Bible Studies



A Short History of our
Experiments with Christmas

Bob and Sandy

Merry Christmas

Along with Some Reflections on Neurotic Hero Worship

My wife and I tried all kinds of routes as we laid out our annual early winter trip on that big map to the North Pole. As Christians, we traveled very far away from the Christmases of our childhood, where we were taught to believe in Santa Clause and all his elves. Being the babies in our families, we were even tricked by our older siblings—I know I was—my brother, who was eight years my senior, assured me that he had actually seen an elf, and I really believed him. I continued truly to believe in this supernatural world until sometime around the age of eight or nine. Then I came to know the truth and slowly began my journey into atheism.

So early on we took the Christmas bypass and essentially celebrated it the way we did the Fourth of July. Of course, we would never exclude our Lord out of anything, but basically we treated Christmas as a secular holiday, in effect, simply observing the winter solstice with a hearty meal, but without trees or anything else. That only lasted two Christmases—during my neo-Puritan kick—which was good for our first child, because she has no memory of our “keeping Christ out of Christmas.”

(She should always get down on her knees to thank God that she is a woman. Had she been a he, she would have been named Abraham Kuyper Vincent . . . no kidding. Among my idols back then was the late preacher/prime minister of the Netherlands. My Mama had always wanted us to name our first son after me, because I was named after her preacher Daddy. God waited until child number four so I would be mature enough not to stick a child with a name that he would be readily teased with the rest of his life. I remember calling home the afternoon Robert Benn Junior was born.

Mama’s words, “What did Sandy have?”

“She had a boy.”

“What did you name him?”

“Hernando Kumquat Vincent.”

“Huuuuurnaaaaandoh!?! Oh, Raahbuut!” [Alabama for Robert.] Then I told her the truth.)

Today, we prepare for Christmas with Advent Readings starting four Sundays out. But with all our children grown, we only do that when we’re home at night for a meal, which works out to about twice a week, one of which we usually have our second oldest grandson over to spend the night. We do the same kind of thing for forty days before Easter. These seasons can be good times of special reflection, but, of course, ungodly religious people can turn anything into something satanic . . . like Mardi gras here in Louisiana. You begin that forty day time of reflection and special attention to the mortification of the flesh by doing some stuff for which you’ll really need to repent: going on a several day drunk, engorging yourself with food and topping it off by a sex orgy the day before Ash Wednesday, especially if you are in the Vieux Carre.

Along with coming to a middle of the road position with regard to Christmas and Easter—I recognize the pagan roots in a lot that the world does, but like Calvin, I try to avoid the radical approach of the so-called Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Puritans—I’ve also scrapped all my idols.

The Middle Road Beyond Christmas
About twenty years ago, I finally figured out that there is only one real hero in the Bible, the Lord Jesus. I also came to understand that only the Bible has honest biographies—all the others are hagiographical and somewhat fictional. Who knows what things Clement of Alexandria and John Wesley struggled with? Back in my student days, I earned money as a “psychometric clerk,” and worked with the MMPI, The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory: “Do you collect the clothing of others and sniff them?” Did Charles Wesley ever fetishize? What were Charles Grandison Finney’s closet fantasies? What were his inner struggles which could never be washed away under his Governmental Theory of the Atonement?

Essentially, I concluded that the legacy of Adam and Eve is a giant penal colony full of the mentally ill. In saying that humankind lost more than a gift of super-added grace (donum superadditum) in the fall, I am affirming the doctrine of total depravity: that no aspect of human existence is exempt from the contaminating, twisting influence of sin. Our ability to think and reason is impacted, especially when it comes to assessing ourselves. No matter how far along the road of sanctification we are, we still have enough of the remnants of the old Adam that all of us are out of touch with reality, at least to some degree: we’re all a little insane. Every family is dysfunctional, but some are more so than others. Yep, Mama and Daddy helped to mess me up, but mental health begins when I quit blaming everybody else and take full responsibility for my conduct and call my actions what they really are: SIN—that’s the only way you can give the guilt to the Lord Jesus.

Not all the inmates of our earthly asylum need to be put in padded cells, but everybody here is just a little bit nuts, including Calvin, Luther, Spurgeon, the Wesleys, Watchman Nee and Bill Gothard, especially Bill, with all his sublimated focus on sex via his menstrual show and pushing vasectomy reversals at his “Pastors’ Conferences.” But even Mr. Bill is among the relatively sane ones; at least born again people have the Holy Spirit who continually works to bring us from insanity to mental wholeness. From there you start looking at Jack Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jerry Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, the Bushes and Bill Clinton—they’re even more insane, especially Mr. Bill with his cigar fiasco.  And I haven’t even touched on the British and their royal family, especially the odd relationship between the heir apparent to their throne, Prince Charles, and Camilla Parker Bowles.  Doesn’t history teach us that the nobility are no more noble than their subjects and that kings are often as mad as Alice’s famous hatter?  (I am not saying that none of these people are true Christians—how do I know the heart of another completely?  I simply wonder if political leaders aren’t even less immune than the rest of us to the mental maladies that afflict our species.)

My point is that I see idolatry not only in looking to the great men of the past as our “rule of faith and life,” but I also see a kind of insanity in our trying to return to the bygone “glory” days of yesteryear and picking up the theological and practical idiosyncrasies of our late ancestors, even of a spiritual progenitor. To try to imitate everything about the Puritans is as much a sign of a lack of complete mental health as is the practice of the fellow who takes every weekend off to dress up in a Yankee or Confederate uniform and play soldier when he’s thirty years on the other side of puberty. But our present is often pretty discouraging, so instead of drowning our depression in booze or Zoloft, we find escape in other ways.

The Holy Spirit is not a marionette whose strings are held by us; he doesn’t follow a script dictated by the events of the past two thousand years. So we can’t bring about a turning of our civilization to God by our recreating the historical accidents (in the Aristotelian sense.) of the perceived great eras of the past, as if that would cause revival in an ex opere operato way. Putting on the plain garb of the Puritans and abandoning wearing wedding rings (those wicked things around which devils dance.) isn’t going to make us holy. Many Christians are engaged in a profound contradiction: instead of getting involved with the pagan people around them, they retreat into spiritual ghettos, dreaming of the glories of an imagined Christian golden age to come without getting their hands dirty. Of course, this isn’t true of everybody who wears the moniker, but there is a lot of similarity in how certain kinds of Postmillennialists and many Dispensationalists deal with their communities practically.

I find no fault with someone who follows the Regulative Principle of Worship in a radically strict way (Overly simplistic definition: You have to do everything exactly like they did in the first century church; if they didn’t do it in a certain way, neither can you.) if he is truly convinced that the Bible teaches that—it doesn’t, check out the context of the New Testament proof-texts for the position: they all have to do with preserving Christian liberty as over against legalistic, man-made rules—Non fumamus, non manducamus, et non venimus cum puellis qui facit.*  But I think that a lot of exegesis is driven by our desire to put on the secure garb of the past.

Thank God Almighty that he reigns on high over all our folly and for the Holy Spirit who enables us to look at ourselves with increasing honesty. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M. D. wrote: “The Christian should always be anxious to know himself. No other man truly wants to know himself. The natural man thinks he knows himself, and thereby reveals his basic trouble. He evades self-examination because to know one’s self is ultimately the most painful piece of knowledge that a man can ever acquire . . . But . . . it is only the man who has truly seen himself for what he is who is likely to fly to Christ, and to seek to be filled with the Spirit of God who alone can burn out of him the vestiges of self and everything that tends to mar his Christian life and living.”

Bob, a “recovering” neurotic