Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Making Our Witness: The Chambers Model

What startled many readers of Whittaker Chambers’s Witness when it first was published in 1952 (and became a bestseller) was its deeply spiritual tone, its message of returning to faith in God, not only for the sake of individual salvation but also for the hope of salvaging Western civilization.

Chambers had been a avowed atheist, an ideological stance influenced by his dysfunctional family upbringing, the nihilism communicated to him by his university education, and his commitment to changing the world through communism.

One of his most famous lines about religious belief prior to his conversion shows not only his attitude but his ability to convey that attitude in memorable phrases:

I associated God with ill-ventilated vestries and ill-ventilated minds.

That attitude crumbled when he finally faced the truth of the Christian faith. There is one passage in Witness that best describes what happened to him when the Spirit of God touched his life, and that passage is even more memorable than the one noted above:

What I had been fell from me like dirty rags. The rags that fell from me were not only Communism. What fell was the whole web of the materialist modern mind—the luminous shroud which it has spun about the spirit of man, paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of his soul for God, denying in the name of knowledge the reality of the soul and its birthright in that mystery on which mere knowledge falters and shatters at every step.

It was that touch from the hand of God that led Chambers to his decision to make his witness before the world—not just a testimony about what he knew of the workings of the communist underground and its designs to overthrow the American government—but a witness to the grace of God in men’s lives.

Yet it was that very witness that most intellectuals rejected. They didn’t understand how Chambers could embrace the “old” faith that so many of them now despised. This is why Chambers, near the end of Witness, wrote this:

To those for whom the intellect alone has force, such a witness has little or no force. It bewilders and exasperates them. It challenges them to suppose that there is something greater about man than his ability to add and subtract. It submits that that something is the soul.

What’s interesting is that Chambers saw a clear demarcation between those intellectuals and the majority of the population:

Plain men understood the witness easily. It speaks directly to their condition. For it is peculiarly the Christian witness. They still hear it, whenever it truly reaches their ears, the ring of those glad tidings that once stirred mankind with an immense hope.

For it frees them from the trap of irreversible Fate at the point at which it whispers to them that each soul is individually responsible to God, that it has only to assert that responsibility, and out of man’s weakness will come strength, out of his corruption incorruption, out of his evil good, and out of what is false invulnerable truth.

Why did Chambers believe that weakness could become strength, that corruption could be transformed into incorruption, that good could be squeezed out of evil, and that falsehoods could nevertheless lead men to see the truth?

He could believe all of that because it happened in his life. He responded to the Christian message, he acknowledged that he was individually responsible to God, and he took the necessary steps to assert that responsibility by proclaiming the witness God had given him through his own personal experience.

The message hasn’t changed. God hasn’t changed. All of us need to respond as Chambers did. We need to make our individual witnesses to the world. We are all individually responsible to God and need to take whatever steps are necessary to make our witness.

Maintaining Integrity in an Era of Conspiracies

I would rather write about weighty thoughts in Scripture, C. S. Lewis, or Whittaker Chambers. Yet the stupid antics of everyday politics always seem to intervene, and since I put myself out here as a commentator on all things cultural and political, I feel a certain necessity to offer what I hope are informed opinions on current events.

As I’ve noted previously, I’m trying very hard to be balanced in my perspective on President Trump. Although I warned against his nomination vigorously and detailed my reasons for opposition to him throughout the last campaign, I have determined to support him when I can now that he is our president.

I also will continue to point out the problems he causes. And that’s where I am today.

Last weekend, Trump used his infamous Twitter account to claim that the Obama administration wiretapped him prior to the election. I’ve waited a week to see if he has any evidence to back up the claim, but nothing has come forth.

By remaining silent on evidence, he has lost the confidence even of those in his own party. The House Intelligence Committee, controlled by Republicans, has called for him to put up or shut up by today.

What has he really gained by making the accusation?

Now, let me be clear that I would never put it past our former president to have done something like this. Obama’s absence of integrity is legendary, and his denials of wrongdoing lack, shall we say, credibility.

Yet Obama’s lack of integrity doesn’t lead me to believe that Trump therefore must be acting with integrity. Apparently, most Republicans agree:

My concern about Trump’s character goes back to the campaign. He constantly insulted all Republican contenders for the nomination and, in Ted Cruz’s case, made up all sorts of crazy accusations:

  • Cruz is not a natural-born citizen
  • Cruz had a flurry of affairs (unlike Mr. Trump, of course)
  • Cruz’s wife has dark secrets that will be exposed (and she’s ugly)
  • Cruz’s dad is somehow implicated in the JFK assassination

Need I go on?

We’re witnessing a new level of conspiracy charges on both sides of the political divide.

Rational thought seems to be plummeting into a sinkhole of political lunacy:

Christians are supposed to be the salt and light in a nation. Whenever we fall into this pattern of wild charges of conspiracy, we are abandoning our calling. My political conservatism stems from my Biblical faith, but I must never reverse the order. Politics must not determine my faith; my faith must inform my politics.

Christians, maintain your integrity.

Lewis: The Equality-Pride Connection

After C. S. Lewis wrote his enormously popular Screwtape Letters, he often said he never wanted to go back to that style of writing, putting himself into the mindset of hell to explain heavenly things. But in 1959, sixteen years after Screwtape appeared in print in the US, he consented to pen an addendum of sorts to his famous book.

“Screwtape Proposes a Toast” was an article Lewis wrote for an American publication, the Saturday Evening Post. It took the form of an after-dinner speech by Screwtape to the Tempters’ Training College. It was just as witty and biting as the original.

The themes in the article showed up in earlier Lewis essays, particularly “Equality” and “Democratic Education,” but in an obviously different format. In one of the passages on equality, Lewis adds to what he said in the previous essay, illustrating that those who press the most for equality may actually have more pride than those we might suspect of that sin. Here’s how “Screwtape” puts it:

No man who says I’m as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did.

The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain.

The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept.

And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation. Presently he suspects every mere difference of being a claim to superiority.

Do you see what Lewis has done here? Normally, we think those who have everything are the ones most infested with pride. And certainly there is the temptation to lord it over others if you are capable of doing things well—are “superior” in some way.

However, looking deeper, Lewis sees that those at the bottom—whether it be in the social scale, in economic terms, or just in outward appearance—may be the ones with the greater pride problem. They seek to drag others down to their level out of resentment and/or bitterness. “We deserve more,” they seem to be saying, and make their own claims to superiority. They do it, though, in the name of “equality,” thereby making it acceptable, for who doesn’t believe in equality, right?

As always, Lewis offers insights well worth pondering.

Psalm 42

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, my God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.

By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.

Much needed words today from Psalm 42.

The Quest for Christian Unity

Christian unity. What does it mean? Is it even possible? What can we learn about it historically? Nothing is so potentially wonderful yet so often downright disturbing as the quest for this elusive goal.

Even back in New Testament times, we don’t see complete unity. The apostle Paul had some choice words for the Corinthian church as it broke into factions, each of which claimed to be following the true spiritual guide. He even chastised the faction that said it was the real one following Christ.

Yet Paul and the other New Testament writers, and Jesus in the Gospels, spoke often of the unity that should exist among those who have been brought out of the darkness of sin and into His marvelous light.

What’s wrong with us?

Martin Luther broke with the Catholic Church, thereby starting the Protestant Reformation. He pointed to how the church had introduced man-made practices and how, in his opinion, it had altered the message of salvation. Thus began a century and a half of battle, both theological and on literal battlefields, between Catholic and Protestant, both claiming to have the correct interpretation of Scripture.

Among the Protestants, unity was often strained or broken completely. Luther couldn’t agree with Zwingli on the nature of Communion/The Lord’s Supper/The Eucharist (take your pick of terminology) and their fellowship was severed.

Groups like the Anabaptists were persecuted by both Catholics and other Protestants simply because they believed baptism should wait until the person understood the Gospel and made a decision to be a Christian. Their insistence that the only true baptism was by immersion outraged those who should have been their Christian brothers; many Anabaptists were executed for that belief.

Anglicans and Puritans fought a civil war in England in the 1640s. Both were Protestant but with different emphases in belief. Most early Americans were Protestant and maintained grave suspicions of the intent of Catholic immigrants. The first Catholic presidential candidate didn’t appear until 1928; the first and only Catholic elected president occurred in 1960.

In my own experience during my lifetime, I’ve witnessed some Christian denominations consign Pentecostal/Charismatic believers to a special region of hell because they believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit were not discontinued after the apostles died.

What’s wrong with us?

Here’s the truth: heaven is going to be populated with vast numbers of individuals who once called themselves Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist, Methodist, Nazarene, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, non-denominational, etc., etc., etc.

We are so quick to declare someone else heretical just because of a difference of belief over issues like baptism, Communion, gifts of the Spirit, and countless other secondary matters.

Here’s another truth: all who have come to the recognition of their sinful state, who have grieved over their sin, and have come to the Cross of Christ seeking forgiveness have found that forgiveness and newness of life. They have been washed clean and are part of the family of God.

The apostle Paul stated it this way:

Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers not swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

And that is what some of you were.

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Denominational ties ultimately mean nothing. I will never be a Catholic because I disagree with some Catholic teachings. Yet I acknowledge many Catholic brothers and sisters with whom I will spend eternity. I will never be of the Reformed persuasion because I disagree with some of the doctrines promulgated under that designation. Yet I know many of that persuasion who are genuine Christians with whom I will stand in the presence of God and rejoice forever.

Jesus, in His prayer before going to the Cross, said this:

My prayer is not for them alone [His disciples]. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in Me and I am in You.

May they also be in us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and You in Me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.

Unity isn’t just for the Christians’ sake alone. It’s through that unity that the rest of the world will see the truth. We are called to be one in Christ. May His prayer be answered in our day.

Lewis: His Intellectual & Emotional Impact

In the survey I conducted in 2014 about how C. S. Lewis’s writings have impacted Americans, I saw how that impact was both intellectual and emotional, and how God used both to help people find Him.

On the intellectual side was this comment:

When I was an arrogant college student who believed only weak and/or stupid people believed in Christ, Lewis showed me beyond question that faith could make sense even to an intellectual. He awakened my spiritual imagination with his fiction and persuaded my reason with his nonfiction.

Another provided a more in-depth scrutiny of how Lewis dealt with the intellect:

Lewis’s works exemplify what I consider a Holy Spirit baptized intellect. Knowledge on holy fire. His ability to frame the issues in a succinct way and then address them with such extremely critical thinking skills provides a wonderful exemplar for Christians all over the world on how to not only be people of faith, but also engage our intellect (verbal and writing skills) to provide a “defense for the hope that is within us.”

His work, Mere Christianity, remains one of my favorite recommendations for intellectual unbelievers who are serious about weighing through claims of Christian faith. I believe many will either embrace Christ for the first time or reinforce their beliefs in Him through its reading.

Beyond the purely intellectual appeal, Lewis and his writings also have impacted the emotions and encouraged Christians in their various struggles. One woman was willing to share her personal struggles and how staying in touch with Lewis made a huge difference in her life:

When 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.

For those who completed this survey, there is no doubt that Lewis remains a source of spiritual strength and intellectual rigor for many American Christians. He has kept many from losing their faith while in college; his books continue to sell briskly more than half a century after he penned his last one; he has inspired children with his Narnia tales and introduced them to Christ in the form of a beloved lion; societies are springing up throughout the land devoted to the study of Lewis; and major Hollywood movies have attempted to put his vision and message into the mainstream of American entertainment. C. S. Lewis appears to be in America to stay.

Chambers, McCarthy, & the Real Thing

Whittaker Chambers brought credibility to the concerns Americans had after WWII that communism in general, and the Soviet Union in particular, were infiltrating American society. Chambers, as many regular readers of this blog know, had worked as a communist in the underground in the 1930s. He had labored to help the USSR place people in positions of authority in the American government, and he had served as a liaison with the USSR, sending US government secrets to that nation.

So when Chambers came forth with his witness to what he knew, he was believed ultimately, and Alger Hiss, one of the highest-placed communist agents in the government, went to prison for perjury.

Then along came Sen. Joe McCarthy with his anti-communist crusade. McCarthy had no inside knowledge. My own research into his activities has convinced me he hardly knew what he was doing, and he probably was more interested in personal political advancement than anything else.

As McCarthy rose in prominence, Chambers’s support of his career was sporadic and cautious, perhaps welcoming at first, since he was enlisted on the same side, but as time wore on, Chambers disassociated himself from what McCarthy became.

In early 1954, in a letter to his friend Ralph de Toledano, Chambers summarized McCarthy’s approach in this way: “Senator McCarthy’s notion of tactics is to break the rules, saturate the enemy with poison gas, and then charge through the contaminated area, shouting Comanche war cries.”

In letters to William F. Buckley, founder of National Review and the leader of the modern conservative movement, Chambers shared even more of his concerns. He thought McCarthy could easily become a national bore:

With time, the repeated dull thud of the low blow may prove to be the real factor in his undoing. Not necessarily because the blow is low, or because he lacks heart and purpose, but because he lacks variety, and, in the end, simply puts the audience to sleep. …

… I said long since that the crucial question about Senator McCarthy was not whether his aims are ultimately good or bad, but whether his intelligence is equal to his energy.

“One way whereby I can most easily help Communism is to associate myself publicly with Senator McCarthy,” he wrote to Buckley. It would lead to a confusion with the Hiss Case and roll it all “into a snarl with which to baffle, bedevil and divide opinion.” He had told McCarthy that even though they “were fighting in the same war,” they were engaged “in wholly different battles” and that they “should not wage war together.”

Chambers concluded, “I do not think that the Senator really grasps this necessity. For it is more and more my reluctant opinion that he is a tactician, rather than a strategist; that he continually, by reflex rather than calculation, sacrifices the long view for the short pull.”

McCarthy was a potential problem for the anticommunist movement, Chambers believed. Everyone was trying hard to overlook his errors and give the benefit of the doubt, but his judgment was increasingly suspect, and his tendency to go for the sensational over the substantive might lead them all into trouble.

“In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that we live in terror that Senator McCarthy will one day make some irreparable blunder which will play directly into the hands of our common enemy and discredit the whole anti-Communist effort for a long while to come.”

Consider those final words. Even when someone is on the same side, whether we are talking about the Christian faith or conservative politics, there is the danger of undermining the whole effort due to foolishness, lack of genuineness, or a combination of the two.

Great truths and great causes need spokespeople who are committed to those truths and causes and who know how to communicate them to others. Whenever we follow a false teacher (in the faith) or a false politician who is primarily out for himself and doesn’t really believe what he says, we may see everything we stand for being diminished through their falseness.

Always hold out for the real thing—the people of solid character who can be trusted and who believe in their cause with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.