As I mentioned Monday, I enrolled in a psychology class during my second year at Dominican University. Although I majored in English Literature with an emphasis on writing, the school mandated that all students take a number of classes outside of their field. Psychology had always sounded interesting to me, and in that era (1975) it was a popular discipline. What could I lose?
The professor (who, to our amusement, appeared to be a neurotic little man) concentrated the curriculum on Gestalt Theory and Transactional Analysis. Although I remember little about either theory (after all, it was 40 years ago!), I can’t forget the pressure I felt to gaze inwardly at myself.
As I went through the course, I saw a disparity between what I read in I‘m OK, You’re OK, and what I read in the Bible. I couldn’t put my finger on why I sensed such tension, other than Scripture’s teaching that all of us are born sinners, so I didn’t articulate my concerns well, either in class or in conversations with my professor. Therefore, everyone questioned the validity of my discomfort. At my professor’s urging, I tried to integrate the two, but I knew deep down that I couldn’t really do so without compromising God’s Word.
I tried to cling to Colossians 2:8.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (NASB)
But as I continued in the class, I felt my Biblical convictions erode. Furthermore, I felt powerless to combat the erosion.
As you’ll remember, that year also brought me popularity with the other kids on campus. So it really wouldn’t surprise me if some of my growing acquiescence to the psychology course came from a desire to maintain my social position. But in any case, I knew I had a backslidden heart.
Over that summer, I rallied a bit spiritually, and decided not to take any more psychology classes. At that time, I saw little difference between Catholic and Biblical theology, so I enrolled in a class on Thomas Aquinas to fulfill my Religious Studies requirement.
My Religious Studies professor, Father Conrad, saw my Protestant affiliation as an opportunity to demonstrate the fundamental difference between Catholic and Protestant theology to the class, since the majority of them (having been raised Catholic) knew little about Protestant theology. We had read the Question “Whether to believe is meritorious” in Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, and he naturally assumed I would take issue with it.
In part, I wanted to have fun with Father Conrad. He and I had a playful friendship, and I loved throwing him off his game. But Aquinas had appealed to my pride, disarming my intellect with the comforting possibility that maybe I had contributed to my salvation after all. So when Father asked for my response to the Question, I saw a perfect opportunity to both mess with his mind and answer honesty (with my priorities decidedly in that order).
“Well Father,” I began in a tone signaling my intention to draw things out, “when I started reading this question, I was prepared to disagree. But as I followed his line of reason, I realized he might be right.”
Father Conrad’s stunned expression and ensuing loss for words sent the entire class into fits of laughter. After class, several of us assembled, gleefully recounting how stymied he had been and how I’d thrown a monkey wrench into his lesson plan.
As funny as the incident was, however, it led me to believe that doctrine had little importance. I’d often say that salvation came through faith in Jesus, but not through doctrine. Sadly, I held to that philosophy well beyond my graduation in 1977, often attending Mass on Fridays during Senior Year and seeking spiritual counsel from Father Conrad instead of the leaders at Church of the Open Door.
In many respects, Dominican was good for me, and I cherish the memories. Still, I ignored Colossians 2:8, despite my supposed repentance after the psychology class. As I’ll show in future installments of this series, it would be almost four decades before the Lord completely restored me to sound doctrine.