Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Marginalizing Christian Faith

When I was in college I often attended meetings of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I found it to be an intelligent group of Christians who were devoted to understanding the faith and communicating on a level appropriate to the college population. Although most of my Christian activity was connected to my church, I always appreciated the influence of InterVarsity.

InterVarsity Logo

Now comes news that the California system of state colleges and universities has denied official student group status to InterVarsity throughout the state. The problem? InterVarsity won’t allow non-Christians to serve as leaders of the group. That stance is considered “discriminatory.” A Christian group wanting only Christians to lead it? How horrible!

Yes, we’re now in the twilight zone.

What does this mean, in practical terms, for InterVarsity? It means the organization, since it is no longer accepted as a legitimate student group, won’t have free access to campus facilities. It will have to pay for that access, which will cost thousands of dollars per year. It also will no longer have status to speak with professors and students like other campus organizations. In other words, it is considered outside the pale, not welcome on any of those campuses.

Religious liberty continues to be undermined in this country. The attacks are becoming more transparent. They will be couched in “nondiscriminatory” language, but they are attacks nonetheless. And behind it all is a strident, purposeful anti-Christian agenda.

If Christian colleges and universities think they are safe, they need to think again. I’ve noted this before, but it bears repeating. At any time, the federal government can say to Christian colleges, “Follow our rules or lose all student loan funding.” One of those rules will be to stop “discriminating” against homosexual “orientation.” If that happens, we’ll find out rather quickly which Christian colleges are truly Christian and which use Christian talk as window dressing.

Under the Obama administration, the pressure will continue, but in states like California, it won’t matter who is president; some states will take it upon themselves to marginalize Christian beliefs. I’m reminded of the exhortation of the apostle Paul to Timothy:

For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. . . .

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.

That call to faithfulness reaches down to this present generation. Will we heed the call?

Lewis: Surprised by Joy [Davidman]

Out of My BoneI’ve been reading the letters of Joy Davidman, who, before her untimely death from cancer at the age of 45, was, for the last few years of her life, the wife of C. S. Lewis.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Shadowlands, you’ve seen an attempt by Hollywood to portray the relationship between the two, but it falls far short of reality. There are historical inaccuracies—even for the sake of artistic license, one must not stray too far—and C. S. Lewis himself is hardly recognizable; false perceptions abound, particularly of his presumed Oxford ivory-tower existence and his shaken faith at the end when Joy dies. Joy’s strength of character comes through in the film, but very little of her own vibrant Christianity.

Born into a Jewish household in New York City, with an atheist father and mother, Joy followed in their train, declaring at a young age that she was an atheist also. Her materialism led her into the Communist party, where she served as an editor and book and film critic on the New Masses, the party’s weekly magazine. She was an accomplished writer who had won a prize for a collection of her poems, and had some success also as a novelist. But it was all in service to the Communist party.

She became critical of the party over time. Her mind couldn’t rest in the platitudes, so she finally read Marx and Lenin seriously. She was appalled by the illogical nature of their arguments and the massive misinformation upon which they based them. Even prior to her disillusionment, she had begun reading outside the approved party list of books; C. S. Lewis was one of the authors she chanced upon.

In a letter to Chad Walsh, an English professor who had written the first book about C. S. Lewis, she explained how he impacted her:

We more than share your feeling for Lewis; with us it was not the last step but the first that came from reading his books, for we were raised atheists and took the truth of atheism for granted, and like most Marxists were so busy acting that we never stopped to think. If I hadn’t picked up The Great Divorce one day—brr, I suppose I’d still be running madly around with leaflets, showing as much intelligent purpose as a headless chicken.

Joy Davidman 1Joy began writing letters to Lewis, and he liked them, drawn to her intellect and wit. In another letter to Walsh, she details how they had been arguing certain points in those letters, and how he had answered her. It’s an insight into her mental capacity and willingness to be corrected:

Just got a letter from Lewis in the mail. I think I told you I’d raised an argument or two on some points? Lord, he knocked my props out from under me unerringly; one shot to a pigeon. I haven’t a scrap of my case left. And, what’s more, I’ve seldom enjoyed anything more. Being disposed of so neatly by a master of debate, all fair and square—it seems to be one of the great pleasures of life, though I’d never have suspected it in my arrogant youth. I suppose it’s unfair tricks of argument that leave wounds. But after the sort of thing that Lewis does, what I feel is a craftsman’s joy at the sight of a superior performance.

Her own faith grew exponentially through her contact with Lewis, and she saw increasingly that one had to accept Jesus Christ on His terms, not create Him in one’s own image. As she related to another correspondent,

In many of them [the correspondent’s poems] you are explaining and sympathizing with Jesus, rather than accepting him—you are, indeed, not following Jesus but trying to get him to follow you; using him as an agency of your own special revolutionary theory.

I did this myself in the early days of my conversion; explained away what I didn’t like in the Gospel, valued Jesus not as the gateway to my own salvation, but as a means which I could use to support my own ideas—until it dawned on me that unless Jesus was God he was nothing, just another man with a handful of random ideas, and that all I valued such a man for was the accidental support his ideas gave my own position.

You see, I was still being my own God!

Although I’ve known and read about Joy Davidman Lewis for many years, this is the first time I’ve delved into her thought. Before, she was primarily just C. S. Lewis’s wife for a few short years, and that was why she was interesting to me. Now, I have a different perspective. She is interesting in her own right, and she has much to offer us through her writings. There is a reason why a confirmed bachelor like C. S. Lewis would abandon that lifestyle in his later years; he found a mind and heart that resonated with his.

The Puritans’ City on a Hill

The word “Puritan” has developed, over time, into a reproach. If someone is tagged a Puritan today, that supposedly means he is an austere, humorless, narrow-minded bigot. Yet what do most people really know about the Puritans who came over to America in droves, especially during the 1630s? Not much. What we have now is primarily a stereotype.

Puritans Laugh

Puritans were far more diverse than the stereotype allows. Some, indeed, were lacking humor, but that might be because they were persecuted in the England of their day. Due to their desire to “purify” the Church of England of all vestiges of Catholicism, they were kept from all positions of influence by church authorities.

One Puritan, who publicly called out some Anglican ministers as cancers on the Body of Christ because of their unwillingness to push reform further, was given a sentence of life imprisonment, his family was dispossessed of all property, his nose was slit, and he was branded on his forehead with the letters “SS,” meaning “sower of sedition.”

I might lose my sense of humor in those circumstances.

Yet when, in 1630, a group of Puritans operating as the Massachusetts Bay Company, arrived on these shores, they were a brave lot, seeking to set up what they hoped would be a model society based on Biblical principles. Their leader on that first expedition, and their first governor, John Winthrop, gave a sermon on board their ship on the way over. It outlined what they intended to do. Some of his words have become well-known:

John WinthropFor we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.

Winthrop, and all on board with him, firmly believed they had a covenant with the Lord. He would fulfill His part, but the only way the covenant would come to fruition was for them to fulfill their side of it. They wanted to establish a community that old England would observe and imitate.

Near the end of his sermon, Winthrop explained that there was only one way for them to succeed. In words that the stereotype of Puritans won’t allow, he reminded them of this salient fact:

Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck and to provide for our posterity is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. . . .

For this end, we must be knit together in this work as one man, we must entertain each other in brotherly affection, we must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities, we must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience, and liberality.

We must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labour, and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body.

So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us, as his own people, and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways.

Those are beautiful words. They reveal the heart of the Puritan enterprise. How well did these colonists live up to those lofty ideals? I’ll trace their history—their successes and their failures—in posts to come.

Lewis: Joy Fulfilled

C. S. Lewis wrote often of his search for Joy (which he always capitalized). As a non-Christian, it was an inconsolable longing for something always beyond reach. As a Christian, it took on an entirely new quality. In his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, he goes into some detail about what it meant to him. I’ll let him share now:

Surprised By JoyIn a sense, the central story of my life is about nothing else. . . . It is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.

Apart from that and considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief. But then it is a kind we want. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.

Note the clear distinction Lewis made between Joy, on the one hand, and Happiness and Pleasure on the other. Joy is deeper, while the others can be superficial and transitory. He even says in another place that he thinks all pleasures are merely poor substitutes for real Joy. Near the end of his autobiography, he provides a summary of his thinking on the subject of Joy:

But what, in conclusion, of Joy? For that, after all, is what the story has mainly been about. To tell you the truth, the subject has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian. I cannot, indeed, complain . . . that the visionary gleam has passed away. I believe . . . that the old stab, the old bittersweet, has come to me as often and as sharply since my conversion as at any time of my life whatever.

But I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the kind of importance I once gave it. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer. While that other was in doubt, the pointer naturally loomed large in my thoughts. When we are lost in the woods the sight of a signpost is a great matter. He who first sees it cries, “Look!” The whole party gathers around and stares.

But when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles, we shall not stop and stare. They will encourage us and we shall be grateful to the authority that set them up. But we shall not stop and stare, or not much; not on this road, though their pillars are of silver and their lettering of gold. “We would be at Jerusalem.”

The reality is greater than that which points to the reality, and that is where our focus should be.

Lewis: Summoned Inside the Eternal Door

I’ve been on this Christian journey for most of my life, seeking to grow in relationship with the Lord. Now that I’m older—not old, mind you—the longing for eternity, which will far eclipse what we currently consider “life,” has become more real. C. S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory sermon has, for many years, captured for me the sense of expectation that I sometimes feel as I look forward to the end of this temporal existence and the entrance into the next, and neverending, phase:

HeavenThe sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret.

And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory . . . becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory meant good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last. . . .

Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.

I feel that ache from time to time, waiting for my summons that will usher me inside that eternal door.

Finney: What It Means to Be a Witness

Charles Finney QuoteCharles Finney always spoke out of his vast experience dealing with those who needed to hear the Gospel. In his Revival Lectures, he pinpointed just what Christians are supposed to be doing to help the world understand truth.  Here’s his perspective:

One grand design of God in leaving Christians in the world after their conversions is that they may be witnesses for God. It is that they may call the attention of the thoughtless multitude to the subject, and make them see the difference in the character and destiny of those who believe the Gospel and those who reject it.

Finney speaks of the thoughtless multitude. I believe that’s even more of a problem today. At least in Finney’s time, the American society generally maintained a basic Biblical worldview. In our time, much of that has dissipated. He then becomes specific:

More particularly, Christians are to testify to:

  1. The immortality of the soul. This is clearly revealed in the Bible.
  2. The vanity and unsatisfying nature of all earthly good.
  3. The satisfying nature and glorious sufficiency of religion [by which he means the Christian faith, not some general religious belief[.
  4. The guilt and danger of sinners. On this point they can speak from experience as well as from the Word of God. They have seen their own sins, and they understand more of the nature of sin, and the guilt and danger of sinners.
  5. The reality of hell, as a place of eternal punishment for the wicked.
  6. The love of Christ for sinners.
  7. The necessity of a holy life, if we think of ever getting to heaven.
  8. The necessity of self-denial, and of living above the world.
  9. The necessity of meekness, heavenly-mindedness, humility, and integrity.
  10. The necessity of an entire renovation of character and life, for all who would enter heaven.

A Christian’s witness takes two forms:

How are they to testify? By precept and example. On every proper occasion by their lips, but mainly by their lives. Christians have no right to be silent with their lips; they should “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” (2 Tim. 4:2) But their main influence as witnesses is by their example. . . .

All the arguments in the world will not convince mankind that you really believe this [Christianity], unless you live as if you believe it.

In other words, to resurrect an old cliché, your walk must match your talk.

Lewis: The Longing for Beauty & Joy

20140808_125732How appropriate, a day after writing about my visit to Wheaton’s Wade Center and researching C. S. Lewis that I would offer you some more of his insights. I’ve been doing this every Saturday and don’t see any reason to stop—his spiritual wisdom shines through everything he wrote. As with last week, I’m going to share more of his famous sermon The Weight of Glory.

In it, as in a number of his works, he explains the inner longing within each person for something “outside” of oneself that brings a deep sense of longing, or joy. Some people, he says, call it nostalgia or Romanticism, but just the fact that the longing exists points to something beyond the longing. We must realize, though, that whatever we remember from our past that sparked this longing is merely a remembrance, and not the “thing” itself. We find this joy only through union with Christ:

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.

These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am, but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years.

That inner longing does come from God, and it is not to be dismissed. What should be dismissed, however, is the idea that it can be fulfilled through anything the world has to offer. Once that enchantment is dissolved, we can see the real Source of the longing and find its fulfillment in Him.