Whenever I tell my story, or ‘testimony’ in High Christianeese, I give a lot of credit to C.S. Lewis and 1994 (the year, not the book) for bringing me into the kingdom. I consider myself a rational, intelligent person and my intellect presented any number of barriers to my faith. I had innumerable questions about dates and ages and genealogies and on and on and on. Miracles, and resurrections and such were just so much superstition cloaked as something more important as far as I was concerned.
What’s interesting is that I would have called myself a Christian at that time if you had asked. But you see, I was a ‘thinking Christian’ not one of those min-numb robots who takes everything with blind faith. I was interested in the compelling similarities between Jesus’ teachings and those of Buddha, I had an enlightened, modern relationship with an intelligent girl that I lived with. I knew that responsible use of mind altering substances was actually a holy rite in several ancient religions and that laws prohibiting such things were either Republican attacks on my freedom by blue haired old ladies in New England, or an unfortunate necessity to address the problems of the irresponsible users. I knew that God was everywhere so there was no need to go to church, besides I’d almost certainly wind up running into some intolerant Bible-thumper. In hindsight, I was willing to call myself a Christian because that sounded kinda cool and I guess I did believe, at least, that God and Jesus were real – but it was like recognizing the Prime Minister of England on TV. My impression was based more on disjointed, occasional headlines than anything else. And since he really doesn’t have any kind of authority over me then what he thought or said was only interesting insofar as I agreed with Him, and could use his quote to win an argument and look clever.
For all those years, and many before then, Lewis’ Mere Christianity had sat on my bookshelf. I had read it years ago, found it interesting, but then moved on to some foul tome by Allister Crowley (Yeah, I had an occult phase) but eventually settled into a pretty steady diet of Discover, the History Channel, and Nova. I loved science literature and I considered myself a man of science. Toward the end of 1994 my squadron, VAW-114, moved over to CV-63 and I spent the next six months at sea. Despite what you might think about the Navy, you know the phrase ‘It’s not just a job. It’s an adventure!” - well most of the time it’s just a job, and even being at sea is little different in many ways. We work 12 hour shifts 7 days a week and there is simply NOT that much to do to fill those hours. Since I was on the night shift for much of that time, there were many, many nights in that six months where I was all caught up and I went wandering around the Kitty Hawk. On that ship, there are many rooms! Off the flight deck there were huge nets suspended 90 feet off the water – I often crawled out onto one of those nets and watched miles and miles of dark ocean slip beneath me. But other times, I’d roll on my back and stare up at up a sky so crowded with stars that I would audibly gasp. It was in those moments in particular that I had the time and the space to ask sincerely, “God? Are you really there? Is this Jesus thing for real?”...and He answered.
In that time, I devoured every book in the ship’s library on Christianity, particularly those by Lewis, and particularly Mere Christianity. That one book speaks directly to so many of the intellectual challenges I had to the faith. It was candid, but unapologetic. It was lucid and intelligent without becoming sophistry.
It was exactly what I needed to hear.
And it quite literally changed my life.
But as I mentioned, it wasn’t the first time I had read that book. Come to think of it, it probably wasn’t the second time either. Mere Christianity is one of those books that well meaning concerned Christians give to friends they’re worried about – so I’m sure somebody had offered the book to me as a gift in more than one occasion.
Had the book changed? Had the current edition been somehow improved from my older paperbacks? Not at all. Lewis’ rationale was exactly the same it had been for the previous 50 years. His logic was no sharper, his arguments no more weighty, his prose no more eloquent. It was the same book – it was event the same freaking paperback with the powder blue cover and sailors before me had dog-eared about every other page for their own mysterious reasons.
What had changed was me.
What had passed was time.
What had grown was détente.
In the simplest terms, I had come to a place and time where I was willing to listen. For crying out loud, I really didn’t have anything better to do, so I asked questions and God answered.
Prior to that trip, listening wasn’t what I was up to – I would have argued with you if you had suggested otherwise, and effectively, but in truth I was really only interested in raising a defense of my own ego, my own way of doing things, and my own draws to sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Not that I was some mad party freak, I was a relatively normal guy, but the point was that I knew what I wanted and it was important to me to defend that state against anyone or anything that challenged it. My worldview HAD to be right because so much of my existence hung on it. I wouldn’t have been able to put it to words at the time, but my guts knew that Christ’s call was truly to put all of that to death and that part of me was not going down without a fight.
Twelve years later, I’m still subscribed to Discover, and Wired and I love anything technology related. I’m such a nerd. But more and more I consider myself a man of faith – and I hope to grow in that space still more. I see faith as more powerful than knowledge now, more instructive, and ultimately more real. Some of those changes came through academic study – admittedly, a study of faith might seem like a contradiction, but history is littered with men and women like Lewis – wildly intelligent, sharp as tacks, and sold out totally for our Risen Lord – their stories and writings are fascinating. But it was Lewis who was there when I needed him, and I plan to get in the long line of folks who want to shake his hand in heaven.
But what has all this got to do with Devin?
Almost two months ago a pretty lengthy debate erupted on Devin’s site and I’ve been thinking a lot about it. The very long thread was characterized by one fellow who generally argued from the rationalist/materialist viewpoint and a number of Christians who tried to argue from a more Bible-based/Creationist viewpoint. But despite very well reasoned and very well documented posts on both sides – nobody was moving. It wasn’t quite like a stalemate because at least both players in a stalemate recognize the situation. It was more like the battle between the Merimac and the Monitor. Cannonball after cannonball fired with skill and accuracy, only to bounce off the ship’s iron hide. The thread eventually ended from exhaustion, not because anybody was able to make their point. And this battle royale got me thinking.
The word says “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of the world.” Col 2:8
As I watched Devin and Michael in particular raise a valiant defense, and as Kham countered them in his own way, I saw that the best intentions of both were playing against them.
Let me just say for the record - I‘m certain that Kham is nobody’s fool. He’s clearly well read and intelligent – but I do think that he’s dead wrong. What’s more, I think that his error may someday cost him his eternal soul – and that’s a huge thing. A gigantic motivator to convince him of the profound truth I’ve been made aware of.
Likewise, I fully understand the motivations of both Michael and Devin. They want to see Kham rescued from a prison he doesn’t even know he’s in. It’s like Morpheus meeting Neo for the first time. Will you take the blue pill or the red pill – without question, Morpheus could have just yanked Neo from his little pod without all that drama, but it would have killed him. Neo had to be willing – he had to be ready.
I’ll answer any question that anybody asks about anything – once. I love all the science, all the philosophy, all the intellectual gymnastics and Christianity has a wonderful body of deep, deep thinking to draw from. But I’m not interested in arguing with somebody whop just wants to argue. Because at that point it’s not about the logic, or the facts – it’s about the heart. It’s not for lack of reason that a person resists God , it’s anger, or fear, or pride, or whatever happens to drive that person, and in those case my argumentation is bad for both of us.
When I get in a conversation where I can’t even share fundamental notions about truth with my opponent, we literally have no common ground. Since he thinks I’m a kook already, everything I say – EVERYTHING, just sounds like foolishness. He rejects the very foundations of my thinking as ignorant, or parochial so every time I open my mouth it only reinforces his preconception. In other words – all my high reason only acts to drive us apart or worse yet, drives this man away from Christ. Even more insidious is the unfortunate fact that I’m likely to behave the same way. The fact of the matter is that Kham’s argumentation was beginning to tick me off. From where I stood, Mike and Devin were writing excellent responses to his questions but he would sweep them away with a comment that amounted to “Since you’re a Christian, everything you say, every source you cite, every thought you have is polluted with ignorance. So I won’t bother to address anything that you just said.” With a little distance, I see that what I’m really bothered by is the fact that he got under my skin.
All of this is because a man doesn’t come to God through reason, he comes because he’s called...and he responds in his heart.
A few more relevant quotes:
- “...I say [that Christ is preeminent] in order that no one may delude you with persuasive argument.” Col 2:4
- “Remind them of these things [that we died with Christ], and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth. But avoid empty and worldly chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness and their talk will spread like a gangrene.” 2 Tim 2:14-17
- “Do not throw your pearls before [folks who aren’t interested in pearls anyway] lest they trample them underfoot, then turn and tear you to pieces.” Matt 7:6
- “He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself” - Prov 9:7
But aside from my contention that such conversation actually do harm for both parties, I think there is a bigger issue – these zero-sum engagements sap our strength, divert our attention, and devour resources. In short – the enemy is able to tie up a gigantic amount of time and energy that dissipates into nothing at best, anger, pride, and broken fellowship at worst.
How many thousands of words were spent on that thread? Slater the Younger said something along the lines of ‘As long as we’re talking about Jesus then it’s all worth it.’ But, with respect Chris, I think that’s naïve. It’s the kind of statement that seems unassailable on its face, so obviously true and wise that nobody would question it – but it doesn’t really mean anything at all - it’s not truth. Here’s another line like it: ‘Go in peace! Be well fed!”...and yet we do nothing to actually help the circumstances of those we bless.
If that thread continued today – with still more dueling facts that rise in ever blooming arcs of eloquence and subtlety...but nobody budges – is that truly worth it? What if continued for another three months – would it still be worth it? For that matter is it worth anything at all, to either side? I’ll tell you one thing, it would be worth it to the enemy. He would have successfully benched two major players (Devin and Michael) for all those hours with what amounts to sand in their eyes. How many real ministry opportunities would those two miss in that time? How many cycles in those brains would have been spent fighting a battle that was unwinable?
Do we leave the 99 to rescue the 1? Of course we do!
But we are called not only to be gentle as lambs, but as shrewd as serpents. We have to have the presence of mind to see a red herring for what it is so we can get back to the field quickly. If this truly is a war people – and I think it is – we can’t lose to something as boring as attrition.
I’m not ever going to talk somebody into the kingdom – ever.
But I can, and have, waste a lot of precious time – mine and theirs - trying.