In this episode of The Good Faith podcast, Curtis talks with the “elder statesman” of Christian counseling, Dan Allender, about how therapy has influenced the American church – in much needed and also problematic ways. They explore how therapy has provided an important place for Christians to bring to Jesus the real, hard, and sometimes traumatic realities of life – often in ways that the church could not. They also examine how “moralistic therapeutic deism” increasingly describes the actual civil religion of Americans.
But one of Dan’s most poignant stories related to an unlikely, tenacious friendship with a kid named Tremper, which began almost six decades ago and persists to this day.
This excerpt was lightly edited for clarity.
CURTIS CHANG: God works through our lives in the world most fundamentally through friendships, especially long-term friendships. And you have had this long-term beautiful friendship with Tremper Longman. You’ve written many of your books with Tremper. Tell a little bit of the story of how that friendship has been meaningful to you.
DAN ALLENDER: When I was 12, I experienced] severe sexual abuse in a summer camp. I came back already a very angry kid.
In 8th grade, a kid behind me tapped me on the shoulder, leaned forward, and asked, “Do you have a comb I could borrow?”
Well, my hair is so curly, kinky, I never owned a comb. I literally grabbed him, began to drag him out of his desk to just put a small little tap on his face. He began to laugh.
My abuse often occurred with multiple abusers, and there was mockery, laughter, and cruelty.
But I had never heard laughter like this young boy’s laughter. And I couldn’t hit him.
When the class was over, I made a beeline rapidly to get out of class and I felt somebody tapped my shoulder again, turned around, and it’s this boy. And he looks at me, he asks, “Would you like to come over to my home after school today?”
And I’m like, “Dude, I was about beat your face in and you are wanting me to come over?”
So I asked him, “Well, what’s your name?”
“Tremper Longman III.”
“There are three of you?”
“Yes. My grandfather, my father, and me.”
I thought, this guy’s nuts. I don’t know why I said, “Well, where do you live?”
To this day, 57 years later, I don’t know why I went, “Okay.”
Within a week, we were best friends and made two commitments in our first week of friendship.
The first was we’d be best men at one another’s weddings, which I’m grateful that that has been fulfilled. What 8th grade boys are thinking about their weddings?
The second commitment is: whoever dies first, the other will dance on his grave. Thankfully, that has not been fulfilled.
So that story is to say, I was a deeply troubled kid. Tremper was a really good, lonely kid who for whatever reason saw me as interesting.
A year and a half later, we’re talking about something and he says, “Well, that’s not, that’s not true to the Bible.”
“The what?” I asked.
He said, “The Bible.”
“What’s the Bible?”
“You know what the Bible is. Like the Old and New Testament.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Well, God said in the Bible.”
“God wrote a book?”
You can tell I had no religious world. I’m from a profoundly dysfunctionally mentally ill family, but I’m now invited into a broken family, but an essentially lovely family, with a friend.
He has two sisters. They became my sisters. His mom and dad became much the surrogacy, but the gospel was part of the warp and woof of this family’s life. So even though by the time I was 19, 20, 21, I mean, I knew the gospel. I could take people through, you know, the gospel road.
If you want psychological theory, this was my first attachment relationship, not just for Tremper, but his family, that created this stability, intrigue and some basis of being able to limit destructive behavior.
Photo Credit: Dan Allender’s Facebook
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Curtis Chang is the founder of Redeeming Babel.
PHOTO CREDIT: Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
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