Theology Versus Morality


Lion-origional, smallFor over a week I’ve been thinking about theology in fiction. Well, truthfully, I’ve been thinking about it ever since a well-known, respected man in Christian schools circles he couldn’t endorse my fantasy because it had talking animals.

What? Had he not read Narnia?

I was stunned, flabbergasted, frustrated, appalled. And I changed the specifics of my story so animals don’t talk. Not because I agreed with the idea that something was wrong with animals talking. I mean, it’s fantasy! But I wanted to sell my book and have key people endorse it so that more people would read it. Never happened, but that’s not the issue for this post. Rather, it’s the question about where theology belongs in fiction.

This discussion which crops up from time to time, started with a guest blog post by James Somers at Spec Faith. Author Mike Duran picked up on something James said and wrote “No Zombies Allowed (In Christian Fiction).” To which I responded with “Reading Choices: Realism, Truth, And The Bible,” an article which I believed took a middle-ground approach. Mike, in turn, answered my points with a Part 1 and Part 2 rebuttal.

So, yes, this subject has been on my mind and continues to be on my mind. I apologize if this issue isn’t of universal interest. I acknowledge I might be one of the few people still wrestling with the subject, but I think it’s important.

Above all, fiction should convey truth. Novels are not a sermons; they’re illustrations. They show whereas non-fiction tells.

Bad stories are about nothing. False stories are ones that show a lie as if it were truth.

Christian stories should neither be bad or false.

What should they be? In my view, they must be theologically true. That is, they must represent God truthfully, in some way.

God cannot be contained within the pages of one story. He took the entire sixty-six books of the Bible to reveal Himself. Why would anyone think a four-hundred page book could show all of who He is?

But if a book shows God, it must be truthful in what it shows.

Not all books must show God. Some can be morally true and silent on theology.

They can, for example, show that lying is wrong. All kinds of stories have made a statement about lying, and some are written by non-Christians who have no belief in the authoritative Word of God to undergird their position. Nevertheless, they believe lying is wrong and that it is a worthy truth upon which to center a story.

Moral truth is not the same as theological truth. This fact seemed lost on many Christians during the last Presidential election here in the US. A moral man, whose morality agreed in many respects with Bible believing Christians (and disagreed in many ways that never came to light–but that’s a separate issue) ran for office with the expectation that Christians would vote for him. He implied that since his morality was similar, his theology aligned with Christianity.

That’s not true. I’ll tell you whose morality aligns in many respects to Christians–Muslims. But I’m getting sidetracked. The point is, a person can be pro-life or anti-lying and still have wrong views about God. Morality and theology are not the same.

Some people want to impose morality upon fiction. Or some morality.

I suppose I’m one. I’ve said vehemently that I think Christian fiction has no business following a couple into the bedroom and showing their sex act, whether they’re married or not. That’s a moral judgment on my part. I have reached that position via my theology, but that stance is not a theological one.

Like other moral ideas, that one can be shared by people of an number of faiths or no faith at all. It is moral, not theological.

It is theology that Christians need to get right, though I’ll reiterate–not all stories must speak about God. I’d hope that Christians would want to speak about God, whether overtly or symbolically or allegorically or surreptitiously.

I’d hope Christians would want to proclaim Him–to point to His work, His plans and person and purposes. And if they do, they must show Him as He has shown Himself. For example, God isn’t arbitrary.

But wait a minute. A lot of people think He is. Must that aspect of God’s character be true to who He is or to what people think Him to be? I believe, true to who He is.

No one else can speak the truth about God. Only Christians have seen Jesus and therefore seen the Father. Only Christians have the Holy Spirit. Everyone else who speaks about God is going to get it wrong at some point.

So why would Christians want to muddle around, nitpicking about moral matters when theological ones need to be truthfully shown?

Mike Duran used a great illustration which he borrowed from C. S. Lewis. The idea is that a story is the scaffolding for theological truth (in the context of what Lewis said, he was referring to the Resurrection). Mike said, “When we become preoccupied with a story’s ‘scaffolding’ and niggle over literary ‘artifices,’ we will inevitably miss the bigger story.”

The bigger story, as I see it, is what Lewis referred to as the True Myth–the story of God loving His creation, dying and rising for His creation lost in darkness that He might redeem all who believe.

What part of that story can Christian speculative fiction show? Does the idea of all stories being “about” the Great Story seem limiting, boring, predictable? No story has to be any of those.

But it doesn’t happen by hoping. Lewis didn’t hope Aslan would rule Narnia the way God rules our world. He purposefully crafted him to do so.

But now I’m straying toward a discussion on craft. I’ll stop. The point for this discussion is that stories can be moral or they can be theological. They can even be both. But stories held to a rigid morality ought not be confused with ones held to a truthful theology.

Published in: on February 12, 2014 at 8:12 pm  Comments (9)  
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Wise Men And The Seeking Thing


christmas-background-2-1408232-m“Wise men still seek Him,” the signs say. At one time I even had those words as the title of a Christmas bulletin board in my classroom. It sounds sort of profound. And Christ centered.

But here’s the thing. In my experience, it doesn’t seem like we seek God so much as God seeks us.

First, God isn’t hiding. He has purposefully and dramatically made Himself known. That’s what the first Christmas and the ensuing thirty-tree years were all about. Jesus came to show Mankind the Father.

Secondly, people seem to be more interested in dodging and ducking and hiding from God. Or flat out denying and rejecting Him. C. S. Lewis wrote of his reluctance, his fight, actually, against God. He called Him his adversary once and wrote this of his conversion: “That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” (Surprised by Joy).

It seems to me, the people who fall into the category of “seeker” are more apt to be hiders ducking behind the quest for the spiritual in order to avoid God and His claim on their lives. Scripture says clearly that anyone who truly seeks, finds.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (Matt. 7:7-11)

Consequently, it seems to me the seeking process isn’t some protracted, drawn out, involved study of world religions or long nights of deep meditation. Those kinds of things are hiding tactics, more likely to obfuscate than to reveal. God has told us what we need to do to find Him: look at His Son Jesus.

Jesus said to [Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

So there’s Christmas in a nutshell. When we look at Jesus come down from Heaven, we are seeing the Father: His love for the lost, His sacrificial heart, His generosity, His mercy and grace, His forgiveness, His humility, His desire for reconciliation and peace, His goodness.

Do wise men seek Him today as they once did over two thousand years ago? Those ancient magi thought they were going to find the King of the Jews, and they did. But they also found the Creator of the world, the Redeemer of Mankind, the Friend of sinners.

Whoever seeks Jesus on those terms is bound to find Him.

Published in: on December 23, 2013 at 6:36 pm  Comments (4)  
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Fantasy Friday – Remembering C. S. Lewis


CSLewis MemorialWhile many news outlets look back fifty years and recall President John F. Kennedy’s life and assassination, some are joining a host of book industry professionals and readers to commemorate C. S. Lewis who also died November 22, 1963.

One particularly interesting article compares Lewis, Kennedy, and a third notable man who died that day, Aldous Huxley, particularly looking at the differences in their religious beliefs: “50 years ago today, Kennedy, Huxley and Lewis followed different paths to the grave” (Desert News). Another excellent article, this one from the Religion News Service, interviews James Houston (who turned 91 yesterday), founder of the C. S. Lewis Institute, and a colleague of his at Oxford–“Why C.S. Lewis remains popular: a friend reflects.”

Over at Patheos, the Christ and Pop Culture contributors did something similar to what I did this week–they highlighted the books that meant a great deal to them. One writer chose The Problem of Pain, another A Grief Observed.

In “Why C. S. Lewis Matters Today,” agent Steve Laube commemorated Lewis with a video documentary which includes a five minute segment about “Rediscovering Christian Imagination” about which Mr. Laube says, “We in the publishing industry should have this reminder placed before us on a regular basis.”

Another significant video is that from the UK showing the ceremony held today honoring Lewis in which he was given a memorial in the Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey.

Meanwhile, Moody Radio aired Dr. Alister McGrath, former atheist and now Professor of Theology, Ministry and Education at King’s College London, talking about his research into C. S. Lewis’s life.

Another great resource is a free e-book, C.S. Lewis – A Profile in Faith, made available by the C. S. Lewis Institute.

For those who love the many quotes from Lewis’s books, one site posted an accumulation of lesser know lines from his books or articles, including a wonderful paragraph on Lewis’s thoughts on death.

Still a different site gave a rundown on his “seven lesser known books.” They opened with Surprised by Joy, Lewis’s spiritual autobiography, which happens to be on my list of favorites of his books, and follows it with Till We Have Faces, my all time favorite Lewis book. Check out the other five rated as lesser known.

As for me, I was also impacted by Lewis’s better known books–his stories. The Great Divorce was especially significant because I had been afraid of dying as a child.

Back in those days people didn’t talk about dying and preachers didn’t preach much about dying. Or Heaven. Or Hell. At best, I had a fuzzy understanding of the afterlife. Then I found The Great Divorce. I suddenly grasped the fact that the eternal is what’s real, what’s solid, and this temporal life, as James so clearly says, is just a vapor that passes away. All my previous ideas had the two reversed.

Narnia impacted me in so many ways, not the least being inspiration to write fantasy. I loved the inventiveness of the world Lewis build from his imagination, but I also loved the way he brought truth to life in those stories. I wanted to write like that!

Till We Have Faces is such a great book, showing the effects of sin and the change yielding to the Master can bring. It’s steeped in mythology, but the end is such a beautiful picture of Christ clothing the repentant believer in His robes of righteousness. Again, for me, this story brought to life the reality of the spiritual.

While I appreciate Lewis’s nonfiction, one particular book had a lasting impact. I’ve already mentioned it: Surprised by Joy. Lewis expresses better than I’ve ever heard before the longing I’ve felt when I am at peace, happy, content, sometimes a condition induced by a piece of music or a rainbow amid a bank of pink sunset clouds or . . . a list of awe-inspiring things. But behind the beauty and the glory and the joy is that one moment of longing–that the beauty and glory and joy could stay and be that way always, only deeper (or, as I’ve since learned, a longing that I might be able to go further up and further in). This is what Lewis identified and what played a big part in his becoming a Christian. For me it crystallized something about my faith.

Perhaps others have said this before, but Ravi Zacharias just tweeted what I think best encapsulates C. S. Lewis’s writing: “C.S. Lewis had the ability to take people to the front door of reason through the back door of imagination.”

I don’t think I can overstate the influence that one man, that one apologist, writer, storyteller, thinker, child of God, brother in Christ, has had on my life. May God continue to use his words to impact the next generation and the next, as long as Christ should tarry.

Remembering C. S. Lewis – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader


The-Voyage-of-the-Dawn-Treader-coverContinuing with my tribute to C. S. Lewis, I want to share another one of my favorite scenes from Narnia. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the third (by order of publication) installment of the Chronicles, begins with a memorable few lines:

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. His parents called him Eustace Clarence and his schoolmasters called him Scrubb. I can’t tell you how his friends spoke to him, for he had none.

The story features only Lucy and Edmund of the four Pevensie siblings. In a surprising manner they, along with Eustace, are pulled into Narnia. Eustace proves to be an insufferable companion, and through a little magic working on his own greed, he turns into a dragon. However, he doesn’t stay a dragon long, which is a good thing because he carried a deep wound on his arm that likely would have killed him.

When Edmund discovers Eustace is once again himself, Eustace relates how his change took place, a truly beautiful picture of the change God works in the life of every Christian:

Last night I was more miserable than ever. And that beastly arm-ring [the source of his wound] was hurting like anything–“

“Is that all right now?”

Eustace laughed–a different laugh from any Edmund had heard him give before–and slipped the bracelet easily off his arm. “There it is,” he said, “and anyone who likes can have it as far as I’m concerned. Well, as I say, I was lying awake and wondering what on earth would become of me. And then–but, mind you–it may have been all a dream. I don’t know.”

“Go on,” said Edmund with considerable patience.

“Well, anyway I looked up and saw the very last thing I expected: a huge lion coming slowly towards me. And one queer thing was that there was no moon last night, but there was moonlight where the lion was. So it came nearer and nearer. I was terribly afraid of it. You may think that being a dragon, I could have knocked any lion out easily enough. But it wasn’t that kind of fear. I wasn’t afraid of it eating me, I was just afraid of it–if you can understand. Well, it came closer up to me and looked straight into my eyes. And I shut my eyes tight. But that wasn’t any good because it told me to follow it.”

“You mean it spoke?”

“I don’t know. Now that you mention it, I don’t think it did. But it told me all the same. And I know I’d have to do what it told me, so I got up and followed it. And it led me a long way into the mountains. And there was always this moonlight over and round the lion wherever we went. So at last we came to the top of a mountain I’d never seen before and on the top of this mountain there was a garden–trees and fruit and everything. In the middle of it there was a well.

“I knew it was a well because you could see the water bubbling up from the bottom of it: but it was a lot bigger than most wells—like a very big, round bath with marble steps going down into it. The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe, it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don’t know if he said any words out loud or not.

“I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

“But just as I was going to put my foot into the water I looked down and saw that it was all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as it had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this under skin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

“Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

“Then the lion said–but I don’t know if it spoke–You will have to let me undress you. I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know–if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.

“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off–just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt–and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me–I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on–and threw me into the water. I smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. . .

“After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me–“

(pp 87-91)

Published in: on November 21, 2013 at 6:44 pm  Comments Off  
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Remembering C. S. Lewis – Prince Caspian


Prince_Caspian_coverFor me, some of C. S. Lewis’s most memorable lines, images, and scenes are in his Narnia tales. I want to share one of my favorites from Prince Caspian, the perfect illustration of “trust and obey,” and more.

Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy return to Narnia a year after they had become kings and queens in Aslan’s world. But everything is changed. The animals no longer talk–at least most don’t–and the people have forgotten Aslan.

Eventually, with the help of a Dwarf named Trumpkin, they realize that hundreds of years, perhaps a thousand, have passed during their earth year. To put things to rights, they aim to join up with Prince Caspian who believes in the old stories.

To reach him, they must cross a river which is now in a deep gorge. They are discussing how to navigate around this obstacle, then this:

“Look! Look! Look!” cried Lucy.

“Where? What?” asked everyone.

“The Lion,” said Lucy. “Aslan himself. Didn’t you see?” Her face had changed completely and her eyes shone.

“Do you really mean–” began Peter.

“Where did you think you saw him?” asked Susan.

“Don’t talk like a grown-up,” said Lucy, stamping her foot. “I didn’t think I saw him. I saw him.”

“Where, Lu?” asked Peter.

“Right up there between those mountain ashes. No, this side of the gorge. And up, not down. Just the opposite of the way you wanted to go. And he wanted us to go where he was–up there.”

“How do you know that was what he wanted?” asked Edmund.

“He–I–I just know,” said Lucy, “by his face.”

The others all looked at each other in puzzled silence.

“Her Majesty may well have seen a lion,” put in Trumpkin. “There ae lions in these woods, I’ve been told. But it needn’t have been a friendly and talking lion any mor than the ear was a friendly and talking bear.”

“Oh, don’t be so stupid,” said Lucy. “Do you think I don’t know Aslan when I see him?

Eventually the five of them take a vote and choose to make their way downstream. After a hard march they encounter an enemy force and turn back. They camp, but during the night, Lucy hears someone call her name. She gets up and makes her way to a clearing where she finds Aslan.

“Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan,” sobbed Lucy. “At last.”

The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face.

“Welcome, child,” he said.

“Aslan,” said Lucy,”you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

For a time she was so happy that she did not want to speak. But Aslan spoke.

“Lucy,” he said, “we must not lie her for long. You have work in hand, and much time has been lost today.”

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. “I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so–“

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I–I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that . . . oh, well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right–somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?”

“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”

“Oh, dear,” said Lucy.”

“But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan. “If you go back to the others now and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me–what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”

Do you mean that is what you want me to do?” gasped Lucy.

“Yes, little one,” said Aslan.

“Will the others see you too?” asked Lucy.

Certainly not at first,” said Aslan. “Later on, it depends.”

“But they won’t believe me,” said Lucy.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Aslan.

After Aslan reassures her and fills her with his lion-strength, she says she’s ready and goes to wake up the others. They’re all very sleepy and don’t believe her because they can’t see Aslan themselves.

[Susan said], “She’s been dreaming. Do lie down and go to sleep, Lucy.”

“And I do hope,” said Lucy in a tremulous voice,”that you will all come with me. Because–because I’ll have to go with him whether anyone else does or not.”

“Don’t talk nonsense, Lucy,” said Susan. “Of course you can’t go off on your own. Don’t let her, Peter. She’s being downright naughty.”

“I’ll go with her, if she must go,” said Edmund. She’s been right before.”

“I know she has,” said Peter. “And she may have been right this morning. We certainly had no luck going down the gorge. Still–at this hour of the night. And why should Aslan be invisible to us? He never used to be. It’s not like him.”

At last, despite all the objections, they set off, with Susan complaining the whole time.

Lucy went first, biting her lip and trying not to say all the things she thought of saying to Susan. But she forgot them when she fixed her eyes on Aslan. He turned and walked at a slow pace about thirty yards ahead of them. The others had only Lucy’s directions to guide them, for Aslan was not only invisible to them but silent as well. His big cat-like paws made no noise on the grass . . .

For a long way Aslan went along the top of the precipices. Then they came to a place where some little trees grew right on the edge. He turned and disappeared among them. Lucy held her breath, for it looked as if he had plunged over the cliff; but she was too busy keeping him in sight to stop and think about this. She quickened her pace and was soon among the trees herself. Looking down, she could see a steep and narrow path going slantwise down into the gorge between rocks, and Aslan descending it. He turned and looked at her with his happy eyes. Lucy clapped her hands and began to scramble down after him. From behind her she heard the voices of the others shouting, “Hi! Lucy! Look out, for goodness’ sake. You’re right on the edge of the gorge. Come back–” and then, a moment later Edmund’s voice saying, “No, she’s right. There is a way down.”

Published in: on November 20, 2013 at 5:46 pm  Comments Off  
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Remembering C. S. Lewis – The Screwtape Letters


lewis_Screwtape_Letters_coverThis year marks the 50th anniversary of C. S. Lewis’s death. He, like President John F. Kennedy and author Aldous Huxley, died November 22, 1963. As part of the tribute (over at Spec Faith I’ve already written this post and this commemorating his life and writing) to this man who has influenced so many Christian writers, I thought it appropriate to let his writing speak for him.

So here is a flavor of The Screwtape Letters, one of my favorites of C. S. Lewis’s fiction.

My Dear Wormwood,

I note what you say about guiding your patient’s reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naif? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the daily press, radio, television and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false,” but as “academic” or “practical,” “outworn” or “contemporary,” “conventional” or “ruthless.” Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous–that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.

The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy’s own ground. He can argue too; whereas in really practical propaganda of the kind I am suggesting He has been shown for centuries to be greatly inferior of Our Father Below. By the very act of arguing, you awaken the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it “real life” and don’t let him ask what he means by “real.”

Remember, he is not, like you, a pure spirit. Never having been a human (Oh, that abominable advantage of the Enemy’s) you don’t realise how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary. I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the Metropolitan Library. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear what He says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line for when I said “Quite. In fact, much too important to tackle at the end of a morning,” the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added “Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind,” he was already half way to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man’s head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of “real life” (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all “that sort of thing” just couldn’t be true. He knew he’d had a narrow escape and in later years was fond of talking about “that inarticulate sense for actuality which is our ultimate safeguard against the aberration of mere logic.” He is now safe in Our Father’s house.

You begin to see the point? Thanks to the processes which we set at work in them centuries ago, they find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes. Keep pressing home on him the ordinariness of things. Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch or see. There have been sad cases among the modern physicists. If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology; don’t let him get away from that invaluable “real life.” But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is “the results of modern investigation.” Do remember, Wormwood, you are there to fuddle him. From the way some of you young fiends talk, anyone would suppose it was our job to teach!

Your affectionate uncle,
SCREWTAPE

(pp 21-23, The Screwtape Letters)

Published in: on November 19, 2013 at 5:55 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Flaw In Atheist Thinking


Miracles_coverI’ve been reading C. S. Lewis’s Miracles. As an aside (if you can have an aside after only one sentence!) I suggest this month might be a great time for all Lewis fans to dust off one of his books and re-read it as a tribute to him, since Nov. 22 marks the 50-year commemoration of his death.

At any rate, Lewis himself having been an atheist, brought a perspective I had never considered, so I find the book incredibly enlightening. One of the things he’s made clear for me is how irrational it is to try and prove the Supernatural by using the Natural. It can’t be done because the two are separate entities.

It’s like two scholars debating the scope of knowledge. One might say mathematics is the only field of study. The other might argue that no, literature is also a field of study, wholly different and separate from mathematics.

Sorry, the first one says. I can find no evidence for literature.

That’s because you’re only looking at the properties of mathematics, counters the other.

Where else would you expect me to look? his friend answers. I’m searching and searching in the vast field of knowledge, and there is no sign of literature.

Don’t you see, says the second professor, your search is limited. If you look beyond math, you’ll find literature.

How can I look beyond the only thing that’s there?

And so the argument would continue. The first professor cannot grasp the idea that the field of study with which he is familiar is not the sum of all knowledge, and the second professor can’t grasp how he can demonstrate with math how literature exists.

He might think of ways that math and poetry are alike, how math is the basis of music and music is an art akin to literature. He can even point out how literature has structure much the same way math does. But none of those evidences will be proof to the professor not willing to consider that math is not the sum total of all knowledge.

In the same way, the atheist who believes the natural world is the sum total of all that exists will not find any “circumstantial evidence,” to use a law term, to be compelling proof that something, let alone Someone, exists beyond the scope of what his five senses can detect.

It actually makes perfect sense. The flaw in the logic, however, is the assumption that Humankind can detect all that exists with our five senses: atheists take that as a given which needs no proof.

However, it is a false assumption that nature itself exposes. The fact that we did not for thousands of years detect other universes did not write them out of existence. The fact that we did not detect atoms and subatomic particles for thousands of years, did not negate their reality. Our five senses failed.

Relying upon the use of our five senses, we were wrong to think the earth was flat, that the sun rotates around the earth, that there were no other stars than the ones we can see, and any number of other errant ideas. Our five senses, then, are fallible.

Some might counter that, in fact, it is the advancement of knowledge which has allowed Humankind to correct these wrong beliefs by the use of our senses. Our technological improvements have made it possible for us to see further and look at smaller.

But that doesn’t address the issue. The human capacity to detect reality is flawed. We can go for generations believing a lie because our five senses have restrictions. What restrictions might they have now to which we’re oblivious?

An honest person will admit that we cannot know what restrictions are limiting our understanding. Which of course opens the door to the Supernatural. Because we don’t see, touch, taste, feel, or hear God in the same way we do our sister or boss or neighbor, does not mean God does not exist.

The ironic thing is that Humankind for centuries accepted the existence of the Supernatural, in large part because of their five senses, but also, I’d suggest, because of a spiritual sense.

Biblical history records that humans had encounters with God–that He insinuated Himself in the affairs of Humankind–so their five senses verified the existence of the supernatural. Some heard God’s voice, others saw His Shekinah glory, still others felt His Consuming Fire. Others, however, received visions and were filled with His Spirit.

What’s happened, then, it would seem, is what happens with all our physical capacities when they aren’t used: they atrophy. The ability people once had to interact with God, dependent upon their spiritual vision, faded, and had God left us to ourselves, I suspect we would have completely forgotten all about Him. Thankfully, He had no intention of abandoning us.

His greatest intervention was His decision to take on the appearance of a man, live so as to show us the Father, and die in order to make a way for us to once again interact with God.

Jesus Christ penetrated the natural on behalf of the Supernatural to restore our faulty, faded vision–the kind that allows us to see beyond the restrictions of our finite senses.

Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2


The Truth About Miracles

Martyr's Fire coverOne of the interesting things about Sigmund Brouwer’s Merlin’s Immortals series, of which Martyr’s Fire is book 3, is that there are no speculative elements in this speculative novel.

Don’t misunderstand. Merlin’s Immortals is correctly identified as part of the speculative genre since it falls into the category of legend. But where other iterations of the King Arthur legend embrace a thread of the supernatural or the miraculous, Merlin’s Immortals explains away what every day people assume to be miraculous.

In book two, for example, the hero of the story capitalizes on a well-known prophecy (which later the reader learns was actually intentionally planted among the people) by creating through “technology” the “miraculous” thing the commoners were looking for.

In Martyr’s Fire, the Priests of the Holy Grail make use of a bit of chemistry not widely known in that day to produce what they called miracles. In other words, both sides (and there is a “third side” about which the same is true) appear to have power beyond the natural, but in fact are simply making use of the natural to exploit the beliefs of the populace.

I find this to be interesting and suspect the idea of no magic or miraculous power falls comfortably inside the theology of some Christians. A segment of evangelicals believes that certain miraculous spiritual gifts have ceased (so that no one today prophesies or can heal, for instance), and it could be that this idea has expanded so that some do not believe miracles happen any longer.

In addition, some are uncomfortable with the idea that Satan and his demonic forces have power. Consequently, they would rather read stories in which evil forces have only conjuring abilities not supernatural might.

I myself am comfortable with either. I don’t need magic or miracles in the stories I read, but if they are there, I enjoy them.

This different approach to magic/miracles makes me wonder. What are miracles?

C. S. Lewis wrote a small book on the subject and he says this in his opening chapter.

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. (Lewis, Miracles, p. 3)

He proceeds to demonstrate that experience is useless when trying to prove the existence of miracles. In the same way, history can’t be relied upon because the same “they were fooled” argument can be made.

In fact, this is the very approach Sigmund Brouwer uses in his Merlin’s Immortals novels.

Lewis claims that a belief in miracles relies upon a philosophical understanding of God. He defines miracle as “an interference with Nature by supernatural power,” so first a person must believe “there exists, in addition to Nature, something else which we may call the supernatural” (Miracles, p. 5).

I’m with Lewis on this, and identify with those he calls Supernaturalists. Some religious people, pantheists, he explains, do not fall into this category:

Speak about beauty, truth and goodness, or about a God who is simply the indwelling principle of these three, speak about a great spiritual force pervading all things, a common mind of which we are all parts, a pool of generalized spirituality to which we can all flow, and you will command friendly interest. But the temperature drops as soon as you mention a God who has purposes and performs particular actions, who does one thing and not another, a concrete, choosing, commanding, prohibiting God with a determinate character. . . .The popular “religion” excludes miracles because it excludes the “living God” of Christianity and believes instead in a kind of God who obviously would not do miracles, or indeed anything else. (Miracles, p. 81, emphasis mine)

In short, miracles are nothing more than God intervening “to produce within Nature events which the regular ‘going on’ of the whole natural system would never have produced” (Miracles, p. 55).

Does God intervene with frequency? Some say yes and others no. My thought is, He can intervene as frequently as He wishes, in small ways or in large. He can intervene by altering time or matter or space–meaning He can cause “coincidences” because people arrive simultaneously with no such intention, water can become wine, and a resurrected body can pass from one place to another in the blink of an eye.

In fiction, I’m happy to read about supernatural power, even if it’s called magic or good magic, because I believe it reflects reality. God is all powerful. What can’t He do!

On the other hand, I don’t need to read stories that show supernatural power. I’m also aware that God works within Nature just as surely as He intervenes to alter it.

Brouwer has chosen to write a speculative series sans supernatural power (at least to this point). He’s done a credible job, and it’s an interesting concept. Perhaps readers who object to fantasy because of the magic will find this series to be right up their alley.

Going Along To Get Along


bird ruffling feathersDon’t make waves. Don’t ruffle anyone’s feathers. Don’t rock the boat. Those were phrases I grew up hearing that basically said, don’t say what you want to say because you’ll upset someone.

Underneath the admonition is the kind intention to spare someone’s feelings. You don’t want someone to get upset or feel uncomfortable or confused or irate or off kilter. You want to keep people happy.

Sure, it’s a good sentiment if it isn’t taken too far. But the problem is, our western culture is, in fact, taking the concept too far. The result is, we no longer speak the truth.

Christians have fallen into this same pit. We sometimes don’t speak the truth because we don’t want to make others uncomfortable, and sometimes we hold our tongues because we don’t want to suffer the outrage from others if we say what we believe.

I understand this latter position. I had an encounter last week on another blog that put me under verbal attack. I was accused of being of questionable intelligence, falsely pious, cruel, dishonest, abusive, creating intentional harm, being snide, having an attitude that was “as Christ-like as a festering pile of donkey scat,” and more. Above all, some said people like me were the reason they didn’t want to be known as Christians.

So do I relish tangling with people who I know might well unleash such a diatribe again? Not so much. It’s easier to keep quiet, to say, I’ve been in the verbal battles in the past and I don’t need more.

I used to think such rancorous exchanges could be avoided by treating others with respect. Except, some people think you don’t respect them unless you agree with them. Some people read evil intent behind every word.

At other times I’ve had people assume they know my position on a matter simply because I’ve stated a view that’s similar to someone else on their blacklist. In this last foray, I was accused regarding my opening comment of trying to prevent others from speaking.

I did say there are voices intent to drown out the message of God’s hope and help with accusations against the true Church. This statement, I was told, constituted me telling those against abuse within the church to stop talking.

What we never got to was this: the true Church doesn’t condone abuse. Does abuse exist within the ranks of those involved in Bible-believing churches? Sadly, I’m certain it does. However, writing off all evangelical churches and all evangelicals as refusing to ask questions, to look at the truth, and to accept those who are digging behind the scenes is . . . myopic. Or filled with hubris.

How can someone extrapolate from their own experience and draw conclusions about all other evangelicals and evangelical churches of whatever denomination? As I see it, someone who reaches such a conclusion might have an unhealthy idea about himself.

So ought Christians to stand by and let people slandering the true Church and maligning God’s name do so in order to avoid confrontation?

I don’t think so.

I know people have said–I think quoting C. S. Lewis–you don’t have to defend the Bible. That’s like defending a caged lion. In reality, all you have to do is let him out and he’ll defend himself.

But when it comes to the Church–well, believers are the Church, so it seems we ought to defend Christ’s bride.

In the end, the best defense is a good offense (not a quote from Scripture, but I’m sure the principle is in there somewhere ;-) ). Peter says it’s our good deeds that will win over unbelievers, though some will only get it “in the day of visitation,” which I think means Christ’s return, or the day of judgment–in other words, not necessarily in the immediate future.

I have no doubt that good deeds speak volumes. I also know Paul said we are to speak the truth in love. It’s not loving to let someone live believing a lie. It’s also not loving to call people vile names.

So Christians, I believe, need to have a determination to speak the truth and not go along to get along, and yet to do so in a way that is different from the way non-believers engage those with whom they disagree.

Speaking the truth articulately without name calling, insinuations, snark, dismissive or condescending comments ought to mark Christians. And in the internet age, speaking clearly without rancor might be the greatest witness we can offer.

On Fantasy Characters


Till_We_Have_Faces(C.S_Lewis_book)_1st_edition_coverI don’t know if the protagonists in fantasy are particularly different from the protagonists in fiction at large. Maybe. There is some “hero” quality a fantasy reader may expect, but I’m not sure that readers of other fiction don’t want that as well.

Here are some thoughts about fantasy protagonists from The Writer’s Guide to Fantasy Literature, edited by Philip Martin (The Writer Books):

The hero has a complex dual role to play: to be human and to be larger-than-life. In many ways, Harry Potter and Bilbo the hobbit are like us, their readers. They are shy, quiet, reluctant to take center stage, not seeking fame or heroic stature. Yet they also have special powers, and when called upon, draw on their inner strengths to perform feats of great courage and personal sacrifice.

p. 98

I started thinking about the fantasy heroes I have loved. There is Taran from The Book of Three and the other stories in the Chronicles of Prydain. He was a young pig-keeper—apparently not a particularly good one—who wanted to be a knight. He was “relatable”—”human” as the quote above terms it. But he became larger than life, in part because of his desires to be greater than he was, but more so because he learned what that meant, learned how incapable he was, and then he did the really heroic.

There was Fiver from Watership Downs, the weakest rabbit in the warren, but with amazing powers that ended up saving them all. He was “human” because of his weakness and his inner strength. What mattered wasn’t just the exterior—the vulnerable part. He was more.

An obvious one is Lucy from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. She was the youngest of the four Pevensies, which put her at a disadvantage. But when she found Narnia and came back telling her brothers and sister, their disbelief made her a sympathetic figure—more human. She was right but misunderstood and disbelieved. She became heroic because her belief was a cornerstone to their relationship with Aslan.

Speaking of C. S. Lewis fantasy, there is Oruel from Till We Have Faces . She was the unloved and unlovely princess, save for the special place she had in her sister’s heart. She too was sympathetic because of her humanness—her weaknesses, disadvantage, frailty, and her longings, her hopes. She didn’t become heroic until the end, which I won’t mention because I don’t want to spoil it for any who haven’t read the book yet.

This leaves me with a question, however. If the hero doesn’t become heroic until the end, will readers lose their interest in him (or her)? I mean, Till We Have Faces is not a well-known or popular work of Lewis’s. Is Oruel, perhaps, too human, and not enough larger than life?

What about some of the contemporary Christian fantasy? Billy and Bonnie in Dragons in Our Midst, Susan Mitchell in The Swords of Lyric series, Abramm in Karen Hancock’s The Guardian-King series, Kale and Bardon in The DragonKeeper Chronicles, Aidan in The Door Within series or Aidan in The Bark of the Bog Owl. Your thoughts?

Re-posted from an earlier article here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction.

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