A Tribute to My Fellow Travelers

It’s time to wrap up my tales from the England trip. I would like to do so by first acknowledging Dr. Linda Linzey, the English literature professor who organized it all and who was a personable and professional colleague with whom it was a delight to undertake this study abroad together.

Second, I want to note that all six young women who participated in this whirlwind tour of England were all that a professor could want—interested, inquisitive, and patient. Patience was a particularly positive trait exhibited by the three ladies in my car. I had helpful navigators (supplementing a sometimes strange GPS) who also kept me from getting too drowsy by engaging in good conversation (when they weren’t napping).

So I’m going to make today’s post a tribute to all of these women who didn’t make me feel like the odd man out, even though I was. Here are some of our group shots (in chronological order).

First, as we were ready to enter Dover Castle:

At Canterbury, the obligatory telephone box photo:

A favorite of the three who graced my car:

Another obligatory picture for all UK visitors, albeit less serious than usual:

At the table in the Bath Pump Room awaiting afternoon tea:

At Oxford, enjoying the Magdalen College atmosphere:

I sneaked in a picture of my carload taking their own pictures of the nature preserve at the Kilns:

With Walter Hooper:

High atop the hill in the Dove Cottage garden:

A third obligatory photo—on Hadrian’s Wall:

Intermission at a superb Vivaldi-Bach-Handel concert in St. Martin’s in the Field church in London:

And finally, waiting for our tour of Parliament:

Look at all those Oxford sweatshirts. I regret not getting one for myself.

They were two weeks to remember—and I always will.

Dover Castle & a Historic Moment

I’ve just returned from two weeks in the UK—only England, specifically (except for one short dash into Scotland for supper)—helping lead a study abroad trip with SEU students. This was only my second time in England, the previous excursion being twenty years ago. So I was looking forward to this, of course, and my expectations were met.

I drove a Jaguar (yes, you read that correctly) all over the land, from Dover by the White Cliffs on the southern coast to Hadrian’s Wall in the far north. By the mercy of God, we all survived those one-lane country roads where you never knew if a car was coming from the other direction just around the next bend.

Sorry, but I forgot to take a photo with my Jaguar.

Our first stop was Dover, a medieval castle with underground tunnels that were used extensively during WWII to ensure that a Nazi invasion wouldn’t take place.

Winston Churchill, as prime minister at that time, visited Dover as he shored up Britain’s defenses. One iconic photo has him emerging from the underground tunnels, showing his usual firm, confident visage:

We were able to explore those tunnels and learn how significant they were to the war effort.

The entrance is the exact spot pictured above, so I did my best to be Churchillian as we awaited our tour.

No photographs were allowed inside the tunnels, so I can’t show you exactly what we viewed, but the key moment for this strategic spot occurred from May to June 1940, as the trapped British forces in Dunkirk, France, had to be evacuated while under heavy fire from the Nazis.

At the time, pessimism reigned, with British authorities figuring that if they could save even a small portion of the army, they would have to be satisfied with that.

That’s when the miracle at Dunkirk, as many termed it, happened. Small boats from all over England undertook numerous and hazardous cross-channel trips to rescue the trapped soldiers. Far exceeding all expectations, more than 330,000 troops were evacuated and able to continue resistance against Nazi Germany.

We also were able to tour the castle and put ourselves back into the medieval world it represented. Observe this banquet room, for instance:

Or how about this throne with a rather imposing figure reigning temporarily?

We concluded our Dover experience with a visit to the White Cliffs, where I stayed conveniently back from the edge.

The Dover visit was accomplished on almost no sleep on the flight over, followed by driving there from Gatwick Airport in London. Yet it was a great start to a fulfilling tour of the island that provides America with a lot of its lineage, both politically and culturally.

I’ll continue to offer highlights from this trip in the coming days: cathedrals, historic sites, and a visit to C. S. Lewis’s home, the Kilns, in Oxford.

Lewis on the Decline of Christian Faith in Society

I’m of the decided opinion that Christian faith is under attack in our nation. I’m also convinced that the influence of that faith in the public sphere has declined precipitously in the last seven years (I wonder what that coincides with?).

God in the DockYet there is another angle of vision on this outward decline of which C. S. Lewis aptly reminds us. In one of his short essays found in God in the Dock, “The Decline of Religion,” he offers his perspective on that perception.

He wrote this essay just after WWII, but it is just as applicable today. First, he examines the perception of religion’s decline by looking at outward manifestations, such as chapel attendance at Oxford:

The “decline of religion” so often lamented (or welcomed) is held to be shown by empty chapels. Now it is quite true that chapels which were full in 1900 are empty in 1946. But this change was not gradual. It occurred at the precise moment when chapel ceased to be compulsory.

Lewis notes that some students used to attend only because it started later than the roll call before which they would have had to appear if they didn’t go to chapel. As a result, those sixty students never came back; “the five Christians remained.”

Therefore, this was not a genuine decline, but rather an exposure of what lay beneath the surface: “The withdrawal of compulsion did not create a new religious situation, but only revealed the situation which had long existed.”

But wasn’t England a Christian nation? Didn’t it have a moral code based on its solid Christianity? Lewis tackles that as well:

One way of putting the truth would be that the religion which has declined was not Christianity. It was a vague Theism with a strong and virile ethical code, which, far from standing over against the “World,” was absorbed into the whole fabric of English institutions and sentiment and therefore demanded church-going as (at best) a part of loyalty and good manners as (at worst) a proof of respectability.

For the first time, Lewis explains, accurate observations could be made: “When no man goes to church except because he seeks Christ the number of actual believers can at last be discovered.”

While this “decline” of outward religiosity was a problem for how the nation of England might comport itself, it did draw a clear line in the spiritual sand. Lewis continues,

The decline of “religion” is no doubt a bad thing for the “World.” By it all the things that made England a fairly happy country are, I suppose, endangered: the comparative purity of her public life, the comparative humanity of her police, and the possibility of some mutual respect and kindness between political opponents.

But I am not clear that it makes conversions to Christianity rarer or more difficult: rather the reverse. It makes the choice more unescapable. When the Round Table is broken, every man must follow either Galahad or Mordred: middle things are gone.

The upside, then, is that there is a definite demarcation line between God’s righteousness and the way of the world. People will see that choice more clearly. More genuine conversions may result.

Lewis concludes his essay by commenting on how the Oxford Christians, at least in 1946, had not yet had to face a bitter opposition: “The enemy has not yet thought it worth while to fling his whole weight against us. But he soon will.” He says that every strong Christian movement, while welcomed at first, will in the end face hatred from those who are “offended” by its bold stand for truth and morality.

Dislike, terror, and finally hatred succeed: none who will not give it [Christian faith] what it asks (and it asks all) can endure it: all who are not with it are against it. . . . To be on the Christian side would be costing a man (at the least) his career.

What will make that hatred all the more confusing to the mass of people watching it being played out is that the attack will come from those who themselves are claiming to be Christian. As Lewis puts it, “But remember, in England the opposition will quite likely be called Christianity (or Christo-democracy, or British Christianity, or something of that kind).”

PersecutionWhat are we witnessing in America in our day? A growing hostility toward the absolutes rooted in Christian belief. A bitter opposition charging us with being bigots, haters, etc. And many of those hurling the charges are claiming the mantle of the true Christianity—the one that loves everyone and doesn’t judge. We are labeled intolerant and reactionary; they are the new and more understanding advocates for what Jesus really meant.

I wonder how Lewis would view the current state of America where same-sex marriage and abortion are the law of the land. I wonder how he would respond to the demand that public restrooms should be open to all without regard to the particular sex we are born into.

One thing is pretty evident, though, from his analysis: if the line between what is genuinely Christian and what is not was clear in his day, it is so much clearer now. And while the decline of the role of Christianity in our public affairs is a sad testimony to the state of the nation, whenever real Christian faith comes into view, it will draw those who are seeking forgiveness and a new life.

The dark cloud descends upon us, but in the darkness, the Light becomes even brighter.

Jamestown: Divine Intervention?

As a Christian, I believe that God does intervene in the lives of men and nations. Scripture points to this continually. The most significant intervention was the incarnation of Jesus—God taking on human form. Therefore, I have no problem believing He still does this in our day.

Nevertheless, as a historian, I have to be cautious about declaring something in history is absolutely an example of God’s intervention. I always tell my students to be cautious as well, and not jump to that conclusion too readily. The divine revelation of Scripture tells me when God has done so in the past with Israel and the early church; I don’t have any divine revelation to confirm His direct actions in American history. I can speculate, though, based on the evidence that we do have.

Jamestown SettlersTake Jamestown, for instance. I made a case last week that most of those involved with this new settlement did not arrive with a Gospel mission. Their primary goal was trade and commerce, with the hope of getting rich. Some even thought they could achieve it quickly by finding gold or other valuable commodities. I also pointed out the faithful settlers who did have God’s heart in seeking to minister to others, but they seemed to be in the minority.

In passing, I mentioned the awful Starving Time of 1609-1610, in which the inhabitants were reduced to eating shoe leather and other inedible items. They finally resorted to eating the corpses of former neighbors, with one man actually killing his wife for the purpose of eating her. This descent into cannibalism was only the most obvious incident revealing the lack of real Christian faith in operation during that time.

Lord De La Warr's ArrivalWhen a new ship arrived in the spring of 1610, only about 60 settlers remained from the approximately 500 who began the winter. This ship itself had been newly constructed from the wreckage of the previous ship that had been stranded on Bermuda after a storm.

The situation was so bad that everyone was packed into that one ship for the desperate attempt to get back to England, even though they weren’t sure how they were going to get enough food to survive the trip. Jamestown was now such a despised place that those who were still left on their feet after the winter wanted to torch the entire settlement. They were kept from doing so by the ship’s captain. It was to be abandoned, though. It was another failed experiment.

Yet, as they were about to leave the James River and embark on their ocean journey, they happened to meet new ships arriving just at that moment, complete with a new governor and instructions to reverse course and restart the colony. When news of this fortunate meeting of the ships going in opposite directions got back to England, the Virginia Company used this auspicious event to trumpet God’s providence. It was God, they proclaimed, who engineered the chance meeting and saved the struggling colony.

Was it God who did this? Why would He even be interested in salvaging a colony that didn’t put Him first and that had succumbed to such abhorrent behavior as cannibalism? Why would He care, especially when the Virginia Company used this primarily for propaganda to get more funding?

Why indeed? I’m not saying for sure this was a result of divine intervention, but a case can be made for why God might have been interested in this colony’s continuance. If Jamestown had failed, it might have been the final straw for English colonization. History was not on their side. Sir Walter Raleigh had failed 20-plus years earlier at Roanoke Island—the famous Lost Colony. Those who had contributed financially to the Jamestown expedition would have lost everything they put into it. How successful would another company be trying to convince investors to do it again?

If England had dropped out of the colonization race, who would have stepped into the vacuum? The obvious answer is Spain. What would the Spanish have established in North America? All we have to do is look at what the Spanish did in South and Central America to answer that. There would have been no Protestantism in the New World. Anyone attempting to bring Reformation ideas would have been persecuted. Neither would there have been any form of representative government. Spain’s model for government was top-down authoritarianism.

Jamestown's LegislatureThis means the entire history of the New World would have been different. No eventual freedom of conscience in religion. No legislative assemblies based on representation. No United States of America as we have known it. To me, that would have been a tragic history. I’m still one who believes that, despite its flaws, the United States has been a source of good to the world.

So, did God intervene to save Jamestown? I offer a possible alternative history here with Spain as the dominant nation in all of the Western Hemisphere. If that’s not something God desired, and if He had plans for a new empire with a more substantial Biblical foundation, and from which missionaries would then take His message around the world, it could very well be argued that He ensured the survival of Jamestown to fulfill His ultimate purposes.

But I can’t make that declaration absolutely. I can only weigh the possibility and come to my own conclusion. You can do the same.