Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

The Spiritual Body & Ultimate Reality

Arthur Greeves was a boyhood friend of Lewis’s, one with whom he corresponded throughout his life. It’s in those letters that we see the transformation of Lewis from an atheist/agnostic to a convinced Christian, and we witness an ongoing theological discussion over the years.

One of those discussions, in 1947, centered on the nature of the spiritual body Christians would receive in eternity. Lewis takes issue (in love, of course) with Greeves’s speculation about it.

I agree that we don’t know what a spiritual body is. But I don’t like contrasting it with (your words) “an actual, physical body.” This suggests that the spiritual body wd. be the opposite of “actual”—i.e., some kind of vision or imagination. And I do think most people imagine it as something that looks like the present body and isn’t really there.

I believe Lewis is correct in that assertion. We have this vague, shadowy concept of the nature of a spiritual body that might more approximate the idea of a ghost than what Scripture really indicates. For evidence, Lewis notes,

Our Lord’s eating the boiled fish seems to put the boots on that idea, don’t you think? I suspect the distinction is the other way round—that it is something compared with which our present bodies are half real and phantasmal.

Those who are familiar with Lewis’s writings will automatically think of his fantasy entitled The Great Divorce. In it, passengers on a bus ride from hell to heaven arrive, only to find that they are like phantoms compared with the reality of heaven. They can see through each other; the grass is so hard the can barely walk on it without pain; any attempt to pick up a piece of heavenly fruit is virtually impossible.

Lewis often used fantasy to make a valid theological point: even though what we experience now is certainly real, it is not the ultimate reality. That which awaits us in the heavenly realm is so much more real that we will look back on our earthly life and perhaps wonder how we could have thought it was all there was.

Like Lewis, I can’t fully explain what the new me will be like in my resurrected state, but also with Lewis, I can affirm that it will be far greater than anything I can now imagine.

Being Mere Christians

Let’s talk Christian unity. Let’s focus on what we all have in common if we name the name of Christ as our Savior and Lord.

I am not a Roman Catholic. There are doctrines and practices of the Catholic church with which I am not in agreement. I don’t consider the pope to be my spiritual authority, I don’t adhere to a belief in transubstantiation when I take Communion/Lord’s Supper/Eucharist. I’m concerned about the adoration given to Mary quite often.

Yet I know that Catholic teaching on the deity of Jesus and the meaning of His sacrifice for us is the same as mine. Only through faith in Jesus does anyone become a child of God and a citizen of heaven.

I have worked alongside Catholics whom I consider brothers and sisters in the Lord. I expect we will all be together when this earthly life has ended.

I am not of the Reformed Protestant persuasion. The theological system devised by Calvin and those who have followed him is not mine. Specifically, I don’t accept the idea that God predestines some to salvation and others to damnation.

Yet I know that Reformed people believe as I do that Jesus is the Son of God and that only through Him can anyone be saved.

I have worked, and still do, with those who are Reformed and I know their faith is genuine despite our differences on how to explain it. We will be standing side by side in heaven.

I am not a Quaker. I don’t believe that baptism and communion are insignificant and should be set aside as unnecessary outward forms. I can’t accept pacifism as scriptural.

Yet Quakers worship the same Jesus that I do. He is God, and all are called to bow the knee to Him as Lord.

The Quaker William Penn, who suffered imprisonment for his faith, later was able to start a colony, aptly named Pennsylvania, in which all varieties of Christians were welcome. In a letter he wrote to a friend in 1688, Penn first of all commented on how one should look to God alone for what one believes and not be swayed by what others think:

It is now above twenty years, I thank God, that I have not been very solicitous what the World thought of me. . . .

The first and main point with me has been to approve myself in the sight of God, through patience and well-doing: so that the World has not had weight enough with me, to suffer its good opinion to raise me, or its ill opinion to deject me.

Summary: I stand before God with my conscience clear about what I believe, and I’m only concerned with pleasing God, not men. I’m not looking for the world’s favor to make me feel good; neither will its disfavor make me unhappy.

That’s called liberty of conscience before God, knowing what one believes and why one believes it, and recognizing that God will be your only judge ultimately.

Then Penn goes on with respect to how Christians from different theological perspectives ought to treat one another:

He that suffers his difference with his neighbor about the other world, to carry him beyond the line of moderation in this, is the worse for his opinion, even though it be true.

In other words, your theological perspective and your specific doctrines may actually be the correct ones, yet if you go beyond “moderation” in how you interact with those who disagree, what does that profit spiritually? You may be right, but you have exhibited a very unchristian spirit in the manner in which you assert your beliefs. It’s one thing to be doctrinally right, but what gain is that if you are arrogant and judgmental in your dealing with others?

Penn concludes with words that stir my soul:

Since all . . . parties profess to believe in God, Christ, the Spirit, and Scripture, that the soul is immortal, that there are eternal rewards and punishments, and that the virtuous shall receive the one, and the wicked suffer the other: I say, since this is the common faith of Christendom, let us all resolve in the strength of God to live up to what we agree in, before we fall out so miserably about the rest in which we differ.

When all of us eventually stand in the presence of God and all becomes clear, I doubt whether any of us will be able to say we were correct on all points. Neither will it matter to us on that Day. We will, instead, be one in Him, regardless of what we called ourselves on earth.

If we are all going to be one at that time, shouldn’t we begin practicing that oneness now? We have so much on which we agree; let’s concentrate on that agreement and be the mere Christians God intends for us to be.

Saving Christian Conservatism’s Soul

Above all else, my identity is as a Christian—a follower of Jesus Christ in which I consistently acknowledge His lordship over all of life. I take seriously the admonition that our time on earth is temporary and that we are pilgrims on a spiritual journey. Our primary focus in not anything in this world.

However, I also take seriously the call for Christians to be salt and light in every situation in this world to help guide others into the truth. We don’t live in a corner somewhere, ignoring the world.

That’s why I’ve always been very involved in teaching Christians how to understand politics and government. Yes, those are transitory as well, but they have a tremendous impact on everyone’s daily existence. Government is a realm where Christians should make a difference.

At this point, allow me to recount my bona fides as a political conservative, especially as what I will say later may dismay some readers.

I have been a conservative in principle most of my adult life. I was conservative before many of you reading these words were even born. In the 1980s, I wrote for the Heritage Foundation and the American Conservative Union. In the 1990s, I chaired a county chapter of the Christian Coalition.

As a history professor, I’ve tried to communicate Christian conservatism to my students now for twenty-eight years. My book on Whittaker Chambers and Ronald Reagan grew out of what I have researched and taught for all those years.

I teach a course on Chambers specifically (who is considered practically the godfather of modern American conservatism) and another one on Reagan and the varieties of cultural and political conservatism that have developed since WWII.

My goal always has been to show students that, as Christians, our political beliefs should be grounded in Biblical principles, and that we should never be led astray into some kind of secular salvationism or put anyone on a pedestal, especially any political leader whose life doesn’t reflect Biblical principles.

I’ve attempted to instruct them on the distinction between a principled compromise and a compromised principle.

Have I made my point yet?

All during the presidential primary season last year, I wrote about and admonished my fellow conservatives, and Christian conservatives in particular, to be focused on principle and not simply jump on some kind of nationalistic bandwagon offered by any candidate. I also questioned quite pointedly the character of Donald Trump, issuing warning after warning that he was not a conservative and that his character (as revealed in the manner by which he campaigned) would do great harm long-term to conservatism as a political force.

When he became president, despite his many flaws, I made it clear that I would support him whenever he did something that aligned with sound policy, but that I would not be a cheerleader for him whenever his policies departed from principle or whenever his character undermined the office to which he had been elected.

Frankly, I don’t see how a Christian conservative can maintain integrity without that dual commitment.

I won’t go through a laundry list today of all the problems I see with Trump and his administration. It is sufficient to say that he continues to be his own worst enemy.

I know. His most ardent devotees will cry “fake news” about everything negative in the media. Is there a lot of fake news out there? Of course. Again, I will point to the fact that I’ve critiqued the media continually in this blog for the past nine years that I’ve written it.

Is there a double standard toward Republicans in general and toward conservatives specifically? No question about it. A political cartoon that came out back in 2007 makes a case that can still be made today.

Yet those who are defending President Trump, no matter what he does, are relying far too much on what some commentators have called “whataboutism.” Every time Trump does anything questionable, crass, or unprincipled, they cry, “Well, what about the Democrats? Remember what they did?”

While this might soothe some consciences, it doesn’t soothe mine. Wrong is wrong regardless, and if we want to be true disciples of our Lord, we cannot dismiss wrongdoing because the one involved in the wrongdoing is “on our side.”

I’m trying to be charitable here, and I hope you see it in that light. This is not a diatribe against those who are outraged at the obvious double standard and hypocrisy all around us.

But it is a caution, especially for all of us who call ourselves Christian conservatives. In the understandable desire to have a voice in the current political climate, we must not violate the trust God has given us to be His spokesmen. We must not sell our souls for transitory and ephemeral political clout. We must remember these exact words from the One we say we love and obey:

What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his own soul?

Let’s not sell our souls and our birthright as children of the King for that which doesn’t truly advance His Kingdom. Be a voice of integrity in the midst of party spirit, acrimony, dishonesty, and unprincipled behavior.

By doing so, we save the Christian conservative soul and become the type of witnesses we are called to be.

Lewis: Delighting in God

Lewis’s exuberance in the faith shines through in many of his writings, whether they be apologetic or fiction. One of his later books, Reflections on the Psalms, contains nuggets like these:

The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God which made David dance.

There . . . I find an experience fully God-centered, asking of God no gift more urgently than His presence, the gift of Himself, joyous to the highest degree, and unmistakably real.

My study of Lewis during my sabbatical helped me see his character more clearly then ever. Reading his letters to Americans provided insights into who he really was and what moved him.

What I love most about Lewis, I think, is that even though he was one of the most astute minds of the twentieth century, able to be classed with the best and the brightest, he understood that a rigorous intellect could be coupled with devotion and humility without any cognitive dissonance.

He was a man who realized that all talents and abilities, intellectual or otherwise, were gifts from God and should be treated as such. He was not embarrassed to show pure joy in contemplation of the nature of the One who gives all good things.

Pride and arrogance, be gone!

Rockefeller the Christian?

A couple days ago, I posted about Booker T. Washington—the fruit of the preparation I’m doing for a course called “The Emergence of Modern America, 1877-1917.” I hope I showed in that post that he is someone to be admired for his character.

Another figure from that time period who needs his reputation reexamined is John D. Rockefeller. Historians typically castigate this man for supposedly destroying other companies by buying them out. Another presumably evil thing he did was to negotiate with the railroads for special rates for shipping his product: Standard oil.

I won’t try to do a total overhaul of those interpretations today, but I will offer these rejoinders:

First, Rockefeller was a very efficient oil producer; many other companies were sloppily run and doomed to failure. Many people that he bought out were actually saved by the transaction. He paid them a good market price for their equipment and sometimes even hired the best of their managers and employees.

He’s accused of creating a monopoly, which would be bad for consumers because monopolies can charge whatever they wish. Well, Rockefeller so lowered the price of oil to all Americans that they all could afford it, thereby lighting their homes in a significantly cheaper way than by candles.

What about the special rates with the railroads? Unfair? If someone gives you far more business than another person, what’s morally wrong with providing them, in return, a better rate? Isn’t that how business operates all the time? Buy in quantity and you get a lower price. Ever heard of Sam’s Club?

Rockefeller, to the surprise of many, was a devoted Baptist who tithed from his millions to his church and to missionary endeavors. And when journalists hoped to find an extravagant lifestyle that they could expose, they ran into the proverbial brick wall. Rockefeller liked nothing more than quiet times at home and going to church with his family.

Everyone talks about how much money Andrew Carnegie gave away. That’s fine, but Rockefeller gave away even more, and he was more focused on Christian charities. He even gave the funds necessary to ensure the establishment of Spelman College, the historically black women’s college that is named after his wife’s family.

I found some very fascinating Rockefeller quotes in my research. Here’s one that shows his goal for becoming rich:

He noted that anyone who concentrates solely on getting rich is missing the mark:

And how about this one from arguably the richest man in America at that time?

Although a Baptist, Rockefeller saw all Christians as his brothers and sisters:

And I’ll end with this:

So did Rockefeller never make a misstep? Am I whitewashing him because of my personal agenda? There are some things to critique, but I think they are minor in comparison with what he accomplished. He deserves more credit than many historians are willing to acknowledge.

Chambers: Why the Christians Are Right & the Heathen Are Wrong

Here’s the scenario: the culture is in decline due to a loss of Biblical principles; beliefs based on those principles that used to hold the society together are attacked as bigoted, narrow, and intolerant; the government is increasingly dysfunctional and policies, despite the best efforts of honest and caring representatives, move further away from Biblical norms.

What’s someone to do about this, especially when one feels called by God (to some, that’s a rather presumptive and/or arrogant statement right there) to warn of the decline and the loss of a proper perspective on life?

One can choose to rail against this decline. After all, it is Biblical to warn sinners of the error of their ways. Purely on the governmental side, one can continually point out the false ideologies, hypocrisies, and evil deeds of our generation.

Pointing out the problems is something that must be done. However, there is a limit; after a while, if all one does is constantly harp on the negatives, one runs the risk of being a Johnny-one-note that people begin to ignore.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve started to notice the down side of some conservative commentary. While the commentary is most often true, depicting accurately the perfidy, the dishonesty, and the radical agenda of progressivism, one gets tired of hearing nothing but angst.

I’ve also noticed that some of those commentators are far more shallow in their thinking than I at first realized. They have certain talking points they repeat, and that’s all the farther they go. The repetitive nature of that approach makes it easy to tune them out.

As regular readers of my blog know, I’ve gained a lot of understanding through the words of Whittaker Chambers in his wonderful/tragic autobiography Witness.

Once Chambers left the communist underground and got a position writing for Time magazine, he eagerly used his position to try to point out the communist threat he knew from personal experience. He was so committed to warning about it that people got tired of hearing his warnings. He was kept from writing anything on the subject.

That seemed like a defeat. As Chambers relates,

My tacit exclusion from writing Communist news at first exasperated me, for I saw no one around me (except the Communists, of course) who knew anything at all about the subject.

He could have protested this treatment. He could have caused a ruckus and further divided the staff over his actions. But he kept calm and came to a new realization about tactics:

But gradually I welcomed the ban. I began to see that the kind of sniping that I had been doing was shallow and largely profitless; anybody could do that.

That last sentence is all too true. Anyone with an axe to grind or an ability to channel anger can do that. There are multitudes of those kinds of people. Chambers tried a new approach, one that more fully reflected the Christian spirit he was developing at that time in his life:

It seemed to me that I had a more important task to do, one that was peculiarly mine. It was not to attack Communism frontally. It was to clarify on the basis of the news, the religious and moral position that made Communism evil.

I had been trying to make a negative point. Now I had to state the positive position, and it was a much more formidable task than attack.

It’s deceptively easy to mount attacks. What Chambers now understood was that he had to do the harder job: help readers grasp the underlying Christian viewpoint of what constituted “good” and contrast that with the evil in communism.

It meant explaining simply and readably for millions the reasons why the great secular faith of this age is wrong and the religious faith of the ages is right; why, in the words of the Song of Roland, the Christians are right and the heathen are wrong.

This affected Chambers’s character in a positive way as well:

This change in my mood and my work reflected a deepening within myself.

The challenge before those of us who might take on the mantle of cultural warrior is perhaps to learn how to conduct the battle in a different manner. We need to leave the tactic of shallow anger and dull repetition and move on to deeper reflections on the nature of God, man, and His principles, and thereby help others gain a greater understanding of the battlefield.

That has always been my intent in this blog—hence its title, Pondering Principles: Reflections on God . . . Man . . . Life. My commitment to that goal is refreshed today.

Who’s Responsible?

A man goes to a baseball field and shoots up the place where congressmen and their staffers are practicing for a charity baseball game. First, he asks one of the congressmen who is leaving whether the ones practicing are Democrats or Republicans. Glad to hear they are Republicans, whom he has castigated on social media and seeks to wipe off the face of America, he opens fire, spraying the field and wounding four; one congressman remains in critical condition.

The man who perpetrated the crime finally is taken down by police and dies shortly after at the hospital. Then the blame game begins.

Who is responsible for what this man did? Since he was a socialist and a follower of Bernie Sanders, is Sanders to blame? After all, Sanders has said some pretty harsh things about Republicans. Since the man hated Trump so much, perhaps Trump is the one who should be responsible because he “triggered” the man with his policies?

What’s the Biblical position?

Personal responsibility is an overwhelming theme in Scripture. We are responsible for the choices we make in life. No one forces us to make those choices. There can be influences upon us, things that push us in a certain direction, but when it comes down to choosing, that’s all on us.

There were influences on the man who decided to target Republicans. Some of those influences were way over the top in bitterness and hatred. There are people who are saying Republicans want everyone to die because they want to take away their healthcare. That’s one of the middle-of-the-road accusations. I won’t repeat the worst ones.

Yet those were influences only; he had to decide whether to follow through on them with a terrible deed. He died in his own sins; he’s responsible for what he did, regardless of what others said that might have egged him on.

However, there remains some culpability whenever anyone descends into hateful diatribes. God holds them accountable for that.

There is a difference, though, between vicious, hateful speech and truth-telling. As Christians, we are to speak the truth in love and we are called, as far as it depends on us, to be at peace with all men.

What’s the difference between truth-telling and hateful speech? Are we never, in our truth-telling, allowed to point out the real nature of certain philosophies and/or individuals who promote those philosophies?

Did I sin in numerous blogs when I disagreed with virtually everything Barack Obama stands for and how he conducted himself? Am I sinning now when I take Donald Trump to task for his character?

Have you ever looked carefully at Matthew 23? It’s a fascinating chapter wherein Jesus takes on the Pharisees in no uncertain terms. As you peruse that chapter, you find Him saying the following about them:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Was Jesus over the top when He referred to them as hypocrites? Notice that He even said they were not entering into heaven. Was that an unjust judgment?

Further down in the chapter, He calls them “a child of hell,” “blind guides,” “blind fools,” and “a brood of vipers.”

My particular favorite is his characterization of them as “whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” They appear to be righteous but are really “full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

I gather from Jesus’s own example that we don’t have to pull our punches when pointing out sin. But here’s the catch: we can’t be hypocrites when we do so and we have to honestly seek to redeem those who are erring (check out chapter 7 of Matthew on proper judging). If we ever take satisfaction in merely telling people off and get a smug attitude about being right, then we’ve violated the spirit in which we are allowed to point out sin.

We all need to be willing to be truth-tellers, yet, at the same time, we must continually guard our hearts so that we carry it out in the proper spirit.

Each person is responsible for his/her own actions, whether in carrying out an evil deed or in using extreme language that might influence a person toward that deed.