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Religious Autobiography 1998-2002
Part 1 of this series is here: Religious Autobiography 1980-1998.
Before I left for college, I was warned by a couple of members in my home church that the church of Christ in Kirksville was not sound. You see, they had a kitchen in their basement. I was encouraged to drive to Macon, MO where there was a sound church. I didn't like the idea of driving 30 miles on a dangerous 2 lane road every time I wanted to go to church. I did visit the church in Macon once and I didn't find it to be worth the extra trouble.
So, I began attending the church Tim had gone to during his freshman year: Kirksville Church of Christ. They had a kitchen and no paid preacher. The fact that I was able to handle this level of heresy was probably an early sign to people in my home church that I was about to fall away.
Although Tim had faithfully attended the church of Christ on Sundays and Wednesdays during his freshman year, he had also been in a small group Bible study put on by Campus Christian Fellowship (CCF). CCF is associated with the Independent Christian Church. They do Sunday morning and Wednesday night worship services on campus as well as operating over 20 small group Bible studies that meet on and off campus. During my first week at Truman Tim and I went to several of CCF's activities and I signed up for a small group that met in my dormitory (where I met Sara, but that's a whole other story). We continued to go to the church of Christ through the fall semester of 1998.
After a lifetime of being taught that every other denomination is wrong, I was now experiencing friendship and fellowship with people from different religious backgrounds. These people were my age and they were passionate about what they believed. And I was able to compare that side-by-side with what I saw at the Church of Christ. One example should suffice to show the stark differences I began to perceive.
For this story I'll need to introduce Nate Curl. Nate lived next door to me in the dorm. He was also involved in CCF and we became fast friends. Nate is funny, honest, faithful and very intelligent. He graduated with a 4.0 and went on to medical school. He would become my roommate and a groomsman at my wedding. He was raised in the Dutch Reformed Church, which is related to the Presbyterian Church.
I invited Nate to come to church with me one Sunday during the first semester. That happened to be the day when our Sunday school teacher was handing out copies of a book called Traditions of Men Versus the Word of God. This is a typical Church of Christ book that lists all the denominations and explains why they are wrong and the Church of Christ is the one true faith. Nate was handed a book, flipped through it and found the chapter on Presbyterians. He didn't make a big deal about it, but nobody likes to be told that they are wrong and going to hell. I was so embarrassed. I had been hearing and repeating this type of thing for years, but I'd never personally known the faith of the people I was condemning. I knew that my friend was not a heretic. I had seen his faith in action. And I began to come to terms with the fact that the faith taught by my church focused too much on bringing other people down.
I was learning things in my small group that were more useful and positive than anything I'd seen in the Church of Christ. I also skipped a few Church of Christ services and heard the preaching at CCF. I'm sure the fact that it was mostly young people played a role in my feelings about it, but I was also becoming convinced that the faith I saw there was more practical and more in line with the spirit of the ministry of Jesus than what I was seeing at the Church of Christ. Tim was having some of the same realizations, but the biggest obstacle preventing us from switching to CCF was the fact that they used instruments in worship.
So Tim and I began an in-depth study of this issue. For the first time, we consulted material from both sides of the debate. We came to the conclusion that nothing in the Bible, Church history or common sense would suggest that singing worship songs with instrumental accompaniment was a sin. (My best attempt at defending this decision is probably found in a discussion board thread where I argued for weeks with members of a random Church of Christ on the internet. The church ended up deleting the thread, but I saved it here.) When the spring semester of 1999 began, we stopped going to the Church of Christ and started going to CCF.
Over the next few years I had many discussions with family and friends about my shift in beliefs. For some of them, my decision to go to a church that worshiped with instruments was almost as bad as abandoning God altogether. (This fact would prepare me and them for the bigger shift that I would go through a few years later.) One of the books that helped me cope with this situation was Free In Christ by Cecil Hook. The book is available for free online or you can order a print copy. Hook never left the coC, but he spoke persuasively against the legalism and division that is so prevalent in many churches of Christ. I recommend the book to anyone in the church who wants to see things from another prospective and anyone outside the church who wants to see what makes this little non-denominational denomination tick.
During my junior year I took a class on music in religion. Here's my final paper for that class: The Bad Son: My Journey Away from the Definitive Church of Christ Doctrine. The title is a little melodramatic, but the paper sums up my take on the coC doctrine at that point in my life.
Even though I no longer believe in God, and suspect that my time in college might have been better spent doing other things, I still have some very positive feelings about CCF. I don't regret being a part of it. I made some very good friends there, and I'm still close with several of them. My faith grew and I developed leadership and people skills in my work there. I became a small group leader and later an intern. Interns devoted 20 hours per week to the ministry. During my time as an intern I led a prison ministry, a ministry for international students and I did some preaching.
During my junior and senior years I came to terms with and attempted to address some serious doubts I had. I always been attracted to the explanatory power of science, and I knew that religion and science give conflicting answers to important questions. I'd forgotten the importance of hearing from both sides of an issue, or perhaps I was just unwilling to consider the possibility that God did not exist. I combated my doubts by immersing myself in the field of apologetics. Francis Schaeffer, Ravi Zacharias, C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, Philip Johnson and William Lane Craig became my guides. I managed to keep my faith, but I didn't totally escape disappointment and disillusionment.
At the end of my junior year I saw my favorite campus minister forced out of CCF partially because he didn't buy into the Independent Christian Church doctrine as much as expected. Then I saw how the senior campus minister responded to criticism by labeling any negative comment as an attack from the devil.
I think it was during my junior year that my religious fervor peaked and began to diminish. I had been planning to become a missionary. But not just any missionary; I wanted to live in the jungle and translate the Bible for indigenous people with no written language or knowledge of Christianity. I don't think Sara was ever excited about this plan, but we got as far as beginning to drum up financial support to enter this field. During a trip back to Adrian I met with Paul Burhart, the minister of the Independent Christian Church in town, to see if his church might help to send us overseas. He said they might, but he also asked me to consider an opening they had for a youth minister. I told him that I didn't think I was cut out for youth ministry, but that I would consider it.
In hindsight I see this as part of a pattern of backing away from religious fervor. Sara and I decided to leave the jungles and Bible translation to someone else and to spend the summer of 2001 in a youth ministry internship at the Adrian Christian Church.
I enjoyed the work, but it was still difficult and frustrating enough that I did not feel guilty about spurning missions. Paul asked us to come back and help on weekends when we could during my senior year at Truman. On September 9, 2001, ACC launched a contemporary worship service targeted at younger, unchurched families. In the months following 9/11, the church grew rapidly. We came back one or two weekends a month. Paul had also enlisted the help of some students from a Bible college in Moberly, Missouri. One of those students was Brendan Creecy.
At the end of my first senior semester I told the campus minister that I was resigning my internship. Emma was about to be born, we were frustrated with CCF and we were shifting our involvement toward the church in Adrian. Sara and I both attended CCF worship services and small groups for the remainder of the year, but for us that was a huge cutback in our involvement.
Part 3 of this series is here: Religious Autobiography 2002-2004.
I’m really glad you’re writing this. It’s nice to know where you came from and to reminisce about my own time in CCF during those same years (I forget sometimes that we were in the same year in school).
I obviously was not as closely involved in CCF as you, though, because I had no idea about this:
“At the end of my junior year I saw my favorite campus minister forced out of CCF partially because he didn’t buy into the Independent Christian Church doctrine as much as expected. Then I saw how the senior campus minister responded to criticism by labeling any negative comment as an attack from the devil.”
Are the initials of the senior campus minister JB?
I recall meeting an intern up there named Andy, a really cool and nice guy.
JB kept the religious side of me sane somehow. I’d visit his house sometimes, spent the night once even. I remember hanging out at the bridge that hangs over the rail line.
More distinctly, I remember struggling so much while at Bible college and JB gave me a huge sense of solace.
Mercy, I hated Bible college.
Good stuff, I’m enjoying reading this.
I never ever bought into that “attack from the devil” response. You can see it in spades in the worst worship songs thread. I remember hearing it over and over again when I was dealing with my depression and from the most unlikely folks. It’s like they checked their brains at the door when it came to that.
Thanks for sharing this stuff Danny. I know a lot of your background but it’s cool to hear the whole thing. Maybe I’ll do the same one day.
Danny, thank you for sharing. It’s awesome that you can be so candid with your life and your beliefs.
For what it’s worth man, I have had some of the best conversation I’ve ever had here on your site, many of them with you.
You always challenge me and I appreciate that, AND I need that too. So it’s very nice to know where you came from. I think you’re a pretty awesome person and would be honored to someday meet you because I think I could easily call you friend. No, I’m not a stalker :-) .
I enjoyed reading your story and like your attitude toward past experiences…no bitterness…thanks for sharing :) I also love that you challenge people to think for themselves.
Happy Day to you :)