Saturday, October 19, 2013

Faith in the Army, Part 3: Bigger World, Smaller Christian World

"To define is to limit," said Oscar Wilde.  In this self-examination of faith I started a few days ago I realized that another vast difference between Sgt. Gussman the new believer in 1974 and Sgt. Gussman in 2007 when I re-enlisted is three college degrees and much personal experience of many facets of the Church in this world.

In one of his best books on the faith, C.S. Lewis wrote about the "Mere Christianity" we all share if we are Christian believers.  Thirty-five years of reading and re-reading C.S. Lewis' 39 books and many hundreds more have left me much more aware, sad to say, of everything that is not mere Christianity.  The stuff we don't share looms large in my mind.

As a new believer, I wondered about different denominations of the Protestant Church, different faiths, different versions of the Bible, different ways of communicating the faith, and spiritual disciplines.  I tried lots of them.  I listened to James Robinson preach in stadiums in Texas and Oklahoma on cassette tapes.  I listened Bob Mumford and Derek Prince teach about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  I read Sword of Lord newspaper out of Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  I went to the Gospel Service in the base chapel where the training NCO in our Armor Battalion was the lay preacher.

I fasted for up to three days.  I prayed.  I meditated.  I tried everything.  

Then I left active duty, went to college, and started to learn about literature, science, languages, the whole vast world of the mind that I had very little inkling of in high school.  

I learned Greek, I read the Russian greats: Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekov.  I fell in love with Dante's Divine Comedy.  Politics went from opaque to entertaining after I read Machiavelli.  

I learned relatively little science.  I wanted to be a writer and took mostly literature courses.  But I learned what may be the most important word when science and religion are discussed together: Contingency.  Science was not sent down Mount Sinai on stone tablets.  Science changes.  Often.

In fact, the best path to fame in science is to take on the biggest theory in science and change, improve, modify, or overturn it.  Einstein corrected Newton.  Someday someone may do the same to Einstein.  In any case, the current theories of science are the best description of reality in their respective fields:  Evolution, Quantum Electrodynamics, Universal Gravitation and others are the best description of reality that millions of working scientists can come up with.

All this exciting new knowledge had the effect of limiting my Christian world.  I knew Christian Television was a non-sequitor even before Neil Postman explained why in "Amusing Ourselves to Death."  Because I knew and loved the ministry of Kanaan in Germany where Cliff lived, the Prosperity Gospel looked both ridiculous and heretical.  

End Times obsession combined with Creation Science in my mind as the playground where you can take the Bible literally at no personal cost.  Taking the words of Jesus literally could lead to giving away all your money to the poor, preaching without pay, going on a mission trip with nothing but a bowl and a staff and other things no literalist takes literally.

So there I am, trimming away fellowship with vast swaths of the Church in this world.  In my current Church, my family is one of the three token Democrat families among 300 Conservatives. So even where I belong, I don't completely.  

And there is more.






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