Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

The Lewis Project Update

My last two posts provided an update on my sabbatical with respect to research into spiritual advisers to presidents. Another project I’ve been working on is my desire to write a book on the influence of C. S. Lewis on Americans.

I’ve posted before about my attempt to collect testimonies from Americans on how reading Lewis has impacted their thinking and their relationship with the Lord. The Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College has been the conduit for receiving those testimonies for me.

I want to thank those who have responded. I am pleased with the quantity and quality of those testimonies. It’s fascinating to me to gather information about which books by Lewis have made the greatest impression.

While I have about fifty testimonies thus far, I’m still seeking more. If you would like to contribute to this project, please go to this link at the Wade:

http://www.wheaton.edu/wadecenter/News-and-Events

Scroll down to the title “C. S. Lewis’s American Influence Survey” and click on the link there.

A further blessing on my Lewis research has been the communication I’ve established with Rev. Walter Hooper, who served as Lewis’s secretary in the last months of his life, and has ever since been the primary promoter of Lewis’s works to the public. Rev. Hooper is the man mostly responsible for keeping Lewis’s name and writings in the forefront of Christian publishing. He has provided some excellent insights for me as I proceed with the project.

So, I have hope this book may become reality. You are invited to take part by offering your own personal testimony.

A parting thought today from Lewis, whose ability to communicate truth in memorable words is unequaled:

Problem of Pain Quote #3

Lessons of the Reagan Ranch

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the second treat of this past week was the opportunity to trek up to the Reagan Ranch. And I do mean “up.” I’m not one for heights, especially when there is a massive dropoff on the edge of a narrow road that twists and turns constantly. But if you survive that harrowing experience, you eventually make it to the top and see this:

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Doesn’t look like a mansion fit for a president, does it? That’s true. It befits, though, the man who bought it in 1974, and who considered it his real home even when he occupied a little place called 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, DC. This is a humble ranch, quite homey, and was called the Western White House.

Out in front is a patio where Reagan signed his landmark tax cut bill. You can see it in the background here:

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It was a working ranch when Reagan lived there. He cut firewood, made fences, and stabled horses. Riding a horse was where he felt most at home, he often said. The tack room has been returned to the way it looked when the Reagans were there.

20141027_145717That fellow in the picture always seems to be popping up. You’ll just have to excuse him.

The only real disappointment in this visit was the prohibition on taking photos inside the house, but tempted as I was to disregard that rule, I was obedient.

On the far edge of the property is a view that is breathtaking, although I’m sure this photo doesn’t do it justice; it would require 3D to approximate the effect:

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Our guide told us that when ABC news did a special on the Reagan Ranch, Reagan drove Barbara Walters up to this spot and then quoted to her the 121st Psalm, which begins with these words:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.

One of Reagan’s Secret Service agents who rode with him all the time has commented that Reagan, on horseback, riding the trails and peering at God’s creation, used much of that time to pray. He felt he was in God’s temple in the outdoors.

The Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara, run by Young America’s Foundation, which now owns the Reagan Ranch, has a chapel in its building that reflects Reagan’s Biblical worldview.

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On the wall above the Bible is the Scripture that Reagan had the Bible opened to when he was inaugurated as president. It is a familiar Scripture to Christians who are concerned about the future of this nation, but it bears repetition:

If my people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

We long for another president who recognizes the need for humility before the One who hears and answers prayer. We won’t have Ronald Reagan again, but the Lord can work through another who will have that same spirit. Yet we probably won’t get that person unless we follow what it says in this Scripture. God answers the prayers of the humble, those who see the awfulness of sin and who turn from wickedness. Only in that way will healing come to this land.

Halfway Christians?

Any endeavor for God can start out with the best of motives and still go wrong eventually. I have a prime example from Puritan history.

Puritan ChurchIf you’ve been following my posts on the unfolding of American history, you may remember that when the Puritans migrated and set up Massachusetts, they had a rule that only church members could vote. It seemed reasonable at the time, especially since they wanted to maintain the Christian commitment that inspired their journey.

Three decades later they had to face up to a problem with that rule. How they resolved it was a giant step backward.

By the 1660s, the voters in the colony were becoming a significant minority. Why? Many of the children of the founding generation were not church members. It wasn’t that they weren’t attending church, but they had to be able to give a solid testimony that they believed they were one of the “elect.”

This is where their theology got in their way. As devoted Calvinists, they didn’t believe it was up to man to choose to follow Christ; it was God’s choice, and only He could give that assurance. Many were faithful to the outward manifestations of the faith and probably thought they were right before God, but without the inward assurance, they couldn’t join the church.

This raised another theological issue. The Puritans believed in infant baptism, and that the baptism was a way of bringing the children into the covenant community. If the parents weren’t church members, then their children couldn’t be baptized, therefore placing them outside of the protection of God’s covenant with His people.

What to do? Well, here’s what they decided.

They allowed these church attenders who hadn’t received God’s assurance of salvation to be partial members of the church. This was called the Halfway Covenant, passed in 1662.

Halfway CovenantWhat did it mean? As a partial member, one could have his children baptized and could vote. Other things, though, such as communion, were not allowed. This seemed to solve those two problems: now the children were under God’s protection and there would be more voters, thereby reducing any resentment that might arise from property owners who couldn’t take part in choosing their political leaders.

But was this really a solution?

Where, in the Bible, does one find reference to halfway Christians? I already am opposed to the theology that says man doesn’t choose to follow God, but this Halfway Covenant made things even worse. The message of salvation was now watered down to include, perhaps, those who never had any assurance of being one of the saved.

I believe this hastened the Puritan community’s slide into a loss of spiritual fervor and seriously undermined their original intent of setting up a model of a Christian community for Old England to follow.

In my view, the Halfway Covenant was a drastic departure from Biblical truth, and the consequences of that departure were ultimately disastrous for a generation’s understanding of salvation through Christ.

No one today has officially set up some type of Halfway Covenant, but don’t we do the same thing anytime we talk about “nominal” Christians? My reading of Scripture doesn’t permit me to think that a person can be half a Christian. We are either devoted to God through Christ—and our whole lives are built on that relationship—or we are outside the kingdom.

We are, to a greater extent than I would ever hope to see, another generation that has lost its way with a watered-down salvation message.

The Road Back to Spiritual Sanity

Islamic terrorism comes to Canada. On Monday, a jihadist used his car as a weapon and killed a Canadian soldier. Yesterday, a more concerted attack occurred at the Canadian Parliament. Another soldier is dead and others are injured. The Islamic convert, fortunately, lost his life before he could kill others.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper called it what it was: Islamic terrorism. Our president and his administration are still “getting the facts” and “studying” what happened. Wouldn’t want to rush to judgment, you know.

It’s the same mentality that called the Ft. Hood massacre “workplace violence” and the same ideological blindness that declared an Islamic state wasn’t really Islamic.

I’ve lost count of the many times in this blog I’ve put forward my view that Barack Obama lives in a different realm. He has created his own fantasy world where everything is just the way he perceives it to be, regardless of the consequences the rest of us have to live with due to his intransigence.

I won’t jump on the bandwagon that deems him a Muslim. There’s no way he’s a practicing Muslim. He just has sympathy for them because he sees them as trampled by the real evil in the world—Western civilization, and the United States, in particular.

If you ever wanted to know what it would be like to have a president who pretty much despises the heritage of the nation he leads, you now have a prime example.

Then there’s the other side of Obama, the side that is so narcissistic that his own enjoyment comes before the duties of the office he holds. Golf and fundraisers—the things he really enjoys doing—have priority over all else. Under this president, our color-coded threat grid looks something like this:

Warning System

I have little hope he will awaken from his dream world. Some of my fellow Christians will say there is always hope that someone will turn from error and embrace the Truth. I agree. Yet I don’t hold that out as a probability, only a remote possibility. God has given each of us free will. When that freedom has been used exclusively for one’s own personal pleasure and has been wedded to a false ideology for fifty-plus years, the road back to spiritual sanity is hard to find.

One must want to find that road, and that desire is what seems to be lacking.

Meanwhile, we continue to live with the consequences. We probably don’t deserve God’s mercy, but we can still pray for it, since mercy, properly defined, is unmerited favor in the first place.

C. S. Lewis: Pictures in His Head

Collected Letter of LewisOne of the principal joys of my academic sabbatical is the opportunity to examine the letters C. S. Lewis wrote. They are now available in three massive volumes. He took special care in each letter, even to those who probably didn’t deserve such special care.

He wrote to all ages, even small children. Many wrote to him after reading his Chronicles of Narnia series. A most interesting letter of that type, written in 1960, provides some wonderful insight into his thinking about writing itself, as well as how he gets ideas for books. Here’s an excerpt:

  1. Why did I become a writer? Chiefly, I think, because my clumsiness or fingers prevented me from making things in any other way.

  2. What “inspires” my books? Really I don’t know. Does anyone know where exactly and idea comes from? With me all fiction begins with pictures in my head. But where the pictures come from I couldn’t say.

  3. Which of my books do I think most “representational”? Do you mean (a.) Most representative, most typical, most characteristic? or (b.) Most full of “representations” i.e. images? But whichever you mean, surely this is a question not for me but for my readers to decide. Or do you mean simply which do I like best? Now, the answer wd. be Till We Have Faces and Perelandra.

  4. I have, as usual, dozens of “plans” for books, but I don’t know which, if any, of these will come off. Very often a book of mine gets written when I’m tidying a drawer and come across notes for a plan rejected by me years ago and now suddenly realize I can do it after all. This, you see, makes predictions rather difficult!

  5. I enjoy writing fiction more than writing anything else. Wouldn’t anyone?

Come to think of it, I would love to write fiction sometime. Who knows? Predictions can be rather difficult.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

Smoke on the MountainLast Sunday, I introduced you to the book Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments by Joy Davidman, who later became Joy Davidman Lewis, wife of the renowned Christian apologist.

I commented that one of the things I most appreciated about this book was her unique wording, the way she stated things to capture one’s attention. I have another few morsels from that book today that I would like to share.

In commenting on the fear that dominates our society (remember, this was written in 1953–how much more fear might we have today?), the author takes aim at the so-called leaders in society:

But the articulate, the leaders of opinion, the policy makers, all those who set the tone of our society, seem for the most part to be frightened men. And how do frightened men deal with life?

They don’t; they run away from it. The simplest among us flee openly, rushing from woman to woman, from drink to drink, from one empty amusement to another, wondering why they get so little contentment out of the eighty-miles-an-hour joy ride from unloved Here to unrewarding There.

We ignore Jesus’ admonition, Davidman insists, when He said not to worry about the future:

The words of Jesus are timeless. What worked for other frightened men will work for us. But our society refuses to listen; this injunction about tomorrow is precisely the one we will not accept.

JoyThere is a Biblical answer to fear, she reminds us. We find it in the Scripture that tells us perfect love casts out fear, and that perfect love can be found in Him:

We do not need a world in which there is nothing to be afraid of–in which obeying the law would be easy. Nor can we have such a world, for all our strivings; no matter how pleasant and safe we make the journey, the end of it is death. What we do need is to remember that we have been redeemed from death and the fear of death, and at rather a high price too.

The Ten Commandments may tell us what not to do, but the flip side is the guidance on what exactly we ought to do:

“Thou shalt not” is the beginning of wisdom. But the end of wisdom, the new law, is “Thou shalt.” To be Christian is to be old? Not a bit of it. To be Christian is to be reborn, and free, and unafraid, and immortally young.

Life in Christ is uplifting, not dreary. It is full of promise, not dread. It is the beginning of real living.

Lewis: The Unique Blend

One of the more interesting things to me about C. S. Lewis was his unique blend of the scholarly, academic side of life with what might be called the common touch. His scholarly publications were superb, and acknowledged as such by nearly everyone; yet his reach with his Christian message has gained a wide following in the general population.

Perhaps I’m drawn to this aspect of him because I find myself in the same situation. Not that I’ve written a scholarly study as in depth as Lewis, but that I am on the academic side of things in my career/ministry. Yet I never want to write anything that cannot be understood by a general audience. Communication of God’s truth is paramount. If most people can’t understand what you are saying, why say it?

I tend to avoid evangelical clichés as much as possible and try to think of different ways of explaining the truth. That puts me outside the traditional evangelical approach that relies on tried and true phrases and methods. I think that’s why I can empathize with a comment Lewis made in his essay “God in the Dock”:

C. S. Lewis with BookMy own work has suffered very much from the incurable intellectualism of my approach. The simple, emotional appeal (“Come to Jesus”) is still often successful. But those who, like myself, lack the gift for making it, had better not attempt it.

It’s not that I can’t tell people they need to come to Jesus; I’ve done it often. However, I can’t perceive of myself giving the classic “invitation” at the end of a worship service. I want people instead to listen to the truth, ponder it, and have the power of it dawn on them deep within their souls.

I want them to spend enough time probing the evilness of sin and the absolute need for repentance that when they make their decision it isn’t just an emotional, fly-by-night response. Those who see clearly their lost state and make a mature decision to abandon sin and embrace the love and forgiveness of God will stay the course and not be tossed here and there by every wind of doctrine or every bad circumstance that crops up in their lives.

I’m not sure Lewis grasped completely just how effectively he communicated with that general audience, but there are untold thousands who can testify that he succeeded. If I can emulate him in even the slightest degree, I will be satisfied.