The mid-1990s were a melancholy chapter in my life. I was in the final phase of Ph. D. studies in Dallas, Texas. Those years were marked by failed romantic interests, career opportunities that never materialized, unexpected health problems, unforeseen economic setbacks, work-related stresses, intense interpersonal conflicts with different people, a series of prolonged dissertation re-writes, and a lack of adequate sleep for months on end. All these dashed hopes had made my “heart sick” (Prov. 13:12). Yet during this difficult season there was always a bright place I could go every Sunday morning. It was in Billy Grammer’s Perspectives Sunday School class at Fellowship Bible Church Dallas.
Billy was the Director of the Counseling Center at FBCD. In this Sunday School class he told us how God restores wounded souls. His class could be likened to an ER for those with spiritual hemorrhages, a sun room where disillusioned Christians could receive the bright rays of renewed hope, and a healing sanctuary for emotionally wounded refugees of evangelical Christianity.
His basic approach to teaching was to tell us what he would say to people in his counseling sessions. The topics he covered were provocative, powerful, and, in that day, years ahead of their time:
- Healing the Shame-Based Personality
- Shame-Bound Family Systems
- Father and Daughter Wounds
- The Struggle of Lesbianism
- Revoking Revenge
- When Woundedness Leads to Self-Deception and Compulsion
- Masculine Deficiency and Homosexuality
- Dark Desire: Understanding Jealousy
- Understanding Fear, Anxiety, and Worry
- Hostility, The Basis for Perversion
I can honestly say that at no time previous and no time since have I experienced such thought-provoking and life-changing teaching in a local church setting. It still boggles my mind to think that these topics were covered in a Sunday School class.
Billy Jr. inherited a heaping portion of musical talent from his father, Billy Grammer Sr., a well-known professional Nashville studio musician, Billy Jr. appeared as a guest artist on the Grand Ole Opry for several years. During seminary Billy worked as a studio musician. His musicianship was captured on a host of radio and television commercials, and film scores. In 1987 he joined the Fellowship Dallas staff where he served for over twenty years. He currently has a counseling practice in Dallas.
Along with his personal warmth, authenticity, and graciousness, one of the things that I appreciated about Billy was his ability to integrate psychological truth with Scripture in a fresh and effective way.
Of the many valuable lessons gained from those years in Billy’s classes, one in particular had a profound and lasting effect upon me. He once made the remark that even though a Christian’s outward behaviors may change, this is no guarantee that genuine spiritual transformation has occurred. His point was that there can be a difference between behavioral change and spiritual transformation.
When he made that statement, it made me wonder about how much of the morality in my earlier Christian life was the product of white-knuckled will power rather than the power of the Holy Spirit. In the days after hearing Billy’s insight I was forced to think about what motivates change in a person’s life. It got me to thinking how “good behaviors” may actually be driven by the flesh more than the Holy Spirit. It got me to thinking about kids I knew who were raised in Christian environments who gave outward signs of morality for a number of years, then eventually abandoned their faith in Christ as well as their Christian morals.
Over the years Billy’s insight lead me to think more deeply about the virtuous people found in non-Christian religions. How might their moral development be explained? Is there a distinction between character formation and spiritual formation? If so, what is it? In 2002 at the National Conference of the Evangelical Theological Society in Toronto I presented a paper titled: “Spiritual Transformation and Behavioral Change: Is There a Difference?” That paper found its origins in Billy’s Sunday School class.
Billy’s class added fuel to my passion for the study of spiritual transformation. My passion for that topic still simmers today. Billy was a change agent who God used in an incredible way to shape my own personal and professional identity.