Sunday, June 01, 2008

Knowing Jack

I am enjoying immensely reading through C.S. Lewis again. First, The Abolition of Man, and now, Mere Christianity. It's one of the things I love about good books - that each reading, each tasting, is different and each subsequent view richer.

I appreciate what Lewis does in this book, and while I admire what he attempts with his "mere," I also see negative ramifications of that same "mere." There is nothing mere or boiled down about Christianity. Because there is no essence to which Christianity can be boiled down. It is wholeness and fullness because it is Christ, and anything less than that fullness is less, not mere. All things considered, it is a very Protestant perspective of Christianity and therefore a very measured and fair view of the thing: He tries to say what is universally Christian among all who can claim the title. It is certainly more how I'd like to talk with family about faith, while not obscuring what I believe to be true. But it is still less. Then again, how much can you do in such a slim volume? I have disagreements here - that being said, Lewis is brilliant. His chapter on faith and works (Chapter 12) is a masterpiece and ought to be read by Catholics and Protestants alike who still imagine there a divide. He has terrific insights into the idea of "Sonship" that all of us, male and female, participate in. And he's readable, familiar, and goes to nearly embarrassing lengths to be so. The depth of his faith is context for the book, though it is seldom front and center. It is like a rich landscape painted with the promise of exploration, but remains, in this picture, only the backdrop. And I'm left wanting more of it - but he's cordoned off fabulous bits of the picture. Then again, how much can you do in such a slim volume?

There is this snippet at the end of his chapter on charity: "But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him." That's classic Lewis and authentic Christianity. And it's these moments of sweetness that make Jack one of my favorite Christian thinkers.

1 comment:

Scott Lyons said...

I finished the book last night and then went back to read the preface where Lewis comments on his purpose. While I would still disagree with what he's doing by degree, I find his stated purpose quite admirable as an introduction to Christianity. He ends the preface as follows:

"I hope no reader will suppose that 'mere' Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions - as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must he asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling. In plain language, the question should never be: 'Do I like that kind of service?' but 'Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular doorkeeper?'

When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still In the hall. If they are wrong they need. your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house."

A problem I see today is that people are doing the opposite of what Lewis suggests: They're leaving the rooms and crowding into the hallway.