Archive for the ‘ Christians & Culture ’ Category

That Which Comes Out of Our Mouths

But among you, as is proper among the saints, there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or impurity or greed. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or crude joking, which are out of character, but rather thanksgiving. Eph. 5:3-4

Those are instructions to Christians, the called-out ones, the saints (yes, that word is used in the passage). It’s not a suggestion, but a God-given standard for our lives.

The world around us doesn’t care about that standard, of course. We, though, should take it seriously. The problem of obscene, foolish, and crude talk is nothing new; our society didn’t create it. Paul had to admonish Christians in the first century, as we see in the verses above, but he wasn’t the only one:

The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? James 3:5-6, 9-11

Christians are supposed to model godly behavior by abstaining from crudeness. Are we succeeding?

Why am I writing about this? No, it’s not only the controversy over President Trump’s language, but that is a symptom of what we see in the culture at large.

Some may say I’m naive—people have talked like this throughout history. Yes, I know that. The human heart is the same in all ages. Yet there are standards in a society, and American society, influenced as it was by the Christian ethos, put a damper on outward displays of coarseness in speech and actions.

Well, it used to. Now that Christian morality is becoming less of an expectation, we see society unleashing all of its inner demons, not only in how we speak publicly, but in how we act.

Today, though, I want to concentrate on the speaking.

Recently, I was browsing a site that listed one thousand songs of the past century. It was kind of fun looking through the list. I easily recognized songs from my parents’ era, dominated by people like Bing Crosby. When the list entered my own lifetime, I saw all the old familiar titles from the 1960s and early 1970s, the height of my fascination with the latest tunes.

Even though there were some edgier songs starting to pop up in the 1960s, there was nothing openly obscene. As the list continued, and my knowledge of the songs lessened considerably, I was nevertheless struck by the downward slide into pure raunchiness in the titles. Nothing like that would have been allowed back in the 1960s, which was hardly an era of moral purity.

Yet what was unacceptable in the 1960s is now practically mainstream.

I think back on my circle of friends when I was in my teens. While most of them were churchgoing kids, they probably were churched because their parents were. I’m not sure how many were sincere Christians. Yet I don’t recall any of our speech descending into the depths of sexual depravity or any other crudeness. We just didn’t talk that way.

I recall, though, a party I attended at which one girl, outwardly pretty and seemingly nice, launched into a verbal tirade with all the possible obscenities available to her at the time. And then she laughed about it. Frankly, I was shocked. The incongruity of someone so outwardly prim, proper, and nice-looking having that spew forth sickened me. It must have made an impression since I remember it so clearly even now.

You see, that kind of language was heard only in the presence of the “hoods” (a quaint term of the day) who hated being in school and who were already on a path toward dissipation in life. It wasn’t supposed to come from that girl.

Neither is it supposed to come from those who say Jesus Christ is their Lord. Beyond that, our response to crude and obscene language in others should never be excused or rationalized. Take that and apply it as you wish.

We are to be witnesses to the Truth, and our lives, both in speech and in action, should point to Him. There are words in one song that always lead to sober reflection within me whenever I hear them. The song is Find Us Faithful and the lyrics are as follows:

We’re pilgrims on the journey
Of the narrow road
And those who’ve gone before us line the way
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary
Their lives a stirring testament to God’s sustaining grace
Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who’ve gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift through all we’ve left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

When I hear these words, I think of my public testimony. Is it the kind that will inspire my grandchildren? My students? Those who read my blog posts?

When my days are over on this earth, I want to leave a legacy that reminds others of their high calling in Christ. I want them to consider seriously the words that come out of their mouths (and the heart that is the fount of those words) and remember that we are to be the mouth, hands, and feet of Christ to others.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

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. Rom. 12:1-2

Our Own Version of Newspeak

I read George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 way back sometime in my youth. Orwell, a socialist who saw the potential tyranny of socialism (read his Animal Farm for a withering treatment of Soviet-style communism under Stalin), displayed in 1984 just how bad it could get.

One of the words he introduced in the novel was Newspeak. It has now become part of our vocabulary. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term this way:

Propagandistic language marked by euphemism, circumlocution, and the inversion of customary meaning.

Vagueness and reversal of established terminology, giving new and often perverted meanings to words, has now become an art in our society. Here’s one cartoonist who has noticed how this has come into play lately:

We used to think that global warming meant the temperature is getting warmer. Silly us. Now we know that global warming creates record cold waves.

Tax cuts used to mean that people paid fewer taxes. Wrong again. Somehow, those evil tax cuts are going to make us pay more. Oh, and everyone is going to die very soon because of them.

On university campuses across the nation, free speech is under attack because it’s not really free speech anymore, but speech that oppresses certain classes of people. That cannot be allowed. The First Amendment must be abolished so we can be free indeed.

See how it works? No? Well, join the club.

Pernicious as these developments are in overturning basic logic and even threatening our right to speak our minds in public, there is a moral inversion that is not new. It goes way back, even to the beginning of the human race—and we see it rising in our day as well.

The prophet Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, explained it this way:

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

Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine
And valiant men in mixing strong drink,

Who justify the wicked for a bribe,
And take away the rights of the ones who are in the right!

Abortion is the fulfillment of reproductive rights, not the murder of an innocent child.

Homosexuality/same-sex marriage is love in action, not a perversion of God’s gift of sex.

The end justifies the means: as long as you come out on top in the end, you are to be praised regardless of how you got there. Righteousness in the means one uses is outmoded and unrealistic. All that matters is winning.

Those are the examples that immediately come to mind, but there are more.

Have we reached our own version of 1984, albeit a few decades later? Are we allowing Newspeak to guide our thinking and short-circuit genuine logic?

Don’t follow the herd. Think as God intended you to think. Take a stand for truth even when that stand is a lonely one. God sees. He honors those who stand.

That Writing Urge

I am a teacher and a writer, and have been now for three decades. Earlier in life, I never envisioned myself as a teacher; in fact, I minored in history as an undergraduate, avoiding making it my major out of fear that I would end up having to teach.

Well, God had a different path for me, and I can now see that He developed that desire to teach even when I was trying to ignore the calling.

I think I’ve always wanted to write but had very little training in the art prior to my experience as a graduate student. The master’s thesis and the doctoral dissertation created a greater urge within me to express thoughts in writing.

C. S. Lewis was a great teacher and a great writer, so I naturally am attracted to his insights on both. With respect to writing, he made some thoughtful comments. In a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves, early in his writing career, he noted,

I am sure that some are born to write as trees are born to bear leaves: for these, writing is a necessary mode of their own development.

If the impulse to write survives the hope of success, then one is among these. If not, then the impulse was at best only pardonable vanity, and it will certainly disappear when the hope is withdrawn.

That caused me to reflect: is my desire to write more a desire to be noticed and appreciated [i.e., be considered successful] than a natural desire to say what I think needs to be said regardless of the reception of the public?

I’ve written five books thus far. While I have had modest success in sales over the years, I can say that if my primary goal had been to enrich myself monetarily through publishing, I would now pack my bags, metaphorically speaking, and move on to something more rewarding.

If my primary goal had been to be noticed and applauded for what I’ve written, I again would be moving on to another endeavor.

Yet I continue to have the writing bug—witness this very blog. So perhaps I am one of those that Lewis was speaking of—born to write simply because God has placed that within me.

Then there’s this mild warning from Lewis about the art of writing:

To the present day one meets men, great readers, who write admirably until the fatal moment when they remember that they are writing.

In other words, the writing goes along quite well until one becomes too self-conscious of the fact that one is indeed writing. One can then fall into the trap of paying more attention to the mechanics of the craft than the message. At least, that’s how I understand this warning.

I do want to craft my words carefully, but the message itself remains the most important reason for writing. I don’t want to become too stilted in my “style” and thereby hurt the message.

Further instruction from Lewis is common sense, but not always common to us as we write:

The way for a person to develop a style is (a) to know exactly what he wants to say, and (b) to be sure he is saying exactly that.

The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean. If our words are ambiguous, our meaning will escape him.

I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or the right the readers will most certainly go into it.

All of Lewis’s insights that I’ve mentioned could be applied to anyone who writes, but he also gives advice specifically to Christians with respect to how they can use their writing to draw their audience to truth:

Our Faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if whenever we read an elementary book on Geology, Botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us.

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 [the anti-Christian]. 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.

That’s the challenge, but also the opportunity. Our Christian faith must be so much a part of us—not merely an appendage to who we are—that it permeates everything we touch. Christian writers, in particular, have both the responsibility and the pleasure to transmit God’s message in all they write, even when it is not blatant apologetics.

May we live up to that challenge.

The Confessing–and Faithful–Church

Every day I receive an e-mail from the Christian History Institute with a feature story about some aspect of church history, highlighting the faithfulness of Christians in ages past. Today’s was especially poignant to me as it revealed the stark difference between those who link their Christianity too closely to the State and those who stand for righteousness when the State does not.

This account centers on Nazi Germany, but the principles remain the same for any nation:

After Hitler came to power, he confronted Christians in Germany with uncomfortable choices. At first, few pastors seemed to recognize where Hitler was taking the church. He sought to co-opt both Lutheran and Reformed churches to support his National Socialist Party.

Many church people supported him. Sick of the decadence that had characterized the previous government, the “Weimar Republic,” many hoped that the Führer, with his emphasis on history and tradition, might usher in spiritual renewal. Others feared the Communists more than the Nazis.

Playing on the fears and longings of churchgoers, Hitler nationalized the church under a single bishop with a Nazi-inspired constitution. German churches were ordered to eject Jewish Christians, to accept Hitler as a prophet, and to accept German racial consciousness—which exalted the Aryan race above all others—as a second revelation. The so-called “German Christians” elected Ludwig Müller, an ardent Nazi, as their “Reichs-bishop.”

To keep their jobs, hundreds of clergymen accepted Müller’s racist and political restrictions. But a minority of church leaders did not. Martin Niemoller brought them together, inviting all German pastors to join what he called the Pastors’ Emergency League.

Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others joined him. These men insisted that the church belonged under the headship of Christ, not the state, and must obey God rather than national leaders. They urged German pastors to bind themselves by Scripture and centuries-old, reliable confessions of faith.

To their credit, once the stakes were made clear, many pastors resigned from the state church. A number of Protestants who stood against the Nazis gathered at the city of Barmen to discuss the situation and prepare a response. They called themselves the Confessing Church because they clung to the old confessions of faith. Niemoller and Bonhoeffer went to prison; Bonhoeffer died there. Barth fled to Switzerland. A number of Roman Catholic priests also resisted the Nazis. Some, like Bernhard Lichtenberg, died in concentration camps.

On this day, 4 January 1934, Reichs-bishop Müller tried to silence critics of the Nazi church, issuing a “muzzling order” forbidding them from speaking about the church-state issue from their pulpits. However, the Confessing Church refused to be silenced.

In May, they issued the Barmen Declaration, whose primary authors were famous Reformed theologian Karl Barth and Lutheran theologian Hans Asmussen. One of its key statements read, “We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the church should and could take on the nature, tasks, and dignity which belong to the state, and thus become itself an organ of the state.”

The leaders of the confessing church’s deepest concern was to call the entire German church to a much-needed renewal. This renewal did not take place until after the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Two things struck me in this account: first was the fear that seemed to be the motivation for many to accept Hitler’s regime; second was the courage it took for the Confessing Church to stand up to the pressure of conforming.

The fear was ostensibly valid due to the moral decadence that dominated the culture. When we allow fear to drive our actions, principle is often abandoned.

The courage was remarkable, as each member of the Confessing Church knew the probability of facing severe persecution and death. Many, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were martyred for their faithfulness to Christ.

What of American Christians? How many of us would succumb to the fear that compromises the faith if the government tried to dictate in the same way Hitler did? How many of us would choose instead to stand for Christ and be the salt and light we are called to be?

What Jesus told His disciples 2000 years ago still resonates today:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (Mark 8:34-38)

A New Year of Observations & Analysis

I’m settled into my comfy recliner in my study, surrounded by books and enjoying a unique kind of coffee (I won’t go into that). So I’m relaxed and ready to begin another year of observations about God, man, society, and life in general.

Most people probably have this particular view of the new year:

Am I concerned about all those things? Absolutely.

Am I living in daily fear of nuclear holocaust, the undermining of the Republic, or the societal trends? No, because fear is too strong a term. I’m deeply disturbed by societal developments, but that’s not the same thing as living in fear.

I have a promise from a Higher Authority that when all is said and done, He will still be the Sovereign whom we all must eventually acknowledge, either willingly or with great regret:

At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:10)

I also lean on this promise as well as I face whatever may come this year:

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. (2 Tim. 1:7)

I won’t be timid this year. I will speak clearly about the truth of Christian faith, the necessity of discipleship, and the faith’s application to our world’s woes.

I will also speak clearly about what I see happening in our government. There are those who say we should never involve ourselves with matters of this world since it is passing away. Yet I read that we are supposed to be salt and light.

The responsibility for being salt and light is to be honest about what we see. So not everything I write will be praise for the actions of those who wield the levers of temporal power. Yet I will strive to be fair.

Regular readers of this blog know full well my concerns about Donald Trump. I am gratified by many of the decisions being made by his administration, but I also know he can’t take credit for everything. Others work hard behind the scenes, thankfully, to do their best to correct his natural bent.

How I feel about the Trump presidency at this point is precisely what commentator David French explained yesterday. It’s a fair and balanced assessment. I offer it here for those interested.

I do want the best for Trump and for the nation. But there are the issues of character, ignorance of facts, and temperament to consider.

I pledge to pray for him and all those who work with him. That’s a commandment I take seriously.

My year of observations and analysis, though, will not be dominated by politics. If you have been following this blog, you may have noticed that the number of posts devoted to politics has lessened. I believe the Lord is directing me more toward other reflections. We’ll see how that plays out.

So as we enter into the tempest of 2018—for that is undoubtedly what it will be—may we do so with full confidence that if we have submitted our lives to Him, we can be sure He will direct our path.

I leave you today with this bit of encouragement:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)

Lewis’s “Poison of Subjectivism” in Our Day

Subjectivism: the belief that moral judgments are statements concerning the emotional or mental reactions of the individual or the community.

In other words, we make up our own morality without any reference to an outside, objective authority, i.e., God.

Subjectivism has become rampant in most of what used to be called Christian civilization. Moreover, those who, as a recent president infamously remarked, “cling to their religion,” are pressured, by law, to violate their consciences and accept the new ideas of morality. At this time, we await a Supreme Court decision on whether a Christian bakery must be forced to make and decorate a same-sex-marriage-affirming cake.

This type of subjectivism is a poison that will lead to the destruction of traditional Christian morality in a society, thus destroying that society eventually.

“The Poison of Subjectivism” is an essay by C. S. Lewis that addresses this danger. Strong statements such as this one against the subjective mindset would be roundly condemned in our day:

This whole attempt to jettison traditional values as something subjective and to substitute a new scheme of values for them is wrong. It is like trying to lift yourself by your own coat collar.

Then he gives two propositions that should, he advises, be “written into our minds with indelible ink.” They are the following:

(1) The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of planting a new sun in the sky or a new primary colour in the spectrum.

(2) Every attempt to do so consists in arbitrarily selecting some one maxim of traditional morality, isolating it from the rest, and erecting it into an unam necessarium.

In the case of same-sex marriage, there remains the vague concept of marriage and an even more vague definition of love. Both come from traditional morality, but they are lifted from their Biblical basis and given a new twist. The arbitrary selection of “love” as the highest good, isolated from all the boundaries in which we are to understand that word, provides a new morality that rests solely on subjective belief.

“All idea of ‘new’ or ‘scientific’ or ‘modern’ moralities,” Lewis counters, “must therefore be dismissed as mere confusion of thought.” It comes down to only two alternatives:

Either the maxims of traditional morality must be accepted as axioms of practical reason which neither admit nor require argument to support them . . . or else there are no values at all, what we mistook for values being ‘projections’ of irrational emotions.

Irrational emotions abound in the actions of those pushing the latest new morality. Objections to their newfound right and wrong must be shouted down, and if that doesn’t work, the strong arm of the government must be brought to bear against any who oppose this new understanding.

What makes this even worse is that many, under the banner of Christian love, try to give the new morality a Christian affirmation. Lewis will have none of that:

A theology which goes about to represent our practical reason as radically unsound is heading for disaster. If we once admit that what God means by “goodness” is sheerly different from what we judge to be good, there is no difference left between pure religion and devil worship.

Government and pseudo-science come together in an unholy alliance to advance the “new” morality and ensure that everyone accepts it:

Many a popular “planner” on a democratic platform, many a mild-eyed scientist in a democratic laboratory means, in the last resort, just what the Fascist means.

He believes that “good” means whatever men are conditioned to approve. He believes that it is the function of him and his kind to condition men; to create consciences by eugenics, psychological manipulation of infants, state education and mass propaganda.

Politicians team with the social scientists to “create” a new “conscience.” Propaganda wins the day as the unthinking masses (you pick the percentage of the population that fits that description) are led along this destructive path.

The planners, Lewis believes, may not yet fully realize what they have done, but once they grasp the power they have in their hands, they will use it fully.

He must awake to the logic of his position sooner or later; and when he does, what barrier remains between us and the final division of the race into a few conditioners who stand themselves outside morality and the many conditioned in whom such morality as the experts choose is produced at the experts’ pleasure?

If “good” means only the local ideology, how can those who invent the local ideology be guided by any idea of good themselves?

Lewis then summarizes where the society ends up:

The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike. Subjectivism about values is eternally incompatible with democracy. We and our rulers are of one kind only so long as we are subject to one law.

But if there is no Law of Nature, the ethos of any society is the creation of its rulers, educators, and conditioners; and every creator stands above and outside his own creation.

We have a choice between creators: the one holy God who gives us His objective standard of morality or the people who seek to overturn that objective morality and substitute their own whims (that allow them to do as they please) as the new morality.

The first unites us with Eternal Love; the second leads to eternal misery and remorse.

No Winner in Alabama

The Alabama Senate race is finally over, and the result was a foregone conclusion: there is no winner. No matter who was going to come out on top, it would be a loss for America.

The ostensible winner, Democrat Doug Jones, is a far-left radical who doesn’t believe there is any right to life until a baby comes out of the womb. He is an Alabama anomaly who never had a hope of winning this Senate seat until Republicans chose the only person he could beat.

If Roy Moore had won, the republic wouldn’t have been in much better shape, and Republicans would have had the Moore albatross around their necks for the next two years.

My objections to Moore go beyond the sexual allegations, which are serious in themselves and which he not only never really answered, but about which he kept changing his story: at first, he declared he never dated anyone without asking the mother’s permission (that can only apply to minors), then switched to saying he never dated any teen when he was in his thirties; he knew some of the accusers, then he didn’t. His entire defense was “Look, media conspiracy!”

This is especially sad to me because so many Christians were pinning their hopes on Moore, much as they did (and continue to do) with Trump.

Beyond the sexual allegations, Moore also wasn’t all that knowledgeable about the issues, from what I have read. He’s an unabashed Obama birther (I know, some of you still cling to that, but it’s untenable), didn’t know what DACA meant when interviewed, and frankly, wouldn’t really have been that reliable a conservative vote on a number of policies.

Shall I continue?

Moore made his mark in Alabama by standing against the removal of the Ten Commandments from his courtroom and for refusing to accept the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage.

I agree with Moore on both of those issues, yet his public persona came across as grandstanding for personal celebrity. That was my opinion even before all the new allegations surfaced. I was never comfortable with him because I doubted either his genuineness or his wisdom—I wasn’t sure which. Maybe both.

So where are we now, those of us who want Christian principles and morality to be the hallmark of our politics?

Look for the silver linings.

First, Moore will no longer be the main topic of conversation on the national political scene. That’s a plus.

Second, Jones will have this Senate seat for only two years, as it’s merely the remainder of Jeff Sessions’s term. That means the Republicans, if they have learned their lesson, just might nominate someone who can win that seat back. it shouldn’t be hard, as Alabama voters, without Roy Moore on the ticket, are reliably conservative.

Third, prospects for Republicans gaining Senate seats in 2018 still look good since Democrats have more vulnerable seats coming up in that election.

Fourth, Moore will no longer be the main topic of conversation on the national political scene. Wait, did I already say that?

My fervent prayer this morning: God, please bless America despite our many sins and our attempt at national suicide. Spare us. We fall back on Your mercy, which is our only hope.