13 February 2007

February 11: the most pivotal day in my life (part one)

by Dan Phillips

Can you name dates on which your life literally turned around, forever?

Significant dates. Pardon my duh, but the most obvious is one's birthday. That's rather a sine qua non, on a personal level. We'll just stipulate that we've all had one, and move on.

For those to whom it applies, another has to be one's wedding anniversary, and I'd certainly second that as mine approaches. Though a lot led up to that date, for a Christian, the date itself signals changes that affect virtually every region of one's world. No longer can one think in terms of one; one must think in terms of two in finances, socializing, use of idle time, everything.

Then I'd list the day I enrolled in my first pastoral training course, the day I started learning Greek, ditto for Hebrew; the day I enrolled in Talbot, the day I graduated, the day I took my first senior pastorate (and the day I left it). A host of dates argue for inclusion.

My most important date: in pre-history.

But granted the foreordained necessity of my existence, my first pivotal date is itself undatable. It takes place in eternity past, in the counsels of the Trinity. It is that moment when the Father saw my helpless and hopeless estate, "knew" me, set His eternal love on me, and gave me to the Son for the securing of my salvation (John 17:6; Ephesians 1:4-11; 2 Timothy 1:9, etc.). At that moment, the course of my life forever was assured (Romans 8:29-30), as on the Cross it was secured (Matthew 20:28; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 9:12).

How this played out in my life is of no great global significance, though its impact in my life is literally incalculable.

Caveat: please read through to the end, or don't bother to read at all, and no hard feelings. The incomplete story will be the wrong story.

I was born to dear, devoted parents who professed no Christian faith as I grew up. For my father, that profession had been left in his youth; for my mother, it lay in her future. (I have reason to hope that Dad literally made a deathbed return to the faith in Christ he once professed; a story for another day, perhaps.)

But I was raised without Christian witness at home. In keeping with my culture and the media I developed a growing and deepening contempt for Christianity in general, and Christians in particular. I passed through a very young atheist phase, to agnosticism, then at the start of the '70's to a pre-new-age cult known as Religious Science (or Science of Mind) in my early teens.

My cult. The message of Religious Science, founded in 1927 by Ernest Holmes, was what I wanted to hear. God was in all of us, expressed itself as all of us, demanded nothing, gave everything. There was no sin per se, and any harm we did to others, they brought on themselves by their state of mind. There was no Hell nor sin to be saved from, so no salvation to be sought, nor any Savior to be chained to.

"Deeper sense." Jesus was the perfect embodiment of this divine principle, but any human being could be the same as He. Christians, idiots that they always have been, hopelessly muddled the Bible in general and Jesus' teachings in particular. We Religious Scientists reclaimed those teachings by seeking and finding the "deeper sense" in His words, a deeper sense which often turned out to be the opposite of their plain sense. But that wasn't surprising. Jesus was a mystic, and men have always botched the teachings of mystics.

All of this held great theoretical promise and relief for me. I really was the center of the universe, and my desires really were paramount. I was blamable for nothing, beholden to no one, and could have everything merely by developing my consciousness of the I AM within me. My own heart held the key to all; to find myself was to find God, to delve within myself was to be one with Him/Her/It.

There were only two catches in my journey.

Minor catch: Jesus. The minor "catch" in my seamless picture was Jesus. When I was about 16, I actually wrote a play based on the four Gospels, from the Religious Science perspective. I found that I kept having to "help" Jesus out, because He expressed Himself (to my mind) so poorly. Let me explain.

Jesus meant to say what we Religious Scientists said, but He kept saying it so badly. He meant to say that Hell was unreal, not a place of God's wrath, just a phase of consciousness; and that we could save ourselves from it at any time. But He kept speaking of it as if it were an objective place of immense and eternal torment (Matthew 5;22, 29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:33; Mark 9:43, 43, 47). He even spoke of fearing God for His ability to throw us into this Hell (Luke 12:5).

And Jesus seemingly kept harping on Himself, making Himself the issue, when He should have been making it clear that we're all the same, all equally manifestations of God. Jesus kept saying things such as that He would give himself as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28), pouring out His blood to secure forgiveness of their sins (Matthew 26:28). This was all wrong, to us—both the implication that sin was an objective reality, and that His death would do anything about it. He kept teaching that knowledge of the Father was dependent on personal knowledge of Him—Jesus—and calling men to Himself (Matthew 11:25-30).

John's Gospel in particular was full of such wrongheaded teaching. The worst of it, to me, was John 14:6"Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." I knew it couldn't mean what it seemed to mean... but it sure was obnoxious. Particularly because those idiot Jesus Freaks kept harping on it.

Most of us in the Science of Mind tried to "help" Jesus by explaining what He really meant when He said all these things, bringing out the "deeper meaning" of His words. I knew that the words couldn't mean what they seemed to mean. That was my story, and I stuck to it.

Until I tripped on the major catch.

Major catch: me. So (we believed) God is within all of us, and to know God, we must go within. Well, I did that. With great gusto, determination, absorption, and confidence. It was a great theory.

The problem was that what I found within was nothing like anything I'd ever want to call "God."

For the first years, I diligently applied the rationalizations explanations of Religious Science to what I found. These dissonant thoughts and attitudes were capable of many explanations. And I tried them all.

But I finally did a rigorous, unblinking, warts-and-all inventory of myself. What I found appalled me. Everything circled around me. Every relationship, every endeavor was sheerly selfish. Friends, family, things, all arrayed on a hierarchy of utility to me.

And what of that me, at the center? Selfish, bitter, moody, avaricious, lazy, arrogant, loveless. Lustful, but loveless. Dumb as a dung-beetle, on the large scale of things. Dumber.

And God? In my universe, God existed to serve me. Concocted to fulfill my demands, and customized to my desires. Created in my own image.

So, my religion was designed by me, to serve me, and rested upon me. It was from me, though me, and unto me. I just found a "church" that agreed with me, confirmed my opinions, told me what I wanted to hear. But I was the foundation.

And what a foundation!

Crash. I was seventeen, and the impact of these realizations was devastating. I was undone. I was plagued by a sharp yet foglike sense of guilt, detachment, and dread. The foundation and authority for what I believed was destroyed. I was rocked to the core of my being.

What happened then?

Next time, Lord willing, I'll talk about how the minor became the major, and everything changed.

UPDATE: see here for part two; see here for part three.

Dan Phillips's signature


Lee Shelton said...

What a comfort it is to know that "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor. 1:25).

I look forward to reading the rest.

Daniel said...

I love testimonial posts. I am looking forward to reading how you came from that to where you stand today.

Doug said...

Dan, thanks for this insight into what God has done in your life.

Also, Chicago VI! Ah, those were the good old days. Wait, Old Days was on Chicago VIII. Great band.

DJP said...

Doug—excellent catch. (And excellent taste in music!)

Thanks for the smile.

Sharon said...

Your story is similar to mine, proving that kids who grow up in a non-Christian environment can be saved through the faithful witness of friends. My re-birthday is April 4, 1971. And an even better blessing? I now work for the church in which I met, learned about, and embraced Jesus Christ!

FX Turk said...

That selfish thing -- it gets one every time, doesn't it? Ah yes -- very nice life I have here where everyone ought to conform to me.

Great stuff, Dan -- and I accidentally bumped you, but I fixed the time stamp to shill beneath your very edifying post.

donsands said...

Thanks for sharing your testimony.
It's a blessing to see from where God brought such a fine pastor.

mark pierson said...

I have a feeling you were saved in 1973.

I was convicted of my lostness and utter need for the Savior April 28,1973. Actually, I had been under conviction of sin since November,1971. What a salvation; what cleansing and forgiveness of sins found only in Christ! I was 16 at the time, and very much a fan of Chicago.

David Mohler said...

I agree with daniel: I love testimonial posts. Anxiously waiting for the next part...

candy said...

I remember being perturbed at Jesus Freaks in the early 70's myself. I was into Eastern and Native American religions, and my upbringing was with a family who abhorred Christianity. It was funny how the neighborhood moms always wanted to take us kids (when I was younger) to their churches. We went to the Catholic Church, the JW's church, and the Mormon Church. None of them worked. Yay.

I became a Christian in 1976 despite my disdain for dorky Jesus Freaks at the time. :)

Barry Hughes said...

Great blog and testimony here. Thanks for posting it.
Isa. 54:10

Kim said...

Looking forward to installment number two.

4given said...

Thank you for sharing this.

I was told a long time ago that children will inevitably follow in the footsteps of their parents. My response... "Then I have no hope."

thesnowman said...

Wow! I really love this site. BTW, love the "princess bride" quote under the rings. I am pretty new to all this, but I love what is being put forth here. Keep up the good work.

Zoarean said...

When I first read this years ago, I assumed Holmes was a pseudonym meant to embody the many "Mind-Science" cults of the 19th & 20th centuries, but this time I Googled to find him a real individual. Religious Science just seemed to perfectly mirror my likewise pubescent faith of Christian Science. I left at the age of 18 for the reason of its poor view of Christ. Narcissism did not become apparent as an issue until a few years later in due course of leaving "Word-Faith", which is similar in its measure of self-aggrandizement.

This post is an excellent summation of these cults’ primary distortions of Scripture.