To see more posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.
In the summer of 2004, I ventured down to Texas to be with a young woman (we’ll call her Mary) with whom I had fallen in love, having met her the year before when she and her family were on a family vacation in New York. They were Presbyterians in Baptist country and I was a Baptist who held to KJV-Onlyism. Mary’s father was a Calvinist and a theistic evolutionist, so our conversations were interesting (to say the least). There was no convincing him and there was surely no convincing me with my youthful zeal. Mary was hardly a Calvinist, but she wasn’t keen on my theological views either. I admired this.
While I lived in Texas in between school years, I worked for the local Workforce Solutions office, serving primarily in the reception area, assisting the general population with issues related to job search. Though my heart was still in ministry, I greatly enjoyed the work. Furthermore, I met some people there with whom I am still friends. Between spending weekends and evenings with the woman I loved and a job I found rewarding, the summer of 2004 was one of the greatest I’ve ever had. But all good things must come to an end.
Return to and Departure from PCC
In early August, I left Mary and Texas and travelled to Pensacola Christian College for floor-leader training and to begin the fall semester of my senior year. I was placed in the oldest male dorm on campus on the very first floor. As students arrived on campus, I had to do my usual check to make sure they were in compliance with the rules of the college (though admittedly I was very selective about which rules to enforce). Things on the campus had changed since my junior year. Whereas in years previous we were not allowed to have cell phones in our dorm rooms, the college had permitted it, albeit with certain restrictions. The biggest change was that we now had access to the Internet in our dorm rooms, though that too was filtered by the college, so we had very limited access. But still, we had made it to the twentieth century!
As a history major with a biblical languages minor, I resumed taking courses in both, including advanced New Testament Greek. Our basic textbook remained the same: the Textus Receptus. However, whereas in Intermediate Greek our daily readings had been in the Gospel of Mark, now they had been expanded to Johannine literature and in particular the epistles. I also took more courses in United States history. If I could, I tried to pick those classes taught by Dr. John Reese who was the chair of the history department. I also began working on my senior thesis though I cannot for the life of me remember what it was. And for good reason!
At the beginning of September, we were told that Hurricane Ivan was on the approach and it was gunning for Pensacola. Since most students were from out of town and, in cases like mine, from too far away to go home and then return, we were forced to weather the storm at the college. The administration assured us and our parents that we would be fine; the buildings were specifically designed for hurricanes. And so the day before the storm hit, we went into our dorms and hunkered down for Ivan’s wrath. But as we were doing so, the residence manager came over the speaker and began preaching to all the men: “God has sent this hurricane here because someone has sinned. You need to turn from their sin and turn back to God!” This pissed me right off!
In the final years of my Christianity I had become a Calvinist. Stuff like that wouldn’t have bothered me at that time. But at 21 I wasn’t Reformed and so statements like these felt not only presumptuous but unbiblical. And so immediately following this, with the young men in my charge standing in the hallway, I began yelling, “Heresy! Heresy!” I planned to confront the residence manager about this but never got the chance. There was too much to do to prepare the dorm for the storm.
There isn’t a lot I remember about that storm. It was the very first hurricane I had ever endured. At first, we were allowed to stay in our rooms but as the wind picked up and debris started flying around, we were told to move into the hallway. As hours of rain pounded against the buildings, it started slowly seeping into the dorm rooms and out into the hallway where we had been sleeping. Tornados had spawned close by and in some rooms the windows had been broken by tree branches. Hours later, the storm had passed, and we were finally able to see what damage had been done. And there was quite a bit. Well, that is what we saw but it isn’t what the college had told parents. I spoke with my parents and they said that administration officials claimed very little damage but walking around campus told a very different story. This was par for the course for PCC, an institution which had a habit of being less than honest.
And so I left. I was tired of the college and felt like I just couldn’t remain there. I packed up all my belongings, got into my blue Chevy Cavalier, and drove back to Texas to Mary. This move angered my parents who directed me to return to college to finish. But I refused and for months on end afterward my parents refused to speak to me. And so I was there in Texas, with Mary and her family, adrift and on my own for the first time. My view of God began to change and with it my whole life.
In the next installment, I plan to briefly discuss my departure from King James Onlyism, a topic suggested by my friend Charles Payet. I’ll also briefly detail the evolution of my beliefs generally since I was still a decade away or so from becoming an atheist.