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The Sacred Romance: Relationships versus Rules

December 8, 2010 Leave a comment

If I’ve blogged about this before, it’s because it’s a message that desperately needs to resonate in the Christian church.

When I served as best man for my friend Bob’s wedding, he gave me as a gift the book The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge. I started reading it, but life got in the way.

Pathetic excuse, indeed.

I regret not having read it sooner. Do I ever!

I know I will offend some I’ve known in Independent Fundamental Baptist Churches, but as I’ve started reading this book again, even before I delve deeply into the book, it is clear to me that in much of Christianity we really are thinking backwards regarding our relationship with God.

Normally, when a person gets saved in the Baptist circles I’m from, they are instructed in the King James Bible and are given a list of do’s and don’t’s.

How does that saying go? “I don’t smoke, drink or chew or go with girls who do.” Furthermore, new Christians are also instructed not to go to movies and not to get tattoos. Guys are told not to wear their hair long (which, for some churches means it should be neatly tapered off the collar and off the ears) and not to wear earrings. Women are told to wear dresses, skirts or culottes, never pants and especially never shorts or skirts that show off the thighs, and to avoid wearing too much makeup (or in some cases, any). They should not work outside the home. Some churches don’t even believe women should wear fingernail polish or hair dye.

Other general convictions also apply. If music has a beat or an electric guitar, it should be avoided. And, for God’s sake, do not listen to Contemporary Christian Music. (I remember how some ministers would refer to Michael W. Smith as “Michael W. Smut” and Amy Grant as “Amy Grunt”). If you must have a television, it should be used only to watch Christian programs and news programs. Some are against watching professional sports due to the cheerleaders dressing immodestly.

And, for some, sex should never, ever openly be talked about. For those who do, they might even say sex is solely for procreating. Missionary position only. Lights off. No role playing. And absolutely, positively, no birth control or masturbation.

One wonderful Christian, who is no longer with us, once said: “If you don’t have convictions, come talk to me and I’ll give you some.” As well-intentioned as this might be, it is a horrible approach. It is one thing to explain to new or struggling Christians why you have certain convictions, but too often I feel they are given convictions they don’t understand and are expected to apply them to their lives. And we wonder why so many get disillusioned and leave the church; some not only leave the church, but abandon their faith altogether and embrace atheism.

This approach to Christianity, which I am convinced stems from personal preferences that magically evolve into convictions instead of developing legitimate Bible-based convictions, probably makes many think of heaven as a place where people dress in iridescent, flowing white robes as they float among the clouds and play harps. Nothing exciting ever happens.

<Yawn>

It seems to me a far better approach to Christianity is to discerningly read the Bible in context, pray for God’s guidance, get involved in your church and surround yourself with wise Christians. For me, among those wise Christians are my sisters, my friends Bob J., Howard H., Joel K. and Jeremy H. and my pastor. There are also Charlie M. and Dave R., college friends whom I will ask questions about the Bible.

Consider this verse from Proverbs 13:20: “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.”

Of course, the verse is referring to “he” and “men” as mankind in general. The same applies to both men and women and whom they choose counsel from, and it’s possible to get wise counsel from a person of either gender.

And as you read the Bible, get involved in godly activities and get wise counsel, you will start to have a more intimate relationship with God and will start seeing things from God’s perspective. From here you will develop your own godly convictions.

As I type this, here are some things about me some Christians may find objectionable: I wear a leather necklace with a cross made from horseshoe ties (which I see nothing wrong with). When I read the Bible, I often read from the New King James Version (even though I still prefer the King James Version). I also sometimes watch R-rated movies and also listen to some forms of rock music. I even like some Van Halen songs, even though there are other songs of theirs that have very unhealthy messages. I also have from time to time used profanity (I have never taken the Lord’s name in vain). Some of these things about me are very unapologetic parts of my life that I feel God is blessing me in or that God has no problem with. They are part of my Christian identity. Some, such as the movies, music and profanity, God is still working on me. I am working to eliminate the profanity from my life since I believe further usage would make me become a person I absolutely loathe.

I know many Christians are against consuming alcohol, but I do have one solid brother in Christ who does drink. However, he is a stickler about moderation. While I don’t drink (the last time I consumed alcohol was beer and vodka when I was 15, and I thought both were absolutely disgusting), I can respect someone who does so responsibly. While the Bible may not specifically condemn drinking, it is very strict regarding moderation.

As for me, unless I visit Germany where they frown upon people who don’t accept a drink, I have no plans to drink: I have an addictive personality, and people like me easily fall into alcoholism. And, frankly, I have more than enough problems in my life.

If there’s a point to this blog posting, it would be that instead of just following a set of rules, Christians need to be reading God’s Word and talking to godly Christians and asking tough questions about their faith and investigating why they believe what they believe instead of just following a crowd. To have convictions without understanding them is a recipe for an unsuccessful Christian life that will never be as profitable for yourself or for God as it should be.

Richard Zowie is going through the Bible in his Richard’s Two Shekels blog when not commenting on Christian issues or blogging about his Christian walk. He hopes by early 2011 to complete his first visit in years with all the Minor Prophets. Post comments here or drop a line to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com. 

Can I recommend my alma mater, Pensacola Christian College?

July 24, 2010 2 comments

I wish it were a simple yes or no answer, but for me it’s not that simple.

On my satire blog, I posted about a year ago about how Pensacola Christian College is finally getting accredited and will become known as Pensacola Christian University. Again, 100% false. Readers have responded accordingly to this satirical story, some believing it and some getting angry with me for posting it. Those who believe it are grateful that PCC is finally getting “accredited” while others who don’t are angry I’d joke out of such a sensitive issue. It was my way of having fun with probably the most popular urban legend on campus when I attended–especially since it has negatively impacted me in many ways since graduation.

Recently, I received an e-mail from a prospective PCC student who read the blog posting and asked if I recommended the college. In my response I asked her what she wanted to major in and what she wanted to do for a living. I don’t feel comfortable giving a blanket response without knowing something about the student first.

Speaking of PCC, I attended Pensacola Christian College from 1991 to 1995. Originally a commercial writing major, after my first year I changed my major to history with an English minor since I felt the CW major focused far too much on graphic design. If I had to do it again, I would’ve double-majored in English and commercial writing and then would’ve probably tried for a master’s in creative writing or a branch of literature at a nearby university. (Those graphic design skills would’ve really come in handy, especially with designing a website and laying out newspaper pages). I may also have just stayed at home and attended a junior college, but I was so burnt out over attending what I deemed a worthless public school system that I was dying to attend a Christian college.

In many ways, PCC is no different than many Christian colleges. It has its great qualities, and it has its bad qualities.

Some of the great qualities are indeed great: you get lots of instruction in Bible, both in chapel, church and in the Bible classes and even in prayer group. When it comes to the doctrine of salvation, I believe what’s taught from the pulpit and in classrooms is 100% correct. On campus there were many wonderful people who absolutely loved the Lord, both students and faculty. PCC does have some excellent academic programs, one of which that comes to mind is nursing. When I was there, the criminal justice program had a decent reputation since the teacher who headed it, Mr. Darrell Pope, was a well-respected longtime veteran on the Michigan State Police. (Mr. Pope has since gone home to be with the Lord). Some of my best friends in life are those I met at PCC, and I have many fond memories of Fine Arts series events along with dating and stag outings and getting a chance to visit different areas of Pensacola.

And then there are the not-great qualities.

Please understand I’m not trying to “sow discord” among Christians. Instead, I’m giving an honest assessment.

As great a place as it might be, PCC is also very sheltered. I suppose it’s great if you’re a person who’s been beat up spiritually and who needs a place to “detox”. In some ways, a sheltering environment can be a good thing, but for young adults who will soon be venturing off on their own? In my experience, no.

True, I know that many will leave PCC and work in churches, on the mission field, as evangelists, as Christian school teachers or as some other church worker. Still, spending four years in a bubble where you’re not allowed to watch television (except for the news and certain championship sporting events), not allowed to listen to radio except for approved stations, are told when to go to bed, what to wear, how to have your hair cut, what type of contact you can have with the opposite sex doesn’t do a good job of that. Young Christians who grow used to decisions being made for them will have a much more difficult transition into adulthood. Been there, done that.

Many of the rules stem far more from legalism and a desire for a clean-cut image than they did from Biblical convictions.

What’s ironic is in many ways (such as the what to wear, how to have your hair cut), PCC mirrors the Army. Is it easier being in the Army than being a student at PCC? Not necessarily. (Keep in mind, anti-PCCites, I am a veteran). The Army might grant freedoms that PCC doesn’t, but the Army many times over could be far more anal retentive–most of the time due to sergeants and officers on power trips. PCC may have been annoying and frustrating at times, but it was in the Army that on one occasion I was so driven into anger, fear and frustration over the Army’s stupid rules I actually met with the chaplain to get some advice on how to deal with the stress. Never came even close to that at PCC.

Then there’s the accreditation issue.

Despite earning a bachelor’s degree from PCC, I entered the Army as an E-1 (the lowest enlisted rank) because the Army would not recognize my unaccredited degree. (Many fellow soldiers and even a few sergeants asked me why I wasted my time at an unaccredited college while I marveled at how some of the biggest morons and drunks I’ve ever met had accredited college degrees). I tried without success but apparently I didn’t pull the right strings, since I saw once in a PCC Update that fresh graduates of PCC were then commissioned as officers in the Marine Corps. I’ve lost out on several jobs due to PCC’s lack of accreditation and if I ever returned to college, I’d probably have to go as a second-semester sophomore (thanks to the 45 credits I earned in the Army from the accredited Defense Language Institute) instead of as a graduate student.

In the Spring 1994 semester, I had a conversation with PCC’s then-vice president and current Campus Church interim pastor, Dr. Joel Mullenix, about accreditation. The conversation was for research I was doing for a long short story that looked at PCC in the year 2073 when it would become Pensacola University (that anti-accreditation short story, written in the summer of 1994, remains unpublished). Dr. Mullenix, whom I liked a lot and consider one of the friendliest, most dignified people I’ve ever met, told me that PCC founder and president Dr. Arlin Horton’s refusal to be accredited stemmed from a concern that the college should be accountable to God and not to the state. Furthermore, the concern was that the college would then be told by a bunch of unsaved administrators whom they could hire, whom they could fire, what they could teach and, presumably, whether or not they’d have to have a union for the staff, faculty and student workers.

Fair enough, but there seem to be many wonderful Christian colleges out there (such as Ohio’s Cedarville University, Virginia’s Liberty University and Regent University) that are accredited but are turning out some wonderful Christians.

Also, at PCC there’s no such thing as “spring break”. When I was there, we had Bible Conferences during spring break. Instead of relaxing in your dorm or heading to the beach, you attended three services a day (morning, afternoon and evening). Each lasted two hours, minimum. Bible instruction can be great, but I remember practically nothing from the conferences (except when the exhuberant and informative Dr. Johnny Pope preached) except for nodding off and being bored due to the looooooooong, dry messages while wearing a suit inside a Dale Horton Auditorium where the air never seemed to circulate enough to make the air conditioning effective. What also made it a miserable week was that Pensacola gets warm in the spring, but during that week we had to wear a suit anytime we were outside our dorms. Ugh. Bible Conference made me hardly be able to wait to “relax” when classes would start up again.

Perhaps the biggest thing about PCC that concerns me, interestingly enough, stems from my time spent on a website discussion board of PCC graduates, former students and others. It was mostly an anti-PCC site, one where you could hear tales of hypocrisy, people getting dismissed from PCC without being given a chance to tell their side of the story and so forth. After a few years posting at that board, I chose to close out my account. Ironically, I encountered far more rudeness, condescension, self-righteousness and even hypocrisy from many of the “liberated” Christians there than I ever encountered from people at PCC. I left concluding there was no difference at all.

While I have left the board, I have made no attempts to get back on the college’s good side by opening a thread with an open letter of apology to PCC for frequenting the board. I don’t agree with everything with PCC and certainly didn’t agree with everything on that board, I do feel the board gives PCC something it desperately needs: accountability.

PCC, remember, has no student newspaper, and when the infamous Student Voice came out, students at the college were given very strict orders not to visit the SV–or else. Likewise, anyone caught visiting anything perceived to be an anti-PCC website while at college can expect to be kicked out or severely disciplined. If you’re an alumnus and openly visit such a site, expect to be shunned. Once upon a time, I “outed” myself on the board I was on and soon found I was no longer receiving the PCC Update and was no longer on the college’s official alumni site.

PCC may not be too thrilled about dissenting opinions, but let’s face it: we live in a fallen world and no matter how godly a Christian or organization is, there absolutely must be accountability. The college’s lack of accountability has also resulted in very wonderful people I knew at PCC who, today, want practically nothing to do with the college. One guy, “Jack”, is a prime example. I also find it funny that one girl no longer welcome at PCC now works with Contemporary Christian Music bands that are totally sold out to God and whose music sings His praises. (“Non-passing” music, of course).

Some former classmates of mine will give a resounding “Yes!” or “Absolutely not!” when asked if they can recommend PCC. I prefer not to do that. Instead, I advise the following:

1) Decide your major and research PCC’s program for your major carefully. Look at the classes, the credentials of the instructors and decide if it’s a solid enough program to warrant a second look.

2) Find out how important accreditation is to your vocation. If you want to work in Christian circles or plan to get a graduate degree from another Christian college, non-accreditation might not be a problem. However, if you’re training for a job that requires public certification (such as an engineer or accountant), PCC might not be a good fit. If you want to teach in a public school or in a school that requires a teacher certification, PCC most likely won’t work (trust me, I’ve tried; never mind that some of the most worthless public-school teachers have teacher certifications). Places like these want to see accredited degrees. Getting an exception is extremely difficult, if not impossible.

3) Talk to current and former students and get their input. What did they like, not like and what are their overall feelings? Would they do it again?

4) Find out what the rules are and ask yourself if they’re something you feel you can abide by. Former Campus Church pastor and PCC alumnus Jim Schettler famously had to get three haircuts before he could enroll back in the mid 1970s. I’ve heard urban legends of other male students who sport long hair, learn how short it must be cut and simply refuse to enroll and return home. One girl I used to date at PCC told me about how her brother visited the college, didn’t like the dating rules and decided not to go to PCC. Myself, I hated wearing suits all the time to each church service (even in the summer when I worked at the college); to this day, I seldom wear suits–even to church.

5) Pray. Seek godly counsel from Christians you respect and trust. I would strongly advise the type of Christians who not only know the Bible, but ones who know how to separate personal preferences from convictions (trust me, in Christian circles these lines get blurred quite a bit).

Would I send my kids to PCC? Considering my problems with accreditation and the way we’re raising our sons and how we want them to be prepared for the “real world”, probably not. Should they express a desire to go, I will lay out the pros and cons for them but will most likely discourage them from going. I don’t think it would be a good fit for them, but for other Christians, it might be a great fit. For others who wish to attend PCC, I wish them well and pray God will work in their lives and lead them according to His will.

Please keep in mind that there is no such thing as a “perfect” college. I’ve met PCC graduates who have nothing but glowing things to say about the college and other grads who think PCC is a stronghold for Satan. I have lots of respect for both those who recommend and don’t recommend PCC. Likewise, there are both pro- and anti-PCC people out there whose views and condescending attitudes disgust me. I would advise people not to discount PCC simply because of those who don’t like it, just like I’d advise people not to go based solely on positive recommendations a few have. Take any college out there, from the most leftwing state university to what seems like a great, more liberal Christian college and chances are excellent you’ll find students and faculty who love it and disgruntled former students and faculty who hate it. Cedarville, Liberty and Regent probably have their share of former students who wouldn’t recommend the college to their worst enemy.

I hope that helps you. This is just my opinion, one many Christians on both sides of the spectrum will differ with, so take it for what it’s worth and make the decision of where the Lord wants you to go.

Richard Zowie graduated from Pensacola Christian College in 1995 with a bachelor of arts in history and a minor in English. He believes God needs godly, wonderful people there as much as he needs godly, wonderful people at places like the University of California-Berkeley. Post comments here or drop a line to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.