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Although he died seven years before I was born, I consider C.S. Lewis to be one of the most influential people in my life. His books have educated and inspired me and I try to model my evangelism and apologetics efforts largely after his. For that reason Michael Christensen’s book C.S. Lewis on Scripture caught my eye. Having read much of Lewis’ work, I felt somewhat knowledgeable about his views on quite a few subjects, but I realized when I saw this title that I wouldn’t be able to articulate what Lewis believed about scripture. Christensen’s insightful work helped rectify that situation.
Here are some excerpts from my review of the book:
According to Christensen, Lewis believes that God reveals himself in history to different people at different times with differing degrees of clarity and fullness. For example, pagan mythology offers archetypal patterns and stories about a god who dies and comes to life again to bring life to men. These stories, combined with the general revelation we see in natural patterns of seasons and the cycle of life, provide us a dim foreshadowing of God’s nature and his redemptive plan. The history of Israel is a clearer picture of that plan, with its revelation of the moral demands of God and typological events that foreshadow the Messiah. As we discussed earlier, this history is also mythological according to Lewis, whether it actually happened or not. Finally, the Christ event, which certainly did happen, is the clearest and fullest revelation of God. The incarnation is “myth become fact” (75). In Jesus all the foreshadowing, whether in pagan myths, natural cycles, or the history of Israel finds its fulfillment. “The process of myth is actualized and complete.” (75)...
So Christensen’s answer to the question: “In what way is the Bible inspired according to Lewis?” is “mythically” (77). However, because most people do not understand that word in the way Lewis used it, Christensen suggests a different term: He thinks we can accurately say Lewis views scripture as “inspired literature” (77).
Here the author brings the material of the book together in a nice package. He has discussed Lewis’s view of literature, his view of myth and, albeit perhaps incompletely, his view of revelation. Now we see how this applies to Lewis’s view of the Bible in that Lewis sees the Bible as revelatory mythical literature.
Scripture performs all of the functions of myth and should be read accordingly. For example, we should understand the literary elements of the Bible as “embodiments of spiritual reality” (77) and approach them as a good reader, using intuitive perception to receive and experience that reality, which is divine.
One of the more helpful insights I have gained from Lewis over the years, and which Christensen rightly emphasizes in this book, is that approaching the Bible as myth does not mean the biblical stories are unhistorical, although they can still be considered inspired if they are. By that I mean we have the freedom to approach the entire text as revelatory myth while retaining the freedom to consider each as part of the genre in which it was written. I think the Creation story, the story of Job, and the accounts of Jesus’ miracles all have great mythical qualities. We do not have to treat them all as non-historical in order to retain those qualities, although if any of them are historical, we can also accept that and still treat them as myth. This point is widely missed by people who are skeptical of the historicity of the Bible as well as those who are not. In both cases, I believe it is a hindrance to receiving all that the Bible has to offer.
For example, I often interact with those who think that if a biblical story has mythical value, it must be non-historical. These folks recognize the mythical elements in the text, but assume that means the story must be historically false. I’ve actually heard many biblical scholars debate against the historicity of the resurrection of Christ by presenting as evidence all of the ways in which the New Testament fulfills the Old. At one recent presentation, the skeptic’s insight into the text was so remarkable that my friend took notes furiously in order to use the material in his sermons. Somehow the skeptic thought this mythical element of the text meant that the stories could not have happened. He couldn’t see the history for the myth.
On the other hand, some people can’t see the myth for the history. This group is intent on recognizing the text as historical, but believes that this rules out the possibility of finding any mythical quality in it. They are blind to the truths that are conveyed to a “baptized imagination.”
Another very helpful insight I gained from Lewis (and that was emphasized by Christensen) regards the use of metaphor in describing God. The Bible is full of them: Creator, Redeemer, Good Shepherd, Everlasting Father, the Door, the Way, etc. These images purport something to us; they say something to our “fear and hope and will and affections” (78). However, sometimes the abstract theological statements we come up with about God conflict with, or at least take away from, what these images purport. For example, for me, the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Deity does not match up with the purport of the image of a Good Shepherd, taking care of the sheep and searching earnestly for a lost lamb. When this happens, Lewis tells us that we should go with the purport of the image every time (78).
As has been noted previously, ultimate reality is not reducible to abstract propositions and rational formulas. Myth is the best revealer of ultimate reality because it puts us in direct contact with it through images and story. Myth goes beyond rationality and abstract propositions. When applied to the Bible, this means that scripture reveals God directly to us through images and story and we should trust the purport of those images rather than abstract, rational propositions about God. I do not think this means we should not attempt to discover rational propositions about God, but I find those propositions are often unhelpful and agree that they should be abandoned when they conflict with the purport of the clear images of scripture. We should take the images at face value, realizing that metaphors are imperfect but the best medium we have for communicating between finite and infinite realms.
This principle has really helped me in my approach to the Old Testament in particular. There God is described in ways that are very anthropomorphic. He gets angry and frustrated, he changes his mind, and he enters into a conditional covenant with his people. None of these actions is very consistent with the proposition that God is immutable, in my opinion, although I happen to believe that God is immutable. However, understanding that God cannot be fully described by my philosophical language and that the best means of divine communication is metaphor (as imperfect as that is) allows me to accept the purport of the images and leave room for some mystery in my philosophical speculations about God.
Some reflections on our journey to the Promised Land. (And a sneak peek at some material from my forthcoming book.) Click here for audio on the same subject.
The anti-religion crowd sure spends a lot of time and energy trying to make spiritual leaders look bad. (Really, Christopher Hitchens, a screed against Mother Theresa?) This is nothing new, of course, and neither is the reason for it: bringing down the saints is supposed to discredit the Church. A particular target of attention over the past few decades has been Pope Pius XII, the pontiff during World War II. He has been savaged for his supposed complicity with Hitler. What is the real story? I did a bit of research recently to find out.
I posted a link to this article over on my facebook page and got a couple of good comments, but I couldn't privde links in my response, so I brought it over here. Dan wrote:
I would tend to agree with the entertainment portion but I am not really sure that using what is done in the past must be done that way in the now and in the future. We are in an electronic age and the Gospel must and is in most cases relevant in that age. We reach the lost in all ways. Martin Luther used popular songs to create hymns. That was his day. What do you think?
I think you are right that we can use many methods to reach out to the lost (that is the mission of DJEM, after all) , but in regards to actually evangelizing them, preaching is a non-negotiable. I think this has partly to do with the fact that, in preaching, the Spirit of God is present and working in the participants. The preacher actually makes God known, not just in a propositional way, but in a personal, powerful, real way. In good preaching, God isn't just talked about, God is there. This doesn't happen in the same way through other means (or bad preaching, for that matter). I breifly discuss Paul's view of this in a short paper I wrote for a Pauline Soteriology class, which is here if you want to check it out.
My reading material today has included Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris and the first part of Christopher Hitchens' memoir Hitch 22. I was struck by a couple of similarities: both authors have had bad experiences with Christians and both have a terrible understanding of Christian theology. Given this, it is hardly surprising that they are atheists. If I understood Christianity the way they did and had been treated the way they have by Christians, I just might be too.
Surely this is one of the reasons that, as Paul explains, "the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
I don't think this means that we can never debate, but when it comes to talking to atheists, Christians need to do a lot more telling, and a lot less yelling. As I can (unfortunately) share from experience, one of the reasons that talking with atheists is often so fruitless is that a) the Christianity that is defended by the apologist/evangelist is different than the Christianity being rejected by the atheist and b) the apologist/evangelist presents the argument is such an unloving manner that it doesn't matter what is said, it will not be accepted.
Regarding a), I have spoken with skeptics of all types: from ex-pastors who have doctoral degrees from Christian seminaries to high school kids who have never read a word of the Bible and I have yet to interact with one who was not operating, at least somewhat, from a false understanding of the gospel and the evidence upon which we believe it. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Very little of the opposition we meet is inspired by malice or suspicion. It is based on genuine doubt, and often on doubt that is reasonable in the state of the doubter’s knowledge.” People may be skeptical, but because of what they believe, that skepticism may actually be warranted.
Therefore, listening and educating is almost always the first step toward convincing. Before Christians can adequately debate or discuss, we need to ask questions, find out what is actually believed by the atheist and then gently instruct as necessary. If we just start arguing without establishing what each side is actually trying to defend, each person will simply speak past each other and the conversation will go nowhere.
Unfortunately,this approach takes time, patience, and humility, which is why I find it so hard to practice. It is always much easier to get defensive about some point and start arguing. This, then, leads to point b). When someone calls or emails to say what an idiot I am for being a Christian or to give me some silly argument that "proves" there is no God, my first inclination is to tell them what I think of their intellectual ability (and not in a loving manner). Obviously, that temptation must be resisted. The right response is to open up a dialog and, over time, make sure that this person is at least skeptical about the right message (this will undoubtedly involve instruction) and is doubting even in the face of all the evidence.
In the end, I suppose many people continue to reject the gospel even when they know it properly, are aware of all the evidence that supports it, and have been taught this by loving, thoughtful Christians. However, it would be nice if more people, including Hitchens and Harris, got that chance.
Mark Steyn is a genius. I recommend everything he has written, but today these two columns on health care and the effects of big government on a society are especially relevant:Men are From Venus
In a nanny state, big government becomes a kind of religion: the church as state. Tommy Douglas, the driving force between Canadian health care, tops polls of all-time greatest Canadians. In Britain, after the Tube bombings, Gordon Brown began mulling over the creation of what he called a “British equivalent of the US Fourth of July”, a new national holiday to bolster British identity. The Labour Party think-tank, the Fabian Society, and proposed that the new “British Day” should be July 5th, the day the National Health Service was created. Because the essence of contemporary British identity is waiting two years for a hip operation.
They can call it Dependence Day.
Saw this theological comment in support of Obamacare on Facebook: "I think Matthew 19:21 and Matthew 25:35 are [good] verses for what Obama is doing."
Must be reading from the New Obama Version:
Cal Thomas makes many good points this column on the state of many American churches, including this astute observation about the recent move by the Episcopal church to allow gay clergy and weddings:
Denominational leaders explained they are attempting to stem the exodus from their church by embracing a new doctrine they call "inclusivity," which they hope will attract young people.
Apparently church leaders think that if they can reach people before they have fully matured in their faith, they can sidetrack them into beliefs that have nothing to do with the God that Episcopalians once claimed to worship and that they can be shaped into practical secularists who are willing to seek the approval of men, rather than God.
The ironic thing, of course, is that churches that embrace "inclusivity" don't attract many members and the exodus from their church will only escalate. In abandoning their reason for existence, the Episcopal church has also abandoned all the good reasons people once had for joining them.
Here is the first in a series of talks I gave recently in Canada. They are about popular propositions that produce false assurance of salvation in believers and spiritual weakness in the church. You can find the rest (in both MP3 audio and MP4 video format) here.
I realize that I may be the only that finds the self-refuting nonsense of new-age inspirational writers hilarious, but this heading to a Living Life Fully Daily Meditation made me laugh out loud:
A cup is useful only when it is empty; and a mind that is filled with beliefs, with dogmas, with assertions, with quotations is really an uncreative mind.
So, let me paraphrase to see if I have this straight: "Quotation: Quotations are bunk and you shouldn't fill your mind with them. Assertions and beliefs are dangerous so I assert that you should believe this and accept it as domga: never accept dogmas."
I got this funny and insightful email from listener Pete.
As a father of three young children, I am very familiar with the phrase "Daddy, that's not fair!" Appeals to justice ring out frequently in my home and I am often cited as the offending party. "You gave her more ice cream than me!" "You let her play the game longer than I did!" "I shouldn't have to go to bed so early!" From my kids' perspective, I could use a great deal of moral education and development.
In some instances, of course, they are right. I am far from perfect and sometimes their consciences correctly catch me treating them unfairly. However, most of the time they are wrong; there is no injustice taking place. There seems to me at least two common reasons for their mistakes.
First, they often don't have enough (or correct) information about the situation. They are ignorant or misinformed or both. For example, the girls may wrongly believe that they received different amounts of ice cream because the scoops were served in different sized bowls. Not yet knowing about optical illusions or how to measure volume, they perceive one helping as being bigger than the other even though they are not. When it comes to judging time, children simply don't understand that time seems to pass more quickly when you are enjoying yourself than when you are waiting to enjoy yourself. Not being able to use clocks as an objective standard by which to correctly evaluate how much time they each have spent playing games, they accuse me of being unfair based on faulty perceptions.
Second, they sometimes do not have a mature enough understanding of justice to make a proper judgment. For example, they might think I was unfair in not giving their baby brother any ice cream at all. In this instance they need to expand their definition of justice to something beyond "the same amount of stuff for everyone." The truth is, it is not unjust for me to withhold sweets from a baby. It is my ice cream and I can give it to whomever I please. If I deem it unwise to give unhealthy to a baby, that is a perfectly just decision. In fact, I wouldn't even have to give the girls equal portions and it would still be just, as it is my right as the owner to dispense it how I see fit. However, I don't expect the girls to have that sophisticated a conception of justice at age 4 or 7. That is one more example of where their understanding needs maturation.
I got thinking about this phenomenon the other day when a listener emailed me about the seeming injustice of God. He didn't see how it was fair that people who were basically good get sent to hell. (There was much more to the question and to my on-air response but for now I want to focus on one aspect of it.) Part of my response dealt with the idea that we are like children when dealing with God. We are too uniformed and immature to understand everything that happens. That is not to say that we should not try to understand more fully, it is just to state a fact about our current condition. The bottom line is that if we think God isn't being fair, it is due to some lack on our part, not his. Often God will help us see things more clearly - perhaps not see things completely, as that would be impossible (we are not God) - but at least with a little better perspective than before.
For example, when Job complained that God was not being fair, God chided him for being short-sighted and helped him realize that perhaps the creator and sustainer of the universe knew what was happening in that universe better than one of the creatures. God's answer to Job consisted of a theology lesson. Job realized he was ignorant and repented of his accusations. When Moses beseeched God to save Sodom and Gomorrah, he argued that God was not being just in destroying it because there must be some righteous people there. However, when the truth came to light, it was clear that God was perfectly just, as they couldn't find any. In Jesus' parable of the workers in the vineyard, the master hires workers at different times of the day and then pays them all the same amount at the end, regardless of how many hours they had worked. It didn't seem fair to those that had worked more, but in fact it was perfectly just, as Jesus explained.
In each of these cases, people questioned the justice of God based on incorrect information or an inmature view of justice. God answered each complaint with education and assurance that He was, in fact, doing right. I beleive that is part of the answer to the question about hell. Yes, it may seem injust, but that is probably because we don't know all the facts and/or our understanding of justice needs more development. I suspect that is also part of the answer to all the other times each day when we (probably quietly) accuse God of not being fair to us.
Richard Dawkins has taken a leave from his post at Oxford to study the effects of fantasy stories on children. It seems he is worried that they might be leading our children toward accepting irrational religious claims. Janie B. Cheaney has a good take on this, and Brandon and I discuss it at length on a recent radio show.
British journalist Matthew Parris recently visited his native Malawi to witness some charitable work happening there. His trip produced some interesting results:
That belief is that Africa desperately needs God. As he expounds in his essay, Parris is convinced that Christianity produces real spiritual change in people and that this change is essential to African progress. We talked about this story at more length on a recent radio show, but for now I just wanted to point out Parris' self-professed approach to his world view. He is an atheist in spite of the evidence against it. His world view cannot account for the data, but he holds to it anyway. If this is not the blind, irrational "faith" that religious folks are often accused of harboring, I'm not sure what is.
Christopher Hitchens seems to think that if you believe some people are going to hell you are a bigot, as it shows that you think the unsaved are worth less than the saved. This shows an extreme lack of theological understanding on Hitchens' part. According to Christian theology, all people are worth the same, no matter what their race, sex, lot in life or eternal destination. The salvation of an individual is decidedly not a matter of their intrinsic worth, it is a matter of God's grace and their choice. God extends grace to all and all get to decide what they want to do with it. The one who ends up in hell is as valuable in God's eyes as one who ends up in Heaven - the difference between them is their choices.
According to a study by Lisa Keister, conservative Protestants build up far less wealth than the average American. The USA Today reports:
Lisa Keister has scanned the Bible and found nearly 2,000 verses in the New Testament that touch on the topic of money. It's those very verses that may be keeping many conservative Protestants from building up long-term wealth, she says.
Jesus warned his followers not to "store up for yourselves treasures on Earth," and later cautioned that it will be "hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven." Perhaps the best known is the admonition that "the love of money is the root of all evil."
According to data analyzed by Keister, a Duke University sociologist, the median net worth for conservative Protestants in 2000 was $26,000, compared to the national median of $66,200.
Why the gap? Keister says it may all come down to theology.
"The one big difference is the conservative Protestants' assumption that God is the owner of money and people are managers of it," Keister said. "They are doing with their money what God wants them to do with it, so that does mean that it is not sitting in their bank accounts."...
Keister's new article in the American Journal of Sociology, "Conservative Protestants and Wealth: How Religion Perpetuates Asset Poverty," argues that traditional views of money — it's God's, not ours — keep many Protestants from building a financial safety net.
Could be. If it is, I'm glad that people are taking Jesus' teaching about money seriously. I think it is important to point out, though, that a failure to store up material wealth on earth is not due to a lack of concern about security. There is some implication in this article that Christians are so busy doing God's work with God's money that they are foolishly unconcerned about tomorrow. This is untrue. The fact is, these Christians are spending their money on the kingdom of God because they see that as the way to a truly rewarding "retirement" - one that money will never provide.
While Jesus did teach that we are not to "Store up for yourselves treasures on Earth," it is because the treasure on earth is such a terrible safety net. It actually provides no security, and security is what you need. The end of the sentence is "where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal" (Matthew 6:19). Jesus then goes on to prescribe a course of action that is truly secure: "But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:20).
The reason we are not to "put our hope in wealth" is that it "is so uncertain" (1 Timothy 6:17). Jesus did not teach that we are not to think about our future. Rather, he taught that we are to be wise investors, planning for a future that can never be taken away from us, built on a foundation that will never crumble. Money does not offer that future - God does. We are to put our trust in Him.