For most of my life I held New Age views, believing that any and every path of spiritual belief that people marked out for themselves would ultimately culminate in eternal blessing. Eastern Mysticism in particular held a very strong attraction for me; I was continually immersed in the reading of mystic books, taking classes and seminars, and attending New Age spiritual centers. I had never actually worked out my belief system for myself, but had instead absorbed these views from friends, family, and the culture at large. Another sensibility that I inherited – rather mindlessly, I might add – was a general aversion to Christianity and the Church, and although I held a vague respect for the Bible, there was always a sort of ominous foreboding about it, despite the fact that I had never read it.
This all changed late in 1995. Unbeknownst to me, my sister Jaimie, who, like the rest of my family, had also been steeped in Eastern Mysticism, had recently become a follower of Christ. She was passionate about her faith, and at a lunchtime Bible study at her corporate job had begun praying for her family’s salvation.
One night, Jaimie visited me with a pressing (rhetorical) question: Did I know that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sin? Come again?! “Sin” was a concept utterly foreign to my New Age thinking. She went on to speak of God’s judgment of all sin (terrifying!), His great love for us (comforting), and the forgiveness for sin He offered exclusively through the suffering and sacrifice of His Son Jesus. She told me that by accepting this gift of forgiveness and turning from her ways to follow Christ, she had been “saved” from God’s judgment and promised eternal life. She was there to extend the same offer to me.
This sounded insane - like the wildest science fiction! But to my astonishment, she opened up the Bible and showed me that it was all there. (Of course, I had always heard pithy phrases like “Jesus died for your sins,” but never before had anyone actually explained them to me.) Because of the fearsome respect I had for the Bible, “salvation” immediately became a front-burner issue. But even then, as I thought through the biblical depiction of man’s fallen condition (which I couldn’t deny) and God’s generous provision for his eternal welfare (which stood to vanquish my fear of death), I plainly perceived God’s deep love and care for me (and the world) and professed faith in Jesus that very night. (Within months, our entire family would also come to believe.)
At the time, I was continually traveling to and from New York to produce and direct rather hard-core rap music videos, so Jaimie, stressing how important it is for believers to read the Bible for themselves, gave me her (pink!) study Bible to read on my flights. I immediately began to devour the Scriptures, book by book, chapter by chapter. I read on planes, hotel rooms, and one night even abandoned an opera at the Met that I had very much wanted to see, so that I could return to my hotel and continue drinking in the Bible. The Word of God had taken strong hold of me.
As I continued to read Scripture, particularly the New Testament, the portrait of a godly man – one truly following Christ – began to emerge and become clear. At that time, my life was one of sexual promiscuity, sporadic drunkenness and marijuana use, profanity, lies and manipulation when it served my purposes, and habitual irresponsibility in a myriad of ways. In short, I was living a lost, self-focused, empty, escapist life – a marked contrast to the way of Christ and His followers, which seemed to me God-centered and truly perfect (though His followers often stumbled). As I pressed in to know God more deeply, He began to transform my heart and behavior; He really changed my persona.
One of the biggest changes was with respect to my work. I had made a name for myself as a music video director, producer, and cinematographer, and the genre that most captivated me was gangster rap because of its powerfully evocative lyrics, which in turn made for strong video concepts and imagery – a filmmaker’s dream. Anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian, and violently countercultural in theme, these songs often glorified crime, drugs, and indiscriminate sex – and as an artist faithful to my subject matter, so did my videos. But a train wreck was in the offing…
As a young believer trying to grow in – and wrap my mind around - my new faith, I felt an increasing crisis of conscience: producing these videos during the week then hypocritically showing up at church on Sunday to worship a holy God. The conflict grew until one day, as I was on location praying with a prayer partner, I had the overwhelming conviction that I simply needed to end my “double-life” once for all. I contacted my clients to let them know I would no longer be available for this work, and of course they thought I was crazy. Because this particular genre of music videos was my mainstay, I quickly went broke, and it would be years before I regained my financial footing.
But I was ecstatic about being a believer and about my new life in Christ: I had tremendous peace, joy, and confidence in my eternal trajectory. I had a world of new friends. Moreover, I was blessed to attend a very strong, fundamentalist, Bible-believing church where the Gospel was preached clearly, fearlessly, and in an unapologetically no-nonsense way (then, as now, I felt a strong antipathy towards churches that equivocated on or in any way watered down the Gospel).
As a developing believer, I was not only embracing profound new spiritual perspectives, but as a member of this particular church was inheriting a host of new scientific views: the universe and earth were young, evolution was false, and that to believe otherwise was to discredit both the Bible and the Gospel. I don’t think the church itself would disagree that its vehement anti-old-earth and anti-evolution teachings were militant – intentionally so. But because I found my pastor to be trustworthy and sincere with respect to character, dedication to the ministry, and overarching theology, and because I had never personally investigated the issue, I like many others adopted these views with little if any reservation.
But although I adopted these views, maintaining them within my world of experience brought about unending conflict. All it took was watching a PBS science documentary, visiting the observatory or attending a planetarium show, or just happening into a scientific conversation with everyday people to remind me that what I believed stood in fundamental conflict with mainstream scientific thought. In effect, I was at war with science.
Please join us tomorrow for Part 2 of Stephen’s journey!