"I am so confused. I feel like I'm just barely holding on to my faith in Christ."
Dear Wounded Pilgrim,
I was raised in a fundamental Christian church and always believed that what I learned in Sunday School was correct. I tried to be a good Christian, but found an overwhelming tendency to sin that I could not overcome. My doubts were not about Christ, but about my self, and as such I just gave up trying.
I chose the path of least resistance and ended up dropping out of school and becoming a wandering hippie. My personality was well suited for this lifestyle (having read Walden Pond at 12 and fallen in love with the philosophy of transcendentalism).
I left the drugs behind and plunged deeply into Eastern thought (not an organized group, but an individual acceptance of this philosophy). There were many at this time who embraced an intellectual grasp of these things, but did not dedicate their souls to the immersion of their lives into the "spiritual" experiences. There is no need to explain what these experiences were, but they were gained only through great discipline.
I was living up in a canyon in a cave back of the San Fernando Valley, which had large rocks of which I would sit up on and meditate for hours. The words of Jesus would sometimes trouble me in my pursuit of a higher consciousness and when I thought about them there arose a tremendous resistance that I could not explain; the more I thought about Jesus the stronger the resistance would be.
The same "spirit" that had given me all the wonderful feelings of ecstasy was now turning into a fearful presence of dominance and control and I was unable to free myself from it's grip.
These circumstances brought me to the point where I cried out to God, "Whoever you are and whatever you want I'll do it! God please help me!" The dark "spirit" vanished from me and a wonderful joy and peace came to my heart (Proverbs 1:23) at that very moment.
I climbed down from the rock and got a Bible out of my pack and knew that the Spirit that I now had in my life was the God of the Bible. Whereas in the past I believed the words of the Bible were true, now I knew they were true and that I was a child of God!
Notice that the above testimony had nothing to do with indoctrination, groups, or even an orthodox cry to God for help. (One brother in the Assembly suggested I was not saved at that time because I had not used the name of Jesus in my cry -- Job. 33:14-30). Indeed, I'm sure my addition of the clause, "I will do whatever you want", did not bring salvation that day and was a misperception on my part regarding the true nature of grace.
Through a youth pastor I met I came to the Assembly via a Bible study in the home of Tom Maddux that was led by George Geftakys. This youth pastor saw that I had an intense desire for a "deep commitment" and so brought me to this study where the believers were "serious". This youth pastor's interest's were less noble, as he was interested in Judy Beauchamp (at the time not yet Geftakys).
At that time I had the experience of salvation, and a great deal of enthusiasm, but desperately needed instruction (indoctrination?). From my first involvement I had some serious doubts regarding some of the things that I was being taught and saw practiced, but I did not listen as it was explained to me that such thinking was "of the flesh". Though I continued to reject many of these doubts they would not go away; this I believe was the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life.
When I left I was very confused, and began to study regarding my doubts. I read far and wide. I read Reformed theology and dispensational theology, conservative theology and liberal theology, traditional evangelical and Neo-orthodox theology. Though I was much better informed on theology, I remained confused as to which "camp" to align myself with.
Through this period I decided to start with what I had no doubt of and to attempt to start from the beginning, as it were. This led me to consider my initial experience of salvation and the conviction that God had visited me. My experience was not just an emotional moment, but a true transformation of my awareness of God ("Once I was blind but now I see"). This same awareness caused me to understand that the Bible was God's word, though I didn't understand much of it.
From this point I simply considered what the Gospel message said. This, (not the study of comparative theology, original languages, advanced arguments for the defense of the faith, etc.) was the focus that brought stability and confidence to my life. The simplicity that is in Christ is a fount of life to those who have been born again.
From the above starting point, the clearly declared Gospel message, we are anchored in the great sea of all that we may wonder about and have doubts regarding. His sheep hear His voice, and that voice was spoken the clearest and brightest in God the Son's incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and exaltation. Through the Gospel we attempt to unite our understanding of who God is and what our lives as Christians should be.
I have found that all theologians who understand the above paragraph, though reformed, fundamentalist, conservative, neo, etc., do not hold that "our camp is the only way camp", but offer a distinctive way of describing the same Jesus and the same wonderful grace. There are some real differences in these "distinctives", but not in the central emphasis of the essentials of the Gospel and nature of God.
I still almost daily read theology, (to believe in the simplicity we have in Christ is not to be opposed to thinking about difficult things, or to avoid opposing arguments) as I like to try and stretch my thinking, but always within the bounds of what I know is the firm foundation that has been laid for our faith.
I hope that this is some help for those who are struggling with questions like Calvinism vs. Arminianism, Lordship salvation vs. dispensationalism, fundamentalism vs. Neoism, Pre-tribulation vs. post tribulation, etc. There is something to be learned from all these different positions, but what we keep must agree with the simple Gospel of the Grace of God. This simplicity is not an anti-intellectual or anti-scholar (as George Geftakys taught) but an acknowledgement of the spiritual basis for one's understanding of God and reality.