My Story…don’t think this is a complete version…but some day it will be…

I am a Baptist’s minister’s son. I grew up in a ranch styled red-brick parsonage. This parsonage was owned by the people of a small church in Ithaca, Michigan, the seat of Gratiot County. There was a beautiful old-styled courthouse and fire station in the city, and of course there was a grain elevator. It had everything a young boy could want. Safe roads to ride a bike, train tracks to follow across town, and just on the outskirts of town there was plenty of farmland to explore.

There were several churches in town. Baptists, Methodists, Catholics and Lutherans. At least those are the ones I can recall. They were small rural congregations, mostly farmers I think. Although some drove to larger cities for work several miles away. Everybody was part of a church. Or it seemed that way to me. I guess I never  imagined NOT going to church. It was just part of growing up. Second nature some might say. But what was second nature became an intrusion of a life lived happily.

I moved around too much — from school to school — and city to city. We lived in Ithaca for eleven years, but I changed schools several times while we lived there. I never felt at home–or that I had a home, until–we settled in the local public school system. But things were about to get crazy.

Drugs were quite prominent in Jr High and Highs school — thankfully weed was the only think that I smoked. Though I did see acid once. The kind that looks like a white dot on a piece of paper. I was so paranoid about smoking pot that I only did it once, remaining afraid for a few years about it being traced in my hair. That is to suggest I lived my entire life with a sense of guilt and shame. Not because I was really bad, but because the Christianity I had been taught began with the presupposition that we, all of humanity and creation is bad. OK — let’s take a diatribe here…(not yet written).

At a very young age I was intrigued how much influence one could have as a pastor / communicator over his or her congregation / audience. As a preacher, my father had influence. Although, it only lasted so long. More often than not a group would arise within our congregations, wanting to control my father and the ministries of the church. The dilemma here is that the issue was CONTROL. Not just on their part, but on my fathers as well. As a pastor, he preached the gospel the best he knew how. He served the people he best knew how. But that often meant we (mom, sister and me) were left to fend for ourselves. Unfortunately, t a very young age I was convinced that I could have the same kind of power my father had. Reflecting back on it now I don’t think it was a healthy sort of desire, on my part. I was also convinced though, that I could be that strong man in the pulpit, preaching the very words of God. Quite simply, I was impressed by power and wanted it.

I remember preaching to my sister in the back rooms of the church between sunday school and the morning services. Though my potential as a communicator was deeply suppressed because of my father’s own desire for power. As I grew and began asking questions regarding faith, he began to feel pressure. Pressure that I might move beyond the simple faith he always taught and believed. I don’t know if he could even put words to how he was felling, even now. But there was a fear that I would leave my fundamentalist roots, entering the brave new world of liberalism. Yet, fundamentalism was not the only weird thing I had to shed, there was also this strange framework of though known as dispensationalism. I grew up in the heard of Baptist-dispensational-fundamentalism. Anyone who was part of another denomination, even several other Baptist denominations, were held at arms length.

I began questioning my fathers faith, reckoning if it could be my own. I quickly discovered that the tradition he chose would not be the one of my choosing. So, I went to non-denominational world in order to find a more inclusive faith. I did, for a time. Major changes occurred in my mind and heart when I read the book of Romans for myself, without anyone translating or expounding what it might mean. The nature of my question was covenantal, although I didn’t realize it at the time.

My father’s faith was simple. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Well, this is true to a point, but the nuances in which he taught it were just as simple. I was questioning ‘understanding.’ I was concerned with how he ‘understood’ this simple statement. For I had come to understand it quite differently by reading the book of Romans and discovering a more inclusive faith, not one that always spoke of those who are ‘going to heaven’ and those who are ‘going to hell.’ My understanding of such terms are quite different than they once were.

I wasn’t out to prove my father wrong but my questioning went beyond his knowledge. What was mere questioning of my father’s understanding of his faith was taken by him as an attack. An attack? I just wanted to understand the faith that I was supposed to be learning from my family heritage. Sadly, what was passed on, in my view, was a ‘mis-understanding’ of the central claims of Christianity as passed down from ages the church itself. The church — well, what was the church? Everything I had ever known about the church I had begun to disapprove. The faith I once had was no longer viable. Thus, my fathers faith was called into question by my disagreements with his views.

In response to my questioning, my father would give me the same run-around he gave to anyone who was exploring their faith. “You must be sure of your salvation. You must accept that Jesus died on the cross in your place, for your sins. If you believe this to be true, you must repent of your sins by saying this prayer and begin reading the book of John. Then you will know for sure that you will not spend eternity in hell when you die. You can remain confident that when Christ returns ‘in the clouds’ he will rapture you along with all the other believers, spending eternity with him in a far off place called heaven.” Thats it. That was the gospel message. That was the story of my father’s faith. Once one believed in ‘these things,’ he or she must then tell everyone they come into contact with, that they had repented of their sins and they should too.

As I have already said, my fathers faith was quite simplistic.

For me faith doesn’t come easy. I have discovered that I need a particular sort of rethym in life in order to remain centered. The Christian liturgy and calendar are two things that keeping my ‘lived faith’ strong. Merely reading Scripture for my own faith was rarely helpful because it was disconnected with the ‘gathered people of God.’ Individual faith, was impossible for. It’s still impossible for me. I can’t do this on my own. That’s one reason, I think, that I’m studying theology at the graduate level. To be a Christian. I need to practice of learning from those who have gone before me to keep my faith strong.


Faithful obedience to God was understood as being top – down, as opposed to the faith community working together to establish what it was that God had called that particular community into. The persons in the pews were to be upright and faithful to the preacher, who was the one with all the correct answers to their questions. In reality the questions were answered based upon the particular ‘system’ my father was taught in four years of undergraduate bible study. By the age of 19 – I had a basic framework to what I was supposed to believe regarding God and salvation, but the approach was entirely non-theological and profoundly obtuse.

While I’ve had to rethink much of what I had been taught growing up – the one thing I acknowledge as a gift – is the teaching I received regarding the content of Scripture. The methods and tools of memorization and recollection continue to develop but the framework and systems I inherited had to be rejected in order to find my own faith in God. That faith came through the guidance of a community. A community that calls itself, Mars Hill Bible Church.

Mars Hill Bible Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan has been our (wife-Reanna, son-Kohen) spiritual home for many years and the teaching of Rob Bell continues to be a source of inspiration and hope for our formation into the way of Jesus. We’ve more recently become communicants at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids – where we’re being thoroughly introduced to Mainline America, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion. Many friends and confidants remain at the beautiful community we call Mars Hill – but we’ve moved on to experience the life of the people of God differently than we had traditionally understood. We are learning to celebrate our formation and transformation in a community that has very different tendencies then we are used to.

The six years we spent at Mars Hill, three of which I spent as a Licensed Minister and member of the Community Life Staff, was an education in itself. Not only was if formational and transformational in a spiritual sense but I learned valuable leadership skills that can only be learned ‘on the job.’ I spent a lot of time in theological conversations with people from around the world, mostly due to the connections and friends of Rob Bell. Rob would often hand me a letter, an email, direct me to a person attending Mars for the first time, or even one who had been there since the beginning. Through those connections I was given the opportunity to be the ‘voice of God in the wilderness’ to persons questioning the very existence of God; the hope of a future beyond divorce and addiction, or even persons who were there because they decided to attend church that morning instead of killing themselves.

Such are the stories of people on a journey of faith in the risen Messiah.

Other connections were made as well, which ultimately led to a recomendation from  Don Golden, Senior VP of Church Engagement at World Relief in Baltimore, Maryland – to study under the direction of Dr. Tom Holland in Wales, UK. Dr. Holland had overseen Don’s Master of Philosophy degree that he received form the University of Wales.

With all that said…

I’ve been given the opportunity to pursue a Master of Theology degree in Scripture and Theology for practice under the guidance of the University of Wales in preparation for a UK PhD. based upon ‘prior learning experience’ and the completions of a Postgraduate Diploma awarded by the University of Wales.

The University of Wales, Lampeter, formerly St. David’s College (the patron saint of Wales) is contestedly  the third oldest degree awarding institution in England and Wales – behind that of Oxford and Cambridge. I’m being supervised by Dr. Holland of Wales Evangelical School of Theology. His expertise in New Testament Studies are laying an excellent foundation for my future research. The Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Lampeter was ranked #1 in 2008 for their  Postgraduate Distance Learning Programs, of which I am currently enrolled in. Last year they were ranked #9 in Research Power and #13 for Undergraduate Programs of Study in all of the UK.

I’m intending to complete my Master of Theology dissertation by the end of 2011 and plan to continue toward a PhD. Several possible places to study have presented themselves over the last year. So, for now its a time of discerning who can best guide my interests into the realm of THEOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION in particular and NEW TESTAMENT THEOLOGY in general.

I hope this gives you a glimpse of who I am…its just a peak – so don’t think what I said here is final…there is so much more to come.

6 Responses to “My Story…don’t think this is a complete version…but some day it will be…”

  1. What a blessing you are to our family. I only wish you all lived closer I know our conversations would be great. God is blessing you. This is so exciting to read. We love you all. Gods blessing in all you do.

  2. Wonderful story! I am so glad to have met you and feel blessed to know that God has lead you down the path of righteousness to this very spot and time. The Ordinary Collective promises to be something so extraordinary, so missional and new in the local church. I can’t wait to see where we end up!

  3. Hey Nate,
    I met you a few years ago (Augustish 2005), although briefly (one conversation, in fact), and you gave me a card with your blogspot address. I have since gone back to it again and again (at least once a year) to see what you were reading and purchase books I found on your list. I would also take a gander at the extended thoughts you would post about a book or movement. Tonight, I was bummed to find your blog no longer existed. I later googled “NT Wright book list,” and was pleased (excited actually) to find your name on the first page and clicked myself here. Due to ganders at previous writings, I feel an informal authority on your progress. Your ability to express yourself well has grown substantially and I wanted to share my encouragement from your growth. Thank you and keep going.

    John Rower

    • Wow, where did we meet?

      • We met at Mars Hill Bible. And now that I think about it, it was December 2005.

    • Yea, I’d remember your face for sure, but I sometimes forget names. Were you the one interested in teaching Jewish roots?

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