Prophet? Priest? Both?

As a Christian, what am I supposed to be when commenting on politics? Am I to be the prophetic voice, warning against the dangers of voting wrongly and following wrong policies? Am I to be the compassionate voice that draws people to God by staying away from controversy?

Is it possible to be so prophetic in one’s approach that people are turned away from the truth? Likewise, is it possible to be so open and compassionate toward those with differing views that you never lead them to the truth, for fear of offending?

For those of us who believe that the Lord is the be-all and end-all of life, that nothing is more important than a relationship with Him, it may appear unseemly at times to get embroiled in the criticisms of the political scene. After all, isn’t this life just a temporary waystation on the way to eternity?

Yet God has put us in this world to make a difference while we are here. What we do–and how we do it–will influence the future of this nation as well as the eternal destiny of individuals. And there can be a link between the two. In a nation that honors God and follows His principles, there is liberty to teach His ways openly to all. If that nation instead passes laws that shut down those who teach the Gospel truths, more people will remain lost in spiritual darkness.

How do we combine the prophetic role with the priestly one? I look at the example of Jesus, who welcomed all who came to Him, whether prostitutes or Pharisees. Yet He was direct and harsh at times with those who set themselves up against the ways of God. He called some Pharisees whitewashed tombs, pretty on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones within. He did turn over the moneychangers’ tables in the Temple.

We can speak forcefully and directly. Being a Christian does not mean you have lost a backbone; in fact, it means you have finally found one. Yet we are always admonished to speak the truth in love. Notice both parts of that: we are to be loving in everything we say, but we speak the truth simultaneously. And that truth can be pointed and contain dire warnings. We must continually check our hearts to be sure we have the proper attitude. This portion of Psalm 51 jumps out at me today:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You.

Great Power or Great Responsibility?

So many people want to be president. Perhaps it would do them some good to remember comments by America’s first three presidents.

When Washington was elected to the presidency, he wrote to Henry Knox:

My movements to the chair of Government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution: so unwilling am I, in the evening of a life nearly consumed in public cares, to quit a peaceful abode for an Ocean of difficulties, without that competency of political skill, abilities and inclination which is necessary to manage the helm.

Washington understood the immense responsibility that would rest upon him.

When John Adams succeeded him eight years later, as he and Washington were leaving the scene of his inauguration, he later wrote:

Methought I heard him think, “Ay! I am fairly out and you are fairly in! See which of us will be the happiest!”

Adams had reason to be concerned. Imagine what it would be like having to be Washington’s successor, having to follow the man considered to be the Father of the Country. Regardless of Adams’s many accomplishments, he didn’t measure up to Washington in the eyes of the nation. Certain congressmen and senators, in a rather direct display of disrespect, even referred to him as “His Rotundity.”

Then there was Jefferson. He added the Louisiana Territory to the country, thus doubling its size. He sent out the Lewis and Clark expedition to see what he had bought. He was reelected easily. Yet, at the end of his second term, when he signed a bill stopping all shipping (in order to avoid a European war), he alienated all of the New England states, which made their living by that very shipping. The historian Paul Johnson comments that Jefferson left office a beaten man. Jefferson said:

Oh for the day when I shall be withdrawn from [office] ; when I shall have leisure to enjoy my family, my friends, my farm and books!

Too many individuals seek what they think will be greater power, only to come to the realization that the responsibilities can be overwhelming. I prefer to entrust power and authority to those who don’t want it so badly. Perhaps they will handle it more wisely.

I first posted this in January 2009. The message is still relevant nine years later.

Lewis the Translator of Christian Truth

C. S. Lewis’s writings have been credited with leading many to the Christian faith and with strengthening the faith of countless others. He assumed the mantle of apologist and evangelist primarily because he saw a decided lack of intelligent explainers of Christian truths.

Yet he was criticized by some. Oxford colleagues were miffed that he was stepping out of his academic field to write about Christianity, which is one reason why he was denied promotion during his tenure there.

Another critic, who surfaced in 1958, was Norman Pittenger, an American Anglican priest and theologican, who wrote that Lewis was too simplistic in his presentation of Christian faith. At the time he criticized Lewis, Pittenger was Chairman of the Theological Commission of the World Council of Churches.

The critique appeared in the theologically liberal magazine The Christian Century. Due to Pittenger’s prominence, Lewis felt he had to pen a defense of his reason for being an apologist and of his particular approach in presenting what Christianity was all about—a defense that The Christian Century published and which now appears in the essay collection God in the Dock and titled “A Rejoinder to Dr. Pittenger.”

Why did Lewis undertake the work of apologist/evangelist?

When I began, Christianity came before the great mass of my unbelieving fellow-countrymen either in the highly emotional form offered by revivalists or in the unintelligible language of highly cultured clergymen. Most men were reached by neither.

My task was therefore simply that of a translator—one turning Christian doctrine, or what he believed to be such, into the vernacular, into language that unscholarly people would attend to and could understand.

First and foremost, Lewis wanted people to be drawn to the truth; for that to happen, they had to grasp it and why it was important. The Pittenger approach, he argued, was so rich in “ambiguities” that it was “worse than useless.” It was so nuanced, so “sitting on the fence,” that people would suspect they were being tricked.

Lewis, in genuine humility, was willing to concede he might not be perfect in his own explanations and style:

I may have made theological errors. My manner may have been defective. Others may do better hereafter. I am ready, if I am young enough, to learn.

Dr. Pittenger would be a more helpful critic if he advised a cure as well as asserting many diseases. How does he himself do such work? What methods, and with what success, does he employ when he is trying to convert the great mass of storekeepers, lawyers, realtors, morticians, policemen and artisans who surround him in his own city?

Lewis undoubtedly suspected that Pittenger wasn’t truly engaged in trying to interact with those types of people at all. And what of the “gospel” of Pittenger? He became one of the first “Christian” leaders who argued for the acceptance of homosexual relations among Christians. Later, he admitted to his own homosexuality.

This is a defender of the faith?

Lewis concludes his rejoinder to Pittenger with these pointed words:

One thing at least is sure. If the real theologians had tackled this laborious work of translation about a hundred years ago, when they began to lose touch with the people (for whom Christ died), there would have been no place for me.

But because they did lose touch, Lewis stepped into the gap. Many thousands are eternally grateful that he did.

Not Even a Pretense of Civility

David French has an excellent article posted today in National Review detailing the unseriousness of Democrat opposition to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The teaser at the top reads:

The sordid spectacle that opened Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings put the lie to left-wing laments about the decline of civility in American politics.

I agree with the basic premise that civility is in decline—one might legitimately call it a “collapse”—and that we are at a point where reasoned discourse is virtually at an end.

Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing has only proved to highlight that lack of civility. And when civility does on occasion peek through the tortured screams of protesters and the antagonistic attitude of Democrat senators, it is like that brief breath of fresh air we all crave.

French continues: “We hear a lot about norms these days. We live in a time when alleged pre-existing norms of decency, civility, and respect are being cast aside for the sake of ‘winning.’ The ends justify the means, and a dignified loser is just that: a loser.”

It didn’t matter who Trump nominated for the Court; the decision was made beforehand to call that person a hatemonger, racist, toady, etc., etc. Yet, as French notes, that’s hardly the Kavanaugh persona:

Before I continue, let me remind you that Kavanaugh is the opposite of a norm-violating, civility-straining, Trumpist jurist. He is the very definition of a GOP-establishment lawyer. He would be a front-runner for a SCOTUS nomination in any Republican administration. He is not only solidly within the mainstream of originalist legal thought, he’s so respected across the aisle that Elena Kagan hired him to teach at Harvard Law School.

In other words, throughout his career, Kavanaugh has helped maintain norms rather than violating them. He’s the living embodiment of the kind of person — and the kind of politics — that Democrats now claim they miss in the age of Trump.

Right from the start of the hearing, Democrat senators demanded that the hearing be adjourned. Why? Well, they needed to see more documents. You know, documents that they weren’t really going to read with an open mind anyway. French points out the absurdity and hypocrisy of the claim:

The pretext was one of those eye-glazing Washington debates over document production, in which senators who’d already vowed weeks ago to vote against Kavanaugh claimed they couldn’t possibly evaluate him properly based on the hundreds of thousands of pages they already had (including more than a decade of judicial opinions). They instead absolutely needed every scrap of paper he ever touched, so . . . what? They could cast a more emphatic no vote?

I think one cartoonist captured the Democrat approach rather convincingly:

And then the craziness of the Lunatic Left surfaced with the outraged cry that a woman lawyer, Zina Bash, sitting behind Kavanaugh was flashing a “white power sign,” which, if you look closely was simply her hand resting on her arm and her finger touching her thumb. Oh, the horror!

French clears up this phony charge:

For those wondering, Zina Bash is one of the more respected and talented young conservative lawyers in Washington. As her husband — John Bash, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas — explained on Twitter, she’s Mexican on her mother’s side and Jewish on her father’s side. Her paternal grandparents are Holocaust survivors, and she was born in Mexico. So, no, it’s not remotely credible to believe she was flashing a white-power symbol.

Those facts didn’t deter the online left, though. The claims kept spreading until they turned into an instant left-wing version of the legendary Pizzagate conspiracy —unsupported by any meaningful facts yet fervently believed by thousands.

As if that wasn’t sufficient, there was the father of a student killed at Parkland who showed up determined to do his part to derail Kavanaugh. How do we know? He tweeted about it beforehand.

Then there was Snubgate, the claim that Kavanaugh deliberately refused to shake the hand of a father of a slain Parkland teen. The man, Fred Guttenberg, approached Kavanaugh in the scrum during a break in the hearing, he stuck out his hand, security approached, and Kavanaugh turned away. . . .

Almost instantly, this momentary encounter was transformed into an intentional, crass snub of a grieving father by an evil, uncaring judge. Guttenberg went on CNN and made an unsubstantiated claim that Kavanaugh not only intentionally snubbed him, but personally asked that he be removed.

A complete stranger walked up to the judge in a hearing disrupted by multiple protesters, security moved in immediately, and Kavanaugh was supposed to do . . . what, exactly? Push aside security to engage with the man, despite not knowing who he is?

The angry activists in the room, who apparently have their own PR firm currently fishing for media interviews for those who created shrill outbursts, were particularly abhorrent. French notes the double standard:

Let’s be clear, had angry Tea Party protesters caused the same scale of disruption at a Democratic hearing, news outlets would be shaking their heads at the dangerous lack of respect for a dignified nominee. Instead, all too many folks think this is what democracy looks like: serial attempts to exercise an incoherent, screaming heckler’s veto.

I’m not going to conclude that we are living in the most dangerous time in our republic’s history. As a historian, I note the polarized 1850s that led to the Civil War. However, I am seeing the same kind of vitriol, unwillingness to speak to the other side civilly, and outright hostility that marked the 1850s.

We should be concerned. Very concerned.

Political Saviors & Benevolent Government

Sometimes being a history professor is painful, in the sense that one has such an overview of what has happened before that it becomes painful to watch us repeat the same old follies. I communicate that to history majors with this cartoon:

What ancient folly are we currently experiencing?

Of course, it’s worked so well wherever it has been tried:

And now, in the person of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrats have their new “star.” This happens periodically, whenever either party thinks it has found a political savior:

Fortunately, we have the news media to help us think through all controversies intelligently:

Well, maybe not.

Place not your trust in political saviors or promises of utopia through “benevolent” government. There is only One we can trust for the future.

Something in Us Which Is Not Temporal

Sheldon Vanauken was an American who went to Oxford in the early 1950s to study literature. He considered himself an agnostic. Although C. S. Lewis was not one of his tutors, he happened to read Lewis’s Space Trilogy—Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. Sensing in Lewis someone he might approach with his religious questions, he began sending him letters.

Explaining that he had “embarked” on a “voyage that would someday lead me to God,” he was writing to find out if Lewis, who had already “linked certainty with Christianity,” might be able to give him “a hint of how it’s to be done.”

He continued, “Having felt the aesthetic and historical appeal of Christianity, having begun to study it, I have come to awareness of the strength and ‘possibleness’ of the Christian answer. I should like to believe it. I want to know God—if he is knowable. But I cannot pray with any conviction that Someone hears. I can’t believe.”

His deepest question was how to believe, out of all the religions in the world, that just one could be true. Perhaps, he reasoned, because he lived in a ‘“real world’ of red buses and nylon stockings and atomic bombs” and had never seen an angel or heard the voice of God, that it cannot be easy to connect with Him.

Why write to Lewis? “Somehow you, in this very same world, with the same data as I, are more meaningful to me than the bishops of the faithful past. You accomplished the leap from agnosticism to faith: how?”

One might not ordinarily expect an extremely busy Oxford don to reply to a total stranger, yet Lewis saw an opportunity to aid someone’s honest quest for truth.

He began by questioning the assumption that everyone really wanted Christianity to be true. Certainly Hitler and Stalin never wished to submit to an eternal standard established by God, and most people don’t want a deity acting as judge over their actions, he asserted. They would instead, in their very heart of hearts, want to tell God to stay away from what they considered their private business.

Lewis shared that this was his own reaction early in his life, a reaction against the idea that Someone transcendent would have the right to tell him what to do.

Lewis’s thoughtful letter encouraged Vanauken to write again that same month. He wished that God would not require so much to believe; why not instead be “as clear as a sunrise or a rock or a baby’s cry?” He agreed with Lewis’s assertion that most men, not only Hitler and Stalin, “would be horrified at discovering a Master from whom nothing could be withheld. . . . Indeed, there is nothing in Christianity which is so repugnant to me as humility—the bent knee.”

He would perhaps be willing to be humbled if he knew it meant that death was not a leap into “nothingness,” and that it would mean “Materialism was Error as well as ugliness,” and “above all, that the good and the beautiful would survive.” Lewis, in response, maintained that there could be no demonstrative proof of Christianity in the same sense as a mathematical proof. He then aimed at Vanauken’s concepts of ugliness and beauty:

You say the materialist universe is “ugly.” I wonder how you discovered that! If you are really a product of a materialistic universe, how is it you don’t feel at home there?

Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always been, or wd. not always be, purely aquatic creatures?

Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time. (“How time flies! Fancy John being grown-up & married! I can hardly believe it!”)

In heaven’s name, why? Unless, indeed, there is something in us which is not temporal.

Vanauken, through his correspondence with Lewis, became a Christian. Before he left Oxford and returned to America, he and Lewis met often face-to-face and an enduring friendship was established. “No man,” he wrote later, “ever did so much to shape my mind, quite aside from Christianity, which of course shaped my whole life. I have never loved a man more.”

An Epiphany: I’m a Liberal, Not a Conservative

I received an epiphany a couple of days ago. I discovered that I’m not a conservative, but a liberal. From whence did this epiphany emanate? It was solemnly declared by a certain conservative columnist (who will go unnamed because I don’t wish to focus on individuals but ideas). His column was all about the need to purge everyone from the conservative movement who continues to raise issues about the conduct of Donald Trump.

His comments go far beyond mere purging; he says conservatives must call those traitors to the cause what they really are: liberals. The tone of the article was rather angry.

Now, I don’t wish to imply that he named me specifically. I’m not well known and prefer to stay that way. He focused instead on individuals like Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a man I admire for his willingness to speak truth to power (yes, that’s a cliché, but please allow its use here for my purposes). Ignore Sasse’s 90% conservative voting record; he’s not a real conservative; it’s all a head fake.

You see, we now know, as a result of the insight from this conservative columnist, that Ben Sasse is really a liberal. And since I agree with most of what Sasse says about the president, I must be a liberal as well.

As you might guess, it came as a shocking revelation to me that I am, in fact, a liberal. I didn’t realize I had been fooling people for so many years.

So, it’s now time to throw out everything I’ve written and everything I’ve done in political circles for the past thirty-plus years because it was all a lie.

For instance, my first book, a spiritual biography of Noah Webster, based on my doctoral dissertation, must have been the result of all those years being influenced by my liberal professors.

The book merely talks about this Father of Early American Education as a conservative of his day who believed that government had to be based on the rule of law and that character was a cornerstone of good government.

And all of Webster’s talk about how education is not our societal savior and how grand schemes of government control over education will not lead to utopia? Well, I only included those things because I was writing about this old reactionary guy. My hidden agenda was to promote modern liberalism, undoubtedly.

My second book, which deals with Biblical principles and how they should apply to all of society, and particularly to government, must have been a ruse also. After all, when those principles are explained in the book, I keep coming to the conclusion that they seem to support conservative concepts.

But, great deceiver that I am, I only promoted those ideas because I’m actually a Deep State mole seeking to undermine the conservative movement from within. Finally, someone has caught me in my great deception. How will I ever live this down? I’ve been found out.

And what to make of book number three? You know, the one that examined the impeachment of Bill Clinton? Why on earth did I interview all thirteen of the House Managers—Republicans all—to provide them with a forum where they could give their side of the story and explain to all who might read this volume exactly why they felt they had done the right thing?

Again, this must have been part of a plot to mislead true conservatives as to my beliefs and character. What better way to make them think I’m “one of them” than by inserting myself into the controversy on the conservative side? Not only that, but I was clever enough to make it appear that I agreed with those House Managers that President Clinton ought to have been removed from office.

Why did I go to such great pains to conceal my real convictions? Well, I’m a liberal, not a conservative. That’s the real reason for sure.

Then came the penultimate misdirection—my book on Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers. I spent so many years reading everything both men had written only because I had to make sure my cover wouldn’t be blown.

If you look carefully, though, you can see I tripped up now and then. I actually allowed criticism of both men on certain points, which certainly gives away that I’m not a true conservative because criticism like that cannot be allowed.

I did, however, conceal most of my liberalism by writing things that would be considered commendatory about both Reagan and Chambers. This, obviously, is the height of all my deceptions in these varied books. I fooled everyone—because I’m a liberal, not a conservative.

Well, what about my teaching? Students have been fooled for thirty years as I kept hidden from them my true beliefs. And that work I did for the Christian Coalition back when it was a real force to be reckoned with? Pure subversion.

And then there’s this blog I’ve written for ten years. Can you possibly understand how difficult it has been for me to pretend every time I write a post that I’m really a conservative? The pressure has, at times, been nearly unbearable.

Okay, that’s enough.

The conservative columnist who wrote what he did has dealt with us once and for all—we are liberals in conservative clothing, undermining real conservatism.

Yet, I see it differently. Those of us who are willing to critique President Trump, not only for past indiscretions but for the manner in which he conducts himself in the presidential office currently, are actually attempting to save conservatism.

We see the kind of conservatism espoused by that columnist as more of a tribal allegiance—shall I say nearly a cult of personality—that has little to do with principled conservatism.

Our goal is to conserve conservatism, hoping that when the Trump Era finally comes to an end, that there will still be a movement devoted to the Constitution and the concept of the rule of law, and that considers character as a bedrock necessity for good government.