9/11 & the Two Visions of America

Can anything new be said on the anniversary of 9/11? Maybe we don’t need to hear anything new; perhaps we just need to be reminded that there are those out there who hate us. However, what is meant by “us?” America, you say? Yes, in the abstract, but what comprises America anymore? Do I with my Biblical worldview represent the true America, or do Planned Parenthood—as one example—and Barack Obama constitute the real America?

On 9/11, eleven years ago today, members of Congress stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang together. At the moment, I can’t recall if they sang “America the Beautiful” or “My Country Tis of Thee” or another similar tune. That specific memory eludes me. But sing they did, although some commentators noted that the Republicans seemed to be leading it and a good number of the Democrats looked reluctant to add their voices to the chorus. What a wonderful image it presented: a united nation.

But it was a false image.

It played well for the camera, but the camaraderie was short-lived. The chasm between two very different visions of America is too deep and wide to be bridged for long, even with a common enemy. After the initial shock of the attack, the progressive visionaries began to downplay the severity of the terrorist threat. They even began seeing in their minds’ eye, though not in reality, a kind of pogrom instituted against Muslims in the U.S. All of a sudden, we were the problem, not them. We weren’t sensitive enough to the way they had been treated; we had brought this on ourselves.

That vision of an America that was too big for its britches, and that needed to be slapped down, clashed with the other vision—that of an America that, while often making mistakes in foreign relations, nevertheless had attempted to do the best for others most of the time. It’s the vision of an America that has helped rid the world of truly evil dictators and totalitarian movements such as communism. It’s the vision of an America that retains basic moral values stemming from its faith in God.

These two visions cannot mesh; they are too opposed to each other.

For too long, we have tried to ignore this massive chasm and assured ourselves that we are all Americans who will pull together despite our differences. We need to face reality.

There is no real external union without internal unity.

These two separate visions of America stem from two contrasting worldviews. One is Biblical and God-centered, while the other is secular and man-centered:

  • Beliefs are different on both sides of this divide
  • Purposes/goals are not the same
  • Christian morality battles humanistic immorality
  • One holds to the sacredness of life while the other aborts it
  • One supports traditional marriage and the family while the other redefines sexuality and the very nature of marriage
  • Limited government and constitutionalism inspire the one, whereas a socialistic welfare state is the dream of those who would transform our society and make it into something neither God nor the Founders ever desired

It would be a fascinating object lesson to be able to separate these two groups and let them have their way completely—two entirely distinct nations with two distinct worldviews—and then compare the results. One would go the way of every socialist/communist experiment that has ever been tried, while the other would be an energetic, thriving society where innocent children would be safe in their mothers’ wombs, the family structure would dominate, Biblical morality would be enacted into law, and the government would not be overseeing all aspects of one’s life.

But that won’t happen; we cannot separate the two; we have to make it work somehow the way it is.

What have we learned, eleven years later? Unfortunately, we’ve learned we are not really one people. We are not united. Our foundations are crumbling and we are in danger of turning our backs on the God who gave us life and liberty. If we choose that path, we are lost.

God didn’t make 9/11 happen. It was the brainchild of perverted individuals. Yet when sin abounds, He seeks to use the consequences to get our attention. He will use every circumstance to try to reach into a people’s hearts and lead them to repentance. By all means, may we never forget what happened on 9/11, and may we honor those who displayed great courage on that day. But the best way to honor them is to return to the truth, and to the One who is Truth. That is our only hope.

David Barton, Thomas Jefferson, & Historical Accuracy

Those who know me know I’m convinced America’s roots are fundamentally Biblical. I deplore efforts to wipe out Biblical influence in the Founding of this country. However, I also deplore any effort to force a Christian interpretation on certain events or individuals. We must be honest with the evidence.

The drive to reestablish the basis for our Biblical roots, at least in more popular Christian reading, probably began with Peter Marshall’s The Light and the Glory, which appeared in the 1970s. I read it at the time and was impressed, although I also was slightly disturbed by how the author concocted conversations between historical figures. Literary license, I guessed. Since then, many have entered the field, trying to augment what Marshall began.

The most successful writer in this genre has been David Barton. I’ve read a number of his books and have appreciated the fact that he has tried to unearth documentation that others might have missed. In fact, I was pleased when he admitted that one supposed James Madison quote everybody was using to show that the Founders based our government on the Ten Commandments was, in fact, spurious. That displayed honesty, and I always seek that in someone who names the name of Christ. We must be honest above all.

Barton’s latest book, The Jefferson Lies, was published by Thomas Nelson, a respected Christian publishing house. I admit I haven’t yet read the book, but that’s going to be a moot point very soon. Thomas Nelson has ceased its publication and pulled it from the market. Is this a case of pressure from the historical profession, which is so secular it doesn’t want to give Barton’s views a chance to be heard? If so, why are conservative Christian historians critiquing it? Have they gone over to the dark side?

One of the goals of the book is to establish Jefferson as a Founder who didn’t really abandon Christian orthodoxy, among other presumed lies about the third president. There’s only one problem with that: Jefferson did indeed desert orthodox Christianity and considered it a superstition. All one has to do is read many of his letters to John Adams, another of the Founders who fell away from the faith. In one of my earlier blog postings, I pointed specifically to a letter Jefferson wrote to Benjamin Rush, a fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence, in which he stated he was a Christian, but only in the sense that he was following a Jesus who never claimed to be anything other than a man. In other words, Jefferson admired Jesus’ moral teachings, but didn’t consider him to be God.

Then there’s Jefferson’s Bible. Yes, it was meant to be used to help spread civilization to the Indians, but it was never, in Jefferson’s mind, to be used to convert them to orthodox Christianity. He really did reject the miraculous in the gospels, declaring them to be later insertions by Christians who wanted to make Jesus into more than He really was. That’s why he omitted miracles—even Jesus’ resurrection— in his version of the gospels. There’s just no getting around those facts. They are well established by solid research, and as a Christian, I have to accept their validity.

I certainly don’t mean to speak ill of Barton. I can sympathize with his desire to highlight the role of Christian faith in our Founding. But we do the Christian faith a disservice when we go beyond what the evidence reveals, thereby undermining whatever good we may do otherwise.

Are there historians who denigrate Christianity’s influence in our formative years? Absolutely. Some will ignore vital evidence that points to that influence. Yet the antidote is not to commit the same error on the other side. While I don’t think a non-professional historian like Barton should be dismissed simply because he hasn’t jumped through all the hoops to earn a doctorate, nevertheless, some of those hoops are valuable. I’m glad I had to learn research methods and read widely on the various eras of American history. That training, in itself, is not secular; it all depends on how it is used.

I’ve taught American history now for more than twenty years. When I teach my introductory course that focuses on America from its colonial beginnings to the aftereffects of the Civil War, I begin by showing students that different schools of historical interpretation exist. I take them through a school of thought that believes all the good of America’s Founding came from the Enlightenment’s embrace of human reason. Historians from that school summarily dismiss the Pilgrims as a group hardly worth mentioning and portray the Puritans as harmful for their autocratic ways and doctrinal dogmas.

After that, I tell them about those who are so focused on the existence of slavery during this era that they assume the Founders are all hypocrites who offer us nothing valuable as a study. At the opposite extreme, I say, are those who view the Founding as a Golden Era, almost a utopia, where all things were Christian. I then let them know I have issues with all three of those schools of interpretation.

Finally, I present where I’m coming from as I look at American history, particularly its Founding Fathers. I believe it’s important to inform students where a professor stands on major interpretational issues. No one learns in a vacuum. I tell them I see the Founding era as one based on Biblical principles. This means the consensus of the society at that time was Christian, and human laws were based on a Biblical concept that God’s law was supreme and eternal, and that societal laws had to be in accordance with God’s law. Not everything was perfect and/or Christian; neither were all the Founders. Yet there was a general agreement that society functioned best when Biblical values were incorporated into it.

Some Christian historians don’t agree with me. They don’t see the influence of the faith as readily as I do. That’s their prerogative. Yet I must be sure that my arguments for my views are as historically sound as possible. I cannot try to prove that which is demonstrably untrue. I’m afraid David Barton fell into that error this time. I sincerely hope, for his sake and for the sake of accuracy in Christian historiography, that he will reconsider what he is attempting to prove. I want nothing but the best for him personally; that starts with acknowledging he has misstated the historical evidence in this case.

Meanwhile, I genuinely hope that my fellow historians will be just as eager to hold their more secular colleagues accountable for any inaccuracies they espouse. The critique needs to apply equally.

Death of a Vision? Or a Rebirth?

About seven years ago, a vision took shape in my heart and mind. Yesterday that vision may have died, but I am hopeful that it’s merely a prelude to a resurrection. Let me explain. I’ll start first with the basic facts, then go on to what I think the Lord may be teaching me through this episode.

I’ve always admired Ronald Reagan: his character, his principles, and how he attempted to convert them into action. I’ve equally admired Whittaker Chambers, a man less well known than Reagan, but one who was instrumental in sending a warning to Western Civilization that it must return to faith in God or all will be lost. Reagan was the quintessential optimist; he believed freedom was the wave of the future. Conversely, Chambers was the epitome of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, who held out hope but whose message was primarily one of judgment.

Both men are considered cornerstones of modern American conservatism. Yet even though they were part of the same movement, their perspectives on the ultimate success of a West grounded in a Biblical worldview differed significantly. My goal was to examine the roots of Reagan’s optimism and Chambers’s pessimism, show how those diametrically opposite temperaments manifested themselves during their lives, and then evaluate, to the extent it is possible, which viewpoint is more accurate with respect to the future of freedom.

For seven years, off and on while teaching fulltime, moving from Virginia to Florida, and blogging daily, I slowly made headway on the book. My search for a publisher was difficult until last November when an academic press gave me a contract. It wasn’t until after I signed that contract that I fully understood some of the ramifications: I would have to pay for the typesetting and for any permission fees for the use of quotes from other sources. I also didn’t realize that I was not guaranteed a paperback version of the book. It was slated to come out in hardback only, and would be turned into a paperback if it sold well enough, which would be difficult because the price tag was going to be over $60. How many people are currently willing to pay that much for a book?

Nevertheless, I moved forward with all that was necessary to submit the manuscript, simultaneously making the case for a paperback version. Things seemed to be going in that direction, and one scholar who reviewed the book for the publisher—a man who is a Reagan expert and has written a number of Reagan books—was so delighted with my manuscript that he even wrote a wonderful foreword for it.

I was also getting all the permissions together, and pretty successful at getting those fees down to a reasonable level. One source, though, that had rights to two of the books I quoted from extensively, required a fee that was far above all others, and one that I just couldn’t pay. It would have been fiscal suicide for me to have done so. Even communication with the publisher didn’t change that source’s opinion on how high the fee had to be.

Therefore, my publisher and I came to a mutual agreement yesterday to dissolve the contract. The book is dead.

But is it, really?

I admit my first reaction a week ago to the fee demand was one of anger, which then turned to discouragement. All I could think about was seven years of labor wasted. Slowly, though, as I meditated on what God would want me to think and to do, I began to see things from a different angle. Perhaps this was His way of getting me out of a bad situation; maybe another door will now open, one that won’t be so restrictive.

He reminded me of the many times in my life when I came to a point of near-despair over some turn of events. One in particular always comes to mind. Eighteen years ago, I was a candidate for a teaching position at an evangelical college on the West Coast. I recall how my office would have faced the rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean; I was sure this was God’s call for me. When I didn’t get the position, I was devastated. Anger and resentment burned within me over what I considered to be a bad decision by that college. Yet a couple of months later, out of the blue and totally unanticipated, I was contacted by a university where I had sought to teach earlier. Within a matter of days, I had that position, and it was one that was truly fulfilling for a number of years. I learned a valuable lesson: God is always at work even when you don’t see the evidence at first; trust Him and He will guide your steps.

There may be another lesson He is teaching me through this current mini-crisis. It’s possible I was too focused on academic credentials as I sought to get this book published. Perhaps I wanted to impress others a bit too much, and pride was taking hold of my heart. The Lord reminded me that humility is the way to please Him. If I never publish another book, that’s okay, as long as I am doing what He has called me to do—teach this generation His ways through history.

I am at peace with the state of my manuscript. I believe I’ve written something that is worthwhile, and I will see if another publisher is willing to take it on. I don’t know if that publisher exists, but if God wants it to be published, it shall be. Meanwhile, I will continue to do my best with the tasks He has given me already.

I just finished reading the book of Ecclesiastes again. The theme throughout that book is the futility of any work that is done purely in one’s own strength or for one’s own purposes. The last chapter offers the sort of wisdom we all need, but especially someone in my field:

But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

I take that admonition to heart.

Educating a New Generation

The Fourth of July used to be one of the premier American holidays. People celebrated it because they understood the principles behind the resistance to taxation without representation and the potential for government overreach. Those were lessons we used to know. Things have changed.

But if you were to take a survey of our current knowledge of America’s founding and the principles upon which it was based, you might get a variety of responses, few of them heartening:

If some of our Founding Fathers could appear to us now to explain the those principles, I wonder how we would receive their wisdom?

And if anyone should ask why we have degenerated to this level, I would offer this as one of the reasons:

Education has been stripped of the Biblical, eternal values; they’ve been replaced by a new set of values that goes under the guise of teaching children how to think, not what to think. But if you look carefully at what is being taught, you will realize there is no such thing as value-free education. Values are always being taught; the question is which values.

Along with the expulsion of Biblical principles from our education, we also don’t expect too much of our students. We wouldn’t want to damage their self-esteem by giving them failing grades. I can speak from experience that an unhealthy percentage of college students are shocked when they don’t get an A. The problem must be the professor; he expects too much.

This dumbing-down has affected our entire society. A recent study of how congressmen speak, for instance, is most revealing:

Yes, quality education still exists, but you have to know where to find it. In the meantime, I’m going to do all I can to educate this new generation in the basic Biblical principles that undergird all knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. We need a new declaration of independence from the likes of Jersey Shore, Bill Maher, and Jon Stewart.

Biblical Thinking about Government

I haven’t taken the opportunity lately to talk about my books that are available to those of you who might be interested. Let me rectify that over the next few days.

For those who have an active interest in what the Bible has to say about government, you can check out If the Foundations Are Destroyed: Biblical Principles and Civil Government. In it, I expound on basic Biblical principles such as individuality, self-government, and property, among others. I even have a chapter devoted to investigating which form of government seems most in concert with Biblical concepts. Each chapter begins with an explanation of a principle as found in Scripture, then makes application to government as we look at historical examples.

This book is intended for a general audience; my initial goal was to help Christians understand why government should be a concern for those who want to be genuine disciples of Jesus Christ. I also have used it, though, in some of my university courses as a primer for students who need to be grounded in Biblical thinking.

You can get it either at Amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com. If you sense a lack in your understanding of this important area of Biblical thinking, this is the book you need.

The Moral Majority?

My main reason for writing this blog—its only real purpose—is to bring the Christian message to the forefront as we contemplate the state of our culture and the society in general. Within me resides a hope, which I trust comes from the Giver of All Hope, that what I write can aid, in whatever small way, in restoring a Biblical pattern of thinking that will, in turn, strengthen the foundations upon which our society is built.

I believe there are two chief impediments that are making it difficult to make progress. The first is a misperception that guides some of us hoping for societal restoration; the second is a profound personal failing on the part of those who claim the name of Christ.

What is that misperception? We seem to think that there is a silent majority out there just waiting for the re-emergence of Christian culture. What we fail to understand is that we are living in a post-Christian nation. Whereas, in decades past, most Americans would have subscribed to some type of Christian morality, we are now a nation bitterly divided over the nature of morality—or indeed whether such a thing as morality even exists. Jerry Falwell, as he attempted to get Christians involved in politics back in the early 1980s, started an organization he called The Moral Majority. It rested on the assumption that most Americans believed in Biblical morality.

That was the case at the Founding of the nation; even those who cannot be classified as Christian believers lived in a culture that expected people to adhere to the basic moral teachings of the Scriptures. The onset of evolutionary theory severely undercut that consensus, which eventually led to the holocaust of abortion, the drive for same-sex marriage, and a general philosophy of postmodernism, where each person constructs his own concept of morality. Polls seem to indicate that nearly two-thirds of Americans rarely gather in a church on Sundays.

Yet we continue to act as if what we promote is generally accepted by the society at large. No, it is not. Promotion of the homosexual lifestyle shows up in nearly every television program, in one way or another. It is just assumed by the media that couples live together and engage in sex routinely before marriage. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of evidence to bolster their assumption.

The myth of the moral majority must be shattered before we can make any real progress. We have to see reality for what it is first so we’ll know how to proceed.

The second problem, though, is deeper, and it’s the primary reason we don’t have the kind of influence we seek. It has to do with personal holiness. Now, I know that word—holiness—has become a turn-off. It reeks of past attempts to focus entirely on externalities: don’t wear makeup, don’t watch television, etc. Christians have been their own worst enemy by making holiness into a repellent idea.

True holiness, though, is beautiful. It simply means one’s love for God inspires our thoughts and actions. Holiness is an attitude of the heart that seeks to please God in all we do, and it’s a joyful thing. Yes, a heart for God will lead to changing our external actions, but not because we follow a list of rules. We change because we want our lives to honor the One who brought us out of darkness into His light; we change because it connects us to His heart; we change because it brings harmony and His love into the lives of others with whom we associate.

Christians who live holy lives are attractive; they draw others to them, thereby providing an opportunity to deliver the message God has placed on their hearts: personal salvation first; societal salvation as a result of the permeation of Biblical principles into the society.

My concern is this: too many people who claim the name of Christ don’t portray the Christ they claim to know. I’ve been a Christian now for many decades. I’ve seen true holiness in action; it does exist. Yet it is not the norm. I’ve taught at four Christian institutions of higher learning and have witnessed the sad spectacle of sin destroying that which is good. We don’t talk much about sin anymore; it’s an embarrassment to mention the word in our culture. If we mention it, we’re accused of being judgmental.

But I want to say something very direct: sin is killing us. I am saddened almost daily by “Christians” who don’t act much differently than the world around them, whose language is filled with the same crudeness that we say we deplore, whose attitudes show forth in gossip, slander, and revenge. Those who name the name of Christ have no problem with “shacking up,” accepting homosexuality, or allowing the government to become God. They are endorsing the very sins that are sending our nation into spiritual darkness. Is it any wonder we hardly make a dent in the culture?

I am grateful for those who stand for righteousness; they do make a difference. But far too many who say they want to make a difference are not different themselves. That will never work. What we need is this reminder from Scripture:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us. …

But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.

Those are not my words. They come from Another. My job today is simply to deliver them. Your responsibility, if you say you are a Christian, is to ponder them and act upon them.

Of Politics & Ivory Towers

You know, I really can’t stand politics. That may be surprising, considering how much I comment on the latest political happenings. What really interests me is a proper understanding of government, Biblically and philosophically. I like to explore the original intent of government as revealed in Scripture, and how it is meant to work. I prefer to focus on character as much as possible, and I seek to find those who display the type of character that is necessary for the government to function the way God intended. Some will say I’m too devoted to theory, and perhaps live in that oft-described “ivory tower” that academics tend to inhabit.

Actually, I don’t think those ivory towers exist; no one can escape the day-to-day realities. Nor should they. I fully realize the practice of politics rarely achieves those Biblical goals. We are inundated with winning strategies, false accusations against political foes, and all the seamy aspects of life that we would like to ignore, if possible. But we can’t. I get tired of it all, as I’m sure many of you do as well.

Yet because we live in this world, and because our lives are affected deeply by what transpires in the political realm, we have to stay vigilant. A Christian, rather than living in a dream world, grasps the truth of man’s sinfulness in a way that others cannot. A real Christian knows firsthand the consequences of sin; he or she has been pulled out of the pit. Gratitude for a second chance in life should be a constant inspiration.

Christians also know that government is not the solution to all of life’s problems. In fact, all too often, government has become the problem. I borrowed that from Ronald Reagan. He knew what he was talking about. Government is not an idol, and it needs to be taken down from its pedestal. Yet it is significant, and God expects us to labor for the best government possible. That’s why I have to continue to comment on the latest developments.

Today there will be three more primaries: Alabama, Mississippi, and Hawaii. Will they determine the future of the Republican party, or will the battles go on after today? One of the candidates, Newt Gingrich, is in a must-win situation, even if he denies it. If he fails to win any of these states, he should hang it up. Another one, Rick Santorum, is seeking to turn this into a two-man race once and for all. To do so, he’s going to have to win at least one of these states, preferably two. The third, Mitt Romney, has already declared that campaigning in a southern state is like being in an “away game.” He has to connect somehow with people who don’t form part of his circle. Can he do it?

May God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.