John Bradshaw - Conversation with Clifford Goldstein
He was born into a Jewish family. Somehow he found his way to Christianity. Along the way he was going to be writer and wrote what he believed, what he hoped would be, a best-selling novel. But, God had other plans. His name is Clifford Goldstein. I'm John Bradshaw and this is our Conversation.
John Bradshaw: Clifford, thanks so much for being here.
Clifford Goldstein: Sure, glad to be.
— Appreciate it a lot. Let's go back to the beginning. I'm going to ask you it this way. What do you remember about your childhood, being raised in a sort of Jewish context?
— Well, it was a very secular context. I often joke, I say the way we kept the holidays was like, they tried to kill us, they failed, let's eat.
— You know, that kind of a thing. So very, I mean, they sent me to Hebrew school. It lasted one day. It lasted one day and I ran away from Hebrew school and went under the bridge and smoked a few cigarettes. And that was the beginning and end of my Hebrew education. But I was still very much Jewish. Very much aware I'm Jewish, Jewish culture. It never entered my mind that I was anything other than Jewish, even though I knew almost nothing about the Bible or the background or anything. Very secular.
— But tell me about your family.
— Well, my family, you know, as far as I know, they're Jewish all the way back. Of course I don't know after the war, probably almost of all of them were. There's a room at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C, to a city of Kovno that got completely wiped out and that was where my mother's side came from.
— From there. But my father had been raised in a pretty religious home and then, you know, he was a soldier in World War II and just sort of, "Where was God in the Holocaust"? That kind of thing, and my mother, very secular. I often joked later my mother was a backslid Unitarian.
— What in the world would that look like, huh?
— Yeah, yeah, my mother actually had a spiritual side, but she, you know. Religion really wasn't part of our... I mean, we were culturally Jews, but I can't remember ever sitting down and us ever having a serious or any kind of in-depth conversation about, "Is there a God"? You know, my father was always very tolerant. If somebody wants to believe, let them believe, you know. But really, I don't have any memory in my family of any kind of sit down and talk about it. Though I do remember we were very literate, a lot of books. And I still remember there was a Bible, the Old and New Testament.
— There was, yeah?
— Just sitting on the shelf. And I can remember I was maybe 14 or 15 and just picking up the New Testament. I mean, it was rare for me just to pick up a Bible. It was the Old and New Testament. And what I distinctly remember is going to the Book of Revelation and reading the last few verses of the last chapter. But truly, it meant nothing to me. Old Testament, New Testament, it all meant nothing to me in terms of how I lived, at least consciously anyway.
— You said there were a lot of books around the home.
— So what kind of books?
— Oh, my goodness, just lots. Well, you know, I have an uncle who's a writer. Had been a well-known writer. My grandfather had been an editor, so lots of novels. And I read a lot of novels and history books and I can still remember some of these. There was one author named Thomas Wolfe.
— Tom, not the contemporary Tom Wolfe of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test you might be thinking of. But there was one who lived in the 20s and 30s, Thomas Wolfe, the novel's called "You Can't Go Home Again" and "Look Homeward Angels". Big, big thick novels about loneliness and whatever. And I can remember as a child reading those novels and loving them. And that was kind of the stuff that spurred on me that I wanted to be a novelist.
— So how early was this, did you catch the writing bug?
— Oh, quite young. I mean yeah, I was always good in English. I was never a particularly great student in school. I never really applied myself that hard. But I did like English and I got, you know, honors English. And I used to write stuff and sometimes the teachers used to accuse me of having plagiarized.
— You know, because they just looked. They didn't think I could do that, you know. And again, I had an uncle who was a writer. A very well-known, avant-garde writer, you know. Experimental fiction and so forth. And my grandfather was an editor. So it was, however it works, it was in the genes. And then yet I was a creative writing major in college.
— Where did you go to college?
— University of Florida, Gainesville. And even though I was creative writing and then it was there I decided I was going to write a novel. And I started a novel my senior year at college, okay. And just started it and that book consumed me. I poured everything into the novel, nothing else mattered. I used to tell people, well I asked my uncle once, the writer, you know, about how I'm going to survive. And he says, "Look, if I knew how you could write and live," he said, "I'd bottle it and we'd both get rich". Okay, because you know, he struggled years too surviving. But in some ways I would tell people, "The novel impacted my life, controlled my life, more than I controlled what was going, the characters in it". Because nothing else mattered. Everything was subservient to writing the book because I had to pour everything into it.
— It's tough to be a successful writer. I mean, no matter who. I was reading the other day about a woman whose name I don't recall. She was in the Midwest, moved to New York City hoping that she'd get there. She said, "More than 100 rejection letters" for work that she'd sent here and there and there.
— Yeah well, see, it's depends to how you define successful.
— If you, I mean, there are some brilliant, incredibly successful writers in the sense they produce incredibly well-done writing, you know, and at every level you'd say successful. They just don't sell.
— And all you've got to do is look at the bestseller list, like the New York Times Bestseller List, and really it's a lot of junk.
— Yeah, yeah.
— It really is.
— Danielle, a lot more Danielle Steele or Dean Koontz. And every now and then, every now and then they'll be one of these rare ones that's a literary tour de force and yet at the same time sells.
— Okay, and it's very rare.
— You find the authors that find their groove, start churning out a production line and maybe this schmaltzy sort of...
— Oh yeah, they sell.
— This genre and they sell and sell and sell and sell.
— Yeah, I don't really read any of that stuff. But oh yeah, yeah, it's tough because you look back at the history of writing, the novels that the greatest writers. People who are now considered the great writers, most of them, something like the Southern writer, William Faulkner, and who's now like a god. In college when I was in the South, all we ever read was Faulkner. And for decades the man starved.
— The man starved and struggled.
— Yeah, it's interesting, too. My daughter was just doing some class where she's got to read a bunch of books and one was an African-American female author and I wish I could remember her name, but I cannot. And the novel only...
— Toni Morrison.
— No, no, no, she's far less well-known than Toni Morrison.
— Oh, okay.
— The novel never really made it. In fact, the novel was criticized. The book, novel, I think it was a novel, the book languished and then it was discovered and now suddenly it's this masterpiece.
— Yeah, yeah, oh yeah.
— Might have been interesting how... See, doesn't that tell you too how authors, just like artists, you kind of got to get into it with the right people. Someone's got to like you and promote you.
— Well, there's a certain amount of, I don't know how, just the right place at the right time, the right connections.
— Yeah, neither one of us want to use the word luck, but if we did, you'd call it luck.
— But it you're real, because I even remember my uncle one time, because my uncle wrote. His probably most famous novel had 80 rejections.
— And then it came out. A novel called, "Wittgenstein's Mistress," and it's hailed as a masterpiece. But even then it never sold a lot, it never sold. And I can still remember him telling me, he said, "I've got this idea for this broad, wide novel, but I'm going to get into the subjectivism and it's going to kill me". In the sense that he knew it would...
— So he knew...
— Yeah, he knew it and yet he did it anyway. Oh, I've got a number of his novels and they are no scene, no summary, no plot, it's pure, ultimate post-modern. Ultimate, and yet somehow he pulls it off.
— And the novels have been hailed. People, this is great stuff, but most people don't read them.
— Yeah, they've been hailed, they just haven't been purchased.
— Yeah, yeah. In fact, every now and then when I go into a bookstore, and I haven't done it in a while because I haven't been there, but I'd look on the shelf to see and I haven't seen any of his books there for years. And that's a little painful.
— Uh, yeah, sure.
— But when you've got the writing bug in you, you don't care. I say you don't care. You just got to write what's in yah. You write what's in you and if it sells great, you know, if you've got a way to earn a living, great. And if you can't write and sell and earn and make money, great, you know. But if you've got this thing in you, you've just got to do it.
— So you were writing a novel that was consuming you. It was the big thing. Did you imagine then, "This is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life"? Or was it just a novel, was this...
— Oh no, I knew I was going to write novels for the rest of my life.
— Oh, that was my intention.
— Oh, was it?
— Whatever happened with this, whatever happened with this one, I mean, I was going to start another one.
— There'd be more.
— You know. And oh, that was actually the only thing I liked doing. The only thing I had any real talent for. And I poured myself into it, poured myself into it and it was a god to me. And that's sort of where everything wound up. It was a god to me. And the funny thing is too, John, when I tell the whole story of what happened, after I got rid of it, for two years I couldn't tell that without a pain. And then one day it hit me, wow! This doesn't hurt me anymore.
— Well, there are going to be people wondering what you mean by, "I got rid of it". So what did you do with this novel?
— Well the bottom line, this is a whole long spiel. In the midst of all the writing. I was always somewhat of a seeker. I thought about it the other day when I talked to some of my old friends and they said, "Well Cliff, the only thing we remember you as, you were a seeker". And I did an incredible amount of traveling when I was young.
— Oh yeah?
— Oh I just traveled all over.
— Abroad, you went overseas?
— Yeah, oh yeah, yeah. When I was 17 years old, I saved up my money from high school. I had enough money I went over to Europe with a friend of mine. I ditched him, I ditched him after two weeks. I guess he was bugging me, I'd rather be alone. So I wandered around. I never saw him again.
— And you were 17, wandering around.
— He was 18, yeah, I was 17. I'm wandering around Europe, 17. It was great.
— Yeah, that's young.
— It was fine, I didn't have any problems. And then I came back, I went to school for two years, saved some money, and went back and lived overseas in Europe and worked over there. Then I went back, finished college, and went over to Europe again and wound up in Israel. And I did a lot of... And somebody once said to me once, they said, "What are you looking for"? And I hadn't thought about it like that, but I think I was a seeker, but I really was a seeker for truth. And what was funny was I grew up a very post-modern. And you know, you got your truth and that's your truth. I got mine. And I was about 21 years old and I tell the story. I was in a pizza parlor in Gainesville, Florida, and I was eating a pizza and I was reading a philosopher. And the philosopher said something that kicked into my mind that, hey, there's a pizza on the table. Something explained the pizza. Okay, something, somewhere out there, you know, maybe nobody can know where the pizza came from or whatever, but somewhere there was an answer for it. And then it hit me. There's the universe, there's the reality. There's something and maybe it's all an illusion, maybe we're all in the matrix, and that's fine. That would be the truth. But it hit me that there had to be a truth. And for some reason, I remember thinking to myself, if it were humanly possible. Because my realization that truth had to exist is, you know, the fancy word ontology.
— There's something here. But that's a totally separate thing from another fancy word, epistemology. My knowledge of it.
— Your knowledge, yeah.
— Yeah, yeah, the fact that it was there was a totally separate question from whether I could know what it was. And I realize I might not ever know what it was. But I thought to myself, if I could know what it was, I wanted to know it. I didn't care where it led me, what it cost me, what I had to suffer, what I had to give up.
— Well, it was going to lead you and it would going to cost you. Well I mean, ultimately, you understand what I mean by that. But in the immediate term it was going to cost you. So how did you find yourself peering into a Bible and saying, "I think this might be the revelation of this truth"?
— Well, that gets to be my... I was a born-again believer before I even knew I was a sinner. Okay, I was born and the bottom line was, you asked about the novel. That novel was my god, okay? And then I had had some amazing experiences, just when I tell my story, people look at me like they almost can't. Some people have accused me of lying. I've had people say that. That got me open that there was something out there.
— For example.
— Oh well, maybe we'll catch that next, because to try to explain that...
— Ah, it's just that big, huh?
— Yeah, yeah, ask me that because I just need a little bit more time for that. But I have these things that open me and the bottom line was, I came home to my room one night to work on this novel. I put two-and-a-half years of my life in the novel. It meant more to me than life itself. And I remember I was having these spiritual... I sat there and right before I started to work, I closed my eyes and I uttered a little prayer. I didn't know who I was praying to, whatever. And in the back, see, the devil had me. I was having these occult experiences. I was in the occult. And I even started writing about the occult. So Satan had me. And then somehow in the back and forth of the great controversy, that little prayer was all the opening God needed me. And at that moment, the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ came to me in the room. And in that instant, I knew exactly who He was and what He wanted. And he said, "Cliff, you've been playing with Me long enough. If you want Me tonight, burn your novel". Because He showed that that novel was my god, and "you shall have no other gods before Me". You know, I didn't know that Bible text. I didn't know, I didn't know if Moses was in the New Testament or the Old Testament. That's how biblical illiterate I was. But I knew I met God that night and He showed me instantly, instantly, this novel was my god and I just knew I can't do both. I can't do both, and it was totally free choice. Two things came through to me that night and I can wax eloquent for hours on why, philosophically why free will is impossible, okay, even though I believe it.
— Because my faith makes no sense without it. And plus, that night, I knew it was totally my free choice. I mean, I knew it, it was as clear to me. And the other thing too, which is very spooky to me, I knew that if I don't do it now, I'll never have this opportunity again.
— But how did I know? I mean, I was having occult experiences. I took the God-given gift that God had given to me, that's real redundant, but I started writing about my occult experiences. I started weaving it into the novel, so in the bottom line I could have spent the past 40 years writing for the other guy, for the other side, instead of for the Lord. And had I been doing that, I wouldn't have gotten out.
— No, no, no. And you felt that at that time? You felt like this is now or never?
— Yeah, for whatever reason.
— The door is open.
— I didn't know nothing. I didn't even know I sinned, I didn't know I was a sinner, but I knew if this is if I don't do this now, I'll never have another opportunity.
— There's more, there's more, we've got to hear the more. We've got to hear more. And we want to hear about the more. There's plenty more, don't go too far. I'll be back in just a moment with more with Clifford Goldstein.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to Conversations. My guest is Clifford Goldstein, who today is a writer, a political writer, and an author, an influential author, but a few years ago, you took a novel that you'd been writing for two-and-a-half years...
Clifford Goldstein: 40 years, yeah, 40 years.
— Placed it in the fireplace.
— On a little two-burner hot plate.
— Set fire to it.
— Burned it, yeah. And people have got to remember, too, I've been telling this story for decades and I've got to, I told it once, even locally, and someone said, so the teacher came up to me later and said, the kid said, "Well, what was the big deal? Didn't he have it stored in the cloud"?
— Oh yeah, that's right, hadn't you backed it up?
— Yeah, I was using a manual typewriter. We were 25 year, what was the big deal of his burning his novel? Didn't he have it in the cloud?
— Yeah, well I'm reminded of Abraham. God says, "Kill your son," and he doesn't quite understand this, but, "Okay, I'm going to go and do it". Figured God would be able to raise him up. And here, you're hearing from God, "Burn this novel". So what, in your mind, you're about to set fire to it. What happens after it's gone? I mean, this is where your life has gone.
— I had no idea.
— Is that so?
— I mean, when I burned that novel that night, I mean, I was born again, but if you would have said to me that night, "Cliff, you're a sinner," I wouldn't have known what you were talking about.
— Right, right.
— In other words, all I knew was I met God and Jesus and I had to burn the novel and you know, in one sense, it was fortunate. There's a fancy philosophical phrase. You've probably heard of it, "Tabula rasa". I was a blank slate. I mean, I knew almost nothing about Christian theology, Christian thought. I mean, I knew nothing. And so I was wide open to learn the truths that I learned. I didn't have years of false teachings.
— That's right, you didn't have a lot of unlearning to do.
— Yeah, oh no.
— Hey, but what that means also is that you could be influenced in any direction. You didn't have any parameters.
— Oh, I knew nothing.
— You could go this way or that way.
— Oh yeah, I had all this zeal. And the next thing, people who knew me, knew me, "There's Cliff Goldstein, running around with a Bible, talking about Jesus," and people were shocked. In fact, I used to harangue Christians. There used to be this hellfire and brimstone preacher. His name is Jed Smock. And he used to come to the University of Florida at Gainesville and he'd stand out there in a circle and he'd be preaching and there'd be students around him and heckling him. And I used to get in the center of the circle and I'd get on his heels. I'd curse him, I'd curse his Bible. Like you know, and he was a charismatic. And he'd put hands on my head and speak in tongues to cast demons out of me. And I'd start drooling and writhing, just for the fun of it. And it got so bad my friend eventually nicknamed me Heckle. I was nicknamed Heckle. But then one day, he came back and I got next to him in the crowd and witnessed to the students about my belief in Jesus.
— That, man, that's a turnaround. I'm interested to know why you bothered to heckle the guy when you didn't have any strong religious leanings.
— Well you know, he had said to me something one time. He had said to me something. "You who scream the loudest are fighting the hardest". And you know, it was very funny because there was another Jewish guy who used to go out and harangue him with me. And he ended up becoming a believer, too.
— Oh, really?
— You know, so I think the Holy Spirit was drawing me even before I had any idea.
— Because again, it goes back, I was a seeker for truth. It hit me, that truth had to resist. And for some reason, I don't like to use the word sacred because that connotes too much, denotes too much the idea of something religious. It was almost a duty.
— A secular duty. Truth exists, you need to go to try to find a way to find it if you can. And I never ended up thinking it would be Jesus.
— So how'd you find Jesus then, if Jesus was the truth, you found Jesus was the truth?
— Well, I knew it was Him who came to me that night. That night, I mean, I knew it was Jesus.
— So where did you start?
— Well, I had met, here's a funny. Okay, here's something that some of your listeners will appreciate. I started having occult experiences, okay. And I'm thinking, "Wow, maybe the occult, maybe spiritualism is where the truth is that I'm looking for". And so I one day walked over to the library at the University of Florida. Even though I wasn't in school, I could still go into the library. And I'm going to get a book on the occult. Well, as we talked earlier, I was a starving writer and I needed a job, you know, and I did not like vegetarian, okay. I didn't like Christians and I didn't like vegetarian, okay. And there was a health food store and I was desperate enough that I thought, "What will the man give in exchange for his soul"? I'm going to hang around a bunch of tofu-eating, veggie people, but I needed a job. So I go to this health food store and I knock on the door, it was closed and this guy, I had met him the day before under a funny circumstance. And this little guy comes out and we start talking and I said to him something about my occult stuff. And he says, "What"? And he pulls me in the health food store and locks the door. And we sit down and he starts talking to me. And I'm telling him about my occult, these astral projections and all that. And he starts warning me about the devil. Well, the devil and I mean, telling me the devil, you might as well have told me that Santa Claus wouldn't come down the chimney on Christmas if I'm a bad boy. You know. I mean, it was just the devil.
— And that mind frame, are you kidding me? And anyway, before I leave he says, "Read this book". And he hands me a book. Okay, and as a writer I'm a reader. I mean, I just read, read, to this day I just read, read, that's all I do. I have almost no hobbies, I just read, I read and write. So he gives me the book and I walk over to the library. And I get a book on the occult, okay. And I sit down in the library, first time in my life, I sit there and I read the first chapter of the occult book. And I practice the first technique and sometimes I'm hesitant. My wife tells me, "Don't tell what you did". But maybe people ought to know. But the first technique they tell you is stare at a point in the back of your head, okay, that's all. But anyway, I'm sitting there, so I'm doing that. And then I'm done, because as I said, I was having these occult experiences. I mean, they're real, my interpretation of them was wrong, but I'm thinking maybe this is the truth that I'm looking for.
— Because it was, you have one or two astral projections and you know, reality is more than just what they taught you in high school physics, okay. But anyway, to make a long story short, I've got the occult book in one hand for the first time in my life and I'm going to put it back on the shelf and literally in my other hand for the first time in my life I got the book the guy handed me in the health food store. Occult book in one hand, "The Great Controversy" by Ellen White in another. And I was clueless. I was clueless as to what was going on and I read, I read the first couple chapters of "The Great Controversy". I was enjoying it and so on. Haven't got to the spiritualist stuff yet, and then it was two nights later when the Lord came to me and told me to burn my novel. And when I gave my heart to Jesus that night, those occult experiences didn't come back.
— Hmm, yeah, that's interesting.
— Didn't come back. But ooh, here's occult book in one hand and oh my goodness.
— And that's "The Great Controversy" playing out.
— Oh, I was living it.
— Right there.
— And I was totally oblivious, totally oblivious to what happened. But you asked earlier about the events that happened that got me. Believe, okay. Again, I can't go through all the details, but I'll tell you this main thing. I had been living overseas, living in Israel, lived on a kibbutz in Israel. And then I was in Europe and I was just having problems. My things were just kind of spiraling down for me. And I still remember, I was in Paris, and I even remember the spot where I was because my wife has been hearing me tell this story for decades and we were in Paris a number of years ago and I said, "This is right where I was standing when I had this moment". It was one of these moments whether I shook a fist up in the air or not I said, "God, if You're there, I need a sign". And little did I know that what did Scripture say, Greeks seek for wisdom, Jews seek for a sign.
— Seek for a sign.
— And I knew nothing about that. I mean, I knew nothing about and I'm sitting there, totally oblivious to the Bible. I said, "God, if You're there, I need a sign. Otherwise I will never believe ever". Okay, and with that I left. And I went back to Israel and I had met these Christians there earlier and I told them, I said, "Well, I asked God for a sign, if God is there," and someone said, "If you asked God, He'll reveal Himself to you". "All right, fine". Well, two days later I go to the main office in Tel Aviv to get assigned to a new kibbutz and I go into the office and there's a woman at the desk and there's a boy sitting ahead of me. And I'm waiting my turn and I look over on the desk and I see a sheet of paper and it has my name on it, Clifford Goldstein. And so I said to the woman, and I said, "Excuse me, how did you know I was coming"? And she says, "I don't know, who are you"? And I said, "Clifford Goldstein". And the boy who was there, he jumps up and says, "No, that's my paper, my name is Clifford Goldstein". Okay, now sure. Clifford Goldstein's not the most common name in the world, but look, I was in Tel Aviv, okay? And then I said, "Cliff, where are you from"? And he said, "Miami Beach," and I grew up in Miami Beach. In fact, when I told my mother the story later, she said when I was a kid, his doctor bills used to come to my house.
— Oh, really?
— So he was there to get assigned to a kibbutz. And I said, "Cliff, have I got the kibbutz for you. You go to my old kibbutz and tell them your name is Clifford Goldstein and you're from Miami Beach and see what happens". Okay, so he goes to the kibbutz. Well, about two weeks later I'm not getting it together. I'm going to go home. But I go back to the kibbutz for a visit and of all the different rooms they put volunteers in, Clifford Goldstein was in the same room that I had been in when I had left the kibbutz months earlier. And there were two beds in the room. And he was sleeping in the same bed that I had been in. So he's sitting on his bed and I'm sitting at the edge of the bed and we're laughing. It's a little uncanny. You know, we're not thinking that much of it. Now as I said, I was a writer, okay, and I did a lot of reading. And when I left the kibbutz, I had a whole bunch of books that I left on the bookshelf over my bed. And there was one book in particular, a book of poetry by a woman named Sylvia Plath.
— That so impacted me. I mean, when I tell the story to friends who had lived on the kibbutz, I said, "Remember I used to make you sit there and listen to me read her poems whether you wanted to or not". Because the stuff just devastated me. Nothing I had read had impacted me more. And I looked up over the bookshelf and I see a number of my old books. And I said, "Cliff, you like my books"? And he says, "What are you talking about"? He said, "Those are all my books".
— Oh, you're kidding.
— And I said, "No way". And I stood up and I went right for the Sylvia Plath book. Same author, same everything, but it wasn't my book, it was his book. And I thought, "What kind of dork reads this stuff other than me"? And I said, "Cliff, are you a writer"? And he says, "I'm thinking of becoming a writer and I came to Israel to write," which is what I was doing. Then on top of it, when I was on the kibbutz, I had a blond, Danish girlfriend. Her name was Tina. We're talking and as we're talking, this girl walks into the room. I never saw her before. It was his girlfriend. She's blond, she's from Denmark.
— And her name is...
— And her name was Tina.
— No way.
— Okay, yeah, I'm telling you this, this is exactly... And then one I'll never forget. See the Christians, I knew these Christians there, they were there and one of them said to me, I'd never forget his words to me. He looked at me and he was just incredulous, and he says, "Cliff, you're asking God for signs". He says, "Man, what more do you want? The Lord is calling you by name". And I mean, at that point, when he said that to me, I didn't know, I remember standing there and I'm thinking about this and I'm trying to process it. And I'm thinking, "I asked for a sign," and I realize this can't be a coincidence, okay. And if it's not a coincidence, it was like for the first time. I kind of looked up in the sky with a little bit of fear and a little bit of reverence, okay, because I know. But anyway, the bottom line was, these Christians, and I used to harangue and harass them too, they took me down to the Jordan River, which was just near the kibbutz, they baptized me, they gave me a Bible and I come back to America. But really, I was no more born again than a corpse.
— Okay, I mean, they gave me the Bible, but you know, I'm reading the Bible, but if you're not into it... I couldn't get passed the talking snake story, you know.
— And so on. It took, but that was the background, and it took about a month later for the Lord came to me in the room and told me to burn my novel. When I burned the novel, that was the night I became a born-again believer. Okay, and it was the people in the health food store who where really the first Christian contact that I had. And I studied with them in the store. And it was funny too, because about oh, maybe a month later, I'm standing in front of the health food store getting ready to cross the street and a car drives by. And who do you thinks in the car, Clifford Goldstein. Clifford Goldstein. And I saw him, was in the Galilee. And to this day, to this day I can still see the stunned look, the stunned look on his face. And I think I've tracked him down, he's out in L.A. I tried to get in touch with him. He just ignored me and so on, but that got my attention. That got my attention. But even then, that helped open me up to God intellectually. But I had to be born again, I had to be broken. When I burned that novel, I had nothing, I had nothing. I poured everything, and when people were saying, "Oh, we knew you couldn't do it," you know. And the devil would throw stuff. In fact, it was very funny because the night that the Lord told me to burn then novel, it was going better than it had ever been going. And I wondered, of all the nights, why this? And a little while later the devil hit me. "Oh, you were afraid you couldn't do it". And I stopped and I said, "No, no, no". Had I had the slightest doubt about me writing that novel that night, boom! The devil would have had a hook on me. But I'm thinking, "No, no, no". I burned the novel in the sense when the nets were filled.
— And that's a very important lesson, you know.
— I'm going to ask you this very quickly. Do you remember the story you wrote well? And was it any good?
— Oh yeah, I remember the story.
— All right.
— Was it any good? How do you mean good, was there anything? It was ultimately a story about family.
— Do you look back and say, "That might really have flown"?
— No, no, I shudder. I shudder to think what would have happened had I not burned that novel.
— And I look back now. Suppose I had written it and suppose it made me rich and suppose it made me famous. The Hebrew word, vanity, vanity, all is vanity, hevel, heveleen, call heveleen. Vanity of vanities, it meant nothing.
— And I look to this day at some of these great novels and ah! Ah, no, no, I have never been sorry. Whoo!
— Yeah, those are good words. "I've never been sorry". More good words in a moment. I'll be back with more from Cliff Goldstein in just a second.
John Bradshaw: Welcome back to Conversations. My guest is Cliff Goldstein. So Cliff, you burned the novel. You've become a Christian. I used to work in radio, you know, and I decided I can't do that anymore, I've get to get out, I'm done. So I gave my life to Jesus, no more radio. There there was the temptation, maybe you can still do that? Uh, no, not possible. But the thought came to my mind, "Ah, can you do Christian radio," so I toyed with that idea. It wasn't that straightforward. You're not going to be a novelist now, but somewhere back there you had to be thinking, "Can I write for Jesus"? Cliff Goldstein: Well, when I burned that novel that night, I died to it. I realized I might not ever write again, okay? I mean, I just, it was that much of a hold on me. And I was okay with it. I had no idea what, but if that's what it took, that was okay. And for about a year and a half I didn't do any writing. Then one day the door opened up for me to write an article. And it was funny because I mentioned I didn't like vegetarian and the first article I wrote and published was on the advantages of vegetarianism.
— And I haven't stopped writing since. And sometimes when I tell the story, particularly with young people, I stress that, you know. I stress, you know, I died to it, but in the Lord's timing He gave it back and that's all I've been doing ever since is writing. And it's not a god to me. I love it, it's what I do, it's how I earn a living. But it's totally different now, so yeah.
— You began to write Christian books. What was the first book you wrote?
— The first book I wrote was called "The Saving of America". And it was a look at last-day events through the church's prophetic lens. America in prophecy and so on. And then I wrote a book after called, oh actually the title was "Bestseller" and it was my conversion story for lack of, yeah, I wrote that up. And I've written about 25 books since then. And it's funny, I've written all these books. Most of them are out of print now. Yeah, most of them flopped, you know. And I said you write what's in you, yeah, I don't care, I write what's in me. But I wrote this one book and I wrote it in 1988 and to this day, no matter where I go, in fact, I was in Australia about a year and a half ago and some surfer dude, looked like 18 years old with long, blond hair, a little cap on his head, he comes up to me and he thanks me for this book called "1844 Made Simple".
— "1844 Made Simple," yeah.
— And I probably get more people thanking me for that than all my books put together.
— I want to ask you about that. It's a significant book. It's not a great big book.
— No, no, no.
— But it's a powerfully important book. Tell me about the why behind that book.
— Well you know, I joined the Adventist Church in 1980. It was just like in how much we go through. It's at the time of crisis and turmoil and there was this doctrine came under attack and so forth. And I felt like it was central. And I thought to myself, "If I can't get this from the Bible and the Bible alone," that was the key thing for me, "I can't get this from the Bible, then I'm out of here". See, in many ways to have joined the church at this time, as painful as it was, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
— Because I was forced early on, I mean, some of the just Sabbath, that's a no-brainer.
— Sure it is.
— Sabbath is a no-brainer.
— Easiest thing in the world, yeah.
— State of the dead, oh my goodness, when you look at it.
— What are the alternatives today?
— Yeah, yeah, oh yeah.
— Nothing makes sense.
— Yeah, yeah, yeah, state of the dead. Second coming, Christ substitutionary atonements.
— You know, and so on, but this was the one. This was the one, only one that's distinctly ours. All the others you can find somewhere. And I was as green as can be, but I just went and here's the irony. Very little of what I wrote in that book was anything new.
— Was anything that I...
— That's right.
— These were truths that were always there. And yet somehow, over time, they got buried and I just went back and really in many ways, the key to everything is Daniel 2.
— Sure, yes, yes.
— That's every, you understand Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, after Greece, there's only one power that comes up after Greece, one power. It changes form. It goes, same power, all the way to the end of the world.
— Okay, you understand that 90 percent of the error that comes in, because Daniel 2, Daniel 7, one power, one beast, all the way to the end. Daniel 8, you've got the ram, the goat, the little horn. One power all the way to the end of the world. And you parallel them, you got that basic, and then you've got this massive judgment scene in Daniel 7, okay? A massive pre-advent judgment, I mean, it's there.
— Three times. You've got the little horn, judgment, second coming. Three times, boom, boom, boom so you've got that. And you parallel that with Daniel 8, you know. And between Daniel 2 and Daniel 7, and Daniel 8, Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece are all named for you.
— That's right.
— They're named for you. And then you bring in when Jesus talks about, when you see that spoken out by the prophet Daniel, well what power was He talking about? The whole New Testament takes place in Rome. It's Rome all the way through. And then when you just parallel Daniel 2, Daniel 7, and Daniel 8, and you parallel that cleansing of that, The judgment scene in heaven with the cleansing of the sanctuary in Daniel 8, you've got it. You're 90 percent of the way there. So really, in the end, I think the thing that made that book so successful, it was simple because I was still new. I mean, I had written like 15 years later. I wrote a book called "Graffiti in the Holy of Holies".
— Yeah, sure.
— Which was like "1844 Made Simple" 15 years later. And it was much deeper. I think it was a better book because I fleshed out, I got the Gospel in it, I brought the Gospel in. But nobody bought it. Nobody bought because I think, number one, it was a little too complicated, and by that time, too, things are kind of settled down.
— Yeah, the book spoke to a need, a very definite need and it made simple what. So pastors got to take a little blame for this, preachers. I think theologians got to man up and take a little blame for this as well. It should be simple. For goodness sake. If Jesus didn't say anything about feeding giraffes, he spoke about feeding sheep. It's supposed to be simple.
— And some of us have a happy knack of taking simple and making it complicated. Some of it is ego, I'm sure. "Look how clever I am".
— Yeah, oh yeah.
— "Why should I come down to your level. I want you to look up at, at mine and admire me". But you know, I don't know what the rest is. Sometimes it's tradition. Sometimes it's this is just how we have to do it. The doctrine's got to be simple. The Bible teaching's got to be simple. Jesus taught in such a way that the pointy-headed people got it but also the young people walked away saying, "I know what He's talking about". So I think that's, that's part of the chat...
— Yeah, ad I think what helped me too was I was raised and educated. I was able to look at things with fresh eyes.
— That's right.
— That's what it was. I was able to look at things with fresh eyes and so, yeah. And I still believe it as strongly now as I ever did.
— Yeah, yeah, thank God for that. There's something else you believe strongly in and I want to ask you about this. You write, talk passionately, repeatedly about Creation. Creation versus evolution, creation not evolution. Why are you so passionate about that?
— Well, you know, well, I'll be blunt. And if evolution's true, you don't have to worry about going to hell because there is no hell.
— If evolution is true, the Bible is a lie. Jesus is a liar, Paul is a liar. Everything we believe, everything is destroyed by evolution. And see, I mean, the Richard Dawkins and some of these guys, I have an immense amount more respect for them than I do for the theistic evolution. Because these guys, Dawkins knows. He knows there's no way...
— It's one or the other.
— Yeah, there's no possible way. And I've been very disappointed in, there are certain Christian apologists. There's one guy that I have an immense amount of respect for him in so many ways, genius, two Ph.D.'s. His name is William Lane Craig and brilliant apologist and it just breaks my heart that William Lane Craig has bought into evolution.
— So I want you to tell me why, in your opinion, these guys do that, why do they do that? They look at the Bible, the same Bible we look at. They see how prevalent and central the Creation story is. They know that evolution springs from a place that's virulently opposed to the Gospel, and instead of taking a stand, they try and blend these things together. There's a fusion of truth and error. Why is that their approach, do you think?
— Well again, I don't know individual hearts, but...
— Sure, I understand.
— Every age has its myths. And you say, "Well, we don't have myths, we have science". But see, that's the great myth of our age because it's science, science is very powerful. And science works. You build rockets, you go to the moon. You use your cell phones. And again, I could go off on this for a long time because it's fascinating, but the fact that the science works. And that you can get workable technology from it is a totally separate issue from whether the theory behind it is correct. And the history of science is filled with theories that made predictions that worked that nobody believes anymore. Okay, but I guess the bottom line is a thing called scientism. Well, maybe they're not scientism because that would be... The bottom line is the power of science and the culture. We're told there's overwhelming evidence for this.
— There's overwhelming... And when you hear it, and see, here's the thing. Well, I'll give you a real quick example what happened to me early on. Because I got hit. I'm born again and I have a brand whole new set of first principles. A whole new set of first principles, just boom, overnight. I realize almost everything I believed at the most foundational level was wrong. And then early on, though, I felt this tension between what I had just experienced and evolution, and I remember I struggled with this. Even back then at the most base, I knew nothing. I mean, at this point I may be beginning to even understand I'm a sinner, okay. This is how, and I remember I struggled with this. And the people I studied with kept on saying, "Nah, don't worry about it". But you know, finally they could see that I really, and they gave me some creationist book. And see, I have no idea is the creationist book is any good or not. I mean, some of the creationist literature could be, I think, as hokey as some of the quote bona fide evolutionary stuff. But I had the scales come off my eyes as I read that book. And in many ways it's very broad, but this gets to the point. Look, nobody denies the dinosaur bones are in the ground.
— Nobody denies the fossils are in the ground, okay?
— But I was 23-24 years old, it was the first time that I would ever been shown in my life that there's another way to interpret how the fossils got there.
— Hmm, sure, yeah.
— And see, my whole life, and see this comes through a fundamental weakness in all of science, okay, that no matter what theory you have, somebody else could come along later and overthrow the theory.
— That's right.
— And give a different explanation for it. The bottom line is you're told, you're able to interpret the evidence in ways to fit evolution, okay. And I just think when you hear it over and over and over and they're shown the stuff, they believe it. If evolution is true, then the Bible's a lie. The Bible's a lie, there's no question about it.
— I couldn't agree more with you. In certain areas it takes a little courage to believe Creation. It should never be that way in the church. Certainly in science. I spoke with a Ph.D. in...
— Oh, science will kill ya.
— Ph.D. in, in Boston who told me, "Yeah, there's a reason". He described himself as recovering atheist. He said, "You get into that scientific, academic realm, you're being reviewed by your peers.
— Oh, no.
— He said, "There's no way". You learn to conform or your career is dead. That was what he told me.
— And the irony is it's the most obvious thing in the world.
— Sure it is.
— Design, I'm sorry. Design is the most obvious thing in the world. And yet, at the most fun, and if you even hint at it. Here's how I describe it too because they don't allow it. Imagine there's a murder. And let's say you murdered someone, okay, and I'm the police detective. And I come in and right off the bat, right off the bat I rule out John Bradshaw. I say, "He absolutely did not commit the murder". Then whoever I arrest by default is what? Is innocent, is wrong, okay. And because God created the world, because the world is designed, but if you by absolute a priori default, you absolutely rule it out, whatever you're going to come up with is wrong. And you've got this evolution, they've got ears, breathing ears. They've got monkeys that they say rafted from Africa to South America. Whales once had hind legs and walked on land before, these are some of the myths, but it's science. It comes under the imprimatur of science and I think, too, for a lot of Christians, they don't want to be seen, unfortunately, as a bunch of hicks.
— No, that's right.
— They don't want to be seen as hicks. And I've been exceedingly disappointed on how many Christians, you know, it's always been the trouble of Christianity compromising with the culture. The whole and it's in Israel.
— Compromising with the culture. The apostasy of the early church compromising with the culture. And I think there's no greater compromise with the culture today in Christianity than the acceptance of evolution.
— Outstanding, I wish we had time for more.
— Sure, this was fun.
— Maybe we'll do it again.
— Clifford, thanks so much. Really appreciate your time, and thank you for joining us. Greatly appreciate you taking your time. He's Clifford Goldstein, I'm John Bradshaw. This has been our Conversation.