Christian Reflections and Other Essays
Christianity and Literature
Lewis here writes about Christianity and literature, specifically what is Christian literature and how does it differ with secular literature. He read this paper to a religious society at Oxford fairly early in his Christian walk. The question he seems to be answering is, "What is Christian literature?" His main argument is that the rules for good literature are the same for both Christian and non-Christian. He writes, "The rules for writing a good passion play or a good devotional lyric are simply the rules for writing tragedy or lyric in general;" He goes on to use a typical Lewisian styly argument by discussing a Christian cook book, "Boiling an egg is the same process whether you are a Christian or a Pagan."
He then adds to his argument a very important point, that the Christian view of literature must be that attitude of excellence. He uses two points, "I admit freely that to believe in the Incarnation at all is to believe that every mode of human excellence is implicity in His historical human character: poethood, of course, included." His second point goes with this one, "Applying this principle to literature, in its greatest generality, we should get as the basis of all critical theory the maxim that an author should never conceive himself as bringing into existence beauty or wisdom which did nor exist before, but simply and solely as trying to embody in terms of his own art some reflection of eternal Beauty and Wisdom." As we look at both of these points his argument becomes clear, we are to reflect the image of Christ's character and beauty in the literature we write.
Lewis wrote about this concept in Letters of C. S. Lewis "Creation as applied to human authorship seems to me to be an entirely misleading term. We rearrange elements He has provided. There is not a vestige of real creativity de novo in us."
Lewis' argument is quite sound here. It works well with the intended audience. I found his insights to be helpful in understanding true creativity. That which flows from us is truly creative when we reflect Christ's image best.
Christianity and Culture
What is the value of culture? This is the question that Lewis is addressing in this essay. He wrote this collection of papers for a periodical called Theology. They were published in March 1940. He seems to have wrestled with the amount of attention he should be giving to culture because of his faith. Was culture a means of salvation? That is to say is the more cultured person more able to understand the claims of the gospel and come to faith in Christ? Or is the other way around? The cultural minded person is less able to come to Christ and he must lay down all of his cultural understanding to come to Christ?
The argument he is putting forward goes something like this, culture is a reflection of Christian values. These values are not explicitly the same as Christian virtues, they are shadows or remembrances of the real thing. The illustrations he uses are very good. He says, "They resemble the regenerate life only as affection resembles charity, or honour resembles virtue, or the moon the sun. But though the 'like is not the same', it is better than unlike." In this sense culture can be an instrument of salvation for some, though not all. This will also give a good reason for the pursuit of a better cultural understanding, through the understanding of culture we better understand how the biblical truths become relevant in society.
His argument seems to me to be sound. He is addressing people who are interested in theology and he is making a strong theological argument. As far as problems or weaknesses in it I would say I wished he held to the total depravity of man because from my own perspective I don't see that as a contradiction to what he is saying. We from a reformed perspective do believe that man still shows forth in some degree the Glory of God. This doesn't mean the same thing as total depravity which I think Lewis assumes it does. In Lewis' mind I think he would say that if man was totally depraved there would not be any of the image of God left in him. I just think Lewis didn't completely understand the reformed position.
Religion: Reality of Substitute
What is real and what is the substitute? That is the question Lewis is trying to answer here. He isn't really dealing with the issue of communion versus the Jewish sacrificial system, what he is dealing with is the spiritual realm and the physical realm of life in general. He is speaking about our Christian faith. Is what we believe real or what we perceive the real thing.
He uses several good illustrations to make his point that perception has more to do with our own introspection than with reality. We perceive things a certain way because we have a philosophy of life apart from faith through which we interpret feelings. Lewis puts it this way, "I am only trying to put the whole problem the right way round, to make it clear that the value given to the testimony of any feeling must depend on our whole philosophy, not our whole philosophy on a feeling." The real problem then according to Lewis is we may have the wrong philosophy. Lewis goes on to point out the real issue is faith. Any philosophy that doesn't begin with faith as a central position is a bad philosophy.
He also states the reason, authority, and experience are things that faith can use to bring us the truth. Only through a philosophical view based on faith can we correctly perceive the feelings that are inevitable in our lives. He sees faith as a gift and one that we should ask God for.
His argument is biblical, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."
Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV Note in these verses that faith is the gift of God. We don't earn faith nor do we inherently have faith within ourselves. Faith is something God provides for us in order for us to be saved.
The question Lewis addresses in this essay is whether the world needs to return to explicitly Christian ethics to stop the decay of society or whether the puritanical ethics of Christianity are really the scourge of society and has been the cause of all the problems. Both of these ideas were present in Lewis' time as they are now in our time. Lewis' main argument is that they are asking the wrong question. He is not going to side with either one of them and disagrees with both of them. This essay first appears in this book and is suggested by Hooper to have been written around 1943.
Lewis argues that the moralist view which would impose Christian ethics on society for the preservation of the same, make the same mistake the opposition makes. This mistake is the existence of a moral absolute law. The Christian faith always spoke to the penitent. Those who knew they violated a moral law that was already in existence. There was no need for another law, the people who came to Christ knew already that they had violated God's Law, even those who didn't have the Law. "for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them." Romans 2:14-15 NKJV
An attempt to enforce a Christian ethic on society for the preservation of society presupposes that society doesn't already know that moral law. This is an unbiblical idea.
Lewis is quite correct in opposing it.
Lewis goes on to discuss new moralities. It is clearly misguided to try to create a new ethical code. We will always fall short of that and end up with something quite poor by comparison. Also we will always start by presupposing a moral code in order to create a new code. Lewis puts it this way, "Let us very clearly understand that, in a certain sense, it is no more possible to invent a new ethics than to place a new sun in the sky. Some precept from traditional morality always has to be assumed." He goes on to tell us that type of morality is but a mere shadow of the real morality we already possess. I like the way he puts it, "that those who urge us to adopt new moralities are only offering us the mutilated of expurgated text of a book which we already possess in the original manuscript."
I appreciate something Lewis said on this subject in Mere Christianity, "The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of you own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up an absolute guide." This is the danger of those who would propose a new ethic. Whatever we attempt to do, no matter how good intentioned will fall so far short of the moral Law of God that by comparison it will appear devilish.
His argument here seems quite sound and he makes a good point, I know I thought that somehow the need for Christian ethics being restored in our society was the answer to many of our problems. I can see from what Lewis said, I had some wrong assumptions. We already have the moral code to effect society, we need to preach repentance and God's grace and forgiveness.
Futility is the issue of this essay. Lewis starts out discussing the impending gloom and sense of futility that settled in on people when they realized that the world would probably never achieve peace. The human misery of war was here to stay and that there would be other wars after World War II. After the optimism of the 1920's this is understandable. Most people really thought that World War I was the 'war to end all wars'. I can imagine their dismay and sense of futility when they found themselves immersed in a second world war.
He moves to his real issue next, the issue of evolution. He discusses the popular version of evolution and the misconception that evolution means by definition improvement. This is not the case as he points out. He states that degradation is the much more likely position.
He moves on to use logic to discuss the options concerning reality and the issue of whether life is futile or not from an evolutionary point of view. If we hold a strict evolutionary view of the universe, life is meaningless and everything is be definition futile. Yet most evolutionists won't go this far logically. Here he does a good job in his argument by showing the illogical conclusions the atheist makes. The evolutionist's inconsistencies show through the in discussing the concept of a moral universe. Lewis writes, "The defiance of the good atheist hurled at an apparently ruthless and idiotic cosmos is really an unconscious homage to something in or behind that cosmos which he recognizes as infinitely valuable and authoritative: for if mercy and justice were really only private whims of his own with no objective and impersonal roots, and if he realized this, he could not go on being indignant". If we don't find complete futility in the universe we have to have some higher authority to answer to. This is basically Lewis' argument. He is a master of this kind of logic.
The Poison of Subjectivism
In this essay Lewis deals with subjectivity. Particularly the subjectivity in value systems. When society attempts to create their own value system Lewis calls this, "a fatal superstition that men can create values, that a community can choose its 'ideology' as men choose their clothes."
Lewis goes on to state that any attempt to reform a value system is doomed to failure because, "The trunk to whose root the reformer would lay the axe is the only support of the particular branch he wishes to retain." He states that any new morality must then be, "dismissed as mere confusion of thought."
He goes on to define good, "God is not merely good, but goodness; goodniess is not merely divine, but God." What he is saying is that what we call good, or morality is defined by the very nature of who God is. If God imposed the Law on us arbitrarily he would not be good. If He is imposing a Law on us that is outside of His nature, he is not God. Only when we understand that good is defined by who God is do we get an accurate picture of good and evil. We would then understand evil to be that which is in opposition to the very nature of God.
Lewis' argument is very good here. He is compelling in his logic and demonstrates his argument well. I appreciate his insightful way of showing the fallacy of the argument by showing the failure of an attempt to create a new morality.
The Funeral of a Great Myth
The myth Lewis is addressing here is the myth of evolution. By this he isn't talking about the scientific hypothesis, but the popularized belief. The philosophy of evolution is what he is talking about. This essay first appears in this book. It has not been published before. Lewis has works that are similar to this essay that have been published before.
Lewis points out the difference between the myth and the theory, in the myth they don't question at all the validity of evolution, they view it as fact. In the theory, it is just that, a theory. In science evolution is about change, in the myth it is about improvement.
In this myth man becomes God eventually, we progress through stages where we finally become perfect little demi-Gods. Lewis puts this very well, "Eugenics have made certain that only demi-gods will now be born: psycho-analysis that none of them shall lose or smirch his divinity: economics that they shall have to hand all that demi-gods require. Man has ascended his throne. Man has become God. All is a blaze of glory."
Lewis goes on to demonstrate that the myth itself demands that reason is the result of biochemistry. The argument goes like this, my mind is the product of mental habits which result from heredity. This heredity results from bio-chemistry which results from physics. In other words, when we say that we are saying that "proofs are irrational" and when we say that we are also saying, "I will prove that there are no proofs." This argument becomes self defeating. It disproves itself.
Lewis goes on to speak about the enticement of the myth. He shows how it is a desirable myth from people different perspectives. It gives us reasons for bad behavior, it justifies our sinful natures as being merely instinctive behavior. He states that it appeals to every aspect of man except reason.
Lewis' argument is quite good, if I had any criticism of it, I would say he gives scientific evolutionism too much credit. The quote by Dr. Watson concerning the theory of evololution, "...can be proved by logically coherent evidence to be true, but because the only alternative, special creation, is clearly incredible." shows the true nature of the evolutionist.
On Church Music
Lewis is discussing here Church music. He seems to dislike Church music and would like to see music out of the church. But he realizes he doesn't stand much hope for that. He also correctly understands the two important reasons for music in the worship service, first the glory of God and secondly the edification of men. These are both the essential marks by which music is to be evaluated.
He goes on to mention that the desire of the person is the real issue, those who desire to bring glory to God will bring glory to Him even if they are musically ignorant. Those who may have all of the musical talent and have a bad attitude will in no way bring glory to God. His argument is good here and I especially like it when he said, "For all of our offerings, whether music of martyrdom, ar like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which a father values indeed, but values only for the intention."
Lewis here takes on the task of exposing the historicist. This is the person who takes events in history and makes implicit judgments from them. Like the person who says that a particular disaster was the judgment of God for a particular sin. Much like those who claim A.I.D.S. is the judgment of God on the homosexual community today. These would be historicists. Lewis states that usually these people are not historians but either theologians, philosophers, or politicians. He warns us of the excesses of this kind of philosophy and points out that Pagan religions have been guilty of using this idea very heavily.
He goes on to point out that there is a biblical sense of this, he states, "What appears to be true in the Historicist's position is this, since all things happen either by the divine will or at least by the divine permission, it follow that the total content of time must in its own mature be a revelation of God's wisdom, justice, and mercy."
Lewis moves on to show that most of history is not recorded and only a very minuscule amount of information ever makes it to their posterity. This very small amount of information is far to small to ever demonstrate the purpose of history. He states that the historicist can't support the claim that only the things that support his position survive through history. The historian would say the things that survive tend to be random, some of very significance and others seemingly very insignificant.
His basic argument is that too much is brought out by historicists, he in no way implies we can't draw some understanding from history, we should but caution should be exercised and we should look for God in the present.
Lewis' argument is again good. I find his insight helpful although I am not sure I completely agree with him. I have seen things in history which I can only see as the direct intervention of God in the events of man. I am not talking about things written in Scripture but other events in history, events that could have changed history. Little small seemingly inconsequential events that had great impact on the future. I have a tendency to believe God was directly involved in these. But I understand the caution Lewis is saying we should have in this area and for that I am appreciative.
Judgment is the real issue Lewis tackles in this essay. Lewis compares Hebrew thought in the Psalms and Proverbs with Greek and Roman thought which has primarily shaped our western culture. He finds a close kinship with the Hebrews in a spiritual sense. We find our spiritual roots with them, yet we find ourselves more influenced by Plato and Aristotle than we are by the Psalmist.
He then expresses the Hebrews obvious viciousness as a people, and how out of character it seems, they both are carnal and at times they have a knowledge that is quite beyond themselves. They refer to this as revelation. Lewis is disposed to believe their claim in this essay. He finds it surprising that God would choose such a people as this for the coming Messiah.
Next Lewis discusses the idea of our own depravity. How much we need forgiveness for our offenses. How we have abused authority. How we have truly despised justice. As he discusses Psalm 109 which is a harsh Psalm, where the Psalmist is crying out for justice for those who have persecuted him, Lewis considers the offenses we may have done. Who may have prayed this kind of prayer about us. This is a matter for great concern as God hears the prayers of the downtrodden. In all of this he notes the consistent cry for justice within the Hebrew people. He is concerned that cry for justice is dying in our culture today.
As Lewis discusses judgment we find that the people in the Psalms rejoice over judgment. He talks about the difference between Jewish thought and Christian thought on judgment. Jews look forward to judgment because they sense they are completely right. Christians fear judgment because we are keenly aware of our sinfulness.
His argument is again effective. His imagery of the Psalms and how it gives differing impressions is helpful is seeing how God has worked through his chosen people throughout history. It isn't that they were such good people, they weren't. But God worked his work through fallen people and with all their faults has given us a heritage.
The Language of Religion
Lewis here discusses the concept that the language of religion is not different than the common language of the day. His main argument is that we use metaphorical language to express concrete ideas, sometime that is expressed through the use of poetic language and sometimes through scientific language. Most often though he sees that the language we use in religious expression is the common language. He then goes into a digression to discuss language in general. He discusses ordinary language, scientific language, and poetic language.
He argues that sometime we must move into the area of the scientific. That is when we are involved in apologetics we often have to express concepts in abstract form. Lewis says it this way, "Apologetics is controversy. You cannot conduct a controversy in those poetical expressions which alone convey the concrete: you must use terms as definable and univocal as possible, and these are always abstract."
He goes on to express that we often use poetic language to express our experiences. He says it this way, "The necessity for such poetic expressions is clostly connected with the grounds on which they are believed. They are usually two: authority and religious experience." When we are attempting to express something in the emotional realm particularly we will resort to poetic language.
I think his argument is a good one. He has expressed what we all have observed from our senses. I don't think he is attempting a proof here as he said himself. When we attempt to communicate ideas to others I can see that we often do resort to metaphorical wording since we don't have the real words to express the idea. These words just aren't in our vocabulary.
Petitionary Prayer: A Problem Without an Answer
Lewis discusses here the concept of petitionary prayer. He talks about two types of prayer which give him difficulty. He first talks about the type of prayer that Jesus taught us, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven."
Matthew 6:10 NKJV This type of prayer is petitions that are conditioned by God's will for us. The second type of prayer is petition for specific events like the moving of mountains, "Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, 'Be removed and be cast into the sea,' it will be done." Matt. 21:21b NKJV Both of these are petition type of prayers yet they are also quite different in nature. That is the discussion that Lewis in undertaking.
The crux of the problem is this, if God really meant that in this second type of prayer that He would only reward our prayers when they were explicitly within His will, why does He gives us two clearly different teachings? Why did God tell us that he would give us anything we chose? That is the problem. If that is the case, it really isn't our choice anyway. This is a difficult problem to which Lewis does not propose any answer. He does make a good point though in bringing up the problem.
Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism
Lewis here takes on liberal critics of the scriptures, those who deny orthodoxy. He appears to be speaking at a school for theological students. He puts his argument this way, "The undermining of the old orthodoxy has been mainly the work of divines engaged in New Testament criticism. The authority of experts in that discipline is the authority in deference to whom we are asked to give up a huge mass of beliefs shared in common by the early Church, the Fathers, the Middle Ages, the Reformers, and even the nineteenth century." In my opinion Lewis is ripping them apart. He comes across very strong and I like his approach very much. I laughed when I read this, "That, then is my first bleat. These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can't see and elephant ten yards away in broad daylight." I can almost feel the people squirming in their seats.
He goes on to discuss the problem of reconstructionism. This is the way that Biblical commentators have rewritten the history of the New Testament to fit their particular believe system. He uses the example of the book of John being an allegory along the same line as Pilgrims Progress. I appreciate very much his use of his own story with different commentators writing about his books. They almost always were wrong with their facts and yet they have the advantage of the same culture, language, presuppositions, and economic situations. His point is well made, how can these supposed scholars who don't come from the same culture, don't have the same cultural background, don't know the presuppositions that the culture had at the time, suppose they know the truthfulness about the passages they so easily criticize. His argument is very well done. I didn't know Lewis had such a fiery disposition, I was quite impressed with this essay.
The Seeing Eye
Lewis deals with the existence of God in this essay. The time frame was when the Soviet Union put its first people in space, they claimed to, "not found God anywhere." He uses a good analogy to demonstrate his view of God as outside of creation but also in relation to creation. He says it this way, "I am not suggesting at all that the existence of God is as easily established as the existence of Shakespeare. My point is that, if God does exist, He is related to the universe more as an author is related to a play than as one object in the universe is related to another."
Lewis goes on to speculate about life on other planets and what that life might be like. Are they completely good and not in need of redemption? Are they diabolical with no good in them at all? Are they also a good creation that has fallen and is in need of redemption?
His main point is well made, he says, "But all this is in the realm of fantastic speculation. We are trying to cross a bridge, not only before we come to it, but even before we know there is a river that needs bridging." I can't really add anything to what he has said. He has said it very, very well.