I’ve heard your theology described as the theology of “second chances,” partly because you weren’t a Christian for a time after your childhood and then re-embraced it in early adulthood. Can you tell us more about that time?
I was raised in the greatest of homes…just a really great dad, and I miss him so much…he was a good man, a real simple man….Very faithful, always loved my mom, always provided for the kids, and just a lot of fun.
And a great car mechanic, I hear.
Yeah, a great mechanic. And so when I was wayward…and I was seriously wayward, I don’t really know the best word to use. I was a drinker, I was a womanizer, I was dishonest with friends, personal agendas, I just got really off the track for about three years.
How old were you when this was going on?
I was about 16, 17, 18, 19…all the way until freshman in college. The last time I got drunk, I was a sophomore in college. I quit going to church, I quit anything of spiritual interest because I just didn’t think that God would have me back. Somehow I missed out on that message.
And through the influence of good friends and through the influence of a minister, they helped me see that the whole reason Christ died on the cross is for people like me. And if we could save ourselves, we wouldn’t need a savior. And when that began to dawn on me, it was literally a Damascus Road type experience--the lights went on then. I thought, I can’t believe you mean grace is that great? I had had a view of a conditional grace…as long as I do my part, God does His part. It was a very emotional, life-changing discovery. And that has defined my life’s message, because I’m just a walking second chance.
I was the guy who was given every great opportunity, I really blew it, I really squandered it, and then I was given a second chance. And as I understand how great God is, I understand how much I have goofed up and screwed up, still.
Right now it’s really a battle for me not to get all heady about some of the success of my books. I come to CBA--I was praying about this just this morning--and here they’ve put me up in this real nice hotel and I sign 600 autographs, and you start believing your own press if you’re not careful.
You mention in your book that you’re an applause-aholic…Most people don’t want to admit that.
I don’t realize how addicted I am to it. I guess if I really understood how much God has given me second chances over and over and over, I think I’d even be 10 times more great.
Thankfully, as a grown-up I’ve not had any more trouble with drinking except once about four years ago, when I got in the habit of drinking a beer every day. And I think I am prone to be an alcoholic. I mean, I don’t have any trouble with people drinking a beer a day, but I can’t.
Because you start to need it?
I start to need it. I started to look forward to it in the office. Here I am a prominent pastor and then I can’t wait to go home and have a beer. What’s going on? And to me the turning point was when I was going to speak at a men’s retreat at my church and I had played golf that afternoon and it was a Friday afternoon. I stopped at a convenience store and I thought “I am going to get a beer” and then I thought, “No, somebody will see me.” I put it in a brown bag and I carried it out, snuck it out into the car, and I mean that old conviction just came back.
And I just sat there and I started to cry. I poured the beer out on the pavement. And then the next week… I shared that at a lunch with the 15 men who head up the church. That was a scary moment for me. God forgave me and I never felt I was out of God’s salvation, but I did feel like I was disappointing Him. I’m just prone to those types of things.
It must be hard to keep yourself on the straight and narrow if you know that about yourself. What was going on four years ago? Anything in particular?
Nothing. It’s not stress—I don’t think. Brendan Manning is a former Catholic priest who has admitted he’s an alcoholic. I heard him speak once and he said, “I don’t know why God gave me this insatiable appetite for beer.” And I’m kind of the same. I have this genetic predisposition to beer. .