C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: Analysis and Application Part IV

cslsmoking_thumb.jpgThe second book entitled What Christians Believe deals with alternatives to the Christian faith. Lewis first establishes that though other religions are inherently wrong as a whole, yet Christians cannot categorically affirm that they have nothing to offer that is good and wholesome. This is a valid point as far as it goes. If by affirming some good in other religions, Lewis refers to their commitment (as in Islam), their good behavior in public (Mormons; though they would be a “cult” in my perspective), or good moral teachings (like Judaism), then I think it is a fair assessment. Nevertheless, Christians reject any alternative to Christianity, because God says, “You shall have no other gods before me.”[1] By allowing any other religion opposed to the God of the Bible, the right to instruct us on how we ought to live is to break the first commandment. God Himself has the authority to instruct us and all that we need is found in His Revelation. In the end of the day, all truth is God’s truth, but when any other truth, besides the Scriptures becomes authoritative in our daily instruction, we have deceived ourselves.

Before delving into a few specifics of this section of the book, there is a humorous section where Lewis discusses one reader’s complaint about his constant usage of the word “damned.” Lewis writes:

One listener complained of the word “damned” as frivolous swearing. But I mean exactly what I say-nonsense that is damned is under God’s curse, and will (apart from God’s grace) lead those who believe it to eternal death.[2]

This is somewhat humorous in light of the contemporary evangelical fear of using language that would be considered cursing. This is in my estimation a hangover from fundamentalism. Lewis is right, but does not go far enough. Lewis is correct that the use of the word “damned” is reserved and can be used for all things and people that are worthy of curses and damnation. (for my article on cursing click here)

Among the great rivals for the conception of God, is the concept of No-god. This is atheism (a-No; Theism-God). Lewis develops his critique of atheism by saying that atheism is too simple. Atheism leads to meaninglessness. But if it is meaningless, then how do we know that statement to be a meaningful expression of what atheism signifies? But also, Christianity can fall into that same category. It can also be too simple and fall short of a proper alternative to atheism. This is what Lewis calls Christianity and water. He writes:

Christianity-and-water, (is) the view which simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right-leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption.[3]

This, of course, is convenient Christianity. “Just tell me when I must come to church and how much I have to give, and then leave me alone.” As Lewis argues later in the book, you cannot have a religion with no ethical demands. God plus no duty equals no Christianity. Unfortunately, millions prefer to serve this God that is only good. It is natural to assume why the natural man does not want to pursue God at any depth. If he does so, then he must be confronted with his many responsibilities before the government of the family and the civil government as well. Further, he will come to grasp with the horrible consequences of not submitting to Christ as Lord. To put it simply, doctrinal depth can lead to a God that is not so convenient to the modern mind.

It is here also that the atheist “inquisitor”[4] wants to have it both ways. The intellectual atheist sees the gospel message and says, “This is too simple.” It does not match their criteria of what a respectable religion should be. On the other hand, when they are presented with the great knowledge of the church throughout the ages, they say, ” This is too hard.” At this point the atheist reveals what is truly in his heart. As Romans 3 says: “There is none who seek after God, no not one.”

The apologetic of C.S. Lewis would be considered to be evidential in nature.[5] Though, he may also be influenced by classical apologetics.[6] Lewis seems to use the latter in proving the existence of God. He begins by proving the God of theism and then perhaps the resurrected Christ.[7] Lewis asserts that the atheist cannot deny the existence of God. Everything that he assumes proves God. Lewis uses the example of a robber. He is considered by society to be bad, but where does badness come from? According to Lewis:

To be bad, he must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent.[8]

He continues:

All the things, which enable a bad man to be effectively bad, are in themselves good things-resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself.[9]

The bad does not exist apart from the good, there can be no real dichotomy in this world.[10]

Briefly, I shall speak to an area of Lewis’ writings that I despise, his treatment of free will. But before doing so, I want to relish on his idea of the great king’s purpose for the Advent (His Coming). Lewis sees the present world as “Enemy-occupied territory.” Surely since the fall we have lost the innocence of the garden and have allowed the enemies of God, the seed of the serpent (Genesis 3:15), to have dominion over what rightly belongs to God. Nevertheless, those who have seen the end of the story are fully aware that God’s secret plan will crush Satan’s armies. Lewis beautifully summarizes the story of the Great King:

Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you may say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.[11]

A great sabotage; this is a great plan to take over the planet that rightly belongs to the King of Kings. This calls for activism in every sense of the word. We cannot remain silent in this world pretending that what will be will be; this is fatalism, not Calvinism. Having dominion requires a plan; and only God’s plan can nullify the enemies’ tactics.[12]

Allow me to speak to Lewis’ view of free will. Lewis writes:

God created things, which had free will. That means creatures which can go either wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata-of creatures that worked like machines-would hardly be worth creating.[13]

This form of argumentation you see ad infinitum. In fact, it may have been this exact argument from Lewis that has influenced notable Arminian scholars throughout the last 30 years. I can see the validity of it, if one looks merely at the existential level. All of us want to be free, autonomous, not bound by anything outside ourselves, the captain of our ship and masters of our own souls. Nevertheless, the Bible presents an entirely different picture. When Lewis speaks of free will being the ability to go either wrong or right, he is misleading the reader (certainly not on purpose). If by freedom, Lewis simply meant the physical ability to do one thing over another, to have pizza instead of spaghetti, then there would be no dispute. But Lewis uses freedom in a spiritual level. How can man choose good or evil, if he is dead (Ephesians 2:1)? Or how can he choose the good when he does not seek the good (Romans 3:10-21)? The fall brought humanity to a perplexing stage. He can no longer desire the things of God, unless they are given to him by the Father (John 6:44). For Lewis free will is necessary because without it, we are mere robots. But would that not be a glorious thing? Imagine doing God’s will at every breath and at every stage of life. To be a robot is only drudgery to those who do not know the wonder of being led by God at every moment. Nevertheless, the Biblical picture is that we are not robots, but responsible beings. God is sovereign and we are responsible, but lest we find some sense of pleasure in that fact, Paul tells us that even our deeds (our good works) is a gift from God. He works in and through us. Apart from God we are nothing. Only the regenerate mind can do good and even then we cannot claim it for ourselves, for God receives all the glory. This I believe is the right perspective on the matter, though incomplete in its treatment.

Finally, in this final section, Lewis speaks rightly about the inability of man to speak without divine consent. That is, man speaks because God grants Him the ability to do so. In Lewis’ words:

When you are arguing against Him (God) you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on.[14]

How is it like to breathe because God gives you breath? How is it to speak against your Creator? And how is it to make a “case” against the existence of God while being upheld by His power to do so? Indeed, what is man that God is mindful of him.

[1] Exodus 20:2.[2] Mere Christianity, pg. 45.[3] Ibid. 47.

[4] I am very careful with this idea of an atheist inquiring about the faith. Calvinism teaches that unless the Spirit of God changes the heart no one can truly seek the things of God. Generally, when the atheist “seeks” God, they are seeking what they can gain for themselves.

[5] John Warwick Montgomery and Gary Habermas hold to this position.

[6] Held by R.C. Sproul and others.

[7] I am not aware of Lewis using arguments from the resurrection in his apologetic. I am willing to be corrected.

[8] Mere Christianity, pg. 50.

[9] Ibid., pg. 50.

[10] In the world to come, all bad is abolished and all things will be perfectly good.

[11] Lewis, pg. 51.

[12] Only an optimistic eschatology is capable of accomplishing this. I doubt Lewis dealt at all with the issue of eschatology, but if I had to guess he would probably be some sort of Amillenialist like most Anglicans

[13] Ibid. 52.

[14] Mere Christianity, pg. 55.

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Anthropology, Atheism, Book Reviews, C.S. Lewis, Ethics, Philosophy, Reflections, Tolle Lege, Tribute. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity: Analysis and Application Part IV

  1. rickd3352013 says:

    If you, who are evil, know how to give good things to your children…Just discovered your blog. Interesting.

  2. Frederick says:

    Never mind of course that the featured image of Lewis shows us that he was a drug (tobacco) addict.
    Do you really think that anyone who was alive to the subtleties of Spiritual Life (as per the image A Feather on the Breath of God) would consciously indulge in such a self-destructive habit/addiction? Consistently and every day inhaling a mouthfuls of toxic chemicals into his lungs, and thus into his blood-stream and thus into every cell of his body. And thus slowly but surely

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