Celebrity “Conversions”: The Trump Report

In my decades as a Christian believer, I’ve witnessed a number of claims about celebrities who recently became Christians. In my early years, each claim was very exciting, as it seemed to show how God’s mercy reaches to everyone no matter how morally depraved they have been.

Then I would expectantly wait for their lives to be changed and their testimony to be life-changing for others. Most of the time, I have been disappointed; they seemed to continue on their former path, albeit with some vague language about God that might not have been there previously.

Let me be clear: There were some reports that were accurate; some lives were changed, so I’m not discounting all such stories of conversion. However, I have become skeptical of most of these reports based on what has transpired over the years.

James DobsonThe latest celebrity “conversion” was made public a couple of days ago by Dr. James Dobson, who passed on the word that he heard from someone else that Donald Trump recently gave his life to the Lord. Now, I’ve always admired and respected Dr. Dobson, so I’m not trying to undermine all the good work he has done or the word of his testimony out of some kind of disrespect. Yet you can color me more than a little skeptical of this news.

One of the things that bothers me most about modern evangelicalism is the tendency to call someone a Christian on the basis of some kind of mental assent to the deity of Jesus or for having prayed a prayer to “accept” Jesus.

While I try to avoid such clichés, I agree with the critique of what some have called “easy believeism,” or “cheap grace.” The entrance into the kingdom of God comes at a cost. Yes, Jesus paid the price for salvation at the cross, but there are conditions we must meet before He accepts us.

First, we must recognize our sins. This goes beyond some facile statement that says, oh, yes, we’re all sinners, so I must be also—sure would like to go to heaven so I’ll admit that I’m a sinner, too.

Frankly, an acknowledgement of sin must go deeper than that. There needs to be a corresponding sense of guilt and remorse over how one has destroyed what God intended for good. There must be a great desire to turn away from sin and seek a life that pleases God in all ways.

Repentance 2Second, that desire to turn away from sin has to be manifested in a thorough repentance. The word means a total change of thinking about God and oneself. It means that from now on we earnestly want to serve Him supremely and not our own selfish interests. It means we dethrone ourselves and put God exactly where He belongs as not only Savior, but also as Lord—the One who has the right and the authority to tell us how to live.

Third, we then turn to the cross of Christ and see that He humbled Himself on our behalf and took the penalty of sin for us. The love manifested through the life and death of Jesus should then break down our rebellion and lead us into a life in which we are constantly figuring out how best to follow Him and please Him in all ways.

When those steps occur, salvation is real. Anything less is a superficial mental agreement to certain doctrinal statements without any real impact on the relationship with God or how we live. Unless those steps occur, we are still in our sins; nothing has been accomplished except stark hypocrisy.

How are we to know if Donald Trump has experienced a genuine conversion? Dr. Dobson cautions us to realize that a baby Christian doesn’t change overnight. Well, I agree up to a point. Yes, a new Christian has a lot to learn and needs to continually grow in the faith. But, as the apostle Paul noted, when a person is in Christ, he becomes a new creation.

That means that the motivation for life changes right from the start. There should be evidence immediately that something has happened. A true conversion signifies that the person now has a new humility and purpose; it’s now all for God’s glory, not his own.

Donald TrumpHere are some ways that Donald Trump can convince me he has undergone a genuine Christian conversion:

  • His hubris will come to an end. He won’t be bragging about how great he is, how wonderful he always has been, and how he is the answer for everything that’s wrong with America.
  • He will finally acknowledge that he has sinned greatly in the past and has now gone to God for forgiveness for those sins.
  • Specifically, he will apologize publicly for the many things he has done in this campaign that impugned others: his disparaging comments about Carly Fiorina’s face; his conniving to plant stories about Ted Cruz being a serial adulterer; his despicable depiction of Heidi Cruz in a photo that compared her to his own wife; his mocking of a disabled reporter by imitating his disability; his manipulative ways to undermine opponents, particularly in his silly questioning of Cruz’s American citizenship and his attempt to link Cruz’s father to the Kennedy assassination.
  • He will stop throwing out a constant barrage of personal insults via Twitter, and instead will try to point people to the faith he now has taken to heart. [Note: after writing this, I became aware of a number of snarky tweets Trump sent out about conservative commentator George Will, who announced he was leaving the Republican party because of its embrace of Trump—no change yet in Trump’s responses to people who go against him.]

If he were to do all of these things, I would be more inclined to believe a conversion has taken place. Even then, because he is in the midst of a presidential race in which he knows he needs the support of the evangelical community to have any chance of winning, I would still have my suspicions that this could all be more manipulation.

Judging OthersI can hear the voices already, putting forth the usual objection: judge not that you be not judged. Well, when you say that, aren’t you judging me?

Check out that passage again if you haven’t done so recently. It’s found in Matthew 7. The context makes it clear that judgment is supposed to take place, but only after ensuring that one isn’t being a hypocrite.

Jesus also said in that same chapter that we would know by the fruit of a person’s life whether he is genuine or not. That requires some judgment, doesn’t it?

I’m also reminded of a verse in the fifth chapter of the book of Hebrews, in which the author tells us, “Solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”

We are to be a discerning people. That means we don’t accept everything we hear without first examining all reports through the lens of Scriptural truth.

Let me be clear again: I would welcome the news that Donald Trump has done a 180-degree turn via a real recognition of sin in his life, a true repentance from that sin, and a sincere faith in Christ that will transform his every thought and action from now on.

I’m just not going to believe it until there is adequate evidence for it. I urge fellow Christians not to blindly accept this news without testing it first. Love is not synonymous with naivete.

Stand for Righteousness

As a Christian I believe that salvation is offered to all who will acknowledge the sin in their lives, sincerely repent of it, and put their faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross. I believe, as Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, that we are then obliged to “go and sin no more.”

Further, I believe that no sin is outside the circle of God’s forgiveness. The sin of homosexuality is no exception. And the admonition to go and sin no more applies as well because sin is a choice—there is no homosexual gene, regardless of what you may have heard.

It isn’t the Christians, though, who have made homosexuality such an issue in our society. As a historian, I could go back and trace all the antecedents that have led us to where we are today, but the short version is to say that the cultural revolution started in earnest in the 1960s and 1970s.

Prop 8 Protest IThis revolution had many facets but sexual “liberation” was a key. The push for legalized abortion and homosexual “rights” began simultaneously. Both are the outward manifestation of the rejection of Biblical truth and the substitution of the cult of self-centeredness and licentious behavior.

Christians always have reached out to those trapped in sin. After all, that’s why God has us in this world, to be His voice, arms, and legs. I would never have a problem sitting down with individuals caught in any sinful lifestyle and helping them see the true liberation that comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What has happened in the past few decades, though, and that has now accelerated beyond anyone’s expectation, is the demand by those in sinful lifestyles—particularly homosexuality—that the society not just tolerate their sinfulness but that we embrace it.

We have gone far beyond a call for tolerance into the realm of government force to make us bow to the new immorality. Christian businesses such as bakeries and photographers are fined if they won’t participate in homosexual weddings. Some have had to close their businesses over this.

Christian educational institutions are threatened with loss of accreditation if they don’t change their stance on homosexuality. The latest such threat comes from the California legislature.

The drive for normalization of what used to be considered by nearly everyone as unacceptable has now led to public shaming for those who refuse to submit to the idea that there should be no gender distinctions in bathrooms and locker rooms.

Keep Govt Out

One could easily say that plain old common sense is disappearing in the onslaught of a political correctness that is in the process of destroying what remains of our society’s Biblical basis.

This is a new militancy that already is sprouting the seeds of totalitarianism. Yet, ironically, it is those who are simply holding their ground on decency and traditional morality who are being stigmatized as the narrow-minded, the bigots, the haters.

How to respond? It’s easy to become indignant and angry over the false accusations. It’s easy to want to lash out at the foolishness and sin that is destroying us.

The Scripture says that God is angry with sin and with those who promote it. His judgment looms. Yet we also know, from that same source, that He seeks to save even those who may seem beyond saving. His mercy is everlasting. That doesn’t mean judgment won’t come, but until it does, He will continue to draw people to Himself.

We need the same outlook. Yes, be angry over the sin that is sending people into both a personal hell and a literal one. Yes, strive to replace government officials who promote a sinful agenda; there is a political side to this.

TruthBut, more than anything else, do whatever we can to showcase truth and reverse the dominant worldview that has led to this. Politics and government are not our savior; neither are they the source of the problem—they only reflect who we are as a people.

Changed minds and changed hearts provide the only solution. That’s where our primary focus must be, and there are many avenues through which we can achieve this. Wherever God has placed you, you are now His voice, His conscience, His heart.

Renewal of the mind happens one person at a time. Work within the sphere of influence you already have. Give God every opportunity to work through you to salvage a nation on the path to devastation and ruin.

Stand for righteousness and then stand back and see what the Lord will do.

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.

Lewis: Good & Bad People

C. S. Lewis 10“What need have I of Christ?” some say. “I’m a good person. I don’t do all those truly evil things other people do.” That’s one of the greatest deceptions we face. C. S. Lewis confronts it directly in Mere Christianity when he compares the “nice” person with a person who doesn’t come across as quite so nice.

He notes that some people are just naturally more even-tempered and balanced in their personalities, and that is what can lead them astray. “Natural gifts carry with them a . . . danger,” he warns.

If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. “Why drag God into it?” you may ask.

Those kinds of people are deceived into thinking there is no need to turn to God. He compares them to those Jesus spoke of when He said it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom.

Then there are those other people:

It is very different for the nasty people—the little, low, timid, warped, thin-blooded, lonely people, or the passionate, sensual, unbalanced people. If they make any attempt at goodness at all, they learn, in double quick time, that they need help. It is Christ or nothing for them.

At least they recognize their need. The “good” people are the ones who don’t see just how sinful they are at heart. “If you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel,” Lewis correctly instructs. “The Devil was an archangel once; his natural gifts were as far above yours as yours are above those of a chimpanzee.”

That doesn’t mean there is no hope for “good” people, but those who clearly see their danger might actually be in the better place spiritually:

But if you are a poor creature—poisoned by a wretched up-bringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels—saddled, by no choice of your own with some loathsome sexual perversion—nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends—do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive.

The Gospel is the Good News that we can be rescued from any situation, whether outwardly “good” or “bad.” His love reaches to all. Salvation is offered to everyone who recognizes the need for redemption.

Homosexuality & Biblical Truth

I normally follow the Biblical pattern of a day of rest for this blog on Sundays. However, in light of the Supreme Court’s abominable decision on same-sex marriage (oxymoron alert!) this past Friday, I just want to use this space to offer some Biblical reminders.

The first one comes from Romans, chapter one:

Romans 1For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. . . .

Professing to be wise, they became fools. . . . Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie. . . .

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

In the first chapter of I Timothy, we read,

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious . . . for immoral men and homosexuals . . . and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching.

And in I Corinthians, chapter 6, we are told,

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals . . . will inherit the kingdom of God.

The next part, though, is encouraging:

HolinessSuch were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Our message needs to be twofold: clearly spelling out the sinfulness of homosexuality and how it separates the sinner from God, along with the stark truth that people can come out of that sin and be sanctified in Him and become part of His kingdom.

But one must “come out” first. It is a choice, not the result of one’s genetic code.

That’s not a message our current generation wants to hear, but Christians need to be faithful to this truth, even if that steadfast faithfulness leads to persecution. We must obey God rather than men.

The Duggars, the Media, & Salvation

I’d really rather not write about this today. I’m concerned that what I write may be misunderstood. However, because I believe in the life-changing power of faith in Christ, I have to say this.

Duggar FamilyThe news media seems to have zeroed in on the latest example of hypocrisy in the Christian world—or what they deem to be hypocrisy—by focusing with laser-like aim on the Duggar family. Let me say from the outset that I have never watched their program and had little knowledge of them prior to the current frenzy over what one of their sons did to some of his sisters when he was a teenager. I was aware that some who hate the idea of a large family, and one that promotes Christian faith at that, were critical of them. I had no idea just how venomous that criticism would be now that some—I emphasize “some”—facts have come out.

What did this son do? It’s sketchy. Two of his sisters are going public to deny most of the allegations floating around. They certainly don’t seem to have been traumatized, and they appear to want to set the record straight. Are they victims who don’t really understand their victimhood? The professionals are already jumping on that bandwagon.

There’s another possibility. The son, in deep remorse for what he did, might have gotten his life straightened out through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. From what I read, he has a fine marriage now. He even told his bride-to-be ahead of time what he had done as a teenager, but that he received forgiveness from God and has walked in His ways since then.

Now, I don’t know for sure if that’s true. But here’s what is most bothersome about the whole episode: the critics will never believe it is true, no matter how much proof can be brought forward to affirm it. They think “once a sex offender, always a sex offender.” There’s some validity to that view, since recidivism in that realm is high. Yet if we, as Christians, don’t believe God can turn a life around, perhaps we should stop saying He does.

I want to give the family time to make their case. I also want to know why those sealed juvenile records were released when it is against the law to do so. What agenda is at work here? Is this another attempt by the anti-Christian forces in the nation to undermine the faith?

Any type of sexual harassment or abuse is sin. Christians are clear on that. Let’s just be sure we have all the facts first, though, before we cast our stones. Jesus’ words to the woman caught in adultery still ring: Go and sin no more. If the Duggar son has taken Jesus’ words to heart and lived his life since then on that basis, we should be rejoicing in a transformed life, not digging up old dirt.

Jesus came to call sinners to repentance. He came to bring eternal life to those who don’t deserve it. That applies to all of us. When we come to repentance and receive His forgiveness and our hearts are changed, that’s called salvation.

The Eisenhower Decade

I am in Abilene, Kansas, researching at the Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library. Spent all day there yesterday and will finish my research today.

Ike Library

It’s rather sad that Eisenhower is practically a forgotten president for the current generation. Of course, I’ve often commented that students today know next to nothing about American history, but what they do know spans only their lifetime, or a portion of it.

Ike StatueThe Eisenhower decade was really rather prosperous for America, and he kept the peace as we squared off with a hostile Soviet Union determined to bring us down. They knew they had to be careful dealing with Eisenhower because he was no fool. He had successfully navigated the plans for D-Day and brought Nazi Germany to its knees. He knew an enemy when he saw one, and he also knew what to do to keep an enemy at bay. Unfortunately, he was followed in office by a man with little to no experience on that front, leading to the Bay of Pigs, the building of the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Eisenhower, although not very religious throughout most of his life, became more attached to the Christian faith in his later years. Billy Graham played a central role, as did Eisenhower’s Presbyterian pastor in D.C., Rev. Edward Elson. Before he died, Eisenhower called Graham to his bedside one more time to be sure he understood the essence of salvation through Christ. I trust he died a convinced Christian.

This is my final presidential library stop for my sabbatical. It’s been quite a journey: the Reagan and Nixon libraries in California, the LBJ and George H. W. Bush libraries in Texas, and the Clinton library in Arkansas were my other destinations. I’ve amassed a ton of information in the form of personal correspondence between these presidents and the ones they looked to for spiritual guidance. Now it all needs to be manifested in a series of books. Please pray for my collaborator and me on this mission to publish this valuable information.