Archive for the ‘ Christians & Culture ’ Category

Lewis: The Gospel vs. the World

It doesn’t take C. S. Lewis too many words to get to the heart of an issue. Here’s an example from his essay “Cross-Examination”:

I believe that there are too many accommodating preachers, and too many practitioners in the church who are not believers. Jesus Christ did not say “Go into all the world and tell the world that it is quite right.” The Gospel is something completely different. In fact, it is directly opposed to the world.

Lewis, of course, was seeing the world as it was in his time. I often wonder what he would think and write if he were to see what it has become today. My conclusion is that the words above would be even more appropriate now.

We are awash with accommodating preachers who draw people into their churches with false messages of “prosperity” and “self-esteem.” And those churches are filled with practitioners who are not really believers in the true Gospel message.

The Gospel has always been in direct conflict with the world. Whenever we feel too at home here, we should enter into a self-examination.

Lewis: His Intellectual & Emotional Impact

In the survey I conducted in 2014 about how C. S. Lewis’s writings have impacted Americans, I saw how that impact was both intellectual and emotional, and how God used both to help people find Him.

On the intellectual side was this comment:

When I was an arrogant college student who believed only weak and/or stupid people believed in Christ, Lewis showed me beyond question that faith could make sense even to an intellectual. He awakened my spiritual imagination with his fiction and persuaded my reason with his nonfiction.

Another provided a more in-depth scrutiny of how Lewis dealt with the intellect:

Lewis’s works exemplify what I consider a Holy Spirit baptized intellect. Knowledge on holy fire. His ability to frame the issues in a succinct way and then address them with such extremely critical thinking skills provides a wonderful exemplar for Christians all over the world on how to not only be people of faith, but also engage our intellect (verbal and writing skills) to provide a “defense for the hope that is within us.”

His work, Mere Christianity, remains one of my favorite recommendations for intellectual unbelievers who are serious about weighing through claims of Christian faith. I believe many will either embrace Christ for the first time or reinforce their beliefs in Him through its reading.

Beyond the purely intellectual appeal, Lewis and his writings also have impacted the emotions and encouraged Christians in their various struggles. One woman was willing to share her personal struggles and how staying in touch with Lewis made a huge difference in her life:

When I walked away from my Christian faith during my twenties and early thirties, Lewis was one of the few Christian authors I still trusted and could stand to read. I was grieving, angry, and depressed, and when I reread The Chronicles of Narnia, the hope that shone through them was almost painful. Emotionally, it was as though a frozen and numb part of me began to regain feeling.

Some years later, a passage from The Screwtape Letters was instrumental in helping me realize that I’d been angry at the church when, in fact, the church had been my truest friends and best support through very dark days.

For those who completed this survey, there is no doubt that Lewis remains a source of spiritual strength and intellectual rigor for many American Christians. He has kept many from losing their faith while in college; his books continue to sell briskly more than half a century after he penned his last one; he has inspired children with his Narnia tales and introduced them to Christ in the form of a beloved lion; societies are springing up throughout the land devoted to the study of Lewis; and major Hollywood movies have attempted to put his vision and message into the mainstream of American entertainment. C. S. Lewis appears to be in America to stay.

Religious Liberty: A Crystal-Clear Message?

It would be wonderful if President Trump’s executive orders wouldn’t battle one another. As seems to be the case with everything our new president does, we get great news along with not-so-great.

I won’t diminish the great news. The latest in his series of executive orders is a win for religious liberty. Neither do I believe it attempts to write a new law or extend presidential authority beyond proper constitutional limitations. This EO merely establishes what already is ensconced in the First Amendment to the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Let’s rejoice over the following assertions in the EO (H/T to Erick Erickson’s wording on his Resurgent website):

  • It tells the entire federal government to respect federal statutes and Supreme Court decisions that make clear the free exercise of religion applies to all people, of all faiths, in all places, and at all times—that it is not merely the freedom to worship.
  • It notes that religious organizations include all organizations operated by religious principles, not just houses of worship or charities. And it follows the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in saying that religious exercise “includes all aspects of religious observance and practice,” not just those absolutely required by a faith.
  • It instructs all agencies of the federal government, “to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law,” to reasonably accommodate the religion of federal employees, as required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
  • It instructs the secretaries of health and human services, labor, and treasury to finally grant relief to the Little Sisters of the Poor and others who weren’t exempted from the Obamacare abortifacient and contraception mandate.
  • It instructs the secretary of health and human services to ensure that all citizens have the ability to purchase health care plans through Obamacare that do not cover abortion or subsidize plans that do.
  • It instructs the secretary of health and human services to ensure that the federal government does not discriminate against child-welfare providers, such as foster care and adoption services, based on the organization’s religious beliefs.
  • It adopts the Russell Amendment and instructs all agencies of the federal government to provide protections and exemptions consistent with the Civil Rights Act and Americans with Disabilities Act to all religious organizations that contract with the federal government or receive grants.

That’s a tremendous list of assurances. As I’ve said, I will give credit where it is due, and this deserves our entire approbation.

So then why did Trump, the day before, allow an Obama executive order to stand that prohibits “discrimination” against gays when giving out federal contracts? While that may sound good to many, what it did was discriminate instead against Christian organizations that seek to aid the poor via contracts with the federal government. Those organizations would have to deny their basic beliefs about sexual morality and marriage before they can have an equal place at the table.

How does allowing that Obama dictate to continue mesh with this new EO on religious liberty, in particular that last provision that supposedly protects religious organizations seeking a federal grant?

Of course, my argument is that Christians shouldn’t try to get federal money at all. Let’s not intertwine our faith with government authority. Let’s not become dependent on funding from government to accomplish what God has called us to do.

Yet, it would be nice if the new administration wouldn’t send out conflicting signals. The message needs to be crystal clear. This whole matter of liberty of conscience is kind of a mess right now in our society.

I’ve noted before that Trump doesn’t really grasp the problem most evangelicals have with the LGBT agenda. He has no real issue with that agenda. We need to continue to pray that his understanding of Christian morality will become sharper over time.

The Bible & Race

This is Martin Luther King Day, so our thoughts ought to go to the way we treat one another in the one race that is grounded in Biblical truth: the human race. Scripture offers confirmation of that perspective.

After the Great Flood in Noah’s day (yes, I’m one of those who see that event as history, not legend or myth), we have a genealogical chapter in Genesis that shows where all of Noah’s descendants dispersed. At the end of that accounting, we are told the following:

These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations; and out of these the nations were separated on the earth after the flood.

All physical distinctions among mankind developed from this one family. We all have a common ancestor (and I don’t mean what an evolutionist would mean by that). Consequently, any ideology that claims the superiority of one branch of humanity or the inferiority of another is profoundly unbiblical.

In the New Testament book of Acts, we see the apostle Paul speaking on Mars Hill in Athens to a gathering of philosophers (and would-be philosophers). In the midst of his address to them, he makes this comment:

He Himself [God] gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth . . . that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist.

First, this is a confirmation of the Genesis account as to the origin of mankind. Second, it is a clear affirmation of the doctrine that God wants all men, of whatever ethnic background and no matter what external differences one group may have with another, to be brought into His kingdom.

In his letters, Paul reiterates this doctrine, as in Galatians when he writes,

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.

Some people might be confused by Paul’s words here. Yes, there is a distinction still between Jews and Gentiles, between those living a life in slavery and those who are free, between men and women. What he’s getting at is simply that all of those distinctions make no difference to God when it comes to our standing before Him. When we come to Christ, we are equally part of His family no matter the external differences.

Paul returns to that theme in the book of Colossians:

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

What’s more important than what we see on the outside of people is what’s going on inside. Our hearts are being changed through Christ; we are being transformed into His image. And our “race” doesn’t matter.

In our nation, we look back on a history of slavery and segregation that never should have occurred. We do need a sense of proportion, though: slavery has existed throughout human history.

As a nation, we have taken steps to try to erase that blight in our treatment of our fellow humans. In my opinion, great progress has been made over the years. Others don’t see it that way at all. Unfortunately, some are more interested in hanging on to grievances and fomenting racial animosity—and that occurs on both sides of the divide.

Martin Luther King wanted a complete integration of man’s artificial racial classifications into the one race that has Biblical backing, the race that Jesus Christ died for, the race that includes all men and women regardless of those external differences so many want to emphasize.

We need to advance the Biblical perspective on the human race: we are all the descendants of one family, and we are all made in the image of God. It’s time to begin treating each other accordingly.

Lewis: Sending Words “Into the Abyss”

When I began my C. S. Lewis journey toward writing my book on his influence on Americans, I determined to re-read everything by him that I’d read before and attempt to delve into the rest of his works that I’d never read.

I’m still not done with that latter part, but I’m making progress. I recently bought a collection of Lewis essays that I had not previously read, although I’d taken notice of some of them through other people’s commentaries. This short collection, put together into a volume called On Stories and Other Essays on Literature, includes some well-known pieces on Lewis’s approach to writing to children and how Narnia came into being.

There are other essays in the collection that display the typical Lewis insight. One, “The Death of Words,” has a passage that I thought was particularly relevant to our age. The essay takes umbrage at how some words have lost their meanings over time, transformed into something else entirely, thereby making the words rather useless.

One of those “lost” words hit home for me as I contemplate what has become of our society. Here’s Lewis:

To save any word from the eulogistic and dyslogistic abyss is a task worth the efforts of all who love the English language. And I can think of one word—the word Christian—which is at this moment on the brink.

To be a Christian in the early church was not a matter of formality but a transformation of life through repentance, forgiveness, and holiness. Lewis sadly notes how that has altered:

When politicians talk of “Christian moral standards” they are not always thinking of anything which distinguishes Christian morality from Confucian or Stoic or Benthamite morality. One often feels it is merely one literary variant among the “adorning epithets” which, in our political style, the expression “moral standards” is felt to require; civilised (another ruined word) or modern or democratic or enlightened would have done just as well.

But it will really be a great nuisance if the word Christian becomes simply a synonym for good. For historians, if no one else, will still sometimes need the word in its proper sense, and what will they do? That is always the trouble about allowing words to slip into the abyss.

One could argue that the official connection between church and state in Europe caused this confusion. To be born in England, for example, meant that you were born into the Church of England and therefore, by the miracle of birth alone, you were automatically a Christian, thereby watering down the meaning completely.

But what of America where there is no official church? I just saw a survey that purports to show that 90% of the members of our newly seated Congress claim to be Christians? Really? What a sad indication of how little that word means today.

Lewis then provides this further insight:

It is important to notice that the danger to the word Christian comes not from its open enemies, but from its friends. It was not egalitarians, it was officious admirers of gentility who killed the word gentleman.

The other day I had occasion to say that certain people were not Christians; a critic asked how I dared say so, being unable (as of course I am) to read their hearts.

I had used the word to mean “persons who profess belief in the specific doctrines of Christianity”; my critic wanted me to use it in what he would (rightly) call “a far deeper sense”—a sense so deep that no human observer can tell to whom it applies.

Turn Christian into a word so vague and pliable that it can apply to almost anyone and the word has lost its meaning. It has gone, as Lewis so artfully put it, into the abyss.

Those Closest to Trump

Last week, I gave an overview of some of Trump’s picks for his cabinet, both the solid ones and ones I consider questionable. I omitted a few (hard to cover them all), but I should mention in passing the choice of Rick Perry for energy secretary (very good) and Elaine Chao for the Department of Transportation.

There are mixed reviews on Chao: she served as secretary of labor previously, where some said she did very well, but there is criticism that choosing the wife of Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not exactly a prime example for the drain-the-swamp battle cry.

Many Trump supporters have high hopes for what he will accomplish, for sure:

That would be nice, but I’ll wait to see what kind of results we get.

Some of the jobs closest to Trump don’t require Senate confirmation. They tell you the most about who Trump trusts.

First on that list would be Stephen Bannon, formerly of the Breitbart website. All kinds of opinions have been offered about Bannon. My view of him is somewhere in between those who view him as the devil incarnate and those who see him as the policy savior.

With the lofty title of chief strategist, Bannon will apparently be responsible for guiding Trump in his decisions on what policies to push for and how to get the job done. Bannon is hard-driving, which can be good for such a position, but he also can alienate people very quickly.

My first acquaintance with Bannon was positive. He was one the writers/producers of a video that I use in my course on Ronald Reagan and modern American conservatism.

That video, In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed, details Reagan’s decades-long fight against communism and the strategy he used to take down the Soviet Union. It is a powerful video, one that offers a clear corrective to the liberal interpretation of events that led to the Soviet downfall.

The quality of the video is outstanding, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has not yet seen it.

Bannon’s latest position at Breitbart, though, gives me pause. I don’t accept the cry of “racist” that some would level at him. I am concerned, though, that he allowed that site to be a provocative place where the so-called “alt-right” felt comfortable. I want nothing to do with them, as they are far too close to neo-nazism for me.

Bannon is no racist or Nazi, but when you play footsie with those who are, you tarnish yourself. Just so you know, I used to be a contributor to Breitbart’s Big Government site, so I have no axe to grind here. During the election, though, I stopped reading anything from Breitbart, as I saw it devolve into a Trump propaganda mouthpiece, willing to smear other candidates in its devotion to Trump.

I’m definitely wait-and-see with Bannon.

Another controversial appointment is former general Mike Flynn to serve as Trump’s national security advisor. I’ve watched Flynn being interviewed on news programs, and again, I’m a little torn.

Flynn’s positive is that he understands the Islamist threat. His negatives are that he is potentially too emotional, too open to conspiracy theories (like his boss), and perhaps far too friendly to Russia, which I continue to see as a threat to our national security, not an ally.

As with all of Trump’s questionable choices, I simply hope and pray for the best.

Finally, there is the very first decision on personnel that Trump made: installing Reince Priebus as his chief of staff. That decision was probably wise, as Trump needs someone who can work well with the Republican party overall.

Priebus, as chair of the Republican National Committee over the past years, has shown himself to be someone who can navigate the perils of politics. I’ve not always been a big fan of his, especially when he seemed to jump on Trump’s train much too soon and shut down any opposition to Trump at the national convention.

Yet if Trump is to succeed working with the party he so recently joined, he needs someone like Priebus to act as a guide.

I believe I’ve covered most of the key players in the upcoming Trump presidency. I hope the good ones can have a positive influence on him and his policies; I hope the questionable ones are either denied confirmation or will not detract too much from what this administration needs to be to reverse the political course of the nation.

Let me add this, though: reversing the political course is not enough; it’s the spiritual/moral foundation that is in need of the greatest repair, and that will never come through politics. Christian influence on the culture remains the top priority.

A Lewis “Scrap”

When I was preparing my paper for the C. S. Lewis Academic Roundtable at last summer’s Lewis Foundation conference, I came across a fun quote from Lewis that I hadn’t remembered reading before. It fit nicely into the theme of my paper, which touched on the role Christians should play in influencing the culture and politics.

I liked it so much that I used it as the introduction to the paper. It reads as follows:

“Praying for particular things,” said I, “always seems to me like advising God how to run the world. Wouldn’t it be wiser to assume that He knows best?”

“On the same principle,” said he, “I suppose you never ask a man next to you to pass the salt, because God knows best whether you ought to have salt or not. And I suppose you never take an umbrella, because God knows best whether you ought to be wet or dry.”

“That’s quite different,” I protested.

“I don’t see why,” said he. “The odd thing is that He should let us influence the course of events at all. But since He lets us do it in one way I don’t see why He shouldn’t let us do it in the other.”

That little “story” has stayed with me ever since and has encouraged me whenever I feel discouraged over the trends I see in the world and my perception of how little influence I have over them.

One never knows how much influence one might have on another. That verse in Galatians 6 comes to mind: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up [grow weary].”

For those interested in this Lewis quote today, it’s called “Scraps” and is found in the essay collection God in the Dock.