Archive for the ‘ The Historical Muse ’ Category

Did Lewis Like Americans?

C. S. Lewis 8By the start of this next week, I will have completed three chapters in my proposed book on C. S. Lewis’s impact on Americans. My first chapter deals with the often-repeated charge that Lewis didn’t really like Americans. Some excerpts from this chapter follow. Here’s how it begins:

On the very first page of The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis, author Alan Jacobs tells the story of a precocious “Jack” Lewis, probably no more than eight years old at the time, entering his father’s study to make this following pronouncement: “I have a prejudice against the French.” Naturally, his father, Albert, wanted to know why his younger son would have such a definite opinion. The answer he received is perhaps an indication of the astute reasoning that would continue to be a hallmark throughout C. S. Lewis’s life: “If I knew why,” he calmly asserted, “it would not be a prejudice.” Early on, then, it appears that Lewis had a clear understanding of the unreasonable nature of coming to conclusions about people without evidence.

James T. Como, editor of a volume now renamed Remembering C. S. Lewis: Recollections of Those Who Knew Him, remarks that stories have always circulated about Lewis being antagonistic toward Americans. One story Como mentions in particular has Lewis turning down an invitation to speak to an American audience, and adding a rather spiteful twist to the refusal by writing his response on a piece of toilet paper. The only problem with the story, Como notes, is that it never happened; there is no evidence for it. Como then comments, “Lewis is not on record as possessed of an antagonism toward Americans.”

I have to amend Como’s words slightly. Lewis did make some disparaging remarks about America and Americans, but most of those seem to have emanated from a young Lewis, mostly prior to his conversion. I’ve spend the past few months examining his letters to Americans and have found, quite often, gratitude for all the gifts he received in post-war, rationed Britain, and the obvious connections he made with Americans.

Walter HooperHelping me with this study has been the Rev. Walter Hooper, an American who was Lewis’s private secretary for those months before he died. Hooper has sent me information via e-mail. Here’s what he had to say in one of those e-mails:

Let us suppose that when you were two years old your father slapped your hand to prevent you putting it in the fire, and you said to your mother, “Don’t like Daddy!” Would you, or would you not, be a fool to allow that statement to stand for your settled belief about your father? Well, there was a man who used to write a lot about Lewis who used a chance, ignorant comment Lewis made as an 18-year-old student about Oxford dons to stand for— as this man did—for “Lewis’s Belief About Oxford Dons.” To accept that as Lewis’s opinion on Oxford would be as ignorant and foolish for someone to regard “Don’t like Daddy!” to be regarded as your settled opinion about your father.

Lewis himself drew my attention to another illustration of ignorance that needs unmasking. I forget where it is, but Jonathan Swift, the Irish writer, when asked if he liked or disliked the Irish, the English, the Japanese, etc. etc, pointed out that he didn’t know all the Irish people, so how could he possibly know where he liked or loathed them. Of course, like nearly everyone else, some Irish he liked, some he didn’t.

And so to Lewis, who I think must have liked many, many Americans considering that roughly three-quarters of his letters were to them. One of them to whom he wrote to for years, Mary Willis Shelburne . . . he provided with a pension, paid for by his American publishers. And as we all know, he married an American, and—hardly of similar importance—he made another his secretary.

This study has been fascinating. I hope a book does result from this so I can share with all what I have found.

The Great Awakening: Jonathan Edwards

Last week, I introduced the historic event known as the First Great Awakening and wrote about the influence of William and Gilbert Tennant, who established a Log College for training ministers in extemporaneous preaching. This week, I want to look at someone who was just as influential, but entirely different in manner.

Jonathan EdwardsJonathan Edwards was a Massachusetts Congregationalist minister who is widely respected among theologians today for his thoughts on the love of God. He was a central figure in the Awakening, yet he wasn’t like the preachers being trained by the Tennants. His methods might be styled more “old school.”

Edwards certainly wanted to lead his hearers into a life of obedience to God, but not by any type of emotional appeal—at least in his manner of preaching. He never spoke extemporaneously, but spent a lot of time developing the logic of his sermons. Then when he delivered them, he chose to memorize them first, and recite them to the congregation. He didn’t use much inflection in his voice and didn’t look directly at the parishioners. Instead, he would stare at the back wall as he gave them his memorized sermon.

Jonathan Edwards's Surprizing WorkThat certainly sounds, on the surface, like a recipe for utter boredom. Yet there must have been something in his countenance and the way he spoke that captured people’s attention. His church experienced an awakening in the 1730s, well before the mighty wave that followed with the arrival of George Whitefield (my next subject on this topic). It was such a deep renewal of faith that Edwards wrote about it in detail.

He called his treatise A Faithful Narrative of the Surprizing [sic] Work of God. That’s the short version of the title; long titles were common practice back then. If you ever want to find out what took place in Edwards’s church, you can find this testimony online.

Edwards, though, is probably best known for one particular sermon, preached in a Connecticut church in 1741. It is called Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. While that may sound rather startling for the theologian of God’s love, if one looks at it carefully, it is clear that what he is upholding is God’s enduring patience with sinners. The warning, however, is that if we resist His calling on our lives and die without taking advantage of His redemption, we can’t expect patience anymore. All that is left is the Judgment.

Here’s one of the more striking passages from that sermon:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

We are told that these words cut to the hearts of so many that morning that they were crying out not to be thrust into the flames. How do we know this was the Spirit of God at work and not the manipulation of a preacher? How many people today do you think would be so impacted by a man who spoke a memorized sermon to them in a flat voice while staring at the back wall? There was no manipulation here; merely a warning taken from the truth of God’s Word. Hearts, apparently, were prepared to hear the warning.

In 1757, Edwards took on the task of the presidency of the College of New Jersey (later known as Princeton). The trustees wanted someone who had that kind of dedication to the Awakening to guide the students. Unfortunately, he died from a smallpox vaccination only one month after being installed as the president.

Although Edwards’s ministry was cut short, his accomplishments as a pastor/teacher/preacher and as a theologian are highly regarded today.

The Preface: An Excerpt

C.S. Lewis 10I’m busily writing what I hope will be a book about C. S. Lewis’s influence on Americans. I’ve analyzed the survey that 87 individuals responded to, and hope to get that published. I’ve also written the preface and the first two chapters. Here’s an excerpt from that preface. Keep in mind this is a draft, but I trust it is worth your read today:

I grew up in Bremen, Indiana, population roughly 4,000, surrounded by corn fields and a significant Amish community, half a world away from Oxford and in an entirely different environment. My parents had never read any of Lewis’s works; there was nothing in my background to lead me in that direction. By the end of the decade of the 1950s, I could ride a bike and fill my bike’s basket with books from our local public library, a feat I accomplished consistently. Already, before the age of ten, I was a voracious reader. Yet I never borrowed anything in the library by C. S. Lewis. All of his Narnia books had been published by then, but if they were in that library, they never crossed my path, and my affinity for fantasy/science fiction reading surely would have dredged them up if they existed.

Since I knew nothing of Lewis in 1960, it is no surprise that I had no knowledge that his wife, Joy, died that July. It would have had no meaning. When Lewis himself died on November 22nd, 1963, again I took no notice. But I wasn’t alone—the whole world was startled and anxious over the death of another man that the world deemed more consequential. As the president of the United States was placed in his grave shortly afterward, so was C. S. Lewis. Today, which of those two is of more consequence?

So when did I first make an acquaintance with Lewis? It might have been in high school, but if so, the memory is dim. Sometime during my college years, though, he entered my world, and in a big way. I don’t recall which of Lewis’s books I read first. Was it The Screwtape Letters? That’s possible. Or perhaps it was Out of the Silent Planet, followed by Perelandra and That Hideous Strength, the so-called Space Trilogy that would have appealed to my science fiction bent. Then there was The Great Divorce, which fascinated me as I followed Lewis’s fantasy bus trip from hell to heaven. I also recall, although faintly, that I delved into some of his more substantive treatises to help bolster my burgeoning Christian faith. I think The Problem of Pain, Miracles, and The Abolition of Man made my reading list during those years at Purdue University.. . .

The years have passed quickly (as people my age invariably say) and my respect for Lewis has only increased over time. Pushed to the back burner of my thoughts—due to so many other obligations as a professor of history—was the idea of a book of some kind that I could write on Lewis. The desire was present, but I just wasn’t sure what it could be.

While on a cruise ship in March of 2013, I was reading Alister McGrath’s recent biography of Lewis. Near the end, he made a statement about Lewis and Americans that stuck in my mind: “Lewis has always been appreciated more in the United States than in England.” That one sentence sparked a thought: Why hasn’t anyone written a book specifically focused on the impact Lewis made on Americans? I tucked that thought away for a more opportune time. . . .

Why another book on C. S. Lewis? When one finds an itch that hasn’t yet been scratched, it is incumbent on the one who finds that itch to do some scratching. This book contains the testimonies of many Americans who have found Lewis to be a faithful guide as they walk out the implications of their Christian life. I decided to include my testimony up front, and add my thanks to all the others. May this volume provide greater light on the man who has shown so many the light of Christ and the path His followers must take.

I trust this excerpt provides some idea of where I’m going with this. If anyone reading this would like to pray that I find a publisher, I won’t mind at all.

Will We Learn From History?

Unwillingness to confront Islamic terrorism and call it what it is hit new depths yesterday as both the White House and the State Department put on a comedy performance unequaled since . . . well, since the last time our president said something about it.

Faced with the absolute fact that the Paris attacks were Islamic terrorism and that one of the targets, a Jewish deli, was hit precisely because it was Jewish, the spokespeople for this administration adamantly refused to say the motive was to kill Jews. If you get the chance to listen to the verbal twistings of Josh Earnest, in particular, you will come away amazed and rather sickened by the obfuscation.

Then, to make the comedy routine complete, they later tweeted that of course this was anti-Semitism, and that’s what they have been saying all along. Really? What about the press conferences you just completed, where you refused to say it? They’re still relying on the meme that you can fool some of the people all of the time. Unfortunately, they are right.

Incidentally, in case there is any question at all, the attacker at the deli stated, for the record and prior to being killed himself, that his aim had been to kill some Jews.

Only someone who is ideologically blind can fail to understand what’s really happening. That explains a lot.

Tongue-Tied

Even though he can’t bring himself to identify this terrorism with Islam, he does attempt to make distinctions, nonsensical though they may be:

Questions

But he does pride himself on his deep knowledge of religious matters.

Theologican in Chief

He’s not alone, of course. He has a staunch ally:

Radical Christians

How can this absurdity continue? Well, there are a number of factors in play, and they say a lot about our society at this time:

Three Parent Baby

Last week, the administration came up with its “strategy” to tackle world problems. Obama sent out Susan Rice once again to play the fool (remember all her appearances to explain how a video caused Benghazi?). She said that we don’t face “existential” threats like we did back in WWII or the Cold War. The “strategy” then went on to focus on climate change as one of the biggest security threats we must deal with. ISIS? Don’t worry about that.

Well, Hitler wasn’t an “existential” threat to the United States in the 1930s, but he was allowed to strengthen to the point where he became one. Are we going to allow that to happen again?

Back Then

For those who don’t see the resemblance, here’s an illustration that might make it more clear:

Swastika

Teaching history is what I do. One of the reasons I do it is the hope that we actually will learn from the past and not repeat policies that are foolish, unworkable, and downright dangerous.

History

Is anyone paying attention?

The First Great Awakening

Throughout American history the nation has experienced renewals of Christian faith. The first time this happened, in the 1730s and 1740s, was not a time of outward spiritual decline; in fact, studies have shown that approximately 70-75% of American colonists attended church regularly. Yet a renewal was necessary.

Historians have decided to call this event the First Great Awakening. Nowadays, we’ve become used to calling such episodes “revivals.” That word, though, has been terribly overworked and is losing meaning. “Awakening,” however, is a term I like better. It implies that people have been asleep spiritually, perhaps living in a dream and thinking it’s reality. Then they come to their senses and realize they have been living a fantasy. Their eyes are opened to the spiritual truths once again.

What had happened is that people began to think that doing all the external things: going to church, being baptized, taking communion, etc., was all that was necessary. They were focused on the outward manifestations of the Christian faith but they were missing the inward change of heart that was essential for real salvation.

William TennantThe Presbyterian father-son team of William and Gilbert Tennant took this to heart themselves and sought to send out more preachers who would emphasize the necessity of repentance and holy living. There was a problem, though. In order to become a minister with all the “right” credentials, one had to get a degree from a college with a ministerial training program. At this time in America, only three such colleges existed: Harvard, Yale, and William and Mary.

Harvard already was under suspicion for drifting away from the orthodox faith and beginning the transition to a Unitarian institution. William and Mary was for Anglicans and wasn’t known for its evangelical fervor. Yale was more suited to the task, but not everyone could afford to go to Yale, or might not be prepared intellectually for its rigor.

Log CollegeTo take up the slack, the Tennants set up what they called Log Colleges. The first was established by William Tennant, which lasted from 1726 until his death in 1746. In this primitive log house, comprised of only about 400 square feet, Tennant would give his students a crash course in Hebrew and Greek and intensive Bible study. Eventually, graduates of this “college” and those modeled after it, would fill the pulpits of the Presbyterian churches in the Middle Colonies and in the South.

This effort laid the groundwork for other men to follow in the Tennants’ footsteps. In future posts, I’ll look at Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, who became advocates of this new approach to evangelism and Christian discipleship.

Log College Marker

The Wisdom of William Penn

William PennOne of the more remarkable men in the history of colonial America has to be William Penn. He was imprisoned in England for his divergent religious views: he was a Quaker. Yet he was granted a huge tract of land in the New World that eventually became the state of Pennsylvania. How does someone go from a member of a persecuted group to a crown-ordained proprietor?

It had to do with his father, Admiral William Penn, who was instrumental in bringing Charles II out of exile and installing him as king in 1662. When the elder Penn died, Charles still owed him plenty, both financially and in gratitude. That’s how the son came to be the recipient of the king’s largesse.

Penn immediately had a vision for a colony that would welcome all to worship God according to their conscience. He didn’t worry about some group of atheists congregating in his colony; they were few and largely silent. So he advertised throughout Europe, promising every persecuted group of Christians that they could come to Pennsylvania and not only worship the way they chose, but also have a say in the government.

Those kinds of promises were unheard of at that time. People flocked to the new colony: not only Quakers, but Mennonites, Moravians, what we now call the Amish, along with standard denominations like Lutherans. Penn would come to his colony now and again, and kept a watch over developments.

He also wrote a Frame of Government that laid out the following principles:

  • Civil government is necessary to keep in check those who refuse to be self-governed
  • Government is established by God to terrify evildoers and to protect those who do right
  • Free government requires the rule of law and having the people themselves be involved in making the laws
  • One of the keys to good government is to have good people running it
  • Liberty without obedience is confusion and obedience without liberty is slavery

I consider those principles to be rock solid.

I’m also drawn to a statement Penn made about how Christians should treat each other. He proclaimed the following:

He that suffers his Difference with his Neighbour about the other World, to carry him beyond the Line of Moderation in this, is the worse for his Opinion, even though it be true. . . .

Since all of all Parties profess to believe in God, Christ, the Spirit, and Scripture, that the Soul is immortal, that there are Eternal Rewards and Punishments, and that the Virtuous shall receive the One, and the Wicked suffer the Other: I say since this is the Common Faith of Christendom, let us all resolve in the Strength of God to live up to what we agree in, before we fall out so miserably about the Rest in which we differ.

Translation, if necessary: We have more that unites us as Christians than things that drive us apart, so let’s work together.

That view transcends all time periods, and is certainly applicable today.

Of Salem & Witchcraft Trials

Perhaps the only thing some people know about Puritan history in America is that they executed presumed witches. Americans typically know nothing about how Puritans gave us our first constitution and bill of rights, but they are always told about the Salem witchcraft trials.

Salem Witchcraft Trials 2

How does one analyze this episode of Puritan history fairly? Of course, most historians automatically denigrate the Puritans for it because they operate on a naturalistic worldview that says belief in witches is a superstition of a bygone era. It merely reveals the harshness of judgment and bigotry that always connects to a people who hold to rigid religious dogmas.

Needless to say, I am not one of the number of those historians. I do believe the supernatural exists and that occult activities are real, albeit perversions of what God intends. I believe there is a real Satan whose adherents, knowingly or unknowingly, are working on his behalf.

So I do start from a different perspective when analyzing what took place at Salem during a few short months in 1692. Do keep in mind that it was a short time period, not a constant, unremitting hunt for witches.

It’s also instructive to know that Puritans were not the only group that looked into the possibility of witchcraft in their communities. One can find this activity throughout Europe at this time. In other words, concern about witches wasn’t a uniquely Puritan thing.

What occurred in 1692 to start this investigation?

TitubaSome young girls in the town were friends to a slave woman, Tituba, in the home of Rev. Samuel Parris. Most accounts refer to her as a black woman from the Caribbean. The actual court documents from her trial, though, call her an Indian. She apparently was born somewhere in South America, then captured and made a slave on Barbados. Eventually, she ended up in Salem.

We are usually told she led the girls into witchcraft, but there is no strong evidence of that either. What is evident is that the girls did go into fits that most people assumed were due to demonic influence in their lives. Tituba apparently did follow some occult procedure for trying to determine what was bewitching the girls. Whatever the truth may be, she became associated, in the minds of the townspeople, with the phenomenon.

As the investigation proceeded, a special court was set up to sift the evidence of satanic activity in the town. As one historian has noted, that was the first mistake. Any “special court” is under some pressure to come up with a good reason for its existence. The girls began to testify that they could see auras, or some type of spectral visions, around those who were witches.

Accepting that type of “evidence” was the second mistake. How does one confirm evidence like that? In this case, it all depended on the truthfulness of the girls.

Eventually, some 200 people were accused and 20 were eventually executed for witchcraft. Whether some were actual witches is highly dubious. By this time, the town had gotten carried away. Some have speculated that one group in the town used the trials as a means of revenge against another group. Again, that is speculative, but possible.

Increase MatherWhat we do know is this: the trials ended almost as abruptly as they began; one reason is that the governor’s wife was accused also. Another significant factor was the intervention of Rev. Increase Mather, a leader in the community who had been absent during the time as he was in England renegotiating the Massachusetts charter.

When Mather returned, he spoke out against the trials. He wrote against them, asserting that the real work of Satan might not be the placing of witches in Salem, but the destruction of the community through false accusations. Mather said that he would rather one witch escape prosecution than have many innocent people unjustly condemned.

Often, the role of this minister is omitted from the tale. Also omitted regularly are the following facts: first, the community, once it had recovered from the witch fever and realized its errors, voted monetary compensation for families who had lost a member due to execution.

Samuel Sewall's RepentanceSecond, one of the judges, Samuel Sewall, made a public confession of how he had allowed himself to be carried away. Sewall was hardly an evil man. Later, he wrote the very first book in America to deal with the issue of slavery. Entitled The Selling of Joseph: A Memorial, it was a Biblical appeal for the abolitionist cause, and considered a key inspiration for the antislavery movement that followed.

Third, one of the girls who leveled the accusations, Ann Putnam, later also confessed publicly that she had been deceived by Satan during that time.

What’s truly significant about the end result of the Salem witchcraft hysteria is the willingness shown by the entire community to try to make amends for what it had done. So, out of a gross error of judgment, they did what they could as Christians to make up for their own sins.

That’s a part of the Salem story that also needs to be told.