The Greatest Drama Ever Staged

Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as a bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine—dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite.

It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama.

Those bold words come from Dorothy Sayers, contemporary and friend of C. S. Lewis, fiction writer in her early years, turning to specifically Christian apologetics and imaginative plays afterward. She also made a name for herself near the end of her life doing a new translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

Although raised in a clergyman’s home, Sayers’s early life didn’t reflect a serious commitment to the faith. Maturity, though, seemed to draw her back and turned her into one of the most stalwart Anglicans of her time.

The above quote comes from an essay called “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged,” which posits that Christianity is exciting, not in the least boring. Take the drama of Christ’s life, for instance:

He [God] had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself.

What does she mean?

He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man.

The Christian story, and the “dogma” attached to it is “the tale of the time when God was the underdog and got beaten.” He came to men—those he had made—as a man, “and the men he had made broke him and killed him.” This is not dull, Sayers cries; rather, it is a “terrifying drama of which God is the victim and hero.”

She continues,

If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore—on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium.

We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.

And then there was that Resurrection. How does one top that for drama?

One is free to disbelieve the entire story and the dogma attached to it, Sayers admits, but “if we are going to disbelieve a thing, it seems on the whole to be desirable that we should first find out what, exactly, we are disbelieving.”

As you can tell, Sayers is not one to mince words. Near the end of the essay, she summarizes succinctly:

Now, we may call that doctrine exhilarating, or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation, or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all.

That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed.

Any journalist, hearing of it for the first time, would recognize it as news; those who did hear it for the first time actually called it news, and good news at that; though we are likely to forget that the word Gospel ever meant anything so sensational.

If your concept of Christian faith is that it is dull, boring, and static, you need to investigate further. This is the greatest drama of all ages, and it has eternal consequences. That is pure dynamism.

From Slave to Free Man to Missionary: The Story of Lott Cary

LOTT CARY was born a slave in Virginia and died a missionary in Liberia. His birth took place around 1780, about thirty miles south of Richmond, Virginia. Although his father was a respected Baptist, Cary was a profane alcoholic. However, in 1807 his ears were opened to the gospel. He converted to Christianity and joined a Baptist church. A sermon he heard on John 3 left him eager to know more about Nicodemus. As a result, he learned to read.

Cary became an efficient and faithful worker, able to handle clerical duties at the tobacco firm where his master hired him out. He was able to study Scripture as well. Merchants frequently tipped him and he sold leftover tobacco to build his savings. Consequently, he was able to purchase freedom for himself and his children. After gaining his freedom, Cary preached to slaves around Richmond. Whites who also attended his sermons said they were among the most moving they ever heard.

In 1813 an African-American preacher named William Crane settled in Richmond. Crane and Cary organized a society for African missions. This was the first world mission founded by African Americans. Eventually the society chose Lott Cary and Colin Teague, both free blacks, as its first missionaries. In commissioning him for the task, his board urged him “to dwell much on the doctrine of the cross, a doctrine which has been found in every age of the church of Christ the power of God.”

The tobacco firm offered Cary a large raise to stay, but Cary turned it down. Selling his farm to support himself, he sailed for Africa and reached Monrovia, Liberia, in 1822. His labors included preaching several times a week, instructing native children and settlers, and operating a charity school with his own money. He also fended off armed attacks by local Africans. Unfortunately, Cary got sucked into politics. Free blacks in Liberia were unhappy with colonial agent Jehudi Ashmun’s redistribution of their land and Cary headed their resistance. The United States investigated and stood by Ashmun, who forbade Cary to preach any more until he apologized.

By 1824, Cary and Ashmun had settled their differences and the colony granted its settlers full participation in the government. From then on, Ashmun spoke of Cary with high praise as a selfless man. Cary became vice-agent with enormous responsibilities. He doctored the settlers with remedies he had learned while he himself was suffering from tropical diseases. He also experimented successfully with raising rice and coffee, which became staples of the Liberian economy.

When Ashmun returned to America, he left Liberia in Cary’s hands and recommended him as permanent agent for the colony. However, Cary was mortally wounded before anything came of it. On 8 November 1828, he was helping prepare cartridges for the protection of the settlers when someone overturned a candle. All the ammunition exploded. Six people died on the 9th. Cary and another victim of the accident lingered until 10 November.

Cary’s story came to me from the Christian History Institute’s daily e-mail on November 10. I wanted to share it because I was so impressed with his character and Christian commitment. I’m glad to add to my knowledge of another strong African American Christian during this time period in American history. I hope you appreciate it as well.

Onward to a Mature Faith

Elwin Ransom, C. S. Lewis’s protagonist in his Space Trilogy, tells the fictional Lewis in the novel Perelandra that he [Ranson] is about to be transported in a rather mysterious fashion to another planet. The Lewis character asks Ransom if he has any idea what to expect. Is it safe? Will he be able to breathe? What will he eat? Does he have any confidence that he will return?

“If you mean, Does my reason accept the view that he will . . . deliver me safe on the surface of Perelandra?—the answer is Yes,” said Ransom. “If you mean, Do my nerves and my imagination respond to this view?—I’m afraid the answer is No. One can believe in anaesthetics and yet feel in a panic when they actually put the mask over your face. I think I feel as a man who believes in the future life feels when he is taken out to face a firing party. Perhaps it’s good practice.”

We all probably can identify with that feeling. Our minds will tell us one thing—a thing that we believe deeply is true—while our emotions may be screaming at us, urging us not to step out onto that limb of faith. What if we fall?

This coming Wednesday evening, in my class on Mere Christianity, we’ll be covering the chapters that deal with faith. Lewis, from his own personal experience, shares how our moods are so very changeable—yet we cannot allow those moods/emotional episodes to dictate truth. He explains it in his typical relatable style:

Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience.

Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.

It’s particularly interesting to me that Lewis confesses even atheists have doubts about their atheism. Don’t we sometimes think that it’s only those of us who have professed the faith who have those doubts? No, doubting is common to all. What is the solution?

This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion.

When we allow our moods—our emotional ups and downs—to determine what we believe, we are, in effect, telling God we really don’t trust His character: His love for us through Christ; the ultimate Sacrifice He paid; the forgiveness He has offered; the new life He has granted us.

The apostle James tells us,

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

I want to persevere. I want to be mature. I seek the kind of faith that sets aside all doubts about God’s goodness and trusts Him implicitly. May that faith grow in us all.

Election Fallout, Trends, & the Christian Witness

There are different layers to the midterm elections. We can look at the superficial results—who won, who lost—we can analyze what this means for the near future politically, but we also need to look at the long-term trends.

On the surface, we see kind of a wash where Democrats took over the House while Republicans have increased their numbers in the Senate. What this means is that Nancy Pelosi and crew will use their power position to begin an unending series of investigations of whatever they deem corruption.The new chair of the Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, is already more than hinting that he will seek to impeach newly confirmed Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh.

In other words, prepare for the ongoing circus. No vote for impeachment in the House, though, will ever be favorably received by the Senate, nor should it be. Any impeachment attempt will fail.

By keeping control of the Senate, the Republicans can go forward with the appointment of more judges who will, hopefully, have respect for the Constitution. And that’s no small thing.

In my state of Florida, the Republican candidates for governor and senator won, despite what the polls showed. Ron Desantis will be the new governor and our current governor, Rick Scott, will now be in the Senate. Both victories were razor-thin, but they were victories nonetheless.

The Scott win throws out Democrat Bill Nelson, who had thought he could be senator for life. The Desantis triumph keeps Florida from going into the pit, as his opponent, Andrew Gillum, was a Bernie Sanders acolyte.

Nearly all the polls showed Nelson and Gillum winning, which makes one wonder about polls (as if you weren’t already wondering about them).

Neighboring Georgia escaped the same fate as Republican Brian Kemp narrowly edged out Stacey Abrams, who, as a state legislator, had voted to confiscate guns, and who was running a race based quite a bit on race.

So, at least for now, conservatives can breathe a kind of sigh of relief. The barbarians have not yet broken through some of the walls.

But the trends are not optimistic. Florida and Georgia nearly going the Bernie Sanders route? Ted Cruz having a scare in Texas before pulling out a late win there? Many state legislatures and governorships switching to Democrat control? That reverses the Republican wave of state gains over the past decade.

Why does this concern me so much? Just look at how radical the Democrats have become. This is certainly no longer the party of Truman and JFK. This isn’t even the party of George McGovern in the 1970s. We thought he was radical; he might not even get nominated today.

The deepest concern for me is the spiritual. Democrats have all but abandoned any pretense of caring about Christian beliefs and morality. Wherever they have the upper hand, they will attempt to force into compliance those who disagree with their vision of the perfect society.

For all the talk on the Left of the fantasy of some kind of right-wing theocracy, the truth is more on the side of a totalitarian state of the Left:

  • You will promote abortion regardless of your religious beliefs;
  • You will accept homosexuality and same-sex marriage as normal or lose your business;
  • You will become social justice warriors or face retribution by being stigmatized as racist, sexist, and whatever other “ist” our fertile imaginations will conjure up.

That is not society I wish to see. The only consolation, and it is real, is that the Christian message will be shining in the darkness.

If we are faithful to that message.

Let me end with a Scripture that just came to mind. Jesus, speaking to the Pharisee Nicodemus, after that most famous of all passages about how God so loved the world, ends with these words of stark truth:

And this is the verdict: The Light has come into the world, but men loved the darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come into the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever practices the truth comes into the Light, so that it may be seen clearly that what he has done has been accomplished in God.”

We should always expect resistance to God’s message of love because that same message points out people’s sins. They will never like that. Therefore, we need to be prepared for evil people acting out of the evil that exists in their hearts. Yet when they do, our task is to continue to offer God’s redemption from evil.

We are to love even our enemies.

About Those Midterm Elections

Midterm elections mercifully come to an end tomorrow evening. That means we will be spared from the constant barrage of criminal charges against one’s political opponent. Although I’m no longer surprised by the extremely nasty nature of most political ads, I think they’ve raised the nasty factor a few notches this year.

I don’t needs ads anyway. My voting decisions are not based on ads that I know are designed to mislead. My vote is based on the principles that I believe are necessary for government to function the way God intended.

Despite my personal disappointment that Republicans have chosen the wrong man to be the public face of the party, I continue to believe that voting for Democrats will promote not only a government, but a society, hostile to Biblical principles and the morality that should naturally follow those principles.

The Democrat platform has drifted increasingly toward an affirmation of concepts that are not only opposed to Biblical principles but that have a track record of proven incompetence and failure.

That’s not the man I would follow.

Democrats also need to think through the logic of their positions more carefully.

Marxism is not simply a different point of view. History reveals it to be, in its very nature, a movement toward totalitarianism. You must agree or you will pay the penalty. What should we expect if Democrats don’t do as well as they hoped in these midterms?

Be prepared for a level of incivility and outright violence that will take most people by surprise.

How should Christians respond if this occurs?

Be on the alert. Stand firm in the faith. Be men of courage. Be strong. Do everything in love. I Cor. 16:13-14

Notice how one can be firm, courageous, and strong while simultaneously carrying ourselves in love toward others. That’s the goal. That’s God’s way.

Beginning Chapter One of the Great Story

It’s been a great C. S. Lewis semester for me: teaching my Lewis course at Southeastern University; enjoying the opportunity to teach his Mere Christianity along with my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis, at my church every Wednesday evening; and having the privilege of sharing about my book at the Wade Center at Wheaton College.

I don’t take any of this for granted, and I appreciate all the doors the Lord has opened in the last four years since He inspired me to research and write about Lewis during the sabbatical I received from Southeastern.

Yesterday in the SEU class, we finished reading and discussing The Last Battle, Lewis’s climax to the Narnia series. I chose this one for the students to read because most had already read or were at least familiar with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Yet there was another reason: the ending of The Last Battle contains one of the most wonderful depictions of the New Earth (even if it is in the fictional world of Narnia) that I have ever encountered. When God wraps up this tragi-comedy that we call “reality,” what will it be like? Lewis gives us a hint.

As all the characters that populated the seven Narnia books (except Susan, sadly) find themselves transported into Life after this life, they are trying to make sense of it all. The Lord Digory explains what has happened:

Listen, Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world.

You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.

Jewel the Unicorn captured it as well when he realized that he had “come home at last. This is my real country,” he proclaimed. “This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.”

There’s a reason why we can see beauty around us on this earth, yet long for more. As Jewel concludes, “The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that is sometimes looked a little like this.” And our tired old earth, regardless of being marred by man’s sin, nevertheless retains hints of the Reality that awaits us.

The final page of The Last Battle offers us a revolution in our thinking about death that is worth quoting in full:

Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”

“No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?”

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.

And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.

All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

If that doesn’t send a thrill up your spine, you’re not paying attention to the words. I look forward to getting past the title page and entering into the Great Story that goes on forever, and I am convinced, as Lewis says, that every chapter will be better than the one before.

Birthright Citizenship & Executive Orders

President Trump has thrown the political world into a tizzy. In itself, that’s nothing new; he seems to delight in doing so rather regularly. The latest instance is his suggestion that he can end birthright citizenship by issuing an executive order.

I’ll come back to that assertion shortly, but first, let’s look at the issue itself.

The idea that anyone having a child born in the United States automatically makes that child an American citizen has been judged constitutional by our federal courts. The controversy now centers on illegals giving birth. Are those children American citizens if their parents entered the country in opposition to the country’s laws?

All of this stems from the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. How about some historical context here?

The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were all added to the Constitution at the conclusion of the Civil War, and all were concerned with slavery and the condition of former slaves. The 13th abolished slavery; the 15th gave former slaves the right to vote. The 13th never caused controversy after the fact; the 15th suffered from attempts to limit that right to vote, but those attempts were eventually banned.

It’s the 14th’s statement about citizenship that is the focus of our current debate. The actual language of the amendment is this:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

The first thing to consider is that it was written in the context of ensuring that former slaves were not excluded from citizenship. It was the antidote to the infamous decision in the Dred Scott case in 1857, a decision that upended previous American experience by saying that no black person is or ever was a citizen of the United States. That was at odds with the many free blacks who always considered themselves citizens and had even voted in elections.

That was the main reason for the 14th Amendment: to correct that false belief promulgated by the Dred Scott decision. That is the historical context.

Another part of the historical context is to consider the words uttered on the Senate floor by the author of the amendment, Sen. Jacob Howard, who, in 1866, clarified what was intended by the citizenship clause. Howard stated,

This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons.

According to Howard, citizenship does not apply to foreigners/aliens and those who are representatives of other countries residing in America as ambassadors, etc. In my reading of the statement, I see a distinction between that particular class of foreign representatives and the general connotation of foreigners and aliens. Wouldn’t an illegal alien fit into that latter category?

I realize there can be differing interpretations. That’s why I wouldn’t mind having this debate be open and free, and even submitted to the courts for further clarification.

Now, on to the president’s assertion that he can do his own personal clarification on the issue.

He cannot.

No executive order from any president can undo a constitutional amendment and/or the courts’ decisions based on that amendment. If Trump were to try to undo this precedent merely by the wave of the magic wand of Executive Order, he would not accomplish his purpose—it would immediately be challenged and go directly to the courts.

His goal in making this pronouncement appears to be purely political, an attempt to rally the base as the midterm elections draw near. While that may be understandable politically, it is nonsense constitutionally.

Here’s where I must challenge my conservative colleagues: if you decried how Obama misused executive orders (and I was one of the decriers), you must be consistent and apply that reasoning to Trump’s proposed use of this particular executive order.

If you excuse what Trump proposes as legitimate, you have tossed away your integrity and have decided that constitutional principle no longer matters as long as a president you support resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

On the substance of this birthright issue, I agree that the original intent of the 14th Amendment has been skewed. However, the old cliché remains true: two wrongs do not create a right.

I’m actually glad that the nation might be led into a debate on whether children born to illegals have the privilege of citizenship, but that debate needs to go forward in the constitutionally prescribed manner, not by a phony application of a presidential executive order.