Archive for the ‘ Christians & Culture ’ Category

Reflections of a Natural Introvert

I’m an introvert. Really, I am. Whenever I inform students of that fact, they have a hard time believing it because I’m animated when I teach and love to interact with humor.

But I am an introvert.

BooksMy natural inclination is to sit in my recliner in my study, surrounded by books, and devote myself to them. Let the world go away. Give me my peace and solitude. That, and a cup of coffee, is a pleasurable way to pass the time.

I’m constantly reading. Here’s what I have going right now on my reading schedule: C. S. Lewis’s The Allegory of Love (slow going for someone who is not well versed in medieval writings); Paradise Lost (taking up a challenge because I’ve never read it and I would like to understand Lewis’s preface to it—another future reading); Jonah Goldberg’s The Tyranny of Clichés (honing my cultural analysis); Os Guinness’s new book, Impossible People (a clarion call for Christians to be thorough Christians in our culture); and another Stephen Lawhead novel (because I just love his writing).

Yes, I’m reading all of those simultaneously. When classes begin again, I’m not going to get quite as much reading done as I am now.

That natural inclination to withdraw and enjoy my own little world comes into conflict with the urge within me, planted by God, I believe, to break out of the cocoon and speak His truth.

That’s why I teach, and that’s why I write this blog. Personally, I would love to avoid all controversies. I would relish leaving politics behind, especially this year when I see no viable option for the presidency.

Yet there is this “calling.” I’ve mentioned the prophet Jeremiah before, the one who cried out to God that he didn’t want to speak anymore because he kept getting bad reactions to his words. I understand.

Take My YokeThis is what God does to (and for) us, though. He pushes us out of that place of comfort. He tells us to take up His cross and be His disciples. He never promised that we would sail through life without burdens to bear.

I know that. Some days I embrace it; other days I utter the Jeremiah complaint.

The Lord allows us to withdraw at times; Jesus did the same in His ministry. But all withdrawals are for one purpose: regaining the strength to continue the calling. Withdrawals, if done properly, are the times we draw on His reservoir of grace so that we will be the most effective witnesses of His truth that we can be.

All of my reading is part of the preparation to be what God wants me to be in that world out there. As long as I keep that perspective, and not make an idol out of those relaxed times of peace, He will be able to use me for His ongoing purposes.

That’s my reflection for today. I thank God for the time to reflect. It steels me for whatever lies ahead.

A Baptized Imagination

Chad WalshThe first book to analyze C. S. Lewis and his popularity was written by an American, Chad Walsh, an English professor at Beloit College in Wisconsin. It came out in 1949 with the title C. S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics.

Walsh had Lewis to thank for his own conversion. “In my case there was no childhood faith,” Walsh wrote in an account of how he eventually found the Christian path. “If I ever believed in God as a small child, no memory of the time remains with me. I regarded myself as an atheist from the moment I learned to read—and, indeed, pamphlet editions of Ingersoll, et cetera, were part of my earliest reading.”

At the University of Virginia, Walsh, as a student, found himself free of the dominant Christianity of his small hometown of Marion, Virginia, and flourished as a convinced atheist—at least until world circumstances forced him to think more seriously.

The rise of Hitler in Germany, and the growing awareness of the actions of that regime, forced him to confront the problem of evil in the world. Walsh’s companions in atheism and/or agnosticism, when challenged by Walsh to come up with a response to what Hitler was doing, would provide excuses, albeit excuses that were actually consistent with their worldview.

Walsh recounts, “They agreed with me that the world was a senseless jungle. Very well, they reasoned, if the world is a jungle, it’s absurd to speak of right and wrong. Everything is relative. Hitler thinks he’s doing right to invade Poland and murder the Jews. Very well, it is right for him. It’s all in the way you look at it.” That response shook him. He knew he had to come to grips with the reality of evil.

Coming to grips with evil also meant coming to grips with the whole idea of right and wrong and where the concepts originated. That led him to finally consider not only the existence of God but what his response to this God might entail. In this transition period of his life, Walsh came across some of Lewis’s writings. One, in particular, changed his life forever.

PerelandraIt was in either 1944 or 1945, he recalls, on a short vacation to Vermont, that a friend enthusiastically lent him a book she had just finished reading; she just knew he would love it. That book was Perelandra, the second in Lewis’s Space Trilogy in which the protagonist, Elwin Ransom, is transported to Venus to save an innocent world from falling into sin.

Walsh was transported as well: “I quickly consumed it from cover to cover. I was struck first of all by the sheer beauty of the book. It transported me into a kind of Elysian Fields—or better yet, an unspoiled Eden, inhabited by the innocent and unfallen.”

A second revelation was that, even though he had always been a science fiction fan, he had never read any science fiction like this, where it could be used as a “vehicle of great philosophic and psychological myth.” The third revelation, though, was the greatest of all:

Finally, and most importantly, in Perelandra I found my imagination being baptized. At the time I was slowly thinking, feeling, and fumbling my way towards the Christian faith and had reached the point where I was more than half convinced that it was true. This conviction, however, was a thing more of the mind than of the imagination and heart.

In Perelandra I got the taste and smell of Christian truth. My senses as well as my soul were baptized. It was as though an intellectual abstraction or speculation had become flesh and dwelt in its solid bodily glory among us.

As Walsh looked back on this event years later, he came to the realization that the way he found Lewis was quite typical. A person reads something by Lewis, becomes so enthused that he/she lends the book to a friend, who in turn catches that enthusiasm and passes it on to others.

For Walsh, “The result was that I began buying everything else by him that was available in America and also passed along word of the discovery to other friends. It was as though I had discovered a new ingredient in my intellectual, emotional, and spiritual diet that I had unconsciously desired but had not previously found. I think many others, coming on Lewis for the first time, felt the same way.”

As you might guess, the above is excerpted from my new book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis, which will be available in a few short weeks.

Man’s Anger & God’s Righteousness

James 1:20—For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

That Scripture came to mind this morning as I reflect on the state of our nation and the political developments in recent years.

Proverbs 29Anger over sin is not a sin in itself, but whenever anger becomes the driving force for what one does, we go off the rails spiritually.

There are legitimate reasons for anger:

  • Over 57 million babies aborted since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973;
  • The ongoing destruction of Biblical morality in the area of sexual relations and marriage;
  • The assault on religious liberty, particularly for conservative Christians;
  • The trend toward the government as the solution for all problems;
  • The arrogance and increasing corruption of political leaders;
  • The overthrowing of the rule of law in general.

Those are the ones that come readily to mind, but there are others.

How has the Christian community responded? Some have taken a bold stand against this cultural and political devolution; others have caved to the spirit of the age and have tailored their “Christianity” to fit the new trends.

Politically, starting in 2009, a movement arose—and many in the movement were Christians—that sought to reverse some of these trends. Anger helped begin that movement, but it also was focused on a return to basics, both spiritually and constitutionally.

DSC00018For that reason, I was pleased to participate in it. It was given a name: the Tea Party. I have spoken to a number of such groups since their inception, and have done my best to help this movement stay on track by pointing to the principles we need to follow.

What I’m about to say is not an indictment of the movement as a whole because I know enough sincere, honest people who are part of it. However, what I’ve witnessed over time is a tendency to allow anger over what is occurring in the nation to overwhelm the more positive aspects of the movement.

Whenever we let anger dictate our responses, we lose. When we drift away from concentrating on the positive message of restoration and humility before God, seeking His mercy, we lose.

Instead, we latch onto a charismatic figure who only fans the flames of the anger we naturally feel. We overlook his character, his past, and even the things he says that are completely inconsistent with what we claim are our principles.

In the heat of our anger, we lose our souls.

I am just sad this morning. I am now a political outsider. I often feel like one of those lonely voices in the wilderness. It’s not a comfortable place to be.

Yet I am willing to be what God has called me to be. I am willing to continue to speak and write what I believe to be true. And because I also believe that God is a God of mercy as well as discipline and judgment, I continue to hope for the best.

LamentationsIn the face of God’s judgment over His people Israel in the Old Testament, the prophet Jeremiah stated this in the book of Lamentations:

This I recall to my mind; therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning.

Great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul. “Therefore I have hope in Him.”

That’s the only safe place for our hope to reside: in Him. There is no political savior. We will survive the results of this coming election only because there is hope in Him.

Lay aside the anger as your primary motivation. Look to Him instead.

James 1:20—For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

So I’m Immoral & Pharisaical?

There is no question in my mind that Hillary Clinton is not only unqualified to be president but that putting her in the office will only continue the destructive policies of Barack Obama.

Job Opening

She is following in the footsteps of her husband as one of the most corrupt politicians of the current era. The charitable foundation they established is nothing more than a front for enriching themselves.

Clinton Foundation

I believe she deserves to be indicted for crimes and should never be allowed near the levers of power. Her baggage is of monumental proportions.

It's Her Baggage

Consequently, I’m told by a large number of conservatives and Republicans (they are not necessarily synonymous) that I have no choice but to vote for Donald Trump. After all, at least he’s not Hillary Clinton.

The ante has been upped recently. Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have said that if people like me who are opposed to Trump don’t vote for him, we are downright immoral. Another accusation floating around the internet now is that anyone who opposes Trump, especially anyone calling himself a Christian, is a Pharisee.

Oh, yes, Trump has his flaws, we’re told. Everyone is a sinner. Lower your expectations. All Trump does is say silly things sometimes. Hillary has a record we can see; Trump is someone we might distrust, but we should take a chance. Maybe we can just alter the logo somewhat:

What He Meant

So I’m immoral if I don’t vote for him. So I’m a Pharisee if I point out his “flaws.”

I’m sorry, but that narrative just doesn’t work.

Trump has more than “flaws.” He also has a record. As I’ve documented countless times, his entire life is an open book with a multitude of sins, hypocrisies, and support for the same policies advocated by Hillary. He still thinks Planned Parenthood does good things.

Trump even was a major donor to her and the Clinton Crime Family Foundation and said—you can see this on video—that she was a great secretary of state and would be a fine president.

Why has he changed his tune now? Only because he is running against her. He has no integrity, whether we’re talking about his relationships (adulteries, divorces), his business deals (Trump University was a classic scam), or his declared Christian faith (hasn’t done anything for which he needs to ask forgiveness). He operates on the principle (?) that one never should admit an error or mistake and never should express regret or sorrow over past actions.

I don’t have the heart to try to go through all of the reasons today why I will not support Donald Trump. It would take far too long. It is sufficient to say that I simply see no real difference between these two unqualified, incompetent, dishonest candidates. Both will do irreparable harm to the nation.

Latest Terminator

I have made it clear in earlier posts that I understand why some have chosen to vote for Trump anyway, thinking that a Hillary presidency is so reprehensible that almost anything else would have to be an improvement.

While I disagree with that assessment, I have never called anyone who has chosen that path “immoral” or a Pharisee. I have strongly urged everyone to reconsider such a decision because it will forever be a taint on one’s Christian witness. I firmly believe that if one supports Trump, one must then repent of criticizing Bill Clinton for his sexual misdeeds, etc. After all, we must be consistent.

I can’t take that step.

Ben ShapiroI agree with what conservative commentator Ben Shapiro wrote recently:

I have never made and will never make the argument that it is immoral for people to vote for Trump to stop Hillary. I understand that argument completely, and sympathize with it.

But lying for Trump is immoral. Pretending his boo-boos aren’t boo-boos is immoral. Pretending he’s something he’s not, and lying to your audience about it – that’s immoral. And most of all, pretending that those who make a different risk-reward calculation from yours are immoral – even while those people hold supposedly similar principles – is immoral.

Vote for Trump if you feel you must, but don’t become a shill for him. That will only damage your credibility over the long run.

And please don’t try to convince me to violate my conscience by laying a guilt trip on me, telling me I’m a “Pharisee” for standing by my convictions. Those convictions, I believe, are based on God’s standards, and I will not compromise those.

Christian Higher Education & The Threat That Won’t Go Away

I want to give an update on the proposed bill in the California legislature that would deny state funding to Christian colleges and universities that don’t toe the line on the homosexual agenda.

Ricardo LaraYou may recall that this particular bill, championed by state senator Ricardo Lara, sought to castigate evangelical institutions of higher education for “discriminating” against openly homosexual students at those institutions. The bill is an attempt to force Christian colleges to change their theology and their stance on sexual morality.

For the record, Sen. Lara is a homosexual who proudly calls himself “the first openly gay person of color elected to the California Senate.” That quote comes directly from his website.

Leaders in the Christian academic community have been able, through dialogue with Lara, to get him to back off on the most egregious part of the bill, dropping the financial penalty and just requiring those institutions to provide notice of their stance on homosexuality and disclose to the state any students (or faculty and staff, I presume) who are dismissed for violating the institution’s policy.

Is this a victory? Well, in a limited sense. The outright threat to those institutions’ financial well-being is now eliminated—but for how long? Sen. Lara has not promised that he will abandon his quest and may try again in the next legislative session.

Also, just the idea that Christian educational institutions must give notice of their policy and keep the state informed of their actions toward those who violate the policy sets those institutions apart in the public mind as “different,” in the sense that they are suspect and need to be watched.

This is the first step toward isolating and subjecting Christian education to “public shaming.”

So while I’m relieved that a bullet has been dodged for the time being, this is not a victory in the long run.

Let me add this: Christian institutions of higher education would not be in this fix if they hadn’t succumbed to the siren song of public funding. When you bring the government in, no matter how good the intentions, you bring with it the possibility of government control over your academic policies and programs.

The best of all worlds would be for Christian colleges and universities to begin figuring out how they can wean themselves off the government money supply. Given the drift of our culture, which has accelerated in an anti-Christian direction in the past few years, we cannot go forward thinking that the problem has been resolved. It has not.

The attacks will only increase. We need to be wise and prepare accordingly.

Losing the Culture

Eight years of Ronald Reagan didn’t do it. Massive congressional election victories in 2010 and 2014 didn’t do it. Despite conservative successes at the polls at various times, we see the nation continue to slip away from its Christian and constitutional moorings. Why is that?

David FrenchDavid French wrote an insightful essay the other day that points to the problem. He calls on conservatives—and Christian conservatives, in particular—to recognize what has transpired. He begins by saying, “We’ll often seek every reason and justification for . . . failure short of our own flaws before we face the truth.”

What truth? We have been living with the illusion that there is this vast conservative army out there ready to turn things around and we have focused on politics as the means for doing so.

That army, he says, does not exist in the strength we had hoped it does, and our focus on politics has blinded us to where the real battle lies.

Real conservatives, French believes, have proven to be “a minority within what looks increasingly like a minority party, at least at the national level.”

Yes, Republicans control Congress. Yes, Republican governors and state legislatures outnumber Democrats. If this is so, why has so little changed? Why are we further from our founding principles than ever?

French pinpoints the problem:

In hindsight, the reason for their error isn’t hard to discern. Indeed, it’s a reason that conservatives have been identifying for years. Conservatives have been competent at winning elections, but they’ve been terrible at influencing the culture. Thus, they’re good at holding down the right side of a leftward-shifting political spectrum, but they can’t arrest the broader cultural shift to the left.

Paul WeyrichIn spite of many electoral successes, the nation keeps marching Left. He then quotes an essay by Paul Weyrich, one of the founders of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, written back in 1999, which warned of the problem. Weyrich noted,

It is impossible to ignore the fact that the United States is becoming an ideological state. The ideology of Political Correctness, which openly calls for the destruction of our traditional culture, has so gripped the body politic, has so gripped our institutions, that it is even affecting the Church. It has completely taken over the academic community. It is now pervasive in the entertainment industry, and it threatens to control literally every aspect of our lives.

French then goes on to explain why he thinks this has happened. There is a real difference between conservatives and progressives. Conservatives vote for champions to go to Washington to straighten out the mess and then they return to their lives without infusing all their daily interactions with what they say they believe.

Progressives, on the other hand, “take their core values into every sphere of existence.” They don’t compartmentalize their lives; they want what they believe to affect everything.

That’s how you get local bar associations celebrating Earth Day, or third-grade classes doing a whole semester’s worth of art projects on climate change, or corporate HR departments running extended, celebratory profiles of transgender employees. It’s the agenda, always and everywhere.

We trust in politics to set things right. We are placing our trust in the wrong place. It’s the culture that drives a society, while politicians, eager to get re-elected, follow along in its wake.

I’ve often called on Christians to realize that their faith is not to be relegated to church activities. We are to take it into all spheres of life. When we shy away from doing so, it’s no wonder the culture becomes ever more depraved.

French concludes,

Until we’re willing to make at least the same commitment to our ideals that progressives make to theirs, we may still offer words of defiance, but our actions will show our true intent. Right now, the movement is busy dying. It’s time to get busy living.

I couldn’t agree more.

Third-Party Options?

With respect to my stated conviction that I will not be voting for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, I’m repeatedly asked about options. They are few, and yes, I understand that no one on a third-party ticket is going to win the presidency. Yet it’s worth looking briefly at what some consider to be third-party options—a place to go without violating one’s conscience.

Gary JohnsonMost of the third-party attention is focused on the Libertarian Party and its nominee, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson.

Johnson was the Libertarian nominee in 2012 and earned only about 1% of the vote nationally. Some are saying that could change this year due to the overwhelmingly bad poll numbers for Clinton and Trump. Polls that show which one is leading the other must be understood in the context that, for many, that choice is between two equally disliked candidates.

I once flirted with libertarian ideology, mainly because I was drawn to its commitment to the free market and limited government. I attended a libertarian conference two decades ago that gave me greater insight into the ideology. I saw that, even though I could agree with libertarians on economic issues, there were other serious deficiencies in their thought.

Most of the libertarians I have met and have read about since then are so adamantly devoted to their definition of liberty that it is more like licentiousness. On what are normally called the social issues—abortion, sexuality, marriage—most libertarians believe you should just let people do whatever they want. It’s fine with them to allow abortion as a “freedom,” to be openly homosexual, and to endorse same-sex marriage.

Johnson fits into that category of libertarians. He is opposed to abortion restrictions and announced that he will stop smoking pot while running for president. Really.

Johnson is on record as saying Christian bakers should be forced to bake cakes for same-sex weddings. In an interview on Fox Business Network, he even stated that Jewish bakers should be forced by the government to bake cakes for Nazis.

This is libertarian? It’s certainly not limited government on that issue.

Overall, I think libertarianism is in conflict with basic tenets of the Christian faith and the Libertarian Party is not one that should receive support from Christians. I’m as opposed to it and to its nominee, Johnson, as I am to Clinton and Trump.

Darrell CastleAnother option might be the Constitution Party. It used to be called the National Taxpayers Party. I recall meeting with an official of that party in the 1990s and telling him that the name was too narrow, that it seemed to indicate an interest only in economic matters, while the party itself stood for the Constitution. I encouraged him to push for a name change. I suggested Constitution Party.

Well, a few years later, that’s exactly what it became. Did I do that?

I’ve always been interested in this party and have hoped, over the years, that it might develop more. If you peruse the party platform, you find that it is staunchly pro-life and devoted to the original intent and meaning of the Constitution. The only part of the platform with which I’m not fully in tune is its more isolationist foreign policy that seems to discount even support for Israel.

However, I’m willing to live with the party’s foreign policy because of its overall perspective on government. It doesn’t say we cannot go to war; it simply seeks to follow the Constitution’s precise language that a declaration of war by Congress must come first.

Its nominee, Darrell Castle, is a lawyer and a former Marine who served in Vietnam. Interestingly, he trained under an officer by the name of Oliver North. He has been married to the same woman for 38 years. He and his wife founded a Christian mission to homeless gypsy children in Romania.

The problem with the Constitution Party is that it has never seemed to be able to garner enough support to be on the ballot in all states. I also have been looking to see if it will begin fielding candidates for Congress and state-level offices. Unless I’ve missed something, that isn’t happening. If it were to do so, could it be a possible successor to a Republican party that seems to have lost its way?

If the Constitution Party is on the ballot in Florida, I may very well vote for Castle. If it is not, then what will I do?

I’m not sure if the Florida ballot allows write-ins, but if it does, I will consider that. If neither write-ins nor the Constitution Party are options, I will simply have to decline to vote for anyone for president.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be voting. I will gladly vote for Marco Rubio as senator and for Dennis Ross, my current congressman and a man of integrity.

There is still talk of the rise of a protest party among conservatives. We’ll just have to see if anything comes of that. But whatever transpires, I have to follow my conscience before God.

If Donald Trump wins, the Republican Party may never be what it was, and I may have to cut ties if it becomes even more Democrat-light. If Donald Trump loses, there may be hope that the party has learned a valuable lesson and will regroup with a firmer commitment to its purported principles.

Christians just need to keep praying that God isn’t finished with this nation yet.