Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Communicating Truth: A Lewis Exhortation

“You must translate every bit of your Theology into the vernacular,” exhorted C. S. Lewis in an essay entitled “Christian Apologetics.” He admitted this could be “very troublesome and it means you can say very little in half an hour, but it is essential.”

Theologians, he believed, had a tendency to write in an obscure way. In the same vein, many pastors may try to impress their congregations with high-flown, little-understood phrases that leave the listeners spiritually cold.

Lewis therefore challenged those who are called to preach the gospel to put it in the language of everyday people. Not only would it communicate better with them, but “it is also of the greatest service to your own thought.”

I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused.

Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning. A passage from some theological work for translation into the vernacular ought to be a compulsory paper in every Ordination examination.

The driving force behind Lewis’s exhortation was that communication of God’s Good News is the most significant message imaginable; therefore, it requires clarity of expression.

Later in that same essay, he emphasizes the necessity of pressing upon an audience (whether of one or of many) that the Christian faith must be presented from the proper foundation:

One of the great difficulties is to keep before the audience’s mind the question of Truth. They always think you are recommending Christianity not because it is true but because it is good. And in the discussion they will at every moment try to escape from the issue “True—or False.” . . .

One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon us who have been given the charge to be communicators of God’s Truth to do so in a way that people can really grasp its importance.

Temptation & Realism: A Lewis Perspective

C. S. Lewis, in his Mere Christianity, has an interesting take on temptation that may run counter to what many think. Of course, he has interesting takes on quite a few concepts, but this one stands out to me today. He begins with this:

A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.

It’s the “good” people who have actually grappled with wrong desires; they are the ones who have engaged in the battle. Others have already surrendered before the battle has even started. He continues,

A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.

Lewis turns typical reasoning on its head by asserting that it’s not the Christians who are sheltered, but those who have never known anything but giving in to temptation. They are the ones living in a fantasy world, not those who are derided and mocked for being “sheltered” in a Christian environment.

We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.

When we follow Christ’s path and refuse the temptations offered to us by the world, the flesh, and the devil, we then become realists as well. We’re not the naive ones; rather, we know the reality of evil and embrace righteousness instead because we see results of both.

Hebrews 4:15 is an encouragement for all who have chosen the road to discipleship:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Hell As a Bureaucracy

“We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement,” advised C. S. Lewis, “where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.”

Lewis wrote those words in his preface to the 1961 edition of The Screwtape Letters. Although Screwtape is, in one sense, a comical devil, Lewis never lets his readers forget what lies at the heart of hell: the self, with all its outcroppings of jealousy, bitterness, and backstabbing.

Yet his picture of hell is not what most would imagine. Instead, he compares it to modern bureaucracy. “I like bats much better than bureaucrats,” he mused. And you can bet he didn’t have any real fondness for bats.

Interestingly, I first ran across Lewis’s description of hell as a bureaucracy not in this preface (somehow its existence escaped me until recently), but in Ronald Reagan’s famous 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, the speech dubbed by some “The Evil Empire.”

Reagan quoted Lewis in the speech and referenced Screwtape in doing so. Yet I was puzzled at the time by the quote because I didn’t recall ever reading it in the actual letters. I was delighted, therefore, to come across it in this preface.

“I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of ‘Admin.’” To Lewis, that was as close to hell as possible. He then expounded on that opening thought:

The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result.

But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.

Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern.

Hell, Lewis opined, is a “society held together entirely by fear and greed.” The “whole organisation” operated on the principle of “dog eat dog.”

Everyone wishes everyone else’s discrediting, demotion, and ruin; everyone is an expert in the confidential stab in the back. Over all this their good manners, their expressions of grave respect, their “tributes” to one another’s invaluable services form a thin crust.

Every now and then it gets punctured, and the scalding lava of their hatred spurts out.

Lewis, of course, is doing more than merely painting his portrait of how hell functions; he’s sending out a warning to us who live in a world that often resembles hell.

How do we function? Are we, behind our impeccable manners and outward show of civility, undermining our associates secretly? Do we operate on the principle of “dog eat dog”? Does our thin crust of respect for others occasionally reveal itself as a “scalding lava of hatred”?

As always, Lewis wants us to examine ourselves, to look into our own hearts and, if we see anything there that has even the remotest connection with hell, to expunge it immediately.

We must live in a continual state of self-examination (not obsessive, but realistic) and an eagerness to repent of anything we see amiss. We want the fragrance of Christ to show in our lives, not the sulfurous odor of hell.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Presuppositions & Worldviews

From the time I first began to realize that everyone, whether they know it or not, operates on a specific worldview, I’ve analyzed everything through that insight. I agree with the late Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer, who famously explained in his excellent book, How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture,

People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize.

Schaeffer then defined his primary term:

By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world view, the grid through which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People’s presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world.

Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions.

“As a man thinketh, so is he,” is really most profound. An individual is not just the product of the forces around him.

That explanation took hold on me early in my Christian journey and has framed much of what I teach. I’m always concerned with showcasing worldviews to my students, in the hope that they will look beneath the surface and see the roots from which certain beliefs spring.

We all live our lives with baggage. When we surrender our lives to the Lordship of Christ, we begin a new path that is supposed to leave the bad baggage behind—baggage like a false worldview.

This is not instantaneous; it is a process that lasts throughout one’s lifetime. Yet significant strides in replacing old views can be made even as we start this new life. As we’re told in the book of Romans, the 12th chapter,

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

The word translated as “transformed” can also be translated “transfigured,” as when Jesus took three of His disciples up on the mountain and they saw Him changed into the glorious nature that was hidden beneath His humanity.

Our minds need to undergo a similar change. They need to be renewed because they have fallen into the decay of sinful worldviews. In Christ, that gets turned around.

I also like what I read in Colossians 2:8:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Deception roams among us at all times, and we need to be alert; it’s far too easy to get intellectually and spiritually lazy and get taken captive unaware. We need to continually focus on the principles given to us from the mind and heart of God. When we meditate on those truths, that which is hollow and deceptive will become clear.

Our marching orders with respect to worldviews can also be seen in 2 Corinthians 10:5, where we’re instructed,

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

So there is a negative aspect to our mission in one sense: we are to tear down and destroy all false arguments that would lead people astray from the truth. We are to use our minds in the way God intended, where every thought becomes subject to Him.

This is my passion, placed in my heart by God’s Spirit. I have a deep, abiding love for the truth. I must always remember, though, one further exhortation found in Ephesians 4:15, where I’m told I have to speak His truth in love.

That can be a challenge at times, especially when I see others being deceived by the falsehoods. But speak I must. That will never change.

Screwtape & Humility

In preparation for a class I will be teaching on The Screwtape Letters at a local church from January to April next year, I knew I needed to get a new copy of the book, as mine was falling apart from decades of use. I settled on the annotated edition by Paul McCusker.

I know I must have read sometime the preface Lewis wrote for the 1961 edition of his classic, but if so, it has escaped my memory. Reading it yesterday, I received a fresh reminder (as if I needed another one) of why I love reading Lewis.

His humorous self-deprecation is a hallmark of his overall view of his importance, and this preface highlights it.

While acknowledging that sales of the book have been prodigious, far beyond his expectations, he pokes a hole in sales figures, explaining that they don’t always mean what their authors hope they mean. “If you gauged the amount of Bible reading in England by the number of Bibles sold, you would go far astray,” he warns. And the same can be said for Screwtape, which he believes might “suffer from a similar ambiguity.”

“It is the sort of book,” he muses, “that gets given to godchildren, the sort that gets read aloud at retreats. It is even, as I have noticed with a chastened smile, the sort that gravitates towards spare bedrooms, there to live a life of undisturbed tranquility.”

Lewis then offers this little story:

Sometimes it is bought for even more humiliating reasons. A lady whom I knew discovered that the pretty little probationer [student nurse] who filled her hot-water bottle in the hospital had read Screwtape. She also discovered why.

“You see,” said the girl, “we were warned that at interviews, after the real, technical questions are over, matrons and people sometimes ask about your general interests. The best thing to say is that you’ve read something.

“So they gave us a list of about ten books that usually go down pretty well and said we ought to read at least one of them.”

“And you chose Screwtape?”

“Well, of course; it was the shortest.”

Later in the preface, Lewis contests the compliment often paid to him that the book must have been “the ripe fruit of many years’ study in moral and ascetic theology.” The compliment is undeserved, Lewis responds:

They forgot that there is an equally reliable, though less creditable, way of learning how temptation works. “My heart,”—I need no other’s—“showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly.”

Lewis’s genuine humility, in tandem with his witty, erudite style, fill his works with vitality no matter how often one reads them.

Gratitude for My Calling

While I don’t write this blog every morning, most mornings I do consider whether to write and what needs to be said. Specifically, I pray for God’s guidance. It’s easy to write a blog that critiques the government and culture—and often that’s what I believe I should do—Jesus didn’t spare His words toward the sinfulness of the culture in which he walked, particularly the hypocrisy of those who considered themselves leaders.

Yet I also want to highlight the good and help readers recognize the blessings the Lord bestows. That’s where I am today.

I think of what God allows me to do as a professor of history as I attempt to direct university students into the renewed mind that should characterize all Christians.

Take this semester, for instance. I’m teaching four courses that permit me to showcase Biblical principles.

In my historiography course, I do this quite specifically as we examine disparate worldviews in the philosophy of history and survey the various schools of historical thought over time. The Biblical worldview and the principles associated with it contrast nicely with what secularists want us to believe.

My American history survey course introduces the facts of history (of which many of the students are unaware) and shows how to evaluate what has happened in light of Biblical truths.

My course detailing the American Revolution, which should be more properly called the American War for Continued Self-Government (but that’s a topic for another time), is more than an account of battles. It deals with all the historical background that led to the conflict and reveals that the controversy had a Biblical basis.

Ending that course with an examination of the Constitution and with a book that delves into how the Founders understood issues that continue to bedevil us today is illuminating.

A new course I’m teaching is on America from 1877-1917, in which I show how the thought processes of many changed with the advent of evolutionary theory; again, that lets students know why we are where we are now. I can also lead them through an analysis of the nature of progressivism, the pros and cons of big business, and the principal leaders of the era, both positive and negative.

There’s so much talk about critical thinking in edu-crat world that the term has become nearly a meaningless cliché. I hope that my courses actually fulfill that goal.

On top of those opportunities, I participated in a forum where I could present my viewpoint on the unbiblical nature of socialism and nanny-state government. The room was packed to overflowing. While I afterwards thought of a hundred and one other things I wish I had said, the feedback on what I was able to say in a limited time has been encouraging.

There are very few institutions of higher education that allow someone with my views to openly declare them. My thanks to my institution, Southeastern University.

I’ve been free to develop specialized courses, some of which one would be hard put to find anywhere else: Ronald Reagan and Modern American Conservatism; The Witness of Whittaker Chambers; C. S. Lewis: History and Influence.

Outside the official classroom, I’ve had other opportunities. Starting in January, I will be teaching an evening class on Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters at a local church.

Some people my age think of retirement. I’m not there, at least not seriously, despite my jokes on that subject at times. God has given me so much to do, and it is so productive, that it would be wrong to let go of it at this time.

So today I reflect with gratitude on my calling, and I continue to carry it out with enthusiasm. Thanks be to God for His great love and favor.

I Will Not Be Ashamed

I was at an early morning Bible study last Friday when a certain Scripture passage burned its way into my spirit. It’s not that it was a new passage to me, but the Lord has a way of taking a verse one has read hundreds of times and turning it into His Word of the Day. That’s what he did for me that morning.

It’s found in the gospel of Mark, chapter 8, verse 38:

For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.

What stood out to me specifically was the “adulterous and sinful generation” phrase. That description was so apt. It’s what I see all around us, and the sinfulness of our society seems to be increasing. Sinful behavior has always been with us, but whenever a society begins to excuse sinful behavior and declares it to be somehow virtuous, it has turned a corner.

The personal application in the verse was whether I was shrinking back from God’s truths due to pressure from the world. In my heart, I don’t believe that is so, but the warning was like a light flashing in my eyes as I read the verse: Is there any way in which I am ashamed to stand up and say this is God’s truth regardless of what others may think of me?

I knew that a similar passage could be found in Matthew and Luke as well, so I then turned to those to see the shades of difference that might be discovered. While the Luke passage is very similar, the one in Matthew 10:32-33 adds another dimension:

Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.

Slightly different words, but with the same poignant meaning. In this passage, the word “deny” stood out. As I read it, I felt a deep sense of sadness and how devastated I would be if Jesus would publicly deny that I belong to Him. Again, I don’t believe I would ever deny Him, but the very hint that I could do so, and the resulting denial of me by Him, sent a shiver into my soul.

America in 2017 is in the process of dismissing Biblical truth at a rapid pace. Abortion is the law of the land. Homosexuality is considered just fine, even to the point of legalizing same-sex marriage—which is actually no marriage at all.

Some who have stood firm for Biblical morality, particularly on the issue of homosexuality, have been prosecuted in their businesses. Some have lost their businesses because they have kept the faith.

Christian organizations, including institutions of higher learning, are being pressured to bow to the new cultural norms or face the prospect of being shut down.

God seems to be asking me, “How will you respond to all of this?”

My answer will be, and must be, that I will continue to speak the truth in love.

I will be faithful to Him regardless of the threats.

I will seek His grace at all times to strengthen me in whatever trials I may face.

I will keep in mind that this world, ultimately, is not my final home. There is a new day coming in which every knee will finally have to bow and every tongue will be forced to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

And on that day, I don’t want my Lord to be ashamed of me and have to deny me before His Father and all the holy angels.

Thank you, Lord, for the challenge, and for the strength to meet it.