Archive for the ‘ Biblical Principles ’ Category

Recognizing “The Agenda”

The Agenda marches on. What agenda, you ask? The attempt to paint a portrait of evangelical Christians as the narrow-minded bigots of the world and the obstacles to “progress,” as defined by the new Progressive Movement.

We see this in many facets, but let me point out two in particular today.

One prong of The Agenda is to say that we are agents of propaganda against Muslims. It’s Christian bigotry, some say, when we warn of the Islamic threat to what once was a society based on a Biblical worldview.

This gets tied in to concerns about the border and illegal immigration, where we can also conveniently be called “anti-immigrant” and racist.

Yet the concerns are real. This latest wave of sympathy for refugees from Syria is a case in point. I would welcome all the persecuted Christians from that region. I would even welcome Muslim families fleeing the radicals. But is that what we will be receiving? Reports from European nations accepting these refugees tell us something different.

Refugee Trojan Horse

I, and other evangelicals like me, make a distinction between individuals and stereotypes. Every individual, Muslim or otherwise, is a potential child of God. We have no qualms opening our hearts to those who are in genuine need and who might be able to see the errors of the way in which they have been raised. We reach out to offer the good news of the Gospel to anyone with ears to hear.

Another prominent prong of The Agenda is to portray Christians as “homophobes.” Let’s be clear—I do fear a society that accepts homosexuality as mainstream because that destroys the family structure as established by God, thereby ultimately destroying that society in the end.

However, I would gladly welcome anyone struggling with that particular sin to sit down and talk about God’s absolutes and the freedom He offers through the Cross. I don’t hate anyone caught in that sin, but I do believe it is essential to recognize it as sin; that’s the first step in being set free.

What I do object to is The Agenda, which is to use every avenue in our culture to normalize homosexuality and to depict anyone opposed to it as hardhearted and evil.

It has become nearly mandatory for television programs to include a homosexual story line to accompany the main theme. The latest instance for me came in the latest episode of an otherwise fine Masterpiece Theater WWII drama called Home Fires. It is a superb story of how one English village had to deal with the problems of the war. Yet in the middle of the plot, we now see a lesbian relationship.

Home Fires

The character on the right is the new schoolteacher in the village who has gone there to escape the bigotry of those who fired her for her lesbian relationship with the character on the left. The one on the left has now followed her to the village and we were subjected to a full and lingering mouth-to-mouth kiss. We are to understand that they are not allowed to express their love openly because of the stilted morality that continues to dominate England in this “backward” time.

So what I object to is The Agenda. It is very real, and the eventual goal is not only to drown out the voice of Christian morality but to prosecute those who continue to be so “bigoted.”

If you don’t think that’s the goal, you are not paying attention.

The irony for those on the “progressive” side, of course, is that if they have their way, and we become Islamicized, all homosexuals will be put to death. Christians only want to help them out of their sin, not kill them.

So what do we do? We continue to proclaim truth and reach out to all who are open to that truth. Will we ever reclaim the entire society? No one can guarantee that, but I do know that the Lord has called us to be faithful, and if we are, there is no telling what He may be able to do through us.

Lewis: A Warning about Nature Worship

The Four LovesIn The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis issues a warning about love of nature. It’s not that nature is a bad thing; contemplation of nature might lead us to contemplation of the One behind nature. However, we must not be led astray. When we look at nature, we are not seeing God but merely an image of His glory. Here is where Lewis offers a warning:

We must not try to find a direct path through it [nature] and beyond it to an increasing knowledge of God. The path peters out almost at once.

Terrors and mysteries, the whole depth of God’s counsels and the whole tangle of the history of the universe, choke it. We can’t get through; not that way.

What, then, is the proper path? Lewis continues,

We must make a detour—leave the hills and woods and go back to our studies, to church, to our Bibles, to our knees. Otherwise the love of nature is beginning to turn into a nature religion. And then, even if it does not lead us to the Dark Gods, it will lead us to a great deal of nonsense.

These words from Lewis have a special significance, I think, because he himself so greatly appreciated nature. We must keep everything in its proper perspective. Enjoy what God has created, but never allow His creation to be a substitute for Him.

Lewis: Nature Is Our Sister, Not Our Source

NatureC. S. Lewis, in a number of his works, both books and essays, comments on the nature of Nature. Some people, he says, think that Nature is all there is, and that we simply spring out of this mechanistic, impersonal “thing.” Yet, as he reminds his readers continually, how can one even trust that conclusion if one’s own reasoning ability comes from this mechanistic, impersonal source? In an essay called “On Living in an Atomic Age,” he writes,

If Nature when fully known seems to teach us (that is, if the sciences teach us) that our own minds are chance arrangements of atoms, then there must have been some mistake; for if that were so, then the sciences themselves would be chance arrangements of atoms and we should have no reason for believing in them.

Why trust what science (both real and pseudo) tells us if there is no basis for trusting one’s own reasoning? After all, if there is no Intelligence behind our existence, what can we really know for sure? He continues,

There is only one way to avoid this deadlock. We must go back to a much earlier view. We must simply accept it that we are spirits, free and rational beings, at present inhabiting an irrational universe, and must draw the conclusion that we are not derived from it. We are strangers here. We come from somewhere else.

No matter how much “at home” we may think we are in the world around us, there is this nagging feeling, this sensation, that this is really quite temporary, and that our place in it is only a passing stage of what we call “life”:

C. S. Lewis 8Nature is not the only thing that exists. There is “another world,” and that is where we come from. And that explains why we do not feel at home here. A fish feels at home in the water. If we “belonged here” we should feel at home here. All that we say about “Nature red in tooth and claw,” about death and time and mutability, all our half-amused, half-bashful attitude to our own bodies, is quite inexplicable on the theory that we are simply natural creatures.

Even as he stated in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, and repeated in Mere Christianity, how, if there is nothing outside of Nature, can we have any idea of right and wrong? “If there is no straight line elsewhere,” Lewis notes, “how did we discover that Nature’s line is crooked?”

So what is the real nature of this Nature that surrounds us? He concludes,

What, then, is Nature, and how do we come to be imprisoned in a system so alien to us? Oddly enough, the question becomes much less sinister the moment one realizes that Nature is not all. Mistaken for our mother, she is terrifying and even abominable. But if she is only our sister—if she and we have a common Creator—if she is our sparring partner—then the situation is quite tolerable.

Nature is not our enemy; Nature is not our source of anything; Nature is merely the creation of God as much as we are. We are in this together.

Principle & Compromise: Not Always at Odds

I’ve called this blog Pondering Principles because I’m dedicated to laying a principled foundation for whatever subject I scrutinize. I also want to see principles—Biblical principles—become the basis for all public policy. Those of us oriented toward principles have a natural aversion to compromise; we have a tendency to see all compromise as a step backward. I would like to argue that is not the case.

Let’s start historically and work our way to present-day issues.

At the Constitutional Convention, a major disagreement erupted between states with lesser populations and those with greater. The less-populated states desired representation in the Congress to be based on equality; they wanted an equal vote for all states. Their concern was they would be outvoted on everything if population became the cornerstone of representation. Larger states naturally felt the opposite: since they had the most people, they should have a greater say in legislation. Who was correct? I think both had valid points. Their concerns were genuine and needed to be addressed. The convention came up with a compromise that divided the Congress into two houses, one based on population, the other on equality.

That is an example of an excellent compromise because it didn’t sacrifice principle on either side. Without that compromise, there would have been no Constitution. The nation might have split into three or four warring factions, with all the misery that would have been connected with such a division.

Then there’s the example of New York state during the governorship of John Jay at the turn of the nineteenth century. Jay, an evangelical Christian, had often worked for the abolition of slavery in his state. Now, as governor, he had the opportunity to sign into law a gradual emancipation bill. This bill did not free all slaves immediately; rather, it laid out a plan that would eventually eliminate slavery in the next generation. As someone who believed slavery was contrary to God’s purposes, should Jay have signed such a bill? He had no hesitation in doing so. Why? Because it set slavery on the course of extinction in New York. Long before the Civil War decided that issue nationally, New York had resolved it gradually.

Was Jay disobeying God in signing that bill? I believe just the opposite. His was a principled position. The compromise of gradual abolition achieved the long-term goal of his principle—getting rid of slavery once and for all. The new law made a step in the right direction. Therefore, I consider his action to have been consistent with his principles. Not to have signed it meant the perpetuation of the slavery institution, not its demise.

Now let’s bring this up to date. Let me offer two more examples.

First, let’s look at the issue of abortion. I firmly believe that the taking of an innocent human life is immoral. It is opposed to God’s moral law. My principled position is that all abortions should be outlawed. What if, as a legislator, I were faced with a decision on a particular bill that would eliminate 95% of all abortions in America? Should I vote for it? If I were president, should I sign it into law?

There are some who would say no. Why? They consider it a compromise of principle. Any law that doesn’t eliminate all abortions is less than what God requires. Consequently, support for a proposed law that would take care of “only” 95% of them would be a sin.

Again, I disagree—vehemently. If I have the opportunity to save 95% [or even 50% or 10%] of all babies who would otherwise have their lives snuffed out arbitrarily, I must take that opportunity. I would be advancing the principle in which I believe. By supporting such a measure, I am moving my society closer to God’s purposes. If we take an all-or-nothing approach, I believe we are deceiving ourselves in believing we are standing on principle. I would call it stubborn foolishness instead.

Congress is going to be dealing with raising the debt ceiling again soon. I am opposed to doing so. I am opposed to raising taxes in any way that will harm those who provide jobs for others. I wholeheartedly seek spending cuts. Now, do I hold out for everything I want or is there a way to advance what I believe is principled even while compromising temporarily?

One thing that all principled conservatives have to recognize is that in politics you don’t always get everything you want immediately. We can, though, push for as much as may be possible.

If an agreement is reached, for instance, that raises the debt ceiling, yet also includes “real” spending cuts, a cap on future spending, no increase in taxes, and at least a vote on a balanced budget amendment, why would I not support this? Enacting measures like these would lead us further on the path toward a principled and sane tax-and-spend framework.

Here’s how I summarize it: a compromised principle leads to unrighteousness, but a principled compromise is a step closer to the principle’s ideal.

I wish I could convince everyone of the wisdom of this perspective, but I’ll settle for whoever has ears to hear.

Lewis: The Inconsistency of Naturalism

MiraclesIn his book Miracles, C. S. Lewis takes aim at “naturalists” who say that there is no “outside” reference [i.e., God] for calling anything good or evil.

When men use the words, “I ought,” Lewis notes, they are saying something about the essence of right and wrong that is built into the universe. In fact, naturalists should never use such terminology: “But if Naturalism is true,” he writes, “‘I ought’ is the same sort of statement as ‘I itch’ or ‘I’m going to be sick.'”

In effect, if you are going to be consistent as a naturalist, you would not acknowledge any kind of “I ought”; it doesn’t exist. Yet, Lewis explains,

The Naturalist can, if he chooses, brazen it out. He can say . . . “all ideas of good and evil are hallucinations—shadows cast on the outer world by the impulses which we have been conditioned to feel.” Indeed many Naturalists are delighted to say this.

There’s a slight problem, though, for those who attempt to explain good and evil in this way:

But then they must stick to it; and fortunately (though inconsistently) most real Naturalists do not. A moment after they have admitted that good and evil are illusions, you will find them exhorting us to work for posterity, to educate, revolutionise, liquidate, live and die for the good of the human race. . . . They write with indignation like men proclaiming what is good in itself and denouncing what is evil in itself, and not at all like men recording that they personally like mild beer but some people prefer bitter.

C. S. Lewis 9Those of us who have a better grasp of eternal right and wrong—good and evil—have an obligation to communicate the inconsistency of the naturalist position. Lewis certainly fulfills this obligation when he continues,

Do they remember while they are writing thus that when they tell us we “ought to make a better world” the words “ought” and “better” must, on their own showing, refer to an irrationally conditioned impulse which cannot be true or false any more than a vomit or a yawn?

The saving grace is that they cannot be consistent with their own professed ideology:

My idea is that sometimes they do forget. That is their glory. Holding a philosophy which excludes humanity, they yet remain human. At the sight of injustice they throw all their Naturalism to the winds and speak like men.

Lewis’s call to consistency is one Christians need to heed as well. Do we say one thing theoretically and act as if it is not true? Do we have a theology, for instance, that tells us that we are not really accountable for our actions, yet then act as if we are? Something to think about—all the time.

Lewis: Good & Bad People

C. S. Lewis 10“What need have I of Christ?” some say. “I’m a good person. I don’t do all those truly evil things other people do.” That’s one of the greatest deceptions we face. C. S. Lewis confronts it directly in Mere Christianity when he compares the “nice” person with a person who doesn’t come across as quite so nice.

He notes that some people are just naturally more even-tempered and balanced in their personalities, and that is what can lead them astray. “Natural gifts carry with them a . . . danger,” he warns.

If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. “Why drag God into it?” you may ask.

Those kinds of people are deceived into thinking there is no need to turn to God. He compares them to those Jesus spoke of when He said it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom.

Then there are those other people:

It is very different for the nasty people—the little, low, timid, warped, thin-blooded, lonely people, or the passionate, sensual, unbalanced people. If they make any attempt at goodness at all, they learn, in double quick time, that they need help. It is Christ or nothing for them.

At least they recognize their need. The “good” people are the ones who don’t see just how sinful they are at heart. “If you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel,” Lewis correctly instructs. “The Devil was an archangel once; his natural gifts were as far above yours as yours are above those of a chimpanzee.”

That doesn’t mean there is no hope for “good” people, but those who clearly see their danger might actually be in the better place spiritually:

But if you are a poor creature—poisoned by a wretched up-bringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels—saddled, by no choice of your own with some loathsome sexual perversion—nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends—do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive.

The Gospel is the Good News that we can be rescued from any situation, whether outwardly “good” or “bad.” His love reaches to all. Salvation is offered to everyone who recognizes the need for redemption.

Lewis: Beyond Mere Moral Duty

In the C. S. Lewis course I’m currently teaching, we just completed reading and discussing his autobiography, Surprised By Joy. Although I hoped the students would be impacted by it, I was pleasantly surprised (by joy?) how much it seemed to impress them. Their observations went beyond simple repetition of facts; most felt that God was speaking to them personally through Lewis.

We’re now turning our attention to some of the key chapters in Mere Christianity. I’ll be looking forward to what they might say about passages such as the following:

C. S. Lewis 13If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilised morality to Nazi morality.

In fact, of course, we all do believe that some moralities are better than others. . . .

The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard . . . comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.

While those statements may seem basic to some, they are a shock to others, and the way Lewis describes the concept helps to arrest one’s attention.

In an article the students won’t be reading, Lewis’s “The Novels of Charles Williams,” he goes beyond the basics and gets to the “meat” of what the morality of the Law entails:

Morality has spoiled literature often enough: we all remember what happened to some nineteenth-century novels. The truth is, it is very bad to reach the stage of thinking deeply and frequently about duty unless you are prepared to go a stage further.

The Law, as St. Paul first clearly explained, only takes you to the school gates. Morality exists to be transcended. We act from duty in the hope that someday we shall do the same acts freely and delightfully.

That is what I seek for my students: that they go further in, past the duties of morality into the joy of being what God wants us to be. Of course, that’s what I seek also for my own life. It’s the goal for each of us.