Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Evangelicals & Trump: Decision Time

So Donald Trump is not going to be present at tonight’s debate. He says Fox News doesn’t treat him fairly. Never mind that he has been omnipresent on their evening programs ever since he announced his candidacy. Last night, he was on The O’Reilly Factor—that’s after he declared he was boycotting the debate because Fox is so unfair.

This stems from that question Megyn Kelly asked him at the first debate. He’s never forgiven her; apparently it has become a point of bitterness for him. Of course, all Kelly did was remind him of the derogatory words he had publicly used to describe women. No one is allowed to remind The Donald of his rude and demeaning behavior.

He then demanded that Fox exclude Kelly from this upcoming debate; Fox refused, so Trump will be a no-show.

Not Fox News

Fox was right in not bowing to his demand. No candidate, no matter how important in his own mind, should be allowed to dictate who is permitted to question him. He may have forgotten that there are other candidates on that stage as well and that he is not the whole show—but that would be foreign to his character, I fear.

I’ve provided in previous posts a litany of the reasons why I do not support Trump. I won’t go into as much detail today, but I would like to address those in the evangelical community, where I also reside spiritually and philosophically.

I continue to be saddened by the number of adherents Trump has accumulated among evangelicals. The latest endorsement, coming from Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University, has prompted the most head-shaking from evangelicals who see the dangers of a Trump nomination.

This is not a denunciation of my fellow believers but an appeal.

When you provide credence to a candidate who has boasted of having sex with a large number of women, many of them married, how is that a testimony to the Gospel you want to promote?

When you ignore the steady stream of diatribes emanating from Trump in his Twitter world, describing anyone who disagrees with him or takes him to task for his views as bimbos, losers, jerks, etc. (I won’t grace this post with some of the more vulgar terms he has used), how does that help point others to a Savior who tells us to be lights in this dark world?

When you promote a man who would love to put his pro-abortion sister on the Supreme Court, would offer the vice presidency to a pro-abortion Republican, who would have jailed Kim Davis over her objection to issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and who has no problem overall with same-sex marriage, how are you at the same time promoting Biblical morality?

I’ll stop there, even though there are many other issues I could raise.

It has been terribly dismaying to read all the defenses of Trump from those who say they have put Jesus Christ first in their lives.

In this latest eruption over the debate, Trump, I believe, has simply displayed his basic nature: bitterness, lack of forgiveness, massive ego, and sense of entitlement.

Trump is used to getting his way on everything. He did so in business; he has been masterful at manipulating a compliant media. When he doesn’t get his way, as with the Fox debate, he resorts to rather childish behavior, reacting the way a child might when he picks up his marbles and goes home when others don’t do what he wants.

One cartoonist has a suggestion on how to set up the stage for the debate tonight:

Trump High Chair

Trump and his supporters might consider that suggestion mean-spirited. It might cause a new round of Twitter denunciations. Sadly, it captures the essence of how Trump has been acting.

Let me say this now, prior to the choice of a Republican nominee: if Donald Trump is the nominee, I don’t see how I can fill in that little oval next to his name in the general election. I know. I’ve always counseled people to hold their noses and vote for a bad nominee because the alternative is worse. However, when both choices are equally bad, what then?

Evangelicals need to go before the Lord, earnestly seeking His mind and His heart, as we help make one of the most momentous decisions for this republic in our lifetime. May God guide us and lead us to His wisdom.

C. S. Lewis: Impact on Americans (Part 2)

C. S. Lewis 8Last Saturday, I began sharing some of the results of the survey I conducted in tandem with the Wade Center on how Americans have been influenced by C. S. Lewis. As I noted, I asked a number of questions, the first of which was how they were introduced to Lewis. My second question was a natural follow-up to the first:

Which of his writings have had the greatest impact on your thinking and/or spiritual development?

In all, twenty of Lewis’s writings, counting both books and essays, were mentioned in this category. Respondents were allowed to mention as many books as they wished, since it can be difficult to pick just one that is a favorite.

That number—twenty—would have been expanded if I had treated all Narnia and Space Trilogy books (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength) separately, but I chose to handle them as a unity, particularly because they were so often mentioned as a group. The “race,” so to speak, to find Lewis’s most popular book was a close one.

Mere Christianity 2Mere Christianity came out on top with thirty-nine separate mentions, The Chronicles of Narnia were a close second with thirty-five, and the Space Trilogy received thirty-two votes. Whenever a respondent mentioned one of the Narnia books separately, the surprise is that The Last Battle, not The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, received more votes. For the Space Trilogy, Perelandra squeaked by That Hideous Strength by one vote, twelve to eleven.

Fourth in popularity was The Screwtape Letters with twenty-three tallies, followed by The Great Divorce, which earned nineteen. Another possibly unexpected result is that Lewis’s novel Till We Have Faces came in sixth, with thirteen respondents claiming it as one of their favorites. That would have pleased Lewis considerably since, in his lifetime, it was not as well received as he hoped it would be; he often mentions in his letters that it was his favorite, yet his biggest failure. That assessment, over time, has proven to be wrong.

The Problem of Pain and perhaps Lewis’s most famous sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” took the next two places. After that, there are a number of works clustered together in a tie vote—Miracles, The Abolition of Man, The Four Loves, and A Grief Observed.

What can be said about these results? Apparently, the apologetics presented in Mere Christianity continue to attract people. They are drawn to Lewis’s logical reasoning and his reasonable explanations for the truth of the Christian faith.

After that, they appreciate his ability to bring the faith alive in the imagination through his novels—Narnia and the Space Trilogy—and also by imaginative approaches to conveying Christian beliefs—The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce. Those are the top five.

If I had been asked the question, it would have been difficult for me to provide a listing in order of my “favorites.” Why? They are all my favorites to some degree, although emotionally, I’m naturally most drawn to The Great Divorce and That Hideous Strength, as well as some very poignant paragraphs in “The Weight of Glory.”

I think I have to come to the same conclusion as one of the respondents who said that his favorite Lewis book happens to be whichever one he is reading at the moment.

Next Saturday, I’ll share information on how active those respondents are in organizations dedicated to promoting Lewis and his works.

C. S. Lewis’s Joy

Joy LewisJoy Davidman Lewis, American wife of C. S. Lewis for the last few years of her short life, has been a subject of both great interest and great controversy for those who love Lewis and his writings. Born a New York Jew, Joy early decided she was an atheist and then completed that portion of her journey as a committed communist. She was fairly well known as a poet in her own right, particularly in the circles in which she ran.

Only after a troubling marriage and the birth of two boys did she begin to question her communism and atheism, and Lewis’s works were instrumental in her Christian conversion. Her marriage fell apart and she moved to Britain primarily to pursue a relationship with her favorite author.

During my year-long sabbatical, as I researched for my book on Lewis’s influence on Americans (still in search of a publisher, for those interested), I read a lot by and about Joy—the short biography written by Lyle Dorsett, the newly released volume of her letters, and her only book written as a result of her conversion, Smoke on the Mountain.

Why was she so controversial? Many of Lewis’s friends were put off by her brashness and apparent arrogance. She also had a tendency to be rather judgmental of others, and her pursuit of Lewis came across as unseemly.

JoyWhen I was attending the Lewis retreat last fall, I sat in on a breakout session with Abigail Santamaria, author of a new book titled Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis. It was a most illuminating session as she talked about the struggles of her research and the conclusions she reached about the subject of that research.

Santamaria wanted to find a true heroine, someone she could admire. Instead, she was disappointed by the woman she found who didn’t live up to her expectations. That didn’t mean there weren’t positives about Joy, but Santamaria admitted to some disillusionment as her research progressed.

Her book provides the most complete picture of Joy Lewis ever put into print—the good, the bad, and, yes, sometimes the ugly. I will acknowledge that as I was reading Joy’s letters last year, I also found myself at times wondering if a real conversion had actually taken place, as she was sometimes rather harsh on others. Yet C. S. Lewis knew her better than I, and I doubt he could have been “captivated” by anyone less than Christian.

C. S. Lewis & Joy LewisDuring the question-and-answer session after Santamaria’s presentation, I asked her why Lewis would have been drawn to someone like Joy. She answered without hesitation—he liked someone with whom he could spar intellectually, who would challenge him and test his own arguments and thinking. Lewis scholars acknowledge that Joy was practically his co-author for his novel Till We Have Faces, and that without her influence on his life, another book, The Four Loves, would not have attained the depth it has.

Abigail SantamariaSantamaria also read a portion of her introduction to those of us in attendance. She told of how she had been given a wealth of heretofore unknown primary materials in Joy’s handwriting that she had to pore through. One night she couldn’t sleep. She writes, “The heat had stopped working, and I shivered under my blankets, tossing and turning for hours.”

She gave up trying to sleep and started to look at some of the materials.

And then, huddled under my blankets, I came across a prediction Joy made: “I have wrenched sonnets out of great pain . . . / For unknown followers to find . . . / Some woman who is cold / In bed may use my words to keep her warm / Some future night, and so recall my name.”

Santamaria then writes, “I was no longer freezing, but I shivered.” A providential find? An assurance that God wanted her to complete this work? She concludes,

I had not set out to unearth the particular realities I discovered behind the Shadowlands tale; they were imparted to me, first in the memories of those I interviewed, and finally in Joy’s own words. She left them to be found: she was giving me her blessing.

Santamaria’s book is one of those that is hard to put down if you have an avid interest in Lewis and his life. She writes well, tells a good story, and offers a narrative that flows. It’s clearly the most comprehensive treatment of the life of Joy Davidman Lewis that exists. Interest in Lewis has not ebbed after all these years; Abigail Santamaria’s Joy is a substantive addition to Lewis scholarship.

Dangers of Misguided Compassion

I’m concerned that many of my fellow Christian believers are falling for a lie—the lie that if the US doesn’t take in thousands upon thousands of Syrian refugees that we are a hard-hearted, unchristian people. Accusations against those who want to be cautious about the refugee crisis come from the very top:

You're Racist

First, let’s drop the racist angle; it’s getting pretty old and stale. Then there’s the accusation that those who are opposed to unlimited immigration from Syria are religious bigots who hate Muslims. Again, that’s too stereotyped.

Do I hate Muslims? Absolutely not. I believe they are misguided and have pledged allegiance to a false god, but I would hope that every Christian would want to help them see the truth of the Gospel that can set them free from the chains that bind them.

Yet there is, within Islam itself, a worldview that is basically inconsistent with the American constitutional system of government. Muslims who are not Muslim in name only, and who seek to establish a culture grounded in Islam—not allowing for any dissent—are bent on destroying the edifice of the American Republic.

Of course, we have others who are doing the same from a completely secular viewpoint, but why invite more problems?

It is not hard-hearted to take seriously the responsibility to protect and defend the citizens of one’s country. From a Biblical perspective, that is the primary reason for a government to exist. Too many Christians don’t grasp the essentials of how government is to be carried out in a Biblical manner.

Instead, we often allow our emotions to overrule Biblical principles. True compassion will differentiate between those who deserve help and those who do not. True compassion will make judgments on who is a real refugee who should be granted asylum and who is not.

Christians who are suffering persecution in the Middle East should be first on the list for refugee status because the goal of radical Islam is to kill them all. President Obama, though, calls that an unfair religious test. No, it is facing reality.

All who are fleeing Syria should be thoroughly vetted if they come here at all because it is obvious that the jihadists will use this flood of refugees to insert themselves into our country. It doesn’t take a PhD to realize that.

Good SamaritanThe example of the Good Samaritan is being used to try to shame those of us who want a proper vetting. That is a misplaced analogy. The context is different. In the parable, there is no overarching story about a bloodthirsty, fanatical group devoted to world domination. It’s simply the story of one man in great need who received aid from the most unlikely source.

The true Syrian refugees do deserve compassion and aid. Yet is the best solution an open-borders policy? Why not instead an international approach where they are provided a “safe space” (to use a term floating around so carelessly nowadays) in a culture where they fit in better? Why not apply pressure to Saudi Arabia and other Muslim nations to take in their own? Why flood America with the teeming masses who might hide those who wish to destroy us?

Proper Christian compassion does reach out and offer help. We must be wise, though, in how that help is extended. Bring the persecuted Christians into America and find another way to take care of others who deserve our compassion because we just don’t have the means to do a proper vetting, despite what the government tells us.

Misguided compassion could be the death of us all.

Evil & Good, Darkness & Light

Today I want to take a break from a specific current event, from cartoons, from book reviews, from links to other articles. Instead, I want to share a few thoughts from what I read in the Bible the other day. Going through the book of Isaiah, I came across a passage I’ve noted before, but one that deserves greater attention. It’s found in chapter five:

Good & EvilWoe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, and sin as if with cart ropes; …

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;

Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;

Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!

It seems as if we are surrounded by those who have turned everything upside down. What used to be considered evil [abortion; homosexuality] is now considered a “good” for society. We walk in spiritual and moral darkness and proclaim that it is “light.” We’re more intelligent than those who came before us, you see. They weren’t as sophisticated as we are. They actually believed there were eternal laws and God-given concepts of right and wrong.

We’ve come so far.

This attitude also reminds me of a passage in the book of Romans, chapter one, where the apostle Paul speaks of those who practice such things as homosexuality, envy, murder, greed, strife, deceit, and malice. He remarks that gossip, slander, insolence, arrogance, and mercilessness abound. Further, he instructs,

And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

These two passages fit together nicely, Old and New Testament confirming the continuity of the message. And as it was in ancient Israel and in the Roman Empire of New Testament times, so it is today.

Jesus solidified this principle in His talk with Nicodemus when He told him,

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.

Men still hate the Light—otherwise known as Jesus the Messiah—because the light He shines on them exposes their evil.

“Religion is okay, but don’t get too specific about this Jesus fellow, and don’t tell me I have to submit my life to Him. I want to do what I want to do.”

That attitude is the essence of sin—a self-centeredness that rejects the Lordship of the rightful Lord.

The book of James gets to the bottom line:

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.

You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

Too much of modern Christianity avoids tough language like this. We don’t speak enough about sin, repentance, and the kind of life God expects us to lead when we say we give our hearts to Him. There’s a gap between what we say and what we do as the “church” of the living God.

That gap needs to go away. We need to be what we say we are.

That was just on my mind today. Yes, I know it came across as a sermon. I would apologize, but I don’t think God wants me to. We need to take Him more seriously.

The Lewis Retreat

What does one do at a C. S Lewis Foundation retreat? One makes new acquaintances that one hopes will become good friends over time. One is immersed in a world of learning, love, and God’s presence. One wants to go back to every future Foundation event, if at all possible.

CSL Retreat

An air of informality infused with a rare combination of seriousness and humor pervaded these four days. I sat down at table with new people at every meal, learning something about each one around the table.

The main speaker, Dr. Jerry Root of Wheaton College, was the epitome of that unique blend of hilarious stories and profound insights.

Jerry Root

Personally, I was able to participate in what they call the Academic Roundtable, where each invited scholar offered a paper that the others would then comment on afterwards. It was the essence of caring and careful critique, nothing to get upset about because the goal was to make each other better.

Academic Roundtable 2

I’m the contemplative one on the far left (the only time I’ve ever been described as on the far left of anything). My paper on “That Hideous Strength‘s Omnicompetent State” was well received, a great relief to me in my first attempt to share thoughts on Lewis.

I bought books, of course (what academic doesn’t do that?), and a video that I hope to use in my Lewis course. I basked in the atmosphere and let God’s love wash over me.

I am hooked. I hope to present another paper at next year’s retreat in Massachusetts, and my bucket list might be completed if I’m able to attend the Oxbridge Conference in Britain two years hence.

If you have any inkling (yes, that’s a pun) to ever attend a Foundation retreat or conference, I strongly encourage you to make your plans now. You won’t be disappointed.

Recognizing “The Agenda”

The Agenda marches on. What agenda, you ask? The attempt to paint a portrait of evangelical Christians as the narrow-minded bigots of the world and the obstacles to “progress,” as defined by the new Progressive Movement.

We see this in many facets, but let me point out two in particular today.

One prong of The Agenda is to say that we are agents of propaganda against Muslims. It’s Christian bigotry, some say, when we warn of the Islamic threat to what once was a society based on a Biblical worldview.

This gets tied in to concerns about the border and illegal immigration, where we can also conveniently be called “anti-immigrant” and racist.

Yet the concerns are real. This latest wave of sympathy for refugees from Syria is a case in point. I would welcome all the persecuted Christians from that region. I would even welcome Muslim families fleeing the radicals. But is that what we will be receiving? Reports from European nations accepting these refugees tell us something different.

Refugee Trojan Horse

I, and other evangelicals like me, make a distinction between individuals and stereotypes. Every individual, Muslim or otherwise, is a potential child of God. We have no qualms opening our hearts to those who are in genuine need and who might be able to see the errors of the way in which they have been raised. We reach out to offer the good news of the Gospel to anyone with ears to hear.

Another prominent prong of The Agenda is to portray Christians as “homophobes.” Let’s be clear—I do fear a society that accepts homosexuality as mainstream because that destroys the family structure as established by God, thereby ultimately destroying that society in the end.

However, I would gladly welcome anyone struggling with that particular sin to sit down and talk about God’s absolutes and the freedom He offers through the Cross. I don’t hate anyone caught in that sin, but I do believe it is essential to recognize it as sin; that’s the first step in being set free.

What I do object to is The Agenda, which is to use every avenue in our culture to normalize homosexuality and to depict anyone opposed to it as hardhearted and evil.

It has become nearly mandatory for television programs to include a homosexual story line to accompany the main theme. The latest instance for me came in the latest episode of an otherwise fine Masterpiece Theater WWII drama called Home Fires. It is a superb story of how one English village had to deal with the problems of the war. Yet in the middle of the plot, we now see a lesbian relationship.

Home Fires

The character on the right is the new schoolteacher in the village who has gone there to escape the bigotry of those who fired her for her lesbian relationship with the character on the left. The one on the left has now followed her to the village and we were subjected to a full and lingering mouth-to-mouth kiss. We are to understand that they are not allowed to express their love openly because of the stilted morality that continues to dominate England in this “backward” time.

So what I object to is The Agenda. It is very real, and the eventual goal is not only to drown out the voice of Christian morality but to prosecute those who continue to be so “bigoted.”

If you don’t think that’s the goal, you are not paying attention.

The irony for those on the “progressive” side, of course, is that if they have their way, and we become Islamicized, all homosexuals will be put to death. Christians only want to help them out of their sin, not kill them.

So what do we do? We continue to proclaim truth and reach out to all who are open to that truth. Will we ever reclaim the entire society? No one can guarantee that, but I do know that the Lord has called us to be faithful, and if we are, there is no telling what He may be able to do through us.