of proportion. Could it be that we’d ever enter a time when we call good evil, and evil good because we’ve decided that the profane is wholly subjective? Of course we could.

    This is true for any culture. Whether it’s the Congo, Nepal or suburban Minneapolis.


  24. I ask forgiveness in advance if this is the wrong post for my questions and if any confusion comes form the fact that I have read no responses before posting; but your post stirs some questions in me.
    I was baptized and grew up Methodist, in high school and college was involved in a mega-church from the Church of God (Anderson), then went to a small Bible college form in the Christian Church/Church of Christ movement (which I had never heard of til that point). I now serve as an associate in that movement. I was baptized by immersion in college after a year of arguing with some who considered it a “moment of salvation” issue. I didn’t succumb to that view but was confronted in my own reading with the consistency of baptism by decision ; whether stated “for the forgiveness of sins” or “then he was baptized”. I’ve never been “fundamentalist” and always had an appreciation for mainline denominations and consider us brothers in Christ. Now the but. Help me understand infant baptism. I ask not to pick a fight, I just don’t see any Biblical support for it (except maybe “He was baptized, he and his whole family” which seems a stretch) Again, I ask not to be exclusive or divisive, but because I always appreciate the conversation here.


  25. I wrote:

    EricW says:
    August 25, 2010 at 10:54 am


    Many Protestants have little or no clue about the origin or history of some of the doctrines they unthinkingly hold to or espouse or have been taught by others who similarly have little knowledge of the same.

    In addition to a good course on Church History, they’d benefit from reading something like Jaroslav Pelikan’s five-volume The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine.


    Of course, the same thing could (and probably should) be said about many Roman Catholics and many Orthodox Christians as well.



  26. Stained glass.

    Eternal flame.

    Brilliant robes.

    Smell of old wood.

    The unseen expressed in the seen.
    The spiritual expressed in the physical.


    Mystery. Awe. Otherness.


  27. You are absolutely correct. There is a line between letting people worship how they feel called and standing against the profane things that can creep in. And of course, the line is different for everyone.

    How do you think we find a common line? ~ L


  28. but don’t condem others because they don’t worship how you do.

    For some people the question becomes when has the profane taken hold. There is a lot of latitude, but it’s not endless.


  29. Kenny:

    Many Protestants have little or no clue about the origin or history of some of the doctrines they unthinkingly hold to or espouse or have been taught by others who similarly have little knowledge of the same.

    In addition to a good course on Church History, they’d benefit from reading something like Jaroslav Pelikan’s five-volume The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine.



  30. Matthew 18:20 – “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Seems to me that as long as people gather to truly seek God, to worship with all they are, to know the TRUTH, then it doesn’t matter so much about the details. This is why I never got church-splits over drums or no drums, robes or no robes, pews or chair – seriously? If drums or robes distract you from God, find a place that worships with/without – but don’t condem others because they don’t worship how you do. Only God knows the heart of man (1 Sam 16:7) – shouldn’t we be more concerned about what God sees in our own heart and not whether others are wearing robes or suits to church?
    I always stutter when people ask “when were you saved” – technichally, I was 6. But I have many points in my life were God opened my eyes, pulled me away from my current narrowness, and pulled me deeper. Reminds me of the bit at the end of Lewis’ “Till We Have Faces” where the Queen is asked to dig deep in the Throne room. Always deeper, always more in – further up and further in, to quote “The Last Battle” ~ L


  31. Thank you for this Chaplain Mike. I related to so much of it — not in all the particulars, but in the process. God is the same yesterday, today and forever, yet because of His infinite height and depth and width in character and power etc., we see a new facet and get a new revelation every time we seriously encounter Him. That changes us.

    Even if we seem to reject ideas we once held, each of these things that have been a part of our past contribute to forming who we are today and who we will become tomorrow.


  32. I’ve had enough of the decades of amped up music and stories and jokes from those up front.

    Amen and amen. Apparently great names think alike 🙂


  33. It’s true that aesthetics matter and we are subliminally influenced in worship by the environment that surround us. Where it goes off the tracks is when the worship space is considered special because of itself and form interferes with reality. After taking the tour of St. Peter’s in Rome, which to me was way OTT, that’s the impression I was left with. I think the same could be to the typical McMega-church campus which also strikes me of selfish edifice complex. There’s a lot of latitude to argue here, and I am not saying people cannot be aware of God’s presence in these contexts. But whenever a building becomes an expression of our way from man to God instead of God’s way to man, it merely obstructs our view of him. The paradox is our buildings often become sources of our own pride and wealth while it is only awareness of our spiritual poverty and the failure of our own efforts that God begins to move.


  34. The atonement remains a great mystery that none of us can adequately understand, including Anselm, Calvin, Luther, or the pope. In fact trying to explain detracts from its power.


  35. Thanks CMike and all of you for your comments. This post and conversation is an example of the encouragement, challenge and strength I have received from listening in to all of you at this site for so many years. I agree with so many others here, I’m 61 years old and its almost as if you wrote the story of my life’s experience, CMike. I also am wanting to return to my roots which also involve the sights, smells and tastes of what I now recognize are part of sensing the transcendance and majesty of God. I’ve had enough of the decades of amped up music and stories and jokes from those up front.


  36. While I am from a younger generation and though my story is different than yours, I am glad you shared this. I enjoyed reading about your journey. May we all be wonder filled as we seek first the kingdom of God and seek to know Jesus better, within or outside particular faith lines.


  37. Thank you so much..
    As I prepare to return to the Catholic Church in which I grew up to participate in my uncle’s funeral, this post was timely..it could have been my story and I’m sure many more…Especially this part touched my heart..

    “Perhaps my desire for an ‘ancient-future’ faith is a longing for nothing more ancient than the childhood where God first made himself known to me in ways that made a child dream.”



  38. I’m not saying God pulls back the veil for everyone through the aesthetics of traditional worship. I am saying that he did so for me, and that one reason many want to go back to their roots is because they had the same experience.

    Agreed. Although my transcendent reality as a child was more about the wonder of my earthly father. I saw him as larger than life, and certain places evoke a strong sense of how I felt about him – it gives my joy to revisit those places. I can certainly understand the draw for you to return to things that remind you of experiencing God as a child. I suppose my skepticism rises from growing up in a church representative (in a systematic way) to what you experienced. Nonetheless, I understand and appreciate what you are saying.


  39. and I fully appreciate that. As I now have a deeper appreciation (Joy) of the higher liturgical elements of my Anglican childhood, I also experienced that Joy in that dusty warehouse, recognizing that it was far removed from those very same elements.


  40. I was hoping someone might note a connection between what I’m trying to communicate here and C.S. Lewis’s concept of “Joy” (with a capital “J”). Lewis spoke of Joy as those moments, especially for a child,” when the wonder of another world (God’s world) breaks through and one feels the exhilaration of transcendent reality. The more I’ve thought about my childhood, the more I have recognized those moments. Many of them came in church. Some came in other places (but that’s another post). I’m not saying God pulls back the veil for everyone through the aesthetics of traditional worship. I am saying that he did so for me, and that one reason many want to go back to their roots is because they had the same experience.


  41. What a wonderful journey for you, Chaplain Mike. My first memories of the Catholic church (where I grew up – now I’m a Lutheran) was looking at my mother’s veined hands resting on the pew right in front of my face; I must have been pretty little. I just remember such a sense of peace and love in that old church…


  42. Well said.

    I remember worshipping in an abandoned warehouse as a church was just getting started. It seemed raw, authentic, and powerful to see so many gather in a dusty place to worship God.


  43. I grew up in a Catholic church that was started as a school, and worshiped in school theatre/gymnasium until a sanctuary was built around the time I was twelve.. So to me the sensations that Chaplain Mike speaks about are foreign to me. There was nothing wondrous or mysterious about the place itself.

    When I met God in my late 20’s I had basically left the Catholic church. I left because I knew something was not right. That being said, I do understand being drawn to a place that is different. High ceilings, stained glass and old wood – I appreciate a sense of age and history. What we see, smell and taste is not irrelevant for we are material creatures in a material world. I believe “place” matters for most of us have powerful connections with places we consider special for certain reasons. But if we misplace what biblical reasoning tells us, then we elevate these things to what they are not, and we worship creation rather than the Creator.

    So for me the tension lies in knowing that what we experience with our senses matters, but not so much so that it causes us to think God is present because it looks or smells as though he’s there. I wish my church had different aesthetics, but I wish much more we knew what it means to be in covenant with God and each other.


  44. St. Anselm of Canterbury, Cur Deus Homo:


    The Satisfaction (or Commercial) theory of the atonement was formulated by Anselm of Canterbury in his book, Cur Deus Homo (lit. ‘Why the God Man’).[53] He has introduced the idea of satisfaction as the chief demand of the nature of God, of punishment as a possible alternative of satisfaction and equally fulfilling the requirements of justice thus opening the way to the assertion of punishment as the true satisfaction of the law. In his view, God’s offended honor and dignity could only be satisfied by the sacrifice of the God-man, Jesus Christ. Anselm undertook to explain the rational necessity of the Christian mystery of the atonement. His philosophy rests on three positions—first, that satisfaction is necessary on account of God’s honour and justice; second, that such satisfaction can be given only by the peculiar personality of the God-man Jesus; and, third, that such satisfaction is really given by this God-man’s voluntary death.

    According to this view, sin incurs a debt to Divine justice, a debt that must be paid somehow. Thus, no sin, according to Anselm, can be forgiven without satisfaction. However, the incurred debt is something far greater than a human being is capable of paying. All the service that a person can offer to God is already obligated on other debts to God.[53] By Anselm’s time the suggestion has been made that some innocent person, or angel, might possibly pay the debt incurred by sinners. That, however, we would put the sinner under obligation to that deliverer and the sinner would become indebted to a “mere creature.”[citation needed]

    The only way in which the satisfaction could be made─that humans could be set free from their sin─was by the coming of a Redeemer who is both God and man. He himself would have to be sinless, thus having no debt that he owed. His death is something greater than all the sins of all humanity. His death makes full satisfaction to the Divine Justice. Anselm’s theory persisted for eight centuries.[54]

    Anselm’s formulation differs markedly from Reformation views. For Anselm, Christ obeyed where we should have obeyed; for John Calvin, he was punished where we should have been punished. While Anselm’s interpretation permitted man to offer Christ to God, the Protestant Faith insists that it is God, not man, who reconciles fallen humanity by sacrificing His son.[54]


  45. A friend of mine keeps reminding me that God meets us where we’re at. How good to know that this was and is true even for the spaces and times of misled thinking and very limited understanding! May God’s Spirit also continue to open our eyes and expand our horizon to see where else He is working and where people are encountering Him – places we still wouldn’t expect or think possible for Him to dwell and to transform.


  46. I know the returning-to-childhood thing was a major force behind my ancient-future journey. I grew up about 50/50 Catholic and Episcopalian. My family left that scene when I was about 11 or 12. Even before I started really thinking about returning to my liturgical roots, any time I’d visit my grandparents and go to their churches, it was a lovely, lovely experience. Other times I’d run across some of the St. Louis Jesuits’ music my folks would play from my childhood and have the fondest memories.

    A very interesting memory I have is sitting in the pews before the Episcopal service flipping through the Book of Common Prayer and wondering why we pray the Nicene Creed during service but not the Apostles’ Creed. I wasn’t the strongest reader in those days, but the fact that the book had two creeds while we only used one intrigued me. Of course, had I been taught the Rosary or the Daily Office, I’d have realized that we DO use both, just not in Sunday morning Eucharist.


  47. Chaplain Mike writes, “Perhaps my desire for an ‘ancient-future’ faith is a longing for nothing more ancient than the childhood where God first made himself known to me in ways that made a child dream.”

    I like that, Chaplain Mike. The child smelling the old wood, seeing the stained glass and eternal flame surely had his imagination stimulated. And part of that has remained with him forever, it sounds. I bet even Jesus was fascinated by the sights and sounds of the Temple when he was a child. God knows that we are flesh and blood with ears and eyes that he has created for a purpose and part of that purpose is to see and hear God at work everywhere in the world. Everything around us can remind us of God and beckon us to be aware of God, but the church buildings are particularly special places that are “set aside” for times of consciously worshiping God and appreciating God’s holiness, power, love. Michael Spender reminded us of that often in his posts too.

    Let the wonder and dreaming continue, all the way to seeing God’s great plan for his beloved people.


  48. Its seems like I believed Christ on the cross for me a sinner but I searched around as if there had to be more. I soon realized that Christ on the cross for me was not just the beginning but it was also the end. It was not a means to an end. Realizing He is good and I am not has been very comforting ironically.


  49. I’m still reading and learning a lot, so I actually haven’t spent a lot of time on atonement theology, but I thought that Calvin was pretty much the first one that mentioned Penal Substitution and is generally a Reformed/Calvinistic theology — that’s not to say that non-Calvinist don’t subscribe to it, but that’s where it’s origins lie.

    I neither affirm nor deny the doctrine because to be honest, I’m still ignorant. But it seems odd that that its considered “essential” by some like yourself.


  50. Thanks for this Mike – a great read.

    The first question that comes to mind is; do you place little to no importance on a number of things you mentioned in your reflection of ‘growing up’?

    I am left with the feeling sometimes , whilst this ‘letting go’ can be healthy – particularly when immature attitudes and conduct is involved, that this stance can lead to comprimise.

    We could get so comfortable and feel a certain ‘liberation’ in the “post evangelical wilderness” that we fail to correct, indentify and reproof…….

    Is a by product of this mode of thinking/living weak in its apporoach to correcting error – I think of penal substitution , which is flat out denied by a number of readers here – and as a result of ‘letting go’ we can reactionarily avoid proclaiming truth that must be taught.

    Dont get me wrong – I understand that there is a freedom [and a healthy one] in not getting caught up in churchianty and all the doctrine fraternity – it is just that I see to much sitting around a campfire singing kum by yah……

    I hope this makes sense.


  51. >> I myself wrote testimonial songs about Jesus and sang them with my guitar. <<

    FYI to those who haven't heard them: Mike's song are really very good!



  52. Very nice. I had a snapshot of that experience this spring sitting in a Catholic church. The stained glass, the, ornate inlaid wood in the floor, the architecture…it was just a field trip. We went to a “low” church next and the difference was striking to me…completely lacked the transcendence that the Catholic sanctuary had.


  53. Wonderful post, hopeful and sad at the same time. Couldn’t help but humm a little Fogelberg “Along the Road” after I read it. You’ve been down some dark and lovely roads, Chap Mike.

    Greg R


  54. Well, that would take care of Dispensationalism, the pre-Trib Rapture, and a prototype of Pentecostalism (via Edward Irving)!


  55. You can substitute “pentecostal” for fundamentalist and delete the Bill Gothard statements and the same stuff and mindsets existed in Pentecostalism. – and you can add one rule to the rules you mentioned

    “If it called itself ‘Christian’ and it came from England, it was heresy”


  56. Thanks for sharing Chaplain MIke.
    How much of your change from “stage, Rock concert type” evangelism to “ancient-future” Church is due to your getting older & going though parenthood?
    I have found that the older I get the more I feel closer to the ancient-future faith. I see the growing in our faith journey as an important part of Church life. Where evangelicalism seems to focus on get “saved” than hold on! peace


  57. Several quotes from C.S. Lewis’ “A Pilgrim’s Regress” come to mind. The amazing part of that story is that the island off in the distance that he was chasing turned out to be the back side of the mountains that looked so dark and forboding as a child.


  58. Very interesting post. I could have written much of that myself. Somewhere along the way, though, I found out what Eastern Orthodoxy was made that home.


  59. When you were a spiritual baby the awe-inspiring form of worship was a great fit. When you reached spiritual teen-age years, those adults you had felt comfortable with before now seemed so stupid — that’s when the new-to-you certainties of fundamentalism were a good fit. Now that you’re out of the teen years, so to speak, you’re seeing a more robust, nuanced Kingdom. You now see that both the liturgical and the fundamentalist responses have merit and imperfection. The reality of the Kingdom is more revealed to you, tho of course much continues to remain mystery.

    It’s all good. Being a good citizen of the Kingdom does not demand a thorough understanding of it all. Just keep doing your Eph 2.10 community service!


  60. For some reason, the way this is written reminds me of Proverbs. “Chaplain Mike’s Proverb,” perhaps?

    Thanks for sharing!


  61. Thank you! My journey is 99.9% the sames as yours. I’ve been out of the Fundamentalist camp for about 12 years now and I am still amazed at how the old thought patterns still come to the surface from time-to-time. I think we need an AA type meeting for ex-Fundy’s! 🙂


  62. thank you for this as I am walking a journey now reaching out desperately from the confines of my southern baptist brethren. They think they are the only right answer and I am tired of arguing with them. They can keep what they want while I walk towards so many open doors, and Jesus is right there with me.


  63. My mother-in-law and father-in-law met at a Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts seminar. Apparently, my wife’s aunt bought my mother-in-law the ticket because she was afraid my MiL would be caught up with the radical youth. 🙂

    They told me that they both got rid of most of their “secular” music. I think they were probably “supposed” to get rid of it all, but my wife remembers them still listening to BJ Thomas as some others growing up. 🙂

    My wife grew up very sheltered. Most entertainment was off-limits. They weren’t even allowed to watch the Smurfs. Her parents softened as time went on and my wife and her siblings all listened to “secular” music, but were still sheltered from a lot. I think my MiL is still a bit in the culture war mentality and is a bit prudish about a lot of things, but from what my wife says, a lot more laid back.

    My own journey was much different. I grew up unchurched and for the most part without any spirituality. I did believe in God though. And despite my unchurched background, I remember struggling with evolution in college. I came to Christ in 2000 and I was certainly more theologically conservative then than I am now. I don’t know if I was fundamentalist. I’ve always believed in an old earth. I’ve generally thought it was ok to read early Genesis as non-historic, but other than that I was thoroughly conservative Evangelical. I was (and still am) very into Christian apologetics. I think a lot of that was (and is) due to my own struggles with doubt. I held to strict inerrancy. Something I’ve let go of now.

    I’ve always read a lot… so my opinions have changed about a lot in the last 10 years. I think I’m more comfortable with uncertainty than I was in the past, but I still struggle. I’m not a big fan of doubt, but I seem to be stuck with it. I can only hope that God has a plan for it — because sometimes I’d rather have the warm comfort of faith.


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