In the thirteenth century, St. Bonaventure wrote a work entitled The Mind’s Journey to God. What follows is an account of my own mind’s journey over the past few years. The journey is far from complete; the mind journeys on, never to reach its goal short of the glories of heaven. This account details in particular the aspects that led me to the Anglican Church.
I begin the story of my mind’s journey with my arrival at Patrick Henry College, the institution at which I would spend four years studying. Like many—if not most—of us at school, I arrived on campus replete with experience from the evangelical realm of Christianity. My father was a Southern Baptist minister for much of my childhood, so I was very well-versed in all things Baptist, but quite ignorant of any other church traditions.
Throughout high school I began to develop a distinct apathy towards anything “religious,” and I calculated that, given my current trajectory, once I got through college I would probably fall away from the faith, never to give it much thought thereafter. Attending PHC proved to be just the encouragement I needed to pay a bit more attention to my spiritual life. I was surrounded by young people my age who were extremely enthusiastic about their faith. But as I struggled to improve my faith, to be enthusiastic, I found it increasingly difficult. I learnt more about virtue from Plato and Aristotle than I did from college worship, and my soul was lifted far more by Beethoven and Rachmaninoff than it was by many of the hymns and praise songs we were singing in chapel.
During my sophomore year I encountered the writings of Soren Kierkegaard, which is a dangerous thing to happen to a confused college student intent on figuring out Christianity. I immediately fell in love with his thought, and even flattered myself to think that, in a way, I was following in his footsteps; standing outside the realm of American Christianity and crafting my own Christianity for myself.
I later realized that I had only substituted one subjective, individualistic Christianity for another. If all Christianity is subjective, it is a desperate, lonely theology, based mainly on despair. I thought that there must be Truth out there; Truth that I was not forced to hold subjectively, as simply my own perception of Truth.
At the same time, however, I was also coming to the understanding that Truth cannot be thought of as strictly objective, any more than it can be thought subjective. To make Truth simply an object is to make God Himself an object. It is to summon Him to questioning; to demand of Him to give His reasons for His Being, and to think of Truth in these terms, I finally realized, is entirely backward. Truth is God and God, not man, is the measure and judge of all things; the Lord of Truth calls us to the witness stand and demands of us that we give our reasons.
Even less are we here to shop around, as if we were in a supermarket of worldviews or values, putting each one to the test and then selecting the best one we can find. To approach Truth in this manner is to hear the voice of the Lord out of the whirlwind, saying: “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.” Another verse in the same vein, often-quoted but I think perhaps often-misunderstood, is this one: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It is the glory of God which is our standard; beauty itself weighs us in the balance.
It was out of these discoveries about the nature of Truth that I began to understand the necessity of the Church in this modern age. It offered me a refuge from endless subjectivity. One of the questions that also brought me to understand the need for a church was one that had puzzled me for some time: the question of salvation. How did it work, and what was salvation really all about?
I found the standard formulations I was accustomed to hearing growing up to be lacking; these generally tended towards a mixture of two views. The first is to view salvation as a thing, an object. This view implies that our salvation is something that we “get” or “receive” at a certain point in time, and from then on we “have” salvation. But this view of salvation as an object makes it merely a sort of Golden Ticket to hand to God at the end of your life to gain admission into heaven.
The second view was no better. This view portrayed salvation as something that happened to you at a certain point in time; it was, in effect, an event, an event that would change the rest of your life, but a single event nonetheless. My salvation began long ago, and it will not be finished until the bridegroom finally embraces his bride at the marriage feast of the Lamb. It was accomplished by Christ, and the Church is the Bride of Christ.
If we are to be rescued from this modern age, this increasingly individualistic and self-centered society, then we must be separated from it. In fact, we need an ark that will carry us above the floodwaters and deliver us safely to the other shore. The Church, I would like to suggest, is an ark and was given to us for just such a purpose.
For a long time now, American Christianity of the kind in which I was raised has emphasized the individual aspects of Christianity at the expense of the visible role of the Church. My prayer for myself, for all of you and for those who come after us, is that we would never cease exploring, never stop seeking out truth, but that the end of all our exploring would be to arrive back where we started. As T. S. Eliot, the Christian poet, expressed it: “We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.” Back to a Church, built by Christ Himself on the foundations of the apostles and prophets, and that we would know it as if for the first time.
What I was taught as a child is true, only Christ can save us. But the Church is the Bride of Christ, and we would do well to attend to the tangible aspects of our salvation, the means through which Christ might choose to save us. I found an Ark capable of bearing me safely above the flood of modernity in the Anglican Church. May we all find such safety and salvation in the Ark of the historic and apostolic Church.
Ben Garner is a technical assistant at Mars Hill Audio.