Living Vicariously

The inspiration for this post comes from a Facebook comment by one of my former students. After reading my Big Government article from last week, she commented that she lives vicariously. I thought that was rather humorous, probably coming, as it did, from her current experience as a mother of young children. That responsibility can dominate one’s life.

The word “vicarious” may need some explanation. I’m used to hearing it because theologically it describes what Christ has done for us on the cross. It’s often called a vicarious atonement. The word means that something is performed or suffered by one person as a substitute for someone else. It also means to experience something “through imaginative or sympathetic participation in the experience of another.” So I guess she was saying that my writing that piece allowed her to be a participant in something she didn’t have the time to do herself.

I understand. I live vicariously as well. In what way? Well, I have 360+ Facebook “friends.” Of that number, about 2/3 are former or current students. I’m now beginning my 22nd year of teaching at the college level, so I have a lot of students who have taken my classes. I rejoice to learn what they are now doing. As they share on Facebook, I can, in a sense, imaginatively or sympathetically participate in their lives.

I’m particularly interested in how they are using what they’ve learned. Now, that doesn’t mean they have to be on a path to the presidency or some other high political office. God calls each of us to different vocations. I find joy in former students writing about a newborn child in the family. I feel with them when there is a difficulty to be overcome or when they suffer a tragedy. I experience great satisfaction when what they write sounds vaguely familiar—like what they learned in one of my courses.

To some extent, we all live vicariously. That’s okay. It’s the way God made us. I believe that’s one reason why Facebook has become so popular—we want those connections, we want to interact and experience what others experience. The apostle Paul told the Roman church,

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

I call that living vicariously.

The Blindness of Those Who Will Not See

Last week, President Obama finally got around to criticizing Islamic extremists, after a year and a half of avoiding such descriptions. Yet, as always, there is a proviso—it seems their real crime is that they are racists. You see, they don’t like Africans.

Huh? Let’s be serious. They don’t like anyone outside of their own self-defined ideology. There’s nothing specifically anti-African about Al Qaeda. In fact, some of those Islamic extremists are African.

What to make of this? Obama just can’t seem to take off his blinders. It’s not because he is incapable of seeing the truth; it’s that he chooses not to see it because it contradicts his own ideology.

Someday, we’ll finally get around to the trial of Nidal Hasan, who went on that shooting rampage at Ft. Hood. Will the blindness dissipate at that trial?

This kind of blindness has one source, although some will argue with me over this. I go to the New Testament for this insight:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. … For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. [2 Corinthians 4:3-4, 6]

That’s the only solution for this blindness.

Is Patriotism Christian?

As I sat in church on Sunday, singing songs that melded the spiritual with the patriotic, and applauding members of the military who had fought to keep America free, I contemplated more than ever the distinction between this world and the next.

There are some Christians who feel no loyalty to any country. They emphasize verses such as the one in the book of Hebrews, chapter eleven, which says of those who had been faithful to God yet never saw the fulfillment of all His promises on earth, “They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. … They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”

As a Christian, I take those verses to heart as well. Everything of which I am a part in this world is temporary. My ultimate destination is beyond any earthly nation. I agree with that assertion.

Some, though, will take it to mean that if this is temporary, then it is inconsequential. That is a leap in logic that is not valid. What we experience now may be temporary, but it is nevertheless real; it may be temporary, but God still demands our all in ensuring that righteousness prevails in the here and now.  What I do now has eternal ramifications; the eternity into which I will enter one day will be an extension of what started here. The character I develop now will go with me into that eternity.

One of America’s founders, James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, understood these priorities very well. In a document he wrote arguing for liberty of conscience with respect to religious beliefs [as opposed to the state telling people which church they should attend], he said this:

Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign.

Madison is clear in this statement that our first responsibility is to God, and we are citizens of His country above all others. Yet that does not negate the reality of citizenship in our earthly country. We simply need to keep our priorities straight.

I have usually shied away from the word “patriotism.” That may seem strange to some of you who know how devoted I am to the Constitution and the rule of law. My concern is that what we call patriotism be more than just an emotional attachment to a physical place on this globe. Instead, we need to concentrate on the principles that form the basis for a God-honoring patriotism.

When the United States government and its culture swerve away from God’s principles, it is harder for me to “feel” that patriotism. I admit that this year it was harder than ever due to the policies the nation is currently following. Yet my God-honoring patriotism inspires me to do whatever I can to reverse these policies and to challenge that which is dominant in the culture that is unchristian.

This is what the Lord has called all Christians to do. That’s what Jesus meant by being salt and light. I will not curse the darkness [although I will point out quite clearly where it exists]; I will instead keep pointing to the Truth that can set all men free from the sins that bind them. I will do so even if I am the only one doing it. It’s nice to know, however, that I am not alone.

Jesus says to all Christians,

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

My Educational Philosophy: A Summary

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.

Hubris Personified

Let’s highlight three astounding examples of hubris today—people who believe they know everything and/or they try to remake themselves without anybody noticing. Well, it’s not working; people are noticing.

Our first example is Helen Thomas. If you haven’t heard about her fiasco, you’re probably not watching any news at all. The video of her telling Jews in Israel to “get the hell out” and go back to Poland or Germany has burned up the internet. The firestorm led to her resignation as a political commentator.

She is of Lebanese descent and has a hatred for the nation of Israel. She also once described President Bush as the worst president in American history. Well, you can have that opinion, but her manner of stating it was similar in nature to her hatred of Israel.

I’ve never understood why she was treated like royalty. Yes, I know the press has no problem with fellow liberals, but she was always beyond the pale. She had the prime seat in the White House press room and was always shown deference in all administrations. This, in spite of the fact she was, without fail, rude, argumentative, and sanctimonious. Her resignation was only about 50 years too late.

Of course, she will always have friends.

Then there’s Florida governor Charlie Crist, who renounced the Republican party and decided to run as an independent for the Florida Senate seat, thereby turning the race upside down and making it more difficult for Marco Rubio, the candidate who fairly and squarely beat Crist for the nomination [at least in the polls; Crist didn’t want to face that vote in August].

Yesterday, an alert Rubio campaign drew attention to a major change on Crist’s campaign site: his page featuring his pro-life stance had been silently removed. Now that Crist is an independent, he is trolling for Democratic votes. Consequently, he can’t be viewed as pro-life. He’s hoping to get the pro-choice Republicans and independents, plus a good number of Democrats. This is the man who says he’s running on principle. About the only principle I see here is the principle of wanting to win regardless of how many switches he has to make in what he claims to support. The man has no core.

President Obama is always good for a comment, almost on a daily basis. A couple of days ago, he was giving a speech at a high school graduation. What he said was quite fascinating.

I’ll give you the key sentences: “Don’t make excuses. Take responsibility not just for your successes, but for your failures as well. … It’s the easiest thing in the world to start looking around for someone to blame.”

Oh, like President Bush?

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.”

Is more commentary really necessary?

A Meditation on Knowledge & Wisdom

No, this is not a self-portrait

I spent many years earning a doctorate in history. When I began that quest, I had turned my back on the Christian faith. I wondered if the world of academia could provide the answers. One master’s degree, a multitude of courses, and three comprehensive exams later—all prior to the doctoral dissertation—finally convinced me that the educated elite were just as clueless as the rest of the world.

“Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?” These questions come from the pen of the apostle Paul. He answers himself:

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

He then makes a statement that I’m sure sets the intellectual elite’s teeth on edge: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Am I saying that higher education is worthless? It can be. It all depends on the context of the learning. Anything divorced from God’s truth is not going to be beneficial in the long run. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake is pointless. Man’s wisdom is often little more than arrogance and stupidity—people thinking they are intelligent, yet not realizing they are intellectual pygmies in light of God’s truth.

Some people seek advanced degrees to feel better about themselves. They want to be respected; they want to be important. Yet,

God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.

Boasting is one of man’s primary activities. This is particularly true of those who hold political power. They make promises seemingly without end: “Here is what we will do for you”; “We will end this problem once and for all”; “If you want answers, elect us!” Most of them, however, trust in their own minds and are disconnected from the Ultimate Mind.

The apostle Paul continues,

We speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

What was true of Paul’s age remains true today. There is a wisdom that comes from God that provides all we need to know for having relationship with Him and with all others. If followed, it solves the world’s problems. Sinful man, though, refuses to submit his mind and his will to the One who has the answers.

“Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise.”

This calls for humility; humility only appears after genuine repentance; repentance only occurs when a person is grieved over his sinful heart. How often does this happen? According to Jesus, not often enough:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

May we all come that place.

A Personal Plea

As anyone who has read this blog regularly knows, I am a vigorous defender of the American Constitution, the free enterprise system, and the current peaceful protests and movements to educate the American people on the problems brought about by the Obama administration.

I have used a combination of statements that I believe are based on principle with the best political cartoons to illustrate our situation. The foundation for everything I say is my Christian faith, and I strive to ensure that my statements don’t go too far and that the cartoons I use are not tasteless.

I do believe that a Christian can make strong statements and remain in the proper spirit simultaneously. Even a cursory reading of the gospels and the New Testament letters reveals instances of Jesus and his disciples speaking pointedly about hypocrisy and injustice.

Lately, I’ve had a great opportunity to share on a site with a much larger readership than my personal blog. It’s called Big Government. In the past month, I’ve written three substantial posts for it, and there have been numerous comments from readers. Most of those responses are welcome and respectful.

I have noticed, though, some that seem to emanate from a deep anger. Biblically, anger is not a sin. We naturally become angry at injustices. However, when we allow that anger to boil over into rash statements and ad hominem attacks against those we despise, we have lost the argument already.

There is a justifiable anger in this country right now. We have witnessed in the past sixteen months an outright assault on the very fabric of our governmental and societal institutions. I understand that anger, but we cannot allow it to dictate our words and actions.

Now, more than ever, we need to manifest a spirit of wisdom and inner strength—something that will make those who are caught in the middle [those who are confused by the changes]—take notice. They need to see individuals who stand steadfastly for truth, who know how to control their tempers, and who work consistently for the restoration of our foundational beliefs.

So, there are no cartoons today. All you see is a mass of words. Yet I hope these words will make you think carefully about how you conduct yourself as you join with others to reverse the damage that has been done.

I spoke to a meeting of the 9/12 Project here in my city last Saturday. I told them all about the history of progressivism in America and the dangers we face. When I got to the end, I changed the focus and entreated them to realize that we’re not just a bunch of people angry about the financial situation. Rather, we need to think more foundationally. I said that my foundation was faith in God and in His truth revealed in His Word. That will be my guide as I try to make a difference.

I entreat all of you as well—let’s approach this in the right spirit so that our efforts are worthy of His blessing.