Posted by Frederick Meekins
Over the course of the modern era, whether fairly or not, orthodoxy has come to be associated with glumness and austerity. Thus, those coming across Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton might assume they are in for a dull and obtuse recitation of doctrine and dogma. They will, however, be delightfully surprised by Chesterton’s wit, feistiness, and zest for life.
It is Chesterton’s contention that, rather than stifling the individual, it is through orthodoxy that man is liberated to both accept and embrace the contradictions of this life for what they really are in all their wonder and horror. It is the heretic that is unable to rise to a level that would give him a perspective that would enable him to appreciate things as they actually are since the heretic is ultimately beholden unto these very forces of life. Chesterton muses, “Thoroughly worldly people never understand even the world; they rely altogether on a few cynical maxims which are not true (22).”
Often, believers are accused of being close minded. However, Chesterton contends that Christians are no more close minded than the adherents of any other outlook. Chesterton writes, “For we must remember that the materialist philosophy…is certainly much more limiting than any religion…The Christian is quite free to believe that there is a considerable amount of settled order and inevitable development in the universe. But the materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle (41).”
As a result, the heterodox mind must increasingly withdrawal from a world that declares the glory of God in order to maintain the consistency of the fiction it has constructed. For example, in illustrating views regarding the existence of sin, Chesterton offers the following humorous illustration, “If it be true…that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat (24).”
Those adverse to traditional religious notions have constructed elaborate epistemological systems in an attempt to justify their unbelief. However, Chesterton assures, such intellects (though formidable by human standards in terms of the facts such minds have accumulated) actually bear a startling resemblance to the insane.
Like the insane, rationalists view themselves as the source of all meaning. In the struggle and strain to understand everything, Chesterton notes, the consistent rationalist is actually driven mad as they end up losing everything but their reason. Chesterton observes, “The man who begins to think without the proper first principles goes mad; he begins to think at the wrong end…But we may ask in conclusion, if this be what drives men mad, what is it that keeps them sane (48)?”
The answer provided by Chesterton is none other than the mystical imagination found in religious orthodoxy. The thing about the cosmos human beings occupy is that is both physically and epistemologically too complex for the finite mind to fully comprehend. The only thing we can do is appreciate what we can and to accept that there is a power beyond us. Chesterton notes, “The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable but not quite (148).”
Chesterton further likens the spiritual realm to two wild horses threatening to bolt off into the extremities of either direction with only the church adhering to orthodoxy capable of reining in these powerful tendencies that are good and pure when kept together as a team but result in heartache and ruin if not kept working together in tandem. Ironically, Chesterton claims, though often depicted as scatterbrained the best poets (actually quite sensible and businesslike) are often the ones embodying the spirit necessary for handling this awesome responsibility. For what the average person desires above all else is a life of practical romance defined by Chesterton as “the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure (16).” And what is any more mysterious and secure at the same time than God Himself?
Written in the early years of the twentieth century, some of the authors mentioned by Chesterton might seem obscure to readers not that familiar with general literary history. However, the fact that they have been forgotten while Chesterton is still embraced as a foremost defender of the faith is a positive testament to the relevance of Chesterton’s ruminations that, though written nearly a century ago, ring with a truth that sounds as if they just rolled off the presses.
by Frederick Meekins
Photo by Frederick Meekins
One of literature’s primary functions is to generate interest in potentially controversial ideas by presenting them in an aesthetically interesting and imaginative manner.
Most Evangelicals would agree that few twentieth century writers was as successful in getting the reading public to consider the relevance of religious ideas to the complexities of modern life as C.S. Lewis. Yet it may come as a surprise, many of his most vociferous critics happen to be fellow Christians.
Writing in response to a recent Christianity Today article examining Lewis’ use of the literary approach in presenting Christian truth to the modern mind, David Cloud of the Fundamental Baptist Information Service elucidates why Christians adhering to more strident varieties of Fundamentalism ought to avoid this acclaimed author’s brand of apologetics.
To Cloud’s benefit, he does point out areas in which Lewis thought may have veered from Biblical standards. Cloud sites as evidence a number of sources detailing where Lewis questioned traditional orthodox understandings of doctrines such as the bodily resurrection of believers, the inerrancy of the Scriptures, and the existence of Hell as a physical place rather than simply a state of mind.
Christians ought to be cautioned where the writings of Lewis stray from the narrow path. However, that does not mean there is not insight to be gained from Lewis or that his collected works should be consigned to the garbage to prevent weak minds from falling prey to their questionable aspects.
Particularly annoying to Cloud’s brand of Fundamentalism is Lewis’ use and defense of myth as a tool whereby skeptical minds might be introduced to the truth.
Of The Chronicles of Narnia and Christianity Today’s endorsement of the series, David Cloud writes, “I don’t know what to say to this except that it is complete nonsense. In his Chronicles, Lewis depicts Jesus Christ as a lion named Aslan who is slain on a stone table. Christianity Today says, ‘In Aslan, Christ is made tangible, knowable, real.’ As if we can know Jesus Christ best through a fable that is vaguely based on Biblical themes.”
Such a conclusion fails to understand the reasons why and with what techniques C.S. Lewis wrote. For even though the Bible is the most detailed and forthright account attesting to the truth of Christ, many hardened hearts are not always open to such an outright presentation of the facts. Some minds may need to take a more circuitous route.
Lewis did not initially embark to compose an outright Christian allegory, and neither did his associate J.R.R. Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings saga for that matter. Rather these scholars endeavored to craft tales utilizing the classic motifs with which they had considerable expertise as professors of historical literature. Lewis was himself inspired to write The Chronicles of Narnia from the image of a faun, a half human/half goat creature from classical mythology. Tolkien wanted to establish a fantasy world for the language of elves.
Lewis stated in a BBC interview when asked if his Space Trilogy had been written for evangelistic purposes, “…everyone thinks that. They are quite wrong. I’ve never started from a message or a moral, have you. The story itself should force its moral upon you. You find out what the moral is by writing the story.”
It is only natural then that authors with an abiding respect for the truth will end up addressing eternal realities and principles. Romans 2: 14-15 says, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts…(NIV).”
This means that all truth — despite man’s intentions to distort it for his own diabolical purposes — is ultimately God’s truth. Not all ancient myths revel in Bacchanalian debauchery. For example, some explore the dangers of humans possessing a godlike pride called “hubris”. The skilled apologist can use these chunks of truth adrift upon the seas of falsehood as a lifeline to those drowning in a deluge of deception.
This is not unlike what the Apostle Paul did in Acts 17 when he addressed the philosophers gathered on the Areopagus.
Paul did not begin outright by berating them for their pagan belief. In verses 22 and 23 he extols, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious. For while I was passing and examining your objects of worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘To an Unknown God’. What therefore you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. (NASB).”
From this point, Paul goes on to explain how the message of Jesus Christ fulfilled and surpassed the best in Greek thought. Therefore, those who have a problem with C.S. Lewis’ use of literature may also have a problem with the technique employed by the Apostle Paul.
While these rigorous Fundamentalists are to be commended for their eagerness to expound the plain Gospel message, many of them — especially a number of the preachers — fail in realizing that a fully-orbed expression of Christian thought requires more than preaching. It requires the translation of these eternal verities into other artistic and literary forms that prepare the heart and mind for a more direct assault upon fallen sensibilities.
By composing a narrative utilizing universal archetypes, Lewis hoped that his saga of these British children encountering a mystical lion in an enchanted land would spark readers into realizing they could have their own encounter with another cosmic cat, namely the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Jesus Christ.
Certain Fundamentalists have done their share of criticism. When are these preachers going to start producing stories of their own or encourage members of their congregations to contribute their talents in forms other than that which goes into the collection plate? At least C.S. Lewis attempted to make an effort in this regard.
David Cloud writes, “…a Christian is what he hears and reads … it should come as no surprise … they are seeking to continue the legacy of C.S. Lewis … it should come as no surprise … if we find them working towards a common mission with the enemies of the gospel. The young Christian should be very careful what he reads.”
In the days before most Christians yielded their paradoctrinal thinking to the control of their pastors or stopped thinking about these cultural issues outside the immediate confines of the church all together, individuals would employ a kind of intellectual selectivity known as discernment. This meant they were capable of sifting through the good and bad ideas in a given work on their own without a critical clergyman standing over their shoulder chastising them for daring to make a literary selection with ecclesiastical consultation.
Lewis may have propagated questionable ideas in the course of his life’s work. But so do a number of Fundamentalists for that matter as some believe one is not really saved unless introduced to Jesus through the King James version of the Bible, that being innocently infatuated with a member of the opposite sex is the moral equivalent of promiscuity or prostitution, and that women ought never get their hair cut or wear trousers.
Unfortunately, faulty ideas are often a symptom of living in a fallen world. But so long as we put our faith in what Lewis referred to as “mere Christianity”, one day those of us who do so will have the blessed opportunity of having our thoughts put straight in the presence of none other than the Creator Himself.
by Frederick Meekins
Photo by Frederick Meekins
Photo by Frederick Meekins
With that said, I truly do encourage you to come and walk with me along side of those needing support on this important heath issue which knows no discrimination. It is not a “Gay or Homosexual”, issue. It is a community and national health issue. It is a disease that can affect anyone and we as Christians are to do as God commands us which is to “Love our neighbors as ourselves”, and it is with this spirit I will continue to do as our Lord directs and a disease and cause such as this fits that criteria.
We do not hate those that believe differently than us but, love all mankind equally no matter what is affecting them or by Race, Creed, Color, Nationality Religious belief or Sexual orientation.
We live in a world that is lost and needs compassion and love of Christ to shine on all. This is why we except Christ’s ways over our own personal and spiritual ideology. We are a community, a family under God and I do support this cause because it is a program of awareness and unity. Which is Christ’s way.
Sincerely IHS and yours,
Bishop Andrew Manley (+)