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No money, no car, but lots of faith

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Shawn Merithew knew God was leading him to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

He just didn’t know how he was going to get there.

The year was 1994, and Merithew was living in Orlando, Fla., preparing for his first semester at Southern. Having just returned from an overseas mission trip — not to mention recently graduating from college — Merithew was short on cash.

He was not, however, short on faith.

Seeing that fall classes were just a few weeks away, and realizing that he had no money for tuition, Merithew sold his car.

He traded one dilemma for another. Now, he simply needed a ride to the Louisville, Ky., campus.

“I just started calling people, saying, ‘I’ve got to get to seminary. I just sold my car to pay tuition,'” Merithew said, recalling his days as a single 22-year-old.

God provided Merithew a way to Southern, but there was a layover. Merithew hitched a ride with the University of Central Florida Baptist Student Union, which was traveling from Orlando to Ridgecrest, N.C., for a college student conference. As Merithew says now, it wasn’t Louisville, but it was “further north” than Orlando. From Ridgecrest, he joined up with the Indiana University-Southeast BSU, which was traveling through Louisville on its way home.

Merithew didn’t have much when the BSU dropped him off at Southern’s Whitsitt Hall that memorable day in August — he brought a briefcase, two suitcases and a pillow — but he did have a great story about faith.

To top it all off, it was Merithew’s first visit to Southern. Ever. Merithew applied to the seminary following a recommendation by his pastor.

“I had never been to Louisville before,” he said. “I had never been to campus before. I was showing up to start classes. I showed up sight unseen. I knew this was where God was wanting me.”

A lot has changed in Merithew’s life since that first day on the historic campus. He has since graduated with a master of divinity degree and is set to graduate this spring with a Ph.D. He is married to his teenage sweetheart, the former Lisa Hubbard, and the couple has a daughter, Grace. Merithew, 29, also is pastor of Carlisle Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, which recently celebrated its 90th anniversary and runs about 350 in Sunday morning worship.

He also has become a voice for historic Baptist doctrine. Readers of the Western Recorder — Kentucky’s Baptist state newspaper — may know Merithew best for his frequent letters to the editor. Merithew often finds himself playing the role of an apologist for the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy, the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message and the Southern Baptist Convention.

“Evangelicalism, at its heart, begins with a high view of Scripture — with the belief that Scripture is the inerrant, inspired, holy Word of God,” he said. “I think that is one of the foundations of what is true evangelicalism. I think evangelism disappears eventually when you forsake the inerrancy of Scripture.”

Merithew contends that while sincere people who discount inerrancy may claim to be evangelicals, it is only a matter of time before they begin questioning key orthodox beliefs — such as the miracles of Jesus and his bodily resurrection.

“Once you forsake the truth of God’s Word, you open the Pandora’s box of leaving behind a great deal of biblical doctrine,” he said. “One of the first doctrines to go is the belief that Jesus Christ is absolutely the only way of salvation and [that] explicit faith in him is necessary for salvation.”

Denominations that drift away from the doctrine of inerrancy also eventually abandon the exclusivity of the gospel, Merithew said.

“History has proven that time and time again,” he said. “We have to stand by these truths if we’re going to truly be Baptists. We have to stand by God’s Word as the inerrant, inspired, holy Word of God.”

Merithew credits those in his home church — First Baptist Church Sweetwater in Longwood, Fla. — for his deeply held beliefs. The church’s former pastor, Bill Haynes, helped guide Merithew to conservative, historic doctrine.

But it was two women close to Merithew’s heart — his wife and his mother-in-law — who figured prominently in leading him to Christ. Merithew met Lisa when he was a 16-year-old high school student. He knew Lisa was a devout Christian, but he didn’t know a lot about her mom. He soon found out.

“Her mom had me over for lunch, and before I could even get many words out of my mouth she was saying, ‘Have you ever come to a place in your life where you know for certain if you were standing before God right now….’ — it was the E.E. (Evangelistic Explosion) presentation.”

Merithew knew he wasn’t a Christian, but he told Lisa he was saved so that she wouldn’t run him off.

“She would have never dated me if she had known I was not a Christian,” he said. “I lied to her and told her I was.”

But Lisa kept inviting him to church, and Merithew kept going. He was attending simply to see Lisa, but the seeds for his salvation were being planted. Over time, by listening to the preaching and seeing the joy in Lisa’s life, Merithew saw that he was lost and in need of God’s grace. Finally, on July 8, 1990, Merithew accepted Christ and joined that same church, First Baptist Church Sweetwater.

Merithew will never forget that day. Now, he is preaching that same gospel from the pulpit, inviting others to Christ.

The pastorate, Merithew said, is where he feels called.

“My heart is really preaching,” he said. “That’s my passion.”

But he said he’s ready for whatever God has in store.

“My philosophy is [that] if God calls me to be a ditch-digger in Africa, I’m going to be at the hardware store buying a shovel.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: FAITH IN ACTION.

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  • Michael Foust