No Apologizing

Christian Apologetic, and Social Commentary in a world gone mad

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What is truth?


What is truth?

There was an article published in Christianity Today about Christian Psychology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  The story had a lot to do with Eric Johnson stepping down as the leading Christian psychology professor from Southern.  There is a backstory associated with his resignation, his relationship with the head of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Heath Miller and Albert Mohler, President of the college.  The article details interactions, statements, who said what, and who potentially influenced who.  The primary issue though is more subtle, and potentially damaging to Christian education in general.

The primary question that should be examined is this, what is truth?

Wrapped in the human interactions of what has transpired between these gentlemen is the idea of biblical sufficiency.  To be specific issue here, Eric Johnson believes Christian Psychology can be an integrated field between the Bible and science.  He has and continues to argue that the Bible is the final source of truth and that God’s truth is universal.  Meaning that it can be applied or seen in secular fields of study.  Heath Miller, and it would appear Albert Mohler, disagree with this point arguing in the supremacy of scripture alone.

This article has a special meaning to me.  Being an alum of Southern, and knowing the impact that it has on the church, I am and will continue to be interested in what it teaches young students as they become pastors and head out into the world.  With a Doctorate in Education, I have a passion for how these students are educated and ensuring that they are prepared for the real world that lies outside of the confines of a seminary.  The other reason that this has a special meaning is that I have been on the frontline of this war between integration, and scripture alone.  My engagement began before entering Southern and was pushed to all-out war by the time I graduated.

Let me explain.

During my first trip to Louisville for classes, I entered into a discussion about church planting with a few of my classmates.  It was an excellent discussion.  Of those involved, two were directly involved with ministry, and two were involved in the business world.  I suggested that church planting could be more effectively and efficiently managed through project management.  The two involved with ministry balked at the notion, arguing that it wasn’t biblical and that project management was more business-oriented rather than church oriented.  I loved that discussion because it was an open and honest exchange, which paled in comparison to the discussions I had had with local pastors who simply deny that business tools and skills are simply not applicable to church management.  Again, the default position is that the using business skills, administrative skills as the Bible calls them, cannot be employed or are not applicable because they are not biblical.  At least with my classmates, there was a dialogue  and a great academic discussion.  With the local pastors…not so much.

My next encounter with this issue was with the presentation I made on Idealism.  During this presentation, I argued that Plato had unknowingly discovered the truth of God while exploring his Allegory of the Cave, had precisely described the separation between spirit and body, and began to argue for an absolute moral ethic, which could only be supported by God.  As such, I argued that incorporating these grander idea’s and philosophies into church education could be paramount to helping Christians explain their faith, and asked for a paradigm shift to include philosophy, as well as the practical components of day to day living.

The response was predictable, and only one student out of our group of 12 agreed.  Most argued precisely what Albert Mohler and Heath Lambert argued.  I and the classmate who agreed with me took the position of Eric Johnson.  This was not the only time that this would happen.  This issue would come up in my dissertation, as I argued that complexity theory was compatible with the Bible and that secular research for organizational change identified characteristics of general change which are found in the Bible.  At one point in my argument, my supervisor had stated that one of my points was unbiblical, to which I responded…I disagree.

Fast forward to today.  I have started listening to a lecture series on CS Lewis and what shaped his philosophy.  Several quotes were noted in the second lecture which caught my attention.  And several that I found on my own.

  • “the only possible basis for Christian apologetics is a proper respect for paganism”
  • “[I]t is only since I have become a Christian that I have learned really to value the elements of truth in Paganism and Idealism. I wished to value them in the old days; now I really do. Don’t suppose that I ever thought myself that certain elements of pantheism were incompatible with Christianity or with Catholicism.”
  • “Theology, while saying that a special illumination has been vouchsafed to Christians and (earlier) to Jews, also says that there is some divine illumination vouchsafed to all men. The Divine light, we are told, ‘lighteneth every man.’ We should, therefore, expect to find in the imagination of great Pagan teachers and myth makers some glimpse of that theme which we believe to be the very plot of the whole cosmic story—the theme of incarnation, death, and rebirth.”

What is Lewis talking about?  Integration.  This idea, that divine inspiration could motivate secular non-biblical thought.  This notion that there is value to studying secular theology to improve our ability to communicate to a lost world.  Which begs the question,  would Lewis have been able to get a job at Southern based on his belief that apologetics must be inclusive of more paganistic writings and philosophies as a point of reference?

For Lewis, it would appear that the answer to the question of ‘what is truth?’, would have been the universal truth that can be attributed to God. Even if it came from the mind of a lost soul.

Having taught Biblical Ethics, I now can fully grasp the point that Lewis is trying to make.  There is biblical truth found in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.  There is biblical truth found in Kant’s Categorical imperative.  There is biblical truth found in Bentham’s utilitarian ethics.  However, they are all not biblical, and many aspects of each theory do not line up with the Bible.  I agree with Lewis; we can use these philosophies to have a greater understanding of atheistic ethics and use them to shed light on biblical truth during an apologetics discussion.  However, that involves utilizing texts outside of the Bible and would be an integrative approach.

My heart is concerned about the message something like this sends to those who watch how the Baptist church acts in general.  Many people still look at the Baptist church as the church that wouldn’t allow Kevin Bacon to dance to Kenny Loggins.  Things like this, further that perception.  To actually argue that only those who are saved are the only ones who can discover God’s truth is simply unrealistic, and not historical.  For Southern to take the position and actively engage in staffing decisions based on the idea of excluding the integration of knowledge is a flawed position, and opposes CS Lewis’s view.  From an educational perspective, you have more students, who head out as pastors, with very little understanding of the real world, and how real people educate themselves in it.

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Does Mere Christianity really represent Christianity?


Mere Christianity or Mere bunk?

In our 2011 Challenge we encouraged our readers to try their hand at reading and digesting a Christian book.  I recently read and reviewed C. S Lewis’  Mere Christianity (San Francisco:  Harper Collins, 1952, 1980. Pp. 227) for a class I took at Luther Rice Seminary and thought I’d share my thoughts with you here:

Sociologists have observed that the United States has lagged behind, or followed, the socio-political and cultural trends of Europe.  At times, in terms of things like fashion, for example, the lag-time is rather short, whereas in more foundational issues such as cultural and political trends, the time gap between progressive Europe and the more conservative America is quite broad.  This helps explain why a book that was written from radio-broadcasts given in Great Brittan during the 1940’s is still relevant in America today.  C. S. Lewis agreed to give the radio-talks, which were later edited and compiled as the book Mere Christianity (Click Here for a link to this book on Amazon.com), to explain and defend the Christian faith to a war-torn country “which had come to consider itself part of a ‘post-Christian’ world” (p. XIX).  Following that European trend, America is becoming increasingly post-Christian as well.  Mere Christianity has become a foundational classic in the field of apologetics. It has helped shape the way both apologists and Christians in general think and speak and set the standard for defending Christianity to a “post-Modern” or “post-Christian” world.  It is oft quoted by other apologists in their works; it has been used by others as a tool for thoughtful dialog with atheists and has served to strengthen the faith of Christians who have been confronted with their own doubts or by questions raised by atheistic family, friends and acquaintances.  Though it is not without its imperfections and some of the language, examples and illustrations given by Lewis are a bit out-dated, it is still useful for these purposes today.

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) taught at Oxford then later at Cambridge, where he was the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance English.  He was a prolific writer, credited with authoring more than thirty books including:  The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screw-tape Letters, and works such as Reflections on the Psalms.  Lewis’ understanding of literature, language and popular culture, as well as his high intellect and background as a staunch atheist, uniquely qualify him to produce this pioneering work.  He wanted to tell his country “in basic terms what the religion [Christianity] was all about” (p. XIX) not to “convert anyone to [his] own position” (p. VIII) but to help them understand Christianity’s reasonableness over other belief systems, including atheism.  Indeed, because he was formerly an atheist, Lewis was able to articulate and answer many of their common objections to Christianity in a gentle, respectful and convincing manner.  Additionally, Lewis felt being a layman helped him to better relay the basic tenants of Christianity to unbelievers in a more commonly understood way than a highly trained theologian (who may be tempted to expound upon issues that divide various Christian sects).

Lewis originally organized this book into three parts that reflected the formatting of the radio broadcasts.  In fact, the original work included contractions and italics designed to reproduce the conversational feel of the radio programs as much as possible.  The current revised and amplified edition still tries to maintain a “‘popular’ or ‘familiar’ tone” (p. VII) which allows Lewis’ logical case to shine through without the cumbrance of highly technical language. 

The book is now arranged into four sections that progressively take the reader on a journey of faith opening with the contention that there is such a thing as an absolute Moral Law that must originate from something outside this universe.  Lewis goes on to make the case that it is most reasonable to identify the origin of that Moral Law as the Trinitarian God of the Bible.  He used this foundation to demonstrate the need for man’s redemption to God through Jesus Christ.  Building off these notions, Lewis explains morality from a Christian perspective in the next “book”, and concludes that section with a description of what it means to truly have faith.  Lewis closes with a theological section that attempts to describe “what God is and what He has done” (p. 187) and how Christians should respond to that by becoming new creatures – something Lewis describes as being beyond human. The progression of his arguments throughout is logical and convincing and probably to the truly open inquirer, quite convicting.  It is likely that God has used this work to bring a great multitude of souls into His kingdom. 

This work is first and foremost an apologetic treatise.  Even though the final “book” seems more designed for one who has already made a decision to believe, the entire work contains a good amount of apologetic material.  It seems as though Lewis was doing his best to gently and respectfully walk people through a journey from ignorant unbelief to a reasoned understanding of Christianity that culminates in one placing their faith in Jesus and then living for Him – to put it in his terms, he is hoping that people will move from Bios (Biological life) to Zoe (Spiritual life) (p. 159, 177).  He goes about this by presenting a progressive, comprehensive and “common” view of Christianity.

In the preface Lewis stated that he wished “to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times” (p. VIII), but he strays from that goal as there are a few ideas that are expressly stated and others that are merely alluded to which many evangelicals would say at least partially depart from orthodox evangelical Christianity.  Some of these departures are perhaps caused by Lewis’ desire to present a universal or non-sectarian picture of Christianity while others are undoubtedly due to Lewis’ personal convictions. Either way, however, these notions that may even be viewed by some as heresy certainly do not represent the “common” Christian faith Lewis professed to be aiming to present.

One area where Lewis deviates from traditional-orthodox Christianity is that he betrays a belief in Darwinian evolution throughout.  Because Darwin proposed his theories in the 1800’s that cannot be a view held by Christians “at all times” (p. VIII).  Additionally, this view of creation undercuts a trust in biblical inerrancy, which is a core value shared by conservative-evangelical Christians.  It also seems that Lewis alludes to the doctrine of purgatory when he speaks of an “inconceivable purification… after death” (p. 202). This doctrine, of course, has been rejected by most protestant denominations and is a key point in one’s soteriology.  Lewis also seems to err in his soteriology by implying that one must clean themselves up prior to coming to faith in Christ when he said, “it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong direction” (p164).  The final doctrinal error Lewis apparently held to is that he seemed to be at least partially an inclusionist. He said, “There are people in other religions who… belong to Christ without knowing it” (p. 209) – This is untenable from a “common” Christian perspective.

In spite of the teachings that are not common to all Christianity and/or are incompatible with traditional orthodoxy, there are several subjects where Lewis’ arguments are matchless.  Possibly the most useful of these from an apologetic sense is Lewis’ defense of Jesus’ deity (either He is a liar, a lunatic or Lord) (p. 52).  This is followed closely in importance by his convincing argument that our common sense of morality is strong evidence for the existence of the God revealed in the Bible.  Mere Christianity also begins a good preliminary discussion on the problem of evil (as Lewis presents the similarities between Christianity and classic dualism), and it contains an excellent response to atheistic objections that are rooted in the perceived hypocrisy of Christians.  These philosophical gems make wading through the theological problems and the difficulties created by the difference in time and culture well worth the effort.

The brilliance and impact of Mere Christianity cannot be denied; it is indeed a classic which has helped shape the standard for apologetics to post-Modern non-Christians, particularly with the issues listed above.  However, this work is far from the inerrant and inspired Word of God.  In fact, there are several significant topics in which Lewis does not hold to conservative evangelical Christianity.  If one just scans the table of contents they may be tempted to rely upon this book as a layman’s systematic theological handbook, but because of these issues, those wishing to fully understand orthodox Christianity should avoid employing Mere Christianity for that purpose.  Instead, one should learn to utilize the theologically sound arguments contained in this work as part of a more comprehensive apologetics repertoire, so that they may gently and respectfully “give an answer to everyone who asks [them] to give the reason for the hope that [they] have” (1 Peter 3:15).

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