Archive for the ‘ Christians & Culture ’ Category

Lewis & the Public Square (Part 2)

Last Saturday, I posted a portion of the paper I’m delivering to the Academic Roundtable at the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s summer conference. Today, I’d like to offer another excerpt dealing with how Lewis viewed the Christian’s responsibility to speak to the culture and government in the public square.

C. S. Lewis 8Lewis called on his fellow Christians to engage the culture in every possible way. Education was certainly a key component for furthering the Biblical worldview; he called it “only the most fully conscious of the channels whereby each generation influences the next.”

He expressed concern that the State might “take education more and more firmly under its wing.” By doing so, it could potentially “foster conformity, perhaps even servility, up to a point,” but it still would require people to do the teaching, and “as long as we remain a democracy, it is men who give the State its powers,” he noted optimistically. “And over these men, until all freedom is extinguished, the free winds of opinion blow. Their minds are formed by influences which government cannot control.”

Lewis believed in those “free winds of opinion” that could not be controlled by the government, but he did mention the condition: “as long as we remain a democracy.” While he favored a democratic system, which would allow for the free interchange of ideas in the public square, he also offered cautions that democracy, in itself, provided no absolute guarantee of success.

Screwtape Proposes a ToastThat warning came through the mouth of Screwtape in “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” in which he has the diabolical fiend say,

We, in Hell, would welcome the disappearance of Democracy in the strict sense of that word; the political arrangement so called. Like all forms of government it often works to our advantage; but on the whole less often than other forms.

And what we must realize is that “democracy” in the diabolical sense (I’m as good as you, Being like Folks, Togetherness) is the finest instrument we could possibly have for extirpating political Democracies from the face of the earth.

For “democracy” or the “democratic spirit” (diabolical sense) leads to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and quick to snarl or whimper at the first hint of criticism. And that is what Hell wishes every democratic people to be.

For when such a nation meets in conflict a nation where children have been made to work at school, where talent is placed in high posts, and where the ignorant mass are allowed no say at all in public affairs [emphasis added], only one result is possible.

Democracy, in Lewis’s view, while very important for expressing points of view on policy and the standards by which a society ought to conform, was not a cure-all for society’s ills. Wherever there are people, there are problems.

He believed in democracy, he said, because he believed in the fall of man. “A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government.” That was a false grounds for wanting democracy, he asserted.

Instead, he came at it from the opposite side: “Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.”

Part 3 next week.

Trump Meets the Evangelicals

Yesterday, 900-plus evangelicals met with Donald Trump to ask questions and try to figure out if they can support his candidacy. I know only some of the names of individuals who were present. The audience was mixed, I’m sure, in its attitude toward the presumptive Republican nominee.

Meeting with Trump

I don’t wish to unfairly criticize those who attended; in most circumstances, I too would want to have the opportunity to hear a candidate and get a better feel for him/her. Neither am I disdainful of any attempt to try to influence a candidate toward policies that I would favor as a Christian.

In most circumstances.

But this is not a typical circumstance, and the candidate is not typical either. I have followed Trump very carefully through the entire primary process, watching his manner and listening to his words. Based on what I already know about him from personal observation and a significant amount of reading with respect to his past, his business dealings, and his overall character, I would not have attended this meeting if invited.

Let me be clear: I was not invited.

There were Christian leaders there for whom I have great respect. Others present were ones for whom I have lost some respect due to their eagerness to jump on the Trump train and for their rather critical attitude toward those of us who are never going to join this misbegotten candidacy.

I have spilled thousands of words in this blog explaining my objections to Donald Trump as the Republican nominee. Let me summarize why I cannot support him.

First, his personal character is abhorrent: self-centered, vindictive toward those who criticize him, petty, insulting, willing to lower himself into whatever gutter is nearby to destroy others. His divorces and his overall arrogance toward women is another factor; the remarks he makes about women (take Carly Fiorina and Heidi Cruz, for example) are always focused on their looks. For him, that’s the measure of a woman’s worth.

6 or 7

He continues to think Planned Parenthood isn’t all that bad; he attacks the judge in the Trump University lawsuit (a clearly fraudulent university) because of his Mexican heritage; he cavalierly retweets comments from racist supporters; he expects American troops to follow his orders even if they involve the killing of women and children of the enemy; and he is a conspiracy nut, culminating in the bizarre idea that Ted Cruz’s father is somehow implicated in the JFK assassination.

His supporters within the Republican party are constantly having to say they don’t agree with his tirades; some are saying they just won’t comment on him anymore until after the election, since they are so embarrassed by him.

Campaign of Crazy

He is truly a loose cannon; one never knows what to expect next. Well, that’s not exactly true—it’s clear he’s going to continue to be a national embarrassment.

One Type

Those are my bedrock reasons for rejecting his candidacy, but those form the cornerstone for why his campaign is now such a wreck. He has no ground game ready to go; his fundraising has been nonexistent and the campaign is running on fumes financially; a lot of the money he has spent has gone to his own salary and other Trump organizations; he thinks he can just hold rallies and win the presidency; he is slated to lose big, and he will drag the party down with him, possibly losing both houses of Congress in the process.

To fix this, he fires his campaign manager. Now everything’s going to be fine, he promises. But who is really driving the campaign? There’s little an underling can do to redirect The Donald.

You're Fired

He has become so poisonous to the party that a new threat to his nomination is bubbling: an attempt to deny him the necessary votes at the convention. His actions have pretty much destroyed Republican party unity:

GOP Unity

So add to moral degenerate the appellation of incompetent.

And I haven’t even addressed the problem of his knowledge of issues, a deficit that led him to avoid a direct debate confrontation with Cruz one-on-one. He would have been massacred intellectually.

David French wrote an excellent piece a couple of days ago as this meeting with evangelicals loomed. It is an appeal we need to hear and heed:

American Evangelical Christianity does not exist for the purpose of placing one or two decent judges on the Supreme Court. It — along with its Catholic and Orthodox counterparts — represents the body of Christ on this earth. It is a flawed vessel, to be sure, but its moral witness is still of incalculable worth.

He concluded the article with this warning:

Evangelical leaders: If you back Trump, for the rest of your days, you will be forced to live with having had a hand in fracturing our nation on the basis of race, discarding the sanctity of marriage, and scorning honesty itself — all for the chance, the remote chance, that Trump will make one or two decent Supreme Court picks. You will be selling your integrity for the most meager of returns. . . .

Christians have had to take tougher stands in darker times before. They do so in other nations today. This decision, by contrast, should be easy. Trump is not worth your consideration or even one moment of your time. Let others bend the knee.

But . . . but . . . that means a Hillary presidency! Let’s be honest, it’s probably going to be a Hillary presidency anyway. Republicans have chosen the absolute worst nominee available; a number of others who were on the stages with Trump would have been locks to put away the worst Democrat candidate in that party’s history. Choosing Trump has now made that unlikely.

I’ve said it before and will say it again: don’t blame those who cannot, in conscience, support Donald Trump. The blame for this upcoming fiasco lies in the laps of those who became lapdogs for Trump.

Christians, to maintain their witness to the world of integrity, honesty, and moral character, should walk away from Trump. If they don’t, they will forever be linked to his sordid legacy.

The Antidote for Despair

We live in a culture spiraling down into depths of depravity that many of us never expected to witness. We have presidential candidates who are so corrupt that neither deserves a vote. We could, if we allowed it to happen, allow ourselves to spiral down into despair.

God, though, doesn’t want that to happen. We need to stay focused.

Message BibleMy daily Scripture reading this morning brought me to 2 Corinthians 5. I’ve been reading through the Scripture in the Message version just to get the flavor of it. Sometimes, it is a little silly in the wording used; other times, it hits just the right note to get one’s attention. Today is one of those days. It begins with this reminder for those of us who may get weary at times:

We know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again.

The reminder is that our time on this earth is short and a newness awaits that will last for eternity. We long for that day.

Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it!

We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.

Mere Christianity 2C. S. Lewis put it this way in Mere Christianity: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

The Scripture chapter continues with this encouragement:

That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going.

Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.

So no matter how evil the world around us is, we can handle it. In fact, God has given us His courage to do what He has called us to do while we are still here:

But neither exile nor homecoming is the main thing. Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that’s what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions.

Sooner or later we’ll all have to face God, regardless of our conditions. We will appear before Christ and take what’s coming to us as a result of our actions, either good or bad.

That keeps us vigilant, you can be sure. It’s no light thing to know that we’ll all one day stand in that place of Judgment. That’s why we work urgently with everyone we meet to get them ready to face God.

We are called to be faithful while we remain in this place of travail. Our mission, before we go “home,” is to take as many with us as we can. We are to stand for truth in the midst of an evil and perverted generation.

Let’s not let discouragement overtake us. God has given us His great and wonderful promises. Stand on them, stand for righteousness, and then stand back and see what He will do.

Lewis & the Public Square (Part 1)

CSL FoundationI’ve finished the first draft of my paper for the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s conference next month. The assigned topic for the Academic Roundtable is “Faith, Freedom, and the Public Square.” Participants can come at this topic in any way they choose. I chose to address the distinct difference historically between the terms “liberty of conscience” and “pluralism,” noting the first one rests on the belief that there is absolute truth to be found, while the second offers a basis of relativism.

After the historical section of my paper, I turn to how Lewis viewed the Christian’s responsibility to speak out for truth publicly. What follows is an excerpt.

One might be excused for thinking that C. S. Lewis avoided anything political, since he stated rather consistently that he abhorred politics. A tongue-in-cheek letter he received from an American organization that called itself The Society for the Prevention of Progress brought a tongue-in-cheek response from Lewis, as he told them,

While feeling that I was born a member of your Society, I am nevertheless honoured to receive the outward seal of membership. I shall hope by continued orthodoxy and the unremitting practice of Reaction, Obstruction, and Stagnation to give you no reason for repenting your favour.

Comments like that would tend to paint him as a reluctant combatant in the civil realm.

That would be an inaccurate assessment. While it is true that he despised the petty politics of his nation, he was always a staunch defender of truth in the public sphere, whether dealing with theological issues or more practical matters of governing. Why write the kinds of books he did if not for the purpose of influencing the society of his day? The Abolition of Man and its fiction counterpart, That Hideous Strength, are only two examples of his attempt to warn people of the dangers of scientism applied to education and government.

Oxford Socratic ClubLewis’s tenure as president of the Oxford Socratic Club shows his willingness to openly debate matters with those who were not Christians. He noted the importance, in a university, of Christians breaking out of their shells and interacting with those of different beliefs. Lewis never argued for a kind of pluralistic neutrality in those debates. He was forthright in how they should be conducted: “We never claimed to be impartial. But argument is. It has a life of its own. No man can tell where it will go. We expose ourselves, and the weakest of our party, to your fire no less than you are exposed to ours.”

He also knew that the Christian message had to be communicated in every way possible. One does that, he noted, by attacking “the enemy’s line of communication.” He followed this thought with one of his more famous quotes:

C. S. Lewis 1What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent. . . . It is not the books written in direct defence of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian.

Then came an appeal to put one’s theology into the vernacular in order to truly communicate the message to an unbelieving audience. “I have come to the conviction,” he concluded, “that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused.”

That’s an introduction to the Lewis portion of my paper. I’ll add to it next Saturday.

Stand for Righteousness

As a Christian I believe that salvation is offered to all who will acknowledge the sin in their lives, sincerely repent of it, and put their faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross. I believe, as Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, that we are then obliged to “go and sin no more.”

Further, I believe that no sin is outside the circle of God’s forgiveness. The sin of homosexuality is no exception. And the admonition to go and sin no more applies as well because sin is a choice—there is no homosexual gene, regardless of what you may have heard.

It isn’t the Christians, though, who have made homosexuality such an issue in our society. As a historian, I could go back and trace all the antecedents that have led us to where we are today, but the short version is to say that the cultural revolution started in earnest in the 1960s and 1970s.

Prop 8 Protest IThis revolution had many facets but sexual “liberation” was a key. The push for legalized abortion and homosexual “rights” began simultaneously. Both are the outward manifestation of the rejection of Biblical truth and the substitution of the cult of self-centeredness and licentious behavior.

Christians always have reached out to those trapped in sin. After all, that’s why God has us in this world, to be His voice, arms, and legs. I would never have a problem sitting down with individuals caught in any sinful lifestyle and helping them see the true liberation that comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What has happened in the past few decades, though, and that has now accelerated beyond anyone’s expectation, is the demand by those in sinful lifestyles—particularly homosexuality—that the society not just tolerate their sinfulness but that we embrace it.

We have gone far beyond a call for tolerance into the realm of government force to make us bow to the new immorality. Christian businesses such as bakeries and photographers are fined if they won’t participate in homosexual weddings. Some have had to close their businesses over this.

Christian educational institutions are threatened with loss of accreditation if they don’t change their stance on homosexuality. The latest such threat comes from the California legislature.

The drive for normalization of what used to be considered by nearly everyone as unacceptable has now led to public shaming for those who refuse to submit to the idea that there should be no gender distinctions in bathrooms and locker rooms.

Keep Govt Out

One could easily say that plain old common sense is disappearing in the onslaught of a political correctness that is in the process of destroying what remains of our society’s Biblical basis.

This is a new militancy that already is sprouting the seeds of totalitarianism. Yet, ironically, it is those who are simply holding their ground on decency and traditional morality who are being stigmatized as the narrow-minded, the bigots, the haters.

How to respond? It’s easy to become indignant and angry over the false accusations. It’s easy to want to lash out at the foolishness and sin that is destroying us.

The Scripture says that God is angry with sin and with those who promote it. His judgment looms. Yet we also know, from that same source, that He seeks to save even those who may seem beyond saving. His mercy is everlasting. That doesn’t mean judgment won’t come, but until it does, He will continue to draw people to Himself.

We need the same outlook. Yes, be angry over the sin that is sending people into both a personal hell and a literal one. Yes, strive to replace government officials who promote a sinful agenda; there is a political side to this.

TruthBut, more than anything else, do whatever we can to showcase truth and reverse the dominant worldview that has led to this. Politics and government are not our savior; neither are they the source of the problem—they only reflect who we are as a people.

Changed minds and changed hearts provide the only solution. That’s where our primary focus must be, and there are many avenues through which we can achieve this. Wherever God has placed you, you are now His voice, His conscience, His heart.

Renewal of the mind happens one person at a time. Work within the sphere of influence you already have. Give God every opportunity to work through you to salvage a nation on the path to devastation and ruin.

Stand for righteousness and then stand back and see what the Lord will do.

A Line Is Being Drawn

In the wake of the Orlando terrorist attack, some people are making fantastic charges. I’ll come back to that in a moment, but first, a short testimony.

Good & EvilI know what it means to be in rebellion against God. There was a time in my life when I walked away from His love and rejected His ways. In short, I was lost in my sin and was on a road to perdition. God was merciful. He kept working on me despite my attitude toward Him. Over a period of a number of years, He drew me back through the Biblical path of recognition of sin, repentance, and faith.

For many years afterward, I referred to Him as The God of the Second Chance.

I share that up front today because I want it to be known that my personal experience of God’s mercy gives me a heart of compassion for others who still remain in rebellion as I was.

The reason I speak out against sin is not because I hate anyone. I speak against it because sin is what separates us from God; only through repentance and faith can the relationship with God be restored.

Therefore, it is not love that refuses to acknowledge sin in others; a truly loving person wants those involved in sinful lifestyles to be aware of the danger. Genuine love that is inspired by God points to the danger in order to rescue others and put them on the road to salvation as well.

As a former pastor of mine used to say, “A Christian is one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.”

Judging OthersWhen anyone tries to use Scripture to say we shouldn’t judge, they don’t understand the context of the Scripture. The instruction there is to first take the log out of one’s own eye—in other words, be sure you don’t have a sin that you need to repent of first—before taking the splinter out of someone else’s eye. We are to judge, but in the proper spirit of humility.

That said, let’s look at the situation in Orlando through that perspective. It is clear that the prime perpetrator of sinfulness was the shooter who deliberately sought to murder as many people as possible. In that sense, it doesn’t matter who the targets were; murder is murder and we legitimately grieve over the loss of life.

I firmly believe that homosexuality is a sin. It is a perversion of the gift of sex given by God. I also believe that those who die unrepentant of their sinful lifestyle, be it homosexuality, heterosexual sin, or a life of thievery, murder, or whatever sin you may want to list (and the Scripture gives a long list), means an eternity separated from the love and presence of God.

So, the saddest part of what occurred in that nightclub is the possible loss of forty-nine souls to the enemy of our souls. Barring a thief-on-the-cross confession at the last minute (and only the Lord knows who may have offered that), those forty-nine awakened to a terror that far exceeds what they experienced in the moments before their death.

C. S. Lewis 15What makes this so tragic is that God intended for all of us to be in close relationship with Him. We are the ones who refuse to acknowledge His ways. C. S. Lewis said, in his famous “The Weight of Glory” sermon,

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

God created each of us with inherent worth. Each person, no matter his or her lifestyle, is an immortal. We all will spend an eternity somewhere, but when we stay in rebellion against God’s righteousness—a righteousness intended for our good, not to stop us from “having fun”—we become immortal horrors.

That’s the real tragedy of what has transpired over this past weekend.

You will find, if you pay attention to the responses to the attack, that Christians have come to the forefront to offer aid and counsel for those left behind and grieving. Why? It’s because we operate out of the love of God for others, even for those with whom we disagree.

We don’t throw people from buildings or murder them because of their sins; rather, we reach out and try to help lead them out of their sins. We know what it means to have received mercy; therefore, we want to extend that same mercy to others.

Yet what do we hear from some sources? Christians are to blame for what happened because they believe homosexuality is sinful. Christians are to blame because they have pushed for freedom of religion laws. Christians are to blame for creating a mentality that leads to this.

No, no, and no.

Yet this onslaught of accusations is taking its toll. First, in public policy, we may see even more stringent controls over those of us who maintain Biblical standards of morality. Christian institutions like the one I’m part of, an evangelical university, may undergo more pressure to conform to the world’s way of thinking and acting.

Robert GeorgeThen there’s the pressure on individual Christians to lay aside their faith, to go along to get along. Professor Robert George of Princeton University penned a sad but true insight the other day, talking about how Christians are now, more than ever, tempted to follow the cultural trends no matter how antithetical they may be to Biblical teaching.

We deceive ourselves, Prof. George says: “Christians who fall in line with a trend always find ways to say that the trend, whatever it is, is compatible with Christian faith–even dictated by it!” That’s the greatest danger of all, when those who call themselves Christians fall in line with a society that has rejected Biblical norms and even try to claim that the new ideas are somehow really Christian.

He ended his commentary with this:

Being human, we crave approval and we like to fit in. Moreover, we human beings are naturally influenced by the ways of thinking favored by those who are regarded in a culture as the sophisticated and important people.

When push comes to shove, it’s really hard to be true to Christian faith; the social and personal costs are too high. We Christians praise the martyrs and honor their memories, but we are loath to place in jeopardy so much as an opportunity for career advancement, or the good opinion of a friend, much less our lives.

So we tend to fall in line, or at least fall silent. We deceive ourselves with rationalizations for what amounts to either conformism or cowardice. We place the emphasis on whatever happens in the cultural circumstances to be the acceptable parts of Christian teaching, and soft-pedal or even abandon the parts that the enforcers of cultural norms deem to be unacceptable.

We make a million excuses for going along with what’s wrong, and pretty soon we find ourselves going along with calling it right.

I’m afraid he is correct in his analysis. My approach, instead, is to follow what Christian leader A. W. Tozer once said: “I claim the holy right to disappoint men in order to avoid disappointing God.”

Take Up the CrossJesus told His disciples to take up their crosses and follow Him. He also said the way is broad that leads to destruction and the way is narrow that leads to life. We are at a point where a line is going to be drawn—in fact, is already being drawn—where we will have to decide which side of that line we are on.

Moses, upon coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, saw the Israelites worshiping a false god and giving themselves over to sexual sins. He drew a line that day; those who came to his side were spared, but the others were destroyed.

Decide this day whom you will serve. It’s a decision that determines your eternity.

Influencing the Course of Events: A Lewis “Scrap”

God in the DockCombing through C. S. Lewis’s essays to find pertinent quotes for the paper I will be presenting at the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s summer conference, I came upon what might be called a little scribbling that I don’t remember ever reading before. It’s in the collected essays entitled God in the Dock and is called simply “Scraps.”

These seem to be just odds-and-ends comments that Lewis saw fit to put on paper, perhaps just for fun, or for future reference to use in other pieces. I’m not sure if this particular “scrap” found its way into another essay (I’m not yet Lewis-omniscient) but it works beautifully for the theme of my paper, which focuses on the responsibility of Christians to speak out in the public square.

Here is that “scrap”:

“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.”

All is not settled in public affairs until we make our decisions. We do have an influence on how our society functions and on the path it will take in the future. Christians are to be involved in every aspect of society, whether it be education, entertainment, business, or politics.

I’m thinking of using this Lewis quote as the starting point for my paper. I love searching for nuggets and finding ones such as this.