I remember sitting upright at tables like these. I remember stretching out across retreat center lawns. I remember eagerly filling long auditorium rows like the lines in our notebooks.
I remember the buzz of conversation in classrooms at Christian colleges we were too young to attend back then.
But we knew we were in the business of serious learning. It was a deeper, more important kind of knowledge than mere career training. The kind that made my cheeks flush with excitement and strategy. The kind that made my hand cramp up writing down the killer questions and rug-pulling logical twists. The kind that made me jut my chin forward and proclaim simple answers to problems complicated beyond my teenage understanding. We called these lessons, in all of their various groups and nuances, Christian Worldview Training.
We were going to save the world, back then. It would be hard, but we would win.
It was going to be okay.
We talked about the Biblical view of everything, parsing out scripture and Hebrew words, pitting religious thoughts against each other, and analyzing our personal walks with God in light of all that truth and order.
At the end of the weeks or weekends, we were sent out in groups of three or more, to test our training. We were warned to never pair off in couples, lest we offer the appearance of evil or fall into it ourselves.
We were dropped out of fifteen-passenger vans in downtown squares, at shopping malls, and on college campuses (but the secular kind) with our clipboards in hand. We spilled out with surveys cleverly crafted to pin our interviewees to the board and label them.
They told us especially to look out for the Christians who said they were, but weren’t. They were lukewarm in their faith. We had a specific list of questions to skewer the Lukewarms. We’d ask them about creation, to figure out whether or not they held a literal, 24-hour cycle, six-day view. We’d question them about abortion politics, watch for signs of multiculturalism, and decipher how seriously they took sin.
We had been trained to know how the strangers we met weren’t okay.
Our teachers reminded us that we shouldn’t expect to win everyone over. They said we might even get a taste of the future persecution that was coming to American Christians. We were prepared to save any number of souls, though. I remember mentally ticking off all the necessary things to cover in a proper salvation prayer.
Honestly, it scared me more than someone would be interested in that, because what if I did it wrong? What if I didn’t tell them how serious it was to follow Jesus, and cover their new Christian worldview, and created another one of those worst-of-all people who thought they were saved but weren’t?
When we went out, I’d lose my classroom fervor. I’d try to stay quiet and pray we wouldn’t meet anyone to talk to. I’d consider hiding from my group until the appointed time, the kairos, when the van would chariot us back to camp. But then I’d buck up and remember the eternal significance of the clash of worldviews, and how we were in the right. We had to be.
Besides, they said that all we had to do was plant a seed. If we could add one fracture to the devil’s ideological strongholds or insert a nugget of truth, or even come back with a new story about the depravity of the more popular worldview, we’d be okay.
All our training told us that we could believe the right things, and if we did, we’d make God proud.
They told us we’d be okay.
A decade later, sitting in my first seminary class, I’m taken back to all those Christian worldview boot camps. Here I am again, in a community discussing scripture, ideas, and how all of this affects our daily lives. But it’s very different.
This time I’m taking notes on a laptop instead of a notebook.
Nearly everything else is different, too.
The things I believe about God, myself, and the world are radically different. I’m shaking my head at those eager attempts to convert the Not Good Enough Christians and make them the Like Us Christians. I’m more aghast at the presumption that with a few leading questions, we could know enough about a stranger to proclaim their spiritual state or that we’d demand such personal information. I can tell you exactly how wrong we were to label our own as opponents and try to beat them, not to mention the way we disrespected other faiths.
If I surveyed the people sitting at these long tables, the ones that take me back to those other lectures, I know I’d find all varieties of Christianity. There are conservatives, progressive, Quakers, Creationists, Feminists, traditionalists, Complementarians, and people across the political spectrum in this room, studying the Old Testament together. If I surveyed my current self, I know wouldn’t pass my teenage tests of True Christianity. I’m not really interested in planting seeds anymore, or measuring my spirituality by my political persuasions.
But I can’t detach from it completely. I can’t say everything was all wrong about those experiences, because they led me here. Somehow, even though it looks completely different than I expected then, they were right.
I think I’ll be okay.