Communicating Truth: A Lewis Exhortation

“You must translate every bit of your Theology into the vernacular,” exhorted C. S. Lewis in an essay entitled “Christian Apologetics.” He admitted this could be “very troublesome and it means you can say very little in half an hour, but it is essential.”

Theologians, he believed, had a tendency to write in an obscure way. In the same vein, many pastors may try to impress their congregations with high-flown, little-understood phrases that leave the listeners spiritually cold.

Lewis therefore challenged those who are called to preach the gospel to put it in the language of everyday people. Not only would it communicate better with them, but “it is also of the greatest service to your own thought.”

I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused.

Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning. A passage from some theological work for translation into the vernacular ought to be a compulsory paper in every Ordination examination.

The driving force behind Lewis’s exhortation was that communication of God’s Good News is the most significant message imaginable; therefore, it requires clarity of expression.

Later in that same essay, he emphasizes the necessity of pressing upon an audience (whether of one or of many) that the Christian faith must be presented from the proper foundation:

One of the great difficulties is to keep before the audience’s mind the question of Truth. They always think you are recommending Christianity not because it is true but because it is good. And in the discussion they will at every moment try to escape from the issue “True—or False.” . . .

One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon us who have been given the charge to be communicators of God’s Truth to do so in a way that people can really grasp its importance.

Presuppositions & Worldviews

From the time I first began to realize that everyone, whether they know it or not, operates on a specific worldview, I’ve analyzed everything through that insight. I agree with the late Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer, who famously explained in his excellent book, How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture,

People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize.

Schaeffer then defined his primary term:

By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world view, the grid through which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People’s presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world.

Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions.

“As a man thinketh, so is he,” is really most profound. An individual is not just the product of the forces around him.

That explanation took hold on me early in my Christian journey and has framed much of what I teach. I’m always concerned with showcasing worldviews to my students, in the hope that they will look beneath the surface and see the roots from which certain beliefs spring.

We all live our lives with baggage. When we surrender our lives to the Lordship of Christ, we begin a new path that is supposed to leave the bad baggage behind—baggage like a false worldview.

This is not instantaneous; it is a process that lasts throughout one’s lifetime. Yet significant strides in replacing old views can be made even as we start this new life. As we’re told in the book of Romans, the 12th chapter,

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

The word translated as “transformed” can also be translated “transfigured,” as when Jesus took three of His disciples up on the mountain and they saw Him changed into the glorious nature that was hidden beneath His humanity.

Our minds need to undergo a similar change. They need to be renewed because they have fallen into the decay of sinful worldviews. In Christ, that gets turned around.

I also like what I read in Colossians 2:8:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Deception roams among us at all times, and we need to be alert; it’s far too easy to get intellectually and spiritually lazy and get taken captive unaware. We need to continually focus on the principles given to us from the mind and heart of God. When we meditate on those truths, that which is hollow and deceptive will become clear.

Our marching orders with respect to worldviews can also be seen in 2 Corinthians 10:5, where we’re instructed,

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

So there is a negative aspect to our mission in one sense: we are to tear down and destroy all false arguments that would lead people astray from the truth. We are to use our minds in the way God intended, where every thought becomes subject to Him.

This is my passion, placed in my heart by God’s Spirit. I have a deep, abiding love for the truth. I must always remember, though, one further exhortation found in Ephesians 4:15, where I’m told I have to speak His truth in love.

That can be a challenge at times, especially when I see others being deceived by the falsehoods. But speak I must. That will never change.

Speaking Truth to a Sinful Culture

I was born in the 1950s, became aware of the larger world and moral issues in the 1960s (subjected as we all were during that era to the so-called sexual revolution), solidified my Christian faith in the early-to-mid 1970s, slipped away from Christian reality for a while after that, only to return to faith in the late 1980s with supreme gratitude to God for His patience and willingness to forgive my stupidity.

I was blessed to be brought back from the brink of spiritual destruction. As a result, I speak earnestly and forcefully (with love, I trust) about the need to hold fast to His truth and not allow slippage to occur, both in the individuals I have the opportunity to influence (students, in particular) and in my ongoing concern for the Christian church’s witness to the world.

When the church—which is comprised of all those who have come to the foot of the Cross, repented of sin, and received the forgiveness and grace only offered there—stops being the voice of God on moral issues, the culture degrades in proportion to the church’s apostasy.

This hasn’t happened on all issues. Take abortion, for instance. Despite the efforts of those who want to see abortion accepted as normal, great strides have been made by Christians in our nation to stem that tide. Regardless of the government’s promotion of abortion via the Supreme Court, the attitude of Americans on that issue is shifting more and more toward rejection of that horrific act.

Not so with homosexuality, unfortunately. This has become the primary issue now with the government and the culture in general (entertainment media, especially) in an attempt to overthrow Biblical morality.

Those of us who grew up in the 1950s-1970s era look around us and almost can’t believe what we see. What was once considered abnormal and not even to be mentioned publicly has become a celebration of “diversity.” Those who oppose the gay agenda are singled out as “haters,” “bigots,” and “narrow-minded.”

Same-sex marriage, from a Biblical standpoint, is an absurdity. Probably more than 90% of Americans would have said the same thing a mere twenty years ago. Now, even Republicans—you know, the “conservatives”—are on the verge of accepting it as normal. A recent poll revealed that nearly 50% of Republican voters no longer have a problem with it.

While that certainly concerns me as a conservative, the more pressing problem is the change occurring with those who claim to be Christians. The shift within the supposed Christian community is disheartening.

One Christian professor at a Baptist seminary has come up with a sad, yet from my perspective, accurate description of what is happening. He sees evangelicals moving toward the same acceptance of same-sex marriage as the overall culture.

Here are the stages he outlines.

(1) Oppose gay-marriage: Every evangelical starts here, or at the very least they appear to start here.

(2) Oppose taking a stand on the question: Persons in this stage are becoming aware of how offensive the traditional view is to those outside the church. Their initial remedy is to avoid that conflict by not talking about the Bible’s teaching on this subject. In Brian McLaren‘s case, he urged evangelicals to observe a 5-year moratorium on talking about gay marriage. For Jen Hatmaker, she advocated going “into the basement,” where we don’t talk about these things but just love people. Choosing to avoid the question is never a final answer for anyone in this stage.

(3) Affirm gay marriage: At some point during the “we’re not talking about this anymore” stage, those who used to oppose gay marriage find grounds to affirm it. Some do it by questioning the Bible’s truthfulness. Others do through revisionist interpretations of the Biblical text. In either case, proponents end up affirming what the Bible forbids.

(4) Vilify traditional marriage proponents: Persons in this stage not only affirm gay marriage. They also view traditional marriage supporters as supporting invidious discrimination against gay people. They will adopt the rhetoric of Christianity’s fiercest critics to describe believers who hold to the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.

The professor then goes on to state that while it may take some time for people to go from stage 2 to stage 3, once they hit stage 3, they quite often go rapidly into stage 4.

I teach at an evangelical university. During the Obama presidency, we, along with other evangelical universities, experienced pressure to change our public stand on this issue or else our students would be cut off from getting education loans and our accreditation might be withdrawn over time.

Some may think that just because we presently have a Republican Congress and a president who curries favor with evangelicals that we are “safe.” Believing that all is back to “normal” would be the height of wishful thinking.

It is crucial for those who truly know what it means to be brought out of the pit of sinful destruction and receive the mercy and grace of God to stand firm at this time on Biblical teaching about sin.

Many will twist my words, saying they are hateful. They are just the opposite. I want everyone caught in a sinful life to be set free. I needed that in my life at one point and God graciously gave me a new life. I seek the same for others.

All sin—homosexuality included—leads to chains that bind us. When we are in those chains, we get used to them and our consciences become seared. The Christian’s responsibility is, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, to break through that seared conscience with the twin weapons of Truth and Love so that those caught in the trap will see their need and respond to God’s mercy through Christ.

To be faithful to God’s truth and to speak to our society about that truth is the most loving thing we can do.

Chambers: The Meaning of Witness

Every couple of years, I’m privileged to teach my course on Whittaker Chambers. As this semester nears its end, students are also getting near the end of Chambers’s masterful autobiography entitled Witness.

Why that title? Chambers, as he shared what he knew about the communist underground of which he had been a part for many years, was a witness. Another word for a witness is a martyr—one who is willing to lay down his life for what he knows to be true.

Chambers took a great chance in providing information; he might have been the one indicted for his past activities. Yet he came forward regardless because integrity demanded it; he sought to help Western civilization understand the threat it faced, not just from an outward manifestation called communism, but from an inner loss of spirit due to its increasing denial of Christian faith.

Chambers made a distinction between making a witness and simply giving a testimony. “The testimony and the witness must not be confused,” he wrote. “They were not the same.” He explained further,

The testimony fixed specific, relevant crimes. The witness fixed the effort of the soul to rise above sin and crime, and not for its own sake first, but because of others’ need, that the witness to sin and crime might be turned against both.

Chambers, in confessing his sins and crimes, was hoping to help the world understand the deeper truths. Yet he was concerned “that the world would see only the shocking facts of the testimony and not the meaning of the witness.”

He expressed his concern in words that reverberate down to our day—elegant words, words wrought out of the depth of his soul:

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.

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.

What does the Christian hope offer to men? I love how Chambers ends this short soliloquy:

For it frees them from the trap of irreversible Fate at the point of 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.

Chambers’s words remind me of chapter 4 of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. . . .

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Be a witness today, even if you feel weak. God uses whatever we offer Him for His glory.

My Biblical Foundation for This Blog

I began this blog in August 2008. I had no idea how long it would go, but I’m still here and haven’t yet been led by the Lord to stop, even though I’ve contemplated it many times.

The goal of Pondering Principles always has been to bring the light of a Biblical worldview to bear on all aspects of life. As we enter into this new year, I thought I would simply lay out once more where I’m coming from and why I write as I do.

A litany of Scripture passages will serve as the basis for this, beginning with Isaiah 59:2:

But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.

That’s the state of the world overall. Mankind is in rebellion against the righteous rule of the Creator. The rebellion begins in individual hearts and then spreads into the various cultures.

In spite of this, God loves us. Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, was sent into this sin-soaked world for one supreme purpose, as explained in Matthew 1:21 when an angel informed Joseph,

She [Mary] will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

The Greek word that we translate “from” actually means, more precisely, “away from” or “out of.” The strong message is that through Jesus we no longer have to be a sin-soaked people, but we can be separated from our sins rather than be separated from God.

John 14:6 makes it abundantly clear that there is no other way to be reunited with our God when Jesus says to His disciples,

I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

That’s why I write from the perspective that the Christian faith is the one and only true, genuine faith in the world. All others are attempts to find a different way back to God, but all fail.

What is God’s goal? It is found in II Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Repentance is the key, yet it is so often minimized in the modern Christian message. It’s not enough merely to give a mental assent to some propositions about Jesus; rather, a change of life is essential—and it starts with repentance. Some see that word as harsh, but it isn’t. As the apostle Paul explains in Romans 2:4,

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

It’s the greatest kindness of all to be truthful with us about our sinfulness and to point to the way out of it. Once we make that initial turnabout, He then gives us the grace to live the kind of life He knows will bring real joy. One of my favorite verses is Romans 12:2, which says,

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

The word translated “transformed” is the same word used when Jesus went up on the mountain and was “transfigured” before His three closest disciples. They were allowed to see His true glory for a few minutes. In the same way, He wants our lives to be “transfigured” so we no longer walk as we used to walk.

As we live out this new life, we need to be a discerning people. We need to know the difference between truth and falsehood and how that affects our society all around us. That’s why I also use this Scripture, Colossians 2:8, quite often when I speak:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

That’s why I spend so much time and effort trying to apply Biblical principles to what I see taking place in our nation and in the world. That’s why I comment often on politics and government and seek to show how the Christian faith should impact them. Government is not our savior, but it can help stem the tide of evil—and evil seems to be increasing to the point where this plaintive cry from Isaiah 5:20-21 describes the direction of this nation:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!

Never in the history of America have we elevated evil to such an extent as we are doing now—and call it “good.” We did it in the past with slavery and segregation, but now we are reversing good and evil in unprecedented ways.

This why I write, to do whatever I can, in my limited way, to shine a light on God’s path, in the hope that I can influence a few to look to Him.

The most well-known Scripture is John 3:16. When you couple it with the verse that follows, it offers the rationale for what God seeks to do among us:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

The problem, however, has always been man’s response to God’s love. Jesus concludes the above statement with this:

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.

For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

My commitment is to partner with the Lord as much as I can in revealing the Light that is Jesus. Along the way, that means calling out the darkness; we have to see the stark contrast between the two.

I will do my best always to include the way out of the darkness, shining the Light of Jesus on it.

Modernity & the Church

Impossible PeopleI’m working my way through a new book by Os Guinness called Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization. It diagnoses the problem of the church as it becomes co-opted by modernity.

Guinness says, quite correctly, I believe, that it’s not the frontal attacks of secularism and atheism that do the real damage; rather, it is the seduction and distortion of the faith through modernity that leads us astray and destroys the Christian witness to civilization.

Guinness says that predictions of the disappearance of religion in our culture are off-target. In fact, religion is flourishing, but the nature of the Christian faith has been subtly altered, thereby making it less genuine.

One major change in perception that has changed the faith is the undermining of the whole concept of submission to authority. We have shifted “from a stance under authority to one of preference. . . . All responses are merely a matter of preference.” This is at odds with basic Christianity. “Unique among the gods believed in throughout history, the Lord is transcendent, so what he says is truth, binding truth, because it addresses us as authority. To dilute this authority is to dismiss the Lord himself,” Guinness notes.

The statement “Jesus is Lord” is the essence of Biblical truth. There is no other name through which anyone can be saved.

Our modern world, though, informs us that there is no ultimate authority; we have unlimited choice in life.

From breakfast cereals to restaurants and cuisines to sexual identities and temptations to possible sexual arrangements of all types to self-help techniques and philosophies of life, we are offered an infinite array of choices, and the focus is always on choice as choosing rather than choice as the content of what is chosen. Simply choose. Experiment. Try it out for yourself.

Os GuinnessGuinness goes on: “Our freedom is the freedom to choose, regardless of whether our choice is right or wrong, wise or stupid. . . . Choosing is all that matters. Truth, goodness, and authority are irrelevant.”

In the world at large, this leads to the rejection of any absolute standard. Guinness explains,

Does it matter . . . whether your sister-in-law is straight or lesbian, or your boss is a heterosexual womanizer, a homosexual, or was once a woman? There are different strokes for different folks. We are all different, so who are we to judge? . . . This is my choice. That is yours. We are all free to choose differently, and our choices only amount to different preferences, so who is to say who is right? . . . And what business do any of us have to judge other people’s preferences?

It’s understandable that the world outside the Christian faith would fall for this, but when it shows up in the church, that’s when the faith is compromised and loses its witness of truth to the world.

As Guinness laments, “Christian advocates of homosexual and lesbian revisionism believe in themselves and in the sexual revolution rather than the gospel. They therefore twist the Scriptures to make reality fit their desires rather than making their desires fit the truths of the Scriptures.”

In our seeker-friendly church world, we often exchange the truth for a lie. Guinness quotes from a Christian marketing consultant who said, apparently without any sense of irony, “It is . . . critical that we keep in mind a fundamental principle of Christian communication: the audience, not the message, is sovereign.”

TruthGuinness expresses his shock over such a statement: “The audience is sovereign? No! Let it be repeated a thousand times, no! When reaching out as the church of Jesus, the message of the gospel and Jesus the Lord of the message is alone sovereign—and never, never, never the audience, however needy, however attractive, however prestigious or well-heeled an audience may be.”

While we are to be sensitive to those seeking the truth, we must have truth to offer them. While we are to be all things to all people, the purpose for that admonition is to bring them to the Truth Himself.

Here is the challenge, as Guinness so clearly lays it out:

All Evangelicals should search their hearts. For a generation now the air has been thick with talk of “changing the world,” but who is changing whom?

There is no question that the world would like to change the church. In area after area only the church stands between the world and its success over issues such as sexuality. Unquestionably the world would like to change the church, but does the church still want to change the world, or is its only concern to change the church in the light of the world?

Something is rotten in the state of Evangelicalism, and all too often it is impossible to tell who is changing whom.

I would add that as I survey the current political state of America and the evangelical rush to support, and even promote, a candidate whose worldview and lifestyle is contrary to the Gospel, that I see this rot infecting evangelicalism to its very core.

Who is changing whom?

I applaud Os Guinness’s clarion call that we be the church once more.

Lewis & the Public Square (Part 1)

CSL FoundationI’ve finished the first draft of my paper for the C. S. Lewis Foundation’s conference next month. The assigned topic for the Academic Roundtable is “Faith, Freedom, and the Public Square.” Participants can come at this topic in any way they choose. I chose to address the distinct difference historically between the terms “liberty of conscience” and “pluralism,” noting the first one rests on the belief that there is absolute truth to be found, while the second offers a basis of relativism.

After the historical section of my paper, I turn to how Lewis viewed the Christian’s responsibility to speak out for truth publicly. What follows is an excerpt.

One might be excused for thinking that C. S. Lewis avoided anything political, since he stated rather consistently that he abhorred politics. A tongue-in-cheek letter he received from an American organization that called itself The Society for the Prevention of Progress brought a tongue-in-cheek response from Lewis, as he told them,

While feeling that I was born a member of your Society, I am nevertheless honoured to receive the outward seal of membership. I shall hope by continued orthodoxy and the unremitting practice of Reaction, Obstruction, and Stagnation to give you no reason for repenting your favour.

Comments like that would tend to paint him as a reluctant combatant in the civil realm.

That would be an inaccurate assessment. While it is true that he despised the petty politics of his nation, he was always a staunch defender of truth in the public sphere, whether dealing with theological issues or more practical matters of governing. Why write the kinds of books he did if not for the purpose of influencing the society of his day? The Abolition of Man and its fiction counterpart, That Hideous Strength, are only two examples of his attempt to warn people of the dangers of scientism applied to education and government.

Oxford Socratic ClubLewis’s tenure as president of the Oxford Socratic Club shows his willingness to openly debate matters with those who were not Christians. He noted the importance, in a university, of Christians breaking out of their shells and interacting with those of different beliefs. Lewis never argued for a kind of pluralistic neutrality in those debates. He was forthright in how they should be conducted: “We never claimed to be impartial. But argument is. It has a life of its own. No man can tell where it will go. We expose ourselves, and the weakest of our party, to your fire no less than you are exposed to ours.”

He also knew that the Christian message had to be communicated in every way possible. One does that, he noted, by attacking “the enemy’s line of communication.” He followed this thought with one of his more famous quotes:

C. S. Lewis 1What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects—with their Christianity latent. . . . It is not the books written in direct defence of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian.

Then came an appeal to put one’s theology into the vernacular in order to truly communicate the message to an unbelieving audience. “I have come to the conviction,” he concluded, “that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused.”

That’s an introduction to the Lewis portion of my paper. I’ll add to it next Saturday.