Last edit Feb 2, 2014 The Doctrinaire I breathe Or, An Old Adventist Suffers Spiritual Whiplash And Lives to Tell about It ffffffgggggg I was born into our church, educated in our church schools all the way, and grew up thinking our doctrines were as natural as the air – essential to existence but requiring no thought; the very doctrinaire I breathed. Altar calls and mass testimony meetings, where the young were expected to stand up and tell their conversion and Christian experience, were also a part of my existence. I participated respectfully and passively, being vaguely moved by the pleadings and the hummed hymns and the unremitting pipe organ and the scattered sobs, but I stayed rooted to my seat, dry-eyed, mute, no heavy breathing, and relieved when it was over, ready to return to Bible class where all I needed to do was memorize texts for exams. But now in old age, here I am, giving testimony, at the top of my lungs, not because I’m expected to but because I want to and feel strongly moved. The standard conversion stories at testimony meetings are of bleeding, mangled sinners snatched at the last instant from the most appalling jaws. Here’s the erstwhile alcohol and/or substance abuser (in my day he was an addict and alcoholic), or rock star (a new embellishment), usually the same person, or serial killer or Ponzi-schemer scheduled for execution or life in prison. Postmodernists seem irretrievable. Though my story has more than a dollop of sinful drama (let it go at that), I’m not up for an award for most wrenching redemption. I was not a major prodigal, but quite prodigal enough. God is the judge. In any case I was not in terminal delirium tremens and resuscitated, but, while snoozing serenely, was shaken awake, rudely perhaps, sustaining a good case of spiritual whiplash. Like that of C.S. Lewis, mine was an intellectual journey. Rooted to his endowed university chair, Lewis was dragged by God over the line, shadow-kicking against being moved but sober all the way, as he recounts in his autobiographical Surprised by Joy. His testimony may not rock the hearts of rock stars but does mine. Contemporary or latter day devotional authors – notably E.G. White, and her Desire of Ages – have informed, even formed, my beliefs and doctrines and thus this testimony. To them I am devoted. But for literary approach, style, and vocabulary, my models would start again with C.S. Lewis and include Malcolm Muggeridge, G.K. Chesterton, even Evelyn Waugh, throw in William Buckley and Clifford Goldstein, primarily journalists, columnists, essayists, novelists, lay people, more politically or philosophically than pietistically or beatifically oriented. Now then, this is how I was awakened and activated. Ironically if not heroically, it was not by confrontations with Baptists or Anabaptists or Witnesses at my front door hellbent to proselytize, or the charms and trances of mediums or shamans, or persecution, or atheists or agnostics. These were no threat to my Laodicean lassitude. To my surprise, the threat came from inside, from our own seminars and pews, from our emergent thought leaders, as they proclaimed themselves. Bless their souls, they had gone and learned and received better protocols, paradigms, thinking patterns, resources, wisdom, awareness, and sensitivity, plus role models, authorities to cite, celebrity saints to quote, from higher sources than our established ones, notably: (1) Hermeneutics, the device that puts another god (Hermes, Greek god of eloquence) before God in violation of the First Commandment (“Thou shalt have no other gods before me”). Thus apotheosized, hermetically sealed hermeneutics and no end of ordained spokespersons are commissioned to critique (read pre-empt), oh so eloquently, outsider gods, especially God. By the way, Hermes was not only a god but gave his name to hermaphroditism, which is what hermeneutics is, I think. (2) Higher criticism, the Enlightenment Germanic-Britannic kind of uber-super criticism that reduces all Biblical certainties to allegory. (4) Science. Way back when I was airily doctrinaire, science was also definable. But like everything else, it has become more nebulous than medieval superstition, being simultaneously a hypothesis subject to data and court-adjudged law, all rise. (3) Postmodernism, which whimsically denies the whole idea of truth, and therefore morals (but likes ethics), regardless of source, especially the Bible, even (as collateral damage) hermeneutics, science, or higher criticism, and demands a new version, especially of ethics, right now. (4) And for good measure, theistic agnosticism (analogous, I think, to theistic evolution) to dispose of whatever dogma or doctrine or belief or detail not otherwise critiqued or allegorized to shreds, cynically resorting to a proof text, Romans 11:33, to show that God and the whole business is unsearchable and past understanding anyway. As listed simply by their technical names, these devices, if taken seriously, would seem of interest only to cloistered monks or doctoral candidates destined for tenure, irrelevant to real life, obscure intellectual curiosities if that, harmless, hardly comparable to the historic power of the doctrines, promises, consolations, and values of the Bible and ancient churches, however passively accepted. But lo! Alas! Now I’m hearing that it is precisely those precious old doctrines and Biblical myths, and our blinkered Biblical orientation, that are primitive, intellectually stifling, embarrassing to thinking minds, irrelevant to our culture, powerful only as tools of authoritarianism to enslave and suppress, as indeed we have been, abjectly. But hark! Hermeneutics-higher criticism-postmodernism-etc.- etc. is the promised Messianic package and formula, whereby ye shall be unfettered to soar and transcend! And be set free! Liberated! Awakened! (Applause! Applause! No amens, please.) I perked, all right. I awakened to discover that individual doctrines had been systematically annulled like Al Qaeda chiefs picked off one by one by CIA drones. The very elements of our atmosphere, every last doctrine, had been globally denatured, depolymerized, deconstructed into toxic carbon dioxide or reduced to particulate cosmic dust by the spray cans, refineries, and atom smashers of the hermeneutics-higher critical-postmodernism complex, leaving me choking, coughing, gasping. But seriously, folks, after herm-sci-high-crit-pomod was done with our doctrines, none were left alive. So why still call ourselves, ahem, Adventists? Because of, as a progressive friend explained, sounding genuine and stern, Adventist culture. Our culture? I didn’t even know we had one. But if it’s the testimony meetings and altar calls of days of yore, I could do without it. If it’s being eccentrically fundamentalist or being granted divine exceptionalism, or of abstaining from meat and movies, dance and drama, the long-gone culture of our boarding schools, isn’t that what you have been gagging on since church-school days and scoffing off at awards galas, blogs, and uTubes? Anyway, thus it was that after a lifetime of languor I had been shaken awake. Blinking my eyes and squinting down, I determined go back to the basics and this time to look at them hard. But before starting the project or planning the protocol, I took a deep breath, actually closed my eyes, and prayed. Without God taking over, no such project is worth beans. Now, if starting that way offends you, read on just for chuckles. I’m a chuckler myself, and wanted an excuse to put some in here for you, as Waugh or Buckley would, or C.S. Lewis, though his tongues-in-cheek are more straight-faced. As I had learned in the research lab decades ago, and was not ashamed to do now, and exactly as the progressives do, but deny, I decided on a starting premise. And my starting premise, the premise jettisoned by progressives at takeoff, was that my religion is innocent until proven guilty, and that the Bible is intelligible (even the KJV). My protocol was to: (1) Put (gasp!) the Bible first, not last. (2) Put private exegesis before peer-prioritized hermeneutics, even science, whatever it is, which as tools rightly applied are fine but as ends in themselves graven images. (3) Resort to but few auxiliary resources. I was just as happy that all my textbooks that I used to pore over were long lost. (4) Take our core doctrines as a whole woven fabric, not individual threads to be teased. As I see it, we have 8 or maybe 10 indivisible and non-negotiable core beliefs (never thought to count them up) some common Christian property, some peculiar to us, and what God hath joined together let neither man nor hermeneutics, put asunder. Historically terrified of creeds, we have published Twenty Eight Fundamental Beliefs, being tweaked, reworded, loosened and cinched up, hassled and hermeneuticized even as we speak. I’ve never read them. Plus we have a nice smörgåsbord of goodies to enjoy or disdain as your spirit and hermeneutics move you, only be ye not judgmental. Consider this an ecological, therefore consummately relevant, parable. Doctrines collected for display and classification are like unto a collection of eco miscellany (separate words) -- a vial of swamp water, a sprig of swamp grass, a stained paramecium on a glass slide, a photo of a crocodile (not the whole stuffed croc, which would be a violating of his individuality, dignity, and karma, parish the thought). If one is missing, your collection isn’t complete and may not be worth as much on eBay or to your professor and she may deny you your PhD, but in the overall scheme of things, no big deal. Instead, our core doctrines are to be considered an ecosystem (one word inseparable) that works together and no component from plankton to humpback whale can be taken away or the whole swamp dries up, any number of animal species exterminated, activists activated, the planet endangered. In like manner our doctrines are not to be stood back from and worshiped as idols that cannot breathe, or that must be excavated like artifacts handled by only gloved hands and carefully dusted, adulteration being a criminal offense. Our doctrines are like mines to be dug ever deeper into, not shuttered because of alleged toxicity. And thus I proceeded. The upshot was no bolt of light. It was the gradual, even subliminal, renewal and reaffirmation, yea, resurrection in new strength and credibility, of my beliefs. So, having reexamined our beliefs I still believe. “Utterly insufferable, utterly unacceptable, utterly impossible,” gasp our hermeneutically sealed progressives, adding, “Reviewing beliefs can only lead to disbelief, as surely as up goes up, or you're denying science, yours is not an open inquiring mind and you'll flunk your doctorate. Here we stand doubting, we can do no other.” But I disbelieve that. Here I stand believing, I can do no other. But if all that resulted from having Adventist doctrines shaken was for them to settle out like gold nuggets in a prospector’s pan, sending a spurt of adrenalin and vindication through my soul, it would hardly be worth reporting. A victory lap gets you nowhere. Neither is this an altar call for you, dear reader. I’m not, even now, the proselytizing or catechistic type. You may stay rooted, if squirming, maybe chuckling, in your seat. What I really want to testify to, and this is the miracle, the best part, the only part worth telling, is that in the process I was awakened not just to doctrine, but to God as never before. Whereupon He turned around and reaffirmed doctrine, whereupon He came through even louder, a pulsing action, like breathing in and breathing out. It’s not a done deal, it’s a dynamic process, like love and marriage, circular, interdependent. Like Jesus says, “No man can come to me except the Father … draw him.” And “no one cometh unto the Father but by me.” John 6:44; 14:6 KJV. Also John 6:65, 67 Now He’s the very air I breathe, and my doctrine, the central Adventist doctrine. And by the way, I am indeed grateful that my church school required me to memorize so many texts. (I'm so old I remember when "text" was from the Bible, not a smartphone.) And it turns out that E.G. White is rather more than a devotional writer. That settled, and back in our pew at church, I am aware that I do need liberation after all. I yearn to be free … from the newly ordained video boom swinging over our heads, the very finger of Hollywood pointing straight at us, the tiny evil red eye more tightly locked onto the expressions on our faces than the preacher’s eye at any old-time testimony meeting.

 

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