The year of America's bicentennial, I was a proud member of Brigade '76, a combat brigade sent to reinforce the East-West border at Fulda, West Germany: right where the experts thought World War 3 would begin. We flew to Germany from Fort Carson, Colorado, at the beginning of October. Within two days we were in our tanks and on the border rolling past Soviet tanks on the other side of the fence.
While we drove past the fence, the Soviet tanks tracked us with their main guns. We were not allowed to be provocative, so our guns were pointed away from the border. Our mission was to hold the advancing 250,000 soldiers for 10 minutes to give tactical aircraft time to fly to our position and destroy the advancing enemy. At one of the briefings when this was explained to us, a young soldier asked the Colonel on stage, "What do we do next?"
The answer, "Nothin' son. You'll be dead."
One the plane over to Germany I read Hal Lindsey's book "The Late Great Planet Earth." I became one of those prophecy nuts. I and many other believers in our unit were convinced World War 3 would happen before our three-year tour in Germany ended. And in any case, the world was going to end by 1988. In the field and in the barracks, many of us had long discussions about the significance of every sort of symbol in the books of Daniel and Revelation.
It was very exciting to have this kind of inside knowledge about world events. At that time, as now, the people who took Revelation literally also took Genesis literally. If you thought the world was ending in 1988, you also thought it was created at about 4,000 B.C.
And it was this fact that eventually got me out of the swirling world of prophecy and back into fellowship with believers who were trying to live in faith in the present, not fixate on the future. Over that first year in Germany, I came to see that those who took the ends of the Bible literally were not naive literalists, but very sophisticated in their literalism. The same people preachers who push literal interpretations of Genesis and Revelation have very sophisticated reasons ready to hand about why the difficult teachings of Jesus need not be taken literally. The same person who insists he takes the Bible literally will dodge in a nuanced way the story of the rich, young ruler in the Gospel of Luke, Ch. 18.
"That is for a specific person in a specific time," is the standard answer. Really? If literal is your claim, wouldn't it be better to do as Jesus says and risk suffering? By diving in the deep end of the literal reading pool, I got to see just how incredibly selective literal reading was. I never found anyone who would or could take the Bible completely literally. And the rule turned out to be, the less the literal reading interfered with your life, the more literal you were likely to read that passage.
The following year at annual tank gunnery, I read the Bible through in two weeks waiting for fog to clear on the tank gunnery range at Grafenwohr, West Germany. This time I read the Living Bible. The vast difference between the King James Bible and the Living Bible led me to ask about the original. Where did the Bible come from. I knew that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament was written in Greek. But I did not know that the all of the New Testament except Luke and Acts were written by men who spoke Aramaic. They spoke and wrote Greek as a second language.
So the people who were so crazed about taking the Bible literally, were trying to be literal with words that were spoken in Aramaic and written in Greek by Aramaic speakers, then translated into English 1600 years later.
It was at this point that Abel Lopez and I started talking Scripture rather than prophecy. Abel was the commander of the tank next to mine. We switched from literalism to the splits within the Church. On post was both a Charismatic fellowship and a Bible Baptist fellowship. The Baptists were sure the Charismatics were going to Hell. The Charismatics just thought the Baptists were wrong. Both sides wanted Abel and I to take sides.
We learned a lot over the next two years.