My junior year in college, along with taking British Novel with Mrs. E, I took Acts of the Apostles with Mr. C. It was my first non-survey Bible class, so in that respect I enjoyed it. Mr. C seemed to take “context” more seriously than some of my other Bible professors had, so I liked him.
That semester saw the Meteoric Rise and Apocalyptic Fall of Dr. S as the pastor of the college’s church. When the administration made the announcement, two of the stated reasons were “militant fundamentalism” and “hyper-dispensationalism.” Dr. S had already become famous for pronouncing the word concupiscence as “con-COOP!-see-ence” with a ridiculously heavy accent on the “COOP!” (it’s actually pronounced cun-coop’-ih-sense).
No one knew what any of these words meant.
A few weeks later, a Bible professor was dismissed, supposedly because he was a hyper-Calvinist. In retrospect, that’s really odd. I’ve met hyper-Calvinists since then, and he was definitely not hyper-anything. Also, no one on campus really knew what it meant to be “Calvinist,” although I’ve since learned that calling them “Calvinists” is rather silly, and the actual term is Reformed theology.
Suddenly, people around campus were being forced to encounter theology in a more dynamic way. Before this, the most that anyone interacted with theology was in the Bible Doctrines class, and in that class, theology was certainly not up for discussion.
We were at a loss. What’s hyper-dispensationalism? What’s dispensationalism, for heaven’s sake? What do Calvinists actually believe, anyway?
Mr. C announced that he would be setting aside a class period to specifically talk about these terms and explain what they mean, and that we could come to him after class with any theology or Bible-related question we had.
Essentially, a hyper-dispensationalist believes very firmly in the line between the Apostolic and Church Ages. Things that the apostles could do, we cannot do now. There are no more miracles, basically.
Militant fundamentalism . . . Westboro. Basically. I can remember Dr. S. saying the words “God hates homosexuality as an abomination” more than once. If he could have gotten away with saying “God hates fags,” I’m pretty sure he would have. However, people who claim to be militant fundamentalists usually phrase it as “contending for the faith.” If you hear those words, anywhere, you should probably run.
And Calvinists — oy, that’s a complicated bag of crazy when Arminians are saying “Calvin” like it’s a swear. But. Mr. C laid out the “five points of Calvinism” for us without an insane amount of bias, as far as I can remember.
At this point in the semester, I’d had my “something is horribly wrong with what I’ve been taught about God” epiphany about nine months before. I’d been doing a lot of surreptitious reading on the sly. A few books that changed how I thought about my faith were God’s Secretaries and Reasonable Faith. I also started reading apologetics books like crazy, completely fascinated by the concept that people had bothered to think about their faith, and to ask the hard questions– and found answers.
There were answers.
It was a shocking revelation.
One of the things I also started doing at this point was throwing any ideology or assumption I could identify in myself under harsh examination. No longer was I going to accept something as “truth.” In fact, I started assuming that I didn’t have the truth at all, and I might not ever have the truth again. Some days it is a bit overwhelming, but I’m much more comfortable with the idea of never knowing . . . now.
One of those things I took away was my, until then, unshakable belief in the King James Bible– which is why God’s Secretaries was so influential. No longer was I going to assume that the Alexandrian Texts were the incarnation of evil. No longer would I believe that the Textus Receptus was the product of some divinely-inspired copying process. Humans are fallible. Humans make mistakes. The Bible doesn’t have to be a perfect replica of the autographa in order for it to be reliable. The Bible being “in the hands of the Catholics” didn’t have to be an atrocious crime that I intellectually avoided by believing in “pockets” of Christians around Europe that had the “real Bible.”
I also started considering really crazy ideas, like —
What if Mark 16:9-20 weren’t written by Mark, but added later?
Honestly, after several years of research, I decided I don’t much care about this issue as they don’t really affect anything. Also, they’re kinda crazy. Jesus tells them they can handle snakes and drink poison.
Eh, not so much. People die from that. It’s stupid. Don’t do that.
However, they also include Jesus appearing to people after he died, so that’s rather a big deal.
There’s also Matthew, Luke, and John, but these verses in Mark are crazy important to fundamentalists. They’re contending for the faith, you see.
But, I figured I’d ask my Bible professor about it, since he was also the head of the biblical languages department. If anyone would know, he would, I figured.
I asked him that day in class.
His answer was such bullshit. Even as a twenty-something ignorant kid I knew his answer was evasive and misleading — and the exact same words as my BI 102 curriculum, produced by the college. Either he knew the answer and didn’t want to tell me because he’d get fired, or he thought I was stupid enough to not recognize a bullshit response. I tried to pin him down, but he refused to stray from the party line.
That’s the day I stopped trusting authority figures. I learned to take everything they said with a grain of salt– and I had gotten very good at that. My college had been very thorough in teaching me how to sift through “secular” texts looking for bias and presuppositions. I just don’t think they expected me to apply that training to them.