Two Flashbacks

I closed my last post with a teaser toward being “bowed at Arrow” in March 2012. That story does need telling, but allow me to backtrack in this post. In case you’re joining this series of entries mid-stream, you might find it helpful to begin with these earlier posts: 1, 2, 3.

flashbackI told you that this story “began” in January 2010, but that’s not true. Hindsight now shows me at least two spots long before that where I was nudged in ways that should be noted. A couple flashbacks:

Between 2000-2003, I attended Canadian Theological Seminary (now known as Ambrose University College). This school was operated by the Canadian Missionary and Alliance Church, and I remember those years very fondly. As something of an outsider, I felt warmly welcomed and lovingly poured into. As with most education, the facts I committed to memory in those days have long since faded, but the ways in which my “processor” was rewired will stay with me forever.

One particularly impacting course early on was titled “Ministry Foundations”. It deeply explored what it meant to live and serve in the name of Jesus, and while it did involve discussions of plans and strategies, it was far more interested in the theological and spiritual underpinnings of the whole venture we call “ministry”. At the age of 23, I remember being bowled over by the realization that on my own, no lasting fruit could be generated. Discussions of interests and skills and talents, the types of factors that typically drive people toward career choices, had little to no bearing on the production of kingdom fruit. This was all about connection to Christ and empowerment by the Holy Spirit. As a barely-begun minister, I remember feeling as though this discovery would change everything.

By 2003, my wife and I were serving overseas as English teachers, and by 2006, we had returned to Canada for me to take a “senior minister” position back where we had spent my seminary years. And right up until 2010, when the wrecking ball started to swing, I went about my “ministry duties” more or less as I would have, had my seminary epiphany never happened at all.

I learned something huge.

And I learned nothing at all.

What happens to such a student?

China Coffee
During our “English teacher years”, we returned home from China each summer to reconnect with family and friends. Over one cup of coffee with one wise friend, I began to share the churnings of my heart. I have no recollection of what I said that day. But whatever it was, it prompted my friend to look at me with seriousness and to rhetorically ask, “Oh, you’re not a cessationist, are you?”

Don’t bother interrogating me over the shoddiness of my post-secondary studies, but I don’t believe I had ever heard that word before. I asked for a definition to confirm what I thought it meant. My friend replied, “You don’t believe that the power of the Holy Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit have stopped. You don’t see any reason to believe that they aren’t still in effect today.” I weighed that for a moment and responded, “If that’s what it means, then no. I guess I’m not a cessationist.”

At least a couple things about that moment are odd to me.

Firstly, I don’t recall any significant dialogue on this topic prior to that moment. I hadn’t wrestled this through with other believers. I hadn’t been presented detailed arguments on all sides of the matter, from which I then carefully reached a conclusion.

Secondly and perhaps more noteworthy, I didn’t have any personal experiences driving me. Whereas we’re often driven by personal experience to revise our theology, I’m not sure by that point that I had ever experienced even one thing that would be described as blatantly supernatural. [On an aside, it’s not all bad to have your theology revised by experience, as many of us suspect. Ask Peter how he came to revise his “Gentile theology” or Thomas how he revised his “resurrection theology”. Of course, we don’t trust every experience blindly, but God is wise enough to know that when He really needs to push us past a breaking point, a new idea in the safety in our skull isn’t likely the way to go. Experience is one of His bigger guns.]

Yet somehow, by reflecting on what I thought I knew of God and Scripture (I had an MDiv) – and I think I may have read “The Heavenly Man” by Brother Yun by that time — I determined that my typically-cynical, anally-analytical mind had no level of comfort with cessationist theology. I could make no sense of it: neither why someone would desire it, nor how someone would defend it from sound use of Scripture. I went home from that visit, feeling as though some of my inner puzzle pieces were rattling around in a way that unnerved me, but I had no means to lock them back in place.

Yet just as in seminary, this learning — which seemed as though it might be monumental — went on to change nothing in how I functioned from that day forward. Perhaps internally, it spawned some dreams or hopes in the back rooms of my heart and drove me to be marginally more open to mystery. But externally, those around me would’ve noticed nothing at all.

If spiritual summer school exists, surely I was due to be sent there at some point.

Queue up March 2012.

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