Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Lewis on Gnat-Straining & Camel-Swallowing

I’m not a seminary-trained theologian. Everything I’ve learned about Scripture is the result of deep personal interest inspired by a desire to get closer to the One behind the Scripture. That’s why, as a young man just out of college (with a degree in radio, TV, and film production), I spent countless hours with a cassette-based course learning Koine Greek. (Anybody remember cassettes?)

Some might say that I shouldn’t be so theological in my commentary because I don’t have the official stamp of approval from an institution that grants degrees in religion. I prefer C. S. Lewis’s perspective when he noted, “One is sometimes (not often) glad not to be a great theologian; one might so easily mistake it for being a good Christian.”

C. S. Lewis 8Knowledge about theology is not the same as knowledge of God. Lewis details the temptations that can come to those who feel they have attained some type of exalted status:

The temptations to which a great philologist or a great chemist is exposed are trivial in comparison. When the subject is sacred, proud and clever men may come to think that the outsiders who don’t know it are not merely inferior to them in skill but lower in God’s eyes; as the priests said (John 7:49), “All that rabble who are not experts in the Torah are accursed.”

How ironic that devotion to learning about the God of love and unrivaled humility should lead us to the opposite end of the spectrum. Lewis notes that “as this pride increases, the ‘subject’ or study which confers such privilege will grow more and more complicated.” He goes on:

The list of things forbidden will increase, till to get through a single day without supposed sin becomes like an elaborate step-dance, and this horrible network breeds self-righteousness in some and haunting anxiety in others.

PhariseesThose who consider themselves the elite theologians, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, will burden people down with externals, ignoring the essence of the faith. Lewis concludes:

Meanwhile the “weightier matters of the Law,” righteousness itself, shrinks into insignificance under this vast overgrowth, so that the legalists strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.

We do this gnat-straining and camel-swallowing in other areas of life as well, such as in politics. I see it all the time in that realm. To avoid that, we need to look at ourselves and make sure we are putting first things first, being careful to make loving God and mirroring His character our primary goal.

Lewis: God & Chocolate Easter Eggs

C. S. Lewis 7I think I’m doing what C. S. Lewis wanted readers of his Reflections on the Psalms to do: I’m reflecting. He provides such good material for reflection as he shares insights in this little book.

For instance, he refers to how the psalms always talk about seeing the beauty of the Lord, yet it’s not the Lord directly that the typical Jew saw, but rather the rituals in the Temple or some other aspect of the outward symbols of God’s presence.

That’s good, as far as it goes, but Christians need to make the distinction between that which symbolizes God and God Himself. There is a danger in becoming too attached to the symbol:

When the mind becomes more capable of abstraction and analysis this old unity breaks up. And no sooner is it possible to distinguish the rite from the vision of God than there is a danger of the rite becoming a substitute for, and a rival to, God Himself. Once it can be thought of separately, it will; and it may then take on a rebellious, cancerous life of its own.

We are to worship God, not the external artifacts that point to Him. If we revere those outward signs of His presence more than the Presence Himself, we are setting up a false god, which is in direct contradiction to both the spirit and the letter of the Word.

Lewis provides this example as an illustration:

Chocolate Easter EggsThere is a stage in a child’s life at which it cannot separate the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas and Easter. I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began “Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.” This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety.

That would be “for his age.” But we don’t stay children, and neither should our worship remain wedded to a child’s understanding of the object of our worship. Lewis continues,

But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer be sacramental.

What must we do, then, when we reach that point, and we begin to grasp the difference? We have a choice to make:

And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.

The symbols will never satisfy the inner longing of our hearts. Clinging to them and believing them to be the substance of our faith will lead only to what Lewis rightly calls “a soon withering life.”

May our worship and the presence of God be the real thing. May our spiritual eyes see Him above all else, and relegate all that points to Him as secondary. In heaven, we will see Him face to face. I would like to begin that experience now, as far as this temporary earthly life will allow that to happen.

Lewis & Righteous Indignation

C. S. Lewis 4C. S. Lewis, writing in Reflections on the Psalms, contrasts the anger displayed toward evil men in some of the psalms with the apparent lack of vindictiveness found in some pagan writings. Does this reveal a better spirit among the pagans? Not so, he says.

He gives a personal example to illustrate how lack of anger can often be the worst response. During WWII, he was taking the train one night (as he often did, traveling to speak and then returning home late) and found himself in a compartment with a number of young soldiers. He was more than a little dismayed by the comments he heard:

Their conversation made it perfectly clear that they totally disbelieved all that they had read in the papers about the wholesale cruelties of the Nazi régime. They took it for granted, without argument, that this was all lies, all propaganda put out by our own government to “pep up” our troops. And the shattering thing was, that, believing this, they expressed not the slightest anger.

It’s worth noting that Lewis himself rarely read the newspapers because he considered most of what was contained therein to be lies, yet he certainly had no reason to doubt what the papers were saying about Hitler and his horde. The attitude of the soldiers stunned him:

That our rulers should falsely attribute the worst of crimes to some of their fellow-men in order to induce others of the fellow-men to shed their blood seemed to them a matter of course. They weren’t even particularly interested. They saw nothing wrong in it.

If you were being asked to go to war and possibly lose your life, and you were convinced that the rationale for doing so was based on a fabric of lies told by your government, wouldn’t that bother you more than a little? Apparently not in this case. Lewis then compares these apathetic soldiers to psalmists who didn’t hide their anger:

Now it seemed to me that the most violent of the Psalmists—or, for that matter any child wailing out “But it’s not fair”—was in a more hopeful condition than these young men. If they had perceived, and felt as a man should feel, the diabolical wickedness which they believed our rulers to be committing, and then forgiven them, they would have been saints.

But not to perceive it at all—not even to be tempted to resentment—to accept it as the most ordinary thing in the world—argues a terrifying insensibility. Clearly these young men had (on that subject anyway) no conception of good and evil whatsoever.

Good & EvilLoss of the entire concept of good and evil betrays a society wandering in a fog of moral apathy. “Thus the absence of anger, especially that sort of anger which we call indignation,” Lewis concludes, “can, in my opinion, be a most alarming symptom. And the presence of indignation may be a good one.”

It’s perfectly fine to feel righteous indignation toward evil. In fact, if we feel nothing at all when confronted with the evils of our day, there is something terribly wrong with us.

God’s Foolishness vs. Man’s Wisdom

I love learning. I’d better love it, seeing as how I live in an academic environment. Reading, studying, going deeper into a knowledge of history and government naturally draws me. Yet that plunge into knowledge can never be divorced from the proper heart motive—love of God and His ways.

The temptation for people like me is to think that we have become experts, which can then border on arrogance, which is decidedly opposed to God’s will for our lives.

Apostle PaulIt’s always good to come back to a certain passage in I Corinthians, where the apostle Paul offers this timely reminder:

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”

If we ever begin to think that God’s way—the way of the cross—is just too simplistic or beneath us, we are straying from the path. Paul continues with this stark message:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

Wait a minute. Am I not to strive for wisdom? Am I not to be a dedicated student/scribe? Shouldn’t I sharpen my skills of debate? I don’t think this passage means we are to put away those aims. What it does do, though, is remind us to keep our priorities straight. He concludes,

For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

God has called me to be one of His in the academic world. I will fulfill that calling only if I put first things first. I intend to continue doing that.

In this blog, I comment constantly on the ways of the world, whether in politics, education, morality, or the culture in general. As long as I do so with the proper perspective, recognizing the highest message of all—Christ crucified for sinners—I will be carrying out His will for my life.

I just thought that was a reminder worth sharing today, no matter what your calling may be. Jesus Christ and His overwhelming love for sinful men is the cornerstone for everything we say or do.

Proverbs 9

Lewis: The “Higher” Temptation

Reflections on the Psalms 2Reading C. S. Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms for the first time, I came away with some “reflections” that surely should make us stop and think for a while. For instance, when commenting on what some might call the intemperate language toward enemies found in some of the psalms, Lewis notes that it is probably because the Jews took right and wrong more seriously than others.

He did see, however, a danger in having this heightened sense of right and wrong, if someone were to let that go out of control. Here’s how he put it:

Ir seems that there is a general rule in the moral universe which may be formulated “The higher, the more in danger.” The “average sensual man” who is sometimes unfaithful to his wife, sometimes tipsy, always a little selfish, now and then (within the law) a trifle sharp in his deals, is certainly, by ordinary standards, a “lower” type than the man whose soul is filled with some great Cause, to which he will subordinate his appetites, his fortune, and even his safety.

Now, there is nothing wrong with having one’s soul filled with God’s Cause, but Lewis offers a warning, even to those of us who are striving to ensure God’s ways are the standard in our society. He goes on:

But it is out of the second man that something really fiendish can be made; an Inquisitor, a Member of the Committee of Public Safety. It is great men, potential saints, not little men, who become merciless fanatics. Those who are readiest to die for a cause may easily become those who are readiest to kill for it.

I don’t believe I would ever be tempted to kill for what God has put in my soul—that would be at odds with the love of God in my heart—but it is a temptation to strike out verbally against those whom I see destroying what God wants to do.

Lewis continues with another example from his own profession:

C. S. Lewis 13One sees the same principle at work in a field (comparatively) so unimportant as literary criticism; the most brutal work, the most rankling hatred of all other critics and of nearly all authors, may come from the most honest and disinterested critic, the man who cares most passionately and selflessly about literature.

Write a book sometime, and you will know what Lewis means. He concludes with this:

The higher the stakes, the greater the temptation to lose your temper over the game. We must not over-value the relative harmlessness of the little, sensual, frivolous people. They are not above, but below, some temptations.

Another application. I speak and write on political and governmental issues, and I share my views with vigor. There is always the temptation, as one deeply involved with the study of history and government, to lash out at those who have no idea what is going on and who, I believe, are leading us down a path to destruction.

I may be absolutely correct in my analysis (as indeed I think I am), but there is the temptation at all times to go beyond a proper critique and to lose the spirit of the Lord in my communications. I’m constantly drawn back to how God wants me to communicate His truths.

I appreciate Lewis’s insight here, and his caution. May we all take his words to heart.

Another critical election looms. With each new round of presidential elections, I tend to be astounded by the way people vote—usually without any solid foundational thinking. So I decided to publish how I approach this very serious responsibility.

Here, therefore, is my attempt at a personal manifesto.

I believe in Christian principled constitutional conservatism. Let me now explain what that means to me.

Christian

Jesus Christ is Lord of all aspects of life. My own life would have no meaning without His love, His forgiveness, and His direction for me. Politics and government fall under His Lordship. Consequently, whenever I think on those issues, I do so with a desire to ensure that His truth is the cornerstone for all governmental policies.

Biblical WorldviewI want to see all of the vital questions before us through the lens of Biblical faith and solid doctrine. I want a Biblical approach to the way government is organized and I want, as much as possible, people serving in that government who are dedicated Christians. Where that is not the case, I at least want to support those who are not hostile to Christian faith, but have respect for liberty of conscience.

I seek to help put into practice a Christian worldview on all manner of legislation, whether that be right to life/abortion, religious liberty, marriage, taxes, education, welfare, immigration—well, that’s the short list. I believe that no matter what the issue, there is a Biblical way to understand that issue.

Principled

PrinciplesI shouldn’t have to make this a separate section. Christians ought to be, simply by the nature of their relationship to God and truth, naturally principled. However, I am dismayed by how often those who profess the name of Christ make disastrously unprincipled decisions. They allow emotions or self-interest to set aside what they claim to believe.

What principles mean the most to me?

  • The inherent value of human life—we are all created in the image of God.
  • The concept of self-government—God has so designed us to grow into maturity and make most decisions ourselves without the oversight of civil government. Not only individuals, but families, churches, voluntary organizations, etc., should be free of undue government influence.
  • The sanctity of private property—government has no mandate from God to be our overlord on economic matters; He instead, as part of our maturity, seeks to teach us how to be His stewards of all types of property: money, material goods, our minds, and the free will He has given us.
  • Voluntary association without the force of government coming down on us—people only unite when they are united, and that unity is internal, not provided by government coercion.
  • Christian character—God intended us to carry out our lives as reflections of Him; the world only works correctly when we do things His way.
  • Sowing and reaping—man is accountable for his actions, and he will receive back what he has sown: if obedience to God, blessings; if disobedience, dire consequences; we can’t blame society and claim victimhood status in God’s eyes because He will always hold us personally responsible for our choices, whether right or wrong.

Constitutional

I believe in the concept of the rule of law, meaning no man, regardless of high rank in society, is above the law. We all are to be judged by the same standard.

Constitutional ConventionI believe in the system set up in this nation through the Constitution that gave us a solid basis for the rule of law.

I believe we need to hold firm to the original meaning of those words in our Constitution and not allow judges, legislators, or presidents to stray from the limited authority granted in that document.

Changes to the authority given to our federal government must go through the proper constitutional channel: the amendment process as outlined in the Constitution. A judge’s gavel is not a magic wand.

Anyone running for the presidency or for Congress, and anyone nominated for a federal judgeship, at whatever level, all the way to the Supreme Court, must pass muster as constitutionalists. No one who denigrates the rule of law should ever be supported for public office.

Conservative

Nash BookThis is a relative term. In a totalitarian system, a conservative would be one who wants to conserve totalitarianism. But in our system, a true conservative is someone who seeks to conserve what the Founders established. Often that can happen only by acting to overturn or reverse what has been done to destroy the Founders’ ideals. If a revolution has occurred, a real conservative might have to take on the nature of a counterrevolutionary in order to reestablish the foundations.

Conservatism does not merely conserve the status quo—if that status quo is a deviation from the constitutional system bequeathed to us.

Conservatism is not “reactionary”; it is a positive movement to secure the blessings of liberty to us and to future generations.

Application

As I survey the political field in this upcoming election cycle, and as I think through everything I wrote above, this is where I come out.

First, I can never support the Democrat party. Its very tenets are antithetical to my basic Christian beliefs; its principles are the opposite of mine; its radical anti-constitutionalism is in the process of destroying the rule of law; and rather than seeking to conserve the Founders’ ideals, it instead foments a secular, Marxist revolution against those ideals.

On the Republican side, I find that the current frontrunner, Donald Trump, has no real grasp of Christian faith and only pays lip service to its tenets, as far as he may understand them—which is not very far. I also don’t trust him to protect religious liberty.

Ted Cruz, on the other hand, has a Christian testimony that I believe stands the test. I don’t see lip service only, but a commitment to the truths of the faith.

Trump-Cruz

Trump, with respect to principles, falls far short. In fact, it seems to me the only principle he follows is whatever promotes himself. Does he really believe in the sanctity of life when he defends Planned Parenthood? Can we trust him on religious liberty? Will he use the government to strongarm people who disagree with him, or perhaps prosecute them for their disagreements? I have no confidence in him on any of those issues.

Cruz, though, is about as principled a politician as I can find at the presidential level. When I look at those principles that I listed above, I see him as solid on them all. Why? He has proven to be faithful to them in public office thus far.

Does Donald Trump even know we have a Constitution that set up a limited government? He never talks about it. It’s obviously not a priority for him as he seeks the highest office in the land. He has even hinted—well, more than hinted—that maybe there should be some curtailment of political expression, that maybe there should be more lawsuits against the press.

Now, as much as I may criticize the American press—in print, on television, and on the Internet—any curtailment of political opinions sends a chill up my spine. Under a Trump administration, would this blog be considered a target if I should deign to criticize our fearless leader?

Ted Cruz is a staunch defender of the Constitution as intended by the Founders. How do I know? Again, look at his record. Restoring constitutional thinking and practice has been his life’s work.

Donald Trump is no conservative, at least as defined in the American context. He has not been schooled in conservative thought and has a record of supporting key Democrats throughout his career. When you give a lot of money to Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, etc., etc., you are not only not conservative, but you are helping the enemies of constitutional conservatism propagate their radical revolution.

Ted Cruz, meanwhile, is the most consistent conservative left in the Republican presidential field. I am entirely comfortable with his understanding of how conservatism should play out in our constitutional system.

This, then, is how I approach thinking about politics and government. This determines how I vote.

I only hope these few thoughts will prove helpful to those who are trying to make sense of the decision before us.

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.