The Philosopher Returns

The Philosopher came back to the prison Bible study Monday night. I hadn't seen him in months.

I wrote about the Philosopher three years ago. He's an interesting character and we've had a some long, difficult conversations. Here's a lightly edited version of a story I've shared before:

The prison bible study was about to start but I was hanging back, waiting on the Philosopher.

The Philosopher is new to the study. He's really smart in many ways. Hence the nickname he's been given by his fellow inmates. They call him the Philosopher.

But the Philosopher is also socially challenged. To my eye he as a lot of Asperger-like symptoms. These social skills issues make the Philosopher difficult to deal with in the class. The Philosopher has a tendency to go on long theological, doctrinal or biblical disquisitions that hold the floor for too long. But the Philosopher has trouble reading the non-verbals of the class as well as mine. He doesn't know when to stop so I have to awkwardly interject to get the class moving forward again.

But that's not why I'm hanging back this evening. I don't mind the Philosopher being long-winded. I'm an expert in being long-winded. So I get it.

I'm hanging back because last week the Philosopher accosted my co-teacher Herb. He accused Herb of "blasphemy" and asserted that Herb had "blood on his hands."

To be clear, there are lots of disagreements in the bible study. But this was extreme. It's going to be hard to have a good class discussion going forward if accusations of blasphemy are being leveled. So I need to check in with the Philosopher.

Here's the hilarious thing. You might be wondering what Herb was teaching that provoked the charge of blood-soaked blasphemy. It was this: Max Lucado.

That's right. Max Lucado. That damned heretic.

Herb was leading a discussion about Max Lucado's recent video series on grace. And why, you might ask, did the Philosopher find grace to be blasphemous?

Well, the Philosopher is a bit of a legalist. Consequently, the doctrine of grace is a bit scandalous. It's blasphemy. Thus Herb is leading souls to perdition for preaching (via DVD) the doctrine. Hence the "blood soaked hands" accusation.

The Philosopher was the last one to get to the study. He handed in his lay in (the slip of paper given by the chaplain's office granting permission to go the study) to the guards who began to pat him down.

But there's something stuffed in the Philosopher's sock. That's a problem which gets the attention of the guards. Their mood turns grim. You're not supposed to have things stuffed in your socks.

Is it contraband? A weapon?

Turns out it's a bible. One of those tiny, pocket-sized King James Version bibles.

The Philosopher was now asked to stand with this hands against the wall for a more thorough pat down.

The Philosopher has, it is discovered, about five small bibles stuffed all over his person.

One of the guards remarks, "I patted this guy down last week and he had like eight bibles on him."

The pat down concludes. I reflect. I'm about to try to have a biblical conversation about grace and legalism with a guy who carries bibles stuffed in his socks and whose nickname is "the Philosopher."

But in truth, I really don't want to debate the bible with the Philosopher. All I really want to say is that we don't mind disagreements in the study. Disagree all you want. But we do need to tone down the rhetoric. If you disagree with someone, fine, but you can't call them blasphemers and say that they have blood on their hands.

But here's the problem that surfaces as we talk. The Philosopher feels compelled to say these things because, in his words, "my Father told me to say that." "My Father," of course, is God. The Philosopher is communicating directly with God, sharing God's words with us.

Probing into this, as we talk, the Philosopher reveals to me that he's sort of like the apostle Paul, getting visions directly from God.

I realize as the discussion goes on that this is getting beyond a biblical discussion and that I'm bumping into something more psychiatric. How do you have a disagreement with someone speaking directly for God?

I work to keep the discussion biblical and point out that the apostle Paul, despite the revelations he received from God, once worried that he might have been misinterpreting those visions, that he might have been "running in vain." Consequently, Paul sought out other mature followers of Jesus--Peter, John and James--to check out his gospel with them. I have the Philosopher turn (in one of his five bibles) to Galatians 1 to read about Paul's worry and his actions.

This story is new to the Philosopher. Or, at the very least, this story never registered in this particular way. Paul--the apostolic model for the Philosopher--needed other Christians to check and sign-off on his gospel. Truth required communal discernment.

We can't, I cautioned the Philosopher, be a lone wolf. Not even Paul.

That, at least, was the point I tried to bring home. I wasn't totally successful. But I gave the Philosopher pause. He became more thoughtful. Reflective. You could see the wheels turning.

The great apostle Paul once worried that he might have been wrong.

It's a sobering thought.

But a perfect thought, in my estimation, to start off a bible study.

Especially for Christians who like to carry lots of bibles.

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