As I drove south on Interstate 65 one hot summer day, headed for Birmingham, I was uncertain about what lay at the end of my 376-mile trek. I had spent ten wonderful years in Louisville, Kentucky, teaching at a Baptist seminary where I had wonderful students and colleagues. I loved what I did and intended to stay there until I died. But a stirring deep within—an unexpected prompting from God, I believed—had set me on this journey to a future yet unknown to me.
One of the great metaphors of life with God is that of a journey. The journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. The journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. The journey of the wise men to Bethlehem. This theme resounds not only throughout Scripture but also throughout the Christian tradition. For example, one of Augustine of Hippo’s favorite words was peregrinatio, Latin for “pilgrimage,” which appears almost 100 times in his classic work The City of God.
In the evangelical tradition, we might resonate more deeply with John Bunyan’s allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, about a character named Christian who leaves his home city, bids farewell to his family and friends, and journeys to a place where he has never been. Along the way, Christian is confronted with dangers and demons of the dark. But he trudges on until, at last, he reaches that city “with foundations whose builder and maker is God,” which can be glimpsed but never occupied until he crosses the river of death.
My own journey began in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1950. My father was an alcoholic and died in prison when I was 12. My mother suffered from polio and struggled to care for my younger sister, Lynda, and me. For several years, Lynda lived in a Christian ...1