Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Lewis & America: A Conclusion

Yesterday was the final class for my C. S. Lewis course at SEU. This is the third time I’ve taught the course, and probably the best, as I’ve grown more comfortable sharing what I’ve learned about Lewis and his writings.

The students read a lot of Lewis, from autobiography to apologetics to fantasy. Some have testified that taking the course at this time was a great help to their faith, as they were struggling in different ways. That kind of testimony is what I love to hear the most. If a course doesn’t aid in solidifying one’s faith, what is the reason for even offering it?

In the last few weeks, I’ve had them read my own book on Lewis that focuses on his relationship with Americans and his impact on this country. I summarized both the book and the course with the following words:

Lewis has developed a true fan following in America. This book has shown his many interactions with Americans of his day. He became good friends with many of them, whether in person or via mail. His correspondence is overflowing with responses to Americans on the full panoply of issues, and he was quite willing to share the progress of his personal life and faith with them as well.

He married an American. The man he thought would serve best as his personal secretary was an American. Thousands of Americans he never communicated with or met, both during his lifetime and after, have testified to their lives being changed by his words. Societies bearing his name have cropped up all over the United States. One institute has developed a discipleship program inspired by him. An American foundation named after him bought his home in Oxford and uses it as a study center. That same foundation is now working to establish a college named after him.

While it is impossible to quantify his impact on America and Americans, the documentary evidence is plentiful that American Christians look to him in a way that is unique among all the Christian writers and teachers, both past and present, available to them as mentors.

In one of Lewis’s essays, “Is Theology Poetry?” we see a shining example of all the features of his writing that appeal, not only to Americans, but to all who thrill at hearing words of truth communicated elegantly. In this essay, he says,

The Pagan stories are all about somebody dying and rising, either every year, or else nobody knows where and nobody knows when. The Christian story is about a historical personage, whose execution can be dated pretty accurately, under a named Roman magistrate, and with whom the society that He founded is in a continuous relation down to the present day. It is not the difference between falsehood and truth. It is the difference between a real event on the one hand and dim dreams or premonitions of that same event on the other.

That essay then concludes with the words that can be found on Lewis’s commemorative stone in Westminster Abbey’s Poets Corner: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

Through C. S. Lewis, a multitude of Americans have learned to believe in Christianity because they have seen it come to life in his writings, and by those writings he has shown them how to see everything through the lens of the Christian faith. That is his legacy. That is what a man who never saw America has given to Americans—an illumined Christianity that lights up all of life.

A Largely Unknown Hero of the Faith

I love learning about great men and women of Christian faith of whom I was entirely ignorant. This is one such man and one such ministry. I am indebted to the Christian History Institute for the story of his life and faithfulness.

BORN IN CONNECTICUT in 1801, Titus Coan almost did not survive to adulthood. When he was seven, he defied his father by sledding on a frozen pond with his friend Julius. The ice broke, plunging him into freezing water. He bobbed to the surface, screaming and grabbed the edge of the ice. It snapped. Again and again the ice broke. “At length, however, I came to firmer ice, and clung to it as with a death grasp, calling on Julius for help. The timid boy approached slowly until his hand reached mine; and with his help and God’s mercy I was delivered from a watery grave….”

His first near-death experience, however, did not immediately lead him to Christ. It took until he was twenty-five for Coan to become a Christian. A severe illness made him bed-ridden for four months. Lying in bed he reached a decision: he would train for the ministry.

After graduating from seminary, Coan worked with leading evangelists of the Second Great Awakening, visited prisoners, explored Patagonia, married cheerful young Fidelia Church, and sailed to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) as a missionary. Titus and Fidelia arrived in June 1835. They would soon be at the center of an amazing revival.

Once Coan mastered the Hawaiian language, he visited every one of Hilo island’s 16,000 people, making notes on each person so he could pray intelligently. Later he revisited each to check on them. Many Hawaiians fell under conviction of sin and soon revival was roaring across Hilo. Coan wrote, “In places where I spent my nights they filled the house to its entire capacity, leaving scores outside who could not enter.” The Coans’ congregation became the largest in the world at the time, surpassing 13,000 members. To become a member, a convert had to show a genuine life change over a period of several months.

On the morning of September 16, 1881, Coan suffered a stroke and lingered for eight weeks. Asked if he had any fears, he replied, “When I look at myself, I see no reason why I should be in heaven; when I look at Jesus, I see such a Savior I have no fears, not one, not one.” He died on 1 December 1881. His last whispered word was “Jesus!”

Duty or Love?

What do you really believe? I’m not talking about to what you give your intellectual assent, but what you really believe. “In ordinary times,” mused Dorothy Sayers, “we get along surprisingly well, on the whole, without ever discovering what our faith really is.” We tend to shove that question to the background and give ourselves over to activities that help us put off the answer.

The question, “What do we believe?” is the title of one of Sayers’s insightful essays. She challenges us to look beyond the superficial answer and understand that “what we believe is not necessarily the theory we most desire or admire. It is the thing that, consciously or unconsciously, we take for granted and act on.”

You can say you believe in something, yet what you actually do in life tells others what you really believe in. The two may not be the same.

Being a Christian is not merely a duty; in fact, if that is how we view it, we are missing the very heart of the faith. Do we obey God because it is our duty or because we love to do so? There is a profound difference. Sayers points out that difference by dissecting the concept of “sacrifice” in our actions:

Sacrifice is what it looks like to other people, but to that-which-loves I think it does not appear so. When one really cares, the self is forgotten, and the sacrifice becomes only a part of the activity.

Ask yourself: if there is something you supremely want to do, do you count as self-sacrifice the difficulties encountered or the other possible activities cast aside? You do not.

The time when you deliberately say, “I must sacrifice this, that, or the other” is when you do not supremely desire the end in view. At such times you are doing your duty, and that is admirable, but it is not love.

But as soon as your duty becomes your love the self-sacrifice is taken for granted, and, whatever the world calls it, you call it so no longer.

As we examine our Christian walk, we need to clearly grasp this truth: duty is one thing; loving to do your duty is something else entirely.

Our goal is not simply to obey God, but to do so with an active desire to please Him, no longer counting it as some kind of sacrifice, but as a wonderful opportunity to show His love.

If that’s not where we are currently, we are to continue to do our duty. Yet wouldn’t it be much better to do whatever we do out of that heart of love? That is Christian maturity.

Faith or a House of Cards?

I’m down to the last couple of weeks now for my Southeastern University course on C. S. Lewis. I’ve had the students read many of his most revered books and essays. They’ve worked through—with love, I trust—Surprised by Joy, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, That Hideous Strength, and The Last Battle.

This past week, they read A Grief Observed, Lewis’s most personal little book, a heart cry for the presence of God after suffering the loss of Joy, his wife. I wondered how they would receive it, seeing as how it offers a different side of Lewis—one that’s questioning God’s character and His love before ultimately coming to a resolution that shows how his faith holds in the midst of trial.

They appreciated it deeply, from what I could discern in our discussion of the book.

One might be shaken somewhat by Lewis’s doubts at this time in his life. After all, near the beginning, he complains that when you go to God in desperate need, you find “a door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”

He then questions the reality of his own faith. The man who has spent his life strengthening the faith of others seems to fall apart in his distress:

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?

As a Christian, Lewis admits that he already knew that death comes to all and that sufferings were part of life. “I would have said that I had taken them into account. I had been warned—I had warned myself—not to reckon on worldly happiness. We were even promised sufferings. They were part of the program.”

Yet when hit by the loss of his wife, he was sent reeling and wondering about his faith:

It is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination. Yes; but should it, for a sane man, make quite such a difference as this? No. . . .

The case is too plain. If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards. The faith which “took these things into account” was not faith but imagination.

As Lewis stumbles toward understanding, he sees God as a surgeon with good intentions. Yet those good intentions don’t spare the patient the pain he must endure. “The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.”

Lewis then revisits that bolted door, the one he blamed God for bolting against him.

I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.

I believe the turning point for Lewis came when he realized that he had been focusing on himself—allowing his hurts, his internal angst, his needs—to drive his thinking. The order was him first, Joy second, and God last. “The order and the proportions exactly what they ought not to have been.”

It’s only when we get out of ourselves that we can see clearly once more. As his thoughts turn back to God first, he questions his motives: is he coming back to Him only as a way to reconnect with his wife eventually? Clarity returns with these words:

I know perfectly well that He can’t be used as a road. If you’re approaching Him not as the goal but as a road, not as the end but as a means, you’re not really approaching Him at all.

That’s what was really wrong with all those popular pictures of happy reunions “on the further shore”; not the simple-minded and very earthly images, but the fact that they make an End of what we can get only as a by-product of the true End.

So Lewis returned, and his letters in those final three years of his life attest to his vibrant faith. He walked through the valley of the shadow of death and emerged not with a house of cards, but with that proverbial house built on the Rock.

From Slave to Free Man to Missionary: The Story of Lott Cary

LOTT CARY was born a slave in Virginia and died a missionary in Liberia. His birth took place around 1780, about thirty miles south of Richmond, Virginia. Although his father was a respected Baptist, Cary was a profane alcoholic. However, in 1807 his ears were opened to the gospel. He converted to Christianity and joined a Baptist church. A sermon he heard on John 3 left him eager to know more about Nicodemus. As a result, he learned to read.

Cary became an efficient and faithful worker, able to handle clerical duties at the tobacco firm where his master hired him out. He was able to study Scripture as well. Merchants frequently tipped him and he sold leftover tobacco to build his savings. Consequently, he was able to purchase freedom for himself and his children. After gaining his freedom, Cary preached to slaves around Richmond. Whites who also attended his sermons said they were among the most moving they ever heard.

In 1813 an African-American preacher named William Crane settled in Richmond. Crane and Cary organized a society for African missions. This was the first world mission founded by African Americans. Eventually the society chose Lott Cary and Colin Teague, both free blacks, as its first missionaries. In commissioning him for the task, his board urged him “to dwell much on the doctrine of the cross, a doctrine which has been found in every age of the church of Christ the power of God.”

The tobacco firm offered Cary a large raise to stay, but Cary turned it down. Selling his farm to support himself, he sailed for Africa and reached Monrovia, Liberia, in 1822. His labors included preaching several times a week, instructing native children and settlers, and operating a charity school with his own money. He also fended off armed attacks by local Africans. Unfortunately, Cary got sucked into politics. Free blacks in Liberia were unhappy with colonial agent Jehudi Ashmun’s redistribution of their land and Cary headed their resistance. The United States investigated and stood by Ashmun, who forbade Cary to preach any more until he apologized.

By 1824, Cary and Ashmun had settled their differences and the colony granted its settlers full participation in the government. From then on, Ashmun spoke of Cary with high praise as a selfless man. Cary became vice-agent with enormous responsibilities. He doctored the settlers with remedies he had learned while he himself was suffering from tropical diseases. He also experimented successfully with raising rice and coffee, which became staples of the Liberian economy.

When Ashmun returned to America, he left Liberia in Cary’s hands and recommended him as permanent agent for the colony. However, Cary was mortally wounded before anything came of it. On 8 November 1828, he was helping prepare cartridges for the protection of the settlers when someone overturned a candle. All the ammunition exploded. Six people died on the 9th. Cary and another victim of the accident lingered until 10 November.

Cary’s story came to me from the Christian History Institute’s daily e-mail on November 10. I wanted to share it because I was so impressed with his character and Christian commitment. I’m glad to add to my knowledge of another strong African American Christian during this time period in American history. I hope you appreciate it as well.

Onward to a Mature Faith

Elwin Ransom, C. S. Lewis’s protagonist in his Space Trilogy, tells the fictional Lewis in the novel Perelandra that he [Ranson] is about to be transported in a rather mysterious fashion to another planet. The Lewis character asks Ransom if he has any idea what to expect. Is it safe? Will he be able to breathe? What will he eat? Does he have any confidence that he will return?

“If you mean, Does my reason accept the view that he will . . . deliver me safe on the surface of Perelandra?—the answer is Yes,” said Ransom. “If you mean, Do my nerves and my imagination respond to this view?—I’m afraid the answer is No. One can believe in anaesthetics and yet feel in a panic when they actually put the mask over your face. I think I feel as a man who believes in the future life feels when he is taken out to face a firing party. Perhaps it’s good practice.”

We all probably can identify with that feeling. Our minds will tell us one thing—a thing that we believe deeply is true—while our emotions may be screaming at us, urging us not to step out onto that limb of faith. What if we fall?

This coming Wednesday evening, in my class on Mere Christianity, we’ll be covering the chapters that deal with faith. Lewis, from his own personal experience, shares how our moods are so very changeable—yet we cannot allow those moods/emotional episodes to dictate truth. He explains it in his typical relatable style:

Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience.

Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.

It’s particularly interesting to me that Lewis confesses even atheists have doubts about their atheism. Don’t we sometimes think that it’s only those of us who have professed the faith who have those doubts? No, doubting is common to all. What is the solution?

This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion.

When we allow our moods—our emotional ups and downs—to determine what we believe, we are, in effect, telling God we really don’t trust His character: His love for us through Christ; the ultimate Sacrifice He paid; the forgiveness He has offered; the new life He has granted us.

The apostle James tells us,

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

I want to persevere. I want to be mature. I seek the kind of faith that sets aside all doubts about God’s goodness and trusts Him implicitly. May that faith grow in us all.

About Those Midterm Elections

Midterm elections mercifully come to an end tomorrow evening. That means we will be spared from the constant barrage of criminal charges against one’s political opponent. Although I’m no longer surprised by the extremely nasty nature of most political ads, I think they’ve raised the nasty factor a few notches this year.

I don’t needs ads anyway. My voting decisions are not based on ads that I know are designed to mislead. My vote is based on the principles that I believe are necessary for government to function the way God intended.

Despite my personal disappointment that Republicans have chosen the wrong man to be the public face of the party, I continue to believe that voting for Democrats will promote not only a government, but a society, hostile to Biblical principles and the morality that should naturally follow those principles.

The Democrat platform has drifted increasingly toward an affirmation of concepts that are not only opposed to Biblical principles but that have a track record of proven incompetence and failure.

That’s not the man I would follow.

Democrats also need to think through the logic of their positions more carefully.

Marxism is not simply a different point of view. History reveals it to be, in its very nature, a movement toward totalitarianism. You must agree or you will pay the penalty. What should we expect if Democrats don’t do as well as they hoped in these midterms?

Be prepared for a level of incivility and outright violence that will take most people by surprise.

How should Christians respond if this occurs?

Be on the alert. Stand firm in the faith. Be men of courage. Be strong. Do everything in love. I Cor. 16:13-14

Notice how one can be firm, courageous, and strong while simultaneously carrying ourselves in love toward others. That’s the goal. That’s God’s way.