Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Review: From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls

Joel Watts and Travis Milam, Editors
Pages: 230
ISBN10: 1-938434-60-9
ISBN13: 978-1-938434-60-0
Publisher: Energion Publications (2013)
http://direct.energion.com/authors/authors-t-z/joel-l-watts/from-fear-to-faith

Author's page on Amazon.com:
http://amzn.to/1hqVHV7

There are 16 stories and essays in this comprehensive book. I am reviewing the ebook.

The concept of the book is best described by Travis Milam, a co-editor:

"My wish/ mission today is to bring others to a greater understanding of grace that they may not have to move from fear to faith as I have done."

The titles of the ebook are set against an illustration of a concrete block wall which is indicative of the subtitle: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls. The intro is concise and reveals the editors’ intent, which from my POV exemplifies the growing practice that conservative Christian churches will often deceive, whether unwittingly or with malice. Throughout this review, I shall take the liberty to use the first names of the story tellers, for it is a long-standing Christian tradition, plus weren't the Gospels written on a first-name basis? Also, I'm only reviewing in-depth the first 4 essays, because they are a good representative sample of the very interesting reads a reader—you—will realize. Then, I'll offer my summation along with the editors' conclusion.

Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1 From Fear to Faith by Travis Milam
2 Confronting Our Fears by Mike Beidler
3 The Joy of Confession by Rev. Shannon Murray
4 Excursus – King James Onlyism by Joel L. Watts
5 From Tongues to Methods by Rev. Josheua E. Blanchard
6 A Journey into Faith by Rev. Anthony Buglass
7 Pentecost to Resurrection by Rev. Mark Stevens
8 Social Construction, Fundamentalism, & the Reading of Scripture by Daniel Ortiz
9 Growing Up at the End of the World by Caitlin G. Townsend
10 Divine Disenchantment: Transitions by John W. Morehead
11 The Second Greatest of These by Steve Douglas
12 Grace: It’s Not Just for Dinner by Travis Milam
13 A Journey Through the Spiritual Night by Craig Falvo
14 My Road to Freedom by Doug Jantz
15 Unsettled Christianity by Joel L. Watts
16 You Don’t Have to Go It Alone by Ric Hardison
Conclusion


The co-editor, Travis Milam, begins the book narrative. His "walk" began with an atypical Christian orientation, "at the age of seven and baptized. I then knew I was set for life because that was everything that God required of me." Travis' church was conservative Baptist. He also joined the Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed (AWANA) group, a vacation bible school program with cult like characteristics.

Due to his developing guilty conscience (a technique that is always used by cult leaders to oppress the mind), Travis felt "a feeling that you were never quite good enough and that you had somehow always managed to make God unhappy or angry." But Travis continued attending the offerings of his church, because, "It was where I felt comfortable. It was safe because I knew the routines and I knew the answers. I liked it because it was easy, certain, and safe." It is taught by all inclusive organizations that there is safety within the tribe, but danger outside. “Revivals were, looking back, really week long guilt trips about how we did not do enough for God and how God was going to bring judgment on.”

Travis grew into more of a "Christ centered" believer while in college. “Along this journey, I met Dr. Bill Fowler who was the Chaplain of the college as well as my professor for Biblical Lit. He was funny, intelligent, caring and above all a servant of God. He showed me that I could be a good Christian and not follow all the rules I had imposed.” Travis became a Student Assistant Chaplain to Dr. Fowler and became active in the Baptist Campus Ministries. “During my next three years of college, I grew as a Christian. I discovered that God wanted me to care for the poor and for the downtrodden, not tell them to get a job.”

After Travis left college he continued in the way of life he had seen there, yet he was soon to see much more. “My journey took a huge leap forward when I went to seminary right after college. I was suddenly thrown into an environment that challenged my beliefs more than I had ever experienced.”

Travis finishes his personal essay with these remarks: “I still have days and moments where I feel intense guilt because I believe that God is not approving of what I am doing.”


Next in this revelatory book is a highly researched personal essay entitled: Confronting Our Fears, written by Mike Beidler, a commander in the US Navy.

In Confronting Our Fears, Part 1: Introduction, Mike begins his account in this way:

"In 2007, after a turbulent two-year process, I came to embrace evolutionary creationism as the best scientific and theological paradigm through which to view the natural world and God’s strategy to redeem humanity from the power of sin." Mike then began a deep study of the multitudes of theological and scientific thought. Mike used the book of the Good News of John, chapter one, verse fourteen as his guide to a new way of living: And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. [NASB]

During two moves, as Mike continued with his conservative churches, he did not hide his new thinking, but discussed it with the members of whatever church he attended. Mike found that he could have amicable relations with those of opposing views. He "identified four fears about considering evolutionary creationism that, in most cases, mirrored those I experienced in my own journey" that would aid him in conversations with those who believed in a different manner.

Part 2 of Mike's essay, entitled: Losing Biblical Authority deals first of all with "fear of losing the Bible as one's spiritual anchor and source of authority."

Mike views the first chapter of Genesis as more metaphorical than actual. He believes, as do others, that if one reads the beginning of Genesis the only take-away that someone will certainly get is an unscientific impression. "I readily admit that the “literal sense” of Genesis 1— as dictated by our own culture that focuses on material origins and unwittingly holds Genesis 1 hostage to the scientific method—does in fact rule out cosmological and biological evolution as God’s creative methods."

His brighter understanding was truly sparked when he discovered someone who held a flaming light. "It was at this time that I discovered the works of John Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College."

Mike believes that the creation was performed by God in six days with a day off and that "the 7-day structure of the creation week, had its roots in an ancient Near (ANE) cognitive environment that held the concepts of function and purpose to be more important than (but not entirely exclusive of) material origins, the latter of which currently guides our modern, scientific way of thinking. It even reconciled the seemingly contradictory accounts of a week long series of creative acts and a 13.8-billion-year-old universe." This previous sentence is an example of the depth of Mike’s writing style.

Throughout his examinations of sources, Mike was MORE assured of the Bible's authority than less, as most people would have been after studying the texts for such a long period of time. Mike decided to "...let the Bible to speak for itself, using the best Biblical scholarship available to determine who wrote the various books of the Bible, to whom they were written, and when they were written, I could have confidence that the end result would be a more faithful pronouncement of what the Bible is actually telling us, millennia later, through ancient voices."

"Confronting Our Fears, Part 3: Losing Our Savior" is the next statement on one of Mike's fears he had to confront.

Mike views Adam & Eve, as many do, as bringing sin & death into the world. He states that Paul believed Adam was a very real human, as Paul knew Jesus to be, although Paul never met either man. He asks himself this question: "How could an historical, literal Jesus solve the very real problem of sin that resulted from the rebellious act of a mythical, literary Adam?"

He attempts to answer this question and I'll leave it to the reader to discover his result.

Part 4 of his essay on Confronting Our Fears is called: Losing Face. At the outset, Mike inserts a lengthy quote from Saint Augustine, extracts of which I add here...

"Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics..." (Augustine is referring to the natural world as understood by Augustine's generation and then later adds) "...If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead , the hope of eternal life, and the Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics of heaven..." Parentheses my own.

Mike admits that he had been wrong about his understanding of the theology he previously knew and his inability to accept his own errors. "For a good portion of my life, I had an extremely difficult time admitting that I was wrong. To do so was an admission of intellectual failure, faulty logic, or simple ignorance—not knowing everything about everything." Mike being so thorough, he even adds a note on the definition of "ignorant."

According to Mike, fear seems to pervade the unconsciousness of conservative evangelical Christians and they show their fear by "'holding the line' against certain areas of scientific study, rather than being willing to admit that we might be wrong." He adds that the way evangelicals view their theology is akin to perusing a menu of foods they already like and refuse others they don’t. Mike's view of the typical conservative Christian is not very flattering. Mike quotes Wheaton College’s Professor of Christian Thought, Mark Noll, “’The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.’"

But Mike's thoughts on theology did begin to gradually change. Here is how Mike explains his old way of thinking: "I believe I’ve been able to 'reverse engineer' what happened in my own life: It was a subtle slide from a confident faith into a comfortable, unwitting arrogance." As he had also done, Mike advises a seeking conservative Christian to begin with "multi-view comparisons and critiques" of all the biblical sources that they can unearth, but he gives words of warning to the seeking Christian: "If you’re not confronted with tension, questions, and doubts in your day-to-day spiritual walk, something’s wrong."

In the final part of Mike’s essay -- Confronting Our Fears, part 5: Losing Peace, Mike talks about his difficulties in moving around the country because of his job requirements. Mike states that seeking out fundamentalist churches is a, "'known quantity' in each location in which we’ve lived—dependable places to find Christian community." He let the Holy Spirit be his guide, although it might place him and his family "right in the middle of all sorts of potential anxiety." Mike begins an itemizing of the sources of probable angst with a number of possible stressful situation scenarios, but I’ll let you read that yourself.

In the end, after keeping his inner peace, Mike wonders why "church members, pastors, elders, and deacons have blessed me by not causing me to endure any significant persecution. So what’s the secret?" (Of course, I can't reveal it and spoil your reading enjoyment.) Yet, I will let Mike add this; "Whatever your situation is, treat those who persecute you with love, patience, and understanding, and reassure them of your steadfast devotion to Jesus Christ

Mike wraps up his personal story with this quote from the Bible:

"Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. [1 Pet 3: 14b-16, ESV]"


The next story is entitled, The Joy of Confession by Rev. Shannon Murray. In the beginning of Shannon’s story she informs the reader of a confession she made during a bible study. I don't want to give it away. For after all, you need a little suspense to stoke your desire to read the book.

Shannon’s childhood wasn't steeped in Christian religiosity. Her faith grew slowly and as she says, "I’m still becoming, growing, stumbling, learning, and honestly, I am a little prickly around folks who feel like they don’t need to do any of that because they have arrived..."

Shannon tells her story in a conversational style that is very readable, especially when she relates the story of her grandparent's typical household Jesus picture. "...There was a constant presence of Christ in our house in the form of a sepia tone Jesus painting on the living room wall; you know the one that is standard issue d├ęcor for every elderly folks Sunday school room you have ever been in? Yeah, that one. He had hung there since before my birth, right over the loveseat, a camouflage Christ in browns and beiges nearly blending in with the faux wood paneling and staring off at the television as if deeply contemplating the wonder of rabbit ear antennas. I first noticed him, really saw him, when I was in preschool and I became mesmerized by this Messiah in my midst; how could I have missed him all these years? When I had asked who was in the painting, my Papa gently said, 'Well baby, that’s Jesus.'"

Shannon’s early life was filled with turmoil. Her only drive was to get through school and enter college, yet things did not improve. Here's what she says about it: "If childhood was about scraping my way up and out college was the free-fall from whatever height I thought I had attained." After she graduated, she had little to look forward to. She had very little faith and seemed to wander lost upon a road dimly illuminated by atheism. "Partying and working a dead end job was all there was to life after graduation." As Shannon saw it, her future was limited. This is what she says: "Ah yes, first comes love (and college) … then comes marriage … then comes baby in the baby carriage! So goes the playground song and so it was for me."

This was exactly the direction she steered her life. She met a man, married and had a baby. "I decided one day that the next thing after a baby is born is a baptism... but there was an issue, I couldn’t ask for the baby to be baptized if I hadn’t been baptized myself."

Shannon’s road became a little brighter when she was baptized. This is how she eloquently phrases her experience: "So I was baptized and the vow, well, it kind of started to work on me and make me think and then there was the water; though I cannot really explain it, as it was poured on my head, it did not feel normal; something was different. In hindsight, I see how God began to take this opportunity to get His foot in my door and even though I did not fully realize it, I was marked, set apart, and He was not about to give up on me."

As is often the case in life, when one feels the presence of something greater, one also is on the threshold of terrible events. This happened to Shannon. Her new baby became seriously ill and she had another one in her immediate future. Her life seemed to have slid down the muddy slopes of insecurity and fear. A strange and gripping form of desperation enclosed her soul. "I had one potentially very sick baby and another on the way but because all my hope had always been in what was next and now, for the first time. This was the beginning of my 'rock bottom'. My way, my pattern for survival no longer worked, no longer made any sense. It was not going to get better going forward; going back or staying put were not options either." Shannon's second baby was also diagnosed with a life threatening illness. She increasingly questioned the entire meaning of her life, the reasons for her, or anyone's existence. "Why had any of the terrible things that had happened to me, or anyone else for that matter, ever happened? I moved from anger to despair." Shannon's story of this period in her life is filled with painful questions and terrifying anxieties.

Of course, as in any Christian believer's life the big questions arise. "I moved from a rhetorical, angry questioning, 'God, what are You doing?!', to a place where the tone changed to pleading and longing, 'God, what are You doing.'" Then a day came when Shannon was in the hospital wishing to attend her newborn in ICU, but the doctors kept her out. “There, on the wall in back, was a painting; a sepia Jesus. I turned away, overwhelmed, angry, scared, exhausted, confused, and I dropped to my knees, sobbing uncontrollably.” Yet, as things have a wont, her life of faith seemed to make things go  just a bit smoother. As things began to settle down in her life, Shannon and her husband began to attend church where she "began a rapid learning and growing process; it was like a wildfire that had smoldered for a long time had finally caught a good gust of holy wind."

Shannon eventually attended seminary and received her first pastoral assignment. By asking the right questions her growth process continued. "I finally went from planning what was next at the cost of the present to finding joy in the day at hand and waiting with excited expectation to see what God had next. Then, when the storms in my life came, which they did and continued to do, I finally started asking, 'God, what are we going to do.'"


The fourth thesis is by Joel L. Watts, one of the co-editors. It is entitled: Excursis - King James Onlyism. (This is the definition of excursis from Wikipedia: An excursus (from Latin excurrere, "to run out of") is a short episode or anecdote in a work of literature.)

Joel's essay is very in depth and explanatory. It is easily understood by the non-academic and deals with the present day use of the Cambridge (pure text) and the Oxford King James (not the Saint James) Version of the bible as the ONLY biblical sources for conservative fundamentalist Christians. The citations Joel presents are mostly those from the Internet, because as he states: "The internet has, without doubt, aided the KJVO movement."

Joel begins his exposition on the King James Version Only bible believers, thusly: "Further, it [the essay] will examine the comparisons between the KJVO movement and the fight against the creation of the English Bible, namely by Wycliffe and Tyndale. We will close with an examination of future trajectories." Brackets are mine.

Joel has determined, and rightly so, that the KJVO movement can be and is considered a conservative evangelical Christian cult and is mainly active within the southern sectors of the Bible Belt. "The KJVO doctrine is not limited to one sect or church. While more often, Independent Fundamentalist Baptists are KJVO, so too are Oneness Holiness sects as well as some United Pentecostal Churches. In many parts of West Virginia and Kentucky, United Methodist Churches continue to be KJV Only." The historical antecedents of the movement began with, as Joel puts it; "...the publication of Our Authorized Bible Vindicated in 1930 by a Seventh-day Adventist...it is rooted in MYTHS of pure texts, hidden bibles, and Satanic attempts to destroy the Word of God. Yet, it strangely mirrors the fight Jerome was presented with in the late fourth century and the same fight which cost the great saint of the English bible, William Tyndale, his life." Emphasis added by me.

Joel concentrates his essay within "the journey from the Vulgate to the King James Version of 1611." Then he presents a short historical expose of the many subsequent English translations from the Greek and Hebrew, until he arrives at the birth of the KJV. "After a return to Anglicanism, it was King James IV of Scotland who was also the first of that name to sit upon the English throne, who ordered an authorized version to combat the attacks upon his sovereignty made by the notes in the Geneva Bible." The KJV remained the standard English bible, until the arrival of the Revised Version in 1885. "Like the 1611 version, the Revised Version is also authorized by the English throne, but it never received the same traction. Even with the 1901 release of the American Standard Version, the King James still reigned supreme."

Joel takes us through the many ways in which the King James Only movement, led at first by Benjamin Wilkinson and then by Will Kinney, attacked each subsequent version of the English bible, no matter the accuracy of the texts. "Both men suggest that there are in reality only two bibles, the King James and the Catholic Bibles." In the present day, people like Peter Ruckman, Gail Riplinger and others continue their rant against the best translations scholars can provide, using the oldest Greek and Hebrew texts known. Joel illustrates the comments and methods they use to sway believers into using what is now known as a flawed text. The use of the KJV only continues to mislead believers down egoistically paved avenues of falsehood. As Joel puts it: "With the plethora of bible translations comes the sense that reading the bible has been somehow democratized. As with any paradigm shift, this causes the powers that be to seek a path forward that essentially keeps them in control."

Joel takes the reader through a wonderful journey of fatuous intrigue, fantastic conspiracies and fabricated evidence. The many and varied methods used by members of the King James Only movement is fascinating. "They have sharpened their attack in recent decades, moving away from needing originals and from the Textus Receptus to suggesting that the KJV is so inspired, that it is advanced revelation. They often charge their opponents with virtual atheism or if the opponents are lucky, at the very least, apostasy. Anti-Catholic bigotry and conspiracy theories abound in the KJVO camp."

Today, modern promulgators of the English Standard Version (Crossway, 2007) push it as the best version to succeed the KJV, but Joel points out that it is basically sexist in orientation. "We must note that the trumpeters of the ESV often cite the gender-neutral approach of other translations as reason why the ESV is superior."

Joel makes a fine presentation in his essay and I definitely recommend the interested to read it in it's entirety.

The Conclusion is written by Travis Milam. It summarizes the reasons why very many Judeo/Christian believers have their faith tinged in the shadow of fear. As Travis says, “Jesus never motivated anyone to follow him by using fear.” Fear is used by those of little faith and/or knowledge to gain followers that will raise the leader’s egoism to the highest levels, while making the followers more unseeing. "Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit." Matt 15:14 NASB

Please read this book and the other 12 essays, for they will give you much faith, hope, love.