Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Christian Coalition: A Tale Well Told

I rarely have two book reviews the same week, but I wanted to alert you to this new book by Joel Vaughan that traces the history of the organization called the Christian Coalition. The title is accurate: it rose and it fell.

I was drawn to the book not only because I am acquainted with Joel, but also because I used to be a Christian Coalition county director back in the early 1990s, when I taught at Indiana Wesleyan University. Then, when I moved to Regent University, I was just down the street, more or less, from the Coalition’s headquarters, and a number of my students in the master’s program in government worked there. I attended the annual Road to Victory conferences in Washington, DC. So I remember the glory years, but also the not-so-glorious ones.

There are so many tell-all books in the market that I wondered how Joel was going to handle this one. He was with the Coalition almost from the start, and was one of the last to leave before it rapidly disintegrated. How could he tell the tale well, being honest about its demise without being censorious?

Well, I believe he has accomplished that nearly impossible task. It is evident from the first pages that he shared the vision of Christians influencing public policy and making their voice heard in politics. He speaks of the sincere, genuine believers who wanted to make a difference, and he points to the many ways Christian Coalition achieved its goals during the 1990s. It’s obvious he loved being a part of it.

When he turns to the downfall, he does go into the problems in a straightforward manner, clearly showing why it fell. Yet even as he spells out the issues and talks about the people who made bad decisions, he does so in a thoroughly Christian way. This is not a bitter memoir; instead, it carries a tone of sadness—an appropriate tone because what happened was a tragedy. A Christian voice in politics became a mere shadow of what it once had been.

I appreciate the Christian spirit in the book. In effect, Joel Vaughan has provided a case study of the highs and lows of Christian political involvement. We can read this book and learn significant lessons about how we should go about our involvement, as well as how to avoid the common errors: overextending ourselves financially or losing the humble servant heart.

Next year, I plan to use this book in a new course I’ll be teaching called Biblical Worldview and Public Policy. It will be a valuable guide for this new generation of Christian leaders. I’m hoping this account of a high-profile Christian political organization will help them carry the work forward and do so in the right spirit.

Book Recommendation: The Shack

On my main website, I have annotated lists of recommended books (check those out if you haven’t yet). Every so often, I like to use this blog to let you know what’s worth reading.

William P. Young’s The Shack has been out now for over a year. I had heard of it previously, knew it was a bestseller, but also that some people considered it controversial. Busy as I am, and needing to read other books for courses, etc., I didn’t rush to buy it. This past week, I finally made that decision. It was a good decision.

The writing is top-rate. The opening chapters, which tell of a terrible family tragedy, grip you from the start. Then a note comes from God (hang with me here) inviting Mack Philips, who has lost his youngest daughter to a murderer, to return to the scene of the murder.

Once he does, the whole tenor of the book changes. Young leads us from the details of everyday life into a world where spiritual realities overwhelm the senses. Along the way, Mack argues with God (portrayed quite creatively by the author), has to learn what forgiveness and relationship are all about, and emerges a transformed person. This is not formulaic. It is designed to make you think. You may disagree with some of his doctrinal points or his portrayals, but any disagreements I had are merely quibbles in comparison with the truths that come alive in his pages. Any book that stirs within the reader the desire to see God face-to-face has a lot to commend it.

Character, plot, style—they all come together here realistically (even in the fantasy-like portions) and persuasively. If a book points people to the essence of the Christian faith, and does so in a manner that makes one think anew about the nature of the God-man relationship, it is worth your time to read.

Palin & the Pundits

Sarah Palin Announcing Her Resignation as Governor of Alaska

Sarah Palin Announcing Her Resignation as Governor of Alaska

The political world was rocked last Friday by Sarah Palin’s announcement that not only would she not run again for governor of Alaska, but that she would be stepping down from the office in just a few weeks, turning the government over to the lieutenant governor.

The political pundits have run wild. They are positively beside themselves trying to figure it out. Some have described her as nutty, others as bizarre in her decisionmaking, and some have even delved into the morass of speculation over some wrongdoing on her part. Some leftist blogs are sure she is under federal investigation for something, and the other shoe is going to fall at any moment—or at least that is their hope.

Most pundits are just puzzled by this unorthodox step. Many of them have even taken her to task for the style of the speech itself. It was too rambling, they say; not well-scripted; not very smooth for someone who wants to be president. I listened to the speech. She was speaking from notes, not a script, and she was speaking from the heart. I liked it. Why? It was not the typical politician speech written by someone else for political effect. I liked it for the same reason others hated it—it was not Washington-speak.

Now, was her decision unorthodox? Certainly. Does it betray nuttiness or is it bizarre? Hardly.

Let’s back up for a moment. I’ve watched the political scene for nearly 40 years now. In all that time, despite the media attacks upon Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and countless other conservatives or Republicans, I’ve never witnessed anything as vicious as what has happened to Palin over the past 10 months. Yes, all politicians have to be aware that they will be scrutinized, but the arrows aimed at her have been more deadly than any I’ve ever seen.

Reagan was called lazy, a grade-B actor, etc. He was accused of throwing kids and the elderly out on the streets to die. Yet most of that could be seen for what it was—pure political posturing. Bush, the Left says, should be hauled up before a world court to be tried as a war criminal. Most people see the absurdity in that. Neither Reagan nor Bush, though, have had to put with the kinds of vicious smears Palin has endured.

Right from the start, she was referred to as trailer park trash, intimations were made that her son was really her grandson, and that she was covering for her daughter, she was ridiculed for her accent and for her less-than-Ivy-League education, and programs such as Saturday Night Live created a stereotype of her that turned her into a fuzzy-headed ditz.

Then, even after the election was over and done, the attacks continued. Political opponents filed 15 frivolous ethics charges (all rejected ultimately) that have cost her a few hundred thousand dollars to handle. As if that weren’t enough, David Letterman had the gall and lack of character to joke about her daughter being raped at a Yankees game.

Why did Palin make her decision? I’m not privy to her thoughts, but I’m giving her far more credit than the pundits. These pundits live in a bubble; for them, everything is political. That’s what drives them nuts about this. How could she do something so politically silly? How can she ever hope to run for president now? This just shows how weak she is, right?

It actually might show the opposite. It might show that in her heart there is more to life than politics. Why must someone be president or governor or senator to make a difference? I comment a lot on politics and government, and I believe Christians need to be involved. But is serving in government the be-all and end-all of life? Not at all. It’s merely one way to serve God. There are others.

I don’t know if Palin is walking away from politics or not. I will accept [as if my acceptance matters one whit] whatever direction she goes because I believe she is trying to get her priorities right. She consulted her family on this decision, and they were unanimous that she should step down. If she never runs for political office again, but raises her family to love God and is able to speak truth to the world through whatever platform she is given, that may very well be God’s will for her.

Most pundits will never grasp that. For them, the world revolves around politics. Sarah Palin is a Christian who wants to follow God’s leading. I will be interested in what the leading may be, but I’m going to allow her the space to be a follower of God and see what happens.

May the Lord give her wisdom and bless her new path, whatever that may be.

The Real Intolerance

I spent the past week dissecting homosexuality Biblically and politically, and also providing the Biblical solution for those bound by it. All too often, because Christians say homosexuality is a sin, they are accused of intolerance. Well, there are some things that are intolerable. We should never tolerate sin, no matter what form it takes.

Yet if you examine what is taking place in our society, you will notice that the real intolerance lies elsewhere.

This cartoon is closer to the reality we face. Yet we’re to continue to reach out in love to those who don’t realize they are in chains and to those who embrace their chains. That’s the Christian calling.

American Character: George Whitefield

George Whitefield Preaching

He was a sensation. He was not even strictly an American, but a traveling evangelist from Britain. Yet America was on his heart.

When George Whitefield arrived in America in 1740, he started in Georgia and traveled up the coast, preaching in all the colonies. The result was the climax of what we call the First Great Awakening.

Whitefield’s voice boomed, and he dramatized his sermons. Thousands traced their conversion to his messages. Ben Franklin became his friend, yet never gave his life to Christ. However, he was astounded by the effects of Whitefield’s efforts. Franklin records in his autobiography:

It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if the whole world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.

Whitefield’s impact was tremendous. He returned to America many times, but his final trip was in 1770. Suffering from severe asthma, his friends warned him against overexertion. His response? “I had rather wear out than rust out.”

One account of his life tells of that final trip:

 He was importuned to preach at a place called Exeter, and though feeling very ill, he had not the heart to refuse. A friend remarked before he preached, “Sir, you are more fit to go to bed than to preach.” Whitefield replied: “True, sir,” and then prayed: “Lord Jesus, I am weary in thy work, but not of thy work. If I have not yet finished my course, let me go and speak for thee once more in the fields, seal thy truth, and come home and die.” Although scarcely able to stand when he first came before the group, he preached for two hours.

Arriving at the parsonage of the First Presbyterian Church in Newburyport, he intended to go at once to bed. However, a great number of friends gathered at the parsonage and begged him for just a short message. He paused a moment on the stairs, candle in hand, and spoke to the people as they stood listening—until the candle went out. At 2 a.m., panting to breathe, he told his traveling companion, “My asthma is returning; I must have two or three days’ rest.” His last words were, “I am dying,” and at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning he died—September 30, 1770.

When Americans heard of his death, they mourned from Georgia to New Hampshire. In one sense, he was the first American figure known and respected by all.

George Whitefield was a man who wore himself out doing what he believed the Lord had called him to do. There is no greater testimony than someone who was obedient to the call of God.

Christians and Race

Let’s talk about race. And let’s talk about the Christian perspective on race. Those who reject the Christian message try to pin a label on us, that we are racial bigots. How often I have heard that the most segregated hour of the week is Sunday morning. They try to imply that evangelicalism is a “whites-only” religion.

Well, first of all, that has not been my experience—not in the churches I have attended, nor at the Christian colleges where I have taught. I have never once heard a sermon or spoken with a Christian pastor or other leader who expressed racial animosity. There is a reason for that.

You see, if we approach this issue Biblically, we have to come to one conclusion: there is only one race in God’s creation; it is called “human.” Within that race, there are variations, but we all descend from one set of parents. Therefore, if we harbor resentment or ill-will against someone who has a different shade of skin color or some other slight variation on facial features, we are denying the faith we say we believe.

What is all this talk about black and white, anyway? Have you really looked at other people? If you are albino, you are rather white, but otherwise you are more beige. What qualifies as black? How black does one’s skin have to be to count? President Obama had a “white” mother and is not very “black” in skin tone. Yet he is hailed as America’s first black president.

I think the “black” commentator and scholar Thomas Sowell had it right when he penned a book entitled Pink and Brown People. That’s closer to the truth. We humans, as a race, run the gamut of skin tones. Where is the dividing line between black and white?

As a society, we are race conscious. We always have been. It started, of course, with slavery and then segregation policies. When those situations were dealt with via the Civil War and legislation, we didn’t stop being race conscious, but the focus changed. We started affirmative action programs to make up for past treatment. All that did was stoke the fires of racial thinking.

Electing Obama was supposed to take care of all this. That’s what we were told. Yet what has happened? Decisions are being made on the basis of race even more now. It’s Obama himself who is keeping this alive, while still blaming others.

So is Obama a racist? How about his Supreme Court pick, Sonia Sotomayor? I prefer to use the term “racialist.” That describes someone who makes race the supreme issue of life, and who makes all decisions with race in mind. A racialist can be black, white, pink, or brown. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that this attitude can lead to the destruction of the rule of law and continue to divide us as a people.

We have more legitimate reasons for division, and those are based on ideology and policy. Those have real merit. It’s time to put aside false divisions like race. That is the Christian position, regardless of what critics may imply.

Principle: Sowing & Reaping (Part IV)

I ended the last post with this question from Psalms 11:3:

If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

The answer is actually quite simple: rebuild.

Now, I know that is easy to say and considerably harder to do. But there is no other choice.

Nehemiah followed God’s call to return to Israel from Persia. His task? Rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. What he saw could have led him to despair, yet he had faith that the Lord had given him this job/ministry. He was going to have to get others to join him; he couldn’t do it alone. So he addressed the citizens of Jerusalem in this way:

Then I [Nehemiah] said to them, “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem that we may no longer be a reproach.” And I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me. . . . Then they said, “Let us arise and build.” So they put their hands to the good work.

Not one of us alone can rebuild what has been destroyed in this nation. We must work together. Our tasks will be different since we are all made with specific and unique talents. Yet if we do the part God has called us to do, the culture can change for the better, and the government can be restored to its original purpose.

This is why I teach. It’s why I accepted the invitation to chair a department at my university. I believe that the Lord can work through the teaching of history to provide a clearer perspective on His purposes. The new public policy degree can be the vehicle for training students for service in the government and in agencies that influence what the government’s policies will be.

This is why I blog. If my few words on a daily basis can help anyone understand better what the Lord wants of His people, then the time it takes to think and write is not wasted.

Those who name His name are called. They are chosen. They are to be about their Father’s business. His promise is that we will reap what we sow, so let’s get busy sowing. The foundations need to be reestablished. The walls need to be rebuilt.