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How a Hippie Became a Presbyterian Pastor

In CT magazine, Gregory E. Reynolds, shares how he went from being a hippie to a pastor:

I grew up in a liberal Congregational church. During my junior year of high school, my mother came to genuine faith at a Baptist church where the gospel was preached. As for me, I remained uninterested in Christianity. And by the time I went off to college, I was falling in with the ’60s counterculture. I soon affirmed the moral and spiritual relativism that reflected the counterculture’s blend of Eastern religiosity and American optimism.

In 1970, I left school to join a commune in Oregon. During my summer there, we hiked, camped, and climbed among the Three Sisters Wilderness of the Cascade Range. We also enjoyed many deep discussions about Eastern religion and the meaning of life.

Ultimately, however, life in the commune was deeply demoralizing. If nothing else, it washed away my naïve confidence in the inherent goodness of humanity. I still believed, for instance, that sex was meant for marriage—or at least for serious relationships. But that norm was flouted everywhere I looked. I believed, too, in an ethic of working hard and paying my own way. But many members of the commune were essentially mooching off their parents. This lifestyle showed up in their chronic neglect of chores like washing dishes or cleaning the toilet.

The breaking point, for me, came during a weeklong music festival in Portland, known as Vortex I. But the depths of depravity I witnessed there convinced me I had to get away. I returned to the Boston area literally singing the blues. I had gone to Oregon in search of peace and love, but now I felt the weight of my ideals collapsing. This was a dark time for many committed counterculture enthusiasts. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix had both recently died from drug overdoses.

Several days later, I sat despairingly in my room, realizing my own desperate condition: I was the problem—not the “establishment,” not my hedonistic friends in Oregon. My heart was dark with selfishness. I knew I was living for my own pleasure and satisfaction. I looked at a picture of Jesus I’d received from a friend in the commune. In his mind, Jesus was the quintessential guru. The picture showed Jesus smiling benignly. But his bleeding heart reminded me of the Crucifixion. Then the realization stole over me: Jesus had died for sinners just like me.

Almost immediately, I grabbed my Bible and turned serendipitously to the book of Jonah, where I read: “But Jonah ran away from the Lord …” (Jonah 1:3-4). This was me: fleeing from a God who graciously let the Woodstock generation swallow me up and spit me back out, all so he could get my attention.

From there, I read the Bible voraciously, quickly latching onto John 8:31–32: “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” I wanted to tell everyone the liberating good news of Jesus Christ.

My spiritual and intellectual hunger led me to study with Francis Schaeffer at his L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. Here I discovered the rich heritage of Reformed theology, which launched me toward Westminster Theological Seminary and 40 years of ministry in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Sixties revolutionary fervor did nothing but plunge me into despair. Now, thanks to Christ, my hope is built on solid rock, not sinking sand.

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