The Unwitting Encounter that Inspired A Great Christian Novel

Gen. Lew. Wallace, 1827-1905, he was an American lawyer, union general, governor of the New Mexico Territory, politician, and author, vintage line drawing or engraving illustration

John Ingersoll, the son of a Congregationalist pastor who shared a pulpit with the famous American revivalist, Charles Finney, was an agnostic. His father was mistreated by the church, suffering contentious charges for deviating from “Old School Calvinism”, and he left the ministry and the church. His son, John, who was young at the time, was so influenced that he became a lifelong agnostic, preaching as vociferously against faith in God as his father once preached faith in God.

Such was the great, negative influence of the tensions among Christian brothers New England in the early 1800’s. Though he unwittingly sparked one of the great Christian novels in American history, Ingersoll led a life of hostility toward God and religion for which he was well-known.

The schism between Old School Calvinism and New School Calvinism lasted about 20 years beginning in about 1837. That’s it. Only 20 years! (Wikipedia)

The tension pitted conservatives from the “Old School” against upstarts from the “New School”. The Old School adherents stuck close to the “Westminster standards” and didn’t support the “New School revivalism” championed by Presbyterian revivalists, like Finney, and New England Congregationalist theologians like Jonathan Edwards.

For those interested in history, Princeton Theological Seminary was the defender of the Old School, while Yale and Lane Theological Seminary became the champion of the New School. Looking back, it is with some wonder that Princeton was on the conservative side of this controversy, the same Princeton today that produced the great skeptic New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman.

It is also noteworthy that the “renewed interest in religion” generated by the revivalism of the Second Great Awakening that took place in the early 1800’s inspired the social activism that energized the abolitionist movement. Lyman Beecher, the father of the famous abolitionist, Harriet Beecher Stowe, was a New School Calvinist.

Revivalism and slavery were key issues in this schism. Revivalism divided the Old School and New School; while slavery divided both and eventually brought elements of the Old School and New School back together again into factions that were divided more along geographic lines – north and south – as the country teetered toward civil war.

I am struck that social and theological movements always stretch the wine skins and leave people divided, today no less than in the past. While conservatives entrench, progressives plow new paths. While old, brittle wine skins burst, wasting the contents on the ground, over eager revolutionaries might abandon the wine skins altogether. Either way, the wine (the very point of the wine skin) is often lost in the process.

I am reminded of the “proverb” spoken in Ecclesiastes: “It is good to grasp the one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forward with both ….” (Ecc. 7:18 NASB)

Throughout history we see God moving among people, emphasizing new things at different times. People react by resisting, holding back and becoming entrenched or embracing the new thing, letting go of the old and eventually tilting off the path in the other direction. Wisdom lies in grasping the new thing God is doing without letting go of the truth firmly established by God in the past. This is the stretch that requires the new wine skins!

But back to the story of John Ingersoll and his unwitting influence on the writer of one of the greatest Christian novels written by an American. Lew Wallace was a Civil War General who commanded Union troops at Shiloh. Ingersoll served under him in that great battle. It was their chance encounter that prompts this article.

Continue reading “The Unwitting Encounter that Inspired A Great Christian Novel”

The Plans God Has for Us – Part III

Even in the midst of the very Judgment of God, God desires to bless us! He is every appealing to us to listen to Him and respond to Him. 

I


n the previous two blog posts on The Plans God Has for Us, we considered the fact that the often-quoted verse about the plans God us for us – plans to prosper us and to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11)[1] – should be viewed in historical context. (Part I) That historical context was the 900-year history of disbelief and disobedience of God’s people ending in 40 years of warning of impending judgment that culminated in the judgment coming to pass with the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and exile. (Part II) In this post, I will try to draw some conclusions in the application of this verse and relevance to our modern lives.

This letter was the message of God through the prophet, Jeremiah, to God’s people that He gave them at the very beginning of their exile. In this letter, God tells them that they will remain in exile for 70 year![2] In fact, this shocking statement – you will be here 70 years – is the statement that immediately precedes the famous verse we all know:

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

In a sense, God is telling them, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that I have imposed my judgment on you, and it will last 70 years. But the good news is that I have plans for you, good plans to prosper you and to give you hope and a future.

70 years! In an age in which the average life expectancy was about 35 years, that’s two generations! For the vast majority of the exiled people, this meant their lives would end in captivity. What kind of hope and future is that?!

The exile was the judgment God warned them about. God’s people had been so disbelieving and disobedient that God virtually banished them from the very land He promised them about a millennium before.  But even in the midst of this judgment, we need to look carefully at what God is saying. Just before announcing that this judgment thing is going to last 70 years, God gives them instructions:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’”[3]

Imagine the 40 years of warning and the weight of that impending doom on those who actually took it seriously. As with most things we fear, the fear is worse than the reality.

During this time of judgment in exile in Babylon, God says to them, basically, “Don’t despair! Go about your lives. Embrace the circumstances into which I have brought you. Live life. Make plans. Bless those around you, seek to better the those around you, and I will bless you.”

Even in the midst of the very Judgment of God, God desires to bless us! He is every appealing to us to listen to Him and respond to Him.

Continue reading “The Plans God Has for Us – Part III”

Keeping First Things First

Every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made


“’Every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made …. You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first.’[1]

“The man who makes his ‘first thing’ getting everyone to like him becomes obnoxious because he is too preoccupied with himself to genuinely care about anyone else. The woman who puts her own happiness first ends up chronically dissatisfied with her life. The poor soul whose first priority is staving off another anxiety attack will be constantly on edge. The church that makes being relevant to culture its first mission, either by conscious design or by the slow descent of good intentions gone wrong, will become utterly irrelevant to culture. Why? Because likeability, happiness, peace of mind, and relevance are not first things. They are second things, byproducts, not goals. Make any second thing a first thing and you not only lose the real first thing; you lose the second thing too. Let us call this ‘Lewis’ First Things Principle.’

“If the obnoxious man genuinely cared about the people around him more than his own likeability, he would end up more liked. If the sad woman put loving God and loving people well ahead of her own happiness, she would likely end up exponentially more satisfied with life. If our poor soul exerted zero energy on not being anxious, pouring that energy instead into exercising hard at the gym, getting into and enjoying God’s creation, caring deeply about the people God has put in his life, preaching the gospel to himself often, then his anxiety spikes would be less frequent and less catastrophic. If that irrelevant church made revering God and faithfully preaching His Word its primary mission, then it would become exponentially more relevant than it ever could through pandering to the perceived felt-needs and consumer demands of the culture.”[2]

These paragraphs inspired from CS Lewis’s famous book of essays, God in the Dock, are an important reminder for me right now. Right now my life is over busy, and I need to give attention to my priorities. The momentum is strong to continue in the path I am on, but I don’t think it is sustainable. Some things will inevitably give way to other things. If I am not careful, I fear the second things will crowd out the first things.

It’s already happening. I am not writing much. I believe God prompted me years ago to begin writing. I am not sure exactly why, except that I sensed God in the prompting. These last couple of months I have hardly written at all.

But writing isn’t a first thing either. Even though I believe God prompted me to write, it isn’t a first thing. I believe we all have things that God has prepared for us to do. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Eph. 2:10 (NLT)) But, not even the things God purposed us to do are first things.

Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33 (ESV)) God is the ultimate first thing. Seeking God is the ultimate first thing that should be prioritized above all other things.

I need to be reminded of that today. Maybe you do too.

Only when God is first in our lives will all the other things fall into place. The second things ultimately won’t fulfill us or satisfy us because we were meant for God first. And when God is first, those second things become an extension of the first thing.

When we love God is first, we do everything for God (1 Corinthians 10:23), and God works all things together for our good. (Romans 8:28)

I am feeling a bit off these days, a little out of whack, a little off-balance and unsettled. I think it is because I have gotten busy devoting myself to many things and have neglected the first thing. I started this piece days ago, and since then I have spent more time distracted and diverted. But I am reminded again today of the need to put God first.

I am thankful to God who doesn’t allow us to wander off without reminding us of Himself. I don’t always listen or respond, but He is ever faithful. Without God, I would be utterly lost to my own devices. I write these words with gratitude and hope that I will learn to keep first things first more often in the days to come.

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[1] C.S. LEWIS, First and Second Things, in GOD IN THE DOCK: ESSAYS ON THEOLOGY AND ETHICS 280

[2] THADDEUS J. WILLIAMS, Putting First Things First, JOURNAL OF CHRISTIAN LEGAL THOUGHT, Vol. 8, No. 2 (2018)

Victims of Abuse Find Comfort and Healing in Christ


Unfortunately, the world today is full of people who have suffered abuse at the hands of other people. For reasons we may not fully understand, victims of abuse often become abusers, themselves. The abuse begets abuse, and the cycle may continue for generations.

The abuse may take the form of parent to child, spouse to spouse, boss to employee, slave owners to slaves, and even governments can wiled oppressive control over the people subject to their authority. People in positions of power abuse people in positions of vulnerability. We haven’t advanced all that much as beings for eons. In some ways, we might have become more sophisticated about the abuse, but the abuse continues, generation after generation.

The Jewish people of Judea, modern Israel and Palestine, were oppressed and abused by the Roman government in the First Century when Jesus walked the earth. Jesus began his public ministry by reading from the prophet Isaiah,

“The Spirit of the LORD is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free….” (Luke 4:18, quoting from Isaiah 61:1)

But he certainly wasn’t concerned only with the oppressive rule of the Roman government. He was concerned about all people everywhere who suffer abuse. Continue reading “Victims of Abuse Find Comfort and Healing in Christ”

Is God Really Good? — Fractured Faith Blog

Here’s to tough English teachers, careful use of the English language and God’s direction and formative influences that He allows into our lives. I am reblogging this piece that reminds me of a turning point in my life, and the tough English teacher who met me at he turn.

I was an angry, rebellious youth, living a recklessly self-destructive teenage life, drinking, smoking pot and taking unnecessary risks. I don’t know why I was that way, but that’s how I was.

I think I was desperately searching for something meaningful, trying to fill the voids, unwilling to settle for mediocre. But the things I was using to fill those voids left a deeper void.

An unrelenting, stubbornly idealistic and sternly enthusiastic English teacher is just what I needed. She challenged me, and it turns out I was ready for the challenge. The two papers I wrote that semester, on Joseph Conrad’s, Lord Jim, and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s, Crime and Punishment, were just the rigorous tests of critique and simultaneous self-reflection necessary to jump me off the nihilistic track onto the path to truth and meaning that can only be mined with same kind of relentless, stubbornly idealistic and uncompromising confidence in the effort that my teacher demonstrated for us.

The blog, Is God Really Good?, reminds me of these things, and the gratitude I owe to my “very grumpy English teacher”. Only she, was less grumpy than enthusiastic, but none the less effective in her influence on me.

When I was at school, and Queen Victoria sat upon the throne, I had a very grumpy English teacher called Mrs Hume. I felt sorry for Mr. Hume if she was as grumpy at home. Mrs Hume was a well balanced woman. She had a chip on both shoulders. Life had dealt her a poor […]

via Is God Really Good? — Fractured Faith Blog

Diamonds and Coal and the Pressures of Life

A common misconception is that diamonds form from coal, but diamonds don’t form from coal. It’s one or the other.


Diamonds and coal are made from the same substance, carbon.[1] They are both formed by heat and pressure, but the results are very, very different.

Coal burns and can be a source of energy, though it is not a very clean source of energy because it’s full of impurities. Diamonds have few impurities and won’t burn.

Diamonds on the other hand are among the hardest substances. They can be used in industrial applications for cutting metal and similar uses because they are so hard and immutable. Coal is soft and combustible. It is dirty and rubs off everywhere.

Diamonds are clean, translucent, rare and beautiful. Diamonds are highly valued, while coal is something we would rather not use if we had other choices, even for burning up in a fire.

Would you rather be a diamond or a lump of coal?

Continue reading “Diamonds and Coal and the Pressures of Life”

Christmas, Taxes and a Heart for God

What do Christmas, taxes and King David have to do with each other? You might be surprised to find out.

Copyright: alefbet editorial use only
Archaeological site, City of David in Jerusalem, Israel on May 9, 2017

This blog article is prompted by a Christmas tax article. Yes, Christmas and income taxes go together. Who would’ve thunk it?!

In Luke 2:1, we read that Caesar Augustus sent out a decree for a census. It turns out the census was declared so that the Caesar could tax people. I didn’t know that before.

That previously unknown fact (unknown to me at least) isn’t what caught my eye or what prompts this article, though. The article is also not about unjust taxes that burden the poor and avoid the rich. This article also isn’t about the controversy over whether Luke is accurate about the census and the timing of it.

What prompts me to write this piece is the reference to a previous census and previous tax and the surprising and shocking instigator of that tax – the man of God who allowed it to happen, David.

Continue reading “Christmas, Taxes and a Heart for God”