Archive for the ‘ The Historical Muse ’ Category

My Personal Creed as a Christian & a Historian

Caught between two worlds, yet both informed by my Christian faith. What am I talking about?

I am a history professor, what you would have to call a “professional historian.” That is one of my worlds. As an academic, I am devoted to research and accuracy in my teaching and writing. Historians generally don’t get involved in commentary on current events, and at least make some attempt at appearing “above politics.” Now, of course, much of that is pretense. For many years, I haven’t joined any of the professional historical organizations; they are sold out to the progressive political correctness that dominates the field. Yet I want to stay in touch with what other historians are writing, so I recently rejoined one such organization, just to see if there is any value in it. Next year, I can make a decision whether to remain a member or not.

Another thing about historians/university professors: they rarely allow whatever religious beliefs they have to intrude upon their teaching or writing. Again, there is a lot of pretense there. One’s worldview, which is religious, whether one admits it or not, will always provide the context for one’s reasoning. Those who say they are teaching or writing “value-free” are just as committed to a value as anyone else. It’s just that the value they are communicating is that one should have no values. That, in itself, is a worldview being transmitted to students and readers.

My other world is as a commentator on life. Just look at the title of this blog and you will see where my heart is. My goal is to try to bring my Christian faith to bear on how we perceive the culture, politics, and government of our day. I don’t hold back on what I believe because I have this urgency in my spirit to help others comprehend the Biblical principles that should govern our lives. I focus quite a bit on trying to reach a general audience, not merely a guild of historians who read each other and never touch a wider readership.

There is no separation for me; both worlds coincide. Some, though, would consider my academic world to be tainted. The dominant thinking is that you allow students to roam free without boundaries. I disagree. There is a Biblical framework within which all reasoning should take place. Without that, we go astray from the One who is Truth.

Some in my profession won’t look upon me as a serious academic. After all, I’ve never been published by Harvard, Yale, or any of the other university presses they consider prestigious. One of my books is how to apply Biblical principles to politics; how, they wonder, can that be academic? But I’m not the only one frowned upon. Even a generally lauded writer like David McCullough, who has written masterful works on American history [1776; John Adams] is treated as somewhat less than genuine. You see, he’s not of our particular profession and, horror of horrors, the peasants out there actually read what he writes. That’s beneath our profession’s dignity, don’t you know?

God has given me the task of reaching out to anyone and everyone. I want to do so with a level of maturity and accuracy that transcends simply reactionary political blogging. I want my students and readers to grapple with the deeper issues—the principles that undergird all of life. My goal is to be a solid academic while simultaneously connecting with those who would feel uncomfortable in academic circles.

In another of my books, the one on the Clinton impeachment, I conducted interviews with all thirteen of the House Managers who argued before the Senate for Clinton’s removal from office. My research was genuine and everything fully documented. Yet I wrote for a general audience. The two worlds should not be divorced. Neither can I omit my Christian faith from anything I write, whether strictly academic or not. Here’s how I explained it in the preface to the impeachment book:

My presuppositions are first and foremost biblical in orientation. The grid through which I see the world—my basic worldview—is grounded upon biblical principles.  These principles form the basis for my values, my decisions, and my analysis of right and wrong. These principles also inform my understanding of the role of civil government, placing me on the conservative side of the political spectrum. Naturally, then, I am predisposed to “take the side,” so to speak, of the House Managers.

But I am also an academic. The training I receive in academia requires that I follow the evidence wherever it may lead. I must be honest and cannot, in good conscience, misrepresent the facts. Properly understood, there is no dichotomy here. My Christianity and my academic training require the same standard. Academic integrity rests upon moral integrity, which I believe flows from biblical faith. Consequently, when I undertake any research and writing project, I must be true to that faith. Political conservatism must become secondary; the truth must have priority.

That is my personal creed as a Christian and a historian. I can be both without contradiction. I am not a historian who just happens to be a Christian; I am a Christian who fulfills his ministry through my role as a historian. There is a difference.

Let Us Not Lose Heart

Sometimes when I ponder the state of our society, and the world in general, I wonder if there is any hope. Yes, I know that in the end, God wraps things up His way. The future is glorious for those who remain faithful to Him. But what I see around me would be depressing without that ultimate hope.

I’ve studied the writings of Whittaker Chambers for nearly thirty years now. His magisterial autobiography Witness is filled with poignant insights into the human condition without God. For instance, as he analyzed the state of the world in his lifetime, he was struck by the loss of his generation’s ability to see reality and know the difference between right and wrong. Has anything changed all that much? Here’s how he portrays it:

The dying world of 1925 was without faith, hope, character, understanding of its malady or will to overcome it. It was dying but it laughed. And this laughter was not the defiance of a vigor that refuses to know when it is whipped. It was the loss, by the mind of a whole civilization, of the power to distinguish between reality and unreality, because, ultimately, though I did not know it, it had lost the power to distinguish between good and evil. … The dying world had no answer at all to the crisis of the 20th century, and, when it was mentioned, and every moral voice in the Western world was shrilling crisis, it cocked an ear of complacent deafness and smiled a smile of blank senility—throughout history, the smile of those for whom the executioner waits.

I ask myself whether we are currently in that same state he so sadly describes. As a people, are we without faith or hope? Do we lack the kind of character necessary to remedy the ills of our nation? Do we even understand that we are suffering ills? Are we living in the realm of unreality, dying because we no longer care about right and wrong, good and evil? If so, the executioner waits to carry out the sentence on a deaf and senile people.

That all sounds so dismal. Yet there are times when I feel the way Chambers felt about his era. That feeling can lead people to despair, if they are without the life of God within. The only reason I won’t succumb to despair is because I know I’ve been called, as all Christians are, to shine the light of truth and hope into that moral void. Our task is to rescue the hopeless, and the more we rescue, the greater the possibility that our society can once again distinguish between good and evil.

One passage of Scripture fits perfectly here, from Galatians 6:7-9, where we’re told,

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.

That last sentence is a clarion call to continue doing what God has charged each one of us to do. If we remain faithful, He promises there will be a time to reap. Chambers’s perception of the world of 1925 does not have to be the world of our future if God’s people persevere.

Obama: Dishonoring Margaret Thatcher

Today is Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. It’s such a special occasion for the British that even the queen will be there to pay her respects. The last time she attended a funeral for a former prime minister was in 1965 to mark the passing of Winston Churchill. However, today is also a day of insult, and the British have noticed the slight. There will be no representative present from the Obama administration.

Those who think this is no big deal will point to the fact that no administration figure attended the funeral of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela last month. Apples and oranges. Chavez was a Marxist radical who hated the United States. Obama knew he couldn’t openly mourn the loss of a dictator who persecuted Jews, served as a banker for Iran, and trampled the civil liberties of his own people as he built up a personal cult following. Ideologically, Obama was practically Chavez’s soulmate, but he had to stifle his admiration for appearance’ sake.

Thatcher, on the other hand, was America’s best friend during her tenure as prime minister. She and Ronald Reagan teamed up to deal the death blow to the old Soviet Union without, as she famously noted, firing a single shot. Both leaders brought their nations back from the brink of fiscal disaster, and both restored the proper kind of pride in their countries. Neither do I believe it is coincidental that both were firm in their Christian faith.

As most of the civilized world—or what remains of it—pauses to reflect on Margaret Thatcher’s accomplishments, may we see in her life an example of fortitude and devotion to principle that inspires.

Salt, Light, & Truth

I’ve spent the past two days writing about the drift of our culture into acceptance of a type of sex God forbade. For many people, this whole issue is simply a matter of “democracy”—let the people decide what they want. When you introduce the moral element, they tell you that’s irrelevant. All that matters is that we are devoted to popular sovereignty. As a historian, I know that term well. The last time it was front and center in the political debate was prior to the Civil War. Popular sovereignty was supposed to solve the quandary of slavery. Let the people of the new territories decide for themselves if they want slavery or not. Stephen Douglas, the Illinois senator who championed this approach, infamously said slavery was not a moral issue.

Well, I can’t help but frame it morally. At its foundation, the push for same-sex marriage is a clear indication of our rebellion against the righteousness of God and His law. It is a perversion—and I use that word advisedly and with forethought—of the gift of sex. Only a people firmly rooted in Biblical truth can prevail against this headwind. Are we no longer that people?

Liberals/progressives, whose outlook is primarily secular, think opposition to homosexuality is foolish. Unfortunately, they are joined in this view by a growing number of those who continue to call themselves Christians. They adopt most of the progressive political agenda and attempt to stamp it with God’s favor. They are doing a disservice to the gospel, and the God, they claim to represent.

Then there are some conservatives who are abandoning the field of battle. Most often, that’s because they are little different than their erstwhile foes at the other end of the political spectrum. How can that be? They are basically secular also; their conservatism is not based on solid Biblical principles. So when the culture shifts, they have no anchor to hold them to their position. They attempt to mix political conservatism with moral relativism. It’s not a good mixture.

One particular strand in the conservative movement is more libertarian than conservative. That group has never been wedded to Biblical morality anyway. They don’t want the government telling anyone what to do in the moral realm. Many of them support the mislabeled pro-choice position on abortion and have no problem at all with homosexuality. Their presence in the conservative coalition waters down its moral foundations.

The only saving grace in modern American conservatism, and in our politics in general, is the part of our populace that brings its Christianity to bear on our culture and government. They are the ones Jesus was referring to when He said,

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Salt preserves; light shows the way. Those in the church who have succumbed to the spirit of the age are the tasteless salt; they are no good for anything in this struggle. The responsibility therefore falls on those who still understand that truth is truth in all ages, and that it never changes. We need to preserve whatever remains of goodness in this land, and we need to be the ones who shine a light on the right path to take. Are we up to the challenge?

C. S. Lewis: The Resurrection

On this Resurrection [Easter] Sunday, here is some insight from C. S. Lewis from his book Miracles:

The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts. The Resurrection, and its consequences, were the “gospel” or good news which the Christians brought: what we call the “gospels,” the narratives of Our Lord’s life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the gospel. They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted. The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it. Nothing could be more unhistorical than to pick out selected sayings of Christ from the gospels and to regard those as the datum and the rest of the New Testament as a construction upon it. The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection.

Sixty-two . . . and Still Learning

Add another year to the total. As startling as it was to turn sixty two years ago, I’m just as amazed by the undeniable fact that today I’ve reached the sixty-two mark. I have a tendency to get reflective at times like this. I hope you’ll excuse me for it today because I was thinking about what I’ve learned over the years, through the good and not-so-good times. Where was I each time my age ended with a two? Here’s my review.

Age 2: I thought I might skip this one. After all, who really remembers anything from when they were two years old? Yet I have a vivid memory of seeing my grandfather sitting on the couch. He had lost one leg and used crutches. I must have been two, or no older than barely three, because he died when I was three. We never got to know each other. What does this mean to me today? Just this: I want to be around to get to know my grandchildren and be a positive influence on their lives. Whatever I can do to point them to serving God and loving Him, I want to do. Currently, I have four grandsons and one granddaughter. Two more are on the way this year—a fifth grandson and one of unknown gender at this time. Seven grandchildren by about October. May my life be a blessing to them.

Age 12: This was about the time I reluctantly realized I wasn’t going to be a Major League baseball player. An .032 average in Little League can lead one to that conclusion. It was disappointing. The Yankees were my life; Mickey Mantle was my hero. But I learned I had to move on to other goals, and it wasn’t too difficult once I put away my childish dreams. I entered junior high that year, and life was changing. It was time for a new perspective. God already had His hand on me. I know this because I was probably the only guy who actually looked forward to Saturday morning confirmation classes at my Lutheran church. Yes, life was changing.

Age 22: Married less than a year. Getting ready to graduate from college and take on my first fulltime position. Shortly after this birthday, I arrived in Portsmouth, Virginia, and began working at the Christian Broadcasting Network. I started in the television studio, but moved up shortly afterward to radio, where I became the all-night “personality.” It was a time of maturing, even though I don’t think I matured as quickly as I needed to. I had great zeal, learning Greek and beginning my study of theology. Two years later, I would be a father for the first time. A year after that, headmaster of a Christian school. All seemed right with the world.

Age 32: All was not right with the world. Well, let me rephrase that: all was not right with me. I was completing my doctoral studies at American University in Washington, D.C., not knowing it would require another six years before that dissertation would be finished. Spiritually, I was in rebellion, but God hadn’t given up on me. He was beginning to show me how void of meaning a life of study and learning can be without Him. I would begin to take those first steps back to Him, but the process would be much slower than it ought to have been, and true repentance still lay in the future.

Age 42: Spiritual restoration was now in the past, and I was a professor in a Christian university. The students voted me Professor of the Year, yet my tenure at the university was not assured. I had to learn a greater depth of trust in the Lord’s provision. The struggles of that year led, ultimately, to a call to another university, where I could teach at the graduate level. I began to believe more than ever that the Lord does open and close doors, and all I had to do was rest in His leading.

Age 52: At my third institution of Christian higher education. The students were a joy to teach, but I was again undergoing a test. Had I missed God’s calling? Why did it have to be so hard? How many ways can I be misunderstood by those in authority over me? Lord, what am I supposed to do? Those were the constant questions that plagued my thoughts. At age 52, things were looking a little bleak. Yet, as I learned soon after, God hadn’t deserted me, no matter how I felt at times. He was still the God who opens new doors.

Age 62: It’s been a rough couple of years as my wife has gone through cancer treatments and surgery after surgery. I’ve been there with her all the way, and the Lord is teaching me what it means to love—in ways I never thought I would have to learn. The cancer storm has subsided for now; my position at my fourth Christian university seems secure; the joy of teaching has not abated. There is purpose in life through Him, and even if circumstances change for the worse, I would be the most dense student ever if I began to doubt His care now. He has proven Himself over and over with each succeeding decade. The lesson: rest in God’s love and draw strength from His seemingly endless supply of grace.

That’s my review. Those are the things I’ve learned at these various stages of life. Whether I have another decade of learning is in His hands. If not, I can say with the apostle Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

The Wisdom of Ronald Reagan

Yesterday was Ronald Reagan’s birthday. He would have been 102. Many of us long to have a president like him again. To commemorate his presidency and to remind you of his insights, I hereby present an excerpt from one of his most famous speeches. In 1983, he spoke to the National Association of Evangelicals, where he blatantly called the Soviet Union an evil empire. He was correct. Yet, beyond that, I hope you can see the heart of the man through these words:

We must never forget that no government schemes are going to perfect man. We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin. There is sin and evil in the world, and we’re enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might.…

They [the Soviets] must be made to understand we will never compromise our principles and standards. We will never give away our freedom. We will never abandon our belief in God.…

Let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness—pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.

It was C. S. Lewis who, in his unforgettable “Screwtape Letters,” wrote: “The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid ‘dens of  crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.” …

You know, I’ve always believed that old Screwtape reserved his best efforts for those of you in the church. So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride—the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.…

While America’s military strength is important, let me add here that I’ve always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.

Whittaker Chambers, the man whose own religious conversion made him a witness to one of the terrible traumas of our time, the Hiss-Chambers case, wrote that the crisis of the Western World exists to the degree in which the West is indifferent to God, the degree to which it collaborates in communism’s attempt to make man stand alone without God. And then he said, for Marxism-Leninism is actually the second oldest faith, first proclaimed in the Garden of Eden with the words of temptation, “Ye shall be as gods.”

The Western World can answer this challenge, he wrote, “but only provided that its faith in God and the freedom He enjoins is as great as communism’s faith in Man.”

There is much wisdom in those words, and they still apply today.