When I was five or six years old, my troubled parents moved to the nation’s capital in a fruitless attempt to halt my father’s descent into mental illness. Within a year they were divorced, and somehow, I discovered church. My mother brought the three of us every Sunday to Westminster Presbyterian Church, which at the time was located close to us in Silver Springs, Maryland, being just across the state line in the District of Columbia. I was unceremoniously dropped into the nursery where, with dozens of other Baby Boomers, I was left pretty much to fend for myself.
There was a book of Bible stories in that nursery. It is likely familiar to many because I have seen the same volume in doctors’ and dentists’ offices. I believe it is published by the Seventh Day Adventists, and it is richly illustrated. At five years of age, the book’s illustrations seemed to me to be backlit with the very Uncreated Light of Tabor itself. The account of the Creation, the Fall, and the Flood, ignited my young imagination and made me an instant evangelist. There was a young teenaged girl watching us in the nursery that Sunday, and I approached her with the book opened to the account of Noah and the flood. Breathlessly, I retold the story of how a man built a boat and God brought all the animals to him, and then He made it rain a long long time…
The teenaged girl looked at the book and smiled at me. With the all authority early adolescence could muster over against the earnestness of childhoold, she informed me: “That’s like a fairy story, you know. It’s a nice story but it didn’t really happen.” When I returned to read the book, the light had died on its pages. I threw the book into a corner and picked up some plastic dinosaurs.
There are a lot of things I don’t remember from my very early childhood, but I do remember that incident. The idea that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, so long discredited in biology, seems to me to have some bearing in spiritual formation, so that at the tender age of five or six, I had thrust upon me the soul-choking infidelty and unbelief of mid twentieth century liberal Protestantism at floodtide. Interestingly, that particular congregation takes great pride in the continuity of this particular mindset in its midst down to the present day.
But I remembered the Light I saw on the pages of that book. All my life, whenever I had to make a conscious decision about divine or moral things, I have had to choose between moving towards that Light or away from it. In my early twenties, early in my conscious Christian walk, I was given a package of Watchtower material to read. It contained a lot of teaching about the Bible, but the Light wasn’t there, not like it was in the Baptist, Pentecostal, and Catholic material I was devouring at that time. It was as if someone was trying to dance a waltz while the orchestra was playing a quadrille.
I shudder to say that I didn’t immediately sit down with my Bible and a Strong’s Concordance and puzzle through every Scripture reference in the Watchtower material to see, like the Bereans, if these things were so. Had I taken such a puntillistic approach at that time, who is to say whether I would not have ended up as a Jehovah’s Witness. Subsequent contacts with members of this sect have shown them to have a strong belief in the power of argument, debate, reason, comparing text to text, and acrimony to establish the truth of Scripture, and subsequent experiences with the Scriptures have informed me that they do not yield their treasures easily to the disputers of this age.