The Question of the Dishonest Question

“Can’t I lead a good life without believing in Christianity?” That’s the question posed by many people. Is it an honest question or one that simply seeks to avoid truth? C. S. Lewis deals with it in his short, yet insightful, essay, “Man or Rabbit?” It can be found in God in the Dock.

Lewis clears away the unhelpful underbrush of the query and reveals the path such a person asking the question is attempting to follow. As he does so, he sheds light on the essential dishonesty in what at first appears to be an honest question.

Anyone who asks this question already knows about Christianity and is really saying, “Need I bother about it? Mayn’t I just evade the issue, just let sleeping dogs lie, and get on with being ‘good’? Aren’t good intentions enough to keep me safe and blameless without knocking at that dreadful door and making sure whether there is, or isn’t someone inside?”

Lewis is blunt: “The man is shirking. He is deliberately trying not to know whether Christianity is true or false, because he foresees endless trouble if it should turn out to be true.”

Pulling no punches, Lewis continues,

He is like the man who deliberately “forgets” to look at the notice board because, if he did, he might find his name down for some unpleasant duty.

He is like the man who won’t look at his bank account because he’s afraid of what he might find there.

He is like the man who won’t go to the doctor when he first feels a mysterious pain, because he is afraid of what the doctor may tell him.

This avoidance of truth gets to the heart of what is behind the question of whether one must be a Christian to be good. Someone who asks that may be looking for an “out.” At bottom, it’s not genuine honesty at all; the question is not a real question but a hope that one doesn’t have to hear the actual answer.

The man who remains an unbeliever for such reasons is not in a state of honest error. He is in a state of dishonest error, and that dishonesty will spread through all his thoughts and actions: a certain shiftiness, a vague worry in the background, a blunting of his whole mental edge, will result.

He has lost his intellectual virginity.

Lewis knows that God will forgive anyone who has mistakenly rejected Christ and then repents of that rejection. But that’s not the kind of person he is addressing here.

But to evade the Son of Man, to look the other way, to pretend you haven’t noticed, to become suddenly absorbed in something on the other side of the street, to leave the receiver off the telephone because it might be He who was ringing up, to leave unopened certain letters in a strange handwriting because they might be from Him—this is a different matter.

You may not be certain yet whether you ought to be a Christian; but you do know you ought to be a Man, not an ostrich, hiding its head in the sand.

Even if you can get a person to acknowledge his avoidance of finding the truth, there is another issue that Lewis says is an indication of the lowering of intellectual honor: the plaintive cry of “Will it help me? Will it make me happy?” Lewis challenges that approach with more bluntness:

Here is a door, behind which, according to some people, the secret of the universe is waiting for you. Either that’s true, or it isn’t. And if it isn’t, then what the door really conceals is simply the greatest fraud, the most colossal “sell” on record.

Isn’t it obviously the job of every man (that is a man and not a rabbit) to try to find out which, and then to devote his full energies either to serving this tremendous secret or to exposing and destroying this gigantic humbug?

Faced with such an issue, can you really remain wholly absorbed in your own blessed “moral development”?

What’s needed, Lewis explains, is the realization that we can’t ever be “good” in the sense that God intends for us. “Mere morality is not the end of life. You were made for something quite different from that.”

What, then, is that “something quite different”?

We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear. . . . We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy. . . .

Morality is a mountain which we cannot climb by our own efforts; and if we could we should only perish in the ice and unbreathable air of the summit, lacking those wings with which the rest of the journey has to be accomplished.

For it is from there that the real ascent begins. The ropes and axes are “done away” and the rest is a matter of flying.

I don’t know about you, but I would like to fly.

Another Reagan-Trump Comparison

There’s been a lot of commentary on the number of people in the Trump administration who have been shown the door and/or have voluntarily resigned during his first year in office. is it unprecedented?

I think back to the Reagan years and can think of only two individuals who stepped down during or shortly after the first year. Richard Allen, Reagan’s national security advisor, resigned when accused of taking a bribe, but that accusation was later proven to be false. Alexander Haig, Reagan’s secretary of state for a little over a year, had a habit of thinking he was so much in charge of foreign policy that he was above the president. It’s to Reagan’s credit as a patient man that Haig lasted that long.

When David Stockman, who was director of the Office of Management and Budget, publicly disagreed with Reagan’s policy on tax cuts, Reagan simply sat down with him over lunch and made it clear he had to support the president’s policies. Stockman lasted a full four years in that post.

So, yes, it seems to me that the revolving door at the current White House is somewhat unprecedented, especially for someone who has continuously boasted that he only hires the best people. If that’s so, why have so many either left on their own initiative or have been forced out barely a year into Trump’s tenure?

Now, I don’t mind the fact that some of them are gone. David Shulkin, as head of the Veterans Administration, was not effective. Let’s hope someone better takes his place.

I never believed Rex Tillerson was a good pick for secretary of state, so again, I have no problem with that subtraction from the administration. However, I’m not fond of the way he found out.

In fact, Trump’s method of informing people that they may no longer have a job is not quite what I would call professional.

His constant humiliation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions via tweets is bizarre, unbecoming of what we ought to expect of presidential behavior. To Sessions’s credit, it hasn’t yet worked.

Cartoonists have been having a wonderful time illustrating this revolving door. Here are some examples:

For the record, these examples are from cartoonists with a conservative bent, so this is not part of the liberal/progressive conspiracy to oust Trump. He does enough damage to himself that even those on the conservative side can see the problem.

Meanwhile, many of us continue to pray for this president that he will eventually exhibit grownup behavior. A lifetime of narcissism makes it hard to change at this late date, but one must always hope.

The Education Crisis at All Levels

I want to begin this post with a word of appreciation so I won’t be misunderstood. What do I appreciate? All those teachers who truly love the students in their classrooms and seek to do their best to expand their knowledge and understanding.

In particular, I want to commend all Christians who labor in the schools, whether public, private, or specifically Christian. A Christian teacher in a public school is a missionary, exhibiting the love of God to students. I know you all do your best to fulfill the ministry the Lord has given you.

I hope that helps with what I want to say next.

Despite all the fine teachers who are doing their best, we are in an education crisis in the nation. I see it in two ways.

First, I see a lack of basic knowledge that earlier generations would have considered mandatory. As I continue my ministry to university students, I have concluded I have to take nothing for granted. The majority of my students come to my American history survey courses with only cursory information about what has occurred in the past.

I teach those courses as if I were teaching at the secondary level simply because I see such large gaps in their knowledge. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my students; ignorance is not primarily their fault, and it can be corrected.

Second, and more disturbing, is the trend toward a kind of indoctrination in whatever trendy movement is sweeping the land. All the walkouts that stemmed from the Parkland tragedy have a distinct political bias. We’re told these are student-led but I don’t believe it. Rather, the students are being led, and from the comments I hear from student “leaders,” one thing is significantly lacking:

“Critical thinking” has become one of the trendiest clichés of our day. Yet there is little of it in evidence. All “right-thinking” people are supposed to support gun control and/or the scrapping of the Second Amendment. After all, “guns kill people.”

A recent report notes that London now has a higher murder rate than New York City. The primary weapon used in these murders? Knives. Are they going to be banned now?

Sending young people to college is supposed to be a higher education. Is that always true?

Sadly, the worldview of most college and university administrations is illustrated nicely in that comic strip. In some of those institutions, Christians and/or conservatives are being forced to go along with such things as promotion of the LGBTQ agenda. If they refuse, they are made “sensitive” to the agenda through special seminars just for them or they find they are no longer employable.

That’s not the case where I teach, and I am grateful for it.

Yet universities such as mine are in the minority now. We truly have an education crisis.

Celebrating the Resurrection

Tomorrow we celebrate—and that most certainly is the best word to use—the Resurrection. Nothing like it appeared in history before that tremendous event and nothing like it followed afterward.

It is the central event in all of history, never to be topped by anything else.

The Nativity, which we call Christmas, was essential only because it was to lead to this event. The Second Coming of Christ and the Judgment to follow would be the most awful occurrence for everyone if not for the Resurrection, which showed God’s triumph over death, Satan, and hell.

As a result of Christ’s death and resurrection, millions now have access to the very throne room of God.

C. S. Lewis calls the Resurrection “the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts.” He reminds us that when we talk about the gospel, we are focusing on the Resurrection.

What we call the “gospels,” the narratives of Our Lord’s life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the gospel. They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted.

The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it.

Lewis mustn’t be misunderstood as in any way denigrating the four gospels; he’s simply stating a fact: the whole reason for the writing of the gospels later was the stunning truth of the Resurrection.

Nothing could be more unhistorical than to pick out selected sayings of Christ from the gospels and to regard those as the datum and the rest of the New Testament as a construction upon it. The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection.

The reality of the Resurrection should be just as much the central feature of our lives as it was for the first Christians. When Don Giovanni Calabria, one of Lewis’s regular correspondents, shared with him his concerns for the world’s troubles, Lewis, responding to him the day before Easter, replied,

Tomorrow we shall celebrate the glorious Resurrection of Christ. I shall be remembering you in the Holy Communion. Away with tears and fears and troubles! United in wedlock with the eternal Godhead Itself, our nature ascends into the Heaven of Heavens.

So it would be impious to call ourselves “miserable.” On the contrary, Man is a creature whom the Angels—were they capable of envy—would envy. Let us lift up our hearts! “At some future time perhaps even these things it will be a joy to recall.”

I know how the weight of the world can get one down. Yet when we compare these temporary weights to the glory that awaits because of the Resurrection, we get the proper perspective. As the Apostle Paul said,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Rom. 8:18

And in one of my favorite passages, Paul expounds that theme further:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Those who have committed their lives to the Lordship of Christ can rest and rejoice simultaneously. Through Him, we have overcome the world and will share in the glory of the Resurrection.

It Is Finished

Today I’m participating in a Good Friday service that focuses on the seven statements of Jesus as He hung on the cross. The statement I was asked to speak on is “It is finished.” Here’s an excerpt from my homily. I hope it ministers to you.

What does that short declaration, “It is finished,” really mean? What’s behind that statement?

Philippians, chapter 2, contains one of the most astounding and wonderful passages in the entire Bible. In it, we glimpse the heart and attitude of Jesus in his voluntariness to lay aside all the privileges of His Godhood to take on human form. “And being found in appearance as a man,” we’re told, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross.”

That passage deserves extended meditation. He didn’t have to do this. He chose to do it, despite what He would have to endure. He was looking to the end, to the finished task.

At the start of His earthly ministry, he went into the desert. He had nothing to eat for 40 days. Satan came to Him and offered him food, then power, then tempted Him to show off by throwing Himself down from the highest point of the temple and letting angels rescue Him. He resisted all those temptations by quoting the truths of Scripture.

The book of Hebrews informs us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin.”

Jesus knew that He had to complete the ministry of reconciliation—the weakness of His human body didn’t keep Him from fulfilling His purpose.

The Garden of Gethsemane—the last opportunity to change His mind. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” He told His disciples. Then He prayed, “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

The ultimate submission. He was close now to the end. He would see it through.

The scourging—the crown of thorns—the beatings—the carrying of the cross—the spikes through His hands and feet—the slow suffocation.

The Father turned His face away, leaving Jesus to go through the worst agony of all—a separation from the One with whom He had been united throughout all eternity. That separation meant that He now suffered what each human being would suffer if cast away from the presence of God. He literally experienced what hell would be like.

And then the words—“It is finished.”

Jesus had done all He could do to heal the breach between God and man. He successfully completed the task. Nothing more was needed on His end. God’s part in offering us salvation was done, but the work is not truly finished until we respond to what He did for us.

It’s not finished until we see the awfulness of our sins and understand that we, through our rebellion, put Jesus on that cross.

It’s not finished until we come to Him in abject repentance, sorrowful over our selfish, unloving ways.

It’s not finished until we receive by faith what He has accomplished on that cross. When we do all of these things, forgiveness from the heart of a loving God then flows into our lives.

That’s when it will truly be finished.

A Stunning “Paul, Apostle of Christ”

The apostle Paul has come alive to me now in a way he never did before. Yesterday, I saw the new film Paul, Apostle of Christ, and left the theater stunned at the power of cinema when used for God’s glory.

How do I begin to describe what I witnessed? I’ve seen many powerful films with messages from the heart of God, but none I’ve ever seen made me consider so deeply what it was really like for Christians facing intense persecution and the testing of their faith unto death.

Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, takes on the role of Luke, companion of Paul, who risks his own life to visit him in prison as he awaits execution. The Emperor Nero, to cover his own sin of setting fire to Rome, has accused the Christians of the act, and fingered Paul as the chief instigator.

James Faulkner, an actor I thought I’d never seen before, but have since discovered appeared in such dramas as Downton Abbey, is absolutely gripping as Paul. From now on, whenever I’m reading one of Paul’s letters, I will have the image of the Paul offered in this movie.

At the end, as Paul was beheaded and then awoke in eternal life to see all those he had persecuted before his salvation come to greet him, I couldn’t hold back tears. There are no over-the-top performances throughout this film; all are real and genuine.

Combined with an excellent supporting cast, superb cinematography, the truth of key Biblical passages, and a clear explanation of the Gospel, this film is of the highest quality.

Paul, Apostle of Christ, in an earlier time in American history, would be a candidate for many awards. Sadly, I believe the era of Ben Hur and Chariots of Fire may now be ended. Hollywood won’t want to reward, or even acknowledge, this positive portrayal of genuine Christianity.

But that’s okay. I’m convinced that Paul, Apostle of Christ, will be used by God for the ultimate reward—that of leading many people into relationship with Him. Helping sinners recognize their sin, showing them the meaning of repentance, and how the love of God has overcome the breach between God and man is a far greater accomplishment.

While a Best Film Oscar would be nice, faithfully proclaiming God’s truth is the ultimate reward.

No Swamp Draining Here

At the end of last week, the Congress and the president gave us an “omnibus spending package,” not a true budget, because we don’t do those anymore. They’re apparently too hard to negotiate. The tab on this “package” was $1.3 trillion.

We are supposed to be happy that this happened because it avoided a government shutdown. But let’s be honest: the government never really shuts down even when a shutdown is declared.

Republicans promised, if given control of both the executive and legislative branches (which they now have), that they would restore fiscal sanity. Democrats have no concept of fiscal sanity, but Republicans ought to. Talk, though, is cheap. It’s easy during a campaign to make promises. Much too easy.

It’s not just the spending itself that’s so bad, but also the sad truth that organizations like Planned Parenthood are continuing to receive taxpayer funding, despite all the pledges that they would be cut out from government support.

I know as well as anyone that you rarely get everything you want in a bill and that compromise is the name of the game, but why does every compromise seem to be so one-sided?

Planned Parenthood, by the way, was one of the sponsors (along with a number of other garden variety progressive and anti-Christian organizations) of the weekend’s so-called March for Our Lives protest.

“Planned Parenthood” and “respect for the sanctity of life” should never co-exist in the same sentence. Concern for the children? Really? After being responsible for more than 300,000 abortions per year?

Back to the spending package.

Yes, the Republican leadership in Congress deserves no small amount of disdain on this issue. There were standout negative votes in the Senate—Ted Cruz (whom I supported for the Republican nomination for president), Mike Lee, and Rand Paul among them. But, as usual, they were in the minority.

I’ve heard a lot of criticism of Congress on this from the most ardent Trump supporters, but no bill becomes law without the presidential signature. First, Trump supported it; then he tweeted he might veto it; a few hours later he signed it, citing the increase in military spending as apparently the most important feature.

If you are disgusted over the passage of this bill, and if you want to be a credible critic, you must be willing to acknowledge that Trump was just as much a part of this particular area of the “Swamp” as anyone else. Some, however, will go to almost any lengths not to admit that.

I never bought into the Trump rhetoric about “Draining the Swamp” because I knew he has spent his entire life in his own personal swamps, both in business and in his personal life. I knew it was merely campaign talk, not intended to be transferred over to actual governing.

So his decision to go along with this doesn’t surprise me at all. I think it’s time, though, for those who were surprised and/or disappointed to wake up and face reality: the Swamp will never be drained with either Trump or the current Republican leaders setting the agenda.