Archive for the ‘ Biblical Principles ’ Category

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.

C. S. Lewis: Miracles

Seeing is not always believing. Presuppositions rule. Jesus heals people and the Pharisees claim he is doing it by the power of Satan. He raises Lazarus from the dead and they decide to kill Him. Their presuppositions said that since He was not one of them, this cannot be allowed.

In the story of Lazarus (a different Lazarus) and the rich man, Jesus has the rich man saying from hell that he wants someone to go tell his relatives the truth. The response? Even if someone should rise from the dead, they will not believe.

MiraclesC. S. Lewis, in his book Miracles, explains it this way:

Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled, or tasted. And our senses are not infallible.

If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience.

Yet despite our fallible senses, miracles do occur. There have been stories about miracles throughout the ages, but Lewis draws a distinction between the fanciful stories and those that are recorded in Scripture:

The fitness of the Christian miracles and their difference from these mythological miracles, lies in the fact that they show invasion by a Power which is not alien.

They are what might be expected to happen when she is invaded not simply by a god, but by the God of Nature: by a Power which is outside her jurisdiction not as a foreigner but as a sovereign.

They proclaim that He who has come is not merely a king, but the King, her King and ours.

A miracle, then, is a friendly invasion. It is God refashioning His creation at a moment in time for a specific purpose. And we can believe what we see when we are submitted to the King.

Miracles Quote

Lewis: Justice & Mercy

C. S. Lewis 11Is it really merciful not to carry out justice? Is the concept of justice too harsh? Should a Christian believe in punishment for crimes?

C. S. Lewis thought through this issue in an essay he published in 1949 called “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.” If we go by feelings, we may think we are being humane in forgiving without real punishment. Lewis disagrees.

The essential act of mercy was to pardon; and pardon in its very essence involves the recognition of guilt and ill-desert in the recipient. If crime is only a disease which needs cure, not sin which deserves punishment, it cannot be pardoned. How can you pardon a man for having a gumboil or a club foot?

Lewis begins with the common-sense acknowledgement that a man is accountable for his actions. No one is accountable for a mere physical deformity; that’s not a moral issue. But there is a real right and wrong for which our choices determine our guilt or innocence. Humanitarians instead wish to treat any “bad” choice as merely a disease for which one is unaccountable. Lewis will not have that.

But the Humanitarian theory want simply to abolish Justice and substitute Mercy for it. This means that you start being “kind” to people before you have considered their rights, and then force upon them supposed kindnesses which no one but you will recognize as kindnesses and which the recipient will feel as abominable cruelties. You have overshot the mark.

Justice-MercyThat may seem counterintuitive to some, but what Lewis is saying is that offering “mercy” to people who never have come to grips with the injustice they have committed is no mercy at all; people need to answer for their sinful actions. That’s the only possible path toward redemption. They will only understand genuine mercy if they first feel the hammer of justice. The Law leads to the Gospel.

Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful. That is the important paradox. As there are plants which will flourish only in mountain soil, so it appears that Mercy will flower only when it grows in the crannies of the rock of Justice: transplanted to the marshlands of mere Humanitarianism, it becomes a man-eating weed, all the more dangerous because it is still called by the same name as the mountain variety.

Humanitarian mercy is a fake mercy, and dangerous because it tries to pass for the real thing. For mercy to have its full impact, justice must come first.

Christian Colleges–Are They?

I’ve been involved with Christian higher education for a long time; I’m beginning my 27th year of teaching next month. I can’t imagine trying to do what I do in the classroom in any other setting than a Christian college or university committed to upholding Biblical standards.

CCCUThe primary organization that acts as an umbrella for these Christian educational institutions is the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). All Christian colleges that are part of this organization are supposed to maintain a basic fidelity to the essential teachings of Scripture regarding Christian faith, committed to a high view of Biblical authority.

Now, two of those institutions, Goshen College in Indiana and Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, have decided, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, to alter their view of Biblical marriage. Both are now allowing same-sex married couples to be on the faculty.

This is a radical departure from Christian orthodoxy. One would assume these institutions would immediately be suspended from the CCCU, yet the official statement from its board of directors is that they will continue deliberations.

What is there to deliberate?

The rationale for suspending judgment on the matter is that all member colleges and universities will be contacted and consulted first. I am trying to give the benefit of the doubt here, but if an organization that says it is committed to Biblical authority cannot emphatically declare from the outset that what these two institutions have done is clearly unbiblical, one must be excused for having doubts about that commitment.

The CCCU may come to the correct conclusion after all its consultations and deliberations. Goshen and Eastern Mennonite may no longer be part of the organization as a result. Yet I cannot help but be dismayed by the slow nature of decisionmaking on a subject that should not be a matter of debate.

Christian EducationI’ve had my concerns about Christian higher education all along, primarily the willingness on the part of some of these institutions to show a Christian face to prospective students and their parents, while allowing some of their faculty to teach on the fringes on genuine Christianity—and in some cases to hold forth blatantly unbiblical positions.

Do I have a problem with academic freedom? Not at all. I want to be able to teach what I believe to be Biblical without undue scrutiny. But there is a limit when you agree to a statement of faith before being hired. If you then teach contrary to that statement of faith, you have demonstrated infidelity and a distinct lack of integrity.

Christian education needs to be uniquely Christian. We are here to serve the Lord and help lead our students into a Biblical worldview. If we do anything less than that, we are unfaithful to the One who called us.

Lewis: The Real “Love Wins”

The word “love” is being tossed around these days in a loose manner. We’re now informed we have to apply it to same-sex marriage, even while the Scripture is perfectly clear that depravity is not to be equated with love.

Love is not a fleeting emotion, nor even a lifelong affection. Yes, you might differentiate between types of love, as C. S. Lewis does in his book The Four Loves, but when we are talking about God’s love—the kind of love we are supposed to mirror—there is only one way to explain it.

Mere ChristianityAs Lewis notes in Mere Christianity,

Love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.

God’s love also is a willful thing toward us. It is not sappy; it does not simply accept us as we are and not expect change. True love seeks the best for the one loved. Lewis continues,

Love StoryThough our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

The cost to Him was the ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. The cost to us is a heart of repentance and eternal gratitude for His willingness to do whatever it took to heal the breach and unite us to Him.

The “love wins” hashtag making the rounds is more properly “lust wins.” True love already has won, and He is offering us—the most unworthy of recipients—an eternity of love that we don’t deserve.

Rules for the Rule of Law

I am a firm believer in the concept of the rule of law. Most of my students seem ignorant of the concept, so I try to explain that if we don’t follow the law, we become a society that is ruled by the whims of whoever happens to be in charge at the moment.

Yet I am also a firm believer that there are times when we must obey God rather than men. How, then, do I reconcile this?

God & GovernmentI take my students to Romans 13 (which I can do because I teach in an evangelical university) and offer them a lesson in the rules for the rule of law.

The first part of the chapter makes a strong statement about obeying government:

Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.

At first glance, this might seem to say that government must be obeyed at all times, without exception. I’ll come back to that.

It also has been interpreted by some to say that every person who is in authority is a God-picked person—that whoever is ruling is the one God has chosen.

Be careful here. Do you really want to find a rationale that makes Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao God’s choices? Do you really want to say that all the millions they have murdered in the name of a godless ideology is what God wanted?

While there may be some who, in the light of their theology, are convinced that everything that happens is, in some mysterious way, God’s will, I am not one of that number.

While God may use evil rulers, they have chosen to be evil, and He does not approve of what they do. To believe otherwise would be to make God into someone who is in favor of sin. That is not the God of the Scriptures.

Gavel & ScaleWhat this Romans passage is saying, I think, is that God has established civil government and the positions in that government that people should obey, not every individual who holds one of those positions.

So this first part of Romans 13 makes it clear that government is to be obeyed—the rule of law is the norm.

Yet this first part is only that—the first part. There is a greater context. The apostle Paul continues:

For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.

Now we are given the mission of civil government: it is to be a minister of God, carrying out His will by punishing those who do evil. We are told that if we do good, we have nothing to fear from government.

That is true in normal circumstances. But what if the government is violating its God-given mission? What if a government is doing just the opposite of what God intended? What if it is, in effect, promoting evil and punishing those who do good?

Is that a government that is to be obeyed?

If we obey that kind of government, we have made this institution into “god.” We cannot do that. The government—i.e., those who are responsible for its actions—is also supposed to be under God, and it will be held accountable for what it has done that is contrary to His will.

Whenever civil government disobeys God, we are duty bound to resist that government action. When told to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, the apostles told the authorities that they had to obey God rather than man.

Let’s bring it up to our time.

When the government says it’s just fine to murder innocent children in the womb, are we to go along passively with this atrocity?

When the government says homosexuality is good and acceptable and then redefines marriage, are we to submit without a complaint?

In both of these cases, government has overstepped its boundaries and violated its God-given mission. We can use whatever legal means are available to us to challenge these decisions, and we can raise our voices in the public square to convince others to join with us to overturn unjust laws.

Any man-made law that conflicts with God’s eternal law in inherently invalid.

What about other types of laws with which we disagree? Must we always be quiet about them and simply obey?

Christians & PoliticsWe have another recourse. Take Obamacare, for instance. There certainly is nothing in Scripture that tells us directly that this is an evil, sinful law. However, we do still have a Constitution, which is supposed to be the standard for our rule of law.

Any law, whether passed by Congress or decreed by the Supreme Court, that violates the authority given to the federal government in that Constitution is fair game for dissent on our part, and for public argument against it, alongside active measures that can be taken to overturn such a law.

So, as Christians, we have both God’s law and the Constitution as our guidelines for when we obey the government and when we do not.

I believe in the rule of law, but there are rules for when something is a legitimate law that we should obey. When a law is illegitimate, we have a Christian duty to do whatever we can—in the proper Christian spirit—to undo that law.

God’s law is paramount. Constitutional boundaries come next. We must always make those our priority.

Homosexuality & Biblical Truth

I normally follow the Biblical pattern of a day of rest for this blog on Sundays. However, in light of the Supreme Court’s abominable decision on same-sex marriage (oxymoron alert!) this past Friday, I just want to use this space to offer some Biblical reminders.

The first one comes from Romans, chapter one:

Romans 1For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. . . .

Professing to be wise, they became fools. . . . Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie. . . .

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

In the first chapter of I Timothy, we read,

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious . . . for immoral men and homosexuals . . . and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching.

And in I Corinthians, chapter 6, we are told,

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals . . . will inherit the kingdom of God.

The next part, though, is encouraging:

HolinessSuch were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Our message needs to be twofold: clearly spelling out the sinfulness of homosexuality and how it separates the sinner from God, along with the stark truth that people can come out of that sin and be sanctified in Him and become part of His kingdom.

But one must “come out” first. It is a choice, not the result of one’s genetic code.

That’s not a message our current generation wants to hear, but Christians need to be faithful to this truth, even if that steadfast faithfulness leads to persecution. We must obey God rather than men.