First Great Awakening: Results

Great AwakeningIn my ongoing American history series, I’ve completed three posts on the First Great Awakening. They have highlighted the people whom God used to bring an awakening to colonial America. William and Gilbert Tennant established the Log College to train ministers; Jonathan Edwards was the theologian of God’s love best known for his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God; George Whitefield, an itinerant evangelist from Britain, pulled it all together with a series of trips to America, and was as popular in his day as another George—Washington—was later.

Some, though, have pointed to what they call the bad effects of the Awakening. They single out some individuals who went too far in their enthusiasm and acted strangely. They also decry the split that occurred in some denominations over the Awakening.

To those criticisms I reply: first, there will always be some who go too far, and no movement should be judged solely by their actions; second, Jesus said He came to split families along lines of those who believed Him and those who rejected Him. The split that occurred in some of those churches was sometimes merely a difference of opinion in tactics for preaching the Gospel. Others who objected were beginning to edge toward Unitarianism, which is a denial of Jesus as divine. Therefore, I don’t put much stock in the negative results of churches splitting over the Awakening.

What did it accomplish? I see three definite, positive developments.

  • First, it re-emphasized the personal nature of salvation. Each person is responsible for his/her response to God’s offer of mercy. No one gets into His kingdom by going through all the external motions: baptism, communion, church attendance. Neither is salvation a “group” thing; each one of us must give an account of our lives individually.
  • Second, it started a round of college planting for the purpose of raising up even more ministers (and those who chose other professions) grounded in a Biblical way of thinking. Colleges started during that time included what we now call Princeton, Dartmouth, and Brown. Note that they all began as Christian colleges. How the great have fallen.
  • Third, this Awakening created a common experience for all colonial Americans from Georgia to Massachusetts. Prior to this event, each colony saw itself as a separate entity with more connection to London than to each other. The spiritual experience of the Awakening also awakened them to their common interests, thereby helping to create greater unity of thought and purpose—something they would need as the crisis of the American Revolution approached.

In my view, this First Great Awakening was a genuine move of God to shake the people from their spiritual lethargy and stupor. It accomplished its purpose.

Obama’s Moral Equivalence Ploy

The tradition of the National Prayer Breakfast started during the Eisenhower administration with the encouragement of Billy Graham, who spoke at most of them at that time. President Eisenhower sought, in those crucial years when atheistic communism seemed to be in the ascendancy, to call the nation back to its Christian roots. Those were also the years when “In God We Trust” was added to our coins and “under God” was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Breakfast was meant to be an occasion for reaffirming our basic Biblical beliefs as a nation. It was never intended to become a lightning rod for undermining those beliefs or diminishing their inherent value to a people. Yes, a civic religion, as such, is not sufficient for salvation. That’s fine—government was never meant to be our savior; only Jesus can take that title legitimately. But I see nothing wrong with calling government officials together to acknowledge our dependence on God. It can lead to saving faith for some if the message is clear.

National Prayer BreakfastMuch has been written and said about President Obama’s remarks at this year’s Breakfast. I waited a couple of days before adding my own. First, let me say in what sense I might agree with him. Certainly, anyone in the world, both now and throughout history, can hijack a religious tradition and do things in the name of that tradition that are abhorrent. That’s called free will; God doesn’t always intervene directly to stop human beings from being foolish and/or downright evil.

From that premise, I have no problem acknowledging that many have “used” the name of Christ for their own selfish purposes, whether to gain ecclesiastical or political power or to get rid of those they consider their enemies. So far, so good.

Here are the problems with the President’s remarks.

First, he offered them as a way of deflecting attention from the atrocities currently being committed by Islamists. It’s a standard ploy when you want to minimize the terrible actions of people you seek to support. Draw attention elsewhere. Kind of like “Look! Squirrel!”

Second, he attempted to turn the whole conversation into a “moral equivalence” argument. This is what some historians have done with the Cold War. They have tried to point out America’s sins and thereby downplay the actions of the Soviet Union in the struggle. They have argued that there really is no essential difference between the sides, i.e., they are the same morally. That analysis—if that word really can apply here—ignores the actions that started the Cold War, that forced the United States to take the actions it did to defend itself, and the evil inherent in the communist system.

CrusadersThird, he twisted some history to make the moral equivalence argument. Why did the Crusades take place? Could it perhaps have had something to do with the fact that Muslims, by military might and methods of forced conversion, took over most of the the territory where Christianity began? Could it possibly have been an attempt to take back that territory that had been grabbed unjustly? Could these Crusades have been initiated to help the beleaguered Christians living in a hostile environment?

Then there’s the Inquisition. Do I agree with what happened in the Inquisition? Of course not. It was the instrument used by the Church at one period in history to try to make sure no one upset the status quo. Did some people die in the Inquisition? Yes. Was it unjust? Yes. Did the inquisitors wipe out entire populations, rape the women, and kill all the children? No.

Then there was Obama’s linkage of Christianity to the support of slavery and segregation. Some people will always use their religious beliefs to bolster other things they want to believe. One thing he left out, though, is the crucial role Christians have played throughout history to rectify those inequities. All he sees is complicity because it bolsters his theme. He ignores the other side of the story. He also says nothing about where slavery exists today, largely in the Muslim world.

What we are witnessing in our day is a large-scale attempted genocide of any people group that stands in the way of Sharia law being imposed on the entire world. It is not, as the President says, only .1% of the Muslim population that favors jihad; in some countries, according to a recent survey, almost half the population finds jihadist terrorism acceptable.

And we have a president who now seems oblivious to the inherent evil of that system of belief and who has done virtually nothing to stop it from spreading. It’s not just Al Qaeda and ISIS. Iran’s rapid development of nuclear weapons comes with its development of intercontinental ballistic missile capability. Israel is not Iran’s only target; the United States is on that list as well. Yet, what seems to be President Obama’s chief concern?

Overreact

By all means, let’s continue with the National Prayer Breakfast tradition. It has yielded some excellent speakers—Eric Metaxas, Ben Carson, Darrell Waltrip—who have boldly proclaimed Biblical truths. What we may need to do, though, for the remainder of this presidency, is to find the courage to decline the traditional invitation that allows the president to make remarks also. We would be better off as a nation if he didn’t say anything.

Snyderian Truism #13–Sincerely Wrong Beliefs

Well, at least he’s sincere. How many times have you heard that? It’s a cliché that’s supposed to cover all sins. The problem is that we equate sincerity with truth, or at least we say we “respect” someone who is trying to follow what he/she believes.

There is one thing we need to keep in mind, though:

A sincere belief can be sincerely wrong.

That’s Snyderian Truism #13 in my ever-expanding list of what I think ought to be undeniable truths.

One man sincerely believes Jesus is the only way to establish a relationship with God; another claims Allah is the one to obey; still another follows the Buddhist path, while yet another says there is no God.

All might be sincere. All cannot be correct. And there are eternal consequences if you are wrong.

I take my stand on the words of Jesus:

I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except by Me.

Being sincere is not enough. Hell is populated with sincere people. If that offends you, I can’t be sorry for saying it. I don’t respect any belief that sends people into an eternity separated from the presence of their Creator.

Heaven & Hell

Happy New Year? Real Christians Are the Key

Everyone always says “Happy New Year!” Is that what we really expect, or do we look ahead with more anxiety than anticipation? Is there much to be happy about in our world?

JeremiahIn this blog, I’ve tried hard to stay upbeat even while pointing out the follies, misfortunes, and outright sins in our society. I’ve never desired to be a Jeremiah. Maybe that’s because I don’t like suffering. No one wanted to hear his words; at one point, he was thrown in a well to die. I’m not fond of wells and other pits. Not everyone gets rescued as he did.

It’s a delicate balance to maintain, pointing out the problems while remaining upbeat. There are too many who spend all their time denouncing everything. They become boring after a while. Yet there is a lot to denounce. How can we do so in the right spirit?

When I look at the world and attempt to make sense of what’s happening, I look first to the church. How is its spiritual health? What impact is it having on day-to-day life? Is it being faithful to the Message delivered to the saints?

It’s always important to keep in mind that there are two “churches” out there: one that is visible and outward, and the other that is within the visible and outward manifestation. The true church is comprised of genuine believers who may worship in many types of outward church buildings and/or denominations.

Do I have to say this? I will anyway. The true church is only a minority within the number of those who show up for a worship service on any given Sunday. The old cliché never goes out of date: going to church doesn’t make anyone a Christian any more than entering a garage makes one a car.

What the world calls “the church” is slipping away from its Biblical moorings. It has watered down Biblical authority and allowed the tenor of the times to dictate what it believes to be true. Some have even gone the entire way and have claimed that truth itself is elusive, rather relative, and unattainable.

We can never look to that external church for real leadership; we must look instead to those who labor within it who have remained faithful to the Gospel—individual salvation only through Christ and societal reform only via the salvation message.

On balance, we have both good and bad occurring simultaneously within what is normally seen as Christendom. That’s to be expected. Jesus made it clear there would be tares [weeds] growing alongside the wheat. He also said it would remain that way throughout time, until God the Father decides that our time is up.

In former decades, America saw itself as a Christian nation, at least in the sense that we honored Christian faith publicly. Those days are nearly gone. Yet, although that may cause us grief, there is an up side to it. The lines are more clearly drawn now; we cannot just rely on a civic religion that gives lip service to Christianity. We are now forced to make a choice—what do we really believe?

Atheists have lately become more emboldened. They are using the courts and putting pressure on the society to toss religious beliefs aside. The society has accepted behaviors that we never thought would become normalized.

What will the genuine church do in response to these challenges in 2015? Will that church stand tall and strong? Will it hold to Biblical truth in spite of the pressures to conform to new societal standards? Will it speak the truth in love and accept whatever persecution may come from that stance?

Salt & LightI keep coming back to this point regularly in my blog: Jesus called us to be salt and light. Salt preserves. There is much in our society that has been based on Biblical truth; it needs to be preserved. We have a responsibility to try to maintain our Biblical roots. Light shows others the way, the proper path to follow. They need this light because they are walking in darkness. If we don’t shine the light, they will remain in their sins.

Love God above all else and love our neighbors as ourselves. Those are the two greatest commandments. But we don’t love either God or our neighbors if we don’t tell the truth about sin, judgment, and how to restore a right relationship with the One who gave us life in the first place.

Will it be a happy new year? Or at least happier? The church of devoted followers of Jesus Christ is the key; we are His hands, feet, and mouth. Will we be faithful this year?

Righteous Judgment

So much of our culture and politics today is devoted to accentuating the differences among us. We concentrate on the outward—race, gender, etc.–and minimize the internal.

We are a hypersensitive people who perceive slights and disrespect in innocent comments and actions. Speaking truth about individuals is dangerous if those individuals are part of a group that continues to harbor resentments and grievances, both genuine and not so genuine.

Sometimes those who dare to speak truth are accused of being racist, sexist, or any other “ist” a group may want to incorporate into the language of modern political correctness.

Yet those who immediately respond with accusations of evil intent toward those attempting to speak truth can be blind to the real intent of those who critique what they see going on in our society.

Some of us are focused on the individual, the one who is going to stand before God someday—not as part of a group of some type—and have to answer for his/her own individual beliefs and actions.

God does not see us primarily as part of a “group,” but as individuals for whom Christ died. As the apostle Paul stated in the book of Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

It’s also important to keep in mind that God created only one race: it’s called “human.” Within that one race, there are different branches, evidencing God’s love of variety in His creation.

When one branch wrongs another (e.g., slavery, segregation, etc.), the wronged branch doesn’t help by perpetrating other wrongs (hatred based on resentment and bitterness, destruction of private property that hurts the innocent, disregard for the rule of law, which was established to protect the rights of all).

Wrong is wrong, sin is sin, whether it emanates from the heart of a white person or a black person (or any shade in between), male or female, or any other distinction that exists within the human race.

In the book of I Samuel in the Old Testament, we are given God’s perspective: “For God sees not as man sees. For man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Righteous JudgmentChristians, in particular, need to put aside the attitude of the world and discard judgments seen through the lens of political correctness. Christians need to judge appropriately, not based on resentment, stereotypes, or preconceived notions.

Neither are we to allow emotional reactions to dictate our responses. We should be fact-gatherers first, and only after we have the facts should we speak.

We are to be lights in this dark world, showing the path to righteous judgment and providing evidence of righteousness in our own lives.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

Smoke on the MountainLast Sunday, I introduced you to the book Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments by Joy Davidman, who later became Joy Davidman Lewis, wife of the renowned Christian apologist.

I commented that one of the things I most appreciated about this book was her unique wording, the way she stated things to capture one’s attention. I have another few morsels from that book today that I would like to share.

In commenting on the fear that dominates our society (remember, this was written in 1953–how much more fear might we have today?), the author takes aim at the so-called leaders in society:

But the articulate, the leaders of opinion, the policy makers, all those who set the tone of our society, seem for the most part to be frightened men. And how do frightened men deal with life?

They don’t; they run away from it. The simplest among us flee openly, rushing from woman to woman, from drink to drink, from one empty amusement to another, wondering why they get so little contentment out of the eighty-miles-an-hour joy ride from unloved Here to unrewarding There.

We ignore Jesus’ admonition, Davidman insists, when He said not to worry about the future:

The words of Jesus are timeless. What worked for other frightened men will work for us. But our society refuses to listen; this injunction about tomorrow is precisely the one we will not accept.

JoyThere is a Biblical answer to fear, she reminds us. We find it in the Scripture that tells us perfect love casts out fear, and that perfect love can be found in Him:

We do not need a world in which there is nothing to be afraid of–in which obeying the law would be easy. Nor can we have such a world, for all our strivings; no matter how pleasant and safe we make the journey, the end of it is death. What we do need is to remember that we have been redeemed from death and the fear of death, and at rather a high price too.

The Ten Commandments may tell us what not to do, but the flip side is the guidance on what exactly we ought to do:

“Thou shalt not” is the beginning of wisdom. But the end of wisdom, the new law, is “Thou shalt.” To be Christian is to be old? Not a bit of it. To be Christian is to be reborn, and free, and unafraid, and immortally young.

Life in Christ is uplifting, not dreary. It is full of promise, not dread. It is the beginning of real living.

Lewis: Surprised by Joy [Davidman]

Out of My BoneI’ve been reading the letters of Joy Davidman, who, before her untimely death from cancer at the age of 45, was, for the last few years of her life, the wife of C. S. Lewis.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Shadowlands, you’ve seen an attempt by Hollywood to portray the relationship between the two, but it falls far short of reality. There are historical inaccuracies—even for the sake of artistic license, one must not stray too far—and C. S. Lewis himself is hardly recognizable; false perceptions abound, particularly of his presumed Oxford ivory-tower existence and his shaken faith at the end when Joy dies. Joy’s strength of character comes through in the film, but very little of her own vibrant Christianity.

Born into a Jewish household in New York City, with an atheist father and mother, Joy followed in their train, declaring at a young age that she was an atheist also. Her materialism led her into the Communist party, where she served as an editor and book and film critic on the New Masses, the party’s weekly magazine. She was an accomplished writer who had won a prize for a collection of her poems, and had some success also as a novelist. But it was all in service to the Communist party.

She became critical of the party over time. Her mind couldn’t rest in the platitudes, so she finally read Marx and Lenin seriously. She was appalled by the illogical nature of their arguments and the massive misinformation upon which they based them. Even prior to her disillusionment, she had begun reading outside the approved party list of books; C. S. Lewis was one of the authors she chanced upon.

In a letter to Chad Walsh, an English professor who had written the first book about C. S. Lewis, she explained how he impacted her:

We more than share your feeling for Lewis; with us it was not the last step but the first that came from reading his books, for we were raised atheists and took the truth of atheism for granted, and like most Marxists were so busy acting that we never stopped to think. If I hadn’t picked up The Great Divorce one day—brr, I suppose I’d still be running madly around with leaflets, showing as much intelligent purpose as a headless chicken.

Joy Davidman 1Joy began writing letters to Lewis, and he liked them, drawn to her intellect and wit. In another letter to Walsh, she details how they had been arguing certain points in those letters, and how he had answered her. It’s an insight into her mental capacity and willingness to be corrected:

Just got a letter from Lewis in the mail. I think I told you I’d raised an argument or two on some points? Lord, he knocked my props out from under me unerringly; one shot to a pigeon. I haven’t a scrap of my case left. And, what’s more, I’ve seldom enjoyed anything more. Being disposed of so neatly by a master of debate, all fair and square—it seems to be one of the great pleasures of life, though I’d never have suspected it in my arrogant youth. I suppose it’s unfair tricks of argument that leave wounds. But after the sort of thing that Lewis does, what I feel is a craftsman’s joy at the sight of a superior performance.

Her own faith grew exponentially through her contact with Lewis, and she saw increasingly that one had to accept Jesus Christ on His terms, not create Him in one’s own image. As she related to another correspondent,

In many of them [the correspondent’s poems] you are explaining and sympathizing with Jesus, rather than accepting him—you are, indeed, not following Jesus but trying to get him to follow you; using him as an agency of your own special revolutionary theory.

I did this myself in the early days of my conversion; explained away what I didn’t like in the Gospel, valued Jesus not as the gateway to my own salvation, but as a means which I could use to support my own ideas—until it dawned on me that unless Jesus was God he was nothing, just another man with a handful of random ideas, and that all I valued such a man for was the accidental support his ideas gave my own position.

You see, I was still being my own God!

Although I’ve known and read about Joy Davidman Lewis for many years, this is the first time I’ve delved into her thought. Before, she was primarily just C. S. Lewis’s wife for a few short years, and that was why she was interesting to me. Now, I have a different perspective. She is interesting in her own right, and she has much to offer us through her writings. There is a reason why a confirmed bachelor like C. S. Lewis would abandon that lifestyle in his later years; he found a mind and heart that resonated with his.