Making Our Witness: The Chambers Model

What startled many readers of Whittaker Chambers’s Witness when it first was published in 1952 (and became a bestseller) was its deeply spiritual tone, its message of returning to faith in God, not only for the sake of individual salvation but also for the hope of salvaging Western civilization.

Chambers had been a avowed atheist, an ideological stance influenced by his dysfunctional family upbringing, the nihilism communicated to him by his university education, and his commitment to changing the world through communism.

One of his most famous lines about religious belief prior to his conversion shows not only his attitude but his ability to convey that attitude in memorable phrases:

I associated God with ill-ventilated vestries and ill-ventilated minds.

That attitude crumbled when he finally faced the truth of the Christian faith. There is one passage in Witness that best describes what happened to him when the Spirit of God touched his life, and that passage is even more memorable than the one noted above:

What I had been fell from me like dirty rags. The rags that fell from me were not only Communism. What fell was the whole web of the materialist modern mind—the luminous shroud which it has spun about the spirit of man, paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of his soul for God, denying in the name of knowledge the reality of the soul and its birthright in that mystery on which mere knowledge falters and shatters at every step.

It was that touch from the hand of God that led Chambers to his decision to make his witness before the world—not just a testimony about what he knew of the workings of the communist underground and its designs to overthrow the American government—but a witness to the grace of God in men’s lives.

Yet it was that very witness that most intellectuals rejected. They didn’t understand how Chambers could embrace the “old” faith that so many of them now despised. This is why Chambers, near the end of Witness, wrote this:

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.

What’s interesting is that Chambers saw a clear demarcation between those intellectuals and the majority of the population:

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.

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

Why did Chambers believe that weakness could become strength, that corruption could be transformed into incorruption, that good could be squeezed out of evil, and that falsehoods could nevertheless lead men to see the truth?

He could believe all of that because it happened in his life. He responded to the Christian message, he acknowledged that he was individually responsible to God, and he took the necessary steps to assert that responsibility by proclaiming the witness God had given him through his own personal experience.

The message hasn’t changed. God hasn’t changed. All of us need to respond as Chambers did. We need to make our individual witnesses to the world. We are all individually responsible to God and need to take whatever steps are necessary to make our witness.

Higher Education’s Sad Spectacle

I’ve been following events on our nation’s campuses where higher learning is supposed to take place. From one perspective, one could say the faculty and students have performed a great service for making the nation laugh again, what with their “safe spaces” and tears over the last election.

However, my desire for higher learning to be appreciated makes the spectacle more a reason for sadness than laughter. Denying conservative speakers the right to be heard is a type of fascism, which is ironic because the deniers claim to be combating fascism. Their totalitarianism is fascistic; the speakers hold to limited government and the right for every position on the issues to be aired publicly.

The fascists are the student protesters; those who value liberty, decency, and civil discussion are the conservatives who are being shouted at and slandered.

I sit in a fairly “safe space” of my own since I teach on a Christian evangelical campus. I have yet to witness a riot on my campus, and people are allowed to speak without being shouted down. Each year, I bring a speaker for Constitution Day who extols the virtues of our form of government and the Christian basis for understanding government.

If you want to find where higher education is occurring, may I suggest a campus like mine? I invite all potential history majors to come and study under me and others who grasp the importance of Christian faith to education.

I have experienced other campus scenarios, however. Both my master’s and doctoral degrees were earned at typical secular universities. Some of what I received was excellent; some was biased. I learned to tell the difference.

For a few years, I even taught as an adjunct history professor at a large, well-known university in Virginia. I brought my Christian perspective into the classroom, along with my conservative political interpretation of American history. Course evaluations from my students were an affirmation that they believed I was a good professor.

Then I had a class in which one student, a radical feminist, complained to the department chair about my teaching. That led to a phone call from the chair (I never met her in person). She asked about how I teach and I told her. She seemed very civil and even noted that every professor teaches from his/her own perspective. I thought the conversation went very well.

I was never invited back.

The open mind is always closed at one end. That’s what Whittaker Chambers said about his mother when he asked her once about when God created the universe. She froze, he related, and in an icy voice, informed him that someone must have told him that, and that he was to keep an open mind. She then lectured him that the universe was created out of gases, not by God.

He learned a lot at that moment; that’s when he realized that those who proclaim to be so open are often the most close-minded.

That’s what we see at this moment on our campuses, and it’s a sad reality. Of course, I know this is not new. I was on a campus myself as a student during the Vietnam War. That era was ripe with protest, potential anarchy, and violence.

As has often been noted, the radicals of the 1960s-1970s are now teaching the current generation. The cycle continues. Back in my college days, the mantra was not to trust anyone over thirty. Only the younger generation really knew what to believe.

The more time passes, the less things change. That arrogance is still the cornerstone of radical protest today. They walk in blindness. The Christian mission on campuses is to shed light on that blindness and lead them into true Truth.

The Quest for Christian Unity

Christian unity. What does it mean? Is it even possible? What can we learn about it historically? Nothing is so potentially wonderful yet so often downright disturbing as the quest for this elusive goal.

Even back in New Testament times, we don’t see complete unity. The apostle Paul had some choice words for the Corinthian church as it broke into factions, each of which claimed to be following the true spiritual guide. He even chastised the faction that said it was the real one following Christ.

Yet Paul and the other New Testament writers, and Jesus in the Gospels, spoke often of the unity that should exist among those who have been brought out of the darkness of sin and into His marvelous light.

What’s wrong with us?

Martin Luther broke with the Catholic Church, thereby starting the Protestant Reformation. He pointed to how the church had introduced man-made practices and how, in his opinion, it had altered the message of salvation. Thus began a century and a half of battle, both theological and on literal battlefields, between Catholic and Protestant, both claiming to have the correct interpretation of Scripture.

Among the Protestants, unity was often strained or broken completely. Luther couldn’t agree with Zwingli on the nature of Communion/The Lord’s Supper/The Eucharist (take your pick of terminology) and their fellowship was severed.

Groups like the Anabaptists were persecuted by both Catholics and other Protestants simply because they believed baptism should wait until the person understood the Gospel and made a decision to be a Christian. Their insistence that the only true baptism was by immersion outraged those who should have been their Christian brothers; many Anabaptists were executed for that belief.

Anglicans and Puritans fought a civil war in England in the 1640s. Both were Protestant but with different emphases in belief. Most early Americans were Protestant and maintained grave suspicions of the intent of Catholic immigrants. The first Catholic presidential candidate didn’t appear until 1928; the first and only Catholic elected president occurred in 1960.

In my own experience during my lifetime, I’ve witnessed some Christian denominations consign Pentecostal/Charismatic believers to a special region of hell because they believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit were not discontinued after the apostles died.

What’s wrong with us?

Here’s the truth: heaven is going to be populated with vast numbers of individuals who once called themselves Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist, Methodist, Nazarene, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, non-denominational, etc., etc., etc.

We are so quick to declare someone else heretical just because of a difference of belief over issues like baptism, Communion, gifts of the Spirit, and countless other secondary matters.

Here’s another truth: all who have come to the recognition of their sinful state, who have grieved over their sin, and have come to the Cross of Christ seeking forgiveness have found that forgiveness and newness of life. They have been washed clean and are part of the family of God.

The apostle Paul stated it this way:

Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers not swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

And that is what some of you were.

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Denominational ties ultimately mean nothing. I will never be a Catholic because I disagree with some Catholic teachings. Yet I acknowledge many Catholic brothers and sisters with whom I will spend eternity. I will never be of the Reformed persuasion because I disagree with some of the doctrines promulgated under that designation. Yet I know many of that persuasion who are genuine Christians with whom I will stand in the presence of God and rejoice forever.

Jesus, in His prayer before going to the Cross, said this:

My prayer is not for them alone [His disciples]. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in Me and I am in You.

May they also be in us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and You in Me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.

Unity isn’t just for the Christians’ sake alone. It’s through that unity that the rest of the world will see the truth. We are called to be one in Christ. May His prayer be answered in our day.

Chambers, McCarthy, & the Real Thing

Whittaker Chambers brought credibility to the concerns Americans had after WWII that communism in general, and the Soviet Union in particular, were infiltrating American society. Chambers, as many regular readers of this blog know, had worked as a communist in the underground in the 1930s. He had labored to help the USSR place people in positions of authority in the American government, and he had served as a liaison with the USSR, sending US government secrets to that nation.

So when Chambers came forth with his witness to what he knew, he was believed ultimately, and Alger Hiss, one of the highest-placed communist agents in the government, went to prison for perjury.

Then along came Sen. Joe McCarthy with his anti-communist crusade. McCarthy had no inside knowledge. My own research into his activities has convinced me he hardly knew what he was doing, and he probably was more interested in personal political advancement than anything else.

As McCarthy rose in prominence, Chambers’s support of his career was sporadic and cautious, perhaps welcoming at first, since he was enlisted on the same side, but as time wore on, Chambers disassociated himself from what McCarthy became.

In early 1954, in a letter to his friend Ralph de Toledano, Chambers summarized McCarthy’s approach in this way: “Senator McCarthy’s notion of tactics is to break the rules, saturate the enemy with poison gas, and then charge through the contaminated area, shouting Comanche war cries.”

In letters to William F. Buckley, founder of National Review and the leader of the modern conservative movement, Chambers shared even more of his concerns. He thought McCarthy could easily become a national bore:

With time, the repeated dull thud of the low blow may prove to be the real factor in his undoing. Not necessarily because the blow is low, or because he lacks heart and purpose, but because he lacks variety, and, in the end, simply puts the audience to sleep. …

… I said long since that the crucial question about Senator McCarthy was not whether his aims are ultimately good or bad, but whether his intelligence is equal to his energy.

“One way whereby I can most easily help Communism is to associate myself publicly with Senator McCarthy,” he wrote to Buckley. It would lead to a confusion with the Hiss Case and roll it all “into a snarl with which to baffle, bedevil and divide opinion.” He had told McCarthy that even though they “were fighting in the same war,” they were engaged “in wholly different battles” and that they “should not wage war together.”

Chambers concluded, “I do not think that the Senator really grasps this necessity. For it is more and more my reluctant opinion that he is a tactician, rather than a strategist; that he continually, by reflex rather than calculation, sacrifices the long view for the short pull.”

McCarthy was a potential problem for the anticommunist movement, Chambers believed. Everyone was trying hard to overlook his errors and give the benefit of the doubt, but his judgment was increasingly suspect, and his tendency to go for the sensational over the substantive might lead them all into trouble.

“In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that we live in terror that Senator McCarthy will one day make some irreparable blunder which will play directly into the hands of our common enemy and discredit the whole anti-Communist effort for a long while to come.”

Consider those final words. Even when someone is on the same side, whether we are talking about the Christian faith or conservative politics, there is the danger of undermining the whole effort due to foolishness, lack of genuineness, or a combination of the two.

Great truths and great causes need spokespeople who are committed to those truths and causes and who know how to communicate them to others. Whenever we follow a false teacher (in the faith) or a false politician who is primarily out for himself and doesn’t really believe what he says, we may see everything we stand for being diminished through their falseness.

Always hold out for the real thing—the people of solid character who can be trusted and who believe in their cause with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Lewis: Sending Words “Into the Abyss”

When I began my C. S. Lewis journey toward writing my book on his influence on Americans, I determined to re-read everything by him that I’d read before and attempt to delve into the rest of his works that I’d never read.

I’m still not done with that latter part, but I’m making progress. I recently bought a collection of Lewis essays that I had not previously read, although I’d taken notice of some of them through other people’s commentaries. This short collection, put together into a volume called On Stories and Other Essays on Literature, includes some well-known pieces on Lewis’s approach to writing to children and how Narnia came into being.

There are other essays in the collection that display the typical Lewis insight. One, “The Death of Words,” has a passage that I thought was particularly relevant to our age. The essay takes umbrage at how some words have lost their meanings over time, transformed into something else entirely, thereby making the words rather useless.

One of those “lost” words hit home for me as I contemplate what has become of our society. Here’s Lewis:

To save any word from the eulogistic and dyslogistic abyss is a task worth the efforts of all who love the English language. And I can think of one word—the word Christian—which is at this moment on the brink.

To be a Christian in the early church was not a matter of formality but a transformation of life through repentance, forgiveness, and holiness. Lewis sadly notes how that has altered:

When politicians talk of “Christian moral standards” they are not always thinking of anything which distinguishes Christian morality from Confucian or Stoic or Benthamite morality. One often feels it is merely one literary variant among the “adorning epithets” which, in our political style, the expression “moral standards” is felt to require; civilised (another ruined word) or modern or democratic or enlightened would have done just as well.

But it will really be a great nuisance if the word Christian becomes simply a synonym for good. For historians, if no one else, will still sometimes need the word in its proper sense, and what will they do? That is always the trouble about allowing words to slip into the abyss.

One could argue that the official connection between church and state in Europe caused this confusion. To be born in England, for example, meant that you were born into the Church of England and therefore, by the miracle of birth alone, you were automatically a Christian, thereby watering down the meaning completely.

But what of America where there is no official church? I just saw a survey that purports to show that 90% of the members of our newly seated Congress claim to be Christians? Really? What a sad indication of how little that word means today.

Lewis then provides this further insight:

It is important to notice that the danger to the word Christian comes not from its open enemies, but from its friends. It was not egalitarians, it was officious admirers of gentility who killed the word gentleman.

The other day I had occasion to say that certain people were not Christians; a critic asked how I dared say so, being unable (as of course I am) to read their hearts.

I had used the word to mean “persons who profess belief in the specific doctrines of Christianity”; my critic wanted me to use it in what he would (rightly) call “a far deeper sense”—a sense so deep that no human observer can tell to whom it applies.

Turn Christian into a word so vague and pliable that it can apply to almost anyone and the word has lost its meaning. It has gone, as Lewis so artfully put it, into the abyss.

Lewis: Reflections on a Post-Christian Culture

All of those letters C. S. Lewis wrote to innumerable people throughout his lifetime are a treasure trove. Some show the mark of his published works while others emphasize the personal side of the man.

cover-on-ws-pageWhen I researched my book on Lewis (caution: unashamed plug coming up), I read every letter in the collection that he wrote to Americans. It was a highlight of my sabbatical year when I could devote hours each day reading them and making notes for use in the book. Those letters were crucial to my theme: how did Lewis connect with Americans and what impact did he make on them (both in his lifetime and now).

But I read only the letters to Americans. The treasure trove of other letters still awaits me when I have the time to delve into them again. For instance, one of Lewis’s regular correspondents was Don Giovanni Calabria. Excerpts I’ve seen from those letters seem most interesting.

Here’s a sample from a 1953 letter in which Lewis ponders the loss of Christian faith in Europe:

Regarding the moral condition of our times (since you bid me prattle on) I think this. Older people, as we both are, are always “praisers of times past.” They always think the world is worse than it was in their young days. Therefore we ought to take care lest we go wrong.

But, with this proviso, certainly I feel that very grave dangers hang over us. This results from the apostasy of the great part of Europe from the Christian faith. Hence a worse state than the one we were in before we received the Faith.

For no one returns from Christianity to the same state he was in before Christianity but into a worse state: the difference between a pagan and an apostate is the difference between an unmarried woman and an adulteress. For faith perfects nature but faith lost corrupts nature.

Notice how Lewis seeks to avoid the age-old complaint of everyone who has passed beyond middle age: everything is so much worse now than before. Yet he does have to acknowledge that when Christian faith is lost to a generation, there is truth to that complaint.

c-s-lewis-13What Lewis wrote in 1953 may perhaps be applied to what we see in our day. There is a kind of nostalgia in many for a time that seemed to be more outwardly accepting of Christian faith. Those of use who grew up in the 1950s-1960s didn’t witness all-out attacks on the faith in the same degree as we do now.

Yet Lewis goes on in that letter to offer this hope:

But God, who is the God of mercies, even now has not altogether cast off the human race. In younger people, although we may see much cruelty and lust, yet at the same time do we not see very many sparks of virtues which perhaps our own generation lacked?

How much courage, how much concern for the poor do we see! We must not despair. And (among us) a not inconsiderable number are now returning to the Faith.

One thing a frontal attack on the faith can do is to re-energize those who have fallen into a spiritual stupor. Times of crisis and denigration of Christianity may reawaken those sparks necessary to once again become a force in the culture.

May Lewis’s perception of what he saw in his day come to fruition in ours. I, for one, refuse to despair.

The Election: Positives & Negatives

We avoided one national disaster last night, but we may have created another one. Yes, I know that will sound like sour grapes to some of you, but while I am glad for one result, please forgive me for not being elated with the other. Let me explain.

The Positives

Positive #1

clintonsThe long national nightmare known as the Clintons may now have ended for good. No one who puts Biblical principles and constitutional government at the foundation of life in America can be unhappy about that.

Having endured eight years of Bill, another eight with Hillary at the helm would have been practically unendurable. Everything I hold dear would have been attacked from the highest office in the land, so seeing her come crashing down is extremely gratifying.

The only thing that would make this picture complete is to now see an indictment for all she has done to undermine national security. If that should ever appear imminent, though, as long as Barack Obama is in office, she will probably receive a preemptive pardon. You see, he would be implicated as well.

So, yes, I am relieved that we can now dismiss that artificial family from national politics.

Positive #2

obama-arrogant-lookThe result was a repudiation of the Obama years. Americans fed up with his goal of “transforming” the nation into his own image said a loud “stop!”

The damage of the last eight years will not be undone easily. The culture continues to decline overall. Only a fresh infusion of a vibrant Christian witness can make the difference and reverse some of what has transpired. It remains to be seen if the Christian community any longer has that vibrancy or whether it has sold out to politics.

Positive #3

senate-chamberRepublicans maintained control of both houses of Congress. While this doesn’t guarantee that Obamacare is doomed or that the Supreme Court will now be in the hands of constitutionalists, it at least offers a reprieve from progressive activism—if they know how to use their majority. That’s always the big question.

Having a numerical majority is one thing; using it wisely is another entirely. The track record is decidedly mixed. The one excuse they won’t have anymore is that they don’t have the White House.

Positive #4

Republicans continued to dominate in the state-level elections. From what I’ve learned thus far, they increased their control in a number of states. This, and the control of Congress, was what I was hoping for. We still have a federal system, so not everything is supposed to emanate from Washington, DC. Republican control in a majority of the states offers hope.

The Negatives

Negative #1

Donald Trump Addresses GOP Lincoln Day Event In MichiganDonald Trump is now the president-elect. Winning the election last night doesn’t change who he is. I voted third-party and don’t repent of that vote. I continue to believe that he is unfit for the office that he now will occupy.

My concerns won’t go away. He is the supreme egotist who can’t handle any perceived insult. Will he now conduct a purge of anyone who wasn’t solidly in his camp?

He is blatantly immoral. Christians who think he has changed are going to be disappointed. All this talk about his being a “baby Christian” who only needs to grow in the faith is naive. In order to grow in the faith, one must have the faith first. There is no indication that he does.

constitutional-marriageAs I’ve said countless times, don’t depend on him to advance any agenda that puts pro-life or traditional marriage as a priority. He won’t fight for Supreme Court nominees of that ilk and he already has a propensity for letting everyone decide what they want to do with sex/gender issues.

Put not your trust in his promises.

His knowledge of issues is narrow and superficial. We need to hope that those who surround him have a better grasp of reality than he does.

Trump’s vision (such as it is) of America is not at all grounded in an understanding of constitutional limitations on the executive power. Will he decide to use his own executive orders to accomplish what he wants?

He is no conservative. He has no real understanding of the intellectual basis of conservatism and why it is essential for how governing should proceed.

I still consider him to be borderline emotionally unstable; who knows how that will manifest itself in his administration? Anyone who promotes crazy conspiracy theories, as he has done countless times, is not to be trusted.

Negative #2

Many who voted for Trump did so out of anger and frustration. It’s interesting that many who voted for him don’t really like him. Exit polls reveal that. They just couldn’t stand the prospect of a Hillary presidency. He enters the presidency as one of the most unliked and/or despised winners in American history.

While there is a proper place for anger and frustration, neither makes for a positive vision of the future. The national mood is dark, the culture is still on a downward spiral, and Donald Trump is not the solution.

Negative #3

christians-politicsMany sincere Christians have so thrown their lot in with Trump that it will be hard to disentangle themselves from him when he goes off the reservation. I continue to be deeply concerned that the Christian witness has suffered and will suffer more by our connection with him. Only time will tell how great that damage may be.

Too many Christians have followed the siren song of self-appointed prophets who have declared Trump to be God’s anointed. Be careful. While I do believe God can use the Nebuchadnezzars of this world for His purposes, I’m not going to rush into some silly confidence that Trump’s election is God-ordained.

People made this choice, not God. He may use the choice, and I pray He will, but don’t saddle Him with whatever Trump may do; that will only stain God’s reputation in the eyes of an unbelieving world when he disappoints—as surely he will.

So where does that leave me? Relieved that Hillary Clinton won’t be the president. Concerned that Donald Trump will be. We must remain vigilant and not go off into some fantasyland about how wonderful things will be from now on.

The battle is ongoing.