Archive for the ‘ Biblical Principles ’ Category

C. S. Lewis on Eternal Life

Eternal LifeIn Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis targets those who think their religious beliefs don’t have to be specific. I like his colorful way of expressing his dissent:

A vague religion—all about feeling God in nature, and so on—is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in Flowers or music.

Then, in one of his essays, he picks up on the theme of eternal life and spells out the necessary step:

A rejection, or in Scripture’s strong language, a crucifixion of the natural self is the passport to everlasting life. Nothing that has not died will be resurrected.

Amen.

Natural Disasters & the Will of God

Moore TornadoOn this day after the horrendous tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma, we feel for the families who lost children or other loved ones. By all accounts, this had to be one of the worst tornadoes in American history. Normally, they don’t stay on the ground as long as this one did, and the winds may have approached 200 miles per hour. No sin caused this; it was what is usually termed a “natural” disaster.

Some people promote a theology that seems to attribute any natural disaster such as this to the hand of God. While it is true that God is the ultimate sovereign and could, if He chose, direct all things that happen in this world, I personally don’t subscribe to that theology. Yes, God can and has used the elements to bring judgment on some, but when we try to fit all natural disasters into that theme, we go astray.

Jesus spoke to this when he related to his disciples that the tower of Siloam that toppled, killing eighteen people, was not a result of those people’s sins. Don’t suppose, he taught them, that those who died in that event were necessarily worse than those who survived. That tragedy was not some kind of judgment from God. He did use the occasion, though, to warn them with these words: “But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” None of us knows when we may be the victim of a similar catastrophe; if we’ve never repented and received the forgiveness the Lord so freely offers, we will die in our sins, leading to the ultimate judgment.

Jesus also taught, in the Sermon on the Mount, that the sun shines and the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. There are laws of nature that He has established that continue on, not making a distinction between His people and those who have rejected Him.

Man’s sin did, however, change the course of that nature. Rebellion against the rule and sovereignty of a loving God led to a degradation of the natural creation. The apostle Paul explains in the book of Romans:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

Yes, for now, we live in a troubled world with natural disasters all around. That will not change until this very world is set free from the bondage caused by sin. That day is coming. All will be made new. Our task until then is to show those who are alienated from the love of God the path of redemption. A loving God continually reaches out to each of us, but it’s always our choice whether to reach back or reject His love. Natural disasters have one redeeming feature in this present age—they jolt us and make us think about the day of our death.

What will follow that day?

Finney: Properly Communicating God’s Truths

Charles Finney explains in his Systematic Theology that there are different classes of truth, and that often Christians confuse them. I’ll begin with a statement he makes about the Bible that I believe is illuminating, then go on to his concern over how Christians communicate truth:

The Bible is not of itself, strictly and properly a revelation to man. It is, properly speaking, rather a history of revelations formerly made to certain men. To be a revelation to us, its truths must be brought by the Holy Spirit within the field of spiritual vision. This is the condition of our either knowing or properly believing the truths of revelation. . . .

I am fully convinced that much of the inefficiency of religious teachers is owing to the fact that they do not sufficiently study and comply with the laws of knowledge and belief to carry conviction to the minds of their hearers. They seem not to have considered the different classes of truths, and how the mind comes to possess a knowledge or belief of them.

Consequently, they either spend time in worse than useless efforts to prove first or self-evident truths, or expect truths susceptible of demonstration to be received and rested in without such demonstration. They often make little or no distinction between the different classes of truths, and seldom or never call the attention of their hearers to this distinction. Consequently, they confuse and often confound their hearers by gross violations of all the laws of logic, knowledge, and belief.

I have often been pained and even agonized at the faultiness of religious teachers in this respect. Study to show yourselves approved, workmen that need not be ashamed, and able to commend yourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

The Gosnell Verdict

In a week of breaking news coming at us like a whirlwind, none is more important to me today than the verdict reached yesterday in the Kermit Gosnell trial. The jury did its duty, which was by no means a guarantee. Gosnell was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder, one count of involuntary manslaughter, and a couple hundred other counts dealing with the breaking of Pennsylvania laws regarding late-term abortions and other matters.

We now come to the sentencing portion. Will he get the death penalty? Keep in mind that those three counts of first-degree murder were only the ones that were formally prosecuted. Gosnell has operated his “clinic” since the 1970s. His horrific practices—killing children after they were born—is something that has been going on for years. Frankly, this makes him one of the greatest mass murderers in American history.

Christians who shy away from endorsing the death penalty have a misunderstanding of Biblical justice. The New Testament doesn’t change the principle established in the Old. The most sacred gift God has given is the gift of life. When another human being takes away that gift arbitrarily, without any good reason, he has broken a barrier that God Himself set up. Civil government, in its job of meting out civil justice, has an obligation to take the lives of those who have crossed that line. This is not contradictory; there is a clear distinction between the murderous acts of individuals and the responsibility of governments to bring someone to account for those acts.

So, yes, I favor the death penalty in this case. There are no genuine mitigating circumstances. This man is monstrous, and an example needs to be set.

Some commentators yesterday surmised that this might change the course of the abortion discussion in America and make people less accepting of it, after having witnessed the barbarity of Gosnell’s practices. I hope so, but I’m not yet convinced. The Gosnell case can serve a valuable public service if we are open to learning from it, but never underestimate the desire of people to simply avoid the issue and continue on as before.

This also points to the moral dichotomy that exists in the minds of our citizens. On the one hand, we are disgusted and sickened by the infanticide portrayed via Gosnell; on the other hand, if those babies’ lives had been terminated prior to leaving the womb, many would find no problem at all with it.

The only difference between the life of the baby in the womb and the life of the baby recently emerged from the womb is only a matter of inches. Both lives are equally sacred. Both are innocent. Both deserve the protection of society.

Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, more than 55 million American children have been slaughtered. This is truly one of the greatest holocausts in human history. War is horrible, but just compare the loss of American lives in all our wars with the number who have lost their lives through abortion. This pictorial illustration should make it clear:

So tell me, which one should concern us more?

If the jury decides on anything less than the death penalty for Gosnell, justice will have been short-circuited. Righteousness will have been diminished. What of mercy, you say? How merciful was Gosnell toward those innocent children? God extends mercy when man has a repentant heart. Gosnell is unbowed in his arrogance. He is a man with a seared conscience. He needs to serve as a testimony that this culture hasn’t turned its back completely on a clear understanding of good and evil.

I’m continually reminded of this short passage in the book of Isaiah:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. . . ; who justify the wicked for a bribe, and take away the rights of the ones who are in the right.

Evil has been clearly identified here. Darkness has been exposed. May the rights of the unborn be restored in our day.

Finney on God’s Sovereignty & Spiritual Revival

Charles Finney, in his Revival Lectures, takes aim at those who just sit back and wait for God to move on men’s hearts. No, says Finney, God expects us to use all the means available to impress His truth on men. Here’s how he puts it:

A revival is as naturally a result of the use of appropriate means as a crop is of the use of its appropriate means.

I wish this idea to be impressed on your minds, for there has long been an idea prevalent that promoting religion has something very peculiar in it, not to be judged of by the ordinary rules of cause and effect; in short, that there is no connection of the means with the result, and no tendency in the means to produce the effect. No doctrine is more dangerous than this to the prosperity of the Church, and nothing more absurd.

Suppose a man were to go and preach this doctrine among farmers, regarding their sowing of grain. Let him tell them that God is a Sovereign, and will give them a crop only when it pleases Him, and that for them to plough, and plant, and labour, as if they expected to raise a crop, is very wrong, that it amounts to taking the work out of the hands of God, that it is an interference with His Sovereignty, and that there is no connection between the means and the result on which they can depend. Suppose the farmers should believe such a doctrine? Why, they would starve the world to death.

Just such results would follow on the Church being persuaded that promoting religion is somehow so mysteriously a subject of Divine Sovereignty, that there is no natural connection between the means and the end. . . .

Men are not mere instruments in the hands of God. Truth is the instrument. The preacher is a moral agent in the work: he acts; he is not a mere passive instrument; he is voluntary in promoting the conversion of sinners.

My Personal Creed as a Christian & a Historian

Caught between two worlds, yet both informed by my Christian faith. What am I talking about?

I am a history professor, what you would have to call a “professional historian.” That is one of my worlds. As an academic, I am devoted to research and accuracy in my teaching and writing. Historians generally don’t get involved in commentary on current events, and at least make some attempt at appearing “above politics.” Now, of course, much of that is pretense. For many years, I haven’t joined any of the professional historical organizations; they are sold out to the progressive political correctness that dominates the field. Yet I want to stay in touch with what other historians are writing, so I recently rejoined one such organization, just to see if there is any value in it. Next year, I can make a decision whether to remain a member or not.

Another thing about historians/university professors: they rarely allow whatever religious beliefs they have to intrude upon their teaching or writing. Again, there is a lot of pretense there. One’s worldview, which is religious, whether one admits it or not, will always provide the context for one’s reasoning. Those who say they are teaching or writing “value-free” are just as committed to a value as anyone else. It’s just that the value they are communicating is that one should have no values. That, in itself, is a worldview being transmitted to students and readers.

My other world is as a commentator on life. Just look at the title of this blog and you will see where my heart is. My goal is to try to bring my Christian faith to bear on how we perceive the culture, politics, and government of our day. I don’t hold back on what I believe because I have this urgency in my spirit to help others comprehend the Biblical principles that should govern our lives. I focus quite a bit on trying to reach a general audience, not merely a guild of historians who read each other and never touch a wider readership.

There is no separation for me; both worlds coincide. Some, though, would consider my academic world to be tainted. The dominant thinking is that you allow students to roam free without boundaries. I disagree. There is a Biblical framework within which all reasoning should take place. Without that, we go astray from the One who is Truth.

Some in my profession won’t look upon me as a serious academic. After all, I’ve never been published by Harvard, Yale, or any of the other university presses they consider prestigious. One of my books is how to apply Biblical principles to politics; how, they wonder, can that be academic? But I’m not the only one frowned upon. Even a generally lauded writer like David McCullough, who has written masterful works on American history [1776; John Adams] is treated as somewhat less than genuine. You see, he’s not of our particular profession and, horror of horrors, the peasants out there actually read what he writes. That’s beneath our profession’s dignity, don’t you know?

God has given me the task of reaching out to anyone and everyone. I want to do so with a level of maturity and accuracy that transcends simply reactionary political blogging. I want my students and readers to grapple with the deeper issues—the principles that undergird all of life. My goal is to be a solid academic while simultaneously connecting with those who would feel uncomfortable in academic circles.

In another of my books, the one on the Clinton impeachment, I conducted interviews with all thirteen of the House Managers who argued before the Senate for Clinton’s removal from office. My research was genuine and everything fully documented. Yet I wrote for a general audience. The two worlds should not be divorced. Neither can I omit my Christian faith from anything I write, whether strictly academic or not. Here’s how I explained it in the preface to the impeachment book:

My presuppositions are first and foremost biblical in orientation. The grid through which I see the world—my basic worldview—is grounded upon biblical principles.  These principles form the basis for my values, my decisions, and my analysis of right and wrong. These principles also inform my understanding of the role of civil government, placing me on the conservative side of the political spectrum. Naturally, then, I am predisposed to “take the side,” so to speak, of the House Managers.

But I am also an academic. The training I receive in academia requires that I follow the evidence wherever it may lead. I must be honest and cannot, in good conscience, misrepresent the facts. Properly understood, there is no dichotomy here. My Christianity and my academic training require the same standard. Academic integrity rests upon moral integrity, which I believe flows from biblical faith. Consequently, when I undertake any research and writing project, I must be true to that faith. Political conservatism must become secondary; the truth must have priority.

That is my personal creed as a Christian and a historian. I can be both without contradiction. I am not a historian who just happens to be a Christian; I am a Christian who fulfills his ministry through my role as a historian. There is a difference.

Truths That Need No Proof

The apostle Paul, in Romans 1 and 2, explains that God has made each one of us with an innate knowledge of Him and of right and wrong. We don’t grow up in a vacuum; there are some things we come to know because He has placed within us the ability to grasp them even without the aid of divine revelation. Paul called them the law written on the heart; the Founders of America referred to them as self-evident truths.

Charles Finney, in his Systematic Theology, makes the same point, albeit in his own way:

All human investigations proceed upon the assumption of the existence and validity of our faculties, and that their unequivocal testimony may be relied upon. To deny this is to set aside at once the possibility of knowledge or rational belief, and to give up the mind to universal skepticism. The classes of truths to which we shall be called upon to attend in our investigations may be divided, with sufficient accuracy for our purposes, into truths that need no proof, and truths that need proof. . . .

The self-evident truths of reason are truths of certain knowledge. When once so stated, or in any way presented to the mind as to be understood, the mind does not merely believe them, it knows them to be absolutely true. That is, it perceives them to be absolute truths, and knows that it is impossible that they should not be true. . . .

For example, we act every moment, judge, reason, and believe, upon the assumption that every event must have a cause, and yet we are not conscious of thinking of this truth, nor that we assume it, until something calls the attention to it. First-truths of reason, then, let it be distinctly remembered, are always and necessarily assumed though they may be seldom thought of. They are universally known before the words are understood by which they may be expressed, and although they may never be expressed in a formal proposition, yet the mind has as certain a knowledge of them as it has of its own existence.