A Godless Fundamentalist: Chapter Six – My Year as a BJU Preacher Boy

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Bert Perry's picture

I remember working for the summer in a mission in Elkhart, IN, and the guy I roomed with was also an aspiring preacher boy who on one side invited all the pretty girls to a "Bible study", which he mangled, and then later on was sneaking Rolling Rock into the apartment we shared.  Pretty darned sad.  Only guy I've ever met who managed to get fired from a volunteer missions job, and it took me about two minutes in his "Bible study" to figure out (a) he didn't know the least of what he was talking about (he was reciting a script and messing it up) and (b) he was rather predatory around the ladies.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Wow.  I don't know how you pulled off the fake preacher boy role, but that was a very interesting account.  I don't think I knew anyone at BJU like that.  If so, it remained hidden, and their true condition never revealed itself as yours did.  In my experience, the many BJU preacher boys I knew were genuine  and serious about serving Christ.  I was blessed and helped by being around them.

Thanks for being transparent in sharing your story.  I'm so thankful for God's saving grace in your life.  It reminds me that God's grace really does save all kinds of sinners, including hypocrites.

G. N. Barkman

John E.'s picture

G.N. Barkman, as I reflect on your comment, I think I may have missed or underplayed an important element - the semi-easy believism that I was raised in helped me convince myself that it was genuine (or that it didn't matter whether it was genuine or not). I was taught that heaven will be filled with people who are there by the skin of their teeth having prayed the sinner's prayer and nothing else. So, I rationalized my skepticism away with a version of Pascal's wager. I wasn't sure that it was real, but since I did it, I was covered in case it was real.

Having made the decision, I think that the community and, frankly, love shown me by those around me allowed me to fully embrace an identity that was fake. For the first time in a while, I was happy. I felt like I belonged. For a brief time, that sense of community shined much brighter than my doubts and questions. 

Reflecting back, it's theologically interesting to see that how no matter how committed I became, it was inevitable that my true colors would show. My change was generated by self and not by the Spirit.

My "Year as a BJU Preacher Boy" is a weird, hyper, and shortened version of what many of my friends and acquaintances went through their entire youth and into adulthood. Since they entered their "play acting" in a much less extreme way and from a much less extreme place than I did, it took longer for their true colors to emerge, I think. But, the fact remains that they were living a life powered by self and not by the Spirit. As they entered adulthood, the facade fell away and they revealed that they had hearts of stone all along. 

My experience with BJU preacher boys was similar to yours. No one should look at my story as any sort of test case for what BJU preacher boys were (are?) like. 

Ending this comment on a sad note and referencing my first paragraph above - there are a couple of people who are close to me who live as committed heathens but swear that if God is real they are going to heaven because they prayed the sinner's prayer when they were kids. 

C. D. Cauthorne Jr.'s picture

Wow!  The power of one song to change the trajectory of a person's life!  I appreciate the transparent honesty of this series.  Those of us who went to BJU saw this exact thing.  In fact, those of us in ministry still see it in the church.  Thanks! 

John E.'s picture

Brother, out of curiosity and for my own edification, what are some specific things that you've found helpful as you minister to people similar to how I was?

C. D. Cauthorne Jr.'s picture

John,

I had a similar experience as you did, except I came to BJU as a strict Church of Christ legalist (although I was a fan of country music) who at first thought that baptism and good works made a person a Christian.  (I came to BJU as a pre-law major who was attracted to the school because of its far-right politics.)  Eventually, I substituted the sinner's prayer for baptism and dropped the good works requirement.  After my "conversion" at BJU, I, like you, became a "preacher boy." 

I occasionally struggled with assurance issues.  When I was a Graduate Assistant at BJU, a sermon was preached by a faculty member that one of my apartment mates disagreed with.  The sermon encouraged those who struggled with assurance of their salvation to find a place on campus, call out to God for salvation, and then put down a "spiritual stake" at that spot where they could take the devil any time any time he tempted them to doubt.  My apartment mate took issue with the message and said that his "spiritual stake" was the Cross of Christ.  I was reading through Romans 5 at the time, and the two clicked.  I have not doubted my salvation since then.

Due to my background, I try to emphasize the reality of a changed life in Christ -- "Not I, but Christ."  Also, one of Bob Jones, III's quotes that has stuck with me (probably not original with him) that has helped me in ministry is this:  "You can never expect too little of man or too much of God."  Although it's always a disappointment, it rarely surprises me when people "fall away."  Church people can be pretty good pretenders.

Ron Bean's picture

As I've read and re-read this installment I'm reminded of the enthusiasm we all tend to have when someone makes a profession of faith. We want to be optimistic whether it's the decisions at VBS, the responses to the invitation at the end of the service, or dramatic one-on-one encounters like John describes.

This incident brought back memories:

"I even led one homeless man to the Lord. Or, rather, I convinced a homeless man to repeat a prayer after me, and then bought him lunch."

I used to go on extension to downtown Greenville, SC in the late 70's when Washington Street was a not a place to be after dark and found that buying breakfast for a drunk would get me a profession for my preacher boy report that week. (I think I had some who may have ben saved two or three times!)

May I suggest the following article from the early 19th Century on dealing with the "hopefully converted". It changed my approach to discipleship of new Christians.

Treatment Due to Young Converts

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

John E.'s picture

Shouldn't our enthusiasm over a profession of faith be manifest in buckling in to do the long (sometimes hard) work of discipleship?

One of the first things we do at my church with new believers is have them go through The Walk by Stephen Smallman with a mature believer. 

In my own life, after I had been a Christian for almost a year, my wife and I moved to Greenville, SC. I had known the pastor of the church we began attending since he and I had been in middle school. One of my first conversations with him was how excited we were to be able to come and serve alongside him, and listed off all they ways my wife and I were gifted. He looked at me, and quietly said, "Thank you, but instead of serving, I think you should focus on sitting back and learning about who God is."

I was angry and offended when he said that. I mean, "How dare a pastor rebuff my offer to serve!?"

But, it turned out to be exactly what I needed to do.

Contrast that with the church I joined right after I got saved - a church that treated me as a mature Christian right out of the gate.  

CAWatson's picture

John, 

I think I met you briefly in December when I was at your church for a wedding of a girl who got saved when I was in youth ministry. I heard you give your testimony to become an elder in the church, and it was a blessing to my wife and myself. Thank you. 

John E.'s picture

I remember meeting you and your wife. It's good to hear from you. I must say, thank you for your ministry in the life of that young lady. I can't speak highly enough of her and her new husband. They are an incredible blessing and encouragement to us. 

CAWatson's picture

You are welcome. We were simply the servants that God had on hand when this young girl walked in, crossed her arms, and said her memorized speech in English, "I'm here to investigate the claims of Christianity." My wife, in her wisdom, replied, "Good. We won't tell you everything today, so you will have a reason to return." Her testimony is a wonder of the grace and election of God in bringing a family to Him.