That Writing Urge

I am a teacher and a writer, and have been now for three decades. Earlier in life, I never envisioned myself as a teacher; in fact, I minored in history as an undergraduate, avoiding making it my major out of fear that I would end up having to teach.

Well, God had a different path for me, and I can now see that He developed that desire to teach even when I was trying to ignore the calling.

I think I’ve always wanted to write but had very little training in the art prior to my experience as a graduate student. The master’s thesis and the doctoral dissertation created a greater urge within me to express thoughts in writing.

C. S. Lewis was a great teacher and a great writer, so I naturally am attracted to his insights on both. With respect to writing, he made some thoughtful comments. In a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves, early in his writing career, he noted,

I am sure that some are born to write as trees are born to bear leaves: for these, writing is a necessary mode of their own development.

If the impulse to write survives the hope of success, then one is among these. If not, then the impulse was at best only pardonable vanity, and it will certainly disappear when the hope is withdrawn.

That caused me to reflect: is my desire to write more a desire to be noticed and appreciated [i.e., be considered successful] than a natural desire to say what I think needs to be said regardless of the reception of the public?

I’ve written five books thus far. While I have had modest success in sales over the years, I can say that if my primary goal had been to enrich myself monetarily through publishing, I would now pack my bags, metaphorically speaking, and move on to something more rewarding.

If my primary goal had been to be noticed and applauded for what I’ve written, I again would be moving on to another endeavor.

Yet I continue to have the writing bug—witness this very blog. So perhaps I am one of those that Lewis was speaking of—born to write simply because God has placed that within me.

Then there’s this mild warning from Lewis about the art of writing:

To the present day one meets men, great readers, who write admirably until the fatal moment when they remember that they are writing.

In other words, the writing goes along quite well until one becomes too self-conscious of the fact that one is indeed writing. One can then fall into the trap of paying more attention to the mechanics of the craft than the message. At least, that’s how I understand this warning.

I do want to craft my words carefully, but the message itself remains the most important reason for writing. I don’t want to become too stilted in my “style” and thereby hurt the message.

Further instruction from Lewis is common sense, but not always common to us as we write:

The way for a person to develop a style is (a) to know exactly what he wants to say, and (b) to be sure he is saying exactly that.

The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean. If our words are ambiguous, our meaning will escape him.

I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or the right the readers will most certainly go into it.

All of Lewis’s insights that I’ve mentioned could be applied to anyone who writes, but he also gives advice specifically to Christians with respect to how they can use their writing to draw their audience to truth:

Our Faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if whenever we read an elementary book on Geology, Botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us.

It is not the books written in direct defence of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books.

In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him [the anti-Christian]. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian.

That’s the challenge, but also the opportunity. Our Christian faith must be so much a part of us—not merely an appendage to who we are—that it permeates everything we touch. Christian writers, in particular, have both the responsibility and the pleasure to transmit God’s message in all they write, even when it is not blatant apologetics.

May we live up to that challenge.

The Confessing–and Faithful–Church

Every day I receive an e-mail from the Christian History Institute with a feature story about some aspect of church history, highlighting the faithfulness of Christians in ages past. Today’s was especially poignant to me as it revealed the stark difference between those who link their Christianity too closely to the State and those who stand for righteousness when the State does not.

This account centers on Nazi Germany, but the principles remain the same for any nation:

After Hitler came to power, he confronted Christians in Germany with uncomfortable choices. At first, few pastors seemed to recognize where Hitler was taking the church. He sought to co-opt both Lutheran and Reformed churches to support his National Socialist Party.

Many church people supported him. Sick of the decadence that had characterized the previous government, the “Weimar Republic,” many hoped that the Führer, with his emphasis on history and tradition, might usher in spiritual renewal. Others feared the Communists more than the Nazis.

Playing on the fears and longings of churchgoers, Hitler nationalized the church under a single bishop with a Nazi-inspired constitution. German churches were ordered to eject Jewish Christians, to accept Hitler as a prophet, and to accept German racial consciousness—which exalted the Aryan race above all others—as a second revelation. The so-called “German Christians” elected Ludwig Müller, an ardent Nazi, as their “Reichs-bishop.”

To keep their jobs, hundreds of clergymen accepted Müller’s racist and political restrictions. But a minority of church leaders did not. Martin Niemoller brought them together, inviting all German pastors to join what he called the Pastors’ Emergency League.

Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others joined him. These men insisted that the church belonged under the headship of Christ, not the state, and must obey God rather than national leaders. They urged German pastors to bind themselves by Scripture and centuries-old, reliable confessions of faith.

To their credit, once the stakes were made clear, many pastors resigned from the state church. A number of Protestants who stood against the Nazis gathered at the city of Barmen to discuss the situation and prepare a response. They called themselves the Confessing Church because they clung to the old confessions of faith. Niemoller and Bonhoeffer went to prison; Bonhoeffer died there. Barth fled to Switzerland. A number of Roman Catholic priests also resisted the Nazis. Some, like Bernhard Lichtenberg, died in concentration camps.

On this day, 4 January 1934, Reichs-bishop Müller tried to silence critics of the Nazi church, issuing a “muzzling order” forbidding them from speaking about the church-state issue from their pulpits. However, the Confessing Church refused to be silenced.

In May, they issued the Barmen Declaration, whose primary authors were famous Reformed theologian Karl Barth and Lutheran theologian Hans Asmussen. One of its key statements read, “We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the church should and could take on the nature, tasks, and dignity which belong to the state, and thus become itself an organ of the state.”

The leaders of the confessing church’s deepest concern was to call the entire German church to a much-needed renewal. This renewal did not take place until after the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Two things struck me in this account: first was the fear that seemed to be the motivation for many to accept Hitler’s regime; second was the courage it took for the Confessing Church to stand up to the pressure of conforming.

The fear was ostensibly valid due to the moral decadence that dominated the culture. When we allow fear to drive our actions, principle is often abandoned.

The courage was remarkable, as each member of the Confessing Church knew the probability of facing severe persecution and death. Many, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were martyred for their faithfulness to Christ.

What of American Christians? How many of us would succumb to the fear that compromises the faith if the government tried to dictate in the same way Hitler did? How many of us would choose instead to stand for Christ and be the salt and light we are called to be?

What Jesus told His disciples 2000 years ago still resonates today:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (Mark 8:34-38)

A New Year of Observations & Analysis

I’m settled into my comfy recliner in my study, surrounded by books and enjoying a unique kind of coffee (I won’t go into that). So I’m relaxed and ready to begin another year of observations about God, man, society, and life in general.

Most people probably have this particular view of the new year:

Am I concerned about all those things? Absolutely.

Am I living in daily fear of nuclear holocaust, the undermining of the Republic, or the societal trends? No, because fear is too strong a term. I’m deeply disturbed by societal developments, but that’s not the same thing as living in fear.

I have a promise from a Higher Authority that when all is said and done, He will still be the Sovereign whom we all must eventually acknowledge, either willingly or with great regret:

At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:10)

I also lean on this promise as well as I face whatever may come this year:

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. (2 Tim. 1:7)

I won’t be timid this year. I will speak clearly about the truth of Christian faith, the necessity of discipleship, and the faith’s application to our world’s woes.

I will also speak clearly about what I see happening in our government. There are those who say we should never involve ourselves with matters of this world since it is passing away. Yet I read that we are supposed to be salt and light.

The responsibility for being salt and light is to be honest about what we see. So not everything I write will be praise for the actions of those who wield the levers of temporal power. Yet I will strive to be fair.

Regular readers of this blog know full well my concerns about Donald Trump. I am gratified by many of the decisions being made by his administration, but I also know he can’t take credit for everything. Others work hard behind the scenes, thankfully, to do their best to correct his natural bent.

How I feel about the Trump presidency at this point is precisely what commentator David French explained yesterday. It’s a fair and balanced assessment. I offer it here for those interested.

I do want the best for Trump and for the nation. But there are the issues of character, ignorance of facts, and temperament to consider.

I pledge to pray for him and all those who work with him. That’s a commandment I take seriously.

My year of observations and analysis, though, will not be dominated by politics. If you have been following this blog, you may have noticed that the number of posts devoted to politics has lessened. I believe the Lord is directing me more toward other reflections. We’ll see how that plays out.

So as we enter into the tempest of 2018—for that is undoubtedly what it will be—may we do so with full confidence that if we have submitted our lives to Him, we can be sure He will direct our path.

I leave you today with this bit of encouragement:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)

What Christmas Is All About

There’s one passage of Scripture not in the Gospels themselves that is a crystal-clear Christmas message. It doesn’t mention a manger, shepherds, or a sign in the heavens, yet it communicates what Christmas is all about regardless. It’s found in Philippians 2: 5-11:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Not only does that capture the true reason for Christmas, but it also applies to Easter/Resurrection Day, and the Final Judgment. All of that is wrapped up in this one passage.

May this Christmas be wrapped up in Him rather than presents and all the other trappings of secular celebration. Be a light shining in a very dark world.

I’m taking a Pondering Principles break now. I’ll be back in the new year.

Lewis’s “Poison of Subjectivism” in Our Day

Subjectivism: the belief that moral judgments are statements concerning the emotional or mental reactions of the individual or the community.

In other words, we make up our own morality without any reference to an outside, objective authority, i.e., God.

Subjectivism has become rampant in most of what used to be called Christian civilization. Moreover, those who, as a recent president infamously remarked, “cling to their religion,” are pressured, by law, to violate their consciences and accept the new ideas of morality. At this time, we await a Supreme Court decision on whether a Christian bakery must be forced to make and decorate a same-sex-marriage-affirming cake.

This type of subjectivism is a poison that will lead to the destruction of traditional Christian morality in a society, thus destroying that society eventually.

“The Poison of Subjectivism” is an essay by C. S. Lewis that addresses this danger. Strong statements such as this one against the subjective mindset would be roundly condemned in our day:

This whole attempt to jettison traditional values as something subjective and to substitute a new scheme of values for them is wrong. It is like trying to lift yourself by your own coat collar.

Then he gives two propositions that should, he advises, be “written into our minds with indelible ink.” They are the following:

(1) The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of planting a new sun in the sky or a new primary colour in the spectrum.

(2) Every attempt to do so consists in arbitrarily selecting some one maxim of traditional morality, isolating it from the rest, and erecting it into an unam necessarium.

In the case of same-sex marriage, there remains the vague concept of marriage and an even more vague definition of love. Both come from traditional morality, but they are lifted from their Biblical basis and given a new twist. The arbitrary selection of “love” as the highest good, isolated from all the boundaries in which we are to understand that word, provides a new morality that rests solely on subjective belief.

“All idea of ‘new’ or ‘scientific’ or ‘modern’ moralities,” Lewis counters, “must therefore be dismissed as mere confusion of thought.” It comes down to only two alternatives:

Either the maxims of traditional morality must be accepted as axioms of practical reason which neither admit nor require argument to support them . . . or else there are no values at all, what we mistook for values being ‘projections’ of irrational emotions.

Irrational emotions abound in the actions of those pushing the latest new morality. Objections to their newfound right and wrong must be shouted down, and if that doesn’t work, the strong arm of the government must be brought to bear against any who oppose this new understanding.

What makes this even worse is that many, under the banner of Christian love, try to give the new morality a Christian affirmation. Lewis will have none of that:

A theology which goes about to represent our practical reason as radically unsound is heading for disaster. If we once admit that what God means by “goodness” is sheerly different from what we judge to be good, there is no difference left between pure religion and devil worship.

Government and pseudo-science come together in an unholy alliance to advance the “new” morality and ensure that everyone accepts it:

Many a popular “planner” on a democratic platform, many a mild-eyed scientist in a democratic laboratory means, in the last resort, just what the Fascist means.

He believes that “good” means whatever men are conditioned to approve. He believes that it is the function of him and his kind to condition men; to create consciences by eugenics, psychological manipulation of infants, state education and mass propaganda.

Politicians team with the social scientists to “create” a new “conscience.” Propaganda wins the day as the unthinking masses (you pick the percentage of the population that fits that description) are led along this destructive path.

The planners, Lewis believes, may not yet fully realize what they have done, but once they grasp the power they have in their hands, they will use it fully.

He must awake to the logic of his position sooner or later; and when he does, what barrier remains between us and the final division of the race into a few conditioners who stand themselves outside morality and the many conditioned in whom such morality as the experts choose is produced at the experts’ pleasure?

If “good” means only the local ideology, how can those who invent the local ideology be guided by any idea of good themselves?

Lewis then summarizes where the society ends up:

The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike. Subjectivism about values is eternally incompatible with democracy. We and our rulers are of one kind only so long as we are subject to one law.

But if there is no Law of Nature, the ethos of any society is the creation of its rulers, educators, and conditioners; and every creator stands above and outside his own creation.

We have a choice between creators: the one holy God who gives us His objective standard of morality or the people who seek to overturn that objective morality and substitute their own whims (that allow them to do as they please) as the new morality.

The first unites us with Eternal Love; the second leads to eternal misery and remorse.

Here’s What Concerns Me

It’s a very easy thing to loathe politics; it can be a very loathsome thing, exposing as it does the basest of human interactions: petty jealousies, outsized egos; personal insults; the precedence of expediency over principle.

I do understand why people want to avoid it.

All along the political spectrum there are people who operate at the lowest level of morality and who seem to delight in tearing down those with whom they disagree. Some of those people do so purely for their own personal gain—it’s primarily just a selfish thing.

But there are others—true believers in a cause—who all too often get so wrapped up in their cause (and it can be a righteous cause) that they cast caution aside and act in ways that are actually detrimental to what they hope to achieve.

Frankly, I’m distressed over the turn politics has taken on the conservative side. Wait a minute, what about those liberals and their unsavory tactics? Are you ignoring them? Only someone who has never read this blog over the past nine years could think that. Yes, the liberal/progressive approach has almost always been loathsome.

What concerns me is that some conservatives now think they have to copy that loathsomeness in response. Whenever we do that, we lose—our principles, our character, and our long-term influence.

Need I say that it is also unchristian to act in that way?

I find history to be a guide. When the communist threat was very real back in the late 1940s, Whittaker Chambers sacrificed his great job, high salary, and reputation to expose what he knew from his time in the underground. He was actuated by the need to tell the truth, but he did so, as he noted, with pity and remorse. He didn’t hate anyone on the other side; he simply wanted to make sure the nation knew what was happening, so that the nation might respond appropriately and survive.

Then along came a man by the name of Joe McCarthy, a senator from Wisconsin. He jumped into this fight with communism, but not with the Chambers attitude. While Chambers certainly fought with all he had against the evil of communism, he did so with the goal of restoration. McCarthy merely wanted to bring down the other side (and burnish his image in the process, of course).

We have, in letters Chambers wrote to William F. Buckley, a commentary on McCarthy’s approach to the communist threat. He felt McCarthy would ultimately fail. Why? Here are some excerpts:

As the picture unfolds, the awful sense begins to invade you, like a wave of fatigue, that the Senator is a bore. . . .

[McCarthy’s approach] is repetitious and unartful, and, with time, the repeated dull thud of the low blow may prove to be the real factor in his undoing. . . . He lacks variety, and, in the end, simply puts the audience to sleep.

I used to listen to and watch a number of conservative programs because it was refreshing to hear someone who believed what I believe—fresh voices in a media dominated by liberalism. After a while, though, I saw what Chambers saw in McCarthy, which is a tendency toward laborious repetition that numbs the soul. I don’t pay much attention to those programs anymore.

Chambers continued,

He is at bottom a naive and simple-hearted man. . . . I said long since that the crucial question about Senator McCarthy was not whether his aims are ultimately good or bad, but whether his intelligence is equal to his energy.

There are many conservatives who are simple-hearted (that part is good) with admirable aims, but I also wonder if their intelligence is equal to the task.

Chambers’s analysis of McCarthy included this gem:

It is more and more my reluctant opinion that he is a tactician, rather than a strategist: that he continually, by reflex rather than calculation, sacrifices the long view for the short pull.

Certain tactics may get you a short-term win, but at what price? Does anyone see a current example of this?

Finally, there was this warning that Chambers sounded, a warning that became prophetic because it went just the way he warned:

All of us, to one degree or another, have slowly come to question his judgment and to fear acutely that his flair for the sensational, his inaccuracies and distortions, his tendency to sacrifice the greater objective for the momentary effect, will lead him and us into trouble.

In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that we live in terror that Senator McCarthy will one day make some irreparable blunder which will play directly into the hands of our common enemy and discredit the whole anti-Communist effort for a long while to come.

That’s exactly what happened, and the term “McCarthyism” has never left our political vocabulary; it’s always whipped out to taint conservatives whenever we try to point out the evil nature of socialism/communism or any other threat to the nation.

Why do I write this at this time in our history?

I have the same fear that Chambers expressed in those letters. I see conservatives (and Christian conservatives as well) throwing away principles and embracing expediency, going for the short-term gain while blinded to the long-term loss of using those tactics, and eventually discrediting all efforts to return the nation to its basic Biblical morality and constitutionally conservative concepts.

We are not to be like the other side. We are to be the calm, reasoned voices, calling people back to the only truths that will sustain a culture.

Will we fulfill that calling or succumb to the temptation of typical politics? Frankly, I don’t know the answer to that. All I can say is that I’m seriously disappointed in the trend I now see.

May God have mercy on us.

No Winner in Alabama

The Alabama Senate race is finally over, and the result was a foregone conclusion: there is no winner. No matter who was going to come out on top, it would be a loss for America.

The ostensible winner, Democrat Doug Jones, is a far-left radical who doesn’t believe there is any right to life until a baby comes out of the womb. He is an Alabama anomaly who never had a hope of winning this Senate seat until Republicans chose the only person he could beat.

If Roy Moore had won, the republic wouldn’t have been in much better shape, and Republicans would have had the Moore albatross around their necks for the next two years.

My objections to Moore go beyond the sexual allegations, which are serious in themselves and which he not only never really answered, but about which he kept changing his story: at first, he declared he never dated anyone without asking the mother’s permission (that can only apply to minors), then switched to saying he never dated any teen when he was in his thirties; he knew some of the accusers, then he didn’t. His entire defense was “Look, media conspiracy!”

This is especially sad to me because so many Christians were pinning their hopes on Moore, much as they did (and continue to do) with Trump.

Beyond the sexual allegations, Moore also wasn’t all that knowledgeable about the issues, from what I have read. He’s an unabashed Obama birther (I know, some of you still cling to that, but it’s untenable), didn’t know what DACA meant when interviewed, and frankly, wouldn’t really have been that reliable a conservative vote on a number of policies.

Shall I continue?

Moore made his mark in Alabama by standing against the removal of the Ten Commandments from his courtroom and for refusing to accept the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage.

I agree with Moore on both of those issues, yet his public persona came across as grandstanding for personal celebrity. That was my opinion even before all the new allegations surfaced. I was never comfortable with him because I doubted either his genuineness or his wisdom—I wasn’t sure which. Maybe both.

So where are we now, those of us who want Christian principles and morality to be the hallmark of our politics?

Look for the silver linings.

First, Moore will no longer be the main topic of conversation on the national political scene. That’s a plus.

Second, Jones will have this Senate seat for only two years, as it’s merely the remainder of Jeff Sessions’s term. That means the Republicans, if they have learned their lesson, just might nominate someone who can win that seat back. it shouldn’t be hard, as Alabama voters, without Roy Moore on the ticket, are reliably conservative.

Third, prospects for Republicans gaining Senate seats in 2018 still look good since Democrats have more vulnerable seats coming up in that election.

Fourth, Moore will no longer be the main topic of conversation on the national political scene. Wait, did I already say that?

My fervent prayer this morning: God, please bless America despite our many sins and our attempt at national suicide. Spare us. We fall back on Your mercy, which is our only hope.