Archive for the ‘ Biblical Principles ’ Category

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.

Wood, Hay, & Straw

Jim Wallis, one of the leaders of what might be termed the Christian Left, has now come out in favor of same-sex marriage. Ever since his days as a member of the 1960s radical group Students for a Democratic Society, which was grounded in socialist/communist philosophy, Wallis has tried to walk a fine line in an attempt to marry [pun intended] Biblical principles with a humanistic, atheistic worldview. It has been as spectacularly unsuccessful as the same-sex unions he now supports.

Wallis is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. He’s only the most obvious spokesperson for a phenomenon that threatens to split evangelicalism while it simultaneously destroys our Biblical basis for morality, law, and government. Can such views really coexist with what C. S. Lewis has called “mere Christianity”?

Genuine Christians can disagree on doctrine. They can disagree on how the Christian faith is demonstrated in society. There certainly is room for liberty of conscience. Yet when does liberty become licentiousness?

I disagree with Christians who espouse pacifism, but I don’t count them out of the kingdom; I merely consider them incorrect in their understanding of Scripture. I profoundly dissent from those who believe the government should follow policies of redistribution of wealth to achieve “fairness.” Many who promote this do so out of concern for the poor, yet they don’t realize how this vision of “helping” violates a number of Biblical principles and ultimately fails in its goal. They haven’t learned the lessons of history. Their hearts may be right in their desire to help, but all they accomplish is to spread the misery around.

It gets dicier when those who claim the name of Christ begin to advocate for positions that are directly contradictory to basic Biblical morality. Can someone really be a genuine Christian and promote abortion, or at least not be concerned about it? Is it simply a mistake when a professed Christian finds reasons to excuse homosexual behavior or is it rather a manifestation of a deeper rebellion against God’s call for holiness? I have my opinions on that, but, thankfully, God will be the final judge.

Thinking about this led me to a particular passage of Scripture, found in 1 Corinthians 3: 11-15. Here the apostle Paul speaks of how the Lord will judge the actions of His disciples:

For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

The clear teaching is that in order to be a Christian, our foundation must be nothing else than absolute faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. As long as we have repented of sin, received His forgiveness, and are now motivated by His love, we are part of His kingdom. However, not all our works for Him have the same value. Some are described as especially fruitful—gold, silver, precious stones—while others are virtually useless for building the kingdom—wood, hay, and straw.

I submit that when those who seek to build God’s kingdom with ideas that undermine the very kingdom they seek to build, their works will be shown to have been nothing more than wood, hay, and straw. They will have done more damage than good. We should all examine our motives and our actions continually. I know I don’t want to feel shame when that “day” comes.

The Sense of Sin

We live in an age when the idea of sin is dismissed as a relic of an outmoded religious system designed to suppress one’s desires for happiness. As we’ve seen so abundantly recently, in our entertainment media and all the way to the Supreme Court, equality has now been applied to same-sex relationships. Anyone who disagrees with this new enlightenment is archaic. Our society needs the message that is at the very ground level of Christian understanding: all men are sinners, and we cannot cover up those sins by calling them something else. In The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis instructs us,

A recovery of the old sense of sin is essential to Christianity. Christ takes it for granted that men are bad. Until we really feel this assumption of His to be true, though we are part of the world He came to save, we are not part of the audience to whom His words are addressed.

In other words, the salvation message cannot come across to us until we are willing to recognize our sins. Lewis also describes how sin distorts every good thing God provides. In Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, he writes,

The only way in which I can make real to myself what theology teaches about the heinousness of sin is to remember that every sin is the distortion of an energy breathed into us—an energy which, if not thus distorted, would have blossomed into one of those holy acts whereof “God did it” and “I did it” are both true descriptions. We poison the wine as He decants it into us; murder a melody He would play with us as the instrument. We caricature the self-portrait He would paint. Hence all sin, whatever else it is, is sacrilege.

This sense of sin must return to our society. If it does not, we are lost.

Salt, Light, & Truth

I’ve spent the past two days writing about the drift of our culture into acceptance of a type of sex God forbade. For many people, this whole issue is simply a matter of “democracy”—let the people decide what they want. When you introduce the moral element, they tell you that’s irrelevant. All that matters is that we are devoted to popular sovereignty. As a historian, I know that term well. The last time it was front and center in the political debate was prior to the Civil War. Popular sovereignty was supposed to solve the quandary of slavery. Let the people of the new territories decide for themselves if they want slavery or not. Stephen Douglas, the Illinois senator who championed this approach, infamously said slavery was not a moral issue.

Well, I can’t help but frame it morally. At its foundation, the push for same-sex marriage is a clear indication of our rebellion against the righteousness of God and His law. It is a perversion—and I use that word advisedly and with forethought—of the gift of sex. Only a people firmly rooted in Biblical truth can prevail against this headwind. Are we no longer that people?

Liberals/progressives, whose outlook is primarily secular, think opposition to homosexuality is foolish. Unfortunately, they are joined in this view by a growing number of those who continue to call themselves Christians. They adopt most of the progressive political agenda and attempt to stamp it with God’s favor. They are doing a disservice to the gospel, and the God, they claim to represent.

Then there are some conservatives who are abandoning the field of battle. Most often, that’s because they are little different than their erstwhile foes at the other end of the political spectrum. How can that be? They are basically secular also; their conservatism is not based on solid Biblical principles. So when the culture shifts, they have no anchor to hold them to their position. They attempt to mix political conservatism with moral relativism. It’s not a good mixture.

One particular strand in the conservative movement is more libertarian than conservative. That group has never been wedded to Biblical morality anyway. They don’t want the government telling anyone what to do in the moral realm. Many of them support the mislabeled pro-choice position on abortion and have no problem at all with homosexuality. Their presence in the conservative coalition waters down its moral foundations.

The only saving grace in modern American conservatism, and in our politics in general, is the part of our populace that brings its Christianity to bear on our culture and government. They are the ones Jesus was referring to when He said,

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Salt preserves; light shows the way. Those in the church who have succumbed to the spirit of the age are the tasteless salt; they are no good for anything in this struggle. The responsibility therefore falls on those who still understand that truth is truth in all ages, and that it never changes. We need to preserve whatever remains of goodness in this land, and we need to be the ones who shine a light on the right path to take. Are we up to the challenge?

C. S. Lewis: The Resurrection

On this Resurrection [Easter] Sunday, here is some insight from C. S. Lewis from his book Miracles:

The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts. The Resurrection, and its consequences, were the “gospel” or good news which the Christians brought: what we call the “gospels,” the narratives of Our Lord’s life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the gospel. They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted. The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it. Nothing could be more unhistorical than to pick out selected sayings of Christ from the gospels and to regard those as the datum and the rest of the New Testament as a construction upon it. The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection.