Counsel for a Friend
I’ve become a counselor for a number of young men who have realized that they can no longer in good conscience remain tied to King James Only institutions. Almost without exception, the ones who have reached out to me have shown genuine graciousness and gratitude toward the pastors and teachers in that world who shaped them. It’s really been remarkable to me how few chips on shoulders I have witnessed. I praise God. I always, always urge them to be as gracious as possible, considering themselves lest they also be tempted. Just yesterday I urged one of them not to go public with a complaint he was making about KJV Onlyism—it wasn’t seasoned with grace, just salt. He humbly listened and agreed.
One recurring fear among these men is that they don’t know where they will end up. The King James Version was, in their world and in their hearts, like a concrete wall along the Rio Grande built by Jack Hyles between the United States and full-on theological liberalism. Knock it down and who knows how many theological illegals will make it into the church, or how many Christians will pitch their tents toward Sodom? The KJV was a symbol of all the goodness within their circles and all the evil outside. It was an easy doctrinal litmus test. it was a piece of gnosis that gave them special cachet in theological debate: they didn’t have to take anyone seriously if that anyone was using a corrupt Bible.
When they realize that the viewpoint is untenable, they are unsettled. One adult woman, a highly educated one, read my book and commented to her husband, “I have been lied to my whole life.” That’s not a fun feeling.
It isn’t just people stuck in various conspiracy theories who feel a vague threat from within their own hearts that they might someday change in ways they don’t currently want to. I feel this way, especially when I see people I know apostatizing. I’m scared, frankly. What if someday I stop believing? Those people sure seemed to be like me a few years ago.
When I feel this way, I go back to the brass tacks of the Bible. I go to God. I run to Christ. I know that God created this world and created me. The Bible says so in Romans 1. I know that I’m a sinner and that only forgiveness from outside of nature can save me. I know that the most popular philosophies in American culture are embarrassingly vapid (telling people, “Can’t nobody throw shade on your name in these streets / Triple threat, you a boss, you a bae, you a beast,” isn’t helpful when what they need to hear is “Repent and let Christ restore your personal worth”), and that a great deal of whatever substance they have left has been stolen from Christianity.
I also know that evil dwells within me, as Romans shows, and that good dwells even among my enemies. God causes his common grace to fall on the unjust. And I find this to be such helpful knowledge. It takes from my shoulders the pressures of an impossible worldview.
I use these thoughts when I counsel people leaving KJV Onlyism. Below is what I wrote to someone who has become a real friend, even though I’ve never met him and may never get to until all good does dwell within us and all evil is banished forever. He was very deeply invested in the KJV-Only world. Somehow, however, we became friends on Goodreads and I could tell immediately by the quality of the books he was reading that he was not long for that world. He got great benefits from it, he really did. But he couldn’t stay there. They wouldn’t let him, even if he wanted to. He faced the genuine possibility of the loss of multiple friendships, however, and he wanted to do this the right way. So we talked. These are some things that I said to him. I ended with a verse I have been thinking a lot about for the last few years as I’ve watched and prayed for people who have changed.
I understand the unsettled feeling of not knowing for sure where you’ll land. If all these verities that have been drummed into me are actually falsities, then which foundation stone will crumble next?
I have faced a little of this. Even though my “move” has been about two inches to the “left” from the churches of my youth, I pretty well agonized over each inch—and I took a long time at it. Even now I regularly call out to God for wisdom—and even to pull me back if it was only one and a half inches that I was supposed to travel.
A few thoughts:
1) Not everything in those falsities was false. Your leaders and teachers were often trying to protect something good in a ham-handed way. KJV-Onlyism is a protection of the stability of our faith in God’s word through the ham-handed means of saying that only one translation can really be faithful. Anti-Calvinism is a protection of the precious truth of human responsibility and the genuine reality of our choices through the ham-handed means of denying passages about God’s meticulous sovereignty. Revivalism is a protection of the truth that the gospel is a free offer to all, as well as the truth that conversion is necessary for salvation—through the ham-handed means of pressuring and manipulating people into make decisions. I often think that the reason God’s blessing and Spirit seem (to me) to remain on so many KJV-Only brothers and sisters despite their holding various faulty ideas about the KJV is that they are ham-handed rather than high-handed. Ruckman is high-handed: he was openly hateful toward God’s people. I believe he was unregenerated, and I came to that conclusion after reading a lot of his stuff. =( But all the KJV-Only people I have known personally are true brothers and true sisters who have stumbled and not leapt into their particular doctrinal trap. And in the inscrutable ways of God, I can say with sincerity that they have some strengths I lack.
2) What you realize when you have to leave a given Christian tradition is that it’s possible to compare traditions as wholes, once you get to a place of maturity and have done some good reading. In other words, you can compare forests and not just trees. I love tons of trees in the fundamentalist forest—individual values and viewpoints. I, for example, feel like I need to be around people who are skeptical of watching “prestige television” like Breaking Bad. I get the Kuyperian justification for watching it, and I think there’s real truth in it: excellent art is a great good. But I want the weight of my tradition to be, well, skeptical of attempts to justify worldliness and sin through theology. But overall, the forest of the Reformed tradition seems to me to be a healthier one—by just a bit. It is also larger, and that comforts me. Some of those trees have been growing in there for 1,600 years, I think—the Augustinian soteriology tree, for example. I live in an overlapping part of the fundamentalist and Reformed forests. “All are yours,” Paul said. Minnick and MacArthur, Jones and Carson. I look at other forests, like the dark Catholic forest with skeletons and pickled tongues hiding inside, and the mainline Protestant swamp, and the broader evangelical grove of haphazardly planted saplings, and I don’t see homes anywhere for me. I’ve been asking myself for years: what does a given tradition produce? Roman Catholicism produces people who don’t know the Bible. I know there are exceptions, but the rule has held for me in 99% of my experience. (I’ve had Roman Catholics in the 1% tell me this very thing.) Mainline Protestantism produces the same ignorance, plus creepy art. Broader, mainstream evangelicalism produces too many slick, Madison Avenue, flashes in the pan. Look at the books that come out of the traditions. Roman Catholic books can be deep, but many are obviously flawed by the worship of saints and other unwarranted accretions. Mainliners write some better books (I do love Marilynne Robinson!), but they are often exercises in avoiding two thirds of what the Bible says to our particular culture (though when Robinson gets into the other third, she can write like no other). Mainstream evangelicals write vapid books with a prosperity-gospel or self-helpish feel. It’s the Reformed tradition that gives us biblical, meaty stuff—the kind of stuff my KJVO pastors growing up didn’t know they were pointing me towards (though my pastor in college did), but they truly were. I have some Arminian friends who deserve a shout-out here: they have Grant Osborne (and others, but don’t make me list them!). But I’ve got to go where the food is, and the food is sitting on my shelves right now—including my digital shelves—in book after book by people in the Augustinian, Reformation, Calvinistic tradition. I look at that forest and I see a healthy home.
I’m praying for you. I dedicated my morning bus ride to you. I really feel your pain. Your Master is able to make you stand.