Lewis: The Mere Christian Message

On this Good Friday/Easter weekend, the Christian message of sacrificial death and resurrection may be brought more to the forefront of minds that normally think little of such things. The message is the same at all times, but this weekend sharpens the focus.

To the natural mind, death is finality. There is no comprehension of how it can be of any good. Yet C. S. Lewis, in his book Miracles, shows us how:

On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more.

On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it.

We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall. Death is, in fact, what some modern people call “ambivalent.” It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.

Death has led to life, which runs counter to what people normally believe. Lewis notes in Mere Christianity, “The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.”

A fresh start. What a glorious concept. I know, personally, how much I needed a fresh start at one point in my life. My sins were forgiven; God treats them as if they never happened. That truth has led me to a constant state of gratitude for His mercy and has pointed the way forward. Lewis again in Mere Christianity:

Now the Christian belief is that if we somehow share the humility and suffering of Christ we shall also share in His conquest of death and find a new life after we have died and in it become perfect, and perfectly happy, creatures. . . .

In Christ a new kind of man appeared: and the new kind of life which began in Him is to be put into us.

Eternal life really begins in this earthly existence if we humbly receive Christ’s sacrifice as our own; death is merely a transfer of that life into a new and heavenly realm.

That is what Good Friday and Easter/Resurrection Day are all about. Let your gratitude for what God has done show in your life today.

Today Is For Remembering the Sacrifice

Death. We don’t like the word, and for good reason. Death was never supposed to be a fact of life. It was nowhere in God’s original purpose for His creation. It came about through rebellion against His love.

Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus even though He knew He was going to bring him back to life. Why? Because death is unnatural, a disruption of the good God intended.

On Good Friday, Jesus took the first step in reversing the curse brought about by sin, but He had to do it through death—His own.

Anyone who studies the mechanics of crucifixion can’t help but shudder at the horribleness of it.

Yet Jesus voluntarily subjected Himself to that horror. And He did it for me and for you.

Today is for remembering the sacrifice. It’s for grasping the enormity of what He had to do to offer us redemption. It’s for being grateful.

Grateful is really too mild a word for how we should feel. “O, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” are the words of a solemn hymn. That deep love should awaken in us a deep love in response.

In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Credibility Problem: Russia & Susan Rice

I try to stay away from definitive statements on current issues until most or all of the facts are known. That’s why I’ve written so little on the whole controversy about Russia’s influence over the presidential election.

Of this I am certain: Trump is not now president because Russia somehow sabotaged voting machines. Trump is president primarily because he ran against Hillary Clinton, arguably the worst major-party presidential candidate in the last . . . oh . . . well, perhaps since the birth of the Republic.

Hillary still hasn’t come to grips with that. She’s still out there making comments about how discrimination against women is why she lost. Fortunately, what she thinks doesn’t matter much now; she’s free to live in whatever fantasy world she chooses.

But did Russia try to influence public opinion toward Trump in devious ways? Keep in mind that Russia always has tried to do whatever it could to undermine America. Back in the Reagan years, there is evidence the old USSR was using Sen. Ted Kennedy to get Reagan out in the 1984 election, and the senator was a willing accomplice. He was never a model of pristine character.

By the way, Russian interference in 1984 didn’t exactly count for much in the final tally:

As the current probe slogged along, Republican Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, made a misstep by making a public announcement about how our intelligence services incidentally caught information on Trump transition members apparently being mentioned by Russian operatives, but that such incidental information did not reveal any collusion. Nunes’s false step was to say something about this publicly rather than going directly to his committee.

That bad decision led to a political furor by the Democrats (who are well-practiced in political furor), and now Nunes is under investigation for an ethics violation. He has had to recuse himself from the Russia probe.

The names of those Trump people somehow were made public. That is against the law. All kinds of suspicion, entirely warranted, has been directed at the Obama administration in its final days doing whatever it could to weaken the incoming administration.

The name that has come to the surface is Susan Rice, Obama’s former UN ambassador and national security advisor. Isn’t it amazing how she always seems to show up whenever there is a need to find someone to explain away Obama’s misdeeds?

Rice doesn’t have a history that engenders confidence in her integrity. Anyone recall that she became the face of the Obama team when they totally mishandled Benghazi? Anyone recall how she went on all the Sunday talk shows and peddled the Big Lie about a video causing the attack on American personnel in Libya? Anyone recall how she did it with no embarrassment at all?

Well, she’s back. She started off by saying she knew nothing about the intelligence gathering that caught some Trump people. Then that shifted into an admission that she did request to know the names of those people—within the legal allowance—but that she certainly wasn’t responsible for leaking those names to the public.

That’s her story and she’s sticking to it.

Susan Rice has no credibility.

What really happened with Russia and what should we be concerned about? The investigation is ongoing. The real question is whether it will be a real investigation or merely another in a long line of political one-upsmanship.

The House Intelligence Committee needs to demonstrate that it has more credibility than Susan Rice.

Lewis, Literary Culture, & Ecclesiastes

“I read all the right books, so I am cultured.” Those of us who seek to expand our knowledge of what might be considered the best of writing over the centuries need to be careful, says C. S. Lewis.

While someone who is drawn to the common conception of culture is certainly better off than one who simply seeks status as one of the in-the-know literati, there is a difference between those who truly enjoy reading and those who do it merely to improve oneself.

The problem, Lewis reveals, is that someone in the latter category

is more likely to stick too exclusively to the “established authors” of all periods and nations, “the best that has been thought and said in the world.” He makes few experiments and has few favourites. Yet this worthy man may be, in the sense I am concerned with, no true lover of literature at all.

Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, Lewis decried the educational development that made English literature a subject in the schools. Why would a professor of English literature have a problem with that?

“One sad result,” he laments, “is that the reading of great authors is, from early years, stamped upon the minds of conscientious and submissive young people as something meritorious.”

Wait a minute. Don’t we want these young people to consider certain literature as meritorious? Lewis goes on to explain what he has seen happen:

When the young person in question is an agnostic whose ancestors were Puritans, you get a very regrettable state of mind. The Puritan conscience works on without the Puritan theology—like millstones grinding nothing; like digestive juices working on an empty stomach and producing ulcers.

The unhappy youth applies to literature all the scruples, the rigorism, the self-examination, the distrust of pleasure, which his forebears applied to the spiritual life; and perhaps soon all the intolerance and self-righteousness.

This creates, according to Lewis, the wrong kind of seriousness in reading. “The true reader reads every work seriously in the sense that he reads it whole-heartedly, makes himself as receptive as he can.” That means he always reads in the spirit of the writer he is reading, which can often be comical.

“This is where the literary Puritans may fail most lamentably. They are too serious as men to be seriously receptive as readers,” Lewis sadly concludes. “Solemn men, but not serious readers; they have not fairly and squarely laid their minds open, without preconception, to the works they read.”

I see the temptation here. My own public education gave me little in the way of the great literature of the past. Now I’m trying to catch up, so to speak. The temptation is to take this route of catching up too seriously: I must dive into all those books that I have neglected over the years; I must know about them so I will be properly cultured.

At least, that’s the pull. So I appreciate Lewis’s warning. I can’t make up for all those other years in the few I may have left. But I can enjoy whatever does come my way and whatever I have the time to read.

The Biblical grounding I’ve received most of my life is more important than what is deemed the “great literature.” Knowledge of the Bible and the relationship with the Lord that has developed in my 66 years provides me with the foundation for evaluating everything else.

So I can relax on the literary front. As the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us,

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.

For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

That should be my primary focus.

Chambers: The Meaning of Witness

Every couple of years, I’m privileged to teach my course on Whittaker Chambers. As this semester nears its end, students are also getting near the end of Chambers’s masterful autobiography entitled Witness.

Why that title? Chambers, as he shared what he knew about the communist underground of which he had been a part for many years, was a witness. Another word for a witness is a martyr—one who is willing to lay down his life for what he knows to be true.

Chambers took a great chance in providing information; he might have been the one indicted for his past activities. Yet he came forward regardless because integrity demanded it; he sought to help Western civilization understand the threat it faced, not just from an outward manifestation called communism, but from an inner loss of spirit due to its increasing denial of Christian faith.

Chambers made a distinction between making a witness and simply giving a testimony. “The testimony and the witness must not be confused,” he wrote. “They were not the same.” He explained further,

The testimony fixed specific, relevant crimes. The witness fixed the effort of the soul to rise above sin and crime, and not for its own sake first, but because of others’ need, that the witness to sin and crime might be turned against both.

Chambers, in confessing his sins and crimes, was hoping to help the world understand the deeper truths. Yet he was concerned “that the world would see only the shocking facts of the testimony and not the meaning of the witness.”

He expressed his concern in words that reverberate down to our day—elegant words, words wrought out of the depth of his soul:

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.

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.

What does the Christian hope offer to men? I love how Chambers ends this short soliloquy:

For it frees them from the trap of irreversible Fate at the point of 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.

Chambers’s words remind me of chapter 4 of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. . . .

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Be a witness today, even if you feel weak. God uses whatever we offer Him for His glory.

Going Nuclear in the Senate

Neil Gorsuch’s nomination for the Supreme Court is coming to a vote in the Senate shortly. Democrats on the Senate Committee who grilled Judge Gorsuch came our uniformly against him. Chuck Schumer, the Democrat leader in the Senate, says his party will filibuster the nomination despite Gorsuch receiving the American Bar Association’s highest rating. That organization is not exactly ruled by conservatives.

So why the filibuster tactic? What is Gorsuch’s crime? Could it be that he simply believes judges should interpret rather than create law? Could it be that he thinks there’s something called the Constitution to which he is accountable?

Schumer and his fellow Democrats are being 100% political . . . and 100% childish and irresponsible.

Let’s be honest: Democrats don’t care one bit about constitutionality. They’re all about doing whatever they deem best while ignoring the rule of law. And let’s go one level deeper: they want to continue to allow unborn children to be slaughtered and Biblical morality overall to be excised from American society.

Now, they would never say that. But their actions make it clear that’s where they’re coming from.

Back in 2013, then-Majority Leader Harry Reid stopped all filibusters on cabinet-level appointees and federal judge appointments below the Supreme Court. He didn’t want to have to round up 60 votes to stop debate. That rule-altering precedent was fine to Democrats at that time.

Now that the Republicans are on the verge of doing the same thing for the Gorsuch nomination, we hear cries of “rule of law” from the very people who normally are impervious to such concerns.

For some silly reason, the move to allow a majority vote to stop debate has been called the “nuclear option.” Forgive me if I think such a decision is somewhat short of a nuclear anything. Use the word “nuclear” in relation to something and you can raise all kinds of hysteria.

Democrats should think twice before employing a filibuster on a highly qualified Supreme Court nominee. Of course, saying they should think twice is giving the benefit of the doubt that they’ve thought once already.

The Democrat party has become the refuge of every unconstitutional and immoral public policy. It is filled with radicals who would like to transform America into their idea of a non-Christian utopia. It didn’t used to be this way.

When this latest Senate battle is finally over, I will heartily welcome Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. May he remain faithful to how he has ruled in the past, and may he help restore judicial integrity to a system that is in danger of collapse.

The Joys (?) of Grading

I am a professor of history. I live, eat, drink, and breathe my profession. I see it as a calling from God. He provided His Word and the principles from His Word to guide me into my thinking about history, government, culture, and anything associated with those subjects.

I love teaching. I love reading/researching. I’ve even learned to love writing, which is the hardest of those loves to carry out effectively. Yet the love of God and His truths is what inspires me to do them all.

There’s one aspect of the calling He’s given me that’s not as easy to love as the others: grading.

Wouldn’t it be easier just to interact with students and enjoy the learning that takes place without all of the time-consuming grading? Yes, that would be nice. But it wouldn’t work.

I know from experience that even some of the best students won’t read the books assigned unless there is some kind of evaluation that follows afterward. Love of learning purely for the love of learning resides in the hearts of the few, not the many.

For instance, when I first taught a Civil War class to a group of history majors, I set it up in such a way that one of the students would be responsible each class session for making a presentation about the reading assignment while another had to come up with questions about the reading for the class to discuss.

My assumption was that, since they were history majors and ostensibly in the class because they wanted to learn about the Civil War, that they would eagerly read and discuss. What I found instead is that only two of the students were prepared for each class session: the one given the task to make the presentation and the one chosen to come up with questions.

The rest of the students were ignorant of the facts that were to be part of the discussion because they hadn’t read the assigned pages. After all, they didn’t have to make a presentation or come up with questions.

Needless to say, I don’t conduct my classes in that way anymore.

That’s why we must give assignments. That’s why we must grade those assignments. It’s a matter of accountability and a way to teach personal responsibility. Most won’t learn much of anything without those assignments.

Those assignments don’t teach students only; they also teach me personal responsibility. As much as I don’t like being bogged down by grading, the Lord keeps nudging me about why I must do that. It not only holds students accountable and makes them better people—it does the same for me.

So, as I enter this final month of the semester, I will try to keep that in mind. God wants me to do the best for my students by offering honest evaluations of their work and helping them to improve their thinking and writing.

He also wants me to improve my attitude toward all that grading; He’s using it to make me more like Him.

Chip away at my rough edges, Lord. Although I may not always enjoy the time I spend grading, I know I need You to continue to shape me more into the image of Christ.