Hell Cannot Veto Heaven

One of my favorite C. S. Lewis books is The Great Divorce. This fanciful account of a busload of occupants of hell getting an opportunity to visit heaven allows Lewis, through conversations between the passengers from hell and heavenly denizens, to discuss all the objections to the faith raised by those who reject it.

In one such discussion, Lewis deals with those who say it’s unfair that those who enter into eternal bliss should be so happy when the rest have to endure eternal torment. In the words of one of his characters, he provides this rejoinder:

What some people say on earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved. . . .

That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it. . . .

The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven.

Although we will mourn for those who selfishly chose to follow their own path rather than God’s, that cannot diminish the utter joy of living in the very presence of the Lord. Those who are hellbound have no grounds to demand we be miserable. They have made their choices; we have made ours. In one very real sense, God sends no one to hell. Here’s how Lewis expresses it, again in The Great Divorce:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”

All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.

It all comes down to our choice. We have no one to blame but ourselves if we live a life apart from Him. And that earthly choice will go with us into eternity.

Appreciating the Love, Patience, & Mercy of God

Our God is a righteous God. His righteousness demands that sin be punished; it’s only “right,” “just,” and “fair” that each person is treated according to his deeds. Yet He is also a God of mercy, another aspect of His righteous character. The Cross is how God is able to be both just and merciful at the same time.

Some people emphasize God’s wrath over sin; others go in the opposite direction and see only mercy, thereby downplaying judgment.

I want to be balanced in my view of God’s character. From both my Biblical exegesis and my personal experience in relationship with God, here’s where I’ve arrived on the issue of balance.

God seeks to be merciful whenever He can; He judges when He has no other option in order to uphold His righteousness.

Why do I think this is the proper perspective? My study of Scripture has led me here. Let me explain.

While some think the Old Testament is just one long harangue against sin and God is eager to bring judgment, I disagree. He would have wiped out the entire human race, yet He was willing to start again with Noah. He would have cast away the children of Israel and restarted His plan with Moses, except Moses prayed He would not do so. God was willing, in answer to that prayer, to continue working with a disobedient people.

In Ezekiel 18:30-32, we get a glimpse into God’s heart when He says to His people,

“Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.”

Does that sound like a God who is eager to bring judgment?

When we turn to the New Testament and see Jesus as the embodiment of the Godhead—the One through whom we understand better the heart of the Father—we see again a desire to show mercy. Only man’s rebellion stands in the way. As Jesus looks over the city of Jerusalem, we’re told in Luke 13:34-35,

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’”

Nearly everyone is familiar with John 3:16, which makes the point that “whoever believes” will have eternal life, but it’s the next verse that once more highlights the heart of God:

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”

Judgment wasn’t the inspiration for the coming of Jesus; salvation was.

And in 2 Peter 3:8-9, we see why the Second Coming hasn’t yet occurred, and the reason is God’s desire that as many as possible will be saved.

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

He doesn’t want anyone to perish; He earnestly desires all to come to salvation and is providing as much time as He deems appropriate to bring more souls into His Kingdom.

So, yes, God judges. One day that judgment will be fierce, without mercy, total toward those who have stubbornly rejected His love and commands. But until then, He is the Shepherd who seeks the one lost sheep while maintaining the ninety-nine.

Personally, I am deeply grateful—let’s make that eternally grateful—that He showed mercy to me when He could just as easily have condemned me in my sins. He gave me time to come to my senses and repent.

He is a loving God.

The Socialist Delusion

Have you noticed how much more popular socialism has become lately? At least among young people? One of the problems of youth—and I was once one of that number (as unlikely as that may seem to some of my readers)—is that it’s so easy to jump on whatever seems to be a new bandwagon, especially one that holds out promises that will take care of every social ill one sees.

The first thing to keep in mind is that social ills are always with us. Second, the lack of historical knowledge and economic knowledge is rampant, particularly among the young. The idea that one can put the government in charge of the means of production and distribution of goods and everything will be wonderful is a belief that crashes on the rocks of sound theory and practical experience.

Yet youth are not being given much sound theory and they have no foundation in experience to counter the false ideology of socialism they are being fed.

This latest round of “socialism is great, it’s the future” seems to have started in earnest with Bernie Sanders running for president in 2016. He should know better; after all, he’s not one of those youthful idealists. He’s just someone who never has come to grips with the litany of socialist failures.

Now we have the newest “star” in the socialist panoply of mini-gods and -goddesses: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who ousted a Democrat regular in the primary and is now easily going to be elected to Congress from her liberal NYC district. She’s everywhere on the talk shows claiming that socialism will cure all ills. She even said that adoption of socialist policies will save money because there will be fewer funerals.

Huh?

She’s being roundly mocked for her lack of economic understanding. Many wonder how she can be so ignorant when she received a bachelor’s degree in that very subject. Well, ignorance of economics can be found in economics departments at universities also.

She also seems pretty ignorant of foreign affairs whenever questioned about that. In one sense, I feel sorry for her simply because she is displaying so much of her ignorance, yet she undoubtedly believes she is one of the truly enlightened.

Sanders recently came up with a healthcare plan that will cost approximately $32 trillion over the next decade. He disputes that figure, but socialists always do. They try to sell the American people on the idea of some kind of free lunch, but we need to be wary of anything deemed “free”:

You might have noticed that both political cartoons used the newly promoted phrase “democratic socialism” as the key. After all, if something is democratic, it must be fine, right?

Yes, it sounds nicer, but the end is still the same—it hits you right in the face.

The failures of socialism abound, yet whenever anyone points that out, we’re usually told that isn’t real socialism and that “real” socialism hasn’t been tried. Tell that to the citizens of Venezuela, one of the potentially richest nations on the globe now feeling the full effects of the socialist revolution imposed on them by the Chavez-Maduro governments:

The typical response is then to point to Europe, particularly the Scandinavian countries that are supposedly the prime examples of the glories of socialist policies. Yet, upon closer inspection, we see that even though places like Sweden and Norway have extended government benefits beyond the usual, they haven’t really excised the true engine behind their economies:

Private enterprise continues to provide the impetus for whatever prosperity exists. Countries like Sweden have, in recent years, had to cut back on what the government provides because that approach is fast becoming too expensive and hurting the economy. So, no, those are not socialist paradises.

Yet what are the Democrats now doing? They are moving steadily toward becoming publicly what I think they’ve been all along—a socialist party. And they seem to think that’s a winning formula for the next election cycle.

What started as limited government intervention into the economy in Democrat ranks has bloomed into full-blown euphoria over what government can do. It may come back to crush them if they’re not more prudent:

They may, after the fall congressional elections, be asking themselves this question:

I found a meme a while ago that sums up my opinion on this pretty well:

And as a Cubs fan since 1961, I can’t stop until I share this:

May we learn from history.

My Educational Philosophy: A Summary

As part of my tenth-year anniversary of writing Pondering Principles, I share this one again that I first wrote back in 2010. I didn’t change even one word because I still believe everything I wrote here.

As a university professor, I think a lot about what I should do in the classroom. What is the proper way to teach? How much do I let my beliefs enter into the subject? One of the biggest problems in many universities is when the classroom is used primarily as an indoctrination center for leftist ideology and all the trendy movements: multiculturalism, radical feminism, environmentalism (anyone notice an “ism” problem here?).

The response of most conservatives has been to call for a neutral classroom where, supposedly, facts are presented without any particular slant. Let the facts speak for themselves; allow the students to come up with their own rationales for what they believe. To a point, there is some truth in that approach, in that every student eventually is going to decide for themselves what they believe. But how much can the professor offer to influence those students?

I have it easier in one sense than many professors who are Christians teaching in public universities. Since I teach in an evangelical setting, there are parameters for my teaching. It’s assumed by the students that I will honor Biblical doctrines. Yet the issue remains the same since not every Christian professor applies those doctrines to their subjects in the same way.

Here’s how I explain to my students the approach that I take. First, I don’t believe that it’s possible for anyone to be totally objective in teaching. I reject the idea that education can be value-neutral. What we believe will come across in some way. Therefore, we are all subjective: our life experiences, backgrounds, and beliefs systems go with us into everything we do. This is not wrong. This is inescapable. As a Christian, I want it to be inescapable.

The late Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer said it best, I believe, when he explained,

People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world view, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People’s presuppositions lay a grid for all they bring forth into the external world. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions.

My presuppositions are Christian. It is then natural and right that I should share those presuppositions in all I teach. Knowledge cannot be separated into some tight compartment, isolated from a person’s basic worldview. I will interpret my subject area [history, in this case] in accordance with the grid through which I see the world. What I believe to be truth will impact both what and how I teach.

There is a difference, though, between being subjective and being biased. Bias is an attitude that never allows any new information. It approaches the world with a view that all things must be squeezed into a preset idea or interpretation. If facts don’t fit this prejudgment, they must be forced to fit. Any university professor who does this is not teaching; he or she is simply trying to create ideological clones.

Do I want my students to agree with my views? Yes. But I can’t force them to agree. I have to win them over by the logic of the facts I present. I have to show them how the facts fit into my interpretation, all the while staying open myself to new information that may modify what I teach.

For instance, in American history, as much as I would like to make all the Founders into evangelical Christians, to do so would be to set aside some facts and dishonestly disseminate false information. Now, I believe the founding of America was based on Biblical thinking, for the most part, but I cannot “make” Benjamin Franklin a Christian without violating my own conscience before God.

I always keep in mind this one thing: first, I am a Christian; second, I am a professor. My overriding concern has to be the one that Jesus left as a charge for all Christians when He said,

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.

So even when I teach history, my primary goal is to ensure that the study of history will lead my students into a stronger relationship with the One for whom all of life is to be lived. I’m in the process of making disciples. If I do anything that lessens their desire to know and love God, then I am a failure.

It’s an awesome responsibility, and one that I take seriously.

Teaching Students the Essence of C. S. Lewis

For the third time since my 2014-15 sabbatical and the writing of my C. S. Lewis book, I’ll be teaching the course this fall that I developed out of that sabbatical: “C. S. Lewis: History and Influence.”

It was a joy to teach this course the first two times, and I don’t expect it to be otherwise this time.

Since I’m a history professor, not English literature, the course has a strong historical component as we work through a number of Lewis’s key writings. Students learn not only about him and his influence but also the history of his era. Further, I link his writings to the events of his lifetime and also choose some of his essays and letters that show his concerns for government and the direction of society.

What do the students read?

We begin at the beginning—of Lewis, that is, with his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. It’s essential that they first discover who he was, his background, early education, dismissal of Christian faith, then his great rediscovery of Scriptural truth.

Lewis was surprised by joy; I’m continually surprised by how many students, even those who choose to take this course, know virtually nothing about the man. When I ask what brought them to the course, the most common answer is Narnia. Yet the author of Narnia is mostly unknown.

I then turn to Lewis’s Mere Christianity but with a nice historical touch, having them read not only the key chapters from that book but also one that explains where it came from.

Paul McCusker’s C. S. Lewis and Mere Christianity provides an excellent survey of Britain under duress during WWII and the BBC’s decision to put Lewis on the air to speak to the people.

Those broadcast talks, of course, later get reshaped into the classic Mere Christianity.

Although it was Lewis’s The Problem of Pain that brought him to the attention of the BBC, it was his next book that launched him into an icon, both in Britain and in America.

The Screwtape Letters was a phenomenon, so naturally I want my students to delve into that one as well.

I recently taught a class at my church on Screwtape that was held every Wednesday evening from January to April. As a result, I’m more adept at explaining the intricacies of this book than before. I’ve carved out some extra time to discuss it this time around.

Continuing on that fantasy angle, I then have students read The Great Divorce, which I consider a masterpiece. Lewis’s fanciful depiction of a bus trip from hell to heaven and his insights into why people reject God and His truth is superb.

This is one of my favorite Lewis books. My connection with it goes back to my college days. I was a radio/tv/film major back then and, as one of my projects in the tv studio, I staged a key conversation from this book. My hope was that it would be a strong Christian testimony to my fellow students. How could I not include it in this course?

Both Screwtape and Great Divorce are pleasure reading, in my view. Then comes something more hefty that requires students to think more deeply: The Abolition of Man. Lewis takes aim at those who deny basic truths that are implanted by God in the hearts of all people, and skewers as well those social planners who depend upon scientism (as opposed to real science) to “create” the type of people and society they want.

I realize that some of Lewis’s language and thoughts in this book can be challenging for some students, so I also combine our discussion of it with some blog posts I’ve written that explain it more succinctly.

My other remedy for making sure they get the point of Abolition is to pair it with the final installment of Lewis’s Ransom/Space trilogy, That Hideous Strength.

What Lewis expounds in Abolition comes to life, so to speak, in this novel. If students struggle with the former, they then get the opportunity to see what might happen if Lewis’s warnings are not heeded.

That Hideous Strength depicts a proposed takeover of Britain by a diabolical organization whose philosophy rests upon not only false science but the occult also. Although I love all three of Lewis’s trilogy, this one is my favorite probably because one of my greatest interests is government and politics—and the importance of Christian influence on both.

When we get to the Chronicles of Narnia, I give them the final book, The Last Battle.

Nearly everyone has already read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, so I don’t want to repeat that one. Besides, The Last Battle is quite prescient in its depiction of how false theology can arise, which is something I want students to be aware of.

And the wonderful description of entering into the New Narnia, which signals the end of the series, is so marvelous that I want to be sure no student goes away from this course without reading that.

As with The Great Divorce, it’s nice to incorporate a little bit of heaven into the readings. I also accomplish that by having them read Lewis’s masterful sermon, “The Weight of Glory.”

The final Lewis book they read is A Grief Observed, the short volume Lewis wrote anonymously after his wife, Joy, died.

This one can generate discussion very easily as we see Lewis’s struggle dealing with the loss of one so dear, yet who came so late to his life.

Lewis eventually comes to a resolution over God’s goodness. I also use scenes from the BBC production of Shadowlands to help this particular book come alive more for the students.

It’s important for them to reflect on death. After all, most college students think death is a far-off thing when, really, it could come to any of us at any time.

In the final few weeks of the course, I give them my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact, so they can see just how influential he was in America—even more so than in his native Britain.

The book delves into his letters to Americans, his views of America, his relationships with some Americans (his wife, Joy Davidman Gresham, for one), and how his writings have continued to be a source of inspiration and teaching for generations following his death in 1963.

If all this sounds like an awful lot to give students, I plead guilty. But I am not repentant. I know that providing them with this introduction to Lewis and his influence will guide them into even deeper study, not just of Lewis, but of all the insights his writings have passed on to those who take the time to read and understand what he has to say.

Did I mention this is one of my favorite courses to teach? Well, that probably goes without saying.

Teaching the Controversial Civil War Era

For the 6th time in my tenure at Southeastern, this fall I will be teaching my course on the Civil War Era. The topic is one of intense interest for many students, albeit one of continuing controversy. I do my best to deal fairly with those controversies—this is a part of American history that still lingers with us today.

It’s not merely a course that describes battles. Rather, it begins with a discussion of issues that led to the conflict: slavery and race relations and interpretation of the formation of the nation and the proper role of states’ rights.

At the start of the course, students are reading two books alternately. One is an excellent detailing of the furor over runaway slaves, the abolitionist movement, and the development of the Underground Railroad.

Ann Hagegorn’s Beyond the River tells that story, but with a special emphasis on the role of Rev. John Rankin, a leader in the abolitionist crusade.

Never heard of his name? You wouldn’t be alone. Modern accounts give more attention to the primary attention-getter of the abolitionists, William Lloyd Garrison. Yet Rankin, at the time, might be considered the premier abolitionist, particularly since he was attacking slavery from his Christian beliefs, unlike Garrison, who was not an evangelical.

Rankin lived in Ripley, Ohio, just on the freedom side of the Ohio River. His house on the hill was a beacon of freedom for slaves seeking to escape the South. It was a beacon in more than figurative language; Rankin always put a light in the window at night so the slaves could see where they needed to go.

Rankin’s house, therefore, for many, was the first stop on the Underground Railroad.

Hagedorn’s book is the best type of narrative history, as the reader is drawn into the lives of people; it’s a living narrative, not a dusty tome of facts.

The other book students read simultaneously is Mark Noll’s The Civil War As a Theological Crisis. This one is a must-read, since it lays out both sides in the emerging conflict and shows how Christians took opposing points of view on the issue of slavery, with both attempting to use Scripture for their support.

In one sense, it is a difficult book because it forces readers to deal with a deep divide between Christians and their interpretation of Scripture. Yet that’s precisely why it is so important for this course. We need to understand where people are coming from when we disagree with them. We can’t simply denounce everyone who has a different belief when they are seemingly using Scripture as their basis.

Both of these books provide the background for the war itself. I make good use of Ken Burns’s classic documentary on the Civil War for many of the battle details, along with my PowerPoint slides to emphasize key points. Besides battles, though, there were the political maneuverings throughout the war that were just as significant.

A book that portrays the opening stages of the conflict is Adam Goodheart’s (yes, that’s his real name) 1861: The Civil War Awakening.

This book is a latecomer to my course, but a most welcome addition, as it continues the fine narrative quality that the Hagedorn book gives the students. They are taken into the intimate lives of those affected by the outbreak of the war in the same manner as they have previously been introduced to the historical figures involved with abolitionism.

One of my goals is always to give students books that keep their attention. 1861 does that admirably.

The same can be said of a book that I’ve used every time I’ve taught this course: Jay Winik’s April 1865: The Month That Saved America. No superlatives can adequately describe how well written this book is. Even though the title suggests nothing outside of that particular month, in actuality, it offers all the background necessary to understand why the book has as its subtitle, The Month That Saved America.

By the time students finish reading Winik, they grasp, perhaps for the first time, how differently things might have turned out without some key decisions that were made during that crucial month, especially considering the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Speaking of Lincoln, no, I don’t minimize his role, although my recitation of the books I’m using may seem to indicate that. The final book for the course is very Lincoln-centered. Ronald White’s Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural delves into the mind of Lincoln in a comprehensive way, in particular, his spiritual growth during the agony of the war.

Lincoln’s religious beliefs have always been a fertile field of study and interpretation for historians, and, naturally, there is disagreement. What White accomplishes is a step-by-step account of how Lincoln’s views of God and Scripture led him to write the specific words we see in that second inaugural, which has been called, with credibility, the most theologically oriented address ever given by a president. And it was not a speechwriter who cobbled it together; it all came directly from Lincoln’s own meditations.

The Civil War Era was a tragic time in American history, but there is much we can learn from it and apply today. Teaching a course like this is not just some listing of battles; rather, it’s an opportunity to meditate deeply ourselves about the impact Christians can make in the world and how the events from this era still reach down to our society now.

Historiography: Creating Christian Historians

Every year I teach my historiography course. The uninitiated will immediately respond, “What does that mean?” This is a required course for all history majors at Southeastern. The goals are the following:

  1. Provide a history of the writing of history throughout the ages (different perspectives and schools of thought);
  2. Think through how a Christian should understand and interpret history;
  3. Become proficient in researching, writing, and documenting papers on historical subjects.

Although some may think that sounds like a “dry” course, I actually enjoy teaching it and inspiring history majors to see history through God’s eyes and to be the best they can be in their thinking and writing.

I use a number of valuable sources to help achieve those goals listed above. One book I give students is Carl Trueman’s Histories and Fallacies.

Trueman writes in an engaging way and aids in showing how general theories of history can sometimes lead us astray. His focus there is on the Marxist interpretation, which doesn’t allow for any falsification at all. One must agree with the theory regardless of the facts presented.

He also does a fine job of showing how groups like Holocaust deniers attempt to gain respectability in the historical profession. Students learn how to analyze this particular movement and see why it lacks credibility.

Further, Trueman highlights some of the most common fallacies historians may fall into as they research and try to offer explanations. All in all, this is a valuable resource.

Ronald Nash’s Christian Faith and Historical Understanding (another out-of-print book I use—copies can be obtained online in other ways) lays out an argument for the development of a Biblical worldview on history as it critiques various schools of historical thought.

I especially appreciate his takedown of individuals such as Rudolf Bultmann, who try to say they have a Christian understanding of history even while they deny all the basic doctrines of the faith and promote the view that it doesn’t matter whether there was a real Jesus or not, and if there was, there really wasn’t a physical resurrection. Nash’s logic in the book is impeccable.

Then there’s an outstanding chapter from another book that is essential for the course. Herbert Schlossberg’s Idols for Destruction has one chapter called “Idols of History.” It concentrates on how people turn history into an idol and somehow believe that everything is historically determined.

This argument basically says that whatever happens in history is what was supposed to happen—therefore, one must get on the “right side of history.”

That “right-side-of-history” cliché is one that I despise. It omits human free will and makes our choices in life insignificant. Whatever is going to happen will happen, according to this view.

To help round out my students’ contemplation of how a Christian should view history, I also offer them my book called If the Foundations Are Destroyed: Biblical Principles and Civil Government. Although the subtitle centers on government, the principles in the book are applicable to all areas of life.

I go through them one-by-one with the students in the hope that they will generate further thought. I don’t claim that the principles espoused in the book are the only ones, but they are pretty fundamental and should guide students into the practice of evaluating whatever they read through Biblical principles.

And then, of course, there is that Turabian manual that becomes their guide into all of their writing techniques, from how to choose a topic, to how to develop an outline for writing, to the proper way to document what one has found (footnotes are a must), to even the rules for spelling, punctuation, use of numbers and abbreviations, and everything dealing with correct, scholarly writing.

I joke that we should refer to the manual as something handed down to us from St. Kate.

While students often struggle with all these details in the manual, it’s imperative they get the basics and then make it their reference work for all future papers.

Historiography is a course that is so fundamental that it is the gateway for taking the upper-level courses. I’m glad to provide the guidance these history majors need.

But more than merely a preparation for upper-level courses, the historiography course is a way to help each student develop a Christian philosophy of history. That’s a goal worth the time and effort.