Archive for November, 2017

An Exclusivity Available for All

I’m an exclusivist. That doesn’t sound good, does it? If someone says that, the image of “elitist,” “snob,” or “self-righteous” might present itself to the mind of whoever hears such a statement.

Yet I’m an exclusivist without being any of those other things. In fact, God calls us to attach ourselves to His exclusivity. The Christian faith is an exclusive faith. It makes the outrageous statement (outrageous to those who don’t like to hear it) that there is no other way to have a relationship with God and to attain to an eternal life in His presence except by believing that Jesus Christ is the only Way, Truth, and Life.

Jesus Himself said that. It didn’t originate with me. And it’s affirmed throughout the entire New Testament. For instance, in the book of Acts, we’re told, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (4:12)

That rankles many. They want to believe instead that all paths ultimately lead to God, that we all will end up at the same place in the end. They have this rosy picture that everyone, or nearly everyone (we must exclude Hitler, of course) will enter the celestial gates into heaven (and their concept of what that is will vary considerably).

I am an exclusivist. I believe instead that those celestial gates are not the final destination for everyone who passes from this life. What leads me to believe that? It comes back to another statement from Jesus:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matt. 7:13-14)

That’s a sad truth, but it’s not because God wants it to be that way. His offer of salvation is not limited to those few who find the small gate and the narrow road.

[God our Savior] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus. (I Tim. 2:3-5)

[The Lord] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9)

So, even though the Christian faith makes the most exclusivist of all claims—that there is only one way to God—that way through the Cross is available to all. Forgiveness, the grace to live righteously, and the promise of heaven are realities. He has done everything for us; it simply remains for us to respond.

Defusing the Newburgh Conspiracy

The American Revolution was essentially over. British General Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown in October 1781. Yet George Washington still had to keep his army together until a peace treaty was concluded. That didn’t happen until 1783.

Many of his officers were angry with Congress. They hadn’t been paid for a long time and were contemplating open mutiny, even to the point of marching on Congress, guns in hand.

They knew Washington wouldn’t approve their potential plans, so they turned to Gen. Horatio Gates, the supposed hero of Saratoga. He really wasn’t the hero (that honor actually belonged to Benedict Arnold, prior to his turning traitor), but public perception is sometimes everything.

Gates had humiliated himself at the Battle of Camden in South Carolina, not only losing the battle, but being in the forefront of the hasty retreat. Yet there were some who still clung to the false idea that he was a leader, so they looked to him to “lead” in this mutiny.

The army was encamped in Newburgh, New York, in March 1783, and that’s why this episode is called the Newburgh Conspiracy. The mutineers called a meeting to discuss how to proceed with their plans. Gates was in charge.

Then, unexpectedly, Washington appeared at this meeting. He knew what they were plotting, totally disapproved of the movement, and hoped to soothe their anger over how they had been treated.

Washington had not only led the army all those long years of the war, but he had carried on another “war,” so to speak, the entire time—trying to get Congress to follow through on promises made. He was in constant communication with the Congress and came into this meeting to let the officers know about the latest exchange with the political leaders.

Some have called what he did next “political theater,” but to me, it seems genuine enough. One account describes what happened this way:

With a sigh, he removed from his pocket a letter and announced it was from a member of Congress, and that he now wished to read it to them. He produced the letter, gazed upon it, manipulated it without speaking. What was wrong, some of the men wondered. Why did he delay?

Washington now reached into a pocket and brought out a pair of new reading glasses. Only those nearest to him knew he lately required them, and he had never worn them in public. Then he spoke: “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”

This simple act and statement by their venerated commander, coupled with remembrances of battles and privations shared together with him, and their sense of shame at their present approach to the threshold of treason, was more effective than the most eloquent oratory.

As he read the letter, many were in tears from the recollections and emotions which flooded their memories. As Maj. Samuel Shaw, who was present, put it in his journal, “There was something so natural, so unaffected in this appeal as rendered it superior to the most studied oratory. It forced its way to the heart, and you might see sensibility moisten every eye.”

Finishing, Washington carefully and deliberately folded the letter, took off his glasses, and exited briskly from the hall.

Immediately, Henry Knox and others faithful to Washington offered resolutions affirming their appreciation for their commander in chief, and pledging their patriotism and loyalty to the Congress, deploring and regretting those threats and actions which had been uttered and suggested. What support Gates and his group may have enjoyed at the outset of the meeting now completely disintegrated, and the Newburgh Conspiracy collapsed.

I share this story for two reasons: first, I want to showcase again the character George Washington brought to his public duties; second, I want emphasize that history sometimes turns on the actions of one individual.

Let’s never forget that our actions do have consequences. By being obedient to what we know is right in God’s eyes, we can truly make a difference in this world.

God’s Peace in a Nuclear Age: Wisdom from Lewis

I grew up with the nuclear threat; it’s always been there. C. S. Lewis didn’t. He was 46 when those bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending WWII. So one might expect a different reaction from someone in his generation. As he surveyed the response to this new weapon, he saw that many were nearly beside themselves with fear; yet he continued to offer clear thinking on this subject (as he did on all subjects).

Three years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he authored an essay called “On Living in an Atomic Age.” “In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb,” he argued. Many were asking, “How are we to live in an atomic age?”

I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

We should not “begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation,” he counseled. We need to keep in mind that all people “were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented,” and in case we are living in a fantasy, he added, “and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways.”

“Death itself,” Lewis reminds us, has never been “a chance at all, but a certainty.”

Then he gives this sound advice:

If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (any microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

I find Lewis’s perspective to be in accord with Scripture. Here are a few samples:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:6-7

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. –I Peter 5:6-7

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. –Psalm 23:4

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. –Matthew 6:34

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. –John 14:27

May the peace of God be with us all this day.

Sexual Harassment: The Christian Response?

What began with Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has turned into a daily report of the latest sexual harasser: Roy Moore (I’ll come back to him further down in this post); Al Franken; Charlie Rose; a New York Times reporter I don’t know; indications of a $17 million slush fund to bail out congressmen who are accused of sexual improprieties.

That last one is the news I woke up to today. Democrat Congressman John Conyers of Michigan, who has been in the House for 50 years (you read that correctly) has habitually used his office to press women for sexual favors. Color me not surprised.

People who get into positions of power often try to use that power for their own personal desires. That’s as old as the entire history of mankind. It’s called sin.

As a Christian, while I’m grieved that so many are being exposed as abusers of their power, I’m also gratified that they are now being called to account for what they have done. The politicians among them, though, may not suffer as much as those in the private sector who are being snared. Will Al Franken and John Conyers really have to resign, or will their Democrat colleagues circle the wagons to protect them?

In my view, all politicians who are caught in any kind of wrongdoing should step down and let someone else take their place. Of course, I’ve said that all along, as it should have happened nearly twenty years ago with a sitting president:

Now, when it no longer counts, some Democrats are speaking openly about how Clinton should have resigned. What’s the reason for this newfound courage? Could it be that Clinton, Inc. is no longer the power base it once was? It’s safer now to critique the Clinton brand after Hillary’s latest humiliating loss.

Let’s be honest: Bill Clinton was and is a man who has never said no to his sexual appetite. And while the country has been fixated on a different Southerner, there has been a case of historical amnesia about the former Southern president.

Now I must talk about Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for the Senate from Alabama. I’ve been silent in this blog about the allegations swirling around him, waiting for the dust to settle and to give him whatever benefit of the doubt I can.

In the nine years that I’ve written this blog, I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned Moore. He made a name for himself as a staunch defender of the Ten Commandments being displayed in his courtroom and as a judge who said Alabama doesn’t have to abide by the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.

As a result, he became a champion of Christian conservatives. Many Christian leaders in the conservative movement have counted him as a friend. All of these reasons are why I’ve been hesitant to write about the allegations.

Yet while I certainly am not the final word on Roy Moore’s guilt or innocence, I’ve followed the story closely and feel compelled to say that the accusers are credible and Moore’s defense, such as it is, has been less than stellar.

Even in an atmosphere where the questions were not from the mainstream press—how can anyone in the Trump tradition find a more friendly interrogator than Sean Hannity?—Moore couldn’t come right out and say that he never dated teenagers when he was a man in his thirties.

His entire defense is simply a misdirection: it’s all a vast conspiracy by the Democrats and their media allies; ignore all the evidence backing up the accusations; they’re just out to get me.

That sounds pretty Clintonesque to me, shades of Hillary’s “vast right-wing conspiracy” back in 1998-1999.

Well, says Moore, I never dated anyone that young without asking permission of their mothers first. How about not dating anyone who is underage? Did that ever occur to him?

Frankly, I find it nearly impossible to believe his protestations. Two of his accusers say they voted for Trump; others who know them attest that they have told their stories over the years but were afraid to stand up publicly against Moore because of his high position in government; many others in the community where he lives are now going public with his old habit of cruising the mall and restaurants, looking for teens to date.

The Republican party, cognizant that he is a drag on the image of the party, has largely abandoned him, and I don’t blame the leadership at all for doing so.

What pains me the most is the cavalcade of Christians who stand by Moore for no other reason than they are more attracted to the conspiracy theory he’s spinning than the actual facts that are coming out about his past.

Well, I’m told, we all have things in our past. He’s changed. My response? First, one of the accusers, who was not one of the teens targeted, notes that her bad experience with him was in 1991, after Moore was married. Further, if he’s truly a new man in Christ, why not come clean and simply say that was his former self? No, he just sticks to the conspiracy story.

My biggest concern in this Moore controversy is that Christians come out of it with their integrity intact. I feel the same way about what is happening now as I did with Christians boarding the Trump train.

How much are we willing to put up with before we realize we are supposed to stand for righteousness?

A Speech Etched into America’s Memory

Yesterday, November 19, was the 154th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, one of the most significant and poignant speeches in American history—and also one of the shortest.

The battle at Gettysburg had occurred in July of 1863, three days of some of the most awful warfare the nation has ever endured. It was particularly awful because those who died were all Americans, fighting one another. It took from July to November to clean up the battlefield of all the dead. The carnage practically defied description.

Abraham Lincoln went to Gettysburg to commemorate the victory by Union forces. He wasn’t even advertised as the primary speaker that day—the renowned orator Edward Everett had top billing. Yet no one recalls Everett’s words now. Lincoln’s concise two-minute address has come down to us as one of the most eloquent ever delivered. It doesn’t take long to read, so I offer it to you here:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The photographer at the event figured he had time to make the changes necessary to the camera and still catch images of Lincoln’s speech, but he wasn’t prepared for one that short. The only photograph we have of that special occasion is one of Lincoln sitting down right after delivering his comments.

Lincoln’s only error in the speech was in saying that the world would not remember what was said there. At the time, newspapers mocked the president’s address, calling it embarrassing. Speakers were supposed to go on forever, thrilling their audiences with decorative flourishes of oratory. Lincoln instead opted for directness, simplicity, and heartfelt gratitude for those who died.

Most people don’t know that Lincoln was feeling ill at the time. It turned out he had contracted smallpox, although not a virulent strain. When I was last at the museum in Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC, I noticed this plaque that I thought was a splendid example of Lincoln’s sense of humor:

The Civil War was a constant strain on Lincoln, yet he learned how to handle the heavy burden placed on him. Evidence is strong that the trials he suffered led him back to Christian faith. The Gettysburg Address and his subsequent Second Inaugural Address give testimony to that faith.

Life Has Never Been Normal: Lewis on War

World War I devastated Europe and decimated the male populations of Britain and France. C. S. Lewis served in that war, even though, having grown up in Northern Ireland, he wasn’t required to do so. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he doesn’t spend a lot of time describing his wartime experience, but what he does relate is striking:

The war—the frights, the cold, . . . the horribly smashed men still moving like half-crushed beetles, the sitting or standing corpses, the landscape of sheer earth without a blade of grass, the boots worn day and night till they seemed to grow to your feet—all this shows rarely and faintly in memory.

It is too cut off from the rest of my experience and often seems to have happened to someone else. It is even in a way unimportant.

How can anyone have seen what Lewis saw and yet say that it was, in a way, unimportant?

He published his autobiography in the mid-1950s; prior to that, he had laid out his philosophy of the significance of war in an essay called “Learning in War-Time,” spurred on by those who thought the intellectual activities of the universities should cease during such a harrowing time. Lewis disagreed and offered this perspective:

War creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.

Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself.

If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.”

Life has never been normal.

I remember the first time I read that. It struck a chord deep within me. I, along with probably most of humanity, yearn for the normal. Yet what is ever really normal? We have in our minds the concept of normal (always peaceful, never disturbed by trials and tribulations, unceasing happiness—or at the very least, the avoidance of any genuine pain). Yet how often is that the case?

Lewis continues in that essay with a thought that is so commonsensical that it shouldn’t shock us, but the way he states it does give a jolt:

What does war do to death? It certainly does not make it more frequent: 100 per cent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased. . . .

Does it increase our chances of painful death? I doubt it. . . . Does it decrease our chances of dying at peace with God? I cannot believe it. If active service does not persuade a man to prepare for death, what conceivable concatenation of circumstances would?

As we’re told in the book of Hebrews, we all have an appointment with death, it will happen only once, and afterward we face judgment before the Throne.

A few years after writing that essay, Lewis gave the world The Screwtape Letters and, in a different format, made the same argument. Screwtape scolds his trainee, Wormwood, for being so delighted that men have started another war. There is a danger to satanic plans in the midst of war, he warns him:

How disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In war-time not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever.

Screwtape, of course, is referring to living forever in this world. By God’s grace, though, we will live forever in the new heaven and new earth.

In the meantime, though, it would be best for us to take to heart that life has never been normal, is not now normal, and we will not awake tomorrow to the kind of normality our flesh seeks. Yet, with the Holy Spirit as our Guide and Helper, we can navigate this absence of normality (as we define it) and see God’s hand at work in all the abnormality we must face day by day.

Socialism/Limited Government Forum

In October I presented at a forum held at Southeastern University. The topic under debate was whether the Biblical worldview promotes a more limited government perspective or the socialist view. Incorporated into that was also the difference between socialism and free-market capitalism.

It was an opportunity for me to express my Biblical basis for what I believe about these issues.

Another SEU professor, Jason Old, took the viewpoint opposite to mine. I think we held a civil discussion even while disagreeing nearly 100% on everything. On how many college campuses does that happen anymore?

We called the forum “God, Man, and the State: Socialism or Limited Government?”

The video for that forum is now available, and you can go to it right here.

Prof. Old begins with a 20-minute presentation; I follow with my 20 minutes. After that, we both get another 5 minutes to respond to what the other presented, then it’s opened up to the audience for questions.

The room was packed—not only the 125 seats were filled, but people were standing in the back and sitting on the steps.

While I encourage you to watch it all (it’s just over an hour), if you would like to jump ahead to my comments, I begin at the 23:45 mark.

I hope this forum/discussion will be edifying for you.