I was a teenager in the 1980’s when many secular Americans (including me) formed their view of Christianity on the basis of what was happening with Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. Two men who had become rich through ministry ended up making mistakes that severely damaged their reputations and organizations. The trashy, deceptive, scoundrel, flashy preacher character is part of the stock of American literature.
If you want to see the type in action, there are places you can go via cable or satellite to get your fill. You can stuff yourself with shameful judgment and delight as you watch them with their sparkling, colorful clothing, jewelry, and architectural hairstyles. They model wealth because their appeal to the viewer is that if you will call a number and give a gift very quickly, you, too, will be blessed. You will have planted a seed against your need. The unexpected life-changing check will surely appear on your doorstop very soon.
Truly, I do not know any of these people. At age 41, I have been a Christian now for about 23 years. I have yet to meet anyone who endorses the theology broadcast by the prosperity gospel industry. Nor have I found any Christians who run around in rhinestones and purple hair.
But to those of you who are unchurched, who think very little of Jesus Christ and Christianity, and who take your cues from someone like, say, Jon Stewart, I have an antidote to offer to the poisonous view of the faith you may hold. The antidote is the Christian scholar.
The first person to really get my attention with regard to Christianity was Robbie Castleman. She had been doing graduate work and would eventually obtain her doctorate. She is a professor at John Brown University now. Robbie was never interested in spending lots of time shopping or in the salon. She was the first person I ever met who didn’t run after a ringing phone. Robbie and her husband, Breck, were (and are) generous with their time and money. She didn’t preach AT people. She had relationships with people. And the energy behind all of it was Jesus. She put up with an egotistical, exasperating, and lazy kid like me without losing patience. Robbie is a Christian scholar. Such a different creature than that Brother Love character you all know and despise.
I won’t name names of other people to whom I’m close (because I don’t want to embarrass them), but I don’t mind describing them to you. The Christian scholar is the man with a rather unkempt beard and the pants and sleeves with frayed cuffs. The tie often clashes or is a couple of decades out of date. If you know men like these you probably find them somewhat eccentric and uninterested in many of the passing things the rest of us chase after. They don’t know which buttons to fasten on a sportcoat or how to properly coordinate belts and shoes. And the reason why is not because they are ignorant, but rather because they are setting their powerful minds to other tasks. They are, as a friend in Texas who had some impressive life experience said to me, deep rivers. They are otherworldly.
I regret (a little) to say that I do know about the belts and shoes, the right buttons to button, which colors can go together, and other matters of concern to people of fashion. But I admire those who have no need at all to care about those things. And when my wife, no great follower of trends herself, happens to note that I am wearing pants that seem to be falling apart a little or the seat is wearing out, I’m almost sorry to notice. Because I was just a little closer to being like those men and women I so admire.