Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Back at the Wade Center: Focusing on God’s Love

It’s nice to be back at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College for a C. S. Lewis conference this week. Because of that, I didn’t intend to write any blogs for the week, but the instruction has been so invigorating that I would like to share a little bit of what we’re receiving here.

It’s been four years since I came here to investigate Lewis’s connection to Americans, an investigation that led to my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact. Since then, the Center has added an auditorium where it can more easily make presentations. Those presentations thus far this week have been both thoughtful and moving.

Dr. Jerry Root, a superb Lewis scholar and engaging teacher, has been the primary speaker. I heard him at a C. S. Lewis Foundation conference a few years ago and was duly impressed then. I’m doubly impressed now.

The focus has been on being an authentic Christian who can speak to the world about Truth. All too often, we come across as inauthentic; that type of person pushes people away from the very truths we are trying to communicate.

The challenge is to continue to examine ourselves before God. Dr. Root commented, “If you don’t examine your life, others will do it for you.”

How very accurate.

We need to cultivate virtue in our lives, a virtue that consists of four characteristics:

  • Courage: endurance; fortitude; staying power
  • Temperance: the ability to resist immediate pleasure for long-term gain
  • Justice: fairness; law-abiding; having a bedrock of honesty in one’s life
  • Wisdom: being careful about the decisions we make

Interestingly, Dr. Root said he disagrees with Lewis’s position in Mere Christianity where he calls pride the worst of all sins. Instead, he offers the following thought: pride emanates from fear (of not being accepted, etc.); fear comes from not loving God perfectly. Therefore, not loving God is the primary sin. As I John 4:18 tells us,

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.

I grasp what he’s saying about that. I’ll have to consider it more fully.

How do we discover God’s love? By obeying Him. As we do so, His love is revealed. So one doesn’t wait to “feel” God’s love; rather, one does what He says and insight into His love will follow.

Another concept he presented that should help us understand just how much God loves is this: if God made it, He sustains it, so that means He loves it. God made us, He sustains us, therefore we can be assured He loves us.

Coming back to that first point about authenticity, here is the challenge: If we don’t come to the place where God is enough for us (we don’t want or need anything else but Him), we will never communicate with authenticity because we won’t be truly authentic.

I want authenticity to permeate my life. I deeply appreciate what I’m receiving here this week.

While I’m here, I’m doing more research into the connection between Lewis and Dorothy Sayers. It’s nice to be back at my “old station” in the Wade Reading Room.

I just keep thinking, “Thank you, Lord, for this opportunity.”

Great Minds Think Alike: The Mind of the Maker (Part 2)

In my previous C. S. Lewis-centered post, I lauded Dorothy Sayers’s book The Mind of the Maker, which I had intended only to peruse for overarching themes but wound up instead reading every word (even to the point of using it as part of my morning devotions) because I loved the writing so much.

It was a Lewis-centered post due to my emphasis on why Lewis appreciated her writing style and substance. I’d like to continue that analysis today.

Sayers’s third chapter, “Idea, Energy, and Power,” develops her thesis by showing how any completed work in life starts with an idea in the mind. This correlates nicely with what Lewis said to his brother, Warnie, when the idea of a senior devil instructing a junior devil popped into his mind while sitting in church.

He later explained that the genesis of Narnia was “a picture” in his mind “of a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood.” He also remarked that when he decided to write the tales, “Aslan came bounding into it.” How? “I think I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time.” Sayers is making the same point in this chapter. As she notes,

The ordinary man is apt to say: “I thought you began by collecting material and working out the plot.” The confusion here is not merely over the words “first” and “begin.” In fact the “Idea”—or rather the writer’s realization of his own idea—does precede any mental or physical work upon the materials or on the course of the story within a time-series.

In chapter four, “The Energy Revealed in Creation,” she stresses that a truly imaginative work demands some diversity within it to properly emphasize the unity. The other side of an argument, so to speak, must be given voice in order to give the work its “vital power.” Literature that is merely “edifying” or “propaganda” will lose that vital power. “The Energy is active only in one part of the whole, and in consequence the wholeness is destroyed and the Power diminished. You cannot, in fact, give God His due without giving the devil his due also.”

This is essentially what Lewis does in Perelandra when he allows the ongoing dialogue/argument between Ransom and Weston (the Un-man). If there were no counterpoint to the truths Ransom is offering the Green Lady of that planet, the drama would be sapped from the narrative. It’s the dynamic of the diversity of views that ultimately reveals the soundness of what Ransom is saying. The story would be lifeless—except for the descriptions of the beauty of the unfallen environment—and there would be little reason to invest time in it because it would only be a work of propaganda.

Lewis also guided his readers into an appreciation for a written work itself, and downplayed the desire to delve more into the author than the work the author has given us. Sayers says virtually the same thing when she asserts, “To put it crudely, we may, and do, know the Iliad without knowing Homer.” She bemoans the many foolish speculations about Shakespeare and admonishes,

The itch for personally knowing authors torments most of us; we feel that if we could somehow get at the man himself, we should obtain more help and satisfaction from him than from his chosen self-revelation. . . .

And it is desirable to bear in mind—when dealing with the human maker at any rate—that his chosen way of revelation is through his works. To persist in asking, as so many of us do, “What did you mean by this book?” is to invite bafflement: the book itself is what the writer means.

All creative work, whether written, painted, sculpted, or whatever, begins with an idea. All creative work must transcend mere propaganda. All creative work stands on its own merits without needing an intimate knowledge of its creator.

In all these ways, Lewis and Sayers are in agreement. The old cliché, “Great minds think alike,” is illustrated in the minds of these two Christian authors/creators.

I’ve been consistently concerned now for the last couple of years with respect to what is happening in our political realm. I come at politics and government from a very definite perspective.

Here, therefore, is my attempt at a personal manifesto.

I believe in Christian principled constitutional conservatism. Let me now explain what that means to me.

Christian

Jesus Christ is Lord of all aspects of life. My own life would have no meaning without His love, His forgiveness, and His direction for me. Politics and government fall under His Lordship. Consequently, whenever I think on those issues, I do so with a desire to ensure that His truth is the cornerstone for all governmental policies.

I want to see all of the vital questions before us through the lens of Biblical faith and solid doctrine. I want a Biblical approach to the way government is organized and I want, as much as possible, people serving in that government who are dedicated Christians. Where that is not the case, I at least want to support those who are not hostile to Christian faith, but have respect for liberty of conscience.

I seek to help put into practice a Christian worldview on all manner of legislation, whether that be right to life/abortion, religious liberty, marriage, taxes, education, welfare, immigration—well, that’s the short list. I believe that no matter what the issue, there is a Biblical way to understand that issue.

Principled

I shouldn’t have to make this a separate section. Christians ought to be, simply by the nature of their relationship to God and truth, naturally principled. However, I am dismayed by how often those who profess the name of Christ make disastrously unprincipled decisions. They allow emotions or self-interest to set aside what they claim to believe.

What principles mean the most to me?

  • The inherent value of human life—we are all created in the image of God.
  • The concept of self-government—God has so designed us to grow into maturity and make most decisions ourselves without the oversight of civil government. Not only individuals, but families, churches, voluntary organizations, etc., should be free of undue government influence.
  • The sanctity of private property—government has no mandate from God to be our overlord on economic matters; He instead, as part of our maturity, seeks to teach us how to be His stewards of all types of property: money, material goods, our minds, and the free will He has given us.
  • Voluntary association without the force of government coming down on us—people only unite when they are united, and that unity is internal, not provided by government coercion.
  • Christian character—God intended us to carry out our lives as reflections of Him; the world only works correctly when we do things His way.
  • Sowing and reaping—man is accountable for his actions, and he will receive back what he has sown: if obedience to God, blessings; if disobedience, dire consequences; we can’t blame society and claim victimhood status in God’s eyes because He will always hold us personally responsible for our choices, whether right or wrong.

Constitutional

I believe in the concept of the rule of law, meaning no man, regardless of high rank in society, is above the law. We all are to be judged by the same standard.

I believe in the system set up in this nation through the Constitution that gave us a solid basis for the rule of law.

I believe we need to hold firm to the original meaning of those words in our Constitution and not allow judges, legislators, or presidents to stray from the limited authority granted in that document.

Changes to the authority given to our federal government must go through the proper constitutional channel: the amendment process as outlined in the Constitution. A judge’s gavel is not a magic wand.

Anyone running for the presidency or for Congress, and anyone nominated for a federal judgeship, at whatever level, all the way to the Supreme Court, must pass muster as constitutionalists. No one who denigrates the rule of law should ever be supported for public office.

Conservative

This is a relative term. In a totalitarian system, a conservative would be one who wants to conserve totalitarianism. But in our system, a true conservative is someone who seeks to conserve what the Founders established. Often that can happen only by acting to overturn or reverse what has been done to destroy the Founders’ ideals. If a revolution has occurred, a real conservative might have to take on the nature of a counterrevolutionary in order to reestablish the foundations.

Conservatism does not merely conserve the status quo—if that status quo is a deviation from the constitutional system bequeathed to us.

Conservatism is not “reactionary”; it is a positive movement to secure the blessings of liberty to us and to future generations.

This is where I stand. This is my personal manifesto.

God’s Foolishness vs. Man’s Wisdom

I love learning. I’d better love it, seeing as how I live in an academic environment. Reading, studying, going deeper into a knowledge of history and government naturally draws me. Yet that plunge into knowledge can never be divorced from the proper heart motive—love of God and His ways.

The temptation for people like me is to think that we have become experts, which can then border on arrogance, which is decidedly opposed to God’s will for our lives.

It’s always good to come back to a certain passage in I Corinthians, where the apostle Paul offers this timely reminder:

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”

If we ever begin to think that God’s way—the way of the cross—is just too simplistic or beneath us, we are straying from the path. Paul continues with this stark message:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

Wait a minute. Am I not to strive for wisdom? Am I not to be a dedicated student/scribe? Shouldn’t I sharpen my skills of debate? I don’t think this passage means we are to put away those aims. What it does do, though, is remind us to keep our priorities straight. He concludes,

For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

God has called me to be one of His in the academic world. I will fulfill that calling only if I put first things first. I intend to continue doing that.

In this blog, I comment constantly on the ways of the world, whether in politics, education, morality, or the culture in general. As long as I do so with the proper perspective, recognizing the highest message of all—Christ crucified for sinners—I will be carrying out His will for my life.

I just thought that was a reminder worth sharing today, no matter what your calling may be. Jesus Christ and His overwhelming love for sinful men is the cornerstone for everything we say or do.

Lewis on Sayers’s “The Mind of the Maker” (Part One)

In a previous post, I wrote about why C. S. Lewis liked the writings of Dorothy Sayers, and I focused on her radio plays The Man Born to Be King, which she turned into a book.

There was another Sayers book that Lewis read prior to that one: The Mind of the Maker. It was published in 1941; Lewis wrote a short review of it in the journal Theology. He introduces the theme immediately: “The purpose of this book is to throw light both on the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity and on the process whereby a work of art (specially of literature) is produced, by drawing an analogy between the two.” Of this he wholly approves.

Then he proceeds to caution the reader about the one feature of the book that gives him concern:

I think that in an age when idolatry of human genius is one of our most insidious dangers Miss Sayers would have been prudent to stress more continuously than she does the fact that the analogy is merely an analogy. I am afraid that some vainglorious writers may be encouraged to forget that they are called “creative” only by a metaphor.

This concern for Lewis was centered on the arrogance that sometimes infuses the mind of the artist. He merely wished Sayers had stressed more the very distinct difference between the actual Creator and humans who sub-create at a lower level.

Yet that is his only negative remark on the substance of the book. “In general,” he continues, “I find Miss Sayers’ development of her analogy full of illumination both on the theological and on the literary side.” He concluded,

This is the first “little book on religion” I have read for a long time in which every sentence is intelligible and every page advances the argument. I recommend it heartily to theologians and critics. To novelists and poets, if they are already inclined in any degree to idolatry of their own vocation, I recommend it with much more caution. They had better read it fasting.

In their early correspondence, Lewis doesn’t really expound further on his views of The Mind of the Maker, but an analysis of some of the concepts within it may offer some clues as to what else he would have admired in the work.

The very first chapter, “The ‘Laws’ of Nature and Opinion,” serves as a complement to the way Lewis later expounded on the subject in Mere Christianity. There is a reality built into the universe, Sayers asserts, that no one in his right mind would ever attempt to deny.

Sayers goes on to say that there is a universal moral law that is behind even the moral code by which a society may function. Christianity, she maintains, has called this the natural law, and “the more closely the moral code agrees with the natural law, the more it makes for freedom in human behavior; the more widely it departs from the natural law, the more it tends to enslave mankind and to produce the catastrophes called ‘judgments of God.’”

A society may have a moral code that wants people to behave like St. Francis, she posits, but what if that society prefers a code more in line with the Emperor Caligula? One must then refer to the natural law upon which the moral code ought to be based. By doing so, one should be able to prove “at the bar of experience, that St. Francis does in fact enjoy a freer truth to essential human nature than Caligula, and that a society of Caligulas is more likely to end in catastrophe than a society of Franciscans.” Her conclusion is very Lewis-like:

Defy the commandments of the natural law, and the race will perish in a few generations; co-operate with them, and the race will flourish for ages to come. That is the fact; whether we like it or not, the universe is made that way.

This commandment is interesting because it specifically puts forward the moral law as the basis of the moral code: because God has made the world like this and will not alter it, therefore you must not worship your own fantasies, but pay allegiance to the truth.

That’s only one point she made that I know Lewis would have liked. There are others, but I’ll save those for future Lewis posts.

The Unnaturalness of Death

Death is something we all have to face. For most of us, it is faced first in the loss of someone we know and love. Ultimately, we have to face it in our own lives, recognizing that it is inevitable, not something we can avoid forever, although in Christ we know it isn’t final, that there is an unfathomably wonderful forever on the other side of that fearful doorway.

Yet death was never meant to be. It is an intruder in the world God created, brought into that world by rebellion. That rebellion destroyed God’s intent for relationship with all the humans that were to follow our first parents.

Death hurts. We shouldn’t pretend it doesn’t. C. S. Lewis, in his essay, “Some Thoughts,” notes that “we follow One who stood and wept at the grave of Lazarus . . . because death, the punishment of sin, is even more horrible in His eyes than in ours.”

Maybe we don’t stop and think about that. We loath death, but God loathes it even more since it mars His perfect creation. Lewis continues in his thought experiment about Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus:

The nature which He had created as God, the nature which He had assumed as Man, lay there before Him in its ignominy; a foul smell, food for worms. Though He was to revive it a moment later, He wept at the shame; if I may here quote a writer of my own communion, “I am not so much afraid of death as ashamed of it.”

Why shame? Because death is unnatural. It never should have been. “We know that we were not made for it,” Lewis comments. “We know how it crept into our destiny as an intruder; and we know Who has defeated it.”

And therein lies the hope for mankind—at least for those who will come to the Cross and receive the New and Eternal Life promised there.

There are some who say “death ought not to be final, that there ought to be a second chance,” Lewis writes in The Problem of Pain. But he offers his own brand of response to that objection:

I believe that if a million chances were likely to do good, they would be given. But a master often knows, when boys and parents do not, that it is really useless to send a boy in for a certain examination again. Finality must come sometime, and it does not require a very robust faith to believe that omniscience knows when.

The risen Christ has “already disarmed” the enemy of our souls, Lewis asserts in the essay mentioned above.

But because we know that the natural level also is God’s creation we cannot cease to fight against the death which mars it, as against all those other blemishes upon it, against pain and poverty, barbarism and ignorance.

Because we love something else more than this world we love even this world better than those who know no other.

We must always remember:

Teaching the Generations

Many of you know how you can read a Scripture passage and something jumps out at you that you never saw before. I attribute that to the leading of the Holy Spirit. A few days ago, I was reading in Psalm 71 when my mind (and spirit?) was arrested by just a few words—verses 9 and 18—separated from the rest of the text but united in thought.

Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone. . . .

Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.

What did this mean to me? Well, first of all, although I am certainly getting old-er, I don’t yet consider myself old in the classic sense. My strength is not yet gone, I am not yet seriously contemplating retirement, and I don’t feel forsaken of God.

I am gray; I’ll grant that one. But if none of the rest is totally applicable to me, why was I affected by these words?

One never knows when one’s strength will ebb more quickly, and I believe I have a lot to do still in my life and in the ministry God has given me. Perhaps it was the fact that I was grading students in finals week, another semester nearing its end.

It was those final words that meant the most to me, especially when coupled with the potential onset of older age: I teach the next generation; I want those students to know of God’s power, His mighty acts, and His abiding presence that He wants to implant within each one of them.

I began my university teaching career rather late. I didn’t receive my doctorate until I was 38, which was the time I got my first fulltime position. My 30th year of teaching will begin this upcoming fall, and I am now seeing, via Facebook, some of my former students beginning to send their children to college.

That is stunning to me. How can this be, I ask myself? The old cliché about time marching on is rearing its head. If any of my former students were to send their children to Southeastern to study under me, I would be teaching a second generation. Astounding. Why? Because in my mind, I’m not that old.

I am grateful for the many years the Lord has given me to teach those who will carry His light into this sad parody of a society we live in today. I look forward to continuing that quest. My health is still good; my strength is not gone; the vision remains vivid in my spirit.

And to all of my former students, I offer this word: send your children to me and I promise to give them all I can, everything the Lord has placed in me to pass on to the next generation.