I ended my last installment of this lengthening tome with the beginning of my friendship with Jimmy Akin when we were both young college dudes.
I've been stewing for a long time on the proper approach to this time period because 1) it marks the actual beginning of the rediscovery and revitalizing of my faith, and 2) it is complex and involves a number of interweaving threads.
Up to now, I have talked mostly about the dissipation of my faith and how deficiencies in myself and in what I believed led me to drift away from the center of Christianity (though never completely). Now I will be trying to trace the beginnings of the path I took back into the fullness of that faith, and I think it is terribly important to get it right.
As I've said, my spiritual state at the time was one of drifting, of shallow spirituality and even a kind of arrogance... I had a fashionable disdain for "organized religion", and probably felt that there was not an institutional religion on earth that was worthy of my full attention, and so I would have to find the Truth on my own (If you want something done right...).
This included some very earnestly misguided bible study, wherein I had complete confidence that the Holy Spirit illuminated my every effort. Remember, I was superior to both the polyester suit-wearing pew sitters AND to the superficial materialist/hedonists (Catholics really didn't exist for me at that time, except as the most cartoonish sort of stereotypes). Somehow, everyone had misunderstood Jesus. Heck, all that was needed was a prayerful, fresh look at this Bible thing by someone with a clear head and with their heart in the right place (ostensibly me). I was certain that there was no controversy I could not make short work of, with a little thought.
My new friend Jimmy was probably not very aware of most of this. We didn't talk much about religion, per se. Oh, we batted around all kinds of metaphysical ideas, but this was pretty much moonshine... possibilities and theories and "what ifs". He was at the time dabbling a bit in New Age stuff, but mostly we talked about movies, music, comics or science fiction
Jimmy was especially interested (and interesting) in the area of science fiction stories, in the minutiae of invented worlds, and the logical connections between them. He took apart these stories, frequently making observations like, "This last chapter is really dumb, because the author has this character doing 'X', when this character would never have done 'X', because he is from such-and-such a planet and those creatures are not even capable of thinking in that way, because... etc, etc... ". It was no good for a story to be just imaginative and adventurous... it had to make sense, or it was just no fun. The intolerable thing was when nonsense, sloppiness or lack of cohesion ruined what might have been a great story.
So, we would talk a lot, and laugh a lot and hang out. We often watched movies at his place or ours. One day he told me about this crazy preacher he had been watching in the wee hours of the hinterlands of cable television, a raucous showman who wore weird hats, smoked cigars, cussed and insulted other TV preachers as "pantywaists" and "pinheads". I don't remember Jimmy's exact words, but he said something like "You HAVE to come over and see this guy, he is unbelievable.".
Apparently, Gene Scott was something of a cult favorite among college students at the time. They would gather and watch him while getting stoned, or do shots every time he used a certain word (like "pinhead"). They agreed with his assessment of stuffed-shirt Christianity, though most didn't take him seriously. He was just fascinating to watch, like a train wreck. There was simply no telling what he would say or do from one moment to the next.
And so, I went over to Jimmy's one night and watched Gene Scott, and it was fun. We watched him together a few times. I caught him at my place a few times. An odd thing, though... when Scott wasn't acting like a buffoon, he could make some surprisingly profound points. He could preach, too, shake the dust from the rafters.
So things went along that way for a couple of months, or so, until one day Jimmy called to tell me he had become a Christian, had actually come to believe the gospel and come to faith in Jesus. Now, this made me a bit uncomfortable, to tell the truth, because my religion had come to occupy a very personal and private place in my life. It was not the stuff of daily conversation, for me. Openly religious talk between real flesh-and-blood people was just not something I was accustomed to, nor was I very interested in getting accustomed to it. I had learned that religion - land sakes, especially Christianity - was much better kept to oneself, especially on a college campus.
Jimmy was not that way, however. His conversion and commitment to his new faith were complete and matter-of-fact. He told all his friends about his belief in the Gospel, and lost one or two as a result. Once he became convinced of the truth of some aspect of scripture, he applied it to his life immediately and without reservation... protesting at a local abortion clinic, for instance. In other words, he almost at once became more of a true, sincere Christian than I had ever managed to be, even in my best moments.
I know he will cringe at hearing himself described in this way, and so I want to be clear that he and I both had a great deal yet to work out, and both had our missteps and blind alleys to run down. The main difference was that Jimmy seemed to shape his life according to his faith, whereas I had been constantly re-shaping my faith to suit my life, and a very squishy and accommodating faith it had become as a result.
Jimmy's conversion made me take a hard look at my own brand of Christian faith. He had known me, at that time, for probably close to a year, but in that entire time had (trust me) never once been in danger of converting based on my witness. It wasn't so much that he had converted, even, it was how he had followed through on his beliefs. There was no compartmentalization, no distinction between his "everyday life" and his "faith life", as there was with me. It was pretty much damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.
We both ended up joining Gene Scott's TV church (based in California... where else?) and watched regularly and donated, for a while. Jimmy was the first to notice the big holes in Scott's theology, as well as the dangerous quirks of his personality, on which the whole enterprise was based.
Scott could preach, though, and he did two things for which I will always owe him a debt. First, he (for the first time in my life) began to logically demonstrate how the objections to Christianity were wilder and more speculative than the comparatively reasoned claims of the faith, itself, showing that while it took faith to believe the Gospel, it required even greater faith to accept most of the cockamamie arguments that attempted to debunk it.
And then Scott, in his unique fashion, introduced me to C.S. Lewis, reading the entire first chapter of The Pilgrims Regress on the air, his big face in extreme close-up, taking up the whole TV screen. I loved Lewis immediately.
After leaving Scott's church, Jimmy and I began to study a good bit and talk. We were each trying to find out just where we should be, and visited a number of local churches of all kinds, sometimes together, but more often on our own, reporting back to one another on our experiences. But that is for another post. Having come with me this far, I may as well impose on you to come the rest of the way! I promise we're over the hump, now.