Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Life Has Never Been Normal: Lewis on War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life has never been normal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Socialism/Limited Government Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Line That Should Not Be Crossed

Because I take Scripture seriously and consider it God’s direct Word to me for my life, I cannot ignore what I find in 1 Timothy, chapter 2:

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

I have to acknowledge, though, that this instruction is not easy for me. It’s not that I don’t want to pray for those in authority; I certainly want a tranquil and quiet life; and I have the same desire mentioned here that all would come to the knowledge of the truth.

What I seem to be lacking, if I may be completely open, is a solid hope that some of those I’m supposed to pray for can be spiritually awakened.

Have you ever felt that way?

What if, I tell myself, the one I’m supposed to pray for is so old and set in his ways—ways that are manifestly and overwhelming self-centered—that it would be a miracle for him to change?

What if the one in authority is so bound by an anti-Christian ideology that his policies aim to undermine Christian faith and practice, and that any change in that ideology is highly unlikely?

Those last two examples, in case you haven’t made the connection, relate to our current and previous president.

Yes, I know what God requires. Sometimes I do pray for them, but not as much as I should. I guess I lack faith that it will do any good.

What a horrible admission.

Yet the requirement remains nevertheless, and I will do my best to obey.

A distinction must be made, however. Sincerely praying for someone in authority who is not grounded in the truth and whose attitudes and actions are often contrary to godliness is not the same as becoming an apologist for that person no matter what he does.

There is a line that should not be crossed, but I’m seeing many of my Christian brothers and sisters crossing that line continually.

Whenever we excuse sin or whenever we torture Scripture to make ungodliness seem acceptable, we fail in our Christian witness to the world.

Whenever we shut our eyes and ears to facts, we align ourselves with dishonesty and falsehoods—and that is never the Christian thing to do.

He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him. . . .

The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.

Proverbs 18: 13, 17

We need to check our hearts. Do we automatically assume innocence for our “side” in a controversy and immediately ascribe evil motives to others? Do we find it too easy to accept a vast conspiracy as an explanation for charges we don’t want to believe but cannot bring ourselves to investigate honestly whether certain accusations might be true?

God calls us to honesty and integrity. He will settle for nothing less because He is the very essence of honesty and integrity. It’s well past time that we align ourselves with Him.

Communicating Truth: A Lewis Exhortation

“You must translate every bit of your Theology into the vernacular,” exhorted C. S. Lewis in an essay entitled “Christian Apologetics.” He admitted this could be “very troublesome and it means you can say very little in half an hour, but it is essential.”

Theologians, he believed, had a tendency to write in an obscure way. In the same vein, many pastors may try to impress their congregations with high-flown, little-understood phrases that leave the listeners spiritually cold.

Lewis therefore challenged those who are called to preach the gospel to put it in the language of everyday people. Not only would it communicate better with them, but “it is also of the greatest service to your own thought.”

I have come to the conviction that if you cannot translate your thoughts into uneducated language, then your thoughts were confused.

Power to translate is the test of having really understood one’s own meaning. A passage from some theological work for translation into the vernacular ought to be a compulsory paper in every Ordination examination.

The driving force behind Lewis’s exhortation was that communication of God’s Good News is the most significant message imaginable; therefore, it requires clarity of expression.

Later in that same essay, he emphasizes the necessity of pressing upon an audience (whether of one or of many) that the Christian faith must be presented from the proper foundation:

One of the great difficulties is to keep before the audience’s mind the question of Truth. They always think you are recommending Christianity not because it is true but because it is good. And in the discussion they will at every moment try to escape from the issue “True—or False.” . . .

One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon us who have been given the charge to be communicators of God’s Truth to do so in a way that people can really grasp its importance.

Temptation & Realism: A Lewis Perspective

C. S. Lewis, in his Mere Christianity, has an interesting take on temptation that may run counter to what many think. Of course, he has interesting takes on quite a few concepts, but this one stands out to me today. He begins with this:

A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.

It’s the “good” people who have actually grappled with wrong desires; they are the ones who have engaged in the battle. Others have already surrendered before the battle has even started. He continues,

A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.

Lewis turns typical reasoning on its head by asserting that it’s not the Christians who are sheltered, but those who have never known anything but giving in to temptation. They are the ones living in a fantasy world, not those who are derided and mocked for being “sheltered” in a Christian environment.

We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.

When we follow Christ’s path and refuse the temptations offered to us by the world, the flesh, and the devil, we then become realists as well. We’re not the naive ones; rather, we know the reality of evil and embrace righteousness instead because we see results of both.

Hebrews 4:15 is an encouragement for all who have chosen the road to discipleship:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Hell As a Bureaucracy

“We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement,” advised C. S. Lewis, “where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.”

Lewis wrote those words in his preface to the 1961 edition of The Screwtape Letters. Although Screwtape is, in one sense, a comical devil, Lewis never lets his readers forget what lies at the heart of hell: the self, with all its outcroppings of jealousy, bitterness, and backstabbing.

Yet his picture of hell is not what most would imagine. Instead, he compares it to modern bureaucracy. “I like bats much better than bureaucrats,” he mused. And you can bet he didn’t have any real fondness for bats.

Interestingly, I first ran across Lewis’s description of hell as a bureaucracy not in this preface (somehow its existence escaped me until recently), but in Ronald Reagan’s famous 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, the speech dubbed by some “The Evil Empire.”

Reagan quoted Lewis in the speech and referenced Screwtape in doing so. Yet I was puzzled at the time by the quote because I didn’t recall ever reading it in the actual letters. I was delighted, therefore, to come across it in this preface.

“I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of ‘Admin.’” To Lewis, that was as close to hell as possible. He then expounded on that opening thought:

The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result.

But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.

Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern.

Hell, Lewis opined, is a “society held together entirely by fear and greed.” The “whole organisation” operated on the principle of “dog eat dog.”

Everyone wishes everyone else’s discrediting, demotion, and ruin; everyone is an expert in the confidential stab in the back. Over all this their good manners, their expressions of grave respect, their “tributes” to one another’s invaluable services form a thin crust.

Every now and then it gets punctured, and the scalding lava of their hatred spurts out.

Lewis, of course, is doing more than merely painting his portrait of how hell functions; he’s sending out a warning to us who live in a world that often resembles hell.

How do we function? Are we, behind our impeccable manners and outward show of civility, undermining our associates secretly? Do we operate on the principle of “dog eat dog”? Does our thin crust of respect for others occasionally reveal itself as a “scalding lava of hatred”?

As always, Lewis wants us to examine ourselves, to look into our own hearts and, if we see anything there that has even the remotest connection with hell, to expunge it immediately.

We must live in a continual state of self-examination (not obsessive, but realistic) and an eagerness to repent of anything we see amiss. We want the fragrance of Christ to show in our lives, not the sulfurous odor of hell.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

Presuppositions & Worldviews

From the time I first began to realize that everyone, whether they know it or not, operates on a specific worldview, I’ve analyzed everything through that insight. I agree with the late Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer, who famously explained in his excellent book, How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture,

People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize.

Schaeffer then defined his primary term:

By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world view, the grid through which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People’s presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world.

Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions.

“As a man thinketh, so is he,” is really most profound. An individual is not just the product of the forces around him.

That explanation took hold on me early in my Christian journey and has framed much of what I teach. I’m always concerned with showcasing worldviews to my students, in the hope that they will look beneath the surface and see the roots from which certain beliefs spring.

We all live our lives with baggage. When we surrender our lives to the Lordship of Christ, we begin a new path that is supposed to leave the bad baggage behind—baggage like a false worldview.

This is not instantaneous; it is a process that lasts throughout one’s lifetime. Yet significant strides in replacing old views can be made even as we start this new life. As we’re told in the book of Romans, the 12th chapter,

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

The word translated as “transformed” can also be translated “transfigured,” as when Jesus took three of His disciples up on the mountain and they saw Him changed into the glorious nature that was hidden beneath His humanity.

Our minds need to undergo a similar change. They need to be renewed because they have fallen into the decay of sinful worldviews. In Christ, that gets turned around.

I also like what I read in Colossians 2:8:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Deception roams among us at all times, and we need to be alert; it’s far too easy to get intellectually and spiritually lazy and get taken captive unaware. We need to continually focus on the principles given to us from the mind and heart of God. When we meditate on those truths, that which is hollow and deceptive will become clear.

Our marching orders with respect to worldviews can also be seen in 2 Corinthians 10:5, where we’re instructed,

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

So there is a negative aspect to our mission in one sense: we are to tear down and destroy all false arguments that would lead people astray from the truth. We are to use our minds in the way God intended, where every thought becomes subject to Him.

This is my passion, placed in my heart by God’s Spirit. I have a deep, abiding love for the truth. I must always remember, though, one further exhortation found in Ephesians 4:15, where I’m told I have to speak His truth in love.

That can be a challenge at times, especially when I see others being deceived by the falsehoods. But speak I must. That will never change.