Probably my favorite conversion account is that of Charles Finney’s. A lawyer with little knowledge of the Christian faith, Finney decided he needed to read the Bible since so much of the law was based on it. The more he read, the more convicted he was over his sinfulness. One day he determined to get right with God, so he went into the woods to pray. Yet every time he started to pray, he thought he heard someone in the woods, and he would stop, afraid that he might be seen praying. Finally, he realized the great pride in his heart, that it should bother him if someone saw him praying. It broke him down before the Lord. But that is only the beginning of his conversion story. He went back to his house, where God met him anew:

There was no fire, and no light, in the room; nevertheless it appeared to me as if it were perfectly light. As I went in and shut the door after me, it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It did not occur to me then, nor did it for some time afterward, that it was wholly a mental state. On the contrary it seemed to me that I saw him as I would see any other man.

He said nothing, but looked at me in such a manner as to break me right down at his feet. . . . I fell down at his feet and poured out my soul to him. I wept aloud like a child, and made such confessions as I could with my choked utterance. It seemed to me that I bathed his feet with my tears; and yet I had no distinct impression that I touched him, that I recollect. . . .

As I turned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love; for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings.

No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, “I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.” I said, “Lord, I cannot bear any more;” yet I had no fear of death.

How long I continued in this state, with this baptism continuing to roll over me and go through me, I do not know. But I know it was late in the evening when a member of my choir . . . came into the office to see me. . . . He found me in this state of loud weeping, and said to me, “Mr. Finney, what ails you?” I could make him no answer for some time. He then said, “Are you in pain?” I gathered myself up as best I could, and replied, “No, but so happy that I cannot live.”

And so began one of the most effective ministries of the nineteenth century.

Wood, Hay, & Straw

Jim Wallis, one of the leaders of what might be termed the Christian Left, has now come out in favor of same-sex marriage. Ever since his days as a member of the 1960s radical group Students for a Democratic Society, which was grounded in socialist/communist philosophy, Wallis has tried to walk a fine line in an attempt to marry [pun intended] Biblical principles with a humanistic, atheistic worldview. It has been as spectacularly unsuccessful as the same-sex unions he now supports.

Wallis is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. He’s only the most obvious spokesperson for a phenomenon that threatens to split evangelicalism while it simultaneously destroys our Biblical basis for morality, law, and government. Can such views really coexist with what C. S. Lewis has called “mere Christianity”?

Genuine Christians can disagree on doctrine. They can disagree on how the Christian faith is demonstrated in society. There certainly is room for liberty of conscience. Yet when does liberty become licentiousness?

I disagree with Christians who espouse pacifism, but I don’t count them out of the kingdom; I merely consider them incorrect in their understanding of Scripture. I profoundly dissent from those who believe the government should follow policies of redistribution of wealth to achieve “fairness.” Many who promote this do so out of concern for the poor, yet they don’t realize how this vision of “helping” violates a number of Biblical principles and ultimately fails in its goal. They haven’t learned the lessons of history. Their hearts may be right in their desire to help, but all they accomplish is to spread the misery around.

It gets dicier when those who claim the name of Christ begin to advocate for positions that are directly contradictory to basic Biblical morality. Can someone really be a genuine Christian and promote abortion, or at least not be concerned about it? Is it simply a mistake when a professed Christian finds reasons to excuse homosexual behavior or is it rather a manifestation of a deeper rebellion against God’s call for holiness? I have my opinions on that, but, thankfully, God will be the final judge.

Thinking about this led me to a particular passage of Scripture, found in 1 Corinthians 3: 11-15. Here the apostle Paul speaks of how the Lord will judge the actions of His disciples:

For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

The clear teaching is that in order to be a Christian, our foundation must be nothing else than absolute faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. As long as we have repented of sin, received His forgiveness, and are now motivated by His love, we are part of His kingdom. However, not all our works for Him have the same value. Some are described as especially fruitful—gold, silver, precious stones—while others are virtually useless for building the kingdom—wood, hay, and straw.

I submit that when those who seek to build God’s kingdom with ideas that undermine the very kingdom they seek to build, their works will be shown to have been nothing more than wood, hay, and straw. They will have done more damage than good. We should all examine our motives and our actions continually. I know I don’t want to feel shame when that “day” comes.

Salt, Light, & Truth

I’ve spent the past two days writing about the drift of our culture into acceptance of a type of sex God forbade. For many people, this whole issue is simply a matter of “democracy”—let the people decide what they want. When you introduce the moral element, they tell you that’s irrelevant. All that matters is that we are devoted to popular sovereignty. As a historian, I know that term well. The last time it was front and center in the political debate was prior to the Civil War. Popular sovereignty was supposed to solve the quandary of slavery. Let the people of the new territories decide for themselves if they want slavery or not. Stephen Douglas, the Illinois senator who championed this approach, infamously said slavery was not a moral issue.

Well, I can’t help but frame it morally. At its foundation, the push for same-sex marriage is a clear indication of our rebellion against the righteousness of God and His law. It is a perversion—and I use that word advisedly and with forethought—of the gift of sex. Only a people firmly rooted in Biblical truth can prevail against this headwind. Are we no longer that people?

Liberals/progressives, whose outlook is primarily secular, think opposition to homosexuality is foolish. Unfortunately, they are joined in this view by a growing number of those who continue to call themselves Christians. They adopt most of the progressive political agenda and attempt to stamp it with God’s favor. They are doing a disservice to the gospel, and the God, they claim to represent.

Then there are some conservatives who are abandoning the field of battle. Most often, that’s because they are little different than their erstwhile foes at the other end of the political spectrum. How can that be? They are basically secular also; their conservatism is not based on solid Biblical principles. So when the culture shifts, they have no anchor to hold them to their position. They attempt to mix political conservatism with moral relativism. It’s not a good mixture.

One particular strand in the conservative movement is more libertarian than conservative. That group has never been wedded to Biblical morality anyway. They don’t want the government telling anyone what to do in the moral realm. Many of them support the mislabeled pro-choice position on abortion and have no problem at all with homosexuality. Their presence in the conservative coalition waters down its moral foundations.

The only saving grace in modern American conservatism, and in our politics in general, is the part of our populace that brings its Christianity to bear on our culture and government. They are the ones Jesus was referring to when He said,

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Salt preserves; light shows the way. Those in the church who have succumbed to the spirit of the age are the tasteless salt; they are no good for anything in this struggle. The responsibility therefore falls on those who still understand that truth is truth in all ages, and that it never changes. We need to preserve whatever remains of goodness in this land, and we need to be the ones who shine a light on the right path to take. Are we up to the challenge?

Anything Goes

Yesterday I wrote about the casual acceptance our society is showing toward homosexual rights, all the way to same-sex marriage. In less than a generation, our moral fabric has been ripped apart on this issue, making us an altogether different people than we were when I was younger. The change has been so drastic that it almost takes one’s breath away at times. This is largely a cultural phenomenon—that’s where the changes began—but it has been aided by government. As Ronald Reagan used to say, the nine scariest words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” The government “helped” with abortion; now it wants to do so with the homosexual agenda, and it seeks to follow the same path through the Supreme Court:

If this agenda wins, the concept of marriage will be in tatters; there won’t be any reason to hold the line even with same-sex marriage. Think of the possibilities: polygamy, incest, men with boys, bestiality. Whenever a Christian warns about these perversions, we are told we’re being alarmist, that nothing like that could ever happen. Yet wasn’t that what we were told about same-sex marriage? Those warnings are now about to be proven true. Once a society loses its moral grounding, anything goes.

I’ve been saying for some time that Christians have to wake up to the reality that we are no longer the majority. It’s actually worse than that, potentially. If we continue to stand firm on our Biblical conviction that homosexuality is a sinful behavior, we may find ourselves the target of legislation calling us “haters” and “bigots.” Penalties will be assessed on individuals, churches, and other Christian organizations that refuse to bow down to the new immorality. Christian universities, such as the one where I teach, will have to decide whether they have the bedrock beliefs they have mouthed for so long; many, I fear, will fall in line with the new order.

Those who “stubbornly”—that’s one of the words that will be used to describe us—resist the emerging consensus may find that the agents of tolerance will suddenly transform into the agents of intolerance, all the while attacking us in the name of tolerance. The only thing toleration cannot abide are people who refuse to tolerate depravity. We will be the new enemies of society.

In other words, we need to prepare our hearts and minds now for the real possibility of persecution. It will start slowly, but just like the mad rush to same-sex marriage that we’ve witnessed the past few weeks, full-fledged persecution will be upon us before we have time to consider our options.

Now, I still hold out hope that this will not be inevitable, but it will take a rather significant reformation of hearts and renewal of minds to forestall it. Nothing less than a fresh outpouring of the Spirit of God is needed. That, I believe, is how we should pray.

God is a God of great compassion and mercy; He wants to continue to show mercy to this nation. Maybe it comes down to how many of His people He finds who are standing firm for the truth. I’m reminded of the scripture in Luke 18 when Jesus ponders, “When the Son of Man comes [back], will He find faith on the earth?”

Only we can answer that question.

C. S. Lewis: The Resurrection

On this Resurrection [Easter] Sunday, here is some insight from C. S. Lewis from his book Miracles:

The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts. The Resurrection, and its consequences, were the “gospel” or good news which the Christians brought: what we call the “gospels,” the narratives of Our Lord’s life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the gospel. They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted. The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it. Nothing could be more unhistorical than to pick out selected sayings of Christ from the gospels and to regard those as the datum and the rest of the New Testament as a construction upon it. The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection.

What Kind of Love Is This?

On this Easter weekend, we think about why Jesus would subject Himself to the horrors of crucifixion. What kind of love is this, that God would decide to suffer such humiliation and pain, both physical and spiritual? And for whom? A race of people who thumb their noses at His love? A humankind that cares more about selfish interests than God and one another? Yes, those are the ones for whom He died. It’s hard to grasp. There must be something about our inherent value that led Him to do this. C. S. Lewis writes of this love that somehow looks beyond our selfishness and sees what we are supposed to be—a love that believes we are, for some reason, important:

If individuals live only seventy years, then a state, or a nation, or a civilisation, which may last for a thousand years, is more important than an individual. But if Christianity is true, then the individual is not only more important but incomparably more important, for he is everlasting and the life of a state or a civilisation, compared with his, is only a moment.

Why Was Jesus Forsaken on the Cross?

There are so many facets to the events of Good Friday, the atonement for sin through the death of Jesus on the cross. I want to comment today on just one: the moment when God the Father turned away, leading to Jesus’ cry, “My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Theological interpretations of what exactly occurred at that moment are many, but only one resonates with me.

Consider: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit had been in constant communion throughout eternity past all the way to this crucial moment on the cross. Perfect love existed in this triune relationship, and it never had been disrupted. When God the Father, in essence, abandons Jesus to go through the agony of the atonement all alone, that would have been the only time the Son would have experienced what it means to be utterly lost, cut off from the loving, sustaining presence of the Father and the Spirit. Can you imagine the sense of “lostness” he must have felt? Without the presence of God the Father and the aid of the Spirit, He was left hanging there, both literally and spiritually.

Why was this necessary? I believe that in order for Jesus to be the perfect substitute for sinful humanity, he had to go through everything we do. The book of Hebrews makes it clear that He suffered as we do, and that He was subject to all the same types of temptations. He truly came to this earth to experience what it is like to be human. Each one of us knows what it means to be lost, cut off from the life of God. We are desolate, miserable creatures until we finally find our life in Him. And if we die without coming to grips with our sin and without receiving the forgiveness so abundantly provided through the atonement, we will then face eternal despair and regret, severed from the One who loves us supremely. Of all the descriptions of hell, the one that strikes me the most is the picture of a soul eternally without hope, eternally separated from the comfort and grace that was offered so freely, along with the agonizing knowledge that it didn’t have to turn out this way. Eternal regret.

Jesus, I believe, had to experience that same kind of separation to identify fully with us. God the Father did not turn away in disgust because Jesus represented sin; the Father looks upon sinful people constantly and continues to reach out to them. The cross, instead, was a demonstration of just how far the Trinity was willing to go to heal the brokenness of man. The book of Hebrews makes it clear:

Therefore, He had to be made like his brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. . . .

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

May we indeed. That’s why this is called Good Friday.