Scott Walker: Christian Public Servant

Scott WalkerScott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, has chalked up an amazing record. He first entered the national news cycle when he stood firm against unreasonable union demands in his state and won. Then he had to face a recall election. He won again. Wisconsin has prospered under his administration, with an unemployment level plunging below the national average, state coffers with a surplus, and tax money being returned to the citizens of the state. Further, he has been a staunch defender of life, signing bills restricting abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood.

In almost every way, Walker has been an outstanding governor, and a model for Republican public servants throughout the nation. His success also has made him a target of hatred on the extreme Left (a term becoming more redundant with each passing day). Walker, a dedicated Christian, raised the ire of the Freedom From Religion Foundation the other day by offering this short tweet:

Scott Walker Tweet

That Scripture simply affirms what Christians always have believed: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Pretty offensive, right? That foundation has demanded Walker remove the tweet from his account. Here’s part of the official response from the Freedom From Religion atheist leaders:

To say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” seems more like a threat—or the utterance of a theocratic dictator—than a duly elected civil servant.

A theocratic dictator? Simply for thanking God for the strength to carry out his duties? Is this really where we are now as a nation? We’re seeing more and more the public manifestation of anger toward those who hold to Biblical beliefs, and there is no limit to how anything Christians say can be willfully twisted into something “hateful” or threatening. Let’s be clear: it’s not the Christians who are threatening anyone (except with the truth about their sinfulness). The threats are pretty much one-sided nowadays against those who remain firm in the faith.

To Walker’s credit, he refuses to take down the tweet. May there be more public servants who will follow his example.

John Jay: Christian Statesman

John Jay 1How about a little wisdom from one of America’s Founders today? Most people are not too familiar with John Jay, but he was central to almost every major event of the Founding. Jay served in the Continental Congress, was one of the principal leaders in the debates leading to Independence, was elected president of Congress at one point, and was appointed one of the peace commissioners who negotiated the end of the American Revolution.

Afterwards, he, along with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, authored some of the Federalist Papers, which today are still the best source for knowing how the Founders understood the nation’s new Constitution. Then, after Washington was inaugurated, he was chosen to be the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Later, Jay resigned from that position because he was elected governor of New York. As governor, he saw the fulfillment of one of his lifelong goals: he signed a law leading to the eventual abolition of slavery in that state.

When Jay finally retired from public service, he became president of the American Bible Society. His Christian faith was the bedrock of his life. This is seen in a number of his writings. For instance, in a letter to Rev. Jedidiah Morse, he opined,

Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.

Notice he considered America to be founded as a Christian nation—not artificially by legislative fiat, but as a matter of choice. The only way a nation can be truly Christian is if the people voluntarily consider Christianity to be the framework for their thinking, their culture, and their laws.

In that same letter to Morse, he commented on the Bible and how it fits into history:

It is to be regretted, but so I believe the fact to be, that except the Bible there is not a true history in the world. Whatever may be the virtue, discernment, and industry of the writers, I am persuaded that truth and error (though in different degrees) will imperceptibly become and remain mixed and blended until they shall be separated forever by the great and last refining fire.

As a historian, I can vouch for that. All histories are a mixture of truth and error, no matter how conscientious we may be. God’s Word, though, can be relied on as absolute truth.

Finally, here is Jay’s perception of the validity of Christianity:

I have long been of opinion that the evidence of the truth of Christianity requires only to be carefully examined to produce conviction in candid minds.

In other words, a clearheaded examination of the claims of the Christian faith should lead anyone with an open heart to the conclusion that it, and only it, is the true explanation of the condition of mankind, the nature of God, and the way to salvation.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a majority of our elected leaders had the same views and character as John Jay? Well, that’s up to us. As Jay said, it is the duty, the privilege, and the interest of the voters to select Christians for their leaders. If we don’t have those kinds of leaders, the fault lies with us.

Lewis: Redefining Happiness & Comfort

C. S. Lewis 3People are always striving to be happy. The problem is the definition of the term. It’s always self-centered and focused on how we feel. As a result, we drift toward the quick and easy, anything that makes us “feel” good. In just two sentences, C. S. Lewis lays bare the barrenness of that approach:

Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness? While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best.

The key there is the phrase “while it lasts.” Scripture tells us that sin gives pleasure for a short time, but it ultimately leads to emptiness. The search for the “comfortable” is illusory; what we need is the truth that will challenge us and teach us the real source of happiness, in the process redefining the term. Lewis goes on to say,

As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.

That’s because comfort and happiness, as understood by the unrenewed mind, are illusions, pale shadows of what we find in a relationship with God once we have put away our sin and received new eyes. There will be happiness, there will be comfort, far beyond anything we imagine while bound in sin. But it won’t be based on selfishness. We’ll finally comprehend that what the Lord offers us is the real definition of those terms.

Discovering Nelson Mandela

I want to make a few statements right up front today before delving into my topic. First, my intent in this post is not to be arbitrarily contrary or mean-spirited; I always want to write with grace toward a subject whenever possible. Second, as a Christian, I absolutely oppose any policy that divides people by race or that promotes racial superiority. Third, I rejoice whenever a regime built on racial inequality is dismantled.

Why did I think it necessary to make those statements at the start? Well, it’s because I’m not going to be jumping on the world’s bandwagon today in undiluted praise for the life of Nelson Mandela.

Nelson MandelaI understand the horrible circumstances into which Mandela was born in South Africa. Further, I “get it” that someone in those circumstances would find it easy to attach himself to a movement that sought to wreck the system that created apartheid. I also know, especially after my in-depth study of people like Whittaker Chambers, how communism would seem to be the salvation of people trapped in that system. However, I also know the false hope it offers and how it leads its followers into unspeakable atrocities no better than the oppression it wants to overthrow.

Nelson Mandela, in his youth, committed himself to the communist philosophy, but it wasn’t just an intellectual exercise. He actively carried out and/or approved brutal murders in the name of liberation. The African National Congress (ANC) was an effective tool of the Soviet Union to spread the communist vision into South Africa. Keep in mind that, in the name of communism, untold millions have been slaughtered. It has been a pure evil in this world.

Mandela was imprisoned for twenty-seven years for those activities, and no matter how wrong the apartheid policies were, what he sought to replace them with was no better. As I understand it, he was offered release from prison many times if he would only renounce his terrorist actions; he refused.

I’ve tried to read as much about him in the past few days as I could, seeking to find some glimmer of light that would make me feel comfortable with his later life and accomplishments. I’ve particularly been drawn to Christian writers who have tried to provide a Biblical perspective on the man. Yet even those whom I respect seem to fall into line with the near-hero-worship attitude. One even tried to equate Mandela’s actions with George Washington, saying that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

It’s become fashionable to use Washington and the other Founders of America as examples of terrorists from the British point of view. As an American historian, I can say unconditionally that comparison is askew. There were no mass murders in the American Revolution; the colonists had been self-governing for decades, only to see that taken away; the fighting broke out as a matter of self-defense; there were rules of warfare acknowledged on both sides that kept atrocities to a minimum; the goal was simply the reestablishment of self-government; the inspiration for the majority was Christian faith.

In all my reading about Mandela, I sought to discover if he really changed and became a Christian. The writers all pointed to his lack of retribution toward others when he eventually was elected to lead the government. I certainly applaud that. They talk about his sweet temperament and lack of resentment after being released from prison. Those are usually good indicators of a heart change. I hope Mandela found peace with God through Christ, since that is the only way for peace with God to be achieved.

Yet none of those writers, some of whom strove mightily to claim he was a Christian, could point to any definitive salvation experience or any statement directly from him that revealed his Christian faith. It was all rather vague: if he could lay aside revenge, he must have become a Christian. That’s not enough for me.

Mandela never renounced his admiration for people like Fidel Castro. He never changed his mind about the United States being the most oppressive nation in the world. And as president of South Africa, I learned he signed into law the most permissive abortion policy the world has ever seen. Would a genuine Christian do that?

Mandela Abortions

My reading also uncovered the current state of South Africa post-Mandela: poverty still abounds; murder and rape are at an all-time high, statistics showing that country leading the world in those crimes. And then there’s the abortion policy already mentioned. Is this the utopia we’re supposed to be grateful for? Is this some kind of great improvement on the past?

So please forgive me if I’m not particularly thrilled to commemorate the life and accomplishments of Nelson Mandela. I want to be open to further information about him that would put him in a better light, but what I’ve learned thus far has not convinced me that he is—as one commentator declared—the greatest man in history.

Remembering—and Rereading—C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis 5Fifty years ago yesterday, C. S. Lewis, just one week shy of his 65th birthday, slipped into eternity. At the ripe young age of twelve, I was unaware of his death. The whole world was watching the unfolding events surrounding the JFK assassination, so the passing of a university professor whose writings had awakened a generation to the vibrancy of Christianity, went virtually unnoticed.

Lewis himself felt his influence had waned in his later years. Most observers agreed, and they predicted his works would slip into obscurity with him. Both Lewis and those cultural observers were wrong.

I never read any of Lewis’s works until after I was in college. If I remember correctly, the first time I heard him mentioned was in one of my classes, when I inadvertently overheard a conversation between a couple of students sitting in front of me. One girl seemed quite taken with a book of Lewis’s—either The Screwtape Letters or That Hideous Strength [my memory on that point is fuzzy]—and it piqued my interest. Over the next several years, he became one of my favorite writers, as my own faith grew. He obviously has remained so, since I use Saturdays in this daily commentary to draw attention to some of his most poignant quotes and valuable insights.

Lewis is difficult to classify; he was a Christian writer, to be sure, but he was far more. His first writings were anything but Christian, as he emerged from his early education and his WWI experience a convinced atheist. The transformation to orthodox Christianity was not easy, as he struggled with many intellectual objections. Yet with the help of friends like J. R. R. Tolkien—later famous as author of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings—he found his way “home.”

He began his academic tenure at Oxford as a philosopher and an aspiring poet. His focus later shifted to English literature, where he earned praise as an original thinker and critic. He used all of that background and training as the basis for his specifically Christian writings. His first foray into that realm was philosophical and apologetic. His very first book as a Christian was titled The Pilgrim’s Regress, a reformulated Pilgrim’s Progress that tackled the many philosophical traps modern man falls into.

C. S. Lewis on TimeFrom there, he ventured into science fiction, with the “Ransom Trilogy”: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. Even before completing that series, he gave a series of radio broadcasts on the BBC during WWII that catapulted him into national prominence. Those talks later were edited and bound together as the bestseller Mere Christianity. Simultaneously, his fanciful side more fully emerged with the popular Screwtape Letters, consisting of supposed letters of advice from a senior devil to his junior, instructing him how to lead a man into hell. It has remained one of Lewis’s most admired works, not only for its imaginative approach but also for its practicality as we seek to live the Christian life and avoid the pitfalls Satan places in our path.

One of my personal favorites is a slim volume, The Great Divorce, which explores what it might be like if a busload of hell-dwellers had the opportunity to go to heaven for one day. How might they respond? I’ve never read a more insightful peek into the utter selfishness of man than what I find in this book. Try it; you might like it.

His The Abolition of Man is a magnificent treatise on the absurdity of moral relativism and nihilism. It’s been quite a while since I’ve read that one; I need to get back to it soon. That’s one way to know the value of an author. If you feel compelled to reread, you know you have found a treasure.

One of my favorite Lewis pieces is a sermon he gave called “The Weight of Glory.” His description of how common everyday people should be viewed instead as potential heavenly creatures or potential horrors one would meet only in a nightmare is striking. It makes you see everyone in a distinct, eternal light.

Lewis’s breadth of scope in his works is highlighted of course by The Chronicles of Narnia. They are ostensibly children’s books—and they are—but their appeal extends to adults who want to ensure their own children are immersed in them. The lessons within those books are for all ages, and although the writing style is superb for children, it doesn’t insult the intelligence of their elders. One comes away from those books, particularly, for me, The Last Battle, with a clearer understanding of the temporal nature of our current world and an anticipation for the arrival of the next one, which will be better by far.

I’ve hardly exhausted what could be said about Lewis’s works, both the ones noted above and others. His influence continues. His home nation of Great Britain has been slow to recognize his worth; America seems to have understood and appreciated him more over the decades. Oxford never fully grasped his genius, never promoted him, and many of his supposed colleagues despised him because of his popularity and his disdain for academic politics. Yesterday, though, he finally received his due, in part. He is now honored at Westminster Cathedral with a special tribute in its famed Poets Corner.

C. S. Lewis Memorial

If you haven’t delved into the writings of C. S. Lewis yet, I urge you to do so. If you’re an afficianado of his labors as I am, perhaps it’s time to reread something you haven’t read for some time. He was a man used by God during his life, and even more so since his death. Of course, he lives on still. Read The Last Battle and “The Weight of Glory” to help grasp that truth more clearly than ever.

Lewis: The Dusty vs. the Clean Mirror

Mere ChristianityGod does take the initiative to reach out to us, yet His impact on our lives depends on our willingness to reach back. C. S. Lewis touches on this in his Mere Christianity:

When you come to knowing God, the initiative lies on His side. If He does not show Himself, nothing you can do will enable you to find Him. And, in fact, He shows much more of Himself to some people than to others—not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as a clean one.

Our goal is to be as clean a mirror as possible. Let the Sonlight shine.

Lewis: Look Out! It’s Alive!

In the BeginningThere’s just no getting around the existence of God. The apostle Paul says people have to actively suppress the truth of His presence, and they do so to avoid the idea they are accountable for their actions. One of the psalms says a person has to be a fool to believe there is no God. C. S. Lewis has his own unique way of expressing these Biblical truths. In his book Miracles he declares,

God is basic Fact or Actuality, the source of all other facthood. At all costs therefore He must not be thought of as a featureless generality. If He exists at all, He is the most concrete thing there is, the most individual, “organised and minutely articulated.” He is unspeakable not by being indefinite but by being too definite for the unavoidable vagueness of language.

I like that. He goes further in the same book:

It is always shocking to meet life where we thought we were alone. “Look out!” we cry, “it’s alive.” And therefore this is the very point at which so many draw back—I would have done so myself if I could—and proceed no further with Christianity.

An “impersonal God”—well and good. A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads—better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap—best of all.

But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps, approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband—that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall?

There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (“Man’s search for God!”) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?

I’m eternally grateful that God found me. He wasn’t the one who was missing or lost—I was. His existence, His presence, His personalness are not to be avoided but eagerly grabbed onto for dear life. He is life; without Him there is nothing.