Good Quote—Josh McDowell


“Having convictions can be defined as being so thoroughly convinced that Christ and His Word are both objectively true and relationally meaningful that you act on your beliefs regardless of the consequences.”

Josh McDowell’s birthday today

Name This Object


,(____),
(o\_|_/o)

Should Christians Renounce Donald Trump?


“Can anyone stop Trump?”

Since Donald Trump’s performance at the first Republican presidential debate, broadcast by Fox News August 6 (2015), there has been much braying, blasting, and boosting about his candidacy. The braying and blasting come mostly from establishment Republicans (for example, Charles Krauthammer and George Will) and a few of his Republican opponents. Boosting is heard from the likes of Anne Coulter and many in the electorate who are just plain angry with “the way business is done in Washington.”

  • I get the anger.
  • I get the desire for a non-politician politician.
  • I get the intrigue with Donald Trump’s candidacy.

And I’ve kept an open mind and hoped that Trump would inject some energy into public discourse about several urgent issues facing Americans today.

What I did not expect—and what is shocking—is Trump’s invective against women. He has made a number of demeaning public remarks about women that he has singled out for ridicule in the crassest of terms. Early in the debate, Meghan Kelly drew attention to these well-documented remarks and invited him to explain how he could say such things and expect to get elected. In response, Trump came very close to calling Kelly a bimbo; and in the aftermath he attacked her with scandalous language that really has no place in public discourse, least of all among presidential candidates.

Oddly, polls reflect continued enthusiasm for Trump. Some speculate that his harsh language is part of the reason. Political “experts” have been scratching their heads—and wistfully predicting that “Teflon Don’s” sizzle will fizzle. Some are beginning to doubt a future fall from grace.

So who are the people expressing such support for Donald Trump? Why are his poll numbers so high and still rising? My hunch is that Trump would not be polling so well without enthusiasm among conservative Christians.

If true, this is troubling.

Jesus said to his disciples, “The things that proceed from the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man” (Matthew 15:18). How a person speaks, what he says, the words he uses, expose the condition of his heart. This is a warning because the heart is the core of a person’s being. And it is this core that determines how a man will conduct himself, what kind of a leader he will be. A person’s speech is a public means of assessing a person’s character.

This is why the apostle Paul admonished believers, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). “But,” you may say, “what Paul expects of Christians does not apply to unbelievers.” But this would be a mistake.

First, Scripture expresses truths that are also good common sense and beneficial to the health of human society. Here we have an example of wisdom for nonsectarian circumstances confirmed by explicit Christian teaching.

Second, Christians are to be an example to unbelievers in every domain that involves attitudes toward others. Our public witness on behalf of wholesome speech is compromised when we celebrate the indecent speech of public personalities and cheer for their success as it impinges on our shared human concerns.

And third, Christians surely believe that both wisdom and grace are needed in the formation of policy by our elected officials. We may not insist on voting exclusively for those who share our religious convictions. But should we turn a blind eye to egregious spewing of venom against others?

In the New Testament letter of James we’re reminded that the tongue is a fire. It is a small organ of the body, but “it boasts of great things.” “Behold,” says James, “how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire.” What does he mean when using the metaphor of fire for the tongue? “It is a restless evil, and full of deadly poison.” Sometimes we encounter clear cases of this, and we should dread the consequences, for the tongue “sets on fire the course of our lives.” James even says, in direct connection with this, that the same tongue is used “to bless our Lord and Father” and also to “curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.” This includes words that intentionally demean the dignity of human persons. And this includes cheap shots against women made to garner public attention. (See James 3:5-11.)

One other passage is telling in this regard. It speaks to the issue of solidarity with others. God’s people, those who fear Him, are warned against consorting with scoffers: How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! (Psalm 1:1). This is relevant, for enthusiasm in the polls expresses solidarity with Trump. This solidarity, I fear, blinds supporters to the shamefulness of his public conduct.

Again, my focus is Trump’s alarming habit of lacing his speech with demeaning words that directly attack the dignity of individual persons—in this case especially, women.

You may like what Trump says about border control or taking a hard line with despots worldwide. You may imagine that a self-made man (who boasts of this at every opportunity) can reverse the downward spiral of our economy. And you may fear that no other candidate, Republican or Democrat, shares your sentiments and feeling of urgency about such things. But can you really be indifferent about what words reveal about a person? And can you ignore the implications this might have for leading a nation that desperately needs God’s blessing? And how are we to explain our professed interest in divine blessing if we temper our objections to Trump’s speech with a rationale that gets things backwards?

I’m writing this for Christians who take seriously their role in human society, who would stand for the right and the good in the public domain. And I urge all believers who are drawn to Donald Trump’s candidacy to consider the possibility that touting Trump approves and encourages shameful behavior.

“Who can stop Donald Trump?” If I’m right about Trump’s support among conservative Christians, they can make a big difference by shifting their support to a more respectable candidate. This answer to the question deserves greater attention.

Here are three suggestions for Christians reading this post:

  1. Circulate this post through Facebook and on your blog to encourage discussion of this issue.
  2. Leave your own evaluation of this post here.
  3. If you’re ever polled about Donald Trump, say you’re concerned about the coarsening of American culture and that you would be uncomfortable supporting his candidacy.

If Christians take a stand against what is sordid and vulgar in public debate, Trump’s numbers might decline dramatically.

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Other blog posts that speak to this general problem:

Smile, Somebody Needs You!


A few weeks ago I visited a couple in a hospital in Los Angeles. They were friends of friends of mine, and they were in Los Angeles because the wife required treatment for a very rare condition. They had traveled many miles from their home state and really didn’t have close ties with people in my area.

I went to the hospital mainly to meet and visit with the husband. I imagined that his sadness and uncertainty would be compounded by loneliness and isolation. We talked in the courtyard of a small hotel connected to the hospital. As so often in my experience, I was amazed and blessed by this man’s faith and joy, all the more compelling because of his family’s uncertain future and confusion about God’s intentions. Their young children were at home with their loving grandparents, so he was missing them and thinking about how they were managing their own uncertainty.

As I learned more about his wife’s condition and what he told me about her spirit, he mentioned that she was concerned that her smile would be erased from her countenance by the surgery that had been done. He said that her smile was her trademark feature. Many would comment on the effect it had on them when she met them. Would that change? he wondered. This moved me deeply.

After some time, this adoring husband invited me to go to her room to meet her—assuming, of course, that she would be awake and willing to entertain a visitor, someone she had never met and who was not there in any official capacity.

When we reached the entrance to her room, he went in, then came out to say that she would be pleased to meet me. “Pleased” to meet me?

She had only recently had the major surgery that had caused some paralysis in her face. She was weak. But she reached out to shake my hand. Her right eye was bandaged. And sure enough, her face was somewhat contorted. There was no evidence, though, that she was uncomfortable to have me there.

Two things struck me. First, she was more concerned for the hospital staff—the doctors and nurses around her—than she was with own situation. This was a deep spiritual concern that was clearly genuine. She was ministering to them. Talk about a patient’s beside manner! And second, she had this wonderful smile.

This young couple has since returned home. I hear that she’s convalescing well. Today I got a text message from our mutual friends, relaying thanks for my hospital visit. I had to say that it was my joy to meet her and that her smile is wonderful. All by itself it is a ministry to others.

Of course, as time passes, the paralysis may subside and her countenance return to normal. But her joy and concern for others has not lapsed. And people who meet her will feel that a need in their own soul has been touched—even by something as simple as a smile.

St. Ephraem—Syrian Apologist of the Fourth Century?


Students of the life and work of Ephraem the Syriac agree that he died on this date in 373 A.D. He wrote hymns, poems, sermons, and biblical commentary. His style and the tenor of his theology was a blend of the mystical and the intellectually staid.

In Theandros, the online journal of Orthodox Christian theology and philosophy, Mary C. Sheridan recounts his huge significance for the Syriac church. Her essay is interesting both for its insight into the life and work of Ephraem and for its discussion of the historical context of his activity.

In my series of posts on Christianity and its tradition of apologetics (see links below), I’ve introduced lesser-known figures and highlighted their contributions. I’m pleased to add this brief post about St. Ephraem (ca. 306-373). In his case, we find a fascinating reflection on apologetic themes in ancient poetry. I don’t know much about his work. But Mary Sheridan includes in her article a sample of his poetry where he acknowledges the value of nature as a source of revelation and places it in relation to Scripture as revelation. The medium of poetry may here be specially valuable for showing how natural theology draws men and women into contact with special revelation.

Ephraem considered both nature and Scripture the “twin sources of revelation.”

Once Nature and Scripture had cleaned the land
–they sowed in it new commandments
in the land of the heart, so that it might bear fruit,
praise for the Lord of Nature
glory for the Lord of Scripture.

He called Nature, the Old Testament, and the New Testament three lyres used in singing the Word of God. He says:

The Word of the Most High came down
      and clothed himself in
a weak body with two hands.
He took up and balanced two lyres,
one in his right hand and one in his left.
A third he put in front of him,
to be a witness for the other two;
for it was the middle lyre corroborating
that their Lord was singing to their accompaniment.

I encourage you to visit Sheridan’s page for more about St. Ephraem.

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Other posts in this series . . .

Conrad Emil Lindberg—On God and Revelation


On this date in 1852, Lutheran theologian Conrad Emil Lindberg was born at Jönköping, Sweden. In 1871, Lindberg (1852-1930) moved to the United States to attend Augustana College and Theological Seminary. In due course, he was ordained and appointed to ministry in American churches serving Swedish immigrants. Later he returned to Augustana College where he was professor of theology. At Augustana, Lindberg taught systematic theology, hermeneutics, apologetics, dogmatics, ethics, liturgics, and church polity. Lindberg’s Christian Dogmatics (published first in 1898 in Swedish, and in English in 1922) includes material of interest to the Christian apologist.

Conrad Emil Lindberg

Conrad Emil Lindberg

Concerning the Existence of God

Inasmuch as it cannot be proved that man and the world are not eternal, they must have had a beginning and in such case necessarily a cause. The concept of causality has therefore great weight in proving God’s existence. . . . In accordance with the concept of causality as a proof of God’s existence we consider God as a cause by reason of the fact that we know ourselves as causes. We know ourselves as causes because we are conscious of our will. To will is to cause. (19)

The Value of Theistic Arguments

Generally speaking, a Christian needs no such proofs, but in the hour of doubt and spiritual assault they become of great value and help. (20)

Arguments Without Force

In presenting arguments to prove the existence of God the following methods must be rejected: 1) When men essay to prove God’s existence as they would that of a material object; 2) when proofs are asserted to be based on direct or intuitive experience; 3) argumentum a tuto, which implies that it is doubtful whether or not God exists, but that it is safer to assume His existence and does no harm, while it may be dangerous to deny His existence, if He does exist; 4) argumentum ab utili, which sets forth the great benefit of faith in a personal God.

The Ethico-Theological Proof for God’s Existence It is not Lindberg’s aim to advance arguments for God’s existence, but only to present brief statements of the basic thrust of each of the main “ordinary” arguments. Here is his statement of the ethico-theological proof;

The will of man cannot be ethically determined by any human will, nor in the last instance can it be determined by impersonal nature. The human will points to a personal God by whom it is materially determined so that the formal freedom receives its proper content. This proof has two forms or names: 1) Argumentum ad conscientia recti or the proof of conscience, which implies that conscience is aware of the moral law and that man perceives an inner voice which convinces him of the existence of a higher being. 2) Argumentum morale or the moral proof by which man, conscious of the union of virtue and blessedness, draws the conclusion that a higher being must exist who shall reward the virtuous and punish the unrighteous. (24)

Lindberg attributes arguments of this general form to Cicero and Seneca, Abelard and Raimund of Sabunde, and Immanuel Kant. On General and Supernatural Revelation Lindberg asserts that “if a God exists, He must reveal Himself in some way” (28). There are two main modalities of divine revelation, the “general,” or revelatio generalis, and the “supernatural,” or revelatio speciales.

Revelatio generalis . . . is that natural revelation of God through which He reveals Himself in the conscience of man, in the kingdom of nature, and in history. (28) Revelatio speciales . . . is that external act of God by which He reveals Himself to man through the Logos, the personal Word, and through the Holy Scriptures, so that all men may receive saving knowledge of Him. (30)

Lindberg’s discussion of supernatural, or special, revelation is divided into four sections: (1) the possibility of revelation, (2) the necessity of revelation, (3) the reality of revelation, and (4) the relation between reason and revelation (pp. 31-34). The conditions for the possibility of revelation are set forth. Objections come from deists and pantheists. Deists interject that for God to reveal himself by some external means would disturb the natural order of things determined by the Creator. In addition, it would reflect negatively on the supposed power and intelligence of God to create a universe that reflects his genius. Lindberg answers that:

All nature is permeated by spiritual power and God is ever active in sustaining the universe in never-ceasing creational activity. (31)

The Necessity of Special Divine Revelation Lindberg’s two paragraphs on the necessity of revelation are especially good:

The necessity of a special revelation was recognized even by the heathens, such as Plato. The history of religion clearly demonstrates this necessity. The founder of every religion has claimed a special revelation. The history of philosophy itself reveals the need of a special revelation when we consider the contradictions and conflicts that have arisen on all the most important subjects. The necessity of a special revelation is grounded in the need of salvation, the occasion for it being the Fall into sin. This revelation was accidental on the ground of sin as a presupposition, but it was not accidental in the sense that it could have been inhibited after sin had entered the world. Revelation was necessary from the divine viewpoint in order that the design and purpose of creation and salvation might be realized. Revelation was necessary for man because he was powerless to save himself from the power and condemnation of sin. (32)

I concur with this general statement of the need for revelation. A complete Apologetic should include a description of the need for revelation. If revelation is possible, as it seems easy to establish, then we should first consider whether to expect any further special revelation in the interest of determining whether God has in fact produced a revelation of himself that goes beyond what is learned from general revelation. There is strong independent support for the claim that God has produced a revelation, and for the specifically Christian revelation claim. But remembering (a) what is revealed about God by natural means, (b) the probability this lends to the supposition that God both could and would produce a revelation, and (c) the independent human need for revelation, does two things for us when we ask whether God has produced further special revelation. First, we are made to expect additional revelation from God; second, we are provided some means of identifying appropriate criteria for (a) recognizing what should be included as content of any revelation claim, and (b) confirming the authenticity of a particular revelation claim by means of a suitable miracle. With these elements in place and logically-ordered, presentation of evidence for the Christian revelation claim should enjoy a more positive reception.

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Other posts in this series . . .

The Weight of Glory—C. S. Lewis Speaks to “Ordinary” People


Peter Kreeft has called it C. S. Lewis’s “golden sermon.” Walter Hooper places it first in an otherwise chronologically-ordered series of addresses by C. S. Lewis, saying that “The Weight of Glory” is “so magnificent that not only do I dare to consider it worthy of a place with some of the Church Fathers, but I fear I should be hanged by Lewis’s admirers if it were not given primacy of place.” This is high praise. And the sermon rises to the high expectations created by such praise.Book Cover-CSLewis-Weight of Glory The sermon was preached June 8, 1941 and published a few months later in the 43rd volume of the journal Theology. Because today’s date is June 8, it’s fitting to recall some cherished lines from this oration that centers on the Christian conception of love and its relation to heaven’s future rewards:

. . . if we consider the unblushing nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. . . . We are far too easily pleased.

Lewis means that we settle for the satisfaction of desires that seem grand to us from the limited perspective of our current lives. Heaven’s rewards outstrip whatever else we could possibly imagine. Some criticize the Christian religion for its mercenary appeal to heavenly rewards as an incentive to Christian conversion and Christian living. But Lewis sorts out this confusion with a comparison to do with marriage. Some men marry for money; others for love. In the first instance, the act is unquestionably mercenary. Not so when a “real lover” enters into marriage. Some rewards are proper to the acts that bring them to fruition. Acting for the sake of our heavenly reward is like this. It is, in fact, the paradigm case of this. There is also this difference. When the saints’ reward is received, it will not be viewed as the effect of a bribe. It will, rather, be experienced “as the very consummation of their discipleship.” In the meantime, when the reward is an expected rather than a lived experience, disciples cannot yet know the fulfillment of the desire natural to it. We can only approximate what it is like to live in possession of our future reward if we obey the revealed will of our Lord. This, I believe, is what the New Testament means by “the obedience of faith.” The faith is rooted in a promise, already the present experience of saints past, and the obedience is a consequence of that faith, an act we perform in the here and now.

. . . longing transforms obedience, as gradually as the tide lifts a grounded ship.

Lewis can write with uncanny clarity when he wants to. And he can write with mystifying creativity when it best serves his purpose.

Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object.

Does Lewis mean that our highest finite aspirations—even when these are absurd, shortsighted, or inimical to the fear of God—are signs of a deeper desire we deny or believe does not exist, namely, a desire for God? In this context we come to a wonderfully disturbing paragraph:

In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that settled the matter.

What a description of our common experience. Lewis draws out, through his close attention to the facts of our inner life, what we scarcely know to be there. When it is described with such care and accuracy, we finally recognize it. It is a kind of discovery of our true self. What do we do with this new self-awareness? Action of some kind must be proper to this realization. But what action, exactly? And how do we know that we’re not fooling ourselves when we think this very real desire latches onto what really will satisfy? Aren’t we accustomed to the disappointment of our longings? Why should it be any different with this yearning that defines our very selves? Lewis argues from the reality of this desire to the reality of the thing desired. It is a specimen of apologetics that does not feel like an argument. It is, in other words, the best sort of apologetic there is. Some paragraphs further into his message, Lewis contemplates the “idea of glory.”

Glory suggests two ideas to me, of which one seems wicked and the other ridiculous. Either glory means fame, or it means luminosity.

How simple is that? And yet, how true? Fame. A “competitive passion” among those who desire to be better known than other people. Lewis does not say that they desire to be better than other people. No, they want to be better known. This is a kind of glory. This is wickedness. What about luminosity? It is ridiculous. “Who wishes to become a kind of living light bulb?” Lewis’s exploration of the Christian ideal of glory brings together a conception of fame and the absence of vanity. For the details, you must read the sermon for yourself. But here is a morsel to whet your appetite:

Perhaps it seems rather crude to describe glory as the fact of being ‘noticed’ by God. But this is almost the language of the New Testament. St. Paul promises to those who love God not, as we should expect, that they will know God, but that they will be known by Him (1 Cor. 8:3).

To quote one of my seminary profs, Howard Hendricks, “If that doesn’t light your fire, your wood is wet!” Toward the end of his sermon, Lewis circles back round to the idea of reward and the kind of reward the disciple of Jesus can look forward to.

Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. . . . Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning.

Today, the 8th of July 2015, is indeed a Monday! But the seeming dreariness of the weekly recycling of things we do and crave and pursue is overcome with hope. And what seems so routine and ordinary is ignited with purpose.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations—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 splendors.

We do not construct a world of “everlasting splendors” by thinking positive thoughts. It is there before us, ready to behold, if we have eyes to see.

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Other posts in this series . . .

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