Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Lewis: We Need Knowledge of the Past

We’ve been in a political season for about a year and a half now. In one sense, the political season never ends. This is especially true for someone like me since I am a professor of American history. I’m naturally drawn to political news and analysis.

There is a temptation, though, to be so immersed in politics that one sees it as all-consuming. C. S. Lewis recognized that temptation. In his day, WWII was one of those potentially all-consuming events. Some people, at that time, were saying that all other activities, including Lewis’s own profession as a professor, should be set aside so that all thought and energy would be concentrated on the war.

NPG x45075,Clive Staples ('C.S.') Lewis,by Walter StonemanLewis said no to that. One of his most enlightening essays, “Learning in War-Time,” addressed the complaint that some had about allowing normal day-to-day activities to continue uninterrupted.

Lewis wanted to be sure he was not misunderstood: the war was a righteous one and every citizen had a duty to support it. “Every duty is a religious duty,” he believed, “and our obligation to perform every duty is therefore absolute.”

Rescuing a drowning man is a duty, he continued, and if we happened to live on a coast, perhaps we should be well prepared as lifesavers. But even such a laudatory effort as lifesaving needs to be seen as only part of one’s overall duties.

If anyone devoted himself to lifesaving in the sense of giving it his total attention—so that he thought and spoke of nothing else and demanded the cessation of all other human activities until everyone had learned to swim—he would be a monomaniac.

The rescue of drowning men is, then, a duty worth dying for, but not worth living for.

Lewis then opined that all political duties were like that. Politics is not the sum total of life. Seeking to put the right people in political office is a worthy endeavor, but it should never consume one’s life.

He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself.

For Lewis personally, God had charted a course for his life that pointed to intellectual activity, something that was not to cease simply because a war was going on. One of his most famous quotes comes from this essay: “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”

He then offers me, as a historian, this encouraging word:

keep-calm-learn-historyMost of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion.

A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.

There continues to be a “great cataract of nonsense” in our day. The America of 2016 suffers from a type of myopia, forgetting what has gone before, never learning from the past. History offers us tremendous lessons if we are willing to learn from them.

The reason I am so focused, at times, on the current political situation, is that I am disturbed by our ignorance of the past and our apparent unwillingness to correct what we have done wrong previously. We think we are charting a new course that will lead us to some type of utopia when, in fact, we are simply following some of the same old ruts that have caused misery before.

Lewis concludes his essay with what WWII should teach his generation. His conclusion applies to our generation as well if we think political programs will be our savior:

If we had foolish un-Christian hopes about human culture, they are now shattered. If we thought we were building up a heaven on earth, if we looked for something that would turn the present world from a place of pilgrimage into a permanent city satisfying the soul of man, we are disillusioned, and not a moment too soon.

We must never forget that we are pilgrims on this earth, and that the pilgrimage goes on regardless of what happens in politics and government.

Cheap Grace, Cheap Politics

Bad theology always leads to bad application in life. One of the worst theological mistakes is something called “cheap grace,” and this year we have seen the cheap grace theology rear its ugly head in the promotion of “cheap politics.”

What is meant by cheap grace? The apostle Paul, in the book of Romans, in chapter 5, lays out the wonderful news that God’s grace has abounded even in the midst of sin. Where sin increased, he informs us, grace has increased all the more.

But lest he be misunderstood, in what we now call chapter 6, he went on to warn against what he knew would be one obvious misunderstanding:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? . . .

Our old self was crucified with Him . . . so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Many Christians then use chapter 7 of the same book to bolster the idea that Christians continue to sin all the time. I don’t agree with that interpretation. I believe Paul is speaking about his past life and the state of all men before becoming Christians.

Why do I believe that? At the end of that chapter, he declares, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Read chapter 8 and you will see that he goes on to talk about the victorious Christian life.

cheap-graceEven if you disagree with my interpretation, are you really going to promote the idea that Christians can constantly sin and that a transformation of life is not necessary? That is bad theology indeed.

I believe God calls us to holiness. I believe we are to have compassion on those caught in sin, but must at the same time hold up the moral standard and call people to faith in Christ to achieve that standard.

I don’t believe we should put people in positions of authority whose lives are walking testaments to supreme egotism and selfishness.

When I hear Christians say about political candidates, “Well, no one is perfect and Jesus isn’t running for president this year,” my spirit sinks when I contemplate the low moral bar we are so willing to accept.

Because I maintain that there are levels of imperfection in candidates and that some have crossed the line to the extent that we should never support them, I’ve been called a Pharisee, full of pride, and a Hillary supporter. Never mind that I hold Hillary to the same standard as Trump, and they both fail the test.

Whenever I’m accused of being a Clinton advocate, I simply remind people of the book I published back in 2001 that dealt with Bill Clinton’s impeachment. In that book, Mission: Impeachable, I gave the Republican congressmen who argued for his removal from office a platform to make their case. I have long been aware of the moral turpitude surrounding both Clintons. I have been writing and speaking about their multiple lies and corruption for years.

no-case-here

So please spare me the insult that I somehow want this woman in the White House.

I’ve also been ridiculed as someone who uses conscience as an excuse. Well, excuse me, but I will not willingly violate what I believe God is speaking to my conscience. It’s not an excuse; it’s a conviction.

This goes further. Throughout this campaign, people like me have had to constantly endure the disdain of those who lecture us that we have to choose the “lesser of two evils.”

Well, excuse me again. I have never, throughout my lifetime voting experience, ever chosen the lesser of two evils. I have never deliberately, knowingly voted for evil.

The first presidential election I voted in was in 1972, having reached the ripe age of 21. Some might say I voted for evil because I cast my ballot for Richard Nixon. Keep in mind, though, that this was prior to all the Watergate revelations.

In all succeeding elections, not only at the presidential level, but at the state and local levels as well, I have sought to vote for the better candidate without a thought that the person I was voting for was a “lesser of two evils.”

In 2008, I cast my vote for John McCain. He was not my first choice, and I considered him a less desirable nominee than some of the other Republican candidates, but I never thought he was evil.

The same can be said for my 2012 vote for Mitt Romney. I had qualms about some of his policy positions in the past, but I didn’t perceive him as an evil person. His character stood the test for me.

This year has been entirely different. Both Hillary and Trump are on the other side of that moral dividing line, in my opinion. Trump is no less a liar than Hillary, and his character should have been a disqualification from the start.

path-to-270

What’s interesting is that most evangelicals agreed with my assessment for many months. Then something changed.

My blog is not widely known. I’m not a big name in the nation (for which I am actually grateful). The highest number of “likes” I had ever received for a blog prior to this year was 811 back during the controversy over Phil Robertson’s comments on homosexuality.

Then, this year, right after the South Carolina Republican primary, which Trump won apparently with evangelical support, I wrote about how that was incongruous with Christian faith. That particular blog post blew all others out of the water, amassing more than 4,500 “likes.” If you want to go back to that one to see what I said, click on February 22, 2016, on the calendar to the right of this page.

I was encouraged after writing that post because it seemed as if evangelicals were united in decrying the type of candidate we had in Trump.

Then Trump won the nomination and I’ve been assailed ever since for staying the course with my views on his unsuitability for public office, especially an office as significant as the presidency.

good-evilA survey of evangelicals now shows that 72% have no issue with an immoral politician holding this high office. That number used to be 30%.

Oh, for the good old days of Bill Clinton when evangelicals actually cared about character. I see hypocrisy all around. What was decried and condemned in a former president on the Democrat side of politics is now excused in a candidate with a similar character only because he has an “R” by his name and he is running against another Clinton.

Some Christians are proclaiming that Trump is God’s anointed. One even told anti-Trumper Erick Erickson that his wife has cancer because he has spoken against Trump, and she would be healed if only he would change his mind.

We’re told Trump is the new Cyrus who will be God’s chosen vessel. I like Erickson’s response to that when he quoted Scripture himself, noting that Paul warned,

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.

Get rid of that itch, please. Even if you believe you have no other option but to vote for Donald Trump, don’t be his cheerleader, and don’t twist Scripture to try to rationalize that he’s God’s anointed.

If you are going to vote for him, please do it with eyes wide open to who he really is, and could you do it with some measure of reluctance? That would be at least one step closer to the Biblical standard we are all called to uphold.

Those who are true Christians at heart (not just the cultural kind) need to reject cheap grace and the cheap politics that comes along with it.

Lewis on Anger, Hardship, & Persecution

I thought that, in this election season where emotions are running high, it might be good to note a few select quotes from C. S. Lewis on the subject of anger. In one of Lewis’s poems, not published until after his death, he states simply,

Anger’s the anaesthetic of the mind.

When anger takes over, the mind goes numb. Rational thought becomes difficult. Has that happened lately? Doesn’t anger spur all too many in their politics on both sides?

c-s-lewis-15In his excellent novel, Till We Have Faces, Lewis has his character note this:

My anger protected me only for a short time; anger wearies itself out and truth comes in.

All I can say is that I hope that comes true once we have put the election behind us.

Lewis also informs us in one of his essays,

Reasonableness and amiability (both cheerful “habits” of the mind) are stronger in the end than the . . . spleen. To rail is the sad privilege of the loser.

And a loser there will be. Some of us think that no matter who wins, the nation is the loser.

Many Christians are concerned about the possibility of persecution under a new presidency. However, maybe we ought to welcome it. I’m particularly distressed by how some Christians are treating fellow believers right now over political differences. Again, I think Lewis gives us some words that might provide perspective. In a letter to correspondent Don Giovanni Calabria, he says,

I could well believe that it is God’s intention, since we have refused milder remedies, to compel us into unity, by persecution even and hardship.

Satan is without doubt nothing else than a hammer in the hand of a benevolent and severe God. For all, either willingly or unwillingly, do the will of God: Judas and Satan as tools or instruments, John and Peter as sons.

Don’t misunderstand me, please. I do think it’s important what we decide in elections, and those decisions have consequences. But let’s never lose sight of the fact that the Lord can use even a bad consequence to push us in a better direction.

If hardship and persecution come, maybe we’ll finally discover that we need to love one another.

Anger, Bitterness, & an Election

Of all the consequences of this presidential election, the one that dismays me most is the rupture between those who have been friends and allies in a cause. It has happened in the political/cultural conservative camp in general and among conservative Christians also. The latter is the more grievous.

Some are now questioning whether the breach that has been created can ever be healed. I believe it can be, but I don’t know if it will.

angerI have been distressed from the start of the campaign, in the primaries, as I’ve witnessed so much anger being expressed through support for Donald Trump. It’s as if he became a magnet for many who have been so frustrated with the developments in the Obama years.

I understand that frustration. More has changed negatively in the last eight years than in previous decades combined. But it’s always a sign of danger when anger drives actions. It’s very dangerous when anger becomes the primary determinant in voting. When emotions control the mind, we usually go astray.

The Scripture deals directly with that problem. In James 1:20 we’re admonished,

But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

When we give vent to our anger, we may think we are doing God’s will, but James’s caution should remind us that He has a better way.

Anger that is allowed to fester goes one step further into a bitterness that spreads its malignancy to others, as the writer of the book of Hebrews, chapter 12, warns us:

Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.

The first piece of instruction in that passage is that we are to do whatever we can to maintain peaceful relations with all. Shouldn’t that be especially true of brothers and sisters in Christ?

Second, there is a stiff warning about sanctification in the Christian life: without it, we may be cut off from the Lord. That, by itself, should stun us into being careful in our words, actions, and reactions.

bitternessThen the writer focuses on what he calls a “root” of bitterness. If bitterness does take root in our minds, it has the natural tendency to see all things through that bitterness. Not only will it affect our very souls but it will infect the lives of others.

The Biblical message is clear on this issue. Probably the best overall teaching on this is found in Ephesians chapter 4, in which the apostle Paul says,

Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.

screwtape-lettersPaul recognizes that anger is natural and not necessarily wrong; after all, God gets angry. However, one can be angry without the anger leading us into sin. There is a line that can be crossed, but must not be. When we cross it, we are giving Satan a playground of his own; it allows him the opportunity to destroy lives. For a quick refresher on that, I recommend C. S. Lewis’s masterful work, The Screwtape Letters, which exposes exactly how the hellish realm seeks to lead Christians on the wrong path.

Here’s the end of Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

There are times we are to speak forcefully about something, but it must always be in love. We can share our hearts about the issues we face in this nation, but we must never allow even the most earnest sharing to descend into name-calling and/or false accusations against another.

We are to speak the truth, and it can be with energy and urgency, but it cannot be spoken in anger, and we simply cannot let bitterness take over.

Perhaps we all need to check our spirits today. What are we communicating and how are we communicating it?

Taking a Stand Against Evil

Back in the 2008 election, I held an event on the Southeastern campus where I compared the Republican and Democrat platforms. Without saying anything myself about my own beliefs, I simply laid out the differences between the parties. Normally, that’s a very effective approach. At the very least, it makes people come to grips with the extremism on the Democrat side on issues like abortion. This year, the Democrat platform is even more extreme, pushing same-sex marriage also.

At the top of the Democrat ticket this year, we have a woman who is arguably the most corrupt candidate in presidential electoral history. New revelations about her come out every day.

hillary-scandals

The combination of her private e-mail server while secretary of state and her mingling of her high position with donations to the Clinton Foundation are an abomination.

get-a-meeting

And should she be inaugurated as president in January, the oath of office might be unique:

do-you-promise

In a normal year, Hillary Clinton would be defeated handily. But this is not a normal year.

While it’s still valid to compare the two party platforms, the effect is not the same as it was for me back in 2008. I had my doubts about John McCain as the Republican nominee that year, and those doubts persisted when Mitt Romney was nominated in 2012, yet I still voted for them.

This year, we keep hearing a mantra that goes something like this: “There is no perfect person running for president. Both candidates are flawed. We just have to choose the lesser of two evils.”

I’m a little sick of hearing that. Here’s why.

It’s no big revelation that no perfect person is running for the office. There never has been one of those throughout American history. All candidates have some flaws, but there is a distinct difference between having flaws and being evil. I will never choose the latter.

Sadly, this year we have the latter. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump represent evils that I cannot stomach in the White House—nor any other political office no matter what level.

I love the Republican platform. However, the person at the top of the ticket is not someone who actually believes in that platform. I am for candidates who truly support that platform, which is why Republicans down ticket will receive my vote. The one at the top, though, will not.

There is a difference between being a flawed candidate and being a reprehensible one. McCain was a maverick who couldn’t always be counted on, but he adhered to most of the platform. Romney had the baggage of having introduced a prototype of Obamacare when he was governor of Massachusetts. Yet he was a decent man with a strong family who has always been faithful to his wife.

So despite their flaws, I could vote for them. Trump goes beyond simply having flaws. His character is absolutely despicable. I won’t repeat the litany of horrible words and actions throughout his life (and continuing today, not just somewhere in the distant past). Almost daily, he reminds us how despicable he is.

Trump went to Gettysburg to deliver what was supposed to be a serious speech about policy. Instead, he made other headlines by using that august forum to declare he’s contemplating suing all those women who have come forth to tell of his unwanted sexual advances:

seven-accusations-ago

His campaign has been a disaster (to use one of his favorite words). Many Republicans now have had second thoughts. Too bad they didn’t have first ones.

results-of-primary

Yet, despite everything Trump has done, and despite the latest round of evidence that he is a moral reprobate, many evangelical leaders have reaffirmed their support for him. I find that incomprehensible.

Fear of Hillary Clinton has led people who used to stand for Biblical principles and Biblical morality to abandon that stand. I know, they think they are doing the right thing by keeping Clinton out of office. But putting Trump is that office is not the right thing either. He’s a petulant man-child who will not follow through on his promises.

I want a good Supreme Court as much as anyone. Trump will not deliver it. Even if he should offer a solid nominee, that nominee will not make it through the Senate. He will then compromise with the Democrats and nominate someone they can like. Mark my words. Hanging everything on Supreme Court picks is a false hope.

I will not choose the lesser of two evils. I will not willingly choose blatant evil. Both candidates qualify as evil.

united-states

accept-the-results

However this turns out, we will have no choice but to accept the results. Here’s where real Christian faith comes in. Can we still believe that God is working in ways we may not see? Do we maintain the confidence that the best way to assure God hasn’t given up on us is for us to stand apart from the evil choices before us?

The Lord will work through His people if they stand firm against all types of evil. By giving in to evil, we short-circuit much of what He might do to extricate us from that evil.

It’s time to take that stand and then see what the Lord really will do in spite of the circumstances we now face. I am taking that stand.

My Lewis Weekend

I had the distinct pleasure last Friday evening of speaking to the New York C. S. Lewis Society in Manhattan. This society was the first organization in America established to study the works of Lewis and help promote them, beginning back in 1969.

When I was researching my Lewis book, I had contacted the society for information to help in my research. Not only did I receive that help, I also received an invitation to talk about the book after it was published.

cover-on-ws-pageNow that America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact is a reality, I was delighted to tell them about it at their monthly meeting. My biggest concern (although “concern” might be too strong a description) was whether I could offer them something worthwhile since they are already well-versed in all things Lewis. When I finished speaking, I said I hoped I had given them more than “fluff.” I was gratified by the response in the Q&A that indeed I had not wasted their time with fluff, and that the niche I explore in the book is pretty unique in the Lewis literature.

In particular, I was happy to meet Dr. James Como for the first time, a Lewis scholar who appears prominently in my book. He was the first there to purchase a copy, even before I spoke. I told him I trust I got his life story correct but if, after reading the book, he decided he didn’t like it, to please not tell me. We had a nice laugh over that.

I had another venue for speaking while in the area, a Christian school whose headmaster is a former student of mine. More on that in a moment.

gateway-academy-2My first audience at the school was a tougher one than speaking to the Lewis Society: fourth- through eighth-graders in a chapel.

How does one connect with that range of children? Let’s just say that I made a few adjustments along the way, opened it up for a lot of questions (and they had them), and enjoyed the interaction. The feedback I received was that they really liked talking with me.

One question was rather personal and kind of funny: how much money do you make writing a book like this? My answer was in the form of guidance for their future. I said that if any of them decided to be university professors and write books like mine, don’t expect to become rich. You do it instead simply because you believe God has put it in your heart to do so.

On Saturday, I then spoke to many of the parents of those children, giving them an overview of Lewis’s life and influence. So it was a two-day Lewis extravaganza.

desanctisBack to my host. I want to thank Chris Desanctis, headmaster of Gateway Academy in Staten Island, for giving me the venue to speak there and for being my guide and chauffeur the entire time. In all my 65 years, I had never set foot in Manhattan, so he is the one who made my talk at the Lewis Society possible.

Chris was one of my students back in the 1990s when I taught at Regent University. Although we have stayed in touch, we hadn’t seen each other in 18 years. It was nice to reconnect, and I want to thank him and his wife for putting me up in their home (and for putting up with a guest who rearranged their Saturday).

Those two days “in the city” were great, and I’m thankful for the opportunities I had to share.

One Excuse I Forgot

In yesterday’s post, I attempted to catalogue the main excuses and rationalizations I’ve been reading and hearing to absolve Donald Trump of his many sins. This morning, I realized I omitted one very prominent excuse. Let me make amends for that.

The video was from 2005–it’s old news, he’s changed

Probably the only people who can believe that whopper are those who haven’t watched Trump in action for the last year and a half. Changed? Really?

Well, he apologized for what he said in the video. Did you pay attention to that “apology”? It was the typical sorry-I-got-caught non-apology that has become the hallmark of politicians of both parties. What I saw was a defiant Trump trying to deflect from his own sins by pointing to the sins of others and promising to highlight the sins of the Clintons.

King David sinned horribly and God continued to use him, we’re told. Yes, David did sin horribly: adultery compounded by placing the woman’s husband in the line of fire in a battle, thus ensuring his death.

David, though, was then confronted by the prophet Nathan who pointed the finger of accusation at him for his sins. Scripture then records that David repented from the heart. Consequences from his sins followed, but he didn’t blame anyone else nor God. He understood that consequences follow our sins.

david-nathan

He then put his repentance into a psalm that has come down to us as #51:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.

Is that really the attitude we currently see in Donald Trump?

David continued,

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Does Trump truly have a desire for a pure heart? Who are you to judge his heart, I can already hear some saying. It’s out of the heart that a man’s actions spring. I’m looking at his actions, which are a showcase into the heart.

God uses sinful people to do His will, we’re told. If He has to, sure. But do you vote for a blatantly unrepentant person for that reason? If so, keep in mind that admonition also applies to the other side. Hillary Clinton is a blatantly unrepentant person as well. Maybe God wants to use her.

Faced with two blatantly unrepentant persons who have no heart for the moral standards in God’s Word, I will vote for neither and trust God either to judge the nation for its sins or to show mercy, which we hardly deserve because we are a people steeped in our own rebellion against Him.

There are consequences for our collective sins as well.