The Christian Testimony of Dewey H. Hodges
There are those who believe that it's not possible for an educated man in academia to have faith in the Triune God as revealed in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. To quote the 1646 Westminster Confession, this God is alone the "fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and has most sovereign dominion over [His creatures], to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleases." There was a time a few centuries ago when the most educated men in the Western world, including those in academia, professed some faith in this sovereign God. Even if they weren't Christians, they at least held a Christian worldview. My heart yearns to see Christians recapture the ground among the well educated that we've surrendered to the humanists. Therefore, dear reader, I have posted this brief autobiographical sketch in hopes that you might see the works of God in my life and the path that God the Father took in bringing me to Christ and into the fullness of His Holy Spirit.
As of the time of writing this testimony (updated in December 2006), there have been three major stages of my life, starting with 21 years in Tennessee, followed by 17 years in California and over 20 years in Georgia. Christ apprehended me early in the California years; but, as I hope to make clear to readers, He was at work all along. May all the glory go to Him alone!
The Tennessee Years (1948 - 1969)
I was born in 1948 to Plummer and Etha Hodges, who had lived all their lives in a little farming community in middle Tennessee called Mount Zion (after Mount Zion United Methodist Church, at that time located just over the hill from our house). The community spanned a small part of Cunningham (in Montgomery County) and Cumberland Furnace (in Dickson County). My father was first and foremost a farmer, and he remained so until his death in 1980. When I was a small child he joined the staff of a local radio station in Clarksville and became a popular farm-news commentator as well. My mother was a homemaker. They prayed together and read the Bible as part of their daily lives, and hardly a Sunday ever went by that our family wasn't in church at Mount Zion. I grew up singing the hymns of the faith and memorizing many of them. Thanks to my mother, I knew many verses of the Bible as well. In spite of the horror of Alzheimer's disease for her last three years, my mother could still quote some of the verses she taught me until her death in May 2003. In spite of my parents' dedication, my perception of Christianity while growing up was that it was mostly a bunch of rules. I don't ever recall my family talking informally among themselves about Jesus in a personal way during the years I was growing up.
My brother and his family lived up the road a bit, and while I was a child I never got along well with him. He and I had quite an age difference. He was married in the same year I was born and was nearly 21 years older than I. In fact his children and I played together. Growing up on a farm, I had to work harder than any of my own children can imagine. However, as far as the work that my brother had been required to do while growing up during the depression years, he saw me as having gotten off easy. I'm sure he was right.
I have vague memories of a few "revival" meetings at Mount Zion when I was a small child. At those meetings, I remember a few elderly saints (usually women) who would stand while possibly weeping and "testify" that they loved the Lord with all their hearts. My parent's generation called them the "shouting Methodists" I suppose to distinguish them from the more dignified members of the church. It wasn't too many years before these older saints, who I now understand had heart-felt relationships with Christ, seemed to not be around any more. And it would be years before I would observe that strong churches frequently have such elderly saints who serve as mighty prayer warriors and examples in godliness.
My parents generally considered a preacher good if he took the Bible seriously and preached it as such. Sometimes we had good ones, but my parents often bemoaned the fact that our church could never hold on to one of them. The Methodist organization changed the preachers in most churches every three years or so. As the years went by the preachers became more liberal and the church services more formal. In retrospect, I would say that the emphasis on heart-felt spirituality was diminishing and giving way to a more liturgical style of worship, with increasing emphasis on how ceremonies looked instead of people's relationship with God. Things such as the lighting of candles and the wearing of robes took precedence over preaching the Word, according to my parents and my brother. One year the church bought new hymnals, which lacked many of the old hymns my parents liked. These things were constant reminders of a steady drift that was taking place. Nevertheless, we were Methodists. As a child I never thought of changing that. However, my sister did abandon Methodism. She became a Southern Baptist and married one when I was quite young (she's 15 years older than I am), and she and her husband went to a Southern Baptist seminary. I could never see too much difference between Methodist and Southern Baptist churches as a child, but there are important differences. My brother would later leave the Methodist church as well, but under far different circumstances.
My parents worked hard, and this gave me a motivation to work hard and to strive for excellence. Moreover, they were intent to give me opportunities that they and my siblings did not have. One of these was taking piano lessons, which I took for 5 years. Also, during several summers while growing up, I went away to weeklong Methodist church camps. At these camp meetings we had discussion groups by day and worship services at night (and dancing in the later hours of the night). Some of my peers sobbed as they took communion at the camps, but I neither experienced this myself nor understood why they were doing it. However, these same kids and I were under the influence of liberal preachers in the daily discussion groups. In one of these groups I heard a preacher say that there was no such thing as Hell. While this bothered me at first, I certainly did not know what to believe about such matters. Indeed, I had never heard anything at church to convince me of the absolute truth of the Bible. Even though I could have been called a child of the Covenant, I had rebelled against it. I had been baptized as an infant and had become a communing member of the church around age 8, but I most certainly didn't know God! As I grew into my teens, although I was part of the church choir and was one of the church organists, I did not see my growing, subliminal rejection of the Bible as anything about which to be concerned. It was the Methodist thing to do. The more educated the preachers, the more liturgical they wanted the services and the more liberal they were in their view of Scripture. I was being molded in their image and didn't realize it.
Except for a B one semester in physical education, I made straight A's through high school. As deeply as I hungered for love and acceptance, the grades did not lead to my having friends or being well liked. On the contrary, I frequently felt rejected by my peers, having few friends. As a high school student I enjoyed math and science but little else. My wise high school guidance counselor (Mrs. June Abernathy) advised me to consider going into engineering. I didn't know what engineers do, but I took her advice and applied to several good engineering schools (including MIT, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, and the University of Tennessee). Based on financial constraints I chose to go to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UTK). That was the best I could afford to do, even with scholarships and the help of my parents. The principal of my high school turned out to be of no help whatsoever with my college financial aid, telling one scholarship search committee that I was not a well-rounded student. This reflected his bias that one not involved in athletics was a "nobody" - which certainly angered me as well as my parents. (In retrospect, UTK gave me an excellent undergraduate engineering education.)
My spiritual development continued along the lines of increasing liberalism all through college. I hardly missed a Sunday attending the large Methodist church near campus, which had an eloquent liberal preacher. I saw little or no connection between my personal life and church. I had just enough moral character instilled in me by my parents not to be tempted by drugs or alcohol. However, I was unable to live a life free of unjustified anger, self-centeredness, lustful thoughts or filthy language. Indeed, my language was as foul as that of any sailor (with the one exception that God kept me from ever taking His Name in vain). I dated a lot of girls, and only the grace of God constrained me from sexual sins, which would have really messed up my life. By my senior year, I had a steady girlfriend, and we planned to marry.
With scholarships (including one from the U.S. Army ROTC), loans, summer jobs, and part-time jobs during the school year, I managed to complete a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering at UTK in 1969, just as I turned 21. I graduated with a 3.7 GPA (with high honors) and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. I had an interest in structural mechanics and dynamics, key disciplines of aerospace engineering, and wanted to attend graduate school. Until the humiliating experiences I had during my stint with the ROTC Summer Camp (summer 1968), I had thought of making the Army a career. Up to then I had loved the things associated with the Army, including the rigorous cadet ranger training I'd had in physical conditioning, combat tactics, and rappelling. It was the "buddy rating" at ROTC Summer Camp that turned out to be a disaster for me. This was yet another form of rejection that came my way, and it turned me against the Army.
The Army ROTC scholarship had come with a four-year commitment to the Army, but I was told that my active duty could be delayed if I were to receive a fellowship of national or international significance to attend graduate school. I applied and was admitted to several programs, but the only financial assistance I was offered was a research assistantship at UTK. The Army would most likely not have regarded it as a sufficiently eminent award to secure the delay. Moreover, no one on the UTK faculty was doing research in my areas of interest. My heart's desire was to go to Stanford, but without a prestigious fellowship of some kind it wasn't going to happen. I signed a commitment letter to attend UTK (just in case the Army would allow it) and decided to wait and see what would happen. A week after the April 15 commitment deadline, I received a telegram from a Stanford professor offering me a NASA Traineeship (a prestigious fellowship of international significance). My UTK advisor, Dr. Mancil W. Milligan, ripped up my commitment letter and released me to go to Stanford. The Army approved the delay, and I was ecstatic. I worked that summer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and could hardly wait for fall.
The California Years (1969 - 1986)
I drove to California with a friend in the fall of 1969. I was away from my fiancé, but the beauty of California and the fact that it was such a different world made time fly. During my first quarter at Stanford I shared an apartment with Jim Jones, a friend from UTK who had moved to Mountain View to work. I went to church with Jim at the First Baptist Church of Cupertino, a Southern Baptist church. I still saw little difference between the Methodists and the Southern Baptists. I was asked to consider teaching a Sunday school class there after a while, but in order to do so I had to join the church. One of my Sunday school teachers was a man no less liberal than I. In fact he was an anti-war activist (the Vietnam War was in full swing), and I came to agree with his position. My liberalism (a watered down form of Marxism) thus continued to be nurtured even in that ostensibly conservative church. I liked the people, so I joined the church "on profession of faith" after having been baptized a second time, this time by immersion. On my first trip home at Christmas of 1969, I shocked my parents with a much fiercer sort of liberalism than that with which I had left home. On that trip I also became engaged to my girlfriend. I bought her an engagement ring with a 1.08-carat diamond (far more than I could afford without credit from my cousin's jewelry store in Dickson).
After being back in California for a few weeks, the word "saved" was mentioned in Sunday school class one Sunday. I could not recall having heard this term before, and I asked the class what this word meant. No one, including the teacher, gave me a clear answer. One girl in the class, however, was quite indignant about my ignorance - that I could be part of that class, and even be a Sunday School teacher at First Baptist, but still not know what it meant to be saved! Even after all this commotion I had caused, I still didn't know what it meant.
Although I saw Jim every week at church, we no longer shared an apartment. Jim's commute turned out to be a long one, so he moved to San Jose to be closer to work and I moved to Palo Alto to be closer to school. I shared an apartment with a couple of graduate students, Stan Glantz and Bob Avakian, both of whom were quite intelligent and liberal anti-war activists (at least in those days). My roommates, the years of liberal Methodism (despite my Christian parents' best intentions), and the liberal guys I knew at church all helped to shape my thinking toward "liberation theology" so that I didn't see any conflict between Christianity and Marxism. I eventually reached the point of being ready to rebel against the Army and against much of what my parents had taught me about patriotism and duty.
One Sunday in the spring of 1970 a beautiful girl came to Sunday School at First Baptist of Cupertino. She had light brown hair, and she wore a long maxi-coat and sunglasses. When she took off the maxi-coat, I couldn't help but notice how really gorgeous were her figure and legs. She had a sort of snooty air and aloofness about her that simultaneously attracted me and caused me to keep my distance. I found out her name was Margaret Jones. She didn't attend regularly, but she turned out to be a very important person in my life. It was also that spring in which I met Eric Smith, a drug addict, hippie-type whom I didn't think much of, and were it not for events later that year I probably would never have thought of him again.
Meanwhile, tensions in the apartment were running high. There were always boisterous arguments going on. Glantz was Jewish, and Avakian was an Eastern Orthodox of Armenian descent. They couldn't seem agree on anything except their anti-war, Marxist ideas. (In later years, Glantz would become a university professor and prominent national spokesman for the anti-smoking lobby. I recently learned that Bob Avakian is also a university professor.)
I moved into an apartment in Sunnyvale with my old high school buddy Arlen Schibig, who also lived in the Bay area at that time (and is now retired living in northern California - you know you're getting old when your friends start retiring!). I finished my Master's degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford in June of 1970 and took a summer job at Ames Research Center with the Army. I really didn't fit the image of an officer-to-be in the Army. I was politically liberal, anti-war and had very long hair. I was frequently arguing with people about the war and easily became angry. I was torn between, on the one hand, the Marxism of which Stan and Bob had almost convinced me, and on the other, the conservatism of some of my clean-cut, pro-military friends at Ames. I was torn between the Christian morality of some of my Baptist friends and certain indulgences of the flesh to which I was attracted in my personal life. I was torn in my heart by the fact that my fiancée back in Tennessee would not agree to set a date for our wedding and by the forbidden attraction I felt for Margaret.
I continued to work at Ames part-time during the school year. That fall I was reintroduced to Eric Smith, who was by then a changed man. Although he was a drug addict the first time I met him, now he talked in personal terms about Jesus. I had never met anyone who talked about Jesus in the personal way he did. I found myself drawn to him, wanting to understand what made him tick. On November 5, 1970, Eric was to speak to the youth group at First Baptist Church of Cupertino, and I went to hear him. His talk was very persuasive concerning the need all people have for a relationship with Jesus. I went home that night, found a Bible which I hadn't read on my own in years, knelt by my bedside and said, "God, I don't know if You're really there or not, but if You are, please allow me to have what Eric has."
About a month later, I met Pam, a young girl who was in trouble for threatening someone with a gun. Moreover, she had stolen money from her grandparents, and she was in a lesbian relationship with her own mother. She asked me a lot of questions and seemed intrigued by me. I told her about Eric, how he had changed, and I parroted things to her that I'd heard him say. I told her she needed to "try Jesus" in order to get her life together. I read to her a lot of Bible passages, almost of all of which seemed as though I had never read them before and at the same time seemed to fit the discussion at hand. Finally, after hours of talking with her, she told me in the early Sunday morning hours that she wanted to "try Jesus." When she asked me what she was supposed to do, I told her I didn't really know. All I could think of was for her to come to church with me the next morning. I had heard there was going to be a guest speaker that morning, but I had no idea who it was to be.
Sunday morning, December 6, 1970, a black woman was the guest speaker. She wasn't a preacher. She spent her time singing and telling her life story, including how she used to be in a mental institution and how she used to hate white people. At the end of her talk, the pastor took the microphone and asked for anyone there who wanted to "trust Jesus as [his] own personal Savior" to come forward. Pam went forward, and I started to feel really good about what I had done to help her. In a few minutes (which seemed much longer) my good feelings began to turn to great sorrow. I began to see myself as a rebel sinner standing proudly before a Holy God, Who had claims on my life. I began to weep profusely in shame. Just as suddenly, I began to be convinced that until Jesus Christ was the Lord of my life, my anguish of soul would continue. Romans 10:9 and other Bible passages I had read to Pam the night before were coming to mind; and the Lord was using these passages to convict me of my sin, God's righteousness, and the judgment I so deserved. I called to Him out loud expressing my unconditional surrender to Him as Lord. I then walked down the aisle, found the pastor, and told him I was giving my life to Jesus. I was perplexed to hear him say, "Don't let your emotions get the best of you." (I still don't know why he said that!) He told me to walk over where the guest speaker and her entourage were standing. They gathered around me and began to pray for me. That's the last thing I remember about that church service. The next thing I knew, it was 3:00 p.m., and the church auditorium was empty. I have no recollection of anything that happened during those 3 hours. I soon learned that I had become a new person in Christ. Christ had subdued my heart to a point of unconditional surrender to Him, a state from which we are often prone to wander and to which we must daily strive to return. I felt so clean on the inside! And as I discovered over the next few days, my anger and foul mouth were gone - just gone! My life had been transformed from the inside out.
I went to my office at Stanford the next day, and several people with whom I worked noticed that I was different. Later that week Eric shared with me about the power and infilling of the Holy Spirit. Christ became my very life. The Bible was alive to me. The Baptist preacher told me that I should be baptized again since I wasn't a Christian the first or second times; that made three times. So as not to be misleading, I should point out that within a matter of weeks Pam renounced her profession of faith in Christ in my presence, and in a matter of months I learned that she committed suicide. The Bible teaches that some seed falls on hard soil and never takes root (Matthew 13:20, 21). Although this was clearly her condition, God had done a profound and permanent work in me. I went out with Eric and his friends to share the gospel a number of times. I had my life threatened once and felt the rush of being on the cutting edge of what God was doing in California with the "Jesus movement" in full swing at the time. I began to believe that I was called to be a full-time evangelist. My leftist thinking began to evaporate. I eventually saw that biblical principles militated against it so strongly that one cannot be faithful to both Marxism and Christianity at the same time.
Meanwhile, I had gotten to know Margaret as a friend and led her to Christ in early 1971. We did some witnessing together after that and spent a lot of time together in small groups. When I went home for spring break in 1971, it became clear that my fiancée wanted nothing to do with my newfound faith. After she vehemently rejected what I had to say about the gospel, I was compelled by the teaching of the Bible to break up with her. Shortly after I returned to California, she phoned me and said she wanted to accept Christ and get back together with me. Not having great confidence in her motives, I hesitated on the part about getting back together. It was then that she threatened over the phone to commit suicide. My response to her manipulative ploy made her so mad that she decided not to return my engagement ring ever. (It took me two years to pay it off!) Another significant event on that trip home, I should add, was that God brought my brother and me together in true unity of the Spirit. He and I became very close, and we've been very close ever since.
The friendship I had with Margaret turned into love and thoughts of marriage. By this time, however, our Baptist preacher had become unhappy with us. He thought we were into Pentecostalism, which he preached against one Sunday. His message was probably directed toward us, and anyone who may have been influenced by us. In reality, we were "Charismatic" not Pentecostal. The distinction didn't matter to him. Eric suggested a different church; and we began to attend Gospel Temple, later called Christian Community Church (CCC) in San Jose. Margaret's parents were Christians and committed Southern Baptists. They were not at all behind our joining a church that was not Southern Baptist, but they accepted the fact that God was working in our lives.
We decided to join CCC, and shortly afterwards I was baptized a fourth time. CCC taught that if one did not understand the covenantal significance of the act, then it should be done over again. (I agreed with this teaching at the time, but I've since come to reject it. Just as circumcision should only be done once, so should its New Testament analog, baptism. My baptism as an infant was sufficient to give me the mark of His Covenant.) The acceptance and love for which I'd hungered most of my life were finally freely offered to me through the people of CCC, without any strife on my part. The pastor of CCC, Ernest Gentile, was a most godly man who taught us many valuable concepts over the years. One of the first things he did was to counsel me that I needed to stay with graduate school and not get sidetracked by the lure of full-time evangelism. He reinforced in me the conviction that with a PhD in engineering I would have an entrée into lives that I'd never be able reach as an evangelist of the "Jesus movement" genre. As a new Christian associated with this movement, I had bought into neo-Platonist ideas and didn't know it. Ernest helped me see that all of life is sacred, not just the spiritual aspects. God used what seemed to me to be a genuine miracle to confirm his counsel: In spite of my neglecting schoolwork for a season after being apprehended by Christ, my grades were better than ever. I attribute this to the fact that my mind was clear, free of the anger and pollution associated with Marxism and other sinful thought patterns. I worked at Ames again that summer, and once I finished my coursework at Stanford I moved my office to Ames for the rest of my PhD studies. I started a Bible study at Ames that year, 1971.
Ernest counseled Margaret and me about marriage, and we were married on August 14, 1971. Margaret has been a most dedicated wife, mother, and homemaker. She has a keen awareness of personal ethics and seems to pick up on someone's being wronged in an interpersonal relationship much more quickly than anyone I know. She picks up on manipulative techniques unlike anyone I've ever known. She can spot a phony a mile away and quickly perceives when someone's character is not what it ought to be. All these ingredients make her the best mother imaginable. Moreover, she cooks scrumptious meals and sews as well as professionals. Because of her dedication to our family, we've always eaten most of our meals together every week. These mealtimes have given rise to quite stimulating family discussions over the years. Because she made clothes for herself and the rest of the family, our financial picture was better than it would have been otherwise. Early in our marriage, Margaret and I had some good times and some stormy times. I was harsh with her at times and blind as to how my actions affected her.
I finished the PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford in December 1972 and went into the Army in February 1973. Most of my four years in the Army were spent in the Bay area. There were three months that we spent apart in early 1973 while I attended the Officer Basic Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. God worked mightily through me in a church there, and Margaret and I have friends with whom we still correspond who go back to that time. While an Army officer I continued to work at Ames in the same type of research in which I'd been involved for my graduate studies at Stanford. By this time my fields of interest had expanded to dynamics, aeroelasticity, structural dynamics, and structural analysis. While at Stanford and at Ames I applied my research to rotorcraft dynamics and stability.
During the Army years we continued to attend CCC and became laborers who were strongly committed to its vision. In September 1973 Tim was born. Although I had not wanted children when we were first married, after Tim came into the world I wanted six! He was so vivacious and so much fun! Although Margaret had worked some outside the home for her father's business during our first couple of years of marriage, once the children started to come she would never again do so. We believe that if a couple accomplishes great things in their professional lives and even in the kingdom of God, and yet their children do not walk with Christ, they have failed. She and I believe that the highest calling for a Christian woman is to raise godly children in the home. Margaret has fulfilled the biblical model of the virtuous woman (Proverbs 31) beautifully from the beginning.
Jon came along in July 1975, the same day I made Captain. Jon was a contented, happy child. I was happy to be a father, and I took that responsibility seriously. Even before Tim was born, we had come under the influence of the booklet Children, Fun or Frenzy (now called Under Loving Command), by Al and Pat Fabrizio, for help in raising our children to be. This little booklet summarizes the Bible's teaching on the training of children. Our convictions grew that the Bible must be the authority in every area of our lives. Margaret is amazing in her ability to train children, and I praise God for her steadfastness in this area of life. David was born in May 1978. God performed a real miracle in healing David, as a baby, of a sickness that exhibited the symptoms of cystic fibrosis. He was a very bright child, teaching himself to read when he was only three. Even with three children age five and under, there was genuine peace in our home.
Unfortunately, in spite of the best efforts of the teaching ministry of CCC and our attending Bill Gothard's Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, I was not a good husband. Surely, God was working in my life and I was changing. Everyone, including Margaret, acknowledged that. It was just not fast enough, and in some areas where change was badly needed there seemed to be no change. Margaret had begun to lose heart. I was confronted about my problems several times, but I just didn't get it. The first time was when I was spending my evenings eagerly studying the theology of the pseudo-Christian cults, hoping to teach in the church's college, Northern California Bible College (NCBC). While a graduate student at Stanford, I had also taken several courses there and really wanted to help out in some areas where they had needs. Ernest sat across his desk from me as I laid out my vision for a new course. Eventually he interrupted me and forbade me to teach at that time, telling me instead that I needed to spend more time with my wife. That direct counsel stung so badly that I began to weep profusely as I walked home (a block away). Although I dedicated myself to change at that time I would need that sort of stinging several more times before I would eventually "get it" - that I was to love her as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.
In 1976, I became somewhat concerned about the direction of my work. I had taken my PhD thesis work as far as I could and needed some new ideas. I began to pray about this, and in the fall of that year a concept that was new to me began to form in my mind during my times of prayer. These ideas concerned the analysis of a new type of helicopter rotor system with which I was not familiar, the bearingless rotor. I became convinced that God wanted me to work on this analysis. Unfortunately, my boss, Bob Ormiston, did not seem to like my idea when I first presented it to him. I continued to pray and think about the idea, and a few weeks later he called me into his office and told me to go ahead and develop the new analysis. He had talked to some dynamics specialists in the rotorcraft industry, and they had gotten him excited about it. Six weeks later, I had finished the equations and shortly thereafter the computer program was validated. This code came to be known in the technical community as an extraordinarily accurate yet unusual analysis. It was used in the helicopter industry for years to come, and its mathematical basis gave me ideas on which to base other work for many more years. (I should note that after getting out of the Army in 1977, I continued to work for the Army as a civilian at Ames, working in the same office and at the same desk.) In 1979, I received for this work the very prestigious U.S. Army Research and Development Achievement Award.
Philosophically, this work was a self-conscious application of the Christian worldview. The Bible reveals in simple language that God created the universe to reflect His own glory and that He endowed it with beauty and order far beyond our abilities to comprehend. All true science testifies to the truth revealed in the Bible. In this work and all I engaged in thereafter, I strove to develop mathematical models that accurately convey this order and beauty in a simple way. I found that while ad hoc assumptions typically made by engineers may achieve some simplification, they often destroy the order and beauty. Moreover, I found that such simplifications are often merely superficial. An exact analysis is certainly more robust than one into which many ad hoc approximations have been introduced, but it is also frequently simpler. I strive to this day to let the teaching of the Bible shape my work. By the mid-1970's God had also placed deep convictions in me concerning the creation/evolution issue that still propel me toward exposing the theory of evolution as the fraud that it is. Indeed, within a Darwinian worldview there is no basis for scientific inquiry at all, since even thoughts are merely random processes.
It was also about that time that Margaret and I became friends with Walter Willet, who taught us the Reformed (i.e., the biblical) perspective on the sovereignty of God and the bondage of the human will. This teaching would become a pivotal issue for us years later. An apologetics conference at Mount Herman, organized by Dr. Jay Grimstead (founder of Coalition on Revival), also had a tremendous influence on me. It was at that conference that I was privileged to hear R. C. Sproul, J. I. Packer, and Greg Bahnsen speak on theology and apologetics from the Reformed perspective. Based on what I learned there and in classes at NCBC, I developed a ministry of regularly teaching courses on apologetics and cults (and sometimes other courses) at NCBC. I also developed a seminar series on household finances and budgeting.
I was nominated for eldership in CCC in 1979. The process leading up to ordination was quite painful for us. One of my problem areas was that I had bought into some aspects of the so-called faith movement. Some of the elders believed that the teachings of this movement were unbiblical; others were not certain about it either way. I was eventually ordained in 1980, shortly after the death of my father. Eldership opened the doors for me to occasionally preach on Sunday mornings as well as work in other areas of ministry. God was pleased to give me some level of doctrinal discernment, and I was asked to teach the catechism classes for new Christians and people new to our church. Church members often sought counsel from me on how to witness to those in pseudo-Christian cults as well as about various aberrant teachings in the church world. God seemed to gift me with faith to pray for people, especially for healing. This faith was sometimes authentic and sometimes forced. It would take me until the mid-1980's to see that I was wrong to have embraced the so-called faith movement. Ultimately it was the doctrine of the sovereignty of God as articulated in Reformed circles that brought down my (contradictory) belief in the faith movement. Finally, I became a strong advocate for church discipline. I made the motion at one elders' meeting for the excommunication of a sinning and unrepentant church member who later sued the church for millions of dollars. Praise God, the church did not lose the case!
In 1982, Philip was born. He was a quiet boy who had an angelic countenance. In 1984, we were blessed to have had the opportunity of living for six months near Braunschweig, Germany, under the auspices of a sabbatical program of the Army lab at Ames. I was a guest scientist at what was then the DFVLR Institut für Strukturmechanik or Institute of Structural Mechanics (and is now the DLR Institute of Composite Structures and Adaptive Systems). There is no way I can do justice to that experience in a short narrative like this. Suffice it to say that we were refreshed in many ways. My work was extraordinarily blessed of God while we were there, and several journal papers came out of it. Our family was blessed beyond measure as we experienced Germany's unparalleled natural beauty and the Lord's providential care in getting us through some real trials. We experienced great joy in fellowshipping with German Christians. Indeed, the red carpet was rolled out for us.
After we returned from Germany, in spite of our being mightily blessed in every other area of life at that time, our family finances were going downhill. I could see by 1985 that I needed a higher-paying job. I searched without success for a position in the Bay area. In the fall of 1985 Dave Peters, a dear Christian friend whom I had known at Ames since the early 1970's and who was now on the faculty at Georgia Tech, asked me if I would be interested in being considered for a position. I had wanted to go to a university for some years and had turned down several such opportunities because I knew Margaret's desire to be close to her parents, especially as they got older. I told Dave, "No way. Margaret would never leave this area." He suggested that it wouldn't hurt anything to be considered, and I agreed. After all, I had to visit the campus to attend a conference in December of that year. I was told that upper-level administrators would be attending my lectures and evaluating me. Since I wasn't serious about moving there, I wasn't particularly nervous during those talks, although one was the keynote address for the conference banquet.
When I returned to San Jose, I thought little more about Georgia Tech until the morning worship service a month later, the first Sunday of 1986. During worship it seemed to me that the Holy Spirit powerfully impressed me that this was to be our last year with CCC. I wondered what in the world this could mean. I could not conceive of leaving CCC in any way other than to move out of the area, and I had neither the intent to join Georgia Tech nor any other opportunities to move. I shared my experience and quandary with Ernest and the other elders, and they all promised to pray. Nothing seemed to happen until two months later, when Georgia Tech invited me to come back with Margaret and look them over. I reiterated to Dave Peters how that Margaret would never leave the Bay area, and he said to just consider it as a vacation at Georgia Tech's expense. That we did in April, and (shock of shocks!) Margaret came back home ready to move. I received a verbal offer from them later that month and asked Margaret's family to join in praying for us. Robin Gray, the interim Director of the School of Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Tech, told me they would be getting me an offer in writing soon. One by one, all whom we had asked to pray for us advised us to move. By early May I was the only one unconvinced. I passed through Atlanta in June and spoke to Robin, but the written offer was still not ready. Incredibly, I had a whole row of seats to myself on the flight from Atlanta to San Jose. I covered myself with a blanket so as not to be disturbed and prayed on the plane as passionately as I could most of the trip. When the plane was landing in San Jose, I believed that God had finally given us the green light to move. When I got home and announced it to the family, cheers went up from Margaret and all the boys. We put the house on the market the very next day even though I still had not received the offer letter from Georgia Tech. Our realtor insisted that our asking price was too high, but God had other plans. When the first people who came to look at the house knocked on the door, the realtor was there to let the couple in. I was in the kitchen and overheard the woman say to her husband, "This is a Christian home, honey. I can feel Jesus here!" They bought the home at a price greater than the realtor had advised us to ask. This dear family still lives in what was our house, and we are still in contact with them.
The offer letter did finally come, and I was offered 62% more than what I was getting at Ames. (Considering the extra hours I've had to work, I may have taken a cut in hourly pay!) The next month we flew to Atlanta on a house-hunting trip, and we found a house that we liked in the same neighborhood as the Peters. God mightily blessed us in the move. We drove across the country and arrived in Atlanta on September 10, 1986. The closing took place in San Jose that day. On the next day, the proceeds check arrived from San Jose by Federal Express at 9:45 a.m., and closing took place in Atlanta at 10:00 a.m. We moved into our home that afternoon. What a mighty God we serve!
During my 16 years at Ames the Lord enabled me to reach out to many people. The Lord used me in restoring the Christian faith of Dave Peters, which had been shaken by his college experience. In the early 1970's God brought Gil Morehouse, a retired Air Force Colonel, to a solid faith in Christ, using me in spite of my immature and abrasive approach. Gil and I became close friends as a result, and until his death in 2001 we were still are in touch. There are many others in whom God worked using the Bible study I established in 1971, some of whom professed faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. By the time I left Ames in 1986, this group had grown to nearly 50 people. We experienced so many dynamic answers to prayer that the National Enquirer got wind of what was happening and sent a reporter to investigate it. Although their article grossly distorted what I told them, misquoting me in seemingly every way possible, amazingly the Lord chose to use the article for His glory anyway. I received mail for years to come from all over the U.S. from people who wanted prayer and counsel.
I don't want to close the discussion of this segment of our lives without saying some things about CCC. CCC was a strong church, but it was not perfect; indeed, no church on earth is. We had minor clashes with CCC leadership a number of times over the principles in Matthew 18:15f. In particular, people would run to the pastor with accusations against others in the church, and then the pastor would confront those people with vague accusations from nameless entities. We were victims of this unbiblical practice a few times. Margaret and I believed then (and still do) that people who approach other Christians with accusations against a third party should be made aware that they are under a biblical obligation to go to the person in private against whom they have grievances. In defense of CCC, we've found that few churches understand this principle. Moreover, the positive aspects of CCC far outweighed any negative. We learned from CCC leadership to be cautious about new and unconventional schemes of doctrine and practice within the church world. Ernest taught us in his dynamic preaching as well as by example to apply the whole Bible to all of life, to pray with passion, to worship as an act of our faith not our feelings, and to stand for truth regardless of what it costs. Finally, we were blessed by his teaching us that whatever God says in the Old Testament, He intends us to follow it unless He tells us in the New Testament that we no longer need to follow it. This helped us to see the gross errors associated with antinomianism and dispensationalism. We would see just how blessed we were at CCC when we were trying to find a church after the cross-country move.
The Georgia Years (1986 - present)
After the move, I started a weekly Bible study at Georgia Tech, similar to the one I had established at Ames. It didn't grow in the same way my group at Ames had, but the Lord was using it. We diligently looked for a church for nearly three months, but we were unable to find a church that could be what CCC had been to us. We settled on Mount Paran Church of God (MPCG) in Northwest Atlanta. It was huge – well over 13,000 members way back then! They had high-quality music and especially high-quality musical and drama productions at Christmas and Easter. They had an apologetics enthusiast on staff named Hank Hanegraaff. I occasionally taught his apologetics classes when he had to be out of town. MPCG had several preachers, some of whom we liked. However, much to our dismay, the official teaching of the church was dispensational. I was to discover that dispensationalism is not just erroneous doctrine. It is a worldview with practical consequences in daily life, which undermines a truly Christian worldview.
Benjamin was born in August 1987. He had the most beautiful platinum blond hair. Ben was a special joy to me; as a baby and toddler he seemed to literally adore me when I came home from work every day. By then I was mired in the arduous process of earning tenure at Georgia Tech. God mightily blessed my labors there, as more and more research grants and contracts flowed in, and more and more papers got published. While teaching was initially difficult for me, I loved it. In my research I learned more every day, getting into areas that I'd never dreamed of before, such as computational optimal control. By 1990, I had earned tenure and was soon thereafter elected to the grade of Fellow in the AIAA.
MPCG had about 120 men who had been elected as elders, but they functioned more as deacons instead of biblical elders. At CCC the elders were ordained ministers; at MPCG, the elders oversaw the ushering, the buses, etc. I was elected an elder at MPCG, but I never seemed to fit in. I was far more interested in the teaching ministries of the church. By this time, Hank had left MPCG to become the president of the Christian Research Institute in Southern California, replacing the famous Walter Martin. I tried to establish my Sunday School class as a means to instruct the church body in apologetics. My class was called "Know Why You Believe." The people God sent were very loyal, but the class never grew to be very large. The church leadership apparently didn't know what to do with an elder who was not on staff but who possessed teaching/preaching gifts and theological training, limited though it was. On top of this, I was reading Gary DeMar's writings, and I'm sure my increasingly covenantal perspective was not winning me any points with MPCG leadership. Meanwhile, the preaching at MPCG seemed to become more and more shallow to us. I started noticing how often it contained psycho-babble, and of course we all literally cringed every time they hyped the "any-minute rapture" and other dispensational folderol, which we then disbelieved with great conviction and still do; see my notes on the subject.
At this time David and Phil were enrolled at Chalcedon Christian School, but since finances were limited Tim and Jon went to Dunwoody High School. Chalcedon was run by Chalcedon Presbyterian Church (CPC), which seemed to believe a lot of what we believed. However, at that time I wouldn't consider going to church there because they weren't Charismatic. Oddly enough, my brother, who was by this time the pastor of a Charismatic church in Nashville, once told me that we should go there, because he had heard the pastor, Joe Morecraft, at international conferences and said that Joe was the best teacher he'd ever heard. I wondered how that could be true with his not being Charismatic.
In the summer of 1992, I took a break from teaching for a few Sundays. On one of those Sundays when I was present in the class, I witnessed an MPCG elder teaching false doctrine. Several of us confronted him on the spot, and I had a long meeting with him later that month all to no avail. He wasn't about to give up his anti-Christian belief that a woman has the right to choose an abortion. The case law in Exodus 21:22, 23 makes it clear that abortion is murder, but this man made his feelings about the matter a god and chose to believe this "god" instead of bowing down to the Law/Word of King Jesus in the Bible. In spite of several pleas I made to Paul Walker, the MPCG senior pastor, and David Cooper, the associate pastor who did most of the preaching we heard at the time, they steadfastly refused to call a meeting with the erring brother present. They insisted that I had misunderstood his position, which was most certainly not true. Over the next few years, I continued in vain to try to get this matter dealt with. I talked with each of them several times and wrote several letters to them about the matter, hoping that they would agree to a meeting.
Meanwhile, in June 1993, Tim married Simone, his high school sweetheart, just before they were to turn 20. He never really had any other girlfriend. In early 1994 Jon met Jennifer, his wife to be, at a Chalcedon Christian School function. On occasion Jon went with her to CPC, where she attended church. As Jon started to hear the teaching of CPC, he started to agree with David (who was being educated at Chalcedon Christian School) that the shallow preaching at MPCG was intolerable. The boys would strongly criticize the sermon almost every Sunday, as we would drive home from MPCG. I knew my boys were right about some of the things they said, but I didn't know what to do.
The more CPC teaching Jon heard, the less interested he was in attending MPCG. Eventually Jon's relationship with Jennifer had deepened so much that he asked if he could attend CPC instead of going to church with the rest of the family at MPCG. In spite of reservations I had, I allowed it. In May 1994, after nearly two years of my striving to get the leadership of MPCG to do what was right in the above matter, I resigned my eldership in protest. We then started the process of finding another church to which to transfer our membership. We visited several churches, but CPC clicked with our entire family when we first visited it. I should say it clicked last of all to me because of my prejudice against churches that were not Charismatic. I could not deny that the people were truly dedicated servants of Christ. At CPC, we didn't have to put up with the grating nonsense of the any-minute rapture or other dispensational follies. It became clear that this church would not compromise on the abortion or homosexual issues as many churches had started to do. In fact, to our delight, CPC held the biblical position on every issue we could think to ask about. What made them different from any church we had attended before was their foundational belief that the laws of society should be built on the laws of God revealed in the Bible and summarized in the Ten Commandments. And Joe Morecraft's teaching was certainly the best we'd ever heard. Every Sunday, we get two one-hour sermons that are intellectually challenging as well as convicting. Listening to Joe preach is, in the words of a friend of mine, like getting a drink from a fire hose.
The teaching of CPC helped me to see how God had been working. During my early years in California, both at Stanford and at Ames, and in later years at Georgia Tech, the Lord was pleased to have brought me under the influence of some of the finest engineers and scientists in my field. God blessed me abundantly in my youth with the opportunity to learn from such giants of the field as Bob Ormiston, Earl Dowell, Holt Ashley, and George Herrmann. God was also faithful in providing brilliant and influential co-workers both in California and in Georgia. Such people as Dave Peters, Stu Hopkins, and Victor Berdichevsky were used by God to teach me many things. It's hard for me to conceive of how things might have turned out for me had I not been exposed to so many great and powerful technical people all along the way. This is just one example of God's abundant grace through His Providence. There is nothing I've ever done that merited the great blessings of life God poured on me.
Jon married Jennifer in November of 1995, just after Jon turned 20. Both Tim and Jon have strong marriages, showing that the conventional wisdom of this age about marrying young is as false as other "wisdom of man" apart from the revelation of God in Scripture. David married Sarah Faith in March 2002, and Phil married Julie in September 2002. All five of our sons are baptized followers of Christ. Tim and Simone have three children (Samuel, Ethan, and Matthew); Jon and Jenn have six (Jonathan Jr., Caroline, Charles, Oliver, Gabriel, and Vivian); Dave and Sarah have four (Miriam, Jireh, Søren, and Christina); and Phil and Julie have two (Philip Jr. and Lucie with a girl on the way). All 15 grandchildren are baptized children of the Covenant. Since being at CPC for over 12 years, Margaret, I, and most of our children have come to appreciate the solid biblical approach to life embodied in the Reformed faith. Our understanding of the sovereignty of God has given us great peace. I have seen my wife become more enthusiastic in the things of the Lord than ever before. Of great importance to us has been the way the Lord has worked in our marriage since we came under the influence of such Reformed writers as Lou Priolo, Martha Peace, Ted Tripp, and Doug Wilson. Finally, I have seen my boldness and my influence at Georgia Tech grow far beyond anything I'd ever experienced while attending Charismatic churches. My Bible study, although not large, has had a profound influence on many students and staff. Moreover, I've had the privilege of leading several graduate students to Christ as well as a couple of Aerospace Engineering post-doctoral fellows and a professor. We praise the Lord for His continuing and very powerful work in our hearts, our marriage, and the raising of our children all these years. I echo the words of the Lord Jesus "Without Me, you can do nothing" and of the Apostle Paul "I can do all things through Christ."
To close the loop on one thing I mentioned above, I did learn that to be saved means to have eternal life through Jesus Christ. Notice what the Bible teaches here: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10). To expound on this text, I first note that it is by grace alone that one is saved. That is, there is not one ounce of one's own merit involved in his salvation. Even the faith does not originate within us. God's grace works in the heart of a man to produce faith in God's own provision for forgiveness of the sins of His people, which is Christ's sinless life, sacrificial death, and resurrection from the dead. One's salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone. That is to say, it is not by man's works. If it were by his works, then that would give the saved person something about which to boast. The strength of one's faith depends on the object in which it is placed. One's salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. One must place his faith in Christ alone, not in any organization, not in any ritual he's been through, and not in any of his own good deeds. How does one know that his faith is truly saving faith? Saving faith is a gift from God, and it always produces works in the recipient that are defined by God to be good. How does one know which works God considers to be good? Only God has the authority to define what is good, and He has spoken infallibly in Scripture alone. Therefore, I must interpret my experience in light of what Scripture teaches (not vice versa!).
God the Father touched my heart by His Spirit on December 6, 1970, enabling me to trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. As one who was "dead in trespasses and sins" according to the Bible, I was not able to do this on my own. After I was touched by His Spirit, experiencing that which the Bible calls being "born from above," He put the faith in my heart that brought salvation to me. I urge those who are reading this to "confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead" (Romans 10:9). For you to "confess Him as Lord" means that you surrender unconditionally to Him. If you can do this, it will only be because "[God has given] you a new heart." Moreover, "[He] will put [His] Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in [His] statutes" (Ezekiel 36:26, 27). Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). With the believer's new heart you will truly love His Law and in it "meditate, day and night" (Psalm 1:2). Also, understand that if you continue to "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8), it will only be because the Father set His love on you from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and has irreversibly and irresistibly drawn you to Himself (John 6:44). The Bible teaches that this is the only way that one can have fellowship with the true God and eternal life with Him (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 13:48).
Soli Deo Gloria!
Updated December 30, 2006