04 August 2009

February 11: the most pivotal day in my life (part two [requested classic re-post] )

by Dan Phillips

My problems
So, as I explained, I had two problems. The minor problem was Jesus, the major problem was me.

How can I say Jesus was a "minor" problem? As I explained, I had this nagging awareness that His teaching wasn't really quite what my cult made it out to be. But in itself, that wasn't a huge issue. Jesus was one religious teacher among many. A really impressive "one," true; but just one. Knowing that He disagreed with me was not, in itself, shattering.

But when conjoined to the major problem, it took on a different significance. See, I had realized that I basically was the founder of my religion. I was my authority, my judgment and character were the basis. And I'd come to see that this foundation was irredeemably corrupt.

Praying, but not "through"

So I actually prayed, which was new. We Religious Scientists (like Christian Scientists) did not pray. To speak to God implied separation from God, and we believed we were one with Divine Mind. So we meditated, we affirmed. We didn't pray.

But now I did, as I became increasingly gripped with a desire to know God, and be saved—though I'd not have used the word—from the wretched heap of my internal life.

I remember praying once, in my darkened room, "Father—" I got no further. It was as if a voice came back: "Who said I was your Father?"

I had to admit, "I did." And that was precisely the problem.

So, shaken, I prayed that God would lead me to know Himself on His own terms, as He really was, whether He was such as I wished Him to be, or wholly other. I was willing to do anything, be anything. "Even if it means becoming a Jesus Freak," I said, because that was the worst thing I could think of.


God's mole

Meanwhile, as they say in the movies, I had been befriended by this Christian named Greg. He'd seen me walking home from school and offered me a ride. We went to the same high school, but I hardly knew him. Still, it was nice of him, and became a daily thing.

I asked Greg early on what his religion was, since that sort of think interested me. Greg told me he was a Christian. "If you ever want to know why, or have any questions, just let me know," he added.

"You bet," I replied. That was never going to happen.

Fast-forward a few months of this agonizing process I've described, and that all changed. I had shared with Greg about some of the garbage—though this was not my exact term, you understand—that I was finding within. Greg sympathized and commiserated. He was a very real person, not like most shallow, sloganeering, plastic Jesus-people I had known.

Greg gave me a gospel of John in some modern rendering, which I read. He also gave me C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. I liked to think I was smart, but most of it was well over my head. Except one part. You know the part.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
I remember reading this with a sinking heart. Lewis was talking about me. I was always insisting that Jesus was a great teacher, the greatest—yet I had kept running into things that this "great teacher" taught, that I did not believe, did not want to believe.

And what of that? I'd already established that I, and my judgment, formed no fit foundation for life and thought. But what of Jesus? Here was someone we held to be the greatest teacher, the greatest example, the greatest mystic. His life was a life of integrity. The unparalleled symphony of miracles in his life, with the crescendo of the Resurrection, made perfect harmony with the claims He made for Himself. It all fit. If I was no fit foundation, was He?

So somewhere here I surely shocked my friend Greg by telling him I wanted to talk. And talk we did. For hours, and hours. First, at my parents' house. Then the next day, a rainy Saturday, after I'd been at a meeting for the Religious Science church youth group (I was a co-leader; also, I'd taken two of the cult's four-year ministerial training course).

I threw every question I had at Greg, and he kept telling me about Jesus and what the Bible said.

At the end of our second talk, Greg said, "Why don't you just ask God? Ask God if He wants you to believe in Jesus, in order to know Him. What would you be out?"

Made perfect sense to me. So ask I did.

...and the roof didn't cave in
The next day, I went to church with Greg. It was Van Nuys Baptist church, pastored by Harold Fickett. I remember that Fickett preached like a lawyer building an airtight case. I felt myself to be the defendant, and guilty as... well, as sin. I wish I could tell you what he preached. I can't. But I can tell you it was as if Fickett had read my journal. Hundreds of people there, the man had never met me, but it iwas as if he had m ein his cross-hairs and was squeezing off direct-hit after direct-hit. Fickett absolutely nailed me to the pew. And as it all fell apart, it all fell together.

At the end, Fickett gave an invitation. If you wanted to find out how to know Christ as Savior, come up front, someone would help you. Greg said he'd come with me if I wanted. I did want. So up we went. They may have been singing "Just As I Am," which would have expressed my longing exactly.

The man who talked with me used the Four Spiritual Laws. I remember with crystal clarity when the counselor talked about how my sin separated me from God. This described and made sense of exactly what I'd been coming to see within myself.

Then he showed how Jesus was the sole mediator between God and man, and this made sense of the unbridgeable gap I'd come to see between God and me. It also connected so well with that stubborn text, John 14:6, which had so bothered me (as I mentioned in the first part, and discussed more fully elsewhere). Jesus was the way, none could come to the Father but through Him. Including me.

Then the counselor showed the picture of the chaos of the self-ruled life, and this described me to a "T." I hadn't indulged in some of the particular vices of my generation. But had I loved God above all? Never. Had I taken His name in vain? Constantly and with gusto. Had I dishonored my father and mother? Since I could talk. On and on it went.

And then we prayed together, and I implored Jesus Christ in His fullness to be my Lord and my Savior, to make me His own, and to forgive me of all my sins.

Was it an emotional experience? The emotion I remember feeling first was relief, in the sense that I had come to rest on a real and true foundation in Jesus Christ. "Rock of Ages" was very meaningful to me, as was "How Firm a Foundation." That I now could know God, on His terms, and be forgiven my sins. The next I remember was how new everything was to me—God, me, my world, the Bible.

Almost especially the Bible. It was as if someone had come and stolen that dusty, dry, depressing, dead, irrelevant history-book, and replaced it with something that was electric, something that was alive. I could not get enough of it. On my knees, reading and reading, delving, diving, exploring, trying to absorb the whole of it. It was God talking to me!

And my, how I needed Him to talk to me. Everything had to be re-thought, re-learned: the meaning of God, of things, of people, of self; how to think and decide; how to pray; how to live. I was conscious that I had had it all wrong, and needed to get it right. Because it mattered now.

Everything changed for me on that day, and since that day: February 11, 1973. Thirty-six years, and counting. The progress has had ups and downs, lags and leaps, "many dangers, toils, and snares." But the Christ I prayed to that day became my Lord that day, and by His grace He remains my Lord, and by His grace and covenant will so remain.


But some of that was done "wrong," wasn't it? Altar call? C. S. Lewis? A "voice"? Four spiritual laws?

Some closing thoughts on that, and more, next time.

[This way to closing thoughts]

Dan Phillips's signature


Gary said...

Oh no! Anything but an altar call and the sinner's prayer!

Awesome testimony of God's grace. Very encouraging.

That's an interesting comment about your bible becoming "electric". I've heard from many people (even those that grew up in church) that they felt like they had never really heard the gospel or read scripture until they were regenerate. Even if we audibly hear it or visually see it on a page, we just don't get it apart from the work of the Spirit.

Mark said...

Great post and great testimony.

Ultimately the alter call, 4 spiritual laws, "sinner's prayer", and explaining your sin, were all things your friend Greg could have done rather than a no-name counselor at the front of the church. Those things obviously aren't what saved you, it was God's spirit opening your eyes to your sin and giving you a desire to change.

I would argue that you were saved in spite of those old Baptist standards. While many in today's church would argue that you can't be saved without those things.

DJP said...

Feel free to offer such thoughts; they also are (already) topics of discussion in Part Three which, Lord willing, will be up Thursday.

Euaggelion said...

Like Mark said, it shows how Sovereign God is, He can save in spite of man's manipulative attempts at convincing someone to come to Christ.

I was a false convert for many years. Because of such manipulative techniques, I was given a false assurance of salvation. It wasn't until many years later that God opened my eyes to my sin and then I was truly saved. At least your Pastor talked about sin.

I still remember when the Bible changed from being that "old book" to the "Word of God". And I labored hours in it to learn as much as I could. Although I still study daily to prepare to teach my Sunday School class or for my kids devotional time, but I'm not spending time with God's Word for just me. I need to get back to a personal time with the Word of God.

Mike Westfall said...

Great testimony, getting saved despite the Four Spiritual Laws.

But... did you Surrender All?

Brad Williams said...

Ultimately the alter call, 4 spiritual laws, "sinner's prayer", and explaining your sin, were all things your friend Greg could have done rather than a no-name counselor at the front of the church. Those things obviously aren't what saved you, it was God's spirit opening your eyes to your sin and giving you a desire to change.

One doesn't happen without the other, Mark. Not "the 4 Spiritual Laws" proper, but folks do not get saved without the sharing of the gospel. And it seems to me that Greg probably did share much of that with Dan if they talked for hours and hours.

People actually do get saved at altar calls, and they are led to the Lord Jesus through Evangelism Explosion and FAITH and other things. And God does not save people despite these things, He uses them as tools to communicate the gospel.

I love to hear testimonies. Thanks Dan. I'm glad the Lord saved you!

Mark B. Hanson said...

The reason that altar calls persist, and CCC is still publishing the Four Spiritual Laws tract, is that in fact they have proved to be useful in leading people to making a confession of faith in Christ.

God can use and has used these methods regardless of what we think of their theological "goodness", perhaps to demonstrate that salvation is from Him, not an automatic result of (or even strictly dependent on) using correct technology, terminology or theology.

One thing these have in common is that they actively and specifically call people to commit themselves to Christ. I am not sure that we of reformed theology do that very well - our worries over whether we are getting the theology and methodology exactly right can vitiate God's message or our own zeal.

Kind of like the centipede who could walk just fine until he started to wonder how he kept all those feet coordinated...

Carlo Provencio said...

There are many confusing things in the Bible that would take a schooled theologian to interpret and explain, but the gospel is not one of them. My 9 year old daughter could share the gospel with you, for hers is the kingdom. I don't have any problem with altar calls or sinner's prayers as long as it is followed by a clear presentation of the gospel. Maybe that pastor was a man of intense prayer, maybe the night before we wept before God, begging that souls would be saved through his foolish preaching.

...just a few thoughts

awesome testimony!!

donsands said...

Nice re-post.

It amazes me every time I think of how God makes an unregenerate sinner a regenerated saint.

His love is beyond comprehension.

And even the nicest, "goodest" person who is dead spiritually,-- who may be in Church, baptized, confirmed, and even a deacon,--will see life in spiritual-technicolor when he is awakened to the Lord of life, truth, grace, and love. And his religion will become colorless ordure in comparison.

Anonymous said...

Spurgeon was saved at a Methodist church.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate and respect the Pyromaniacs site for the love for the truth that is generally represented here. And "yes", there is a "but". I am disappointed by the sarcastic, and seemingly arrogant attitude that is also perpetuated (and justified) on this site. Please show yourself to be men of humility who are able to heed correction. There is no justification for this behavior in spite of the repeated attempts at it. For the most part these are your much loved and respected brothers that you are dealing with not wolves bent on destroying the flock. Jesus, Paul and others dealt tenderly with the flock, they saved their rods for the wolves. Please, make it a conviction to control your tongue. Show yourselves to be men of wisdom and understanding by undertaking the task of teaching and correcting with "gentleness". James 3:13
Often the problem in these blogs is that we are tempted to preserve our pride by tearing down an ENEMY, rather than being humble and helping to gently build up a BROTHER into greater understanding of the truth (or be led ourselves when we lay down our worldly weapons (in these instances the sarcasm, scorn and arrogant posturing) and submit whole-heartedly to the Word).
We all need to remember that we don't have to win. God is their and our MASTER before Him alone we stand or fall. Much like in street-witnessing, I don't have to make them convert, I need only share the powerful truth with all the persuasion, (in gentleness and respectfulness), that I can.

P.S. John Turk are you aware that your photo gives you a condescending look, and that it makes if very difficult when reading what you write, to not read it with a condescending tone.

DJP said...

...and the bearing that has on this post is ____?

Or do you think it's also out of bounds to ask and expect readers to, you know, read and abide by the posted blog rules?

Or is that too sarcastic a question?

Or that?

Or that?

Or... I'll stop now.

Nash Equilibrium said...

"I surrender All." Good one.

A cobbler died and at the reading of his will, it was discovered that he simply wrote "I leave my Awl to my loving wife." And that's what she got.

donsands said...

"I am disappointed by the sarcastic, and seemingly arrogant attitude that is also perpetuated (and justified) on this site. Please show yourself to be men of humility who are able to heed correction." ..therain

I'm thinking the TeamPyro three amigos are humble brothers in Christ.
I mean, sure, we all have our moments, (even you must have moments of saying things more so in the flesh than should be said), but there's no arrogance here. I've been coming here for three or more years and have been blessed by Phil, Dan, and Cent (Frank).

I guess your definition of arrogance must be different than mine.

Mike Riccardi said...

I think "John Turk" is enough to disqualify comeinfromtherain as a valid judge of content, tone, or anything in regards to Team Pyro.

But that's just me.

DJP said...

That's not his first name?


Mike Riccardi said...

No, it isn't, Phil.

Tom Austin said...

and who's this John Turk guy?

Rachael Starke said...

(Still chuckling over the Phil/John thing...)

I think it's really interesting that your friend Greg, when you asked what religion he was, didn't immediately follow up with the Four Spiritual Laws right there, maybe even invited you to pray in the car right then. I mean, why wait?

And what he eventually invited you to do is what I so vivdly remember doing one night by myself up on a hill by my (Christian) college - reading Romans 1, thinking that it made absolutely no sense and praying to God (who I flat out refused to believe in, no way, no sir), that if He was real, He'd have to help me understand it. Two weeks later, He did.

I love testimonies. It would be great to read Phil's and John's too.

DJP said...

Good pernt, Rachael. Had he done that at the start, I'd've been gone, long gone.

Anonymous said...

ooops, I meant Frank Turk. (egg on face). There is no relevance; in the Continuationist blog where I observed some more of this behavior the comments were closed, and I couldn't find any personal email or other way to send this admonishment.

It was not my wish to publicly reprove you, I realized that there would be a definite counter-productive element to that. But, I really wish that you would consider my concern. You know that it is not the first time that it has been brought to your attention.

Show your wisdom in the gentleness of your replies. You have so much to offer, serve it up on a humble platters. Blessings

Anonymous said...

DJP, Like I said, this had no bearing on the post. And I appreciate you graciousness in having allowed it to remain in spite of it's being in contravention of the rules.

As for your second question, "yes" your response did come across as sarcastic. Did you mean it too, or was it meant to be humorous?

How about? "Comeinfromtherain, your posting contravened the posting rules, but I consented to allow it to remain for the time being. Please, try to stick to the rules in the future. As for your admonition, I will give it some thought as it is always my desire that I would adorn the doctrine of God in every respect".
... or something along those lines.

Enough said, thank you for your patience.

Mike Riccardi said...

...and I couldn't find any personal email or other way to send this admonishment. It was not my wish to publicly reprove you...

Far be it from me to question your motives, but Frank's email address has always been very public via his profile, which you get to by clicking on his name above his comments. (Maybe that was the problem!)

Far also be it from me to speak for him or the other Pyros, but I suppose if you were honest about the above, a good way to remedy the situation would be to email him at the posted address and delete your very public comments that you wished to remain private.

But again, that's just my two cents. Take it for what it's worth.

Anonymous said...

This user has chosen not to display any information on this page.

Some people are so bold when hiding in anonymity.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Stan, just never got around to it. I have attempted to correct that. Blessings

Solameanie said...

I've read through the comment thread and am still scratching my balding head wondering how it went south so fast.

To turn it back north, I really appreciate this post, especially considering my own background. It wasn't "religious science," but the church of Christ (baptismal regeneration). They believed that they were the only true restoration of the New Testament church. They taught Bible backwards and forwards, but as much Bible as I thought I knew, I really didn't know it until I was truly saved and truly regenerated by the Holy Spirit. What an amazing discovery it was to find out that one could have true joy as a believer, and not be stuck on a treadmill of trying to obey well enough to "make it."

And would you believe a Baptist, of all people, was used by the Lord to win me to saving faith? Church of Christ people didn't get along with Baptists (or anyone else) very well.

Gordon Cheng said...

C. S. Lewis

Dodgy indeed. But don't worry mate, I was assured by Graham Cole (my theology lecturer at Moore College) that the first known exposition of the 'Liar Lord Lunatic' argument was Victorinus Afer in the 4th century.

Wikipedia says he was a neo-platonist, so you may still be in bother.

trogdor said...

Don, it's great to read this story. I would also like to add my voice to the chorus asking for Jack and Bill to post theirs.

And now, since someone needs to do it...

At the risk of losing whatever Reformed cred I may have (because nothing says "truly reformed" like a dragon with a big beefy arm stickin' out the back of his neck), I really don't have a beef with using the 4 Laws as a framework for sharing the gospel. So I'd like to ask those who are so opposed to it why I should. Specifically:

1) What is in there that shouldn't be?
2) What isn't in there that should be?
3) What other framework do you use that's better (and how is it better)?

I know it's the cool thing nowadays to mock ye olde 4 Laws (more like, four spiritual flaws, am I right?), and all the hep cats are doing it. Fine. So whaddya got that's better?

DJP said...

I think there are answers to those questions, Trog; and I plan to talk about it a bit in the last post.

But first let me say that you asking the question itself makes a great point. You finger what I think is a stinky thing about a lot of us Reformed people, particularly in the way we present the grand Biblical truths we embrace to those to whom they're new. What they get is a two-pronged impression:

1. We think everybody is doing everything wrong.

2. We think we're 'way smarter than everyone else.

And that's about it.

Both before and after I'd become convinced of the doctrines of grace, that impression was strong. Altar calls - bad. Four spiritual laws - bad. Billy Graham - bad. Calling for a decision - bad. Urging people to accept Christ - bad. Urging people to pray to receive Christ - bad.

And so... what's better?

Well, not doing all those things, that's for darned-sure!

Mike Westfall said...

"God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life."

Well, OK. Perhaps. But the mark needs to be aware that the "wonderful plan" sometimes includes being featured in Foxe's Book of Martyrs.

Mike Riccardi said...

Was it always, "offers"? I've always heard it quoted: "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life."

I think the switch makes a difference. Because a wonderful plan that God has for some people's lives is to magnify His justice in chastisement in life and torment for eternity. Of course I'm only speculating, but I'm guessing that's not what Bill Bright intended to communicate. At the very least, it's not what most people think when they're told of this wonderful plan.

A friend of mine once told me about how he and a few other friends would go to malls and present the 4 spiritual laws to folks there. A lasting impression was made when he stated the above (with the "has" and not the "offers," though), and someone remarked, "God loves me? Cool. So I'm set then."

Obviously that's being intentionally dismissive. But I think that's one potential problem of framing your Gospel presentation that way.

It's not to say it can't be used of God or that Dan's conversion is somehow suspect or cheapened because these means were employed. Not at all. But I'm not sure that "God can use it" is all that great of a seal of approval. God can and does use everything to accomplish all His good pleasure, even the wicked for the day of evil, right? He used the greatest sins and sinfulness in history in the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ to bring about the salvation of innumerable people. So "God uses it" doesn't automatically mean, Go do it!

Anyway. That was more than I intended to say. I guess we'll pick this back up for part 3.

DJP said...

Absolutely right, Mike.

The last thing I heard from the tract's start was that everything was OK between me and God, and I just needed to accept that fact. I knew that wasn't the case. That was why I was there.

But I do have to say that, had I heard it 3-4 years earlier, that's how I would have twisted it. "I know God loves me. So get out of my face" (though I'd've used very different words at the time).

Canyon Shearer, DMin said...

Thanks for sharing. Considering what was done wrong; I was saved by an absolute loony preaching that "the reason the world is going to Hell is because women are allowed to speak in the church!" That was February 9th...we're almost rebirth twins...


Tom Austin said...

I give up, and Google didn't help.


DJP said...

Long story, to which the short answer is "What You Win Them With Is What You Win Them To," a deep-sounding falsity belied (ironically) by most people who use it.

Long-time readers will nod sagely and say "Ah, the Francis Chan affair."