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My Resentment at Moody Bible Institute

OK, I want/need to bring this current thread – or rather, this current tangle of threads – to a close.   I started out talking about what, looking back, I thought favorably about my three years at Moody Bible Institute, and what I felt resentful about it.   This got me on to other things, which I was happy to do, since ten days ago I was at the end of the semester and the end of a book project (which happened simultaneously) and I was burned out and brain dead, and  I couldn’t get up the energy to write anything about serious scholarship on the blog.  But I’m recovered now, and can get on to more important things than me and my life.  Which, frankly, would be most everything!!

But I do need to spend this final post on the original thread to explain in very brief order what I am resentful about when it comes to my education as a 17-21 year old at Moody.   There are three things, all of which I could expand at length, but since I want to move on to other things, I will make just a few comments on each.

The first has to do with social life.    Moody was a highly regimented environment.  There were all sorts of rules involving social behavior.   Some of these rules were draconian.  here was no chance of having a normal young adulthood there, and I’ve long resented the fact that I missed out on lots of things that are normal, healthy, and important for full social and emotional integration into society.   Among the rules were the following.

There could be no drinking (even a beer: drinking age in the country at the time was 18), no drugs, no smoking.  These parts were obvious.  We were also not allowed to dance, to go to movies, or to play cards.  (Seriously: cards are of the devil.)  We were not allowed to have sexual relations of any kind.  Those were reserved for marriage.  (Which is one reason so many people got married very young at Moody.  That, of course, is in many instances a recipe for disaster, as history later then bore out).  By no sexual relations, I not only mean no sexual intercourse.  I mean no sexual contact of any kind, including touching and kissing.    There was a famous “six-inch rule” – a couple was supposed to keep six inches apart at all times.   Yup.

On top of all this there were dress codes.   Men could not have hair touching their ears.   And no beards.  Women were not allowed to wear blue jeans.  (Too sexy, I suppose.)  Their dresses could not be more than an inch above their knees (this was in the days of mini-skirts.).   Monitors would sometimes measure to make sure.  I resent all this now.  I missed out on a young adulthood.

Second thing: my education.  Or lack of it.  I’ve already mentioned that I was and still am grateful for the massive inundation that I received in the Bible.  I do not say “biblical studies” because there was in fact very, very little scholarship involved.  There was mastery of the Bible.  And of what very conservative evangelical scholars said about the theology of the Bible.   But in terms of academics, there was not much more.

These were the years where I should have been, and where I so desperately now wish that I had been, studying in the great disciplines of the humanities and social sciences and hard sciences.   I am not a science guy, and never have been.  But still, I *should* have been studying the basics of chemistry, biology, and physics.  I had none of that.   I am hugely ignorant as a result.   In addition, I obviously never had courses in cultural anthropology, sociology, or psychology.

Much more than that, I regret very much not having plunged at that stage of my life into English (our only courses on that were basically on writing, so we would learn how to communicate the gospels), history (apart from church history, taught with a very strong fundamentalist slant), philosophy (you can imagine what *that* was like at a place like Moody!) , classics, modern languages.

These are all fields that I love.  And I never had a chance to touch a single one of them.

Some readers are thinking, Well, that was your own fault!  You are the one who decided to go there!   Yes indeed, I completely agree.  But I was young and ignorant and was directed there by an older man whom I trusted, when – as I now know — I shouldn’t have trusted him further than I could throw him.   I was passionate for learning about the Bible, and so that’s what I threw myself into.  But how desperately now do I wish I had spent these formative years of my life reading great literature, learning modern languages, studying in depth the Greek and Latin classics, being trained in history, and on and on and on.

It’s true that I did spend two years finishing my degree at Wheaton, and there I did indeed take courses in many of these areas.   That was great, and it awakened in me an interest in real academic work, the study of human knowledge (not just the Bible).  But in effect I had only two years to do it in.  I crammed four years of education into two.  Those were the only two years of my life that I had a broad range of classics in the liberal arts.  Every day of my life I feel  that I was cheated out of a great education.

The third reason for my resentment is related, and is in a sense the flip side of the coin.  Even though I am grateful that I learned so much about the content of the Bible, I am highly resentful of the approach to education taken at Moody.  It was three years of indoctrination.  It was not three years of learning how to think, how to analyze, and to assess, how to evaluate, how to come to one’s own views, how to reason to a conclusion.  It was three years of learning the right answers.   Right answers from within a very narrow and stifling ideological/theological perspective.

These right answers were the key to eternal life and earthly happiness.  We simply had to learn the answers and … we would have the answers.   How stupid.  How ignorant.  How mind-numbing.   How mind-killing.   It is not simply that we were not taught how to think or encouraged to think.  We were actively *discouraged* from coming up with our own views, establishing our own perspectives, deriving our own conclusions.  Doing such things was seen as dangerous.  We had to toe the line.  And the line was very clearly marked.

I am possibly most resentful about this last area.  I did not start learning how to think until I left Moody, and then it took me much longer to learn how to think than normal intelligent human beings take, since I had to drop so much baggage that I had been burdened with.   And this was emotionally difficult, because Moody not only loaded me up with baggage, but the people loading the baggage insisted that the only way to have a happy life and blessed afterlife was to carry that baggage all the way to the end of the road.

I don’t feel I started to become fully human until I realized that they were completely wrong, and that their approach to education was, in fact, sinister.  And I resent that I underwent that kind of treatment from people that at the time I considered to be leaders and responsible adults.

I want to stress that there are things about Moody that I appreciate.   But more than appreciation I really do feel resentment.

 


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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Loring  May 22, 2015

    Having attended Baptist Bible College of PA in the mid-70s, I can relate to your resentments towards MBI. My journey out of religion took me across the theological spectrum from fundamentalist through evangelical, then liberal, and then out. Along the way, I attended seminaries in all three camps. A friend, who was aware of my resentments, once asked me what I could *appreciate* about my fundamentalist days. I said (and still say) that I am thankful for the emphasis on learning Greek and Hebrew. I noticed an interesting trend across the spectrum of seminaries. My fundamentalist seminary required at least 3 years of Greek and 2 years of Hebrew to graduate (I took more). The evangelical seminary I attended required some Greek, but Hebrew was an option. The liberal seminary made both languages electives.

    I know that the fundamentalists wanted me to learn the languages to prove their theology, but I came to see that learning Greek and Hebrew were not theologically connected. Ironically, once I began to reclaim the critical thinking skills that BBC et al. had tried to drum out of me, it was my ability to study the texts in Greek and Hebrew that facilitated my theological changes. Regardless of my theology (or lack thereof), knowing a bit about the original languages is something I can still use–even if I have long ago abandoned what they taught me in theology classes. So when I am feeling resentful about the types of things you mentioned, I remind myself that I am thankful for some things. And of course I have to be most thankful that I met my wife at BBC!

  2. Avatar
    ledocmd  May 23, 2015

    As with some others here, I endured my own journey out of a fundamentalist upbringing and into a secular adulthood. Along the way, as I’ve examined and questioned the “justifications” of some of the more preposterous admonitions that Dr. Ehrman notes (no alcohol consumption, no playing cards, skirt length, dancing, the “six-inch rule,” etc. etc.) there seems to be little to no actual biblical basis for most of them, either in the OT or the NT. I am not a scholar of the Bible, but extensive searching and reading has turned up, for me at least, no satisfactory explanation for many of these draconian injunctions. Just to cite one example, I have been unable to find anywhere in the Bible any statement that says consuming alcohol is a sin; the majority of statements about it are admonitions only against excessive consumption/abuse. Am I missing something, or have these fundamentalists simply taken great liberties themselves with interpretation?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 25, 2015

      These rules are often based not on the Bible but on other considerations ,e.g., that drinking alcohol can encourage others to drink and could then lead to alcoholism.

      • Avatar
        tgeorgescu  August 24, 2017

        Frankly, I don’t consider booze, smoking, doing drugs and debauchery as being the good things in life.

        I am not a Christian, but I would prefer conservative evangelical education to doing the above things. Young people often do not understand why these things are wrong, so a Big Boogeyman in the Sky can only help them behave.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 25, 2017

          I think most people need to *learn* that these are not the good things in life; being told so often (usually?) isn’t good enough….

  3. Avatar
    JUMA  May 23, 2015

    Honesty is so fulfilling. We all have had these journeys along the way. My journey was a bit different, but all the same ending result. Theirs resentment, but at the end; lasing freedom and understanding!

  4. Avatar
    Slydog1227  May 24, 2015

    Thank you for sharing such a personal part of your life. I can certainly understand your resentment. I feel a personal resentment towards the whole Christian church, in particular those who proselytize and indoctrinate their “truth” into young minds. It’s not as innocent as it seems. It attempts to not just instill it’s version of the truth, but to prevent any free thinking, or education that in any way might subvert that. Sinister is a very apt description.

  5. Avatar
    webattorney  May 24, 2015

    Well, there are always good and bad. One question for you popped into my head, which I don’t think anyone asked you:

    Do you think established religions do more good or harm in the world?

    I myself tend to think from personal point of view, it does good in that it gives one comfort and purpose, etc., but from the larger world perspective, different religious beliefs (or lack there of) create all kinds of conflicts.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 25, 2015

      I don’t think it’s really possible to say. My sense is that people will always do good and bad things, and that religion may provide them with the justification for both, but without religion, they would find other justification.

  6. Avatar
    kentvw  May 25, 2015

    Bart, Bart, Bart……….
    Your little tiny self absorbed life…..
    Where do I send Kleenex?
    Classic booky type that has never lived a second of real life so blames his “problems” on others.
    Poor, poor baby…………
    Getting kinda sorry I spent the money….. kinda humorous though so thanks for a laugh.
    Bart, you are losing your message with your sense of self pity.
    Suggestion,:Get a Harley, learn Celestial navigation, (Should keep your much better than others brain busy!) hit the road without a map and ferget about yerself.. Bet you come back a happier person. Maybe better writer too.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 25, 2015

      Wow. OK. Thanks for that. (But I’m not weeping a bit about my past: you’ve misunderstood me. There’s a difference between angry resentment and weepy self-pity!!)

  7. Avatar
    madmargie  May 25, 2015

    I find that most Christians still subscribe to the “magic world view”. . Strange…

  8. Avatar
    kentvw  May 25, 2015

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTGKzS2Ntc4

    For you Bart..

  9. Avatar
    Matt7  May 25, 2015

    Wow. I almost went down a similar path, and the only thing that saved me was a sick feeling in my stomach that caused me to change plans and attend a public university instead. I didn’t really mind most of the rules — even the 6-inch rule. The deal-breaker for me was that I had to get permission to go fishing (the bible school I was headed to was in West Virginia). Really?!? The one thing I liked to do to get away and relax, and they were going to regulate that, too. Forget that. My brain didn’t know that I was escaping further indoctrination by a cult, but my stomach did.

  10. Avatar
    randal  May 26, 2015

    I grew up in strict fundamentalism like many of your posters. My way out started out of pure serendipity. I happened to notice a cassette book on “Misquoting Jesus” in my local library and checked it out. Since I had already listened to about all the other books on tape in this small town library in the “history section”, I thought I’d check this one out. This changed everything for me. I had never heard of textual criticism or any other subject of modern New Testament scholarship. This was new and exciting. I read more of your books, bought your lectures from the Teaching Company, read books of other New Testament scholars, etc… It was though I had escaped Plato’s Cave in his “Allegory of the Cave” and am now out in the sunlight and can see clearly.

    I want to thank you for your books. They have truly changed my life and made me a better person. You don’t see how harmful fundamentalism is until your out of it and look back. Your books were the catalyst that helped me out.

  11. Avatar
    JoeQ  May 26, 2015

    That’s interesting. I wonder why/how you chose a school with that name yet expected something dramatically different. Maybe a bit more research would have helped. Even religious universities teach several years in the subjects you were interested in as a youth.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 26, 2015

      I didn’t expect anything different at all. What made you think that i did??

  12. Avatar
    Philbert  May 26, 2015

    Hi Bart, Son of a preacher here I can relate- great post thank you for sharing.

    To: kentvw
    Go find somewhere else to troll.

    • Avatar
      randal  May 26, 2015

      I agree. Smartazz trolls aren’t welcome here.

  13. Avatar
    Hon Wai  May 27, 2015

    Are the restrictions on social life still in place at Moodys? e.g. no dancing, cinemas, holding hands?
    What’s their problem with beards? Surely some biblical heroes had beards?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 28, 2015

      Not clean cut enough, I suppose. Back when I was there, they didn’t want people to look like unkempt hippies!

  14. Avatar
    Judith  May 28, 2015

    Just finished Jack London’s Martin Eden. That character could have been based on you with your study habits and capacity for work. I don’t know if you read the book (Grabs hold with the very first page!) but it makes clear a broad and thorough education can make you too smart for your own good.

  15. Avatar
    randal  May 29, 2015

    My father used to say that getting too smart would give you a brain tumor (Bill Gates was always his example of who was at risk). I guess this was his way of saying that you can get too smart for your own good. Do you have a good neurologist Dr. Ehrman? Lol

    • Bart
      Bart  May 30, 2015

      No, but some of my friends think I need to have my head examined.

  16. Robert
    Robert  May 29, 2015

    It is true that you chose this path so resentment is probably unjustified. Yes, you were young, and, yes, the fundies you trusted were fundies, but everyone learns from their mistakes. Or they don’t. Just be thankful that you have learned from your mistakes, even if your fundy guides have not.

  17. Avatar
    kbakalar  June 2, 2015

    i understand that the modern American Christian fundamentalist movement was created at the turn of the last century in reaction to liberal trends in the main line churches. At what point, and by what intellectual turn, did that creative momentum devolve to the rigid orthodoxy of the Moody ethic? Or am I misreading what is going on here–is the Moody ethic in constant, boiling, creative reaction to the liberal world?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 3, 2015

      That’s a great question! I would assume it was in the 20s, when the modernism issues hit big time. But i may be wrong. Maybe someone else on the blog knows.

  18. Avatar
    Steefen  June 7, 2015

    In the Fall of 1992 a group of American religious educators, of whom I was one, visited three cities in the former Soviet Union–Moscow, Tashkent, and St. Petersburg–to meet religious leaders and to learn about the resurgence of religion in a land that had until recently been ruled by a political regime that was ideologically committed to atheism. In a discussion about their curriculum with the dean and several faculty members at the St. Petersburg School of Theology, a Russian Orthodox institution, I asked whether they made use of the historical-critical method in their courses on the Bible.

    “No,” the dean replied; “we want our students to become believers, not philosophers.”

    The above is from:
    Introduction: Russian Believers and Bach as Theologian
    The Art of Gaining & Losing Everything
    by Roy W. Hoover
    The book, The Historical Jesus Goes to Church
    by Jesus Seminar

  19. Avatar
    jspradlin  September 30, 2018

    Moody kept you out of trouble so you did not get distracted from your real purpose. Bart Ehrman, “World’s greatest Astrophysicist” does not have the same ring to it.

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