Former Wheaton student walks away
By Skipp Porteous
The Scofield Reference Bible is a mainstay for Christian fundamentalists.
C.I. Scofield, an early dispensationalist, produced the famous annotated
Bible bearing his name. Also bearing his name is the fundamentalist
church he pastored for many years, the Scofield Memorial Church of
Reared in the Scofield Church, Dr. Janet Lincoln, 47, is today far
removed from it, both geographically and spiritually. _Walk_Away_
publisher Skipp Porteous recently interviewed her.
Janet, tell us about your background.
Scofield Memorial Church was my family church. My parents went to
Scofield Church before I was born. Both sets of grandparents went
there for many years. At one point, nearly everybody on both sides
of my family went to that church.
Of course, the whole time I went there, the Scofield version of the
Bible was the only one anyone ever used. Everyone had a copy. You
got a copy for attending so many Sundays in a row, and all that kind
of stuff. Everybody had a Scofield Bible. You could look something
up by the page number. No matter what the size and style, everyone's
was exactly the same. Everybody's John 3:16 was always on the same
Most socializing I did was with people with whom I went to church.
Church was your whole life. That was how I was brought up. That's
what I believed. I was just not exposed to anything else. When I was
a kid, the only other churches that were considered worthwhile were
the Southern Baptist churches and the Bible churches. My church, though,
was the best. Presbyterians and Methodists and any kind of mainline
denomination but Baptists were generally considered too liberal.
Did you ever have a born-again experience when you accepted Christ
as your savior?
You know, that's funny, because when you grow up in it, you just believe
it from the start. Being a sort of compulsive type, I can remember
when I would periodically worry, "Well, maybe I didn't do what I was
supposed to" or "I didn't do it right," so I'd ask Jesus into my heart
all over again. It was like, "Am I really saved or not? Well, I want
to be if I'm not!" So, I'd just go through the whole specified routine
again. I got baptized when I was in junior high school. There was
a big "bathtub" under the choir loft.
Did you have fun growing up in that church, or was it oppressive?
I thought I had fun, because I didn't know anything else. My parents'
rules were fairly strict. The only movies I was allowed to go to were
Walt Disney movies. I wasn't allowed to dance, I wasn't allowed to
play cards, you know, all the standard taboos. And I didn't like those
restrictions, because my friends were doing all that stuff. I remember
being particularly upset with my parents when I couldn't see the Disney
movie "Parent Trap." I thought the rule was that if it was Walt Disney
I could go see it. So when my friend called up and asked me to go
to that movie with her and my mother wouldn't let me go, I really
hit the roof. All of a sudden the rule was worse than I had thought
- now I'm not just limited to Walt Disney movies, but to Walt Disney
When I was in high school and active in the church, a number of girls
about my age in the church youth group got pregnant. One of the girls
I ran around with for a while got pregnant and had to get married,
and ultimately had twins. A friend of my sister's got pregnant when
she was 15, by another kid in the church who was 18. They had to get
At the time, my attitude was, "Oh no, look what's happening to all
the kids in the church. I'm gonna be really good and I'm gonna show
the adults that not all the kids are wild like that." My parents must
have gossiped a lot about how terrible it was and how the younger
generation was going to hell in a handbasket. I remember my determination
to show the older folks in the church that not all the younger generation
was going astray, that some of the young people really were good Christians.
I really believed all those things. I sort of chafed at some of my
parents' more restrictive rules, but none of them caused me to question
any of the basic beliefs.
Did you believe in the Rapture?
Did you believe we were in the last days?
Yearh, everybody else did, so why not? I didn't worry about it. But
people would say, "Oh, look at Israel, and what's happening over there."
So I thought it was probably true.
Did you participate in soul-winning?
I didn't do any of that. First of all, I was really shy, so just the
thought of approaching somebody that I didn't even know.... My mother
was a big one for giving out tracts. She used to roll them up in colored
cellophane and carry them around. In Dallas there were people to help
you carry the groceries out - and she'd give them to people like that.
I was always mortally embarrassed whenever she did it. I can remember
throwing tracts out of car windows at people who were walking by the
side of the road. I was very gratified one day when one of my Sunday
school teachers was describing how her mother passed out tracts and
how she, too, was always embarrassed by it.
For a while, my mother had a Bible class in our house after school
for the neighborhood kids. That made me rather uncomfortable. These
were all kids who were sort of religious anyway, otherwise they wouldn't
have been coming. One Halloween she set up a flannel board in the
house, and when kids came trick-or-treating, she took them inside
for a five-minute Bible story.
Where did you attend college?
I went to Wheaton, a four-year liberal arts college in Wheaton, Illinois.
Why did you choose Wheaton?
Well, the major criterion for where I could go to college was that
it had to be a Christian school. At the time, there weren't that many
that were fully accredited and also were considered academically good.
At Wheaton I was exposed for the first time to all the liberal arts
topics that are taught in college. I don't know whether it is still
true, but at the time you never heard about things like psychology,
sociology, and anthropology at the high school level. I didn't even
know those topics existed. So when I got to Wheaton, I started getting
exposed to areas of learning that were completely new to me. On the
one hand, the school taught you what you needed to know; on the other
hand, they gave you the Christian interpretation of whatever you were
learning. Still, it opened up completely new areas about which I knew
absolutely nothing. And even though the school tried to present all
those subjects in a Christian light, their interpretive views on these
subjects weren't effective enough to counteract what I was actually
As I look back on it, I suppose I began falling away right from the
beginning. During my freshman break I began reading novels from the
library by Ayn Rand. Politically, she was extremely conservative,
which matched my own views at the time, but intellectually she thought
religion was awful. She was saying things like, "Religion teaches
you to close your mind." I remember she made a big point of the fact
that the sin in the Garden of Eden was eating from the tree of knowledge.
Of course, it was really the knowledge of good and evil. But the point
she was making was that learning anything outside of what the church
wants you to know is somehow considered to be evil. It started to
dawn on me. "That's true!"
Though I still didn't believe all this new stuff I was reading, I
realized you didn't have to go to church to be a Christian, and you
didn't have to do it their way to be a Christian. I still thought
I was a good Christian, but I was starting to decide that I didn't
have to do it their way.
The real turning point for me came during my second year of college
when we had a Christian intellectual speaker at chapel. We had to
go to chapel every day. You couldn't miss more than two chapel services
a semester or you were out.
Anyway, I was in chapel. I'm not sure exactly who the speaker was.
Looking back, I suspect it may well have been Francis Schaeffer -
I know it was someone with a reputation for being a real intellectual,
and Schaeffer certainly had the reputation. In any case, it was some
real hot shot. Later on, when my mother was trying to reconvert me,
she would have given anything to get me to read some Francis Schaeffer.
If I'd only remembered, I could have said, "But Mom! He's the one
who caused me to lose my faith!"
The speaker told a story about meeting a man who claimed to be an
atheist. He said, "So, you're an atheist. Well, let me ask you something.
Do you know everything there is to know?" The man, of course, reasonably
enough, responded, "No, I don't." "OK then," he continued, "you'd
have to agree that if you don't know everything, there could possibly
be a God." "Well, yeah," the fellow replied. "I don't think there
is, but yes, there could be a God." "Well, already you're not an atheist
anymore, now you're an agnostic," he said.
I sat there and thought, "Wait a minute! That goes both ways." If
you're a Christian and you admit that you don't know everything, then
you have to admit the possibility that there is no God, so you're
an agnostic. I knew that if I asked that Christian intellectual, "Do
you know everything?" he would, of course, say no. Then I'd say to
him, "Well, if you don't know everything, you have to admit there
is a possibility that there isn't a God, don't you?" And I knew that
the chapel speaker would not say yes. He would say, "No, there is
no possiblity that there is not a God."
And to me, that was the worst kind of intellectual hypocrisy. This
led me to what I would have to describe as an unconversion experience.
I remember going back to my dormitory room and thinking about it,
thinking that this guy would not admit to being an agnostic if you
turned the tables on him. I realized then that there was a possiblity
that Jesus wasn't God and none of that stuff was true. I remember
having this emotional experience in which I felt freer than I have
ever felt in my life. It was the complete flip-flop of a conversion
experience. It was my unconversion experience.
I didn't just drop religion, but from that point on it was a long,
slow disengagement. The possiblity that it was all baloney began to
hit me. Gradually, religion came to make less and less sense. I left
Wheaton at the end of that year. Within a couple of years, I didn't
believe in any of it anymore.
You see, at Wheaton we had to sign a pledge that we wouldn't smoke,
drink, go to the movies - even Disney movies - play cards, or dance.
They didn't bother to mention sex, because you weren't even supposed
to contemplate that. The girls couldn't wear shorts, or rather, they
couldn't wear shorts without wearing a trench coat over them. So,
if it was summertime, and you were on your way to gym class in your
gym shorts, you had to have on a trench coat.
Even when I believed everything they were teaching me, I didn't like
all the rules. But when I didn't believe it anymore, the rules just
became too much to take. Not only were you required to attend chapel
every day, you were also required to take a certain number of Bible
courses every semester. That was also grossly boring. I used to cut
Bible all the time. When I left Wheaton I still considered myself
a Christian, but I thought it was possible to be a good Christian
outside of the organized church. I still believed in the Bible, but
I interpreted it differently. You could say I was in line with the
more liberal denomination - they still believe in God, they still
believe in Jesus, but they have a very different interpretation of
what it means. I was moving toward the liberal group of people who
still considered themselves Christians. I think that was true of my
At Wheaton I had my own group of friends who were all going through
similar changes at the same time. I and two of my friends dropped
out of school at the end of that year. We all moved into an apartment
in Chicago, about 30 miles away, and got jobs.
Do you think there's a lot of fear in fundamentalism?
Oh, yeah, that's what it's all based on! It's fear of not conforming
to what you've been told is the only way to behave. Everything is
based on fear and guilt. You have to feel bad about not following
what the church says is the way, because if they don't instill that
fear in you, they've got no hold on you. I think it was the realization
that I didn't have to have that fear anymore that let me ultimately
get out of it.
Gradually, it became unnecessary for me to continue to think that
I was a Christian. Because my family still believed in Christianity,
and because it was my upbringing, it would have been very difficult
for me to have gone cold turkey. At some point, after I realized how
hypocritical that Christian intellectual was, I had to stop believing,
but I had to disengage myself over time, because it was too great
a shock any other way.
I think to have left fundamentalist gradually was a kind of defense
mechanism. First you think, "Well, I'm still a Christian, but I dont'
have to go to church to prove it. I can do it my way." After a while
it's, "I'm not going to church, I'm not doing anything they say to
do, so what is left that's very meaningful?"
I can understand why people get into fundamentalism. It's really mostly
social. It tells you how to behave under every single circumstance
of your life. Who doesn't want to be told that? Yoiu know, life is
difficult. Life is complicated. You don't always know the right thing
to do. Here's somebody who's saying, "I can tell you exactly the right
thing to do, no matter what's happening." And, to boot, they rpomise
you that if you just do what they say, in the long run, your life
will always turn out the way God wants it to. That's a great promise.
It's like everything that's happening to you in your life is somebody's
master plan. Doesn't that make you feel secure?
The one thing my mother could never understand is how life could have
any meaning to me if I didn't believe in God. I could never explain
to her that I didn't need that, that that was external, that you had
to create your own meaning, that I didn't want somebody telling me
everything I should be doing, and telling me that I should not question
their telling me that.
I know that for my parents it was a big social thing. It was something
to do. It was a group of people to interact with. It was a support
system. There are a lot of very good things about that. If you're
sick, or you're out of work, or you're having problems, they're always
people who want to help you, who consider it their responsiblity to
help you, and that's a very good kind of support system to have. It
makes your life a lot easier and more pleasant. But from my point
of view, what they had to pay for that was total conformity to the
rules of that group. I just can't countenance any system that tells
you that thinking for yourself is bad, that exposing yourself to alternate
points of view is bad. And that's what they're saying. Their whole
philosophy is, "I don't want to expose myself to anything that the
church doesn't agree is the right thing, because what if I got seduced
by it?" Well, hell, if you got seduced by it, then what you had can't
be that powerful!
I think the church is like any other voluntary group, only more so.
People tend to associate with other people who are like them, who
think like them, and they tend to reinforce each other's beliefs,
and give themselves a support group. The church is just a very well-organized
system for providing people with a peer group for support and reinforcement.
In order to maintain the belief aspects of that system, it has to
be extremely restrictive. They have to try to convince their members
that anything outside of the system is evil.
I was brought up to believe that, if you weren't a Christian, there
were pretty good odds that you were a liar, a thief, and so on. Good
behavior was something that only people who were Christians had. It
was a contradiction to them to have a good person be a non-Christian.
If you were a Christian, you were good; if you were not a Christian,
you were bad. I'm talking about basic behavior, like lying and stealing
and cheating. You couldn't possibly avoid doing all those things if
you weren't a Christian!
Then you get out into the world and you discover that there are really
good, moral, upright people who don't happen to believe the biblical
stuff. You say, "Wait a minute now, these people are supposed to be
horrible, but they're not!"
The church has to teach that, because if people from that kind of
a milieu ever allowed themselves to be exposed to other ways of thinking
they would realize how shallow and silly a lot of their own ways really
Whenever you have an argument or a discussion with any of those people,
they tell you, "Well, the Bible says...." And you say, "Why should
I believe what the Bible says?" And they reply, "Well, the Bible says
it's the word of God." Doesn't the Koran say it's the word of God?
Doesn't any religious group's text say that that's what God said?
Muslims say there's only one God, and Mohammed is his prophet. Why
should I believe them any less than those who say there's only one
God, and he's Yahweh and Jesus is his son? You can't accept something
on its face value like that without opening yourself up to competition
from every other religion in the world.
After I dropped out of Wheaton, I worked for a year, and then went
back to school at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, a
fairly new campus in Chicago. I eventually finished up at the University
of Illinois in Urbana. By then, religion meant nothing to me. I probably
already considered myself an atheist. After working in publishing
for several years in New York, I found myself editing experimental
psychology textbooks. I decided that psychology sounded like a whole
lot more fun than what I was doing. So I went back to school to get
my Ph.D. in experimental psychology from New York University.
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