September 7, 2012

Bob Jones and Me (Sketch #16)

Category: News — Ira @ 6:57 pm


Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which
of us is not forever a stranger and alone?…We seek the
great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven…

–Thomas Wolfe

Twenty-one years ago, I packed up all my earthly possessions, which consisted of a fairly meager little pile. A sparse assortment of clothes, a few dress pants, jeans, a few dress shirts, and a couple of suits. And a couple of boxes holding a decent collection of books. And many boxes of odds and ends, the dust of living. More than enough to fill a car. And I loaded all my stuff into my ugly tan-gold T Bird. I felt it in my head and heart, the loss of leaving the familiar. But I had accomplished all I could here. It was time to leave the land that had been my home for the past three years. Daviess.

I sensed it would be for good. And I felt it, the fleeting sadness of knowing the great things that had happened here in the past few years were over. Here, I had approached and entered a shining city on a hill. Vincennes University. And here I had conquered the odds and emerged victorious and confident. And now I would leave behind the friendships and relationships that would fade with distance and time. Sure, you tell your friends. We’ll stay in touch, and I’ll be back. But you know it will never be the same.

I left Daviess on a Monday morning. The sagging T Bird kind of staggered down the highway. I turned to the south and headed out. My destination: Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina.

Bob Jones University. The place that almost rivals the Amish, when it comes to legends and myths. Even back then, I was told. If you tell someone you went to BJU, get ready to duck or pucker. Because you’ll either get slugged or kissed. It hasn’t been quite that bad, but there’s something to the saying. Over the years, I’ve heard just about every rumor there is out there about how things really are on campus. And always, when I heard the stories, I just laughed and shook my head. Where did you hear a thing like that? Are you sure it’s true? Well, let me tell you how it was when I went there, back in 1991-93. And people kind of drew back, astounded. “You attended there? But you seem so, well, nice. How could a guy like you have come from a place like that?” Maybe because the “place like that” isn’t quite the ignorant dump you think it is, I thought. But I usually just bit my tongue.

“It’s a racist school,” some people snarled contemptuously. “It’s militaristic,” my liberal friends gasped in horror. But the most persistent myth I’ve run into: “Oh, yeah, that’s the place where they have separate sidewalks for guys and girls.” Countless people know that fact without the slightest doubt. Even when I tell them I was there and never saw such a thing, it’s still true, in their minds. It’s all a bit strange. It’s like facts don’t matter.

I will always be proud to be a BJU grad, and I look back over those years with a lot of fond memories. A few negative things cropped up here and there, sure, but those will come at you in any setting. I walked into BJU mostly intimidated. I’d heard how tough they were academically. And how they had, like, a thousand rules of conduct. But still, I chose to go. Because at that moment, it seemed like the best choice. Or at least the choice I was most comfortable with.

And looking back, it was almost lackadaisical, how it all worked out that I ended up at BJU. It could have been just about anywhere else. Somehow, though, a few figures I admired in my plain Mennonite world steered me there. Sang the praises of the place. So during my second year at Vincennes, I sent for an application. Filled it out and mailed it in. I was, of course, accepted. Right on, I thought. This will be the place for me.

The rulebook they sent made me a little uneasy. Dress codes, infinite specific rules of conduct, how long your hair may be, and on and on. I had just emerged from a world of infinite rules, seemed like. But I was more comfortable in a structured setting, I think. However tough the rules, I could take it if I set my mind to it. That’s what I figured. Besides, there were a few other things that that drew me.

The first and primary thing. I had family in the area. Sister Maggie and brother Jesse and their families lived over close to Abbeville. And Nathan lived and worked in Seneca. All points within an hour’s drive or so. I’d hang out weekends. And that strong pull of family just settled it, in my head. But there was still more.

I arrived at BJU a few days before my 30th birthday. Students have to live on campus until age 25. After that, they can live off campus and work. Basically have a normal life. And that’s what I planned on doing. And with my head swimming with vague, great dreams, I pulled into Greenville with my loaded T Bird. Eagerly. I was here, whatever might come. And, of course, a few snags jumped up instantly. My planned lodging didn’t work out, and the IHOP restaurant manager who had promised me a waiter job reneged when I walked in. Eventually, though, I found another waiter job at Swenson’s Ice Cream Gazebo, and lodging in a little trailer in a trailer park near the campus. Some kindly, simple guy named Jim had a spare bedroom in his trailer. He’d prayed about it, he told me later, and decided he would rent it out. And I just happened to show up. We had little in common, which I’ve found makes for the best roommates. In daily interaction, we talked and got a glimpse of each others’ world. But otherwise, no expectations.

It was late August, and it was hot. I timidly walked about the campus, trying to get my bearings. Lots of clean cut people swarmed about. Students, teachers, administrators, and more students. Everyone seemed positive and upbeat. At least they smiled as if they were. And I signed up for my classes, and got ready for the first day.

It’s a beautiful place, the University. Impeccably groomed grounds. Whatever was done there was done right. That attitude permeated the place. BJU is a fundamentalist Baptist school, where everything is done for the Lord. It’s pretty much a self sufficient campus, complete with hospital, large modern auditorium, the greatest collection of old religious art in the world (or one of them), its own security force complete with cop cars, dorms and class rooms. And I realized on the first day that I wasn’t in Vincennes anymore. Not in any sense, including the quality of the education. Not knocking Vincennes, here. Just saying, a private four-year University is going to be much tougher sailing.

During my second year at Vincennes, I took 21 hours of classes both semesters. And easily breezed right through. At BJU, I bravely signed up for 18 hours the first semester. Surely I could handle that much. But before the first week ended, I did what I never thought I’d do. I dropped a class, reducing my load to 15 hours. And even that seemed overwhelming. These people smiled and smiled. And then they piled on the work load and upped the expectations. They demanded the very best efforts from all their students. You won’t sail through any classes at BJU. I can guarantee you that.

And I uneasily settled in to my routine. This was a new place, an entirely new culture. Everyone looked and dressed the same, pretty much. Skirts and blouses for the girls, suits and ties and wingtips or tasseled loafers for the guys, at least until noon. You had to dress up in the morning, which was a serious problem for me. I had never really learned to “dress up” and so my wardrobe was quite limited. A half dozen shirts. Four or five dress pants. But mostly, I dreaded the mornings because I was different. And being “different” was a big part of the reason I could not abide with the Amish.

I was a member of a plain Mennonite church in Daviess. Where the women wore coverings. And the men wore those detestable straight-cut suit coats with no tie. When I entered BJU, I had never worn a tie. Never, in all my life. I came from a place where sermons were preached about how a tie can only be a symbol of pride. And to their credit, the BJU people made a rare exception in their rigid rules for Mennonites like me. I was allowed to wear the detestable straight-cut suit coat, and no tie. But it was so different and I was so painfully aware of that difference that it almost ruined my first semester. Everyone was staring at me. I could feel it wherever I went. In class. Walking about. And at chapel. As the weeks crept by, I actually nursed in my heart the vague hope that some mild misfortune would befall me, so I could get out of this place with some dignity. Something, anything, that’s what I wished for. Maybe an accident, like a broken arm or leg. That would do it. I could leave and never look back. But no such misfortune ever showed up. So I slogged on, day after dreary, dreadful day.

In my plain straight-cut suit with my friend, the lovely Elizabeth Reed.

By the fountain inside the front gate sans suit coat, obviously after lunch.

In the meantime, though, I faithfully trudged to classes every day, too. Kind of found the rhythm of the place. Go to class, find your seat in the back. The professor takes roll call. And then we bow our heads to pray. The professor speaks to God for half a minute. And then it was down to the business of learning.

I’ve thought about it a lot since then, all that praying going on. And it seemed to me after a month or so that these people weren’t that different from the Amish, not when it came to praying. No, they didn’t use a little black book. But their prayers were rote. How could they not be? I mean, how fresh can a prayer be, how heartfelt can it be when it’s mandated? When it’s just spouted out like clockwork? I might be way off here. I’m not saying the prayers weren’t valid, or that they weren’t heard. But even way back then, I recognized the formula of the prayers on campus.

And every week day morning around 10:30 or so, the entire student body trudged off to chapel in the huge modern new auditorium. Forty-five minutes or so. That’s how long it lasted. Attendance was mandatory, of course. You had your assigned seat, and ushers checked at every service to make sure you were there unless you had a valid excuse. I’m not knocking the practice. Not at all. I soon reached the point where I actually looked forward to chapel services, because the quality and depth of the preaching was so far beyond anything I had ever heard before.

And I heard all the guys who were anyone back in those days. Dr. Bob Jones, Jr. was a grizzled bent old man in his 80s, but he could sure punch out a good sermon. He roared like a lion and cooed like a dove. Hellfire and brimstone. Come to Jesus. It was old time southern preaching from a century ago, and I feel privileged to have heard it from him. And we heard Dr. Bob Jones III, too, a tall gaunt man with a rather harsh rasping voice. His sermons tended toward vitriolic diatribes against the evil Catholic Church and the occasional broadside against the “false teachings” of Billy Graham. These guys were exclusionary, oh yes, they were. Which I’ve never had a problem with, because that’s what freedom of religion is. The freedom not only to worship as you see fit, but also the freedom to exclude.

And I heard, too, the sermons of various local preachers and the many Preacher Boys in training at BJU. It was quite an honor for them, I learned, to get asked to preach at chapel. And for the first time in my life, I grasped what it was to really dig into the Scriptures. Amish sermons are mostly extemporaneous, often rambling. The Mennonites I had joined were a little more prepared with their sermons, but still, they tended to bebop all over the place, while preaching a lot of light fluffy stuff with neat little lessons wrapped up at the end. Not the BJU guys. They got up there behind the podium and belted out an entire half hour sermon, not from one chapter. But from one verse, sometimes. And sometimes one phrase from one verse. I marveled at it all, the apologetics of Christian Fundamentalism. And I absorbed their words.

And while I thought their messages edged to the harsher side of Christianity, I didn’t fuss unduly in my mind. I would take from this place what I could, and apply it to my life. And besides, I wasn’t quite sure where I stood on many peripheral issues. Hey, I would be here for two years. Then I’d move on, back to my little Mennonite world. That was my plan back then. Maybe I could even tell them about this marvelous in-depth preaching I had heard at BJU (that’s a joke).

There was one aspect of their teachings that bugged me, though. And that was their eschatology. Their end-times teachings. BJU is (or was back then) stridently pre-tribulation rapture. Jesus is returning very soon, maybe even today or tonight. We’ll all get raptured out, to meet Him in midair, Dr. Bob III would thunder. Then the great tribulation will be unleashed upon the earth. Satan will take over the whole world. He’ll take over this University, too, and use it for his evil purposes. But we’ll be with God, up there, so it won’t matter what Satan does down here.

But wait a minute, I thought, even back then. If Jesus is coming back soon, maybe tonight, for sure by next week, next month, or maybe even as late as next year, why are we at this University? Why am I paying you for an education? Why are you demanding my best efforts in my classes? What sense does that make? Why plan for the future, why study for the future, why get a degree for the future, if it will all be for naught? I couldn’t grasp it, quite, that line of thinking. And it still makes no sense to me.

And it’s still one of the most short-sighted, destructive teachings in all of Christendom, that pre-trib rapture stuff. My opinion. And it’s certainly not exclusive to the BJU people. It’s embraced by millions of Christians from many denominations, people who cling to the desperate hope that somehow they won’t have to die. To all of them, I’ll say this. Stop fretting about the end of the world, or about Christ’s return. Get on with living your life with joy in this moment. And instruct your children as if they will have a long life, too, and a productive future. Stop hoping not to die. I believe that every person alive today and those to come for generations to come will one day die. And if I’m wrong, hey, I’ll gladly concede my error in midair. What I’m saying is, concern yourself with your own life, and your heart before God. The “end of the world” will come for each of us when we pass from this earth.

By the time the first semester ended, I was just stepping into full stride. I came through with decent grades, mostly A’s. And I changed my major from English Education to straight English, against the advice of my professors. “What will you do with an English degree?” They asked. I don’t know and I don’t care, I said. I want to study real literature here. I want to absorb the great works of the past. They backed off, then. And I walked forward into the classes my heart instinctively cried for, the classics. Shakespeare. Dante’s Inferno. Milton. The major poets. Marvell. Pope. Keats. Shelley. And Emily Dickinson, one of my favorites. American literature. Mark Twain. William Cullen Bryant’s Thanatopsis. Faulkner, who ran with his coon hounds and hick country buddies at night, and churned out his brilliant stuff during the day. And on and on. I devoured it all. Guided by some of the greatest teachers I have ever known.

And after that first semester, my detestable straight-cut suit coat never bothered me again. I was who I was. I made friends, both with my teachers and many students. Some few of those relationships still remain decently strong today, twenty years later.

At the beginning of my second year, almost exactly twenty years ago, I stumbled upon the greatest literary voice ever to emerge from the American landscape. Thomas Wolfe. I didn’t meet him in the classroom. I just randomly picked up a ragged paperback copy of You Can’t Go Home Again at a used book store. I took the book home and opened it. Began to read. And from the first page, I was hooked. Between classes and work I devoured the book in the next week. I stumbled about, my head in a daze, barely conscious of the world outside those pages. His powerful, passionate soaring prose spoke to me like none other ever had. Stirred something deep inside. Absorbing it all, I sensed the innate knowledge in my heart that one day I, too, would write my story. I had no clue when or how. It was just a thing I knew.

There were so many good things about BJU, not least their high appreciation for the arts. The University was saturated with performance art. Shakespeare plays of the highest quality, with faculty and students playing all the roles. Internationally acclaimed orchestras appeared twice a year or so. Opera, performed by professionals. And classical music in all its forms. And we were required to attend. To which I thought, what? Required to attend? You couldn’t keep me away. To me, it was a huge privilege. And I went, sometimes with a girl, dressed in my straight-cut suit, and just drank it all in. Those moments remain among my most cherished memories of BJU.

And life in general bumped along. Every fall, when the students return, the University holds several nights of “revival” meetings in the big new auditorium. Good old home gospel preaching for the lost. And during those meetings, they fully expect people to stand, to recommit, to be saved if lost. Maybe even be re-saved. Dr. Bob Jr. officiated over both of the annual revivals I attended.

And he preached the gospel. Because Christ was proclaimed. But at the end, he unleashed some of the most manipulative methods I have ever encountered. Just to get people to stand. He was determined that all 6,000 people in the auditorium would be standing before he closed out the final night. First, he called out for the lost. If you don’t know Jesus, you can know Him tonight. Won’t you stand? We have people standing by, to lead you through those steps. And that was fine. But then, it was on to other goals. Do you have sin in your life? Unconfessed sin? It’s not too late. Tonight is the night. And a great many people stood. And then it was if you want to be a better witness for Christ, stand. Who can resist that? And so on and on, all the way out to where if you didn’t stand, you were admitting that you were lost.

The first year, of course, I leaped to my feet at some point late. By the second year, though, I was in no frame of mind to be led by a nose chain like a common simpleton. I wouldn’t do it just because everyone else was. I dug in, irritated. Whatever he said, I wasn’t going to be manipulated. Not this time. I would not stand. And I didn’t, as the drama intensified. His final call. Unless you are not a Christian, stand. I sat there stubbornly. I could feel the eyes around me. No. I will not stand. I will not. Dr. Bob Jr. closed it out then with a prayer that encompassed every soul in whatever state. Including mine. And there I sat.

As we were dismissed, one guy behind me came up and tapped my shoulder. Smiled hesitantly. “Here’s my phone number,” he said, handing me a little torn slip of paper. “Call me.” Nope, I replied. I’m fine. And I walked out of there in my detestable straight-cut suit coat, the only Mennonite in the place. And one of the few deemed “lost.” I also emerged with a new perspective of how things really are sometimes. And so my second year began.

A place like BJU could not function without toadies. Students who cozy up as aides to the big poobahs, students who are “groomed” for leadership. Toadies are universally despised by the average students. And toadies are also indispensible, to keep the system running smoothly. Especially the system of demerits.

There were demerits for just about any imaginable offense. You could get a demerit for thinking wrong, I think. But mostly it was stuff like being late for class, not showing up for daily chapel service (we all had assigned seats, and ushers checked to make sure they were filled), to the more serious but not unheard of stuff like drinking, smoking, and touching someone of the opposite sex. You were never, never supposed to be alone with anyone of the opposite sex, in any room or place, anywhere. But probably the most detested of all demerits, at least for the guys, was the dreaded weekly (or biweekly, I can’t remember) “hair check” when you walked into chapel for the morning service.

You never knew for sure which day would be hair check day. Sometimes the word buzzed that it was such and such a morning. But you could always tell as you approached the entrance to the massive auditorium. Extra toadies with craning necks stood on each side. And as you walked by, you could feel their eyes, scanning your hairline from the back, checking to make sure your hair wasn’t a shade too long.

And one morning, during my fourth and final semester there, I got nailed. A tap on my shoulder. I turned in surprise. I’d never been bothered before. An ugly little toadie stood there, in shabby suit and tie, frozen smile and all. “Your hair won’t pass”, he said. He handed me a ticket. Five demerits. I stood there, outraged and appalled. My hair was not too long. I didn’t say anything to the toadie, that wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere. But I seethed silently. And that afternoon I stopped by the Dean of Student’s office.

The Dean, a lean gravelly-voiced humorless man whose name I don’t remember, was back in his inner sanctum and unavailable, his toadie told me. What could he do for me? I presented my demerit ticket. I got it this morning. Look. I turned around and pointed to my hair line. It’s not too long. It’s not. I want to see the Dean to get the ticket reversed. The toadie smiled patronizingly.

“That’s not possible. He can’t be disturbed right now,” he said. His name was Henry, if I recall right. I stood there stubbornly. Then I’ll wait, I said. I’m graduating this spring, and I have never gotten a single demerit. I don’t want one now, not for a judgment call like this. I’ll wait.

Henry was perturbed, not used to such blatant obtuseness. “Look, the ticket is what it is,” he protested. Then I’ll wait for the Dean, I said. And back and forth we went, for a few minutes. When he finally grasped that I was really not going anywhere, he suddenly reached out, took the vile little slip of paper and tore it in half. “All right, then, there you go,” he said resignedly. “I’ll make sure it’s struck from the records.” You’re the man, I said, shaking his hand. Thanks very much. And I was out of there, before the Dean could appear and mess it all up again.

I never did get a single demerit. Not in my two years there. It’s such a rare and shining achievement that Dr. Bob III sent me a personally signed letter of congratulation after I left. One day, I think, I will frame that letter. If I can dig it out from wherever.

In the summer of 1993, I graduated from Bob Jones University Magna Cum Laude with a degree in English and a minor in History. A degree that was not even accredited. BJU refuses accreditation from any government entity. They reject it out of hand. Leave us alone. We are doing our work, as we see fit. We are training the next generation of our people. And that’s a thing I respect and understand and admire. I value my time spent there. I would stack a BJU education against any university in this country, when it comes to academic standards. And I will always defend their right to be just exactly who they are.

The Lord’s vineyards are scattered everywhere. And Bob Jones University is one of those. The people there are serving Him to the best of their knowledge and their faith. Sure, they might not be as exclusive, not as special as they like to believe they are. But that’s OK. They labor there in obscurity, all those professors, and all those administrators, in the vineyard to which they have been called. I will always respect them for that.

The world is a funny place sometimes. You step out and start off on a path, not quite sure if it’s really the right one. But you strike out on the journey, and push through to the end. And years later, you look back and realize that whether or not it was precisely the right path, it was one you would not change if you could.

That’s me, looking back on my entire experience at Bob Jones University. I would not change a single moment in that stretch of the journey, not even if I could.



  1. Quite the journey from Alymer, Ontario to BJU. Is BJU a Baptist based ministry or Non-Denominational? I had to chuckle at your refusal to stand during Chapel Service….”Dic Keppich Ah Amisha”…

    Keep up the good work!

    Comment by David Yoder — September 7, 2012 @ 8:08 pm

  2. Oh, my goodness–I had to laugh, at times, reading this, Ira. I had similar experiences at my Lee University back in the late 1970’s. These “holiness” colleges can extract a toll in obedience, but they do provide great educations from profs and teachers who are dedicated to teaching.(They sure aren’t doing it for the money, I’m guessing.)

    We had mandatory chapel, too, with assigned seats. Imagine my delight when, at the start of my sophomore year, a freshman accidentally attached himself to “my” seat. O Happy Day! I skipped chapel the rest of the year, sans demerits. Great post.

    Comment by Dee Yoder — September 7, 2012 @ 8:38 pm

  3. I wouldn’t have lasted two weeks at BJU. You are more tolerant and open-minded than I could ever have been in such an environment.

    Comment by cynthia r chase — September 8, 2012 @ 9:11 am

  4. We had required daily chapel at my Presbyterian college. That is how old I am. I still remember some of those sermons, you cannot steer a parked car especially. The freedom to exclude. I guess you are right but I am not comfortable with the thought. Thanks for stretching me.

    Comment by Renee Erickson — September 8, 2012 @ 9:26 am

  5. When I saw your blog notice I thought to myself, now this is will be interesting. I’ve heard so many different opinions since I graduated from there. It was a humorous read. I feel that my education there was good. However, you certainly didn’t lose anything by not taking English Education, as the accreditation issue is a big deal outside of a few bordering states. I basically let my SC accreditation lapse after finding school accreditation was the most important thing of all in both Colorado and California.

    Did I ever mention to you that I saw Elizabeth on our trip back to the States last year? She is as young looking and pretty as ever and doing well.

    Comment by Janan — September 8, 2012 @ 10:36 am

  6. As usual, a very good posting. I love the way that you can put your feelings into words that really touch me.

    I never went to college, but to the school of hard knocks.

    I really do enjoy your posting, forgive me for repeating myself. It took me a lot of years to be so hungry to know God and His word. We have a lot of Mennonites here in Whiteville, Tn. and they are grand to be around.

    One more thing, As of 8-15-2012 I am a great-grandmother to a beautiful little girl. So Blessed.

    In Christ
    Linda Morris

    Comment by Linda Morris — September 8, 2012 @ 5:05 pm

  7. Ira, it is amazing how much we have in common. I myself did not attend BJU, but my brother attended BJU in 58-60 (his 10th, 11th, 12th grades of High school, I don’t know to this day why our parents sent him there). I was about 9-years old, but can remember how rigid their program was. I also remember the chain ball gangs cutting the grass along the highways with scyths (sickles), in prison garb (black with white stripes) like in the comic books “The Beagle Boys”. Take Care, enjoy your writings.

    Comment by Warren — September 8, 2012 @ 9:04 pm

  8. “…that’s what freedom of religion is. The freedom not only to worship as you see fit, but also the freedom to exclude.” Thought-provoking statement and one that perhaps many people would chafe at. Will be mulling over that one myself.
    I also appreciated your comments on pre-trib/rapture eschatology.

    Great post as usual that gives me cause to stop and think. Thanks!

    Comment by Nancy Aument — September 9, 2012 @ 9:22 am

  9. Hope this is a peek at your next book. We are waiting with bated breath.

    Comment by Heidi — September 10, 2012 @ 9:21 am

  10. Not sure what is meant by “website”…I’ve enjoyed your writing ever since I read your book on your Amish life. I was raised a “fundamentalist Baptist” and it has often times been the bane of my existence. The Baptists are noted for their lack of humor. I have had to come to terms with the daily rapture theme; I sometimes do not know if I believe it, but I certainly believe in Christ’s salvation for us all and do not wish to miss the coming afterlife. But I have always believed that one needs to live one’s life while here on earth….pursuing the opportunities that life presents, and find something to be passionate about. At age (68), I still believe that we are to learn something new each day…. Scriptural or pragmatic. Thank you for your writings!!

    Comment by Maggie Newman — September 10, 2012 @ 9:49 am

  11. Your post was refreshing, as I just started my second semester as an English major at a mainstream university. I’m a Mennonite as well (a GIRL at that) so it was good to hear of someone who understands that feeling of being “different.” P.S. Love Emily Dickinson too!

    Comment by Rim — September 13, 2012 @ 9:44 pm

  12. I’m late reading this… But it was worth the wait, to have time to read it all in one sitting. Having attended Conservative Mennonite Bible School, though only 6 weeks, it took me back in time to that experience. It’s different, to be sure, but not that different. Thanks for sharing this part of your story.

    Comment by Trudy Metzger — September 14, 2012 @ 9:21 pm

  13. I’m a pretty opened-minded person, but I don’t think I would have lasted in such a closed-minded environment. Great post– you described the whole atmosphere of the college and the people so vividly, I felt as if I were there! I agree– every road traveled and every experience in our life shapes us into the person we are– if we learn and grow from them.

    Comment by Bev B. — September 16, 2012 @ 11:40 pm

  14. Thankfully, for Bible believing Christians, knowing the proper eschatology is not what redeems us. But rather and most importantly, our eternal salvation is wrought through and by the finished Work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Of course, contextual Biblical study is vital in our understanding and growth in grace and knowledge of an all powerful Creator, the Tri-une God. And it should be greatly encouraged, while realizing full well there are Christians who hold to different prophetic viewpoints. My own personal view of the second coming of Christ is Pre-Millennial, and Post tribulation. It’s a huge subject with many ramifications.

    That being said, I do believe the secret rapture, any moment Pre-tribulation theory is detrimental to spiritual growth. And it’s not in Scripture. Never taught by the Lord or His apostles. In fact, He said the second coming would be “immediately after the tribulation”. [Matthew 24.29-31, Mark 13.24-27] Through the Holy Spirit, the Lord communicates in words His children can understand, and they simply could not be plainer in these passages. Unless you need to sell “Left Behind” books and movies. Then things become blurred and esoteric.

    The Pre-trib theory did not exist with fundamentalists until less than 200 years ago, when a young Scottish woman, Margaret Macdonald had some sort of dream or vision. Edward Irving and the Irvingites got wind of it along with J.N.Darby and his followers, the Plymouth Brethren. Good, conservative folks, but simply mistaken about a secret rapture. However, eventually it became en-bedded in the footnotes of the Scofield Bible and is popular with a rather large part of Christendom ever since.

    That’s it in a nutshell, and I’m not doubting the sincerity of all these people who hold to Pre-trib, because some of them mean well, and truly love the Lord. But for others who desire the praise of men, the mystic Pre-trib teaching is a handy tool, used to scare people into “making a decision” and to fill church pews and coffers. Indeed, the inordinate love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

    Comment by e.s. gingerich — September 18, 2012 @ 3:47 pm

  15. I wonder how many demerits Jesus would have received? His hair was supposedly long, he was alone with women, he drank wine. Where do these rules come from anyway? In my opinion, just another way to keep the most important message at bay- Love God and love your neighbor. Read some Philip Yancey.

    Comment by Francine S. — September 27, 2012 @ 12:00 pm

  16. Oh My, I did find find myself laughing out loud often while reading this! Having spent 20 yrs there (kindergarten – college) I can attest to much of the BJ spirit you captured in your essay. In fact I thought I was the only one of the 6,000 students who refused to stand up during the drawn out invitations. I was usually the only one within visual distance and I could feel the pitying glances as the prayer was said for the hard of heart. Initially I found myself in this position because I fell asleep during the long sermon and woke up in time to find everyone else around me standing up and a prayer being said for my salvation. But in later years it turned into just plain resistance against the emotional manipulation. To this day I don’t venture down aisles after sermons. Another lingering affect of the schools rapture teaching was that whenever I arrived at home to an empty house when I expected family to be there I instinctively looked for little piles of clothing on the floor that might indicate they’d been raptured on the spot (naked of course with their clothing dropping in a pile as the trumpet sounded) and I’d been “Left Behind.” It was harrowing to always have to be on the lookout for this possibility.

    Also, I must correct you on two things 1) BJ is officially non-denominational – they just have a doctrinal stance that lines up with the Fundamental Baptist. 2) There ARE separate side walks for boys and girls (they just aren’t colored pink or blue as is often rumored). In fact I was often the recipient of demerits for being caught on an off-limit’s “boy’s only sidewalk” as I took a short-cut walking home. I was “socialed” on three separate occasions for this offense meaning I could not talk to or be seen with any member of the opposite sex for the prescribed amount of time (usually 3 weeks).

    Ahh well, then there were the wonderful artist series programs, escorted by the handsome ex-Amish boy who gave lovely roses. Guess that kind of makes up for it all :-)

    Comment by Elizabeth Reed — October 23, 2012 @ 12:38 am

  17. I am reading your wonderful book about “What’s so amazing about Grace?” And read in one of your chapters that you attended a Christian college in South Carolina. said to myself that has to be BJU. So I went to your website and read about you attending BJU in the ’90’s. I attend BJU from 1956-’60. That was in the days when Bob Jones Sr. was still alive and preached many of sermons at chapel about how terrible Billy Graham was. At the end of my Junior year in 1960 Bob Jones Sr. said; “All those that are BJU stand against Billy Graham to please stand, and those that are not please stay seated”. Well I stayed seated and did not return for my Senior year. It was three years of my life that I will never forget. In 1960 I was a friend of John McArthur from CA. Love your excellent writings!! Paul Baxendale

    Comment by Paul Baxendale — May 30, 2018 @ 2:20 pm

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