Archive for the ‘ Christians & Culture ’ Category

Life Has Never Been Normal: Lewis on War

World War I devastated Europe and decimated the male populations of Britain and France. C. S. Lewis served in that war, even though, having grown up in Northern Ireland, he wasn’t required to do so. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he doesn’t spend a lot of time describing his wartime experience, but what he does relate is striking:

The war—the frights, the cold, . . . the horribly smashed men still moving like half-crushed beetles, the sitting or standing corpses, the landscape of sheer earth without a blade of grass, the boots worn day and night till they seemed to grow to your feet—all this shows rarely and faintly in memory.

It is too cut off from the rest of my experience and often seems to have happened to someone else. It is even in a way unimportant.

How can anyone have seen what Lewis saw and yet say that it was, in a way, unimportant?

He published his autobiography in the mid-1950s; prior to that, he had laid out his philosophy of the significance of war in an essay called “Learning in War-Time,” spurred on by those who thought the intellectual activities of the universities should cease during such a harrowing time. Lewis disagreed and offered this perspective:

War creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.

Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself.

If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.”

Life has never been normal.

I remember the first time I read that. It struck a chord deep within me. I, along with probably most of humanity, yearn for the normal. Yet what is ever really normal? We have in our minds the concept of normal (always peaceful, never disturbed by trials and tribulations, unceasing happiness—or at the very least, the avoidance of any genuine pain). Yet how often is that the case?

Lewis continues in that essay with a thought that is so commonsensical that it shouldn’t shock us, but the way he states it does give a jolt:

What does war do to death? It certainly does not make it more frequent: 100 per cent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased. . . .

Does it increase our chances of painful death? I doubt it. . . . Does it decrease our chances of dying at peace with God? I cannot believe it. If active service does not persuade a man to prepare for death, what conceivable concatenation of circumstances would?

As we’re told in the book of Hebrews, we all have an appointment with death, it will happen only once, and afterward we face judgment before the Throne.

A few years after writing that essay, Lewis gave the world The Screwtape Letters and, in a different format, made the same argument. Screwtape scolds his trainee, Wormwood, for being so delighted that men have started another war. There is a danger to satanic plans in the midst of war, he warns him:

How disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In war-time not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.

Screwtape, of course, is referring to living forever in this world. By God’s grace, though, we will live forever in the new heaven and new earth.

In the meantime, though, it would be best for us to take to heart that life has never been normal, is not now normal, and we will not awake tomorrow to the kind of normality our flesh seeks. Yet, with the Holy Spirit as our Guide and Helper, we can navigate this absence of normality (as we define it) and see God’s hand at work in all the abnormality we must face day by day.

Evangelicals, Morality, & Politics

I came across a new poll yesterday that I wish could have surprised me more than it did. It’s only one poll, but, sadly, it mirrors what I have been observing in recent years, especially since the last presidential campaign. It’s about people like me: white evangelicals. Here’s what it shows:

I can hear the response already: well, God can use people in public office who are not Christians. I agree. He can. But please show me any Scripture that encourages Christians to actively promote ungodly, immoral people as our political leaders.

My greatest concern is not for our national politics; rather, it’s for the witness we are supposed to be to the world. We are supposed to be the salt that preserves what is righteous and good. We are supposed to be lights that reveal the path God wants all to follow.

I’ll just let the apostle Paul end my blog today. Chapter 5 of Ephesians says what I think we need to hear:

But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. . . .

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.

Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.

But all things become visible when they are exposed to the light. . . .

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time because the days are evil.

A Tale of Evil, Incompetence, & Heroism

Few people who go to church on Sunday expect to encounter mass murder. We think we are in a safe place. Yet sin abounds, and there is no place that is 100% safe. Last Sunday, a presumably safe place in a small Texas church turned into a scene of terror.

Details are now emerging about that killing spree. We see a combination of evil, incompetence, and, as we more recently found out, heroism.

The evil was in the heart of the perpetrator, Devin Kelley. We now know that he was a wife and child abuser, more than once. While in the Air Force, his actions of domestic abuse landed him in confinement for a year and he received a bad conduct discharge.

The incompetence focuses on the Air Force, which somehow forgot to enter his name into the National Criminal Information Center database, which would have disallowed him from purchasing guns.

Kelley was also an outspoken atheist, ranting against God and Christians on Facebook.

In a press conference yesterday, it was revealed that Kelley had a dispute with his mother-in-law who goes to that church, so the official claimed Kelley’s actions had nothing to do with religion; it was simply a domestic issue.

If that’s all this was, why try to kill everyone in the church?

No, this is deeper. This is rebellion against God and everything the Christian faith stands for. Kelley hated Christians, with his mother-in-law representing an outlet for his hatred.

The words of Jesus at the Last Supper recorded in John 15 come to mind:

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. . . . If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. . . . All these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.

Christians have been and are persecuted and attacked worldwide. We’re only now coming to grips with what might happen in America in the future. We’ve felt “safe,” but that safe feeling may be ending.

I mentioned heroism. It turns out that a neighbor heard the gunshots, grabbed his gun, and engaged Kelley, wounding him. He then followed Kelley all the way to the place where he apparently committed suicide by ramming his vehicle and overturning it.

The man who confronted Kelley, Stephen Willeford, is a former NRA instructor. Contrary to what some might think, that means he trained people to use guns wisely and carefully. He followed his own advice. And because of that Second Amendment right, more lives probably were saved.

Willeford says he’s no hero: “I think my God … protected me and gave me the skills to do what needed to be done.”

That kind of humility and dependence on God is actually a mark of genuine heroism, the kind God rewards.

Lewis on the Ancient vs. the Modern

C. S. Lewis exchanged Oxford for Cambridge in 1955. He never received the recognition he deserved at Oxford; Cambridge offered him a special professorial chair designed with him in mind. It was a major event when he gave his inaugural Cambridge lecture, speaking to a full house about the distinctions between the ancient and the modern.

It’s in that lecture, De Descriptione Temporum,” that he made his oft-quoted comment about being a dinosaur because he was an Old Western Man, a type he claimed would not be around much longer.

Another passage in that lecture that is well worth contemplating is the part where he critiques the idea that just because something is new it must naturally be better.

“How has it come about,” he queried, “that we use the highly emotive word ‘stagnation,’ with all its malodorous and malarial overtones, for what other ages would have called ‘permanence'”? He continued,

Why does the word “primitive” at once suggest to us clumsiness, inefficiency, barbarity? When our ancestors talked of the primitive church or the primitive purity of our constitution they meant nothing of that sort. . . . Why does “latest” in advertisements mean “best”?

Acceptance of Darwinian evolutionism as applied to all aspects of society was one answer, he affirmed. We are all supposedly evolving and getting better all the time. But along with that, the coming of the age of the machines helps explain it more fully.

It is the image of old machines being superseded by new and better ones. For in the world of machines the new most often really is better and the primitive really is the clumsy. And this image, potent in all our minds, reigns almost without rival in the minds of the uneducated.

Technological improvements, Lewis opined, become milestones in people’s lives. He used examples from his day: the development from an old push-bike to a motorbike to a car; from gramophone to radio to television. Today, we can use other examples: the latest I-Phone simply must be purchased because it’s so much better.

This way of looking at things—this approach to life—has left “footprints on our language,” Lewis asserted, and is the very thing “that separates us most sharply from our ancestors and whose absence would strike us as most alien if we could return to their world.”

What if those ancestors could somehow make a trek into our modern world?

Conversely, our assumption that everything is provisional and soon to be superseded, that the attainment of goods we have never yet had, rather than the defence and conservation of those we have already, is the cardinal business of life, would most shock and bewilder them if they could visit ours.

As a historian, I love Lewis’s analysis of the differences between the past and the present. I agree that we have changed our language and definition of terms sometimes in a downward direction.

As a Christian, I resonate with his attachment to the permanent. Our society lives for the new, the more advanced, the latest novelty. Yet our society has little regard for that which needs to be preserved—ideas that permeated an earlier era: we are all made in the image of God; there are moral absolutes given by God; man, in society, needs to get as close to those absolutes as possible, and attain the moral character that they embody.

Will we see that kind of society again? It’s an open question.

Grievances, Integrity, & the Moral Conscience

The cultural (and political) Left poses as the nation’s moral conscience. Building upon real grievances from our history, it refuses not only to let go of those grievances and learn what forgiveness is (especially when the current generation didn’t commit those grievances), but it spreads a root of bitterness that, as the Scripture says, “causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.”

Innocent comments devoid of any tinge of racism are somehow found to be racist. Minorities are offended; women are offended; everyone is offended, it seems. We’re told to avoid “trigger words,” whatever those might be. It’s getting hard to keep track of all the traps we supposedly fall into with our speech.

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I’ve seen this at work against me personally. In a blog I wrote a couple of years ago, I referred to someone who had robbed a store and then charged a policeman and tried to take away his gun as a “thug.” Big mistake, apparently. I was accused of being racist because the individual was black. Actually, I was commenting on his actions, not his ethnicity.

I thought we were supposed to judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

The past few weeks have not been all that good for these liberal arbiters of morality. The whole Harvey Weinstein fiasco made painfully public what most people already knew about Hollywood culture, which is practically the center—along with institutions of higher education—of moral-outrage liberalism.

The hypocrisy was laid bare (no pun intended) for all to see.

Jimmy Kimmel, the voice crying in the wilderness of late-night television, lecturing us on healthcare and guns, suddenly lost his voice:

Since so many are taken with the idea of tearing down monuments, might I suggest another one ripe for destruction?

Meanwhile, on the political side of moral outrage, I’m waiting for the outcry against corruption represented by the Clintons, who have wallowed in corruption all their lives. An emerging story tells of their connections to Russia and how they profited financially even while Hillary was secretary of state. I remember something about a uranium deal a few years back, but now it’s beginning to come to light.

That Russia probe is not going where Democrats thought it would. But how much attention will be paid to this? Since it involves not only the Clintons, but also Obama and his administration, expect it to receive scant coverage in the mainstream media.

Rather than jump on the bandwagon of the Cult of the Perpetually Aggrieved, let’s focus instead on how God wants us to respond to grievances, both real and perceived (but not necessarily real).

In Christ, we are to forgive all who have hurt or offended us. That doesn’t mean we forget what has happened; we should always work to correct those grievances. Yet we must do so with a heart for healing.

One positive step is to avoid any connection with hypocrisy. I’ve used this blog today to highlight the hypocrisy of the Left. I won’t hesitate (and I never have hesitated) to point out hypocrisy on the other end of the political spectrum as well.

Integrity—a word that has become quite rare in our politics and culture—needs a rebirth. I believe it will come only through those who understand and practice the Lordship of Christ in all areas.

The Hope & the Agony of Politics

I’ve never been a utopian when it comes to politics. I’ve always known heaven won’t be created on earth. Yet, along with that realization, I’ve maintained a commitment to instilling Biblical values into politics as much as possible. When government follows policies based on Biblical principles, I believe we get closer to the ideal, regardless of the pervasive sinfulness of men.

This past political season was a jolt to my hopes. Faced for the first time with two candidates for president who never should be allowed close to the Oval Office, I had to go another route with my vote. My conscience constrained me.

What bothered me most was what I consider a nearly wholesale abandonment of principle by those who call themselves conservatives, and even worse, those who are my fellow Christian believers who ultimately decided that principles no longer mattered in this situation.

Note: this is not an indictment of many who struggled with their consciences and voted for Trump because they couldn’t imagine the alternative. My concern is with those who have become unapologetic apologists for a man regardless of what he says or does.

Yesterday, I read a column by Erick Erickson that echoed what I’ve been feeling. I’m going to share some of his pertinent comments and intersperse mine. Erickson feels betrayed by politics and by those he thought were his spiritual/intellectual companions. He says that, although he’s always been a Republican, he no longer has a home in that party.

I understand how he feels.

On the right, a party that used to be centered around the idea of smaller government and individual empowerment is instead captured by its own personality that centers around a strong man in Washington and whatever he wants.

I have argued for a constitutional understanding of government for more than thirty years. I thought Republicans, on the whole, agreed with that perspective. Instead, I’m seeing far less concern for that now that “we” have a supposedly strong man in power.

Erickson then addresses the Christian community that has sought, like I have, to return Biblical principles into our governing (especially after the ill effects of the Obama tenure):

Christians are supposed to find some peace in the world by knowing that there is a last day and they are on the winning team. But right now a bunch of American Christians are looking to political solutions for spiritual problems and convincing themselves they’re making a Heaven on earth. . . .

So many people going to church on Sunday looked at Trump and called him a Cyrus, but increasingly this looks like a Maccabean revolt. Sure, they threw out those they saw as pagans and set about purifying temple America, but things did not exactly go well for the people or the kingdom thereafter.

Of course it was all downhill to Herod and the first coming, so maybe it’ll all be downhill from here to the second coming. That increasingly looks likely as the world goes mad, this country included.

Hyperbole? Not from where I’m sitting. That’s my perception also.

He then switches to what he would like to see in politics; I’ll share a few of his dreams:

I want a new party, and a conservative one where conservatism is not defined by beating the other side, but by pursuing the best policies.

I want a party that is pro-family and structures the tax code accordingly and fights for school choice so parents can get their kids educated instead of indoctrinated.

I want a party that is pro-life and that does not run from the Bible.

I want a party that does not define people by the color of their skin or where their families came from, but sees us all as part of the American experiment.

And I want a party that is beholden to ideas, not men.

I will add my “amen” to all of that. And with Erickson, I can also say that I, at one time, thought that existed. Now I’m not so sure. You see, I’ve not changed, but my party has. Ronald Reagan used to say that he hadn’t changed, but that the Democrat party he had always been a part of was the one that moved away from his beliefs.

What happened to a conservatism that was based on ideas, not nationalism? Caring for one’s nation is good, but there is a line that can be crossed. When does one’s devotion to the nation become a substitute for devotion to God?

Here’s one more short paragraph from Erickson’s piece that resonates with me:

To the extent that I have changed, though, I think I have changed for the better. I have a harder time reconciling my faith to my politics and see so many of my friends trying to squeeze their faith into their politics. I would rather go the opposite way and connect my politics to my faith, giving up those things that cannot be reconciled.

One of the key concepts I’ve tried to communicate to students, and to anyone else who will listen to me (I guess that’s why I write this blog) is that you start with Scripture and then make everything align with that. You never start with what others say is true and then do your best to inject Scripture into it, thereby making a false attempt to Christianize something that is not Christian at all.

I’m going to continue on the path of making God’s truth my cornerstone. I will not bow to the political gods who say I should set my Biblical principles aside for the sake of a few Supreme Court justices or some temporary victories via executive orders.

I want to look back on my decisions and not experience deep regret over my subordination of God’s ways to man’s ways. He calls us to be faithful, and that is what I intend to be.

I Will Not Be Ashamed

I was at an early morning Bible study last Friday when a certain Scripture passage burned its way into my spirit. It’s not that it was a new passage to me, but the Lord has a way of taking a verse one has read hundreds of times and turning it into His Word of the Day. That’s what he did for me that morning.

It’s found in the gospel of Mark, chapter 8, verse 38:

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.

What stood out to me specifically was the “adulterous and sinful generation” phrase. That description was so apt. It’s what I see all around us, and the sinfulness of our society seems to be increasing. Sinful behavior has always been with us, but whenever a society begins to excuse sinful behavior and declares it to be somehow virtuous, it has turned a corner.

The personal application in the verse was whether I was shrinking back from God’s truths due to pressure from the world. In my heart, I don’t believe that is so, but the warning was like a light flashing in my eyes as I read the verse: Is there any way in which I am ashamed to stand up and say this is God’s truth regardless of what others may think of me?

I knew that a similar passage could be found in Matthew and Luke as well, so I then turned to those to see the shades of difference that might be discovered. While the Luke passage is very similar, the one in Matthew 10:32-33 adds another dimension:

Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.

Slightly different words, but with the same poignant meaning. In this passage, the word “deny” stood out. As I read it, I felt a deep sense of sadness and how devastated I would be if Jesus would publicly deny that I belong to Him. Again, I don’t believe I would ever deny Him, but the very hint that I could do so, and the resulting denial of me by Him, sent a shiver into my soul.

America in 2017 is in the process of dismissing Biblical truth at a rapid pace. Abortion is the law of the land. Homosexuality is considered just fine, even to the point of legalizing same-sex marriage—which is actually no marriage at all.

Some who have stood firm for Biblical morality, particularly on the issue of homosexuality, have been prosecuted in their businesses. Some have lost their businesses because they have kept the faith.

Christian organizations, including institutions of higher learning, are being pressured to bow to the new cultural norms or face the prospect of being shut down.

God seems to be asking me, “How will you respond to all of this?”

My answer will be, and must be, that I will continue to speak the truth in love.

I will be faithful to Him regardless of the threats.

I will seek His grace at all times to strengthen me in whatever trials I may face.

I will keep in mind that this world, ultimately, is not my final home. There is a new day coming in which every knee will finally have to bow and every tongue will be forced to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

And on that day, I don’t want my Lord to be ashamed of me and have to deny me before His Father and all the holy angels.

Thank you, Lord, for the challenge, and for the strength to meet it.