By / Sep 9

One of the things I remember most from my summer in England was the excitement when, while touring Windsor Castle, we were informed by a raised flag that the Queen had come to visit. I wouldn’t get to see her, obviously, but the air around the castle seemed to change the instant we knew that not far away was the country’s monarch. For a young American college student with only a passing knowledge of the British royals, the trappings of the British royalty were fascinating. And as I was told repeatedly by my British friends, “You Americans can look on in fascination, but only we can have opinions about the royals. They’re ours.”  

At its heart, that is how a subject should feel about their sovereign. My classmates had critiques of the royals, for sure, but they also deeply loved them and what they represented. The royals were able to inhabit a world that was above the political fray and the partisan identity. The royals were an image of the ideals of what it meant to be British, an embodiment of the best of the nation’s values and hopes. 

Lewis’ royalty 

C.S. Lewis had similar reflections when he wrote of the crowning of the first king and queen of Narnia, Frank and Helen. Frank, a cabby, and his wife were not native to Narnia, and would have fit no one’s pattern for royalty. Frank himself is very concerned and asks if Aslan is sure. Aslan responds by asking a series of questions: Will you rule over the creatures justly? Will you protect them from their enemies? Will you work hard for your subjects? Will you raise your children to do the same? Will you be the first in a battle charge and the last in a retreat? Frank responds that he would do all those things to the best of his ability, which Aslan says is all that a King can do. 

The qualifications for a good monarch in Lewis schema is not that one be the best, but that one have the best character. The potential monarch must see their life as one of service to their subjects, doing all that they can to enact justice for their people. It’s a life characterized not by the excesses of money and extravagance, but by the inward sense of duty to the best interest of the nation and its people. Frank and Helen may not have possessed royal blood, but they possessed a royal character.

Queen Elizabeth II possessed the same sense of duty and love for her country and its people. To read accounts of her is to be struck by her desire to fulfill the obligations incumbent on a monarch. For example, in 1944 then Princess Elizabeth joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s branch of the British Army where she was trained as a mechanic. She did not begin at a special rank but started as a lowly second subaltern. She was the first female of the royal family to serve in active duty of the British Armed Forces. At the time of her death, she was also the last surviving head of state to have served in World War II. 

The longing we were made for

This is not often what comes to mind when Americans think of royalty. We think of the banners flapping, swords raised in honor, and patriotic shouts of “God Save the Queen.” We lack language for the kind of grandeur and majesty that is embodied by a figure like a monarch. We don’t have a concept for a figure like Queen Elizabeth who has been the nation’s symbol for 70 years, while our presidents change every four or eight years. Just for comparison, her reign has been almost one-third of the entire history of the United States. And yet when we hear the British national anthem with thousands singing it, and see the military parade, and witness the pomp of a coronation or royal wedding, we understand just how unique this is and something within us stirs with longing. 

It taps into that part of us that longs for a monarchy and all the splendor that comes with it. Reflecting on her coronation, C. S. Lewis wrote in a letter that the Queen herself was “overwhelmed by the sacramental side of it.” The spectators were filled with “awe—pity—pathos—mystery.” Because in that moment, was the story of humanity: “humanity called by God to be his vice-regent and high priest on earth, yet feeling so inadequate. As if he said, ‘In my inexorable love I shall lay upon the dust that you are glories and dangers and responsibilities beyond your understanding’. . . . One has missed the whole point unless one feels that we have all been crowned and that coronation is somehow, if splendid, a tragic splendour.”

In monarchs we see small reflections of what we are supposed to have been as God’s rulers on this earth. Those who care for the world, steward creation, do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before our God. If as an American I was to make a case for monarchy, my first piece of evidence would be the life and example of Elizabeth. Was she perfect? Of course not. But did she understand and fulfill her duty to embody for her citizens the best of the nation’s ideals? Certainly. And in the face of her own fear of inadequacy, she committed herself to trying because it was her duty. There are worse things to hold up in an age such as ours as a figure who committed her life to public service and the duty she owed the nation she loved.

By / Jun 12

In the modern world, friendship is a lost art, particularly among men. I sometimes wonder what would have become of Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton if they’d met in a chat room or around a video game console instead of at their local pub. Would the same kind of friendship have formed?

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading and rereading C. S. Lewis’s reflections on friendship in the fourth chapter of his book The Four Loves. Lewis observed in his own time what I’ve seen as well. Friendship is rare. As Lewis wrote, “Few value it because few experience it.”

But just because friendship is rare doesn’t mean we can’t experience it at all. Lewis’s chapter reminded me of an important lesson my mother once taught me when I was a child: “You won't find a friend by wanting a friend,” she’d say, “To have a friend, you’ve got to be a friend.”

So, here are five key truths about friendship gleaned from Lewis's chapter that will help us develop our own relationships: 

1. Friends walk side by side.

Their eyes look ahead. Lewis writes, “That is why those pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ can never make any . . . The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends.” According to Lewis, no friendship can arise unless there is something for the friendship to be about, a common interest such as baseball, or a common commitment such as studying linguistics or loving the poor. Friendship arises when two or more companions have something in common that others do not share.

Lewis writes, “The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’” Until that moment, an individual understands the matter to be his or her own unique interest or burden. But once commonality is uncovered, the friend is revealed as a fellow-traveler, one who walks in the same direction. 

For this reason, those who say you can’t have real friendships at work are wrong. That’s not to say that reporting structures, pay scales, and our human tendency to struggle with trusting authority don’t complicate things. But, in fact, it’s from the matrix of companionship and the common purpose we find working together that friendship can rise.

2. Friendship is freely given.

Friendship is given without any expectation of repayment. As Lewis says, “I have no duty to be anyone’s Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity.” Of course, a true friend will be faithful when there is need for an advocate or an ally. But, in another sense, offering help and care is completely accidental to friendship. 

Friends are always faithful, but faithfulness does not make a friend. In this way, a true friendship is self-forgetting. As Lewis says, “Friendship is utterly free from Affection’s need to be needed . . . The mark of perfect Friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (of course it will) but that, having been given, it makes no difference at all.”

 3. Friendship is not jealous.

“The more the merrier” is the old saying. With friendship, it’s true. Each friend in a group adds a little something, and that something brings out the best in the others. C.J. is the comedian. Trey may be a cynic at times, but I need him because he willingly and gently confronts; I can always count on him to speak the truth. Patrick is the spiritual man who always thinks to stop and pray. Clay is stalwart and faithful to plan the next get-together. Jeff’s gift to friendship is accountability. 

Lewis writes, “Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to be a real friend.” The addition of a new friend only makes other friendships stronger. Lewis says, “Sometimes [a friend] wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others.”

There is no room for jealousy. On this point, Lewis warns the wife who may be tempted to think her husband’s male friends are a threat her own friendship, affection, and passion with her husband: “A woman of that sort has a hundred arts to break up her husband’s Friendships. She will quarrel with his Friends herself or, better still, with their wives. She will sneer, obstruct and lie. She does not realize that the husband whom she succeeds in isolating from his own kind will not be very well worth having; she has emasculated him.”

On the other hand, he also observes: “Nothing so enriches an erotic love as the discovery that the Beloved can deeply, truly and spontaneously enter into Friendship with the Friends you already had.” Certainly, Lewis’s advice can be abused on this point. There are some men who have codependent friendships and use them to excuse one another’s worst vices. A skilled and properly jealous wife will sniff this out and stand against it. But that’s not every male friendship. And a wise wife knows that the right kind of friends will help her husband to be a better man.

4. Friendship is necessarily exclusive. 

It’s exclusive by definition. Banding together with friends involves a bit of rebellion against the rest of society. Friends unite around what they have in common. As they band together, they are also uniting against the rest of the world. Lewis writes, “The little pockets of early Christians survived because they cared exclusively for the love of ‘the brethren’ and stopped their ears to the opinion of the Pagan society all round them.” In another place, he writes, “Even if the common ground of the Friendship is nothing more momentous than stamp-collecting, the circle rightly and inevitably ignores the views of the millions who think it a silly occupation and of the thousands who have merely dabbled in it.”

Unfortunately, it’s this very resiliency that makes friendship both wonderful and also dangerous. By “becoming deaf to the opinion of the outer world,” a company of “criminals, cranks, or perverts” can survive in much the same way as those who are lovers of good (or simply lovers of stamps). Maybe an even more subtle danger of friendship is the tendency of those who are already attached to become a sort of clique or regard themselves as the elite. Do not be misled; bad company corrupts good character (1 Cor. 15:33).

5. Friendship is not enough. 

This danger in friendship points us to the last important truth. Friendship is not enough. Lewis writes about how the ancients viewed brotherly friendship, philia, as the most praiseworthy of all forms of love, the cornerstone of our development of virtue. They weren’t completely right, of course. The best of human philia never quite reaches the level of divine agape. In this life, your friends—even the best ones—will at some point let you down. Lewis sees this, and he writes: “Friendship, then, like the other natural loves, is unable to save himself . . . it must . . . invoke the divine protection if it hopes to remain sweet.” As Christians, we know that there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24). Our best friends here poin us to the True Friend.

What I desire for my own children, as my mother once taught me, is not only that they would be a good friend and thus grow to have friends. More than this, I desire for them to know Jesus, the one who laid down his life for his friends (John 15:13). And, as they grow in their knowledge of Christ, my prayer for them, for myself, and for you is that God would make us better friends—the kind who walk side by side toward the Savior. May we give ourselves freely, throw aside jealousy, and lock arms together, knowing that even when we fail to be good friends, our friendship can be saved by Christ’s greater love.

By / Oct 28

Kings and queens. Castles and crowns. Monarchs and majesties. A journey through the United Kingdom’s storied history is one rich in royal blood. To travel her winding roads by book is insightful. Yet to trod those well-worn paths in bodily experience is uniquely transformational.

What I encountered on a recent trip far surpassed everything chroniclers had helped me to imagine. Not merely a kingdom conquered by a soldier’s sword and kept by a sovereign’s scepter. Nor one flowing only from the English Channel to north of the Isle of Man. I experienced the kingdom of God.

And I found it in a graveyard.

This was a solo journey, a welcome respite from the Washington routine. Sure, I met many friendly locals and fellow travelers along the way. And I quickly learned how to drive on the left side of the road, from the right side of the car, while left-hand shifting a six-speed gearbox. But I found company, too, in rather unexpected places. Not in entry lines and eateries, nor over tea and scones, but instead in sand and stone, in marble and monument.

The first cemetery was hidden and hard to find. Homes populated the perimeter, and overgrown shrubs canvassed the weathered walls. I had been just steps away from the burial grounds’ latched gate—even passing it several times—unaware.

Five minutes at the foot of G.K. Chesterton’s modest marker would suffice. Stones, everyone knows, don’t speak. Only the rustle of leaves in the crisp autumn breeze broke the solitary silence. No gallery of gawkers or teary-eyed mourners to contend with. No Stonehenge charters on stopover to snap selfies beside a stone etched “Chesterton,” either. Not that I expected any.

This was, after all, a plot of earth reserved for the bones of a writer and thinker of the Christian tradition—a man who set voyage into eternity just days after the Queen Mary first made hers across the Atlantic. Eighty years later, people move on. Other ships sail.

Something, though, about the stillness stayed with me. And so it was a day later, in a church graveyard on the outskirts of Oxford.

A Lion ‘on the move’

C.S. Lewis rests, in the minds of many, in larger memory than Chesterton. Even so, the November 22, 1963, death of the author and professor affectionately known as “Jack” remains hidden, it seems, in the shadow of the same-day death of another Jack—John F. Kennedy.

But as I stood in mid-day quietness at the grave of England’s Jack—himself no president or king, just United Kingdom-born—others, I detected, had ventured by. A lion figurine atop the flat cut of stone distinguished Lewis’ from the others. Uniquely set apart, I reflected. The man who guided untold masses to Mere Christianity and led many through the enchanted land of Narnia had himself traveled on, into that otherworldly wardrobe.

Yet Aslan, reassuringly, stood watch—still, as Lewis would say, “on the move.” I reflected beyond Lewis’ stone to the Living Stone (1 Pet. 2:4). Struck with awe and wonder, I felt, at once, like Narnia’s storybook Pevensie children in the presence of an otherworldly lion: both “glad and quiet[,] and it didn’t seem awkward” for me “to stand and say nothing.”

And in the stillness, atop the stone, amid a rising sun, came forth a sound, inaudible and indescribable—as if out of the mane of a tender yet triumphant Lion from another kingdom. A still, small voice.

If the dead could speak

My respite to the royal kingdom had quickly become a solo tour of the living among the many dead. Up through England and into Scotland—from the Bath Abbey and York Minster to St. Andrews’ greens and Edinburgh’s ruins—I stumbled upon stone after stone, tomb after tomb. They were the celebrated and scorned, the long remembered and fast forgotten. Kings and queens, knights and nobles, poets and princes—all of them definitively . . . dead.

But their markers said much. Not the epitaphs, but the dashes. Each small line separating dates born and died, I pondered, contains a story—some profound, others common; some long, others short. Yet each a life. Each created as an image-bearer of God. And all still very much alive, beyond the grave, eternally rescued and transferred into the kingdom of light or forever captive of the domain of darkness (Col. 1:13–14; 1 Pet. 2:9–10).

Fellow pilgrims in the graveyard

My more than 1,000-mile journey ended not far from where I had started. London’s Westminster Abbey would mark a final window. And it was the memorial window to John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress and a man of whom I had previously written, that I most wanted to see. But only after walking the entire abbey, and asking two guides to point it out, did I find the glass. I had passed it as I entered, unaware, as though it were hidden. How could I have missed it? I wondered.

Gazing at the stained glass panes depicting a pilgrim’s journey, I thought back on my own United Kingdom pilgrimage. My mind flashed back to the middle of my trip, to a Sunday in St. Andrews, sitting in church pews among two evangelical congregations—a worship gathering in the morning and a second in the evening. And though our dialects were distinctly different, our spiritual dialects are the same—that of a shared King, of another kingdom. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his,” I remembered, “we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:5). We worshipped, Scottish and American alike, as part of a truly united kingdom—the kingdom of God.

Proclamations of the King

I thought back to those moments in the shadow of death, among Chesterton and Lewis. And I thought back further still to kings who reigned before them—and before the United Kingdom was born into existence. “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19), declared David.

“My kingdom,” proclaimed the King of kings, who sits on David’s throne, “is not of this world” (John 18:36). God the Father himself declared of his Son, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom” (Heb. 1:8). In this King, the God-Man Jesus Christ, “the mystery hidden for ages and generations” is “now revealed to his saints” (Col. 1:26). And people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,” will one day stand and worship before his throne (Rev. 7:9–10).

I had been traveling, all those British miles, through an already-but-not-yet kingdom.

The road to the royal kingdom

Today many of the United Kingdom’s dead lie side by side in body, covered by dirt and marked by stone, yet live in spirit kingdoms apart. A difficult road and narrow gate determine the difference (Matt. 7:13–14).

The well-worn road to royal robes runs rich in royal blood. A rolled-back stone, beyond a cross of suffering for sin, marks the only entry. And the grave’s righteous Door (John 10:9), reminds a since-passed pilgrim named Paul, “is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27), his Spirit-breathed Book the all-sufficient guide (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20–21).

A still, small voice echoing that of this conquering King calls out from his royal kingdom, beyond the English Channel and the Isle of Man, to the wayward, searching soul with a wondrous word of hope: “You’re close,” he says. “I am just around the corner.”

A tender, triumphant—talking—Lion of Judah is, indeed, on the move. His voice—the accent of this cornerstone, living and precious (1 Pet. 2:4–8)—is unmistakable. He knows the way—and is the way (John 14:6)—both to his empty graveyard and into his everlasting united kingdom.

By / Jun 1

Otherworld begins with a broken home, a depressed preacher and a hurting policeman. From the start, Jared Wilson crafts a compelling story that draws the reader to identify with and care for his characters. However, all of that changes once a farmer finds his cow lying dead and concludes that only aliens could be responsible. It was at this point that I knew the world was seeing a whole new side to the writings of Jared C. Wilson.

Familiar only with the non-fiction works and online presence of Wilson, I expected his first work of published fiction to tell a clever, well-written, theological allegory of sorts. In terms of clever writing and transmission of theological truth, Otherworld definitely delivers, but therein resides something more like a Frank Peretti narrative infused with the theology of Screwtape and fashioned for a hipster generation. A 21st century Pilgrim’s Progress it is not—and that’s just fine.

Not since the 1990s when I read the Christian fiction of James Byron Huggins has this type of thriller so captivated my attention. Even though not well read in the genre, I can affirm that Wilson’s venture does not, as he says, lead with a theological point with the story “as a veneer thinly painted on.” Rather, Wilson excels as a storyteller and his story is thoroughly informed by his Christianity. The reader is not left wondering what is the truth about Jesus Christ, but neither does he feel like he is reading a repackaged or cheap reinvention of whatever is selling in the comparable fiction genre of the world.Otherworld, in this sense, is groundbreaking.

The title is taken from a phrase in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe where Peter asks the Professor whether there really could “be other worlds—all over the place?” As one who grew up in Houston, this book took on special significance for the greater Houston area functions as character all its own in Otherworld. From the weather patterns, to the maze like structure of un-zoned streets and bedroom communities, Wilson does well to paint his canvas with this often overlooked city of great diversity and darkness mixed with the light of scores of noble people like those he presents as protagonists.

In terms of the sheer writing that leads and entertains, yet also reveals Wilson’s deep grasp on the human condition, I give just a few examples. Early in the book, Wilson describes the main character’s wrestling with the vacancy left by his separated wife: “Now he floated, like an astronaut off the line, minutes from suffocation, his source and safety miles away.” And later, as Wilson allows the reader to follow the process of his character’s awakening to his own sin and selfishness, “He’d made an idol of his wife, and she’d withered under the weight. We always neglect the gods we presume to possess.”

The driving forces that the main characters engage in Otherworld are demonic. To depict the size and breadth of evil, Wilson spends a good deal of time developing, very convincingly, the reality and power of these principalities. The characters in Wilson’s world are not dealing with caricatures where “it’s close to midnight and something evil’s lurking in the dark,” but rather wrestling with a prowling adversary and his accusers. While God is not centrally or overtly seen, and at times it seems the emphasis is too much on the depths of darkness, God is present and is not weak or silent. Truthfully, some readers might not be comfortable with the level at which Wilson describes the demonic otherworld, following the wise admonition to be “innocent as to what is evil” (Rom 16:19). However, Wilson does not sensationalize or celebrate the dominions of darkness. As one of Wilson’s own characters relates, some “give our Enemy far too much credit. Even more unfortunate, they believe him more powerful than he actually is. They endorse the literal equivalent of the American comedy routine catchphrase, ‘The Devil made me do it.’ This approach is not without humor but is theologically suspect (at best). We are to emulate Christ’s ministry, not Flip Wilson’s.”

In the end, the reader does well to remember that Otherworld is, and is meant to be, a work of fiction, though it reflects and comments on the reality of our world. As Wilson’s character instructs, “There are two dangers in our understanding of the Enemy and his minions. One is that we become obsessed with them; the other is that we take them too lightly. The Devil is real, and though the physical proof of the demonic manifestations is rare in the West, to disbelieve in them is to grant the Devil his greatest goal—the disbelief in the Devil himself.”

As much as Otherworld presents a thrilling mystery of the demonic played out in real lives, it regularly raises and ultimately answers a central question: Should one fear death? Here Wilson is at his pastoral best, not providing pat answers or kitschy characters that copy and paste into the narrative a “Four Spiritual Laws” tract, but rather he walks with his characters and shows how some very flawed, yet genuine, believers stand and respond to temptation and evil with shaky but ultimately persevering faith in the truth. Wilson answers questions regarding the fear of dying by subtlety and surely pointing the way to a real and triumphant God revealed in his word.

I am not one who regularly reads or watches anything remotely close to a thriller likeOtherworld. This book scared me the way an unknown roller coaster scares the first time you ride it. You know you are going to make it back in one piece, but you also know you might need some time to catch your breath and get your legs under you when you do. As much as I may regret admitting it, I had to avoid reading Otherworld late at night and always with plenty of lights on in the room.

But more than the thrills, this book awakened me again to the Ephesians 6 realities of “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” and drove me to pray. I prayed for my family, for lost relatives and for peoples in dark and oppressed nations. For there are “other worlds” and an evil one seeking to steal and kill and destroy. Thanks be to God, however, “who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession” (2 Cor 2:14) and who “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” in Christ (Col 2:15).

In an interview about Otherworld, Wilson says that he has another unpublished novel that he thinks is the best thing he has ever written. Given what we have seen in his non-fiction works as well as in this book, that is saying something.

By / Aug 27

In the year 1945 AD, law was dead. It was dead in the same sense that God was dead: It had never existed. It had all been an illusion. Only gullible people and religious zealots believed in legal obligation, duties, rights, customs, and rules.

A half century before, in 1897, the great American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. had dissolved the illusion in a lecture titled, The Path of the Law. Holmes had insisted that to know the law one “must look at it as a bad man, who cares only for the material consequences which such knowledge enables him to predict, not as a good one, who finds his reasons for conduct… in the vaguer sanctions of conscience.”

Viewing law from this external, scientific perspective, one can see that there really is no such thing as law. The Bad Man has no obligation to honor his promises, or to pay his taxes, or to refrain from stealing another’s property. He simply has a choice between either obeying the command of the sovereign or paying the consequences. If it is less costly to disobey the sovereign and pay the consequences then that is what he will do.

Holmes thus untrammeled the Bad Man from the bonds of law. His restraints dissolved, the Bad Man captured the most powerful institutions in American society and acted out the convictions of social Darwinism. Under the euphemism of “social hygiene,” he implemented programs of forced sterilization, abortion, and euthanasia. Our nation had earlier experimented with human beings as property. But this was at least equally unjust: an attack upon the inviolability of human life itself.

In 1927, Holmes, then an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, ratified these eugenics programs in Buck v. Bell, a rigged legal challenge to the forced sterilization of a young woman named Carrie Buck. In upholding the program Holmes wrote, “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.” Holmes ended his opinion with the infamous rhetorical flourish, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

News of these shameful assaults upon human dignity found their way to Germany, where the Bad Man turned eugenics into a national industry. Nazi atrocities shocked the world, and the world regretted the death of law. So in 1945, just 18 years after Holmes’ decision in Buck v. Bell, prominent lawyers tried to bring law back from the dead, both in practical action and in theoretical inquiry.

In practical action, Robert Jackson and Benjamin Kaplan went off to Nuremberg to prosecute Nazi officials for war crimes. On this side of the Atlantic, many (but not all) states quietly dismantled their eugenics programs and strengthened legal prohibitions against assisted suicide and euthanasia.

That same year, 1945, a lawyer was appointed to the faculty of Oxford University who would revitalize the study of law. He set to work on a book that would make it not only acceptable to believe in law but actually imperative. The lawyer was H.L.A. Hart; the book, published sixteen years later, was The Concept of Law.

Hart’s foundational insight was a mechanism that he called the internal point of view. Hart observed that one who wants really to understand law must look at law not only from the external perspective of the scientist who observes the actions of the Bad Man and their consequences, but also must view law from the internal point of view of the law-abiding person, who accepts and uses law as a guide to her own choice and action. The businessman performs his contract because he made a promise. The lawmaker votes against a eugenics bill because she has taken an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.

Adopting the perspective of these people enables the scholar to view law as law, and therefore to think and act as if law is possible. Hart’s work thus founded a reinvigorated movement in Anglo-American jurisprudence. But Hart was not the first scholar to note the significant potential of the internal point of view. He was not even the first scholar at Oxford to do so. In 1945, when law was still dead—the same year that Hart began his career at Oxford and sixteen years before the publication of The Concept of Law—an essay appeared in the Coventry Evening Telegraph under the title, Meditation in a Toolshed. It read in part,

I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. … Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.

The essayist perceived the important implications of this insight. Observing that “[y]ou get one experience of a thing when you look along it and another when you look at it,” he wondered, “Which is the ‘true’ or ‘valid’ experience?” He lamented that “for the last fifty years or so… [t]he people who look at things have had it all their own way; the people who look along things have simply been brow-beaten.”

It has even come to be taken for granted that the external account of a thing somehow refutes or “debunks” the account given from inside. “All these moral ideals which look so transcendental and beautiful from inside”, says the wiseacre, “are really only a mass of biological instincts and inherited taboos.” And no one plays the game the other way round by replying, “If you will only step inside, the things that look to you like instincts and taboos will suddenly reveal their real and transcendental nature.”

The essayist was C.S. Lewis.

Hart’s insight, which is really Lewis’ insight, has important implications for medical law today. Reports of the demise of the eugenics movement were greatly exaggerated. Assisted suicide is legal in some American states, and nonvoluntary euthanasia and infanticide are standard practices in European nations.

Other eugenic practices have also re-entered American jurisprudence; the Bad Man is once again on the move. In 2012 a state court in Massachusetts issued a decision that is evocative of Buck v. Bell, ordering a young woman to undergo a forced abortion and sterilization against her express wishes. After having an earlier abortion, the woman had suffered a “psychotic break,” becoming agitated about the abortion and lamenting that she had “killed her baby.” When she later became pregnant again, her parents got themselves appointed guardians and obtained a court order which the Massachusetts Appeals Court later described this way: “The judge ordered that Moe’s parents be appointed as co-guardians and that Moe could be ‘coaxed, bribed, or even enticed … by ruse’ into a hospital where she would be sedated and an abortion performed.” The Appeals Court reversed the sterilization order on procedural grounds but, astonishingly, remanded the case for further hearings on the evidentiary basis for the forced abortion order.

Why have eugenics returned? Why do some human beings today not enjoy the equal protection of the law? I suggest it is because we look at life from the wrong perspective. The inviolability-of-life principle, long a cornerstone of law and bioethics but now under serious threat, supposes that life is an intrinsically valuable good. Looking along a life from the internal point of view of the person living it, life, much like a beam of light through a keyhole, is transparent for the ends toward which it is directed, goals and commitments that supply life’s instrumental value. One can also step outside the beam to view life from the internal perspective of another human being, who perceives its intrinsic and unique beauty.

To see the full worth of each member of the human family one must view each life from both directions. At the beginning of life, the beam has not yet projected itself into space and time, and can thus elude observation. The corrective here is to look along the life of the newly existent being and to recognise the capacities for future, distinctly human, actions and experiences, which are already present in the very young human being. The tendency at the end of life is to defer to the internal point of view of the patient who, suffering from physical, mental, or emotional anguish, sees no point to it all. This person needs the external perspective of others, whose view is not obstructed by pain and depression.  Looking at the patient one sees a human being with intrinsic worth. By considering the internal perspectives of both patients and those who encounter them, we might correct many misunderstandings about the important role that law and ethics play in protecting the equal dignity of all human beings.

This essay is adapted from a presentation delivered at a celebration of the life and works of C.S. Lewis on November 21, 2013, which was co-sponsored by the Auburn Montgomery Department of English and Philosophy and the Huntingdon College Department of Religion.

By / Dec 13

Whenever the topic of politics comes up, I always think of demons. Not because politics or politicians are evil, of course, but because of how C.S. Lewis’ fictional conversation between Screwtape and Wormwood demonstrates one of Christianity’s most unsettled and controversial relationships: Its connection to politics.

Many, no doubt, are familiar with Lewis’ famous volume The Screwtape Letters, where Lewis catalogues the conversations of Screwtape, an elder, wiser demon, to his apprentice nephew, Wormwood. Their dialogue has shaped the imaginations of Christians young and old for over five decades.

In the preface, Lewis writes, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

Despite Extremes, Politics Matter

The same extremes can be said about how Christians view and engage in politics. For some (like myself), politics is a spectator sport where election nights are treated like Super Bowl parties. Flatscreens act as political commentary as winners and losers are declared. Twitter feeds are updated with near instantaneous repetition. For others, any time spent dedicated to politics rivals the anxiety of an afternoon in the dentist’s chair—feelings of reluctance, annoyance, despair, and even a desire to escape.

But politics matter, especially if you’re a Christian. For some, that either excites or elicits dread. But even the most politically cynical, sports-crazed pastor is an unwitting enthusiast for politics. Every time a football game maintains order, or the NBA draft is conducted with mutually agreed-upon regulations overseen by a commissioner, politics is happening.

“Humans,” Aristotle famously quipped, “are political animals.” We group ourselves into associations and organize our lives to ensure stability. If you can remove the connotation of what “politics” means according to FOX News or MSNBC, you’ll recognize that politics isn’t just about public relations standoffs, constituents, or the most recent poll. Politics is about what systems we arrange ourselves in in hopes of facilitating and attaining public order and the common good. Humanity has been ordering itself in no small amount of political arrangements—some more successful than others since our beginning. Whether democracy or communism, politics is about exercising dominion (Gen. 1:28). It comes as no surprise, then, that much of the Old and New Testaments are written with political imagery in mind. Jesus knew his times and his people’s imaginations—how to target their assumptions and what would draw their interests. Imagine, for example, if Jesus’ earthly ministry were today. He could be announcing the “Democracy of God” rather than the “Kingdom of God.”

What Lewis says of demons is also true of politics—it is possible to absolutize or minimize politics to unhealthy degrees. Either everything is political, or nothing is political. Both extremes have errors. Moderation and proper perspective the cure, what we can do with politics is what Jesus does by putting politics and government in its rightful place. How does he do this? By subordinating either political apathy or obsession to a greater kingdom; a kingdom ushered in on Jesus’ terms—a kingdom whose coming is not subject to razor-thin electoral losses.

Politics & the Tempting of Christ 

Consider an episode in Jesus’ life. When offered the kingdoms of the world by Satan during the desert temptations (Matt. 4:8-11; Luke 4:5-8), Jesus refused them. Before him was the opportunity to rule the nations with an iron fist and secure lasting peace. Jesus had every opportunity to establish his political order. He refused the offer.

His refusal was not born of a lack of confidence in his ability to execute his rule. Neither was Jesus unwanting of what was rightfully his. In fact, the opposite is true. As theologian Douglas Wilson has observed, Jesus refused the kingdoms of the world because he wouldn’t be given them. Jesus’ kingship and authority over, well, everything, would be on his terms; no mediation or negotiation. Satan’s willingness to hand over the kingdoms was contingent on Jesus acknowledging him as Lord, but Jesus didn’t take the bait, meaning there’s no amount of earthly good that can be accumulated if it means surrendering one’s allegiance. A peaceful world with a devil in charge is a well ordered hell.

Satan’s offer was a veiled asking of Jesus “Who is your Lord?” Satan was propping himself as an imitator of authority; a common ploy of his tired playbook. By refusing a political handout from Satan, Jesus reaffirms that the one true Lord is the one who possesses absolute, ultimate authority (Luke 4:8).

Jesus would accept nothing less than total victory over Satan. And victory is his. By his death on the cross (Col. 2:15), Jesus finalized the terms of Satan’s unconditional surrender over the kingdoms of world, kingdoms that Satan said he possessed (Luke 4:6), but never really did (John 8:44). Humiliating and dethroning Satan as the “ruler of this world,” Satan is judged (John 16:11; John 16:33). But there’s a chapter to the story that the immediate context of the temptation doesn’t get to: the cross. The cross represents a looming foreshadow, a death march to Golgotha. Jesus’ pathway to claiming ownership not only of the earthly, political kingdoms, but also of the cosmos, was a path of self-surrender, political humiliation, and ultimately, death. Jesus knew the kingdoms were his, but they could only be claimed according to divine design.

Politics as Faithful Witness 

There’s a lesson for Christians in regards to their relationship to the state and the political order in Jesus’ refusal to be given the kingdoms of the world: political power is demonic if it means sacrificing our call to faithfulness.

Christians are more than a little capable of mishandling politics. In the recent past, in America, the mix of religion and politics has produced little else than politics with a Christian veneer. Absent a larger theological agenda, Christians have traded barbs and jabs with secular opponents hoping to score political points, but have ended up with political pottage. We’ve often forgotten that we are first Christians having an American experience before we are, secondly, Americans having a Christian experience. Satan was promising the kingdoms through the vehicles of expediency and mistaken identity. He still is. But Jesus knew that the pattern of redemption is traced through the narrative of faithfulness, often long-suffering faithfulness that is accompanied with exile and martyrdom.

The temptation to rage against the political order is constant; the lure to bemoan the loss of “Christian America” with fear mongering its own marketing niche. America is changing or, rather, has changed. Consider a re-telling of stories from this year: Same-sex marriage is soon to be knocking on every county clerk’s office in the United States due to the Supreme Court’s June striking down of section three of the Defense of Marriage Act. The New Mexico Supreme Court just offered a sobering downgrade of religious freedom—insisting that a Christian photographer’s refusal to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony is illegal. Abortionist Kermit Gosnell was tried and convicted for heinous, unspeakable crimes against children born after botched abortions.

Christians can no longer assume that culture will prop up Christianity through the decaying channel of civil religion. Gone are the days of the Moral Majority; new to the stage is the Moral Minority—we ragtag band of Christians who insist that the state religion of sexual liberation will never give bended knee to Caesar.

Though Christians find themselves beset and besieged by a culture that looks a less like it used to, the kingdom marches on. Whatever context Christians finds themselves in, we are to love our neighbor (Mark 12:30-31) by loving culture (Jer. 29:4-7; Matt. 5:13-16). Carl Henry said, “if the church fails to apply the central truth of Christianity to social problems correctly, someone else will do so incorrectly.” That “someone” is the same tempter lurking behind every political debate.

Politics & the Coming Kingdom

Jesus’ status as Lord, Heir, and King of the universe is past, present, and future tense (Rev. 11:15). Lord over all and ruling through his church, Jesus commissions us to pronounce the coming kingdom, announcing, as Henry said, “the criteria by which God will judge men and nations.” This necessarily includes a strong, courageous, and winsome witness to the political order and the public square. Jesus’ kingdom was present in his ministry and remains present everywhere the gospel goes forward, undoing the reign of the former “god of this world.” As those destined to reign with Christ, the kingdoms of the world are ours; what matters at present is that we steward the responsibility of our ownership in a way that reflects Christ: faithfulness on the path toward victory—and an inheritance (Psalm 2:8).

Politics still matters; and we do politics because first and foremost, the kingdom of Christ demands kingdom ethics. As long as humanity exists, there will always be politics. The solution to the increasingly post-Christian culture that Christians find themselves in isn’t a retreat to the catacombs. The solution is being rightly political. That means understanding that our religion and our politics aren’t separate realities; that instead, the proclamation of the kingdom means that local churches should be against the world, but for the world—micro-cultures that embody the ethical formation that the gospel produces when churches refuse to accommodate, for example, to the divorce and cohabitation culture.

The best type of Christianity isn’t a Christianity that’s primarily political. The best type of Christianity is the Christianity that keeps bloody crosses in its crosshairs. When Christians went before the Emperor’s lions, they could do so without buckling knees—knowing that the gospel is more powerful than any political threat waged against it. None of the martyrs who went aflame knew that their act of faithfulness would ignite a civilization’s embrace of Christianity, an act that bears onto present day.

As Christians march forward announcing the Kingdom, we bridge the errors of political passivity and social justice insurgents. Consider these words of Lewis of Screwtape to Wormwood,

Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster.

On the other hand, we do want—and want very much—to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice.

Lewis understood the twin errors of Christianity and politics. The demons want our politics kept separate from piety. They also want a program of social change that bypasses a cross. We should have neither. Satan would shut down Planned Parenthood if it meant the cross would never happen. Satan would be lord, you’d be in hell, but abortions would not be happening. But Jesus knew that usurping the false authority of Satan meant sacrificing himself for the nations and establishing a Kingdom where Jesus will wipe away every tear and death shall be no more.

Demons shudder and campaigns fade, but the kingdom of our Lord Jesus endures forever.

This article originally published in the Midwestern Magazine from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.