By the tenth time we crossed paths in the church parking lot, not one of which was intentional due to the sternness of his composure and the aloofness of his demeanor, he nodded with acknowledgment and a smirk. He was a gifted man with unusual insight drawn from scripture who was later overshadowed as the result of struggling to remain relevant on television and yet honest to his convictions. While honed for ministry, I questioned several core beliefs touted with confidence behind the authority of the lectern. By that time, I had subversively accumulated nearly five hundred volumes from primarily academic scholars, particularly in the field of church history. With doubts mounting whether ministry was right for me, I was secretly learning Greek and seriously considered attending the university, a virtual bastion of critical thought, liberal education, and salvation-losing potential.
In crisis, attempting to reconcile the gospel message of my youth with the original context of its recipients, I was ever aware that what the clergy proclaimed did not always agree with early church literature, which became my lifelong passion. I shared these feelings with a pastor on staff, a much older confidant and Stanford graduate. He recommended that I contact Gene Scott, and since they were close friends, he drafted an introductory letter on my behalf. The two men founded churches together throughout California, and he thought that my scholastic inclinations would compliment his on-air persona that soon distorted into a notorious televangelist, who challenged a plethora of critics. Concerned that I might be absorbed in academic culture, and hence be lost forever, he asked Dr. Scott to consider my employment during the early months of his new venture.
I recall with guilty pleasure his studio antics, for the humble man who occasionally occupied the pulpit was a consummate entertainer. He frequently integrated references from contemporary culture; in fact, I recall one show in particular in which the phrase was spoken, “and now let’s compare the biblical record with the ancient pyramids,” but the comparison could have been just as easily Spiderman. Always riveting and outrageous, sometimes incoherent or absurd, Scott earned the reputation of a man with a mission, even though much of his energies was spent fundraising for the network he operated. Nevertheless, by the time his reply to the letter arrived, three months later, I was enrolled in the university and decided not to enter the ministry. Looking back, I still ponder the otherworldly adventure missed from not accepting his offer.
I remember with fondness his convicting diatribes against modern society and his cleverly constructed arguments with which he manipulated an entire congregation; he was like few I ever witnessed. Anyway, on that particular Sunday morning of my youth, Dr. Scott deconstructed the most popular verse in the gospels: John 3:16. He analyzed it word-for-word in a thought-provoking homily without the aid of the whiteboards or the interlinear texts of three decades later. He emphasized the everlasting life that awaits the blessed as well as the damnation that the wicked could expect. At fourteen years of age it all seemed so convincing, for the provision of Jesus was contrasted to the lost souls of those sold into the slavery of wickedness. Besides, the entire sermon was peppered with Greek terms and historical references uttered with persuasive intonation.
To continue …