Friday, March 9, 2012

My OBU Story, Part II: Travelers on a Journey

“We are trav’lers on a journey, fellow pilgrims on the road;
We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.”
—“The Servant Song,”
The Baptist Hymnal (1991), no. 613

In the summer of 2004, I returned to East Texas.  I was twenty years old and two years into my OBU education.  A semester before, I switched from a major in Applied Youth Ministry to a double-major in Philosophy and Religion.  East Texas had changed little, but I had changed in ways I was only beginning to understand—without the tools to negotiate the difference.
I returned home to make peace with that good ol’-time religion, but peace was not to be found. After a summer under the tutelage of the pastor of my youth, I left his church more confused and disenchanted than ever.  As I drove through the empty land of southeastern Oklahoma, its loneliness echoed in my heart.  Frustrated and weary, I quit.  Finding God only in the classroom, I resolved to make my studies my religion.
Like all religion majors, I was required to take Baptist History and Theology, and I was registered for the fall of that year.  No longer believing that I was a Baptist, my only concern was that my distaste would not affect my grade point average.  Instead, I discovered that I had become more of a Baptist than I ever realized.
Presented with a series of Baptist distinctives on the first day of class, I was incredulous.  Historic Baptist commitments to freedom of religious expression, the separation of church and state, the freedom of the conscience, and healthy suspicion of religious and political authority were unknown to me.  I was used to pastors drumming from the pulpit for the invasion of Iraq.  I was used to having petitions to congressmen ready for my signature in the foyer after Sunday sermons.  I was used to hearing that the Lord’s supper was closed and that the consciences of church members should submit to their pastor’s authority.
Yet my incredulity concerning Baptist history soon turned to interest.  Interest became fascination, and fascination passion.  Here was a world unknown to me, a heritage I had not known to claim.  Like the junction of great rivers, Baptist history is broad with tributaries and eddying currents aplenty.  As these streams merge into one, with all their conflict and particularity, a common identity flows forward.  I poured myself into these waters.
            Soon, I realized that the guidance of the philosophy and religion department toward radical honesty in biblical and philosophical inquiry connected me to the historic principles of the Baptist tradition.  I began to understand that the school’s commitment to liberal arts flowed out of the foundational Baptist doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.  Just as all must respond to God with no mediator save Christ, so all must respond to God’s truth.  This rock is the foundation upon which OBU empowered young minds.
Western Civ, Sociology, Psychology, Epistemology, Baptist History and Theology, Ancient Philosophy and Aesthetics, Greek and Hebrew—all these courses became a means of grace, a way of knowing a God that I loved but did not understand.  In the words of Clement of Alexandria, the patron saint of the Christian liberal arts tradition:

“I call him truly learned who brings everything to bear on the truth; so that from geometry, music, grammar, and philosophy itself, he culls what is useful and guards the faith against assault.  And he who brings everything to bear on a right life …this man is an experienced searcher after truth.”

            At OBU I learned both to be a disciple of Christ and a Baptist. I would be remiss not to mention the role that the local church played in the formation of my Baptist identity, but that is a story unto itself.  As a traveler on the road of discipleship, I have found my identity.  I am Baptist, and what is more Baptist than the honest, radical search for God’s truth?

Editor's Note: This beautiful testimony is a sequel to Clayton's previous post.  Other diaries in the My OBU Story series can be found here and here.  If you would like to have your OBU story considered for publication here, you can email us.  We can provide a template or, if you like, you can submit your entry in essay form.


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