A Man I Respect

Meeting Justice Clarence Thomas at the Supreme Court in 1995
Meeting Justice Clarence Thomas at the Supreme Court in 1995

When people say that there are no principled men in government, I must disagree. There are men and women who are living their principles in public life.

One of the men I respect most is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. For the record, Justice Thomas does not know me personally and would not recognize me if introduced. I did meet him twice–once at the Supreme Court when the government school at Regent University took students there in 1995, and again a few years later when he came to the Regent campus to speak. As a faculty sponsor for the Federalist Society, I did once again greet him at a reception.

But I have read his recent book, an autobiography entitled My Grandfather’s Son. Once I began the book, I could hardly put it down. The story he tells–of his childhood in poverty, his anger over racism as a young man, his return to the Christian faith in his later years, and the trials of his Senate confirmation hearings–is riveting. It shows, to me, how God will use everything in a person’s life to shape and prepare that individual for a calling in this world.

Thomas has been attacked by many people because he espouses a view of the Constitution that says you don’t ignore the limitations that the document places on the authority of the federal government. But in taking the stance that he does, he is abiding by principle.

Yes, principled people are in the minority, but they do exist. Rather than promoting cynicism about government, we should be sharing the stories of those who try to apply Biblical principles such as the rule of law to society.

Liberated Theology?

Obama & Wright
Obama & Wright

For some, the connection between Obama and Jeremiah Wright is old news. But I want to be sure we understand just how Obama views the Christian faith. Rick Warren, at the Saddleback Forum last Saturday, just assumed Obama was a Christian. Why? Because Obama says he is.

However, the brand of Christianity Obama believes comes from Wright’s version of what is known as liberation theology. What does that theology teach?

First: God cannot be understood through doctrine and He is not perfect or unchanging.

Second: Jesus is not God, but shows us the way to God; He reveals the way one becomes the son of God.

Third: Salvation is a process of liberation from oppression and injustice. Essentially, this is a Marxist, now-centered approach that puts all emphasis on the here and now, not eternity.

In an interview with a Chicago Sun-Times columnist in 2004, Obama stated, “I’m rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.”

He continued, “The difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity, is that at some level there is a call to evangelize and proselytize. There’s the belief, certainly in some quarters, that if people haven’t embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior, they’re going to hell.”

The columnist then added, “Obama doesn’t believe he, or anyone else, will go to hell. But he’s not sure he’ll be going to heaven either.”

So, to summarize: he does not consider Jesus Christ to be the only way to God; he is uncomfortable with the idea that one should win people to the faith; he denies that one must embrace Christ as personal savior or spend an eternity separated from God; in fact, he doesn’t really believe there is an eternal consequence for living apart from God–no one is going to a place called hell. Why is he not sure he is going to a place called heaven? Probably because liberation theology doesn’t really believe that place exists either.

So what does all this mean? Obama is certainly free to believe what he wishes, but I don’t want anyone to be fooled by his expressions of faith. He does have a faith–everyone has a faith of some type. His faith, though, should not be confused with Christianity.

How will his faith influence our culture? It will lead to a more Marxist approach to life: the here-and-now is everything; the government is the solution for all problems; the poor are oppressed by the elites of society; envy of the rich will dominate public policy.

Christians are to influence culture and public policy, but a Biblically based worldview leads in an opposite direction than Obama’s. Let’s not be confused on that point.

New Article Available: Reagan and FDR

This summer, I wrote another chapter in my ongoing quest to finish a book on Whittaker Chambers and Ronald Reagan. Out of the chapter I wrote during the summer, I excerpted a portion and turned it into an article regarding the admiration Reagan had for Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership style, even though Reagan ultimately changed his views about FDR’s policies.

That article is now published and available for your perusal in the online journal First Principles. The title is “Ronald Reagan on Franklin Roosevelt: The Significance of Style.”

I welcome your comments on the new article (as well as either of the other two). You can make comments at the First Principles site or here–perhaps put them at both sites.

I hope you find it an interesting read. I am certainly enjoying the research and the writing.

How Not to Become a Historian

My road to becoming a historian was a strange one. I think I always liked history; it was the history classes I didn’t like. Frankly, my early education was rather drab when it came to history. I have no memory of ever being inspired by what I was taught. I barely have a memory that I was taught at all.

American history, in high school, was a dull affair. The teacher, who was also the basketball coach (this was in Indiana, where basketball is king), simply stood in front of the class and read the text to us, making comments occasionally. I am convinced he was hired to be the basketball coach first, then asked if he could read a history book to some bored students. As he read, I sat in the back of the classroom with another book propped inside the history text, so I could get in some good reading. As a result of that expereience, I never took another high school history class.

In college, I barely recall taking American history. It was unmemorable. Yet when I took ancient history, I had a professor who made things far more interesting. Perhaps it was because it dealt more with the time period of the Bible that my interest was more easily piqued. The professor himself was an apostate from the faith; his dad was a Biblical archeologist, but he had rejected the Bible as God’s truth. He was a chain smoker and rather rotund, not the picture of health. But at least he was interesting.

Then I had another professor, a committed Christian with a wonderful spirit, who taught a course on Tudor England. At least once, maybe twice, he had the students over to his home for the class. He was an exceptional teacher–he was denied tenure. Sometimes, those two go together.

I decided to minor in history, while continuing with my major of radio, tv, and film production. Even though I liked history, I couldn’t conceive of ever teaching it. That was the last thing I wanted to do. But when I later became headmaster of a Christian school, the teaching of history fell to me. Simultaneously, I was being instructed how we can view all of history from God’s perspective. That shed a whole new light on things.

I returned to school and got my master’s and doctorate in history. I was in rebellion against God at that time (that’s another story), but He was faithful. When I returned to Him, He opened doors. I have now taught history for twenty years in colleges, with seven of those years at the master’s level.

 As I look back through my personal stumblings, I can now see the hand of God overcoming all my lack of wisdom. I now teach history with a profound sense that it is His will, and that I need to take this calling seriously. History is one way of illuminating the principles the Lord wants us to learn.

Clio, the Muse of History, in National Statuary Hall, the Capitol

Clio, the Muse of History, in National Statuary Hall, the Capitol

Should a Pastor Be Involved Politically?

John Peter Muhlenberg's Statue in the Capitol
John Peter Muhlenberg’s Statue in the Capitol

Some have criticized Rick Warren for holding the forum I spoke about in the previous posting. He should stick to religion, not get involved in politics, they say.

I’m reminded, though, of the actions and words of John Peter Muhlenberg, pastor of a church at the time of the American Revolution. Muhlenberg’s sermon, one Sunday in 1775, ended with the words, “There is a time for all things–a time to preach and a time to pray.”  Then he said, “There is a time to fight, and that time has now come.” As he stood in the pulpit, he took off his ministerial gown to reveal a militia uniform underneath, and ended the message by urging others to join him in the militia for the common defense.

He served in the Continental Army for the duration of the war. When the war ended, he was chosen to be Pennsylvania’s Vice President, then served as a congressman in the first Congress convened after ratification of the Constitution. In 1801, he was elected to the Senate.

When Muhlenberg made his decision to get involved and serve in the army, his own brother castigated him, saying he had abandoned the church. His response? “I am a clergyman, it is true, but I am a member of society as well as the poorest layman, and my liberty is as dear to me as to any man. Shall I then sit still and enjoy myself at home when the best blood of the continent is spilling? . . . Do you think if America should be conquered I should be safe?”

Ministers, and all Christians, have to live under the laws passed in a nation. Everyone, Christians included, are impacted by those laws. They are citizens as much as anyone else and pay the same taxes. Their political rights are identical; there is no distinction. Why, then, should they be excluded from the debate over policies and the future of the nation? When Jesus said his disciples were to be salt and light, He meant in all aspects of a society, government included.

Yes, His kingdom is not of this world, but His kingdom principles should be promoted and be the bedrock for the standards by which a society lives. It is Christians who must be at the forefront of advocating His principles.

The Saddleback Forum

McCain & Obama with Rick Warren

I watched both hours of the presidential forum held at Saddleback Church Saturday evening. I must admit that going into it, I was not confident that the pastor, Rick Warren, would really ask the tough questions, especially the types of questions I would like to have asked. Prior to the event, Warren had commented that he was not going to focus on typical evangelical concerns such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Yet he did address those issues and sought to draw out answers from both candidates. Beyond those particular issues, he offered a broad range of worldview and policy questions that helped to flesh out what both men really believed.

This was probably the best arrangement for explaining views that I have witnessed in presidential debate history. The usual debate is an attempt to answer in two minutes or 30 seconds what might require greater explanation. In the typical debate, each person just wants to get in his talking points, regardless of the question being asked. Have you ever noticed how that works?

In this forum, Obama had to acknowledge his belief in Roe v. Wade. Asked the deeper question, “At what point does a baby have rights?” he fell back on the vagueness of how complex is the issue of when life begins. He then said that answering such a question was above his pay grade. Now, while that might sound humble, it is merely punting. He doesn’t want to grapple with that issue.

McCain, on the other hand, when asked the same question, stated without hesitation, “at the moment of conception.” In fact, he was quite impressive, I thought, in most of his answers. I say that as someone who was not thrilled with his capturing of the Republican nomination. Saturday night, for the first time, I sensed in him a little bit of Reagan, who had optimism in the future of America, and who had firmly held principles. It remains to be seen if McCain stays on track, but this forum was a good start.

Warren did an exemplary job of moderating this evening of conversation. He did not overshadow either candidate, giving them both the opportunity to say whatever they wanted without feeling rushed. As more than one of the commentators afterward said, this was the best forum for a presidential contest they had ever witnessed.

A Unique Insight from C.S. Lewis

Christian Apologist C. S. Lewis

Christian Apologist C. S. Lewis

Some writers just have a way of saying something. Ever since my undergraduate days (which are becoming somewhat of a dim memory by now), I have been fascinated with C. S. Lewis. His writings always stir me. He doesn’t just make statements; he draws you into what he is saying and creates an image that stays with you. At least that is the effect on me. There are so many examples I could use. In fact, I’ve included many of them in the Great Quotes section of my site (see the link at the top of this page).

Last night my mind was drawn back to one of his most poignant insights. It’s found in a message he gave (technically, it is a sermon, but that word sounds dry and stale–I prefer “message”) entitled “The Weight of Glory,” where he writes,

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.

What if we were to have that image in our minds always? How would it change the way you treat your spouse? Your children? Those who are not easy to like?