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Witnessing to My Younger Self

News--John Kerrison

On Thursday, February 16, old man John Kerrison (me) got to speak to young man John Kerrison (me too)—well, a thirty-five year younger version of myself. I had the privilege of speaking to a group of Citadel cadets in the Citadel chapter of the Fellowship of Christians Athletes (FCA), which is led by Christy Meadows, the wife of Citadel chaplain Aaron Meadows. FCA is one of St. Philip’s new home mission partners, and my speaking was facilitated by Home Missions Team chair and vestry member Jill Settle.

When Christy contacted me, I recalled a vivid memory of going to FCA meetings in Mark Clark Hall after soccer practice at the Citadel with my best buddy, Scotty Heath. I was longing for something. As I pondered this, Christy said I had an open forum. I asked the Lord to give me a message. He told me to approach it as if I were speaking to myself thirty-five years ago! Well, a lot has happened over thirty-five years in my relationship with Jesus. I have been sifted by Satan, redeemed by Jesus, and engaged in His real-time, spirit-indwelling training ever since, all in mission to spread the awesome news of God’s salvation for us. The message that came to me was to implore them to learn to love God’s Word. I see this in myself as my longing for God growing through prayer, fellowship, and worship, but all undergirded by Scripture study.

We met in McAlister Field House, about thirty students, at seven o’clock on Thursday. Christy met me with her volunteer assistant, Marianna Dusenberry. While many of the FCA cadets played various sports at the Citadel, there were many who were not on sports teams. They had great student leadership who directed prayers and organized them into smaller groups after I spoke. I felt like I wanted to cram years of time with God into a twenty-minute talk, which is like traveling light with just the essentials.

I began with that great Gregory the Great quote per Dr. Peter Kreeft from the Mere Anglicanism conference: “Scripture is like a river ... broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim.” This is poignant to me as I have been involved in Bible study with pre-teens and adults simultaneously for many years. I told them the well-known World War II reference that I first read from John Stott about spiritual warfare, that being a Christian in the world is like operating behind enemy lines. That seemed to resonate for them. While the austerity of the Citadel may make the pursuit of holiness attractive, the cadets shared with me that they often feel ridiculed for going to Christian events. I told them that Jesus gave a shout-out to them in His Sermon. So, well done and invite anyone giving you a hard time to come!

I told them how amazing the Bible is in that it has many unique qualities. It is hyperlinked such that it can be read in an infinite number of pathways. It is scalable like a diamond such that its meaning is the same at the sentence and word level as it is at the chapter, book, or entire Bible level. It is internally and externally coherent, which is a sign of truth. It is consilient, which is a cool way to describe how its many pathways converge at the Gospel. And these are all qualities you can appreciate if you do not read it with the Holy Spirit!

There is so much more. I said reading the Bible without the Holy Spirit is like reading English love poetry in English class without being in love! It has no spirit and no power. It is deconstructed. So, I told them to taste and see the Lord is good, per the admonition of Psalm 34. Scripture has been piercing the soul of man ever since Job was written 5000 years ago. I told them they will experience God’s love through the Scripture.

I advised them to study the Bible in fellowship with others. While devotionals, topical study, and Scripture memorization are excellent, it is fundamental to read Scripture directly and use many of the excellent, time-honored, reliable sources as guides.

Some other tips I gave them were to surrender their understanding of God to Scripture and recognize that the temptation to think God is not good is a sign of Satan lurking, just like he was in the garden. The Bible is read according to its form whether it is torah, history, prophesy, poetry, Gospel, or letters. Always seek context: situational, narrative, linguistic, historic, and prophetic. See the pastoral application. See the personal application. As a believer, we accept the historicity and validity of miracles.

Some other tips I have been given: Don’t major in minors. An incidental teaching must be consistent with the overall teaching. One thing that has helped me over the years is not to confuse the symbol or metaphor with the didactic. Metaphors are used to teach specific points and are sometimes multidimensional. They are used to describe things that otherwise cannot be described, so they are, like us, an incomplete image. All teaching is interpreted by the Gospel, including the letters and the Old Testament.

While I have been engaged in Bible study for a long time, I am a layperson and have not had any formal training. If anything I am saying is wrong, please advise me. This makes my closing statements to them even more important. I told them that bad theology leads to bad things of disbelief and suffering.  

That is where I feel great urgency speaking to the younger version of myself. Our salvation comes from faith in Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to the throne. The source of bad theology is of course the serpent who has been doing it since the beginning of time. I know that cultivating a love for Scripture study will gird us in the spiritual battle. Scripture is described as a sword, a weapon of the Holy Spirit, offensive and defensive. You need it behind enemy lines.

I am happy to say that the message was well received. I look forward to  St. Philip’s finding opportunities to know these cadets and mentor them in their growth. In fact, I told them if any were premed, they were welcome to shadow me or my partner, who is a Citadel graduate, in clinic. I think this is going to be a great partnership for St. Philip’s.