Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Evangelicals & Politics: The Dangers Ahead

A group of evangelical leaders concerned about the future of evangelicalism, spurred by 80% of evangelicals having voted for Donald Trump in the last election, held a meeting recently at Wheaton College just outside Chicago.

Whenever I see evangelical leaders concerned about unstinting support for Trump and the potential problem of having the Christian witness tied to him, I am usually encouraged. But I have my qualms about the political direction of some of Trump’s evangelical critics.

Those who have read my blog on any kind of a regular basis know that I have written often with my own concerns about the presidency of Donald Trump. I did my best during the Republican primaries to warn Christians about his character; he received the nomination regardless of my warnings and those of others with a much larger audience than mine.

My concerns continue as his thin-skinned egotism and history of immoral behavior (which has really never abated) lowers the dignity of the presidential office. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did the same in their own respective ways.

Yes, Trump has made excellent judicial appointments that will hopefully reverse some trends, but I sincerely doubt if he knows any of those appointees who were recommended to him by a group of constitutionalists who see the dangers of an out-of-control judiciary.

Principle is in short supply with this president.

Christians are to stand for Scriptural fidelity and the purity of the Christian witness to the world. Neither are found in the character of the current occupant of the White House, and those with strong ties to him may eventually fall with him.

And I do fear that a fall is coming.

On the proverbial other hand, I have a similar fear with those who oppose Trump: that some of those who gathered at this meeting in Wheaton are not sufficiently grounded in Biblical precepts of government and policy, and they, in a similar fashion, are linking their ideas to the Christian witness to its detriment.

We’re informed by some that the younger generation of evangelicals don’t have the same concerns as the older generation, and that their cry is for “social justice.” Let it be known that I also believe in social justice, but the term has been so overused and misused (and you can feel free to apply over- and mis- to any other term you wish) that I shun using it myself.

If by social justice, one means that the inalienable rights God has given each person should be protected by government, then I am in agreement. The paramount inalienable right is that of life, which is why I am so supportive of the pro-life cause at both ends: unborn children and the elderly.

If by social justice, one means that no one should be treated differently due to external features such as skin color, again, you will find me on that side of the issue.

If, however, social justice is promoted as a semi-Marxist envy of those who “have” and is built on a bedrock of class conflict/warfare that seeks to take away from the haves to give to the have-nots, thereby classifying all “haves” as evil, then count me out. The history of the twentieth century was replete with those kinds of tyrannies, and they continue today regardless of the changes in leadership:

If social justice goes beyond the basic rights of all people regardless of color and insists on calling all white people evil (based on their color apparently) and foments an attitude of bitterness for wrongs both past and present, I will not be one of that number.

If it is true, as reported in a recent article, that 85% of black evangelicals identify with the Democrat party, I’m saddened. Why? Well, if you want to look historically, that was the party that defended both slavery and segregation. More recently, as the “champion” of minorities, it set up government programs (Great Society, anyone?) that have proved to be the catalyst for the destruction of the black family in America, leading to even greater degrees of poverty.

For evangelicals, in particular, the Democrats are the party that are wholesale on board with abortion on demand (which Planned Parenthood has always used to decimate minority communities), same-sex marriage, and, under the Obama administration, a large-scale attack on the religious liberties of Christian organizations who fail to fall in line with the “new morality.”

I want to ask my black brethren this: “How can you support a party that has set itself up in opposition to so much of what a Christian evangelical says he believes?” Democrats, in their present persona, are about as anti-Christian as a party can be.

Republicans give greater lip service to Biblical standards; their problem is hypocrisy. Yet, even with all that hypocrisy, there are some Republican officeholders who do remain faithful to their principles and their word. At least there’s some hope there, however slight.

To my evangelical friends who give unyielding support for President Trump, I urge you not to be unthinking cheerleaders. Recognize the danger to the Christian witness when we give ourselves to a leader unconditionally.

And by all means, don’t provide excuses for wrong behavior. Maintain your Biblical standard.

To my evangelical friends who are tempted to go the way of political progressivism, please stop and think about the ramifications. When you ally yourself with a worldview that is fundamentally antithetical to Christian faith, you taint the faith as well.

One report, focused on one evangelical college (which will go unnamed) notes that 80% of the professors there voted for Obama in 2012. This is the president who made the greatest strides toward marginalizing Christian faith in American society. How anyone could have supported him is beyond my understanding.

I’m trying to be a voice of Christian reason here, holding fast to fidelity to Scripture and hoping to make both sides reconsider where they stand. It’s not easy or fun being in the middle.

I sincerely love all who are truly in Christ, no matter where they come out on the political spectrum. However, I am urging all to put Biblical principles ahead of politics. If we do, we might find we agree on more things than we imagined.

Aggravate Schism or Heal It?

My study of C. S. Lewis’s correspondence has been primarily his letters to Americans. While one of my delightful projects for the future is to read all of his letters, I’ve only grazed the surface of those outside his American connections.

I have noted, though, some of his correspondence with his Catholic friend, Don Giovanni Calabria. The Anglican-Protestant Lewis kept up a lively and friendly interchange with that friend. Some of those letters deal with the divisions in the church universal. Lewis’s commentary on that is thought-provoking.

Is it sin that makes Christians divide into different denominations? Lewis offers this opinion:

That the whole cause of schism lies in sin I do not hold to be certain. I grant that no schism is without sin but the one proposition does not necessarily follow the other.

He then notes that both Catholics and Protestants deplore what some on their respective sides have done, using the friar Tetzel (who sparked Luther’s 95 Theses) and England’s Henry VIII (a Protestant only because he wanted a divorce) as prime examples.

But some don’t fit that characterization. Two martyrs—Thomas More and William Tyndale—both lost their lives under that same Henry VIII, but for different reasons. What of them?

But what would I think of your Thomas More or of our William Tyndale? All the writings of the one and all the writings of the other I have lately read right through. Both of them seem to me most saintly men and to have loved God with their whole heart: I am not worthy to undo the shoes of either of them.

Nevertheless they disagree and (what racks and astounds me) their disagreement seems to me to spring not from their vices nor from their ignorance but rather from their virtues and the depths of their faith, so that the more they were at their best the more they were at variance.

Lewis, of course, knew all about the Catholic-Protestant schism, having grown up in Northern Ireland. In another letter to Calabria, he tells of a coming holiday in his homeland, leading to more thoughts on the issue:

Tomorrow I am crossing over . . . to Ireland: my birthplace and dearest refuge so far as charm of landscape goes, and temperate climate, although most dreadful because of the strife, hatred and often civil war between dissenting faiths.

How does Lewis view this type of “dissent”?

There indeed both yours and ours “know not by what Spirit they are led.” They take lack of charity for zeal and mutual ignorance for orthodoxy.

I think almost all the crimes which Christians have perpetrated against each other arise from this, that religion is confused with politics. For, above all other spheres of human life, the Devil claims politics for his own, as almost the citadel of his power.

Let us, however, with mutual prayers pray with all our power for that charity which “covers a multitude of sins.”

As someone who has been actively involved in teaching students about government and politics for nearly three decades, I have to admit I don’t like Lewis’s conclusion that this realm of human activity is a special haven for Satan’s devices. I want Christians to know that government is established by God and that it has godly purposes.

However, I have to acknowledge that the Devil certainly knows how to use politics for his goals. Currently, the divide in politics is not between Catholic and Protestant, but between differences of opinion among Christians as to whom we should support in the political arena.

That divide is now beyond the simple liberal vs. conservative stances. Conservatives, after this last presidential election, are more divided than ever over how much, and in what ways, to support the winner.

We should be free to share our views, but in that sharing, we should never lose our charity toward fellow believers.

I like, especially, this caution from Lewis:

Disputations do more to aggravate schism than to heal it: united action, prayer, fortitude and (should God so will) united deaths for Christ—these will make us one.

We must never forget that, regardless of our views on the current state of politics, we are one in God’s kingdom. Lewis’s comment may be prophetic: we may have to suffer together unto death, and that will ultimately show us how petty the differences are compared to what we have in common.

I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to that, but it’s a sobering reminder that we should be focused on the eternal above all else.

A Society with No Sense of Sin & Guilt?

What’s perhaps the biggest deception in our day that keeps people from getting their lives right with God? I want to draw from three C. S. Lewis writings to offer one possibility—a possibility that I think is far closer to a probability.

In Lewis’s classic Mere Christianity, the path to establishing a relationship with God is clearly laid out:

Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know that they need any forgiveness.

It is after you have realised that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power–it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk.

When you are sick, you will listen to the doctor.

But not until then. And our age is awash with people who have no sense of estrangement from God because they have been indoctrinated away from the guilt they used to feel.

This makes us different from earlier ages, Lewis posits. He explains this in his “Christian Apologetics” essay in this way:

A sense of sin is almost totally lacking. Our situation is thus very different from that of the Apostles. The Pagans (and still more the metuentes [i.e., the God-fearing Gentiles]) to whom they preached were haunted by a sense of guilt and to them the Gospel was, therefore, “good news.”

What has changed?

We address people who have been trained to believe that whatever goes wrong in the world is someone else’s fault–the Capitalists’, the Government’s, the Nazis’, the Generals’ etc.

They approach God Himself as His judges. They want to know, not whether they can be acquitted for sin, but whether He can be acquitted for creating such a world.

In other words, we have turned the tables on reality. We, in our arrogance and pride, demand that God answer to us. We are not to blame—God is.

Lewis makes the same point in another essay, “God in the Dock,” in which he diagnoses the problem he has faced speaking to certain groups:

The greatest barrier I have met is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin. This has struck me more forcibly when I spoke to the R.A.F. than when I spoke to students.

Given the state of events on university campuses today, I suspect if Lewis could return to speak in that venue, he might have to revise that statement. He continues:

Whether (as I believe) the Proletariat is more self-righteous than other classes, or whether educated people are cleverer at concealing their pride, this creates for us a new situation. The early Christian preachers could assume in their hearers, whether Jews, Metuentes or Pagans, a sense of guilt. . . .

Thus the Christian message was in those days unmistakably the Evangelium, the Good News. It promised healing to those who knew they were sick.

We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.

We are now in a society where a large portion of the citizenry have consciously pawned off their own personal sin and guilt to anyone or anything else in an effort to ignore what their consciences, prior to their re-education, always told them.

We are not guilty; we are victims. Our parents are to blame; the hypocrisy of the church is to blame; the rich are the oppressors; the government causes all the problems—the list of blameworthy entities is virtually unending.

Yet each individual must come to the place of recognizing one’s own sin and the justification for the guilt that accompanies it. We must stop playing the victim card. We must face the reality of our rebellion against a loving God who is always willing to forgive.

But that forgiveness is conditional: sincere repentance, faith in the Son of God who gave Himself for us, and obedience to His commands.

Seeing What Is Unseen

All Scripture is inspired by God. When you read it with an open heart, God’s Spirit can speak directly to you. What’s even more remarkable is that passages that you have read often can sometimes stand out in a rereading in a way they didn’t before.

That happened to me recently when meditating on chapter 4 of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Let me see if I can convey why this section was so meaningful this time.

Since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Paul has just commented on how the Lord will transform His people into His image. If we are really Christians, we are open and honest in all our ways. We don’t try to “get by” with sneaky practices and attempt to deceive anyone.

Neither do we distort—twist into a different shape—the truths God has given us. We don’t change the Gospel message to fit into modern trends. The “church” is overflowing with those who who claim to speak for God, yet alter the truth for their own devious purposes.

And we have integrity. When we speak God’s truths, all should be able to see the genuineness of our motives.

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Satan cannot blind people who are truly seeking God. He can only mislead those who already have a heart of unbelief. It’s never God who keeps the truth from them; they themselves choose to reject the message.

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

Be alert to anyone who says he speaks for the Lord but whose message is centered on self. We are mere servants, not to be confused with Jesus our Lord, who is the Light shining in a dark world. That Light is to shine through us.

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

Have you ever considered yourself a mere jar of clay? Yet God chooses to use such plain and unassuming vessels to hold the treasure of His Word. What a privilege we have.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Paul makes it clear that this life will be filled with troubles. Being a messenger of God’s truth won’t be an easy life. We will be hard pressed at times, perplexed, possibly persecuted and struck down. Yet God is always with us. Regardless of the troubles, we will not be crushed, in despair, abandoned, or destroyed, even though we may feel like it.

As His spokesmen, we have to be willing to die to ourselves; that’s the only way for Christ to shine through us.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Faith leads us to speak boldly in His name. And the reward is fantastic: even as Jesus was raised from the dead, so too will we be raised and be presented to the Father on That Day.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

These verses are ones I memorized early in my Christian walk, but they mean more now with the decades that have followed. I now realize in a way I couldn’t when I was younger and more robust, that the body certainly does waste away. No longer can I trust in my own strength (although I never should have done so at any time).

No matter what troubles we experience, we are to see them as temporary. They will all pass, and we will have an eternal experience of glory in His presence. We will then consider those troubles as having been light and momentary.

The final verse is where we need to consciously put our minds. We are to “fix our eyes” on what we cannot currently see. This confounds unbelievers. How can anyone see what cannot be seen?

Through the eyes of faith, given to us by God because we have surrendered ourselves to the Lordship of Christ, we now have spiritual eyes that can see what is eternal.

And that which is eternal is far more real than what we see with our natural eyes.

I hope this short meditation gave you something significant to think about. Open your spiritual eyes and view the glory of God.

The Question of the Dishonest Question

“Can’t I lead a good life without believing in Christianity?” That’s the question posed by many people. Is it an honest question or one that simply seeks to avoid truth? C. S. Lewis deals with it in his short, yet insightful, essay, “Man or Rabbit?” It can be found in God in the Dock.

Lewis clears away the unhelpful underbrush of the query and reveals the path such a person asking the question is attempting to follow. As he does so, he sheds light on the essential dishonesty in what at first appears to be an honest question.

Anyone who asks this question already knows about Christianity and is really saying, “Need I bother about it? Mayn’t I just evade the issue, just let sleeping dogs lie, and get on with being ‘good’? Aren’t good intentions enough to keep me safe and blameless without knocking at that dreadful door and making sure whether there is, or isn’t someone inside?”

Lewis is blunt: “The man is shirking. He is deliberately trying not to know whether Christianity is true or false, because he foresees endless trouble if it should turn out to be true.”

Pulling no punches, Lewis continues,

He is like the man who deliberately “forgets” to look at the notice board because, if he did, he might find his name down for some unpleasant duty.

He is like the man who won’t look at his bank account because he’s afraid of what he might find there.

He is like the man who won’t go to the doctor when he first feels a mysterious pain, because he is afraid of what the doctor may tell him.

This avoidance of truth gets to the heart of what is behind the question of whether one must be a Christian to be good. Someone who asks that may be looking for an “out.” At bottom, it’s not genuine honesty at all; the question is not a real question but a hope that one doesn’t have to hear the actual answer.

The man who remains an unbeliever for such reasons is not in a state of honest error. He is in a state of dishonest error, and that dishonesty will spread through all his thoughts and actions: a certain shiftiness, a vague worry in the background, a blunting of his whole mental edge, will result.

He has lost his intellectual virginity.

Lewis knows that God will forgive anyone who has mistakenly rejected Christ and then repents of that rejection. But that’s not the kind of person he is addressing here.

But to evade the Son of Man, to look the other way, to pretend you haven’t noticed, to become suddenly absorbed in something on the other side of the street, to leave the receiver off the telephone because it might be He who was ringing up, to leave unopened certain letters in a strange handwriting because they might be from Him—this is a different matter.

You may not be certain yet whether you ought to be a Christian; but you do know you ought to be a Man, not an ostrich, hiding its head in the sand.

Even if you can get a person to acknowledge his avoidance of finding the truth, there is another issue that Lewis says is an indication of the lowering of intellectual honor: the plaintive cry of “Will it help me? Will it make me happy?” Lewis challenges that approach with more bluntness:

Here is a door, behind which, according to some people, the secret of the universe is waiting for you. Either that’s true, or it isn’t. And if it isn’t, then what the door really conceals is simply the greatest fraud, the most colossal “sell” on record.

Isn’t it obviously the job of every man (that is a man and not a rabbit) to try to find out which, and then to devote his full energies either to serving this tremendous secret or to exposing and destroying this gigantic humbug?

Faced with such an issue, can you really remain wholly absorbed in your own blessed “moral development”?

What’s needed, Lewis explains, is the realization that we can’t ever be “good” in the sense that God intends for us. “Mere morality is not the end of life. You were made for something quite different from that.”

What, then, is that “something quite different”?

We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear. . . . We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy. . . .

Morality is a mountain which we cannot climb by our own efforts; and if we could we should only perish in the ice and unbreathable air of the summit, lacking those wings with which the rest of the journey has to be accomplished.

For it is from there that the real ascent begins. The ropes and axes are “done away” and the rest is a matter of flying.

I don’t know about you, but I would like to fly.

Celebrating the Resurrection

Tomorrow we celebrate—and that most certainly is the best word to use—the Resurrection. Nothing like it appeared in history before that tremendous event and nothing like it followed afterward.

It is the central event in all of history, never to be topped by anything else.

The Nativity, which we call Christmas, was essential only because it was to lead to this event. The Second Coming of Christ and the Judgment to follow would be the most awful occurrence for everyone if not for the Resurrection, which showed God’s triumph over death, Satan, and hell.

As a result of Christ’s death and resurrection, millions now have access to the very throne room of God.

C. S. Lewis calls the Resurrection “the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts.” He reminds us that when we talk about the gospel, we are focusing on the Resurrection.

What we call the “gospels,” the narratives of Our Lord’s life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the gospel. They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted.

The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it.

Lewis mustn’t be misunderstood as in any way denigrating the four gospels; he’s simply stating a fact: the whole reason for the writing of the gospels later was the stunning truth of the Resurrection.

Nothing could be more unhistorical than to pick out selected sayings of Christ from the gospels and to regard those as the datum and the rest of the New Testament as a construction upon it. The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection.

The reality of the Resurrection should be just as much the central feature of our lives as it was for the first Christians. When Don Giovanni Calabria, one of Lewis’s regular correspondents, shared with him his concerns for the world’s troubles, Lewis, responding to him the day before Easter, replied,

Tomorrow we shall celebrate the glorious Resurrection of Christ. I shall be remembering you in the Holy Communion. Away with tears and fears and troubles! United in wedlock with the eternal Godhead Itself, our nature ascends into the Heaven of Heavens.

So it would be impious to call ourselves “miserable.” On the contrary, Man is a creature whom the Angels—were they capable of envy—would envy. Let us lift up our hearts! “At some future time perhaps even these things it will be a joy to recall.”

I know how the weight of the world can get one down. Yet when we compare these temporary weights to the glory that awaits because of the Resurrection, we get the proper perspective. As the Apostle Paul said,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Rom. 8:18

And in one of my favorite passages, Paul expounds that theme further:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Those who have committed their lives to the Lordship of Christ can rest and rejoice simultaneously. Through Him, we have overcome the world and will share in the glory of the Resurrection.

It Is Finished

Today I’m participating in a Good Friday service that focuses on the seven statements of Jesus as He hung on the cross. The statement I was asked to speak on is “It is finished.” Here’s an excerpt from my homily. I hope it ministers to you.

What does that short declaration, “It is finished,” really mean? What’s behind that statement?

Philippians, chapter 2, contains one of the most astounding and wonderful passages in the entire Bible. In it, we glimpse the heart and attitude of Jesus in his voluntariness to lay aside all the privileges of His Godhood to take on human form. “And being found in appearance as a man,” we’re told, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross.”

That passage deserves extended meditation. He didn’t have to do this. He chose to do it, despite what He would have to endure. He was looking to the end, to the finished task.

At the start of His earthly ministry, he went into the desert. He had nothing to eat for 40 days. Satan came to Him and offered him food, then power, then tempted Him to show off by throwing Himself down from the highest point of the temple and letting angels rescue Him. He resisted all those temptations by quoting the truths of Scripture.

The book of Hebrews informs us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin.”

Jesus knew that He had to complete the ministry of reconciliation—the weakness of His human body didn’t keep Him from fulfilling His purpose.

The Garden of Gethsemane—the last opportunity to change His mind. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” He told His disciples. Then He prayed, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

The ultimate submission. He was close now to the end. He would see it through.

The scourging—the crown of thorns—the beatings—the carrying of the cross—the spikes through His hands and feet—the slow suffocation.

The Father turned His face away, leaving Jesus to go through the worst agony of all—a separation from the One with whom He had been united throughout all eternity. That separation meant that He now suffered what each human being would suffer if cast away from the presence of God. He literally experienced what hell would be like.

And then the words—“It is finished.”

Jesus had done all He could do to heal the breach between God and man. He successfully completed the task. Nothing more was needed on His end. God’s part in offering us salvation was done, but the work is not truly finished until we respond to what He did for us.

It’s not finished until we see the awfulness of our sins and understand that we, through our rebellion, put Jesus on that cross.

It’s not finished until we come to Him in abject repentance, sorrowful over our selfish, unloving ways.

It’s not finished until we receive by faith what He has accomplished on that cross. When we do all of these things, forgiveness from the heart of a loving God then flows into our lives.

That’s when it will truly be finished.