Archive for the ‘ Biblical Principles ’ Category

Lewis: The Inconsistency of Naturalism

MiraclesIn his book Miracles, C. S. Lewis takes aim at “naturalists” who say that there is no “outside” reference [i.e., God] for calling anything good or evil.

When men use the words, “I ought,” Lewis notes, they are saying something about the essence of right and wrong that is built into the universe. In fact, naturalists should never use such terminology: “But if Naturalism is true,” he writes, “‘I ought’ is the same sort of statement as ‘I itch’ or ‘I’m going to be sick.'”

In effect, if you are going to be consistent as a naturalist, you would not acknowledge any kind of “I ought”; it doesn’t exist. Yet, Lewis explains,

The Naturalist can, if he chooses, brazen it out. He can say . . . “all ideas of good and evil are hallucinations—shadows cast on the outer world by the impulses which we have been conditioned to feel.” Indeed many Naturalists are delighted to say this.

There’s a slight problem, though, for those who attempt to explain good and evil in this way:

But then they must stick to it; and fortunately (though inconsistently) most real Naturalists do not. A moment after they have admitted that good and evil are illusions, you will find them exhorting us to work for posterity, to educate, revolutionise, liquidate, live and die for the good of the human race. . . . They write with indignation like men proclaiming what is good in itself and denouncing what is evil in itself, and not at all like men recording that they personally like mild beer but some people prefer bitter.

C. S. Lewis 9Those of us who have a better grasp of eternal right and wrong—good and evil—have an obligation to communicate the inconsistency of the naturalist position. Lewis certainly fulfills this obligation when he continues,

Do they remember while they are writing thus that when they tell us we “ought to make a better world” the words “ought” and “better” must, on their own showing, refer to an irrationally conditioned impulse which cannot be true or false any more than a vomit or a yawn?

The saving grace is that they cannot be consistent with their own professed ideology:

My idea is that sometimes they do forget. That is their glory. Holding a philosophy which excludes humanity, they yet remain human. At the sight of injustice they throw all their Naturalism to the winds and speak like men.

Lewis’s call to consistency is one Christians need to heed as well. Do we say one thing theoretically and act as if it is not true? Do we have a theology, for instance, that tells us that we are not really accountable for our actions, yet then act as if we are? Something to think about—all the time.

Lewis: Good & Bad People

C. S. Lewis 10“What need have I of Christ?” some say. “I’m a good person. I don’t do all those truly evil things other people do.” That’s one of the greatest deceptions we face. C. S. Lewis confronts it directly in Mere Christianity when he compares the “nice” person with a person who doesn’t come across as quite so nice.

He notes that some people are just naturally more even-tempered and balanced in their personalities, and that is what can lead them astray. “Natural gifts carry with them a . . . danger,” he warns.

If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. “Why drag God into it?” you may ask.

Those kinds of people are deceived into thinking there is no need to turn to God. He compares them to those Jesus spoke of when He said it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom.

Then there are those other people:

It is very different for the nasty people—the little, low, timid, warped, thin-blooded, lonely people, or the passionate, sensual, unbalanced people. If they make any attempt at goodness at all, they learn, in double quick time, that they need help. It is Christ or nothing for them.

At least they recognize their need. The “good” people are the ones who don’t see just how sinful they are at heart. “If you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel,” Lewis correctly instructs. “The Devil was an archangel once; his natural gifts were as far above yours as yours are above those of a chimpanzee.”

That doesn’t mean there is no hope for “good” people, but those who clearly see their danger might actually be in the better place spiritually:

But if you are a poor creature—poisoned by a wretched up-bringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels—saddled, by no choice of your own with some loathsome sexual perversion—nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends—do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive.

The Gospel is the Good News that we can be rescued from any situation, whether outwardly “good” or “bad.” His love reaches to all. Salvation is offered to everyone who recognizes the need for redemption.

Lewis: Beyond Mere Moral Duty

In the C. S. Lewis course I’m currently teaching, we just completed reading and discussing his autobiography, Surprised By Joy. Although I hoped the students would be impacted by it, I was pleasantly surprised (by joy?) how much it seemed to impress them. Their observations went beyond simple repetition of facts; most felt that God was speaking to them personally through Lewis.

We’re now turning our attention to some of the key chapters in Mere Christianity. I’ll be looking forward to what they might say about passages such as the following:

C. S. Lewis 13If no set of moral ideas were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilised morality to Nazi morality.

In fact, of course, we all do believe that some moralities are better than others. . . .

The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard . . . comparing them both with some Real Morality, admitting that there is such a thing as a real Right, independent of what people think, and that some people’s ideas get nearer to that real Right than others.

While those statements may seem basic to some, they are a shock to others, and the way Lewis describes the concept helps to arrest one’s attention.

In an article the students won’t be reading, Lewis’s “The Novels of Charles Williams,” he goes beyond the basics and gets to the “meat” of what the morality of the Law entails:

Morality has spoiled literature often enough: we all remember what happened to some nineteenth-century novels. The truth is, it is very bad to reach the stage of thinking deeply and frequently about duty unless you are prepared to go a stage further.

The Law, as St. Paul first clearly explained, only takes you to the school gates. Morality exists to be transcended. We act from duty in the hope that someday we shall do the same acts freely and delightfully.

That is what I seek for my students: that they go further in, past the duties of morality into the joy of being what God wants us to be. Of course, that’s what I seek also for my own life. It’s the goal for each of us.

C. S. Lewis: Miracles

Seeing is not always believing. Presuppositions rule. Jesus heals people and the Pharisees claim he is doing it by the power of Satan. He raises Lazarus from the dead and they decide to kill Him. Their presuppositions said that since He was not one of them, this cannot be allowed.

In the story of Lazarus (a different Lazarus) and the rich man, Jesus has the rich man saying from hell that he wants someone to go tell his relatives the truth. The response? Even if someone should rise from the dead, they will not believe.

MiraclesC. S. Lewis, in his book Miracles, explains it this way:

Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled, or tasted. And our senses are not infallible.

If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience.

Yet despite our fallible senses, miracles do occur. There have been stories about miracles throughout the ages, but Lewis draws a distinction between the fanciful stories and those that are recorded in Scripture:

The fitness of the Christian miracles and their difference from these mythological miracles, lies in the fact that they show invasion by a Power which is not alien.

They are what might be expected to happen when she is invaded not simply by a god, but by the God of Nature: by a Power which is outside her jurisdiction not as a foreigner but as a sovereign.

They proclaim that He who has come is not merely a king, but the King, her King and ours.

A miracle, then, is a friendly invasion. It is God refashioning His creation at a moment in time for a specific purpose. And we can believe what we see when we are submitted to the King.

Miracles Quote

Lewis: Justice & Mercy

C. S. Lewis 11Is it really merciful not to carry out justice? Is the concept of justice too harsh? Should a Christian believe in punishment for crimes?

C. S. Lewis thought through this issue in an essay he published in 1949 called “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.” If we go by feelings, we may think we are being humane in forgiving without real punishment. Lewis disagrees.

The essential act of mercy was to pardon; and pardon in its very essence involves the recognition of guilt and ill-desert in the recipient. If crime is only a disease which needs cure, not sin which deserves punishment, it cannot be pardoned. How can you pardon a man for having a gumboil or a club foot?

Lewis begins with the common-sense acknowledgement that a man is accountable for his actions. No one is accountable for a mere physical deformity; that’s not a moral issue. But there is a real right and wrong for which our choices determine our guilt or innocence. Humanitarians instead wish to treat any “bad” choice as merely a disease for which one is unaccountable. Lewis will not have that.

But the Humanitarian theory want simply to abolish Justice and substitute Mercy for it. This means that you start being “kind” to people before you have considered their rights, and then force upon them supposed kindnesses which no one but you will recognize as kindnesses and which the recipient will feel as abominable cruelties. You have overshot the mark.

Justice-MercyThat may seem counterintuitive to some, but what Lewis is saying is that offering “mercy” to people who never have come to grips with the injustice they have committed is no mercy at all; people need to answer for their sinful actions. That’s the only possible path toward redemption. They will only understand genuine mercy if they first feel the hammer of justice. The Law leads to the Gospel.

Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful. That is the important paradox. As there are plants which will flourish only in mountain soil, so it appears that Mercy will flower only when it grows in the crannies of the rock of Justice: transplanted to the marshlands of mere Humanitarianism, it becomes a man-eating weed, all the more dangerous because it is still called by the same name as the mountain variety.

Humanitarian mercy is a fake mercy, and dangerous because it tries to pass for the real thing. For mercy to have its full impact, justice must come first.

Christian Colleges–Are They?

I’ve been involved with Christian higher education for a long time; I’m beginning my 27th year of teaching next month. I can’t imagine trying to do what I do in the classroom in any other setting than a Christian college or university committed to upholding Biblical standards.

CCCUThe primary organization that acts as an umbrella for these Christian educational institutions is the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). All Christian colleges that are part of this organization are supposed to maintain a basic fidelity to the essential teachings of Scripture regarding Christian faith, committed to a high view of Biblical authority.

Now, two of those institutions, Goshen College in Indiana and Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, have decided, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, to alter their view of Biblical marriage. Both are now allowing same-sex married couples to be on the faculty.

This is a radical departure from Christian orthodoxy. One would assume these institutions would immediately be suspended from the CCCU, yet the official statement from its board of directors is that they will continue deliberations.

What is there to deliberate?

The rationale for suspending judgment on the matter is that all member colleges and universities will be contacted and consulted first. I am trying to give the benefit of the doubt here, but if an organization that says it is committed to Biblical authority cannot emphatically declare from the outset that what these two institutions have done is clearly unbiblical, one must be excused for having doubts about that commitment.

The CCCU may come to the correct conclusion after all its consultations and deliberations. Goshen and Eastern Mennonite may no longer be part of the organization as a result. Yet I cannot help but be dismayed by the slow nature of decisionmaking on a subject that should not be a matter of debate.

Christian EducationI’ve had my concerns about Christian higher education all along, primarily the willingness on the part of some of these institutions to show a Christian face to prospective students and their parents, while allowing some of their faculty to teach on the fringes on genuine Christianity—and in some cases to hold forth blatantly unbiblical positions.

Do I have a problem with academic freedom? Not at all. I want to be able to teach what I believe to be Biblical without undue scrutiny. But there is a limit when you agree to a statement of faith before being hired. If you then teach contrary to that statement of faith, you have demonstrated infidelity and a distinct lack of integrity.

Christian education needs to be uniquely Christian. We are here to serve the Lord and help lead our students into a Biblical worldview. If we do anything less than that, we are unfaithful to the One who called us.

Lewis: The Real “Love Wins”

The word “love” is being tossed around these days in a loose manner. We’re now informed we have to apply it to same-sex marriage, even while the Scripture is perfectly clear that depravity is not to be equated with love.

Love is not a fleeting emotion, nor even a lifelong affection. Yes, you might differentiate between types of love, as C. S. Lewis does in his book The Four Loves, but when we are talking about God’s love—the kind of love we are supposed to mirror—there is only one way to explain it.

Mere ChristianityAs Lewis notes in Mere Christianity,

Love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.

God’s love also is a willful thing toward us. It is not sappy; it does not simply accept us as we are and not expect change. True love seeks the best for the one loved. Lewis continues,

Love StoryThough our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

The cost to Him was the ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. The cost to us is a heart of repentance and eternal gratitude for His willingness to do whatever it took to heal the breach and unite us to Him.

The “love wins” hashtag making the rounds is more properly “lust wins.” True love already has won, and He is offering us—the most unworthy of recipients—an eternity of love that we don’t deserve.