Archive for the ‘ Christians & Culture ’ Category

C. S. Lewis: Impact on Americans (Part 7)

This will be my final installment detailing the results of the Wade Center survey I conducted to find out how C. S. Lewis has influenced Americans of our generation. My previous post dealt with whatever further comments respondents wanted to make. Here are the rest of those for your edification. Perhaps you may identify with the sentiments expressed.

Space TrilogyBeyond the purely intellectual appeal, Lewis and his writings also have impacted the emotions and encouraged Christians in their various struggles. “I am working through some very difficult personal and family issues at this point in my life, and Lewis’s Space Trilogy has Ransom, its protagonist, facing challenges that are shockingly relatable, in spite of their obvious differences in nature,” related another respondent. “I have no Unman to fight off, for example, but the nearly overwhelming burden of evil is clear and present. God has used these books in particular, as well as all of Lewis’s work in general, to improve my life and my understanding of His holy nature.”

One woman was willing to share her personal struggles and how staying in touch with Lewis made a huge difference in her life:

Screwtape Letters 2When 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.

Another had the privilege of spending some time at Lewis’s home, the Kilns, and came away humbled by the experience. He and his wife sometimes read Lewis aloud to one another in the evenings. “I’ve never read a story, book, or essay by him I did not enjoy. Even his literary criticism is wonderful!”

One sentence from another respondent speaks of how Lewis has made God more real to him: “I find very moving the endings of Perelandra, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Last Battle, and The Great Divorce; where the veil is briefly pulled back and God’s reality shines in.”

Narnia, naturally, has impacted those who were first introduced to Lewis as children. One comment might express how many children have felt after reading those books: “As a kid when was sick I used to pray, ‘God, I don’t care if I die as long as you take me to Narnia.’”

There was one respondent, though, who went into greater detail on how Narnia affected, and continues to affect, her. She had much more to say than what is quoted here, but this selection adequately reflects her views:

Chronicles of NarniaPerhaps the most thrilling liberation of being a child in Narnia is Lewis’s assertion that children can understand complex things. The problem with most children’s TV shows, children’s books, children’s anything is that they work too hard to suit children. Books that oversimplify ideas so children can understand them teach children to think simplistically.

All sorts of ideas from Lewis’s non-fiction work and from classical philosophers appear somewhere in Narnia. I discovered Aristotelian logic from Professor Kirke, Plato’s Theory of Forms in Aslan’s country, and the fallacious nonsense of an ad hoc rescue from Narnian dwarves. I love Narnia not only because I find things to ponder in it, but because it taught me how to ponder.

C. S. Lewis created a complex world, and it taught me to think complex thoughts. I am content in Narnia not because I am comfortable, but because I am uncomfortable. It stretches me—my leadership, my character, and my understanding. It acknowledges not that I am a grown-up, but that I am a person, and therefore capable of maturity regardless of my age.

While that excerpt from a more lengthy comment focused entirely on Narnia, another respondent sought to explore the wider scope of Lewis’s writings:

C. S. Lewis manages to express in many unique and wonderful ways ideas about Christianity that are difficult to describe. Narnia tells of a lion whom you fear, but is good—we should fear God, but love God.

Screwtape shows how devious and unrelenting (even in the face of conversion of the subject) Satan can be in the temptations of a person/Christian. In Mere Christianity, Surprised by Joy, “The Weight of Glory,” etc., Lewis expresses truths about Christianity in practical and meaningful ways that are easy to understand and remember. I love the variety of his writings.

Yet it is not only the writings of C. S. Lewis that have captured the hearts of many; it is also the man himself. As one wrote, “We’ve all heard the question of what single person, living or dead, we would most like to meet. I can name dozens of intriguing figures I would love to meet, but none so much as Lewis.”

Another expressed the identical sentiment, but in a different way, when she shared this hope: “I long to go with others on a walking tour in heaven with Jack (as he used to do with Warnie and others) and have a good lengthy chat with this man who for years now has seemed like a good, dear friend.”

I hope this series has been both spiritually and intellectually stimulating. And might I add: please, if you think of it, pray that my book-length manuscript on Lewis’s impact on Americans will find its publisher. Thank you.

A Personal Perspective on Evangelical Support for Trump

This is going to be a calmer post than I originally intended. My emotions ran high Saturday night with the results of the South Carolina primary. Make no mistake, I am deeply disturbed by political developments in the Republican party, but I will attempt to offer a reasonable commentary to explain my deep concern.

While Trump’s victory, in itself, is disturbing, it’s the way he won that bothers me more—with the apparent backing of a plurality of evangelicals.

Donald Trump 4According to the exit polls, Trump took about 34% of evangelical voters, while Cruz got around 25% and Rubio slightly fewer. One can always say that at least the combined tally for Cruz and Rubio was greater than Trump’s number, but just the fact that 34% self-identified evangelical Christians would vote for this man defies logic.

Perhaps logic is in short supply. Perhaps real evangelicalism is in short supply also. Perhaps the term “evangelical” has come to have so many different meanings that it is now a worthless word.

To me, an evangelical is a true disciple of Jesus Christ, committed to reflect the righteousness of God in one’s own life. A real disciple of Christ would want to see His ways permeate society, and a real evangelical Christian would never vote for a person whose lifestyle and policy positions were in direct opposition to the Biblical message of salvation and moral behavior.

Yet that is precisely what 34% of evangelical South Carolinians did.

First, let me say that I don’t necessarily accept the notion that all self-identified evangelicals are really Christians. Many are probably “cultural Christians” in the sense that they grew up in the church and still attend but have never had a face-to-face encounter with the Living Christ followed by a genuine heart change and desire to serve Him gladly.

God & GovernmentThen there are those who may be genuine Christians but who either don’t have a good grasp of how Biblical principles apply to government or who are operating out of emotion—angry over the trends they see in the nation and allying with Trump simply because he expresses their anger well.

Voting on emotion, and particularly the emotion of anger, is not the Christian way. We need to stay focused on principles and vote according to which candidates are most consistent with those Biblical principles.

I’ve said the following things previously, but the time is ripe for a reminder. If you vote for Trump, here is the man you are voting for:

  • Donald Trump has publicly stated that he can’t think of anything for which he has had to ask God for forgiveness. That’s because he claims to be a good man. This means he has no understanding of sin in his life and no desire to get rid of it. Neither does he have a clue as to why Christ laid down his life for sinners, since Trump doesn’t consider himself to be one of them.
  • Trump dumped two wives at his own personal whim when another woman appealed more to him.
  • He has boasted of having had sex with many married women. He also calls his sexual dalliances his own personal Vietnam (where he was able to avoid serving) because he dodged his own bullets of sexual transmitted diseases.
  • He built a casino with a strip club. How is that in any way acceptable to a Christian?
  • Up until recently, he was aggressively in favor of abortion, even the partial-birth variety. He says he is now pro-life, yet continues to claim that Planned Parenthood does many good things for women. He even touted his sister, a pro-abortion judge, as a possible candidate for the Supreme Court. That sister, by the way, decided a case that rejected a partial-birth abortion ban.
  • Just last week, he said he endorsed Obama’s healthcare mandate while simultaneously saying he would get rid of Obamacare, as if the mandate has nothing to do with that monstrosity. Does he even know what he’s talking about?
  • His entire campaign has been built equally on vague generalities, personal insults toward other candidates and anyone else who crosses him (e.g., Megyn Kelly), profanity-laced harangues, and phony threats of lawsuits (even a threat against Cruz using a video of Trump in his own words displaying his abortion views).
  • Increasingly, he has become an embarrassment by his over-the-top behavior at debates and rallies. He never really answers criticisms of his positions with reasoned responses. Rather, he starts yelling that the accuser is a liar, constantly interrupting and losing his temper. Is that what we should want in a president?

No one in the Republican field of candidates is more inherently contrary to a Biblical worldview than Donald Trump.

Yet he gets 34% of the evangelical vote.

This is a travesty. Those who claim to be the representatives of Jesus Christ in this woeful world need to match their words with their actions, and one of those actions is to vote according to the Biblical worldview they profess to believe in.

To vote for a man like Donald Trump is to violate one’s confession of Christian faith.

I’ve said it rather bluntly, but I will not back down despite the criticisms that may come for being so blunt. It’s time to be serious about how our faith ought to be expressed in the political realm.

C. S. Lewis: Impact on Americans (Part 6)

For the past five Saturdays I’ve shared results of my survey with the Wade Center on how C. S. Lewis’s life and writings have influenced Americans of our current generation. The earlier questions were quite specific, but at the end of the survey, I gave an opportunity for the respondents to add anything else they thought worthy of sharing. Here are some of those reflections.

C. S. Lewis 13A number of respondents credit Lewis with halting their slide into unbelief while in college. “Lewis sustained me through years of doubting my faith in college,” wrote one. “I’m not exaggerating to say that Lewis re-evangelized me when I might have otherwise abandoned my childhood faith.” “Lewis, along with Francis Schaeffer,” opined another, “helped me to remain orthodox while most of my college friends have fallen by the wayside.”

Still another remembered,

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. He also gave me a grounding in traditional Christianity that facilitated my later conversion to Orthodoxy.

PuddleglumA respondent who is currently working through a doctoral degree had this to say about how Lewis provides help: “Lewis is frequently on the tip of my tongue—his characters remain alive in my heart as friends and relatives—his lessons often spring to mind. As a doctoral student in theology, I often find connections to Puddleglum or Eustace at the heart of theological arguments.”

And those who have moved on into their careers, such as this respondent, can also point to Lewis as an inspiration: “I have always appreciated Lewis’s clear, precise, and elegant writing style. As an academic researcher, I have tried to emulate his style in my professional writing.”

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

Mere Christianity Quote #4Lewis’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.

“Since my study of C.S. Lewis, I have not been able to talk about anything else,” enthused one respondent. “It is as though I am on fire after having been asleep.”

I have more excellent testimonies to share; I’ll save the rest for next Saturday.

Antonin Scalia: A Tribute

Every time famous people die, cartoonists depict them entering into heaven. I’m usually put off by those cartoons because of the underlying assumption that heaven is everyone’s destination after death, which is categorically untrue.

I’ve made exceptions in the past: Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher come to mind. I loved what cartoonists did with their entrance into heaven because of my assurance that they had a genuine faith.

I feel the same with the passing of Antonin Scalia, a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. From all I’ve heard, his faith was the cornerstone of his life, and that is what informed his views as a Supreme Court justice. Therefore, I have no problem seeing the two connected in a cartoon such as this:

We the People

Scalia was famous for his dissenting opinions, so I thought this was appropriately humorous:

Dissent

Back here on earth, there is now a battle for when to replace him.

Oral Arguments

I have no problem with President Obama putting forward a nominee. I also have no problem with the Senate saying “no” to that nominee. The president can propose all he wants, but the final word belongs to the Senate. It is under no obligation to accept another of his radical appointments. In fact, placing another of Obama’s people on the Court would undermine the legacy of Antonin Scalia. May the Republicans stand firm against that.

I am grateful for faithful Christians who have carried out their civic responsibilities with integrity. That’s why I will always be grateful for the contribution Justice Scalia made to our nation, which is supposed to be a nation under God and operating by the rule of law.

May God grant us another Scalia, so badly needed on the Court at this time.

American Original

C. S. Lewis: Impact on Americans (Part 5)

This week, I’m sharing some of the comments respondents to my Wade Center survey gave regarding the movie versions of Narnia. For the sake of brevity here, I’m excluding comments on earlier productions, such as a 1979 animated Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe and BBC productions of four of the Narnia books back in 1988-1990. So here is the amended question I asked:

Have You Viewed Any of the Narnia Hollywood Productions? If So, What Is Your Opinion of Them?

The Chronicles of NarniaSome respondents were fulsome in their praise of the recent movies, such as the one who commented simply, “I love them. Excellent films and all seem to follow the book fairly closely.” Added to that was another’s perspective: “I thought these films portrayed Lewis’s books very well. They made Lewis’s characters come to life.” And a third contributed, “I believe they are a creative representation of the Biblical narrative that can penetrate hearts and souls.”

All of these responses concentrated on the substance of the films and a sense of satisfaction that they conveyed the essence of what Lewis sought to communicate. Another thought the quality of the production highlighted Lewis’s themes: “Amazing! I love the graphics, the film quality supported the story line and made it so real to me.”

Others, while supportive of the movies, noted some concerns about alterations of the message and about parts that were omitted and/or the addition of extra material that Lewis himself had not introduced. For instance, one respondent commented, “I have seen all three Narnia theatrical films. I enjoyed all three and thought they were generally well done. I was a little disappointed that they ‘watered down’ the Christian elements a bit, but I still thought they were good films and largely faithful to Lewis’s ideas and vision.”

Prince CaspianAnother seemed to suggest that there are natural limitations whenever one tries to convert a book into a film: “I appreciated how they brought the Narnia books to the big screen and made them understandable and attractive for a wider audience. I don’t believe that the movies could ever have quite the depth of the books but I did appreciate the translation of some elements to visual art.”

Similar in tone was this remark: “I have viewed the first two Narnia films. I enjoyed them, but felt that the content of the Narnia stories is better communicated in book form. Film diminishes the charm of Lewis’s authorial voice.”

Despite those positive and semi-positive reviews, comments decrying the loss of Lewis’s vision and disappointment with some of the decisions on how to communicate the message of the books on screen were more numerous. Here are the most representative samples in this grouping:

Voyage of Dawn Treader 2I have seen all three films based on The Chronicles of Narnia. I think they are well done cinematically, although some scenes hint at a low budget and inexperienced actors.

They maintain the integrity of Lewis’s characters and stories in name and outline, but the deviations therefrom are numerous and sometimes so great as to ruin almost entirely the theological, personal, and practical insights and applications made available in the books.

I watched the Chronicles of Narnia films. I think they were good, but commercialized. I think that C.S. Lewis has saturated the market, which is good, but I believe people begin to miss the depth that he provided. Also, the struggle that C.S. Lewis had with the Christian faith. I believe that the popularity of these movies has brought popularity to C.S.Lewis, but I hope that people explore more of his works and begin to wrestle with the different thoughts and ideas that he presented.

I have been SO upset about the ways in which the movies, especially The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, diverged from the book. The book is my favorite of the series, as it is many others. The movie just took liberties that were “unforgivable.” Wardrobe was good, and Caspian was a “B” also because of things like having the White Witch show up.

I felt very disconnected from the Disney/Walden Media death scene (and movie as a whole) and felt the newer live action films lacked the understanding of the spiritual undertones of the works and Aslan’s character. . . . Disney/Walden’s LWW was the strongest of the recent films. Most people I’ve talked to felt that Prince Caspian was a huge letdown and Voyage could not make up the difference.

How to summarize? Of the three Hollywood films, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe comes across as the best. There is a strong sense of disappointment in Hollywood’s renditions of Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Finally, there is strong criticism of deviations in the Hollywood scripts and depictions.

Next Saturday, I turn to my final question, which allowed the respondents to say anything they wished about the influence of Lewis on their lives. The survey turned up some fascinating comments.

Trump: The Vulgar & the Crude

I listen to a lot of commentary about the current campaign for president. Over and over, I hear everyone saying this election is all about anger. More often, lately, I’m hearing the refrain that Trump is ahead because voters like his expressed anger and are planning to vote for him even though he doesn’t share their views on policies.

That’s what disturbs me most. Isn’t it supposed to be about the right policies?

For Christians, it should be even more foundational: right policies carried out by the person who best represents those policies in his own life. Yet Donald Trump can be vague or contradictory about his beliefs and prescriptions and say the most outrageous things without denting his support materially.

He’s becoming bolder with his vulgarity, using crude and obscene language in his public appearances; yet, astoundingly, I still hear some Christians defend him.

Cartoonists have not let Trump’s use of language go unnoticed:

Make America Grate

Rebuttal

Well, that’s just our culture now, some may respond. Sadly, that may be true. But do I want a president who caters to that kind of culture? Do I want a leader of this nation to be brazenly awash in that culture? Trump’s whole manner lends itself to the further breakdown of a culture that used to operate within a Biblical framework—at least publicly. There are few obstacles now to a completely degraded public “conversation.”

Trump Report

Challenged on his use of foul language by Greta Van Susteren on her Fox program, Trump answered, “I’m very capable of changing to anything I want to change to.”

Exactly.

The electorate this time around seems to have fallen to that dreaded “lowest common denominator.” One commentator, assessing both the Trump (get angry!) and Sanders (get free stuff!) campaigns, describes it this way:

Those who believe that politics is little more than personal psychodrama played out on a grand stage might be closer to the truth than usual this election cycle. Neither Trump nor Sanders, despite their claims, is ushering in a revolution. They are ushering in a politics more petty, vulgar, and low—more animated by voters’ base inclinations—than any in recent memory.

If New Hampshire is any indication, voters are not about anything so high-minded as constitutional government or national security or racial justice or even “hope and change.” They’re about me getting mine, by hook or by crook. Free college, free health care, and winning.

This election is the Gollum-cry of the masses: WE WANTS IT.

I wish I didn’t have to say I agree with this assessment, but I do.

There is still time for us to come to our senses. That’s my fervent prayer.

Planned Parenthood’s Pure Evil

If you are looking for examples of pure evil in our society, look no farther than Planned Parenthood. What could be more evil than killing innocent children in the womb and then selling the body parts for profit? It’s not wise to invoke the Hitler comparison too often as it should be used only for the most vile practices. In this case, however, the comparison is appropriate.

So when an undercover camera crew entices Planned Parenthood officials to admit to their horrific practices, and we are given undeniable proof of their depravity, what comes of it? The major news networks do their best to ignore the videos and the organization that carries out the exposé, the Center for Medical Progress, is the one having to pay the legal penalty. That’s what has happened in Harris County, Texas, which includes the city of Houston.

Judicial Target Range

The county’s investigation of the videos led to no indictments for Planned Parenthood officials; instead, the prosecutors decided to indict those who made the perfidy of Planned Parenthood public.

David DaleidenDaniel Daleiden, from the Center for Medical Progress, now faces charges for using a fake driver’s license and attempting to solicit the purchase of baby parts.

I understand the legal issue of using a fake driver’s license, and perhaps he ought to answer for that, but let’s keep some things in perspective here. What is worse, using a fake license to uncover the horrid truth about Planned Parenthood or the horrid truth itself?

And being indicted for soliciting the purchase of body parts? Does anyone really think Daleiden was actually going to do so? Why was he singled out and not the organization that does the selling?

Daleiden says he will not do any kind of plea bargain. He believes he should be exonerated for bringing to light the true nature of Planned Parenthood. I agree. The next investigation needs to be of the Harris County prosecutor’s office.

Planned Parenthood is a blight on America. Not only does its flow of federal funding need to be stopped immediately, but steps should be taken to shut down every Planned Parenthood facility in the country. That would be the first step in atoning for the atrocity of abortion that we continue to allow.