Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

America Discovers Lewis at the Wade Center

Last night I spoke at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. Topic: my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact. The Wheaton campus was quite active last night, what with a Michael W. Smith concert and approximately six other events. Parking was at a premium, I was told, which made some of my audience a little late in arriving. Overall, though, there were about forty very interested people who wanted to know more about one of their favorite authors—that would be Lewis, of course, not me.

I offered a short history of how my interest in Lewis began and how I felt the Lord was guiding me into a niche in Lewis studies that had not yet been fully explored—his relationships with Americans and how Americans have received his writings.

From Chad Walsh (who wrote the first book on Lewis and became his close friend), to Joy Davidman Gresham (Lewis’s American wife), to Walter Hooper (the American who served briefly as Lewis’s helper/secretary and then became the executor of the Lewis literary estate), to Clyde Kilby (the Wheaton professor who had the vision to begin collecting not only all of Lewis’s papers and writings, but then extended that collection to six other famous British authors), it was a joy to share their stories.

Yet those are the ones people are most likely to know about anyway, so I was able to broaden the field of knowledge about other, lesser-known Lewis acquaintances and/or regular correspondents, and how his interaction with them provided spiritual guidance over many years.

Finally, I shared some (not as much as I wanted because I was running out of time) of the responses I got from a survey I sent out during the research for the book. How did you first come into contact with Lewis’s writings? Which ones have impacted you the most? What personal testimonies can you share? Those were some of the questions I asked in that survey, and the responses ranged from very interesting to poignant. I was not surprised that Lewis has truly made a “profound impact.”

I always love being at the Wade Center. Today and tomorrow I will do more research. My new interest in is Dorothy Sayers (one of those famous British authors that the Wade collected information on), her relationship with Lewis and how her Christian writings have had their respective impact.

Many thanks to David and Crystal Downing, the new co-directors of the Wade, for having me come to speak. They are Lewis scholars, and have been for many more years than I. Their appreciation of my first foray into Lewis scholarship has been an encouragement to me personally.

On Sunday, I’ll be speaking at a local church, one where I’ve spoken before. I’ve been asked to provide a solid overview of why Lewis has been one of the Lord’s most effective spokesmen. It will be a joy to do so.

On Monday, it will be back to my students, whom I love, and all that grading, with which I don’t have quite the same loving relationship. God’s calling isn’t all glory, you know.

John Eliot Prepared Indian Converts

Here’s a post I received from the Christian History Institute that I think is worth passing on.

JOHN ELIOT arrived in Massachusetts from England in 1631. He would become one of the colony’s most famous immigrants. Educated at the University of Cambridge, he was ordained to the ministry before coming to America. In the New World, he temporarily filled a vacant pulpit in Boston before moving on to Roxbury in 1632. That same year he wed Hannah Mumford. They would have six children.

Three years after his arrival in Massachusetts, Eliot’s concern for the  Native Americans got him into trouble with colonial authorities when he protested the manner in which a treaty was made with the Pequods without their consent. But his actual ministry began in 1646. His Algonquin hearers asked thoughtful questions such as whether God would understand them if they prayed in their language, Massachuset (also called Natick). By then he had learned the Natick dialect.

He traveled throughout New England preaching among the tribes who spoke Natick, resulting in many Native Americans converting to Christianity. Some became pastors and missionaries among their own people. Eliot also obtained land for them. To provide for their spiritual welfare, he translated parts of the Bible and other religious works into Massachuset.

On 13 October 1652, after fasting and praying all morning, a number of members of the Massachuset tribe gave their testimonies and made confessions so that they might be admitted to a church of their own. However, the confessions took longer than expected and had to be postponed to a later date. War arose, and it was not until 1660 that the converts got a place of worship at Natick, Massachusetts. At the outbreak of King Philip’s War in 1675, there were eleven hundred Christian Indians in Natick and other towns, but their church would face impossible odds. Unconverted Indians attacked the “praying Indians” as traitors, and whites attacked them as “red men.” Caught in the middle, many died.

Eliot lived until 1690, doing good to the end. A visitor from England described him as “the best of the ministers who we have yet heard.” Among the work of his last years was instructing African slaves and teaching large passages of scripture to a blind boy. Hannah, his “dear, faithful, pious, prudent, prayerful wife” died three years before him, as did four of his sons. One son and daughter outlived him.

Holding to the Faith

I have a rather large tome called The Timeless Writings of C. S. Lewis, which consists of The Pilgrim’s Regress and two of his essay collections: Christian Reflections and God in the Dock. Prior to my sabbatical back in 2014-15, I had read, over time, all of those essays.

I’m the kind of person who marks up his books, putting stars next to key passages and underlining the most significant sentences, in the hope that I can go back when needed and find the best parts more readily.

As I’ve pored over those essays again, I’m actually quite surprised by how detailed my earlier markings were. I’m also grateful I did that if, for no other reason, I cannot even recall now that I’d ever read some of those essays—they all seem so new to me. I trust that’s not Alzheimer’s.

For instance, one of Lewis’s essays in Christian Reflections, “Religion: Reality or Substitute?” caught my attention this morning as he explains the necessity of holding fast to the faith. Sometimes we question—we waver—but that is the nature of life itself. Lewis experienced that phenomenon not only as a Christian, but even when he had been an atheist.

Just as the Christian has his moments when the clamour of this visible and audible world is so persistent and the whisper of the spiritual world so faint that faith and reason can hardly stick to their guns, so, as I well remember, the atheist too has his moments of shuddering misgiving, of an all but irresistible suspicion that old tales may after all be true, that something or someone from outside may at any moment break into his neat, explicable, mechanical universe.

Believe in God and you will have to face hours when it seems obvious that this material world is the only reality: disbelieve in Him and you must face hours when this material world seems to shout at you that it is not all.

No conviction, religious or irreligious, will, of itself, end once and for all this fifth-columnist in the soul. Only the practice of Faith resulting in the habit of Faith will gradually do that.

Even though Lewis was quite strong in his apologetic writings, he acknowledges that pure reason and/or argument is not what normally leads a person into or out of faith. “It is always assumed,” he opines, “that the difficulties of faith are intellectual difficulties, that a man who has once accepted a certain proposition will automatically go on believing it till real grounds for disbelief occurs. Nothing,” he counters, “could be more superficial.” Then he offers an example from his own environment.

How many of the freshmen who come up to Oxford from religious homes and lose their Christianity in the first year have been honestly argued out of it? How many of our own sudden temporary losses of faith have a rational basis which would stand examination for a moment?

I don’t know how it is with others, but I find that mere change of scene always has a tendency to decrease my faith at first—God is less credible when I pray in a hotel bedroom than when I am in college.

It isn’t, at bottom, a conflict between faith and reason, Lewis concludes. It’s more of a conflict between faith and sight—what we see around us at a particular moment. Reason may be divine, he reasons, but “human reasoners are not.”

The sort of arguments against Christianity which our reason can be persuaded to accept at the moment of yielding to temptation are often preposterous. Reason may win truths; without Faith she will retain them just so long as Satan pleases.

We need to pray for that gift of continuing faith, Lewis urges, “for the power to go on believing not in the teeth of reason but in the teeth of lust and terror and jealousy and boredom and indifference.”

He ends the essay with a question/warning about what might really be going on inside us when we waver in faith:

And the answer to that prayer will, perhaps, surprise us when it comes. For I am not sure, after all, whether one of the causes of our weak faith is not a secret wish that our faith should not be very strong. Is there some reservation in our minds? Some fear of what it might be like if our religion became quite real?

I hope not. God help us all, and forgive us.

Platitudes vs. Reality in Home & Family

I love delving into C. S. Lewis’s many essays—mostly unknown even to those who appreciate his books—and finding pearls. This morning I came across one in God in the Dock that I had read long ago (I know that only because it is marked up) and had forgotten. It’s called “The Sermon and the Lunch.”

Lewis relates what appears to be a true story about listening to a certain vicar give a sermon on the home, a talk filled with platitudes about how dear home life is to everyone. Yet Lewis noticed that the vicar lost the attention of many in the congregation, especially those under thirty, as the  sermon became more unrealistic about the incessant joys of life in the home.

What followed was lunch at the vicar’s house. Even before arriving there, the vicar’s daughter whispered to Lewis that she was hoping he would come because “it’s always a little less frightful when there’s a visitor.”

What Lewis observed during lunch was a man—the vicar already mentioned—constantly interrupting both of his children with his own views that they must not contradict, and a mother going on about how badly a neighbor has treated her. When the daughter attempted to correct the impression given of that neighbor, she was quickly and forcefully silenced by her father.

The disconnect between the vicar’s sermon and his actual home life was disconcerting. “What worries me,” Lewis reflected, “is the fact that the Vicar is not telling us at all that home life is difficult and has, like every form of life, its own proper temptations and corruptions.” Home is not a “panacea, a magic charm” that automatically produces great happiness. As for the vicar himself, Lewis is rather blunt: “The trouble is not that he is insincere but that he is a fool.”

The remedy, Lewis asserts, is to be realistic.

Since the Fall no organization or way of life whatever has a natural tendency to go right. . . .

The family, like the nation, can be offered to God, can be converted and redeemed, and will then become the channel of particular blessings and graces. But, like everything else that is human, it needs redemption.

Where there are people, there are problems.

Lewis also notes that the natural affection common in a home is not the same as genuine love. In fact, affection, left to itself, has a tendency to become “greedy, naggingly solicitous, jealous, exacting, timorous. It suffers agony when its object is absent—but is not repaid by any long enjoyment when the object is present.” Sadly, Lewis laments that “the greed to be loved is a fearful thing. Some of those who say (and almost with pride) that they live only for love come, at last, to live in incessant resentment.”

But isn’t one of the principal attractions of home that it’s the place where we can set aside the disguises we use in public and can be truly ourselves? Lewis comes down hard on that sentiment:

What chiefly distinguishes domestic from public conversation is surely very often simply its downright rudeness. What distinguishes domestic behaviour is often selfishness, slovenliness, incivility—even brutality.

And it will often happen that those who praise home life most loudly are the worst offenders in this respect: they praise it–they are always glad to get home, hate the outer world, can’t stand visitors, can’t be bothered meeting people, etc.—because the freedoms in which they indulge themselves at home have ended by making them unfit for civilized society. If they practised elsewhere the only behaviour they now find “natural” they would simply be knocked down.

Lewis is not, of course, trying to belittle the home; he’s merely saying that all areas of human life—even in the home—have to be submitted to the Lordship of Christ. “It will never be lawful simply to ‘be ourselves’ until ‘ourselves’ have become sons of God,” he reminds us.

Home life has its own rule of courtesy—a code more intimate, more subtle, more sensitive, and, therefore, in some ways more difficult, than that of the outer world. . . .

In a word, must we not either cease to preach domesticity or else begin to preach it seriously? Must we not abandon sentimental eulogies and begin to give practical advice on the high, hard, lovely, and adventurous art of really creating the Christian family?

Only by being realistic about the challenges of life in a home can we ever hope to model what a Christian family should be.

A Righteous Anger

I spend a lot of time in this blog critiquing current events: our government and its policies; the unbalanced media coverage; the antichristian aspects of our culture; the way Christians sometimes go along with ungodly practices.

It’s easy to get angry when you focus on such things. I can say, though, that most of the time it’s not anger that motivates me, but anguish over the path we have taken as a society—a sadness that we are throwing away the many advantages and blessings we’ve received, and that we are trashing our heritage.

Anger is not always wrong, however. The prime Scriptural example in the New Testament has to be when Jesus took a whip and drove the moneychangers out of the Temple. I don’t think He asked them politely to move. He was angry with how they had cheapened the worship of God.

Jesus didn’t sin when he displayed His anger. His was a righteous anger. One key passage in the book of Ephesians gives insight into the anger issue when it admonishes,

In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

What does this teach us? First, anger is not necessarily sin. Second, it can become sin if it festers, so don’t allow it to direct your actions. Third, if you do give in to anger and do something foolish while angry, you’ve just provided an opportunity for Satan to use it to his advantage.

Sometimes I do worry about Christians who get involved in trying to change the society. Don’t get me wrong—we are to be involved, and God tells us to be the change agents. But we have to do so in the right spirit.

When is anger allowed?

  1. Sin should always make us angry, since the selfishness at the root of all sin destroys everything good that God has created. It devastates people and makes their lives miserable.
  2. A culture that rejects God’s standards should make us angry as well. When we see men setting themselves up as the determiners of good and evil, right and wrong, and their ways are not God’s ways, they are leading others into a horrible deception that will separate them from God and His love.
  3. Government policies that make civil government into the ultimate authority in people’s lives should engender anger. The arrogance that accompanies “government as savior” is the opposite of the true spirit of the Gospel.

Yes, for all these reasons, we can be angry. The key is to direct that anger into a God-inspired response, a response that certainly calls out sin for what it is, but simultaneously reveals the heart of God. What is that heart? More than anything else, God wants to rescue men and women from the pit into which they’ve placed themselves.

The rescue He wants to achieve must begin with a clear message that sin is sin and that repentance is required. Then it moves on to the revelation that God has provided a way for that sin to be forgiven by sacrificing Himself for humanity. The love displayed through that sacrifice can break down man’s wall of stubbornness and rebellion that he has erected against the One who reaches out to him.

What begins with anger should end with a deep desire to “salvage” those caught in deception. That’s what the word “salvation” really means. We’re involved in a salvage operation.

My admonition to my fellow Christians who want to see change is to be wise. Don’t let your anger carry you into sin yourself. Be open to how God wants you to respond and do so intelligently. Only then can we make a difference.

A Meditation on Knowledge & Wisdom

I spent many years earning a doctorate in history. When I began that quest, I had turned my back on the Christian faith. I wondered if the world of academia could provide the answers. One master’s degree, a multitude of courses, and three comprehensive exams later—all prior to the doctoral dissertation—finally convinced me that the educated elite were just as clueless as the rest of the world.

“Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?” These questions come from the pen of the apostle Paul. He answers himself:

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.

He then makes a statement that I’m sure sets the intellectual elite’s teeth on edge: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Am I saying that higher education is worthless? It can be. It all depends on the context of the learning. Anything divorced from God’s truth is not going to be beneficial in the long run. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake is pointless. Man’s wisdom is often little more than arrogance and stupidity—people thinking they are intelligent, yet not realizing they are intellectual pygmies in light of God’s truth.

Some people seek advanced degrees to feel better about themselves. They want to be respected; they want to be important. Yet,

God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.

Boasting is one of man’s primary activities. This is particularly true of those who hold political power. They make promises seemingly without end: “Here is what we will do for you”; “We will end this problem once and for all”; “If you want answers, elect us!” Most of them, however, trust in their own minds and are disconnected from the Ultimate Mind.

The apostle Paul continues,

We speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

What was true of Paul’s age remains true today. There is a wisdom that comes from God that provides all we need to know for having relationship with Him and with all others. If followed, it solves the world’s problems. Sinful man, though, refuses to submit his mind and his will to the One who has the answers.

“Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.”

This calls for humility; humility only appears after genuine repentance; repentance only occurs when a person is grieved over his sinful heart. How often does this happen? According to Jesus, not often enough:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

May we all come that place.

Jeremy Lanphier & the Prayer Revival of 1857

I teach about this man when I cover the Civil War era. This account is taken from a Christian History e-mail I receive daily. I thought it was worth sharing today.

JEREMY LANPHIER was born in Albany in 1809 but he made his mark in New York City. He moved there to find employment and became a success as a clothing wholesaler.

Although he attended church to sing in the choir, he was not a Christian. While attending the Broadway Tabernacle he discovered Christ’s provision for his salvation and claim on his life. Lanphier immediately became concerned for the souls of those in spiritual darkness around him. Unmarried, he was able to give his evenings and spare time to passing out tracts and talking to people.

Meanwhile, a Dutch Reformed church in lower Manhattan had been declining in numbers because as members prospered they tended to move to wealthier districts. The leadership decided to reverse this trend with an active visitation program. They offered the job to Lanphier and he accepted. He would spend entire days visiting members, witnessing in the blocks around the church, and holding Bible studies with anyone he could interest. The work depleted him spiritually, but he found he was recharged if he spent an hour at noon in prayer. Even so, his efforts seemed fruitless.

It occurred to him that if prayer were vital to himself, perhaps others would benefit, too. He obtained a room on Fulton Street and printed 20,000 flyers, setting the first meeting for noon on this day, Wednesday, 23 September 1857.

If ever there was a time to pray, this was it. Americans in the 1850s feared that a civil war was coming. Many were disillusioned with the church because William Miller and others had preached the end of the world in the 1840s.

Lanphier knelt to pray alone. His flyer, it seemed, had been dismissed by all who saw it. For half an hour, he remained praying in solitude. Then a man showed up and, without a word, knelt beside him. Then another. By 1 PM, ten knees were on the floor beside Lanphier. The following week, several more men appeared. By October, Lanphier had to get a larger building. On 7 October, he had forty businessmen as prayer partners and they asked to meet daily. The timing could not have been more perfect.

On 10 October 1857, financial panic struck America. Banks folded, railroads went bankrupt, factories closed, and unemployment skyrocketed. Desperate people turned to prayer. Such a great number of people flocked to churches that soon many places of worship around the city were forced to open their sanctuaries at noon and evening for prayer.. A reporter who rushed from sanctuary to sanctuary one noon counted over six thousand people praying—and he was not able to visit every meeting place. The New York Herald and the New York Tribune covered the phenomenon, bringing it to the attention of others.

Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, and other large cities began noon prayer meetings. The YMCA also held prayer meetings wherever its branches had formed.

The result was labeled America’s Third Great Awakening. People began to inquire how they might be saved. As many as a million people were converted or renewed in the revival that followed. Churches that had been dying filled anew with worshipers. The revival leapt around the world, primarily in regions occupied or influenced by the British Empire but also on the European continent.

Jeremy Lanphier continued his work in New York’s streets until he was too old to get around any longer. He died in 1898.