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.

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.

A Line Is Being Drawn

In the wake of the Orlando terrorist attack, some people are making fantastic charges. I’ll come back to that in a moment, but first, a short testimony.

Good & EvilI know what it means to be in rebellion against God. There was a time in my life when I walked away from His love and rejected His ways. In short, I was lost in my sin and was on a road to perdition. God was merciful. He kept working on me despite my attitude toward Him. Over a period of a number of years, He drew me back through the Biblical path of recognition of sin, repentance, and faith.

For many years afterward, I referred to Him as The God of the Second Chance.

I share that up front today because I want it to be known that my personal experience of God’s mercy gives me a heart of compassion for others who still remain in rebellion as I was.

The reason I speak out against sin is not because I hate anyone. I speak against it because sin is what separates us from God; only through repentance and faith can the relationship with God be restored.

Therefore, it is not love that refuses to acknowledge sin in others; a truly loving person wants those involved in sinful lifestyles to be aware of the danger. Genuine love that is inspired by God points to the danger in order to rescue others and put them on the road to salvation as well.

As a former pastor of mine used to say, “A Christian is one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.”

Judging OthersWhen anyone tries to use Scripture to say we shouldn’t judge, they don’t understand the context of the Scripture. The instruction there is to first take the log out of one’s own eye—in other words, be sure you don’t have a sin that you need to repent of first—before taking the splinter out of someone else’s eye. We are to judge, but in the proper spirit of humility.

That said, let’s look at the situation in Orlando through that perspective. It is clear that the prime perpetrator of sinfulness was the shooter who deliberately sought to murder as many people as possible. In that sense, it doesn’t matter who the targets were; murder is murder and we legitimately grieve over the loss of life.

I firmly believe that homosexuality is a sin. It is a perversion of the gift of sex given by God. I also believe that those who die unrepentant of their sinful lifestyle, be it homosexuality, heterosexual sin, or a life of thievery, murder, or whatever sin you may want to list (and the Scripture gives a long list), means an eternity separated from the love and presence of God.

So, the saddest part of what occurred in that nightclub is the possible loss of forty-nine souls to the enemy of our souls. Barring a thief-on-the-cross confession at the last minute (and only the Lord knows who may have offered that), those forty-nine awakened to a terror that far exceeds what they experienced in the moments before their death.

C. S. Lewis 15What makes this so tragic is that God intended for all of us to be in close relationship with Him. We are the ones who refuse to acknowledge His ways. C. S. Lewis said, in his famous “The Weight of Glory” sermon,

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.

But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

God created each of us with inherent worth. Each person, no matter his or her lifestyle, is an immortal. We all will spend an eternity somewhere, but when we stay in rebellion against God’s righteousness—a righteousness intended for our good, not to stop us from “having fun”—we become immortal horrors.

That’s the real tragedy of what has transpired over this past weekend.

You will find, if you pay attention to the responses to the attack, that Christians have come to the forefront to offer aid and counsel for those left behind and grieving. Why? It’s because we operate out of the love of God for others, even for those with whom we disagree.

We don’t throw people from buildings or murder them because of their sins; rather, we reach out and try to help lead them out of their sins. We know what it means to have received mercy; therefore, we want to extend that same mercy to others.

Yet what do we hear from some sources? Christians are to blame for what happened because they believe homosexuality is sinful. Christians are to blame because they have pushed for freedom of religion laws. Christians are to blame for creating a mentality that leads to this.

No, no, and no.

Yet this onslaught of accusations is taking its toll. First, in public policy, we may see even more stringent controls over those of us who maintain Biblical standards of morality. Christian institutions like the one I’m part of, an evangelical university, may undergo more pressure to conform to the world’s way of thinking and acting.

Robert GeorgeThen there’s the pressure on individual Christians to lay aside their faith, to go along to get along. Professor Robert George of Princeton University penned a sad but true insight the other day, talking about how Christians are now, more than ever, tempted to follow the cultural trends no matter how antithetical they may be to Biblical teaching.

We deceive ourselves, Prof. George says: “Christians who fall in line with a trend always find ways to say that the trend, whatever it is, is compatible with Christian faith–even dictated by it!” That’s the greatest danger of all, when those who call themselves Christians fall in line with a society that has rejected Biblical norms and even try to claim that the new ideas are somehow really Christian.

He ended his commentary with this:

Being human, we crave approval and we like to fit in. Moreover, we human beings are naturally influenced by the ways of thinking favored by those who are regarded in a culture as the sophisticated and important people.

When push comes to shove, it’s really hard to be true to Christian faith; the social and personal costs are too high. We Christians praise the martyrs and honor their memories, but we are loath to place in jeopardy so much as an opportunity for career advancement, or the good opinion of a friend, much less our lives.

So we tend to fall in line, or at least fall silent. We deceive ourselves with rationalizations for what amounts to either conformism or cowardice. We place the emphasis on whatever happens in the cultural circumstances to be the acceptable parts of Christian teaching, and soft-pedal or even abandon the parts that the enforcers of cultural norms deem to be unacceptable.

We make a million excuses for going along with what’s wrong, and pretty soon we find ourselves going along with calling it right.

I’m afraid he is correct in his analysis. My approach, instead, is to follow what Christian leader A. W. Tozer once said: “I claim the holy right to disappoint men in order to avoid disappointing God.”

Take Up the CrossJesus told His disciples to take up their crosses and follow Him. He also said the way is broad that leads to destruction and the way is narrow that leads to life. We are at a point where a line is going to be drawn—in fact, is already being drawn—where we will have to decide which side of that line we are on.

Moses, upon coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, saw the Israelites worshiping a false god and giving themselves over to sexual sins. He drew a line that day; those who came to his side were spared, but the others were destroyed.

Decide this day whom you will serve. It’s a decision that determines your eternity.

If the Foundations Are Destroyed?

I have taught Biblical principles in my courses for the past twenty-seven years. I’ve wanted my students to understand that we must look deeper than outward appearances when we scrutinize historical events.

A principle is a source or origin of anything; it is a general truth, that is, a truth that is so broad and sweeping that many other truths can be considered off-shoots of it.

The idea of general truths that apply to all of society formerly had wide acceptance in America. The key word is formerly. So my goal has been to reintroduce those principles as best I can through my teaching and writing.

FoundationsThat’s why, back in 1993, I published a book based on the principles I teach in the classroom. I’ve revised it a few times along the way.

If the Foundations Are Destroyed: Biblical Principles and Civil Government is a primer on the principles that I believe come out of Scripture and ought to be applied to everything in our society.

The onset of evolutionary philosophy and the pragmatism to which it has given birth have led us to think more in terms of expediency than principle. People sacrifice principles to that which is less troublesome.

Standing on principle can be wearying when no one else seems to care or understand what you are doing. Yet God calls on Christians to make His principles the foundation of all they say and do.

Christians get in trouble when they conform to the world’s thinking and ignore principles. They are tempted not to cause waves, forgetting that the world already is a turbulent place and that men are seeking—whether they realize it or not—for the stability of fixed principles.

America has always had those turbulent times; historians probably understand that better than most. There was a presidential election in 1800 that was quite controversial. Leading up to that election, one man, Jedidiah Morse—a Congregational minister, the compiler of the first American geography book, and father of Samuel F. B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph—preached a sermon that issued the following warning:

Jedidiah MorseOur dangers are of two kinds, those which affect our religion, and those which affect our government. They are, however, so closely allied that they cannot, with propriety, be separated.

The foundations which support the interests of Christianity are also necessary to support a free and equal government like our own.

To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness, which mankind now enjoy. In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, either through unbelief, or the corruption of its doctrines, or the neglect of its institutions; in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom, and approximate the miseries of complete despotism.

Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.

If that dire warning was applicable in 1799 when Morse preached that sermon, how much more so today?

America may be more bitterly divided now than it has been since the Civil War, and there is no guarantee that Biblical principles will gain the ultimate victory in this earthly realm. But God does reward and protect those who serve Him with a whole heart. He is looking for faithful individuals through whom He can work to make changes.

Jesus asked the best question for our times: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

The book of Hebrews says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” That is the kind of faith He seeks; it is the only kind of faith that will make a difference. May it be the faith that He finds.

If you would like to peruse the principles in my book, you can find it at Amazon by clicking here.

“The Witness and the President” Makes Its Appearance

Witness & President DrawingTen years ago, I had the vision for a book on Whittaker Chambers and Ronald Reagan. I wanted to compare/contrast the pessimism of the former with the optimism of the latter. I also wanted to know just how much Chambers influenced Reagan.

I had read Chambers’s masterful autobiography, Witness, back in the mid-1980s. It affected me deeply. I also was very appreciative of the principles that guided Reagan in his life and administration, an appreciation that grew over time as the nation floundered under successors who weren’t as solidly grounded—and some of whom, like Bill Clinton, who never deserved the office in the first place and who destroyed the respect and esteem we should hold for the presidency.

I read everything else Chambers wrote—his journalistic essays and his posthumous work, Cold Friday. I researched diligently the papers of Reagan’s presidency at his library, combing through all his speeches, and read as many as I could of the myriad books about him that kept appearing.

It all came together, and now the result is The Witness and the President: Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, and the Future of Freedom. The book is now available through Amazon at this URL.

Am I relieved that this has now come to fruition? Absolutely. But this is more than merely the satisfaction of getting the book published; this is part of my effort to help our citizens understand basic Biblical principles upon which our society must be based.

Chambers left the Communist Underground and found the Christian faith. He gave witness to the need for Western civilization to return to the faith. Reagan, unlike Chambers, had a Christian upbringing. Whatever straying he may have done during his lifetime, he came back to that same solid foundation of faith that Chambers found.

These two men have a message for our generation. This book tells their stories and, I trust, will challenge you to think about the principles we must never lose.

I hope you will get a copy, read it carefully (it tells a good story, too), and ponder its message.

Oregon’s Christian Martyrs

While there are so many angles one can take when writing about the horrific murders on that Oregon community college campus yesterday, only one came to the forefront of my mind: the Christian witness of those who were murdered.

According to multiple eyewitness accounts, we know the murderer demanded to know the religious beliefs of his potential victims. If they stated they were Christians, he then shot them in the head.

After hearing of this, it was as if God asked me how I would have responded in the same situation. If I knew that answering the man’s question would have resulted in immediate death for me, what would I have said?

It’s easy for me to proclaim, from a safe distance as I currently sit in my easy chair in my study, that I would stand firm for Christ. Yet I’ve never had to make that life-or-death statement of my faith.

I hope that the deep gratitude I have for God’s saving grace would strengthen me at such a moment. I hope that the reality of His presence in my life, and the very real promise of seeing Him face-to-face would be enough to welcome the martyrdom to follow.

Additionally, I would hope my concern for the spiritual condition of those watching would encourage me to make my final seconds on earth an eternal witness to those who don’t know the Truth.

All that is speculative, of course, but the one thing that stands out to me about what occurred yesterday is the amazing testimony of those who made their public profession of faith knowing it was probably the last act of their lives.

If I take the Biblical message seriously, I can say that those who died making that profession are now in the presence of their Lord. They have received their eternal reward.

As for the man who committed this vile deed, reports are coming in that he was an atheist who truly hated Christians. He also has gone to his eternity, but it is of a very different nature.

We have so few years to make our mark for Christ. May we make the best possible use of them. May we, when we move on from this earthly existence, leave a legacy of a Christian witness that will lead others to the Savior.

Heaven & Hell

C. S. Lewis: The Christian & Money

MoneyC. S. Lewis’s attitude toward money is fascinating. He was no economist, and if he could have lived without having to think about money ever again, he would have been most happy.

In his early years, before he became famous, he had to be very careful with his expenses, so one might think that when the money started rolling in after the publication of his quite popular books, he could have relaxed and used all that extra funding as a buffer.

Yet, from the start, once The Screwtape Letters began the money flow, he kept none for himself. Every bit of his royalties, from whatever publication, went into a fund that was dispensed to those in need.

One prime example was an American lady, Mary Willis Shelburne, with whom he corresponded for more than a decade. She was constantly worried about her financial situation. His response was to work out an arrangement with his publisher to send her a monthly check from the sales of his books.

In Mere Christianity he laid out what he believed should be the proper perspective for a Christian:

One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give and so fail to realise your need for God. If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God.

Lewis Letters Volume 3In one of his earliest letters to Shelburne, though, we get a glimpse into his own insecurities regarding money. He is terribly honest when he writes,

I’m a panic-y person about money myself (which is a most shameful confession and a thing dead against Our Lord’s words) and poverty frightens me more than anything else except large spiders and the tops of cliffs: one is sometimes even tempted to say that if God wanted us to live like the lilies of the field He might have given us an organism more like theirs! But of course He is right. And when you meet anyone who does live like the lilies, one sees that He is.

I think that’s one of the most endearing things about Lewis—he knows the truth, compares his own inner fears with that truth, confesses his weaknesses, yet comes right back to the bedrock foundation of his faith, regardless of his fears.

He was not superhuman. He suffered from the same concerns as anyone else. Yet, even through his expressed concerns, we see what genuine faith looks like.