How we found our Saviour

by
June 16th, 2018

Editor: Tanner and Hillary Johnsrud recently left the Christian Science church, and the public practice, to rededicate their lives to Jesus Christ and receive baptism in a Presbyterian church. We asked Tanner to tell their story.

Here is the first of a multi-part account:

All In

Tanner writes:I dearly loved Christian Science. I was a fifth generation Christian Scientist. I was the guy who always went around carrying his Bible and Science and Health. Being a Christian Scientist was a core part of my identity. I spent 20 years at different CS summer camps – whether as a camper, counselor, or practitioner. I went to Principia Upper School my junior and senior years. In college I restarted the Christian Science college organization on my campus.

I had class instruction after my freshman year of college,1998. I decided that I wanted to be a practitioner, and I began full time after I graduated college in 2001. At the time there were very few, if any, young practitioners. In later years a number of my friends also became practitioners in their twenties and thirties.

I moved to Boston in 2002 and lived across the street from The Mother Church. At The Mother Church I was head usher and platform usher, I taught Sunday School and was assistant to the superintendent – I was serving at as many as six services each week.

I had a few articles in the periodicals, was on “Sentinel Radio” and the “Daily Lift,” and was a practitioner at several summer camps. I wrote letters to the editor defending Christian Science that appeared in places like The Wall Street Journal andThe Boston Globe. I helped lead a trip to Israel, presenting the Holy Land to the staff of a CS summer camp.

I met my wife through our Christian Science association, and after working at Principia for a few years, she became a practitioner as well. I gave quite a number of association addresses and other talks on Christian Science through the years. At the time of my conversion I had association addresses scheduled many years in advance.

I was a practitioner for over 15 years. I interviewed with the Board of Directors and Board of Education about becoming a Christian Science teacher. I served as First Reader at one of the largest churches in the country.

I had a great number of friends in Christian Science – and at the time of our conversion I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t a Christian Scientist – except for extended family that I never really talked to.

What Happened?

Christian Science was my life. I never thought that I would leave Christian Science, and neither did anyone else! So what happened?

I wholeheartedly believed that Christian Science and Mary Baker Eddy fulfilled biblical prophecy. I knew hundreds of these “prophecies” like the back of my hand. To understand biblical prophecy better, I ended up studying the Bible more and more.

I took Greek in college and spent many hours each day studying the Bible and Mrs. Eddy’s writings. In order to better understand Mrs. Eddy and her teaching, I began to read writings from various Christians she quoted – and I started doing this back in college.

This introduced me to the writings of various Christians from Polycarp and Augustine, to Martin Luther and Jonathan Edwards. Mrs. Eddy came from a family of Scottish covenanters and Puritans, and she said that she had memorized the Westminster Catechism (which the questions in the chapter on Recapitulation faintly echo). So, seeking to better understand her, I became more familiar with various Puritan and Presbyterian figures and teachings, as well.

While in college my roommate was an evangelical Christian, and I went with him to Intervarsity Christian Fellowship meetings. A couple of Intervarsity leaders tried to talk with me about some of their concerns about Christian Science, but I was able to refute their concerns to my own satisfaction. And as I said, I eagerly became a practitioner upon graduating from college. But I kept reading more Christian writings.

When The Passion of the Christ came out in 2004, I kept hearing people praise the movie. I wanted to read a critical review, because I knew that there was so much in that movie that was unbiblical and based more in Roman Catholic mysticism and idolatry than in the Bible. I googled, and came upon a review written by Tim Challies. I started reading his blog pretty much every day and became more familiar with Reformed theology.

A year or so later, I felt I just wanted to hear people talk about how Old Testament prophecy points to Jesus, and to learn more about the Cross. I listened to a number of sermons on Sermonaudio.com and I started listening to sermons from a Reformed perspective from men such as Tim Keller, Al Mohler, and Charles Spurgeon.

This fostered in me a great many things, not the least of which was a focus on the character and activity of God. My CS teacher emphasized such things as well, from his own perspective, and so I saw no conflict with Christian Science. My conversations with patients in my practice focused more and more on what God is doing.

Culture Off-Track?

I saw that we couldn’t just focus on the synonyms (who God is, as I understood it at the time) but on His actions. The real and living God is not an inert force, but is at work in His creation. And this was central to my understanding of Christian Science, as I saw it.

For many years my friends and I saw numerous problems with Christian Science culture. I saw how there was so little mention of God, so little love for Christ Jesus or the Bible. But I was convinced that the problem was not with Christian Science, but with Christian Science culture– which I believed had been hijacked by malicious animal magnetism trying to separate Christian Science from its inherent Christianity.

I gave talks on the evils of Gnosticism – while having no idea of the gnostic nature of Christian Science. I gave talks on how to better study the Bible, talking about how important it is to see what God is doing in whatever we are reading.

A number of people said I would have an important role to play in purging the non-Christian elements from the Christian Science movement. (Not purging people, but correcting false unchristian teaching.) This both fed my pride and blinded me to the real nature of Christian Science.

In 2010 I saw a video of Tim Keller’s talk at The Gospel Coalition on “The Grand Demythologizer.” I remember resisting wanting to watch that video, but eventually I watched it. This talk rocked my world. His handling of idolatry began to change my life completely. There were some patterns of sin in my life from which I couldn’t break free – but after addressing them as idols, I began to find real and lasting freedom.

I had also been living and working in the literal and metaphorical shadow of The Mother Church. But in June of 2011, after Annual Meeting, I felt led to move to Raleigh, North Carolina. I knew nothing about North Carolina except that it was north of South Carolina, and that people there liked basketball and barbecue. But this move got me out of Boston. Nothing short of feeling the direction of God would have done that, I was so fiercely loyal to The Mother Church.

I realized a few years later that that move helped break me of the idolatry of serving the church as opposed to serving God. I began identifying myself as a Christian, who was in the “ministry” of the Christian Science practice.

Rather than giving talks about Christian Science fulfilling Biblical prophecy, I began to emphasize issues like idolatry, sin, and grace. And I began challenging what sociologist Christian Smith calls “moralistic therapeutic deism” in every talk I gave. I began working with people to identify the idols of their hearts, and show how those are overcome by turning to the God of the Bible.

I thought that I was just emphasizing issues of the heart and not just the head – and I realized that I was getting to matters of deeper importance. Unlike in my earlier years, I was now seeing real healing of sin begin to take place at those talks. I heard from so many people who said that those talks were uncovering sin in their lives, and that they were beginning to make changes in their lives as a result. But I still thought that I was presenting pure and genuine Christian Science, and many other people did, too.

Marriage and Grace  

In 2012, in line for lunch at our annual association meeting, I met my future wife. Hillary would later say that during our first conversations, I introduced her to the idea of grace. She was living in St. Louis at the time, and I moved to St. Louis to join her. She taught English and math at Principia Middle School.

During our engagement Hillary and I helped chaperone a Principia trip to Israel. I was exasperated with the trip leaders, because while they were considered Bible experts among many Christian Scientists, they presented all law and no gospel, no grace. And even though they claimed to believe in prophecy, they were missing the heart of the Bible!

However, when we visited the Garden Tomb, the British guide at the site (a minister of some sort) gave a very brief message on the reality and meaning of the Cross. Hillary was deeply moved. She said that for the first time she was deeply grateful for Jesus. I was absolutely thrilled.

Hillary and I were married June 1, 2013 – one year to the day after our first “I love you.” I was, and am, committed to modeling grace in our marriage. And that has led to a very happy marriage. A few months after we were married we were overjoyed to learn that we were expecting our first child. When our first son, Stratton, was born, Hillary decided not to go back to work at Principia and began working full time as a Christian Science practitioner.

From the beginning we emphasized raising our boys as Christians, reading the Bible, and singing the most Christian of the hymns from the CS hymnal to them. Sometimes, I would leave Christian music on the radio in the car. And at first Hillary would roll her eyes and change the radio station. But soon she started listening to it and fell in love with the gospel message the songs shared. Pretty soon Christian radio was all she listened to.

Later she began reading Tim Keller and listening to his sermons online. She wanted to talk about the gospel with anyone who was interested – and eventually she considered her “Christian Science practice” to be all about sharing the gospel. We thought that we were Christians who were Christian Scientists.

First Reader 

A month after our first son was born in 2014, I began a three-year term as First Reader in my Christian Science church. It is one of the largest CS churches in the world. I saw that you could go for weeks without there being a single mention of God in the testimonies. And I saw that there was hardly any reference to Christ Jesus in the testimonies, either.

In order to help bring healing and address the spiritual needs of the congregation – which is what a First Reader was supposed to be doing – I decided to establish a plan for the readings. So in the first year I read about attributes and actions of God. In the second year my readings focused on redemptive history, seeing Christ Jesus through the Old Testament. And in the third year I focused on the activity of the Holy Spirit.

From the first week, my readings were extremely controversial. They were either loved or hated. I found myself increasingly uncomfortable reading the Lesson Sermon each Sunday. At first I thought it was just that the citations were all ripped horribly out of context –  which they were.

But I soon found myself thinking, as I was standing before the congregation, reading Science and Health, “I don’t think that this is true.” And the thought came a few times, “You are a theologian, not a practitioner.”

I spoke to a few practitioners a little bit about my “crisis of faith.” But none provided an answer that satisfied. I said to one practitioner, “the thought keeps coming to me that I am not a Christian Scientist.” He only responded, “That’s bull.”

Pragmatism or Truth?

Christian Science, true to its progressive roots, is heavily based in a type of pragmatism. That is, truth is determined by what works. And this is, ultimately, what many Christian Scientists believe – even if Christian Science is not working for them.

The fact is, however, that the Egyptians mimicked the first plagues on Egypt. Jesus said that people would perform “signs and wonders and deceive, if possible, the very elect.” So just having a healing – or something working – isn’t the Biblical standard of what constitutes truth.

So when I told another practitioner that “the thought keeps coming to me that Christian Science isn’t true” his response was that people in his family had gone from being drunks to being respectable. I was so disappointed in that answer. A Mormon could say the same thing, but that doesn’t make Mormonism true.

Another practitioner told me to look at the healings of Mary Baker Eddy. I read a few chapters from Mary Baker Eddy, Christian Healer, and for the first time I saw that the only authority we have for these healings was that Mrs. Eddy said that they happened. At the time I still thought she fulfilled biblical prophecy, and so I didn’t doubt her honesty, but I did wish we had different corroboration.

Every year I would write a significant paper on Christian Science. We were coming up on the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. In the spring of 2017, I wrote a 150-page paper on the thesis that on the central issues that divided Luther from Rome, Christian Science culture stands with Rome over against the Reformers.

Again, I thought the problem was Christian Science culture. I found quotes of Mrs. Eddy praising Augustine and Luther, referring to total depravity, and so on. I argued that her teachings were fundamentally in line with those of the Reformers – after all, she had been raised in a Puritan household, and if she was appointed by God to reveal the truth, it must be consistent with the Bible and must be consistent with Christians she was praising.

Into the Light 

Yet even amidst my spiritual confusion, the light was breaking through. A mere four years earlier there is no way that I would have used the word “if” in regard to Mrs. Eddy fulfilling prophecy. But the doubts were mounting.

In the fall of 2017, I was asked to give a series of talks to the Old Testament class taught to Principia Upper School seniors. My talks all focused on Christ Jesus in redemptive history. Some of my wife’s friends heard I was giving these talks. They wanted previews and wanted to come over and talk about the Bible. Soon there were a couple of people coming over multiple nights each week.

We discussed the atonement, the fact that Christ is God, the person of the Holy Spirit, and many other topics. When we got to a discussion of justification and sanctification, things really clicked for Hillary. Suddenly so many things that had never made sense to her in Christian Science, began to make sense. She was on fire with love for the gospel.

But so much of what Hillary was reading in Science and Healthsounded like works-salvation as opposed to grace. This was deeply distressing to her. And she wanted to see how it was that Science and Healthworked together with the Bible.

She and I went through all sorts of mental gymnastics trying to make the two work together. And for a while we found ways to make it work. For instance, we thought that maybe the things in Christian Science that sounded like salvation by works referred to sanctification, and they were written to a Christian audience that was already justified by faith alone.

While we were talking about Hillary’s struggles, I never told her mine. I didn’t want to undermine her faith in Christian Science in any way, just because I was struggling to hold it together with what I was reading in the Bible.

With each passing week we were increasingly unhappy with our branch church. Hillary began researching how to start a new Christian Science branch church that would have Jesus at its center, and that would be based in an understanding of grace.

In October 2017 Hillary was asked by one of my Sunday School students to give a talk to all of the Principia students and faculty. She gave a talk on God’s grace. There was an overwhelmingly positive response. A number of people said it was the best talk they had ever heard. A video of it was posted on YouTube, and Christian Scientists all around the country watched it and expressed gratitude for its message.

Come, Holy Spirit 

The incongruities and discomfort continued to grow. I had a lot of restless and sleepless nights for many months. Finally, one Saturday night, as I lay in bed, I just prayed that the Holy Spirit do His work in us.

The next morning – November 5, 2017 – we went to our Christian Science church as usual. After church, Hillary said to me, “I don’t think this is it.” And I said, “I don’t think so either.” The scales had fallen from our eyes, and we began to see Christian Science for what it is. And we realized that our entire lives were about to change forever.

I went outside to walk around and pray. I saw the enormity of my sin, and I knew that there was no way that I could ever atone for it – it is only through Christ’s righteousness that I could be saved. And all the guilt and fear were immediately gone, and I felt such freedom.

As I said to people later, it was as if I had been colorblind and knew all about the color red: I could tell you different things that were red, but I had never actually seen the color – but now, I actually saw the color red. I felt the presence of the triune God with me right in that moment. It was a beautiful fall day – peak fall foliage. My wife and I were both so grateful for the profound beauty of that day.

I knew that we had to get to a real church that night. We googled to see if we could find a PCA church with an evening service. We walked in the doors, and I felt such a wonderful sense of relief – a feeling of being home.

 That night was an ordination service for a new assistant pastor, and it had started an hour earlier than the usual service. The service was well underway when we got there. And then I saw who the guest preacher was for that service – it was Ligon Duncan, chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary, whom I had listened to online for years. I started crying.

John 3:16 was written on the church wall. I was dumbfounded that it applied to me. God’s amazing grace had saved a wretch like me! I was deeply moved by the whole service. I couldn’t bring myself to go inside the sanctuary.

An usher talked with me – it turns out that his parents had come out of Christian Science as well. After the service, someone reached out to Ligon Duncan, and I briefly shared my story with him. He took my hand and called me brother – and I will never forget that moment. I could be counted as a Christian? I could be called his brother in Christ? Yes, I could!

For Real

So Ligon Duncan was the first person to pray for Hillary and me as new Christians. After the service I was reintroduced to someone at the church with whom I had gone to Principia Upper School 20 years earlier, and who founded and now runs a ministry for former Christian Scientists. Through tears I said that I had only ever wanted to serve God, and she said, “Now you can serve Him for real.”

Over the next two days, Hillary and I severed our ties with the Christian Science church. We called close family and friends and sent emails to the rest of our friends. The reaction from everyone was one of intense shock. Several people said it was like setting off a nuclear bomb. Almost all of our friendships have gone away; the handful that remain have become deeply strained. My own family has said that we have either become insane or evil or both.

While this rejection stung, it was nothing compared to the pain of knowing that, at least for the time being, the vast majority of the people we love are not willing to consider that the Bible might be saying something totally different from what we were taught to believe. And it’s not just about theology or who’s right — there are eternal consequences of rejecting the saving love of Jesus. And it’s agonizingly painful to watch people we love openly reject that grace.

Outside of the strain on our friendships, we’ve never been happier in our lives. Seven months later, we still can’t believe how renewed and blessed our lives are. We have the promise of eternal life with God, and the bliss of worshipping with a genuine church! The joy of salvation in Christ Jesus is truly priceless.

Made New

What is the faith I live by now?  I am a Christian. I recognize Christ Jesus as Lord over my life.

He is my Saviour because of his perfect life, atoning death, and triumphant resurrection. And I believe that because of what Jesus has done I am now a son of God by adoption, and receive all the wonderful benefits of that sonship in Christ. And I look forward with great hope and astonished wonder to the promise of everlasting life!

My wife and I were baptized in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). So in addition to the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds, I would also say that I personally think that the Westminster Standards give a clear articulation of what scripture teaches.

That said, I am just another sinner saved by grace, with an imperfect knowledge, and I am part of the vast body of Christ which is expressed in many different ways around the world.

[end of this post… we’ll do the next part soon]

 

 

The author can be reached at tannerjohnsrud@gmail.com

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