Like a lot of kids growing up in the 70s and 80s, I was a huge comic book fan. I had a subscription to Spiderman for several years – yes, just like Peter Parker I was a bit of a nerd – and did more than my fair share to help pay the local bookstore’s rent by constantly raiding their collection of overpriced back issues, all wrapped in special comic book protective covers. Those wrappers were very important. They added gravitas to the comic books, transforming them – in my mind – from kids stuff to real, serious collectors items. As far as I know, I still have most of them too. That is, unless mom threw them out…hmm, maybe I’d better go check on that first.
At any rate, though I can’t recall much in the way of detail about the stories I read, one thing I do clearly recall from those comic books was an ad run by Charles Atlas. The famous one we’ve all seen. You know, where the beach bully kicks sand in the face of the 98 pound weakling and steals his girlfriend. Determined not to let it end like that, the wimpy kid goes and orders a Charles Atlas book, bulks up and in the end gives the bully a good thrashing. He gets his girlfriend back too. Not a bad return on a ten-cent stamp.
Now growing up in Cincinnati, I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to go to the beach, so I can’t say that I ever had a bully kick sand in my face. But of course bullies aren’t found only on the beach. They’re on playgrounds and at the office too. Some bullies teach in seminary and preach from the pulpit on Sundays.
In the New Testament, Diotrephes was such a man. Writing about him, the Apostle John says,
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church (3 John 9-10).
A few years ago, I had a personal encounter with a theological bully named Warren Gage. He was Professor of Old Testament at Knox Theological Seminary when I was a student at the school. For three hours every Monday morning I’d sit in his class and become physically ill listening to him attack the Reformed faith. The same faith I heard him swear to uphold at the start of the semester. He was kicking sand in the face of all of us: any student who came to Knox expecting to get Reformed seminary training, the school that hired him, and the people who donated to Knox thinking it was doctrinally sound. But unlike the skinny kid in the comic book ad, when Knox had the opportunity to confront the bully and defend Christianity, the school backed down and the bully won the fight. Today, Warren Gage still teaches at Knox Seminary and has added the title Dean of Faculty to his name.