C. S. Lewis and Thankfulness

Lewis’ pew in church is the one the young man is leaning over.

C. S. Lewis was a man of prayer. He prayed regularly in chapel, in church, and whenever or wherever he could. One of the most important things to him about prayer was his desire to deal with God as he really is, “as he knows himself to be.” He hated the froth or “static” – the noise one would hear on the radio in those days – of false concepts or motives that divert us toward a different god, a god of our own minds.

He wrote a good deal about how we can get past the froth of our own minds into God’s “real” presence. One of the things we need to do is to give thanks. As he writes in the eleventh chapter of Miracles, when we give thanks, we are looking beyond our own cares and concerns to him, the fount of all good. We attribute to him goodness, we recognize and honour his providence, and we recollect his abounding mercy toward us. And this focus on what has proceeded from him to us helps us in a variety of ways to pray.

For one thing, if we humble ourselves and set before our minds these true and good qualities of God, we are thinking truly about him. We are never perfectly correct in our thoughts of him, of course, but we can be truer than we have been. And the more he is exalted in our thinking, the closer we are to dealing with him as he knows himself to be.

Also – as he writes in Letters to Malcolm – our thanksgiving helps us to differentiate between the gifts and the Giver. We recognize that the blessings we have in this life are not God himself, but “expositions of his glory.” (p. 90 Fontana pb). We observe and experience our blessings. But, if we exercise thanksgiving, we recognize the divine glory attending the blessings, and move our attention and experience on beyond the tangible to the Person revealed by them. The experience of blessing thus turns to prayer with the humbling sense that we are – however much removed – in the presence of God. Thus each experience of pleasure can be a step upward to the prayer of adoration.

“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (I Thess. 5:18). Everything – the least encounter with goodness – can be turned into adoration via thanksgiving. Thanksgiving helps us to “pray always.” It helps us to become a worshiping people. It helps us to walk with God.

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Prayer and Right Self-Regard

Initially glancing through Harper’s new book, How to Pray, by C. S. Lewis – edited by Zach Kincaid – I ran across these words Lewis wrote to Barfield:

“Incidentally, since I have begun to pray, I find my extreme view of personality changing.  My own empirical self is becoming more important and this is exactly the opposite of self love.  You don’t teach a seed how to die into treehood by throwing it into the fire; and it has to become a good seed before it’s worth burying” (p. 36).

The quote probably stands out to me because I’ve been dealing so much lately with the issue of self-love and self-hate.  For example, this morning, I was reading Ephesians 5 and came across this:

29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.

This being the case, the conclusion is that there is a right self-regard that is our duty.  I must not hate myself but care for myself, or I fail to give testimony to the Lord’s care for his Church.  To use Lewis’ allusion, I must not be casting myself into hell but seeking the improvement of myself instead, “as the Lord does the church.”

Though the quote stood out to me because of the above considerations, the chief topic of it is surely how important prayer can be for self-knowledge in general.  As we spend time in God’s presence, our heart seeking focus on those things which interest and concern him, we are in a place where he can address those matters which occupy us, or perhaps we should pay more attention to than we are doing.

In this case, Lewis realizes he needs to reconsider how he treats himself.  Lewis will not become more of what God wants him to be by shoveling fire and brimstone on his own head.  He must be kinder and seek to be better – which goals require more work and patience.

Let us pray.

Lord, as I seek you and spend time before you, open  my eyes to  how I am harming myself and my spiritual progress, instead of being good to  myself and progressing in goodness and love – as you wish your Church to do.  Amen.


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Summer Plans and Worldly “Conditioning”

I am spending a good bit of time this week getting things geared up for our C. S. Lewis Summers @ The Meeting House for 2018.  Our schedule will be as follows:

Thursday, 21 June, Dr. Bill Davis of Covenant College, speaking on The Discarded Image.

Thursday, 19 July, Dr. Robert Barham of Covenant College, speaking on That Hideous Strength.

Thursday, 16 August, yours truly, speaking on the current status of scholarship concerning The Abolition of Man.

Getting ready for my talk, I’m currently reading through Michael Ward’s masterful critical edition of The Abolition of Man, published by Logos Light.  Sorry, if you didn’t get it when Amazon.com had it available; you can’t get it now.  The publisher ran into a copyright problem.  Michael has assured me, however, that his material in the book will be available later.

What’s getting me the most about what I’m reading right now is that the danger he warns us of was something already at work in his time.  And he gave the lectures during World War II (February, 1943)!

“…Man’s conquest of himself means simply the rule of the Conditioners over the conditioned human material, the world of post-humanity which, some knowingly and some unknowingly, nearly all men in all nations are at present labouring to produce” (p. 98 of said edition).

The process at this time is very advanced.  It is no wonder – and here we need compassion – that the fruits of this conditioning is in the Church.  The biblical term for this influence in the Church is “worldliness.”  The “world” is constantly seeking to squeeze us into this or that mold – whatever it is (Romans 12).  If we do not watch and pray, we will be molded, conditioned, and the salt will have lost its savour (Mt. 5:13).  And we will – hopefully unknowingly – be doing what is ultimately the devil’s destructive work inside the Church.

Lord have mercy.

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Can a person be called an animal? Lewis speaks in The Abolition of Man

There has been talk lately in our media about people calling other people “animals.” It seems some have not appreciated that term, for whatever reason. Can the term “animal” fit a human being?

Acknowledging that no human is totally without the image of God, is it possible one may so degenerate to a level of beastly behaviour that he is so similar to a mere beast that the term “animal” fits him? And if so, how does this happen?

C. S. Lewis, in The Abolition of Man speaks directly to this topic. Lewis describes humans as comprised of three parts: head, chest, and belly. In the head, we have the intellectual life, the “cerebral man.” The belly represents that part of us we have in common with the other creatures, the “visceral man.”. Commenting, Lewis says, “… by his intellect, he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal” (p. 25). It is this latter part of man which, if out of proper control, can lead to his being, as Lewis says, a “mere trousered ape” (p. 9).

It is no wonder that, if you have a whole society of people who cannot control or moderate the animal side of their being, we call that society a “jungle” instead of a community.(1) Part of Lewis’ argument is that, if our society is going to rise above the jungle, we will have to insure a) that we recapture the objectivity of absolute good, and b) inculcate and nurture a sentiment in our progeny that appreciates and desires the truly good. They need to be whole people with informed minds, properly nurtured sentiments (“chests”), and subservient emotions.

If we fail to educate and train this kind of person at home and at school, the result is a malformed human that Lewis certainly has no problem considering as an animal. If people act like animals instead of people created in God’s image, how can calling them “animals” be off-the-mark? Oh, it may be offensive, but so is their behaviour to civilized, moral people.

Of course, the Christian desires for all “mere trousered apes” to be redeemed and flourish as true humans by the grace of Christ. Jesus did not come to condemn, but to save the world (St. John 3:17).

(1) “Law of the Jungle.” Oxford English Dictionary Online. Oxford University Press. n.d. Web. 10 May 2013: “the code of survival in jungle life, now usually with reference to the superiority of brute force or self-interest in the struggle for survival.”

References are from: The Abolition of Man, Harper paperback, 1974.
Image source: www.edibleplantsinvietnam.com/

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How To Abide in the Vine – help from N. T. Wright and C. S. Lewis

I was brought up spiritually in a tradition that interpreted Jesus’ words in John 15 about abiding in him in a strictly personal, individualistic sense.  To abide is to keep myself close to my Lord.  Then I read N. T. Wright’s comments on John 15 and was hit with a 2×4 on the head.

Let me explain. Consider that Jesus’ calling himself a vine was not an arbitrary allusion. He could have likened himself to a tree, for example, but he did not. He chose to speak of a vine. Why? It is because the vine in the Old Testament was symbolic of the Old Testament church.  Simply read Psalm 80:8-15; Jeremiah 2:5-21 and Isaiah 5:1-7; you’ll get the idea.

Based on this observation by Wright: Jesus = the True Vine > Jesus = The True Church.  Our abiding in Jesus is first an abiding in his Body, the Church (yes, the metaphors about the experience of our union with Christ abound).

How does Jesus say we are to abide in him?  He says his word is to abide in us and we are to keep his command to love one another.  If we refer to St. John’s first epistle, we learn also that to abide in Christ is to have his Spirit and to confess him before the world (I John 4:13-15).  What do the Scriptures say about how I am to do these four things?

Jesus says we abide in him if we abide in love and love one another.  But love is something that you do with people.   You have to be connected with people to do that.

If we want to abide, his word must abide in us. How do we do that? Yes, we can read and memorize the Bible for ourselves, but Paul teaches us that when Jesus ascended to the throne he poured out gifts of pastoring and teaching upon his church so that we might know his word and mature in the faith (Ephesians 4). Therefore, if I’m going to abide in Jesus’ word, I must abide in the Church where I can be taught the word and shepherded by pastors to help me keep the word. You see how this is going?

Consider this: John tells us in I John 4:13, that the reason I know I abide in Christ is that I have the Spirit? Well, when do you get the Spirit? We know he can come into our life at any time, but, officially speaking, we get the Spirit at our baptism, and you can’t baptize yourself. You need the Church for that.

And lastly, Jesus and John talk about our witness to the world, confessing him as Lord, as those who abide in him. Jesus’ concern is that the world hears our testimony, but if we are only concerned about our own, personal testimony, how is the whole world going to hear that confession? No. We are to be concerned about the testimony of the whole Church. We confess Christ with the whole church, not just by ourselves.

And so you see, as Bishop Tom says, we do not live the Christian life, the life of abiding in the True Vine, by going it alone. If I am going to abide in Jesus, I must do it as someone who abides in the Church.

But in the end, this abiding is both corporate and personal.  Wright acknowledges this, and Lewis gives us a great picture of this both-and situation.

In his book Mere Christianity, in the chapter entitled “The Three Parts of Morality,” Lewis describes a fleet of ships sailing in formation to a certain port. The object of the fleet, and every ship in the fleet, is to sail safely to that port. However, as he writes:

“The voyage will be a success only, in the first place, if the ships do not collide and get in one another’s way; and, secondly, if each ship is seaworthy and has her engines in good order. As a matter of fact, you cannot have either of these two things without the other. If the ships keep on having collisions they will not remain seaworthy very long. On the other hand, if their steering gears are out of order they will not be able to avoid collision.”

You get the point. I need to watch over the love of my heart, the Word in my heart, not grieve the Spirit in my heart, and confess the faith myself where I am, if I am to abide in Christ myself. But, I do these things as part of a fleet. I do them as part of a Body. I do them as a branch in a vine. And I cannot do them, as they are meant to be done, unless I abide in the Church as a member of the whole.

[See John for Everyone, Part Two, by Wright (SPCK, 2002, pp. 70-71); and Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper, 2001, p. 71); image source: http://thiswallpaper.com/cdn/hdwallpapers/727/]
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C. S. Lewis: His “Tao” and the Bible

A lot of evangelical Protestants have a “love-hate” relationship with C. S. Lewis.  They love the Narnia stories – until they hit the character Emeth in The Last Battle.  They love his comments about prayer in Letters to Malcolm, until he says, “I believe in Purgatory.”  Uh oh.

And then there’s The Abolition of Man.  Lewis says that there is a universal sense of morality in all times and cultures that is on the same level of authority as the Bible, because it comes from the Creator.  He calls this moral sense “the Tao,” purposefully using an Eastern term to make his point with his western readers.

Evangelical Protestants have a knee-jerk reaction against putting secular authors next to verses from the Bible.  The certain and secure feeling that goes along with a regular affirmation of “we have the Truth,” can’t help being disturbed when someone wants to give credence to beliefs in other cultures.

I here briefly demonstrate – for my evangelical Protestant friends – that what Lewis is saying about “the Tao” is biblical.  For brevity’s sake, I am taking a very “proof text” approach.

Genesis tells us that mankind is created in God’s image (1:26,27).  God is, of course, a morally conscious Being.  If we are created in his image, it makes sense that we would share this moral consciousness.  Paul affirms that to be the case in Romans 2, when he describes people who have never read “the Law,” viz. the books of Moses, yet they seem to be aware of the morality in that Law (vs. 14,15).  Paul says they do the works of the Law “by nature.”

Paul also says that people, outside of Israel, know “the truth” (Romans 1:18).  They just want to live unrighteously, and so they suppress it.

The apostle John seems to confirm this observation about mankind in the first chapter of his gospel, when he writes about the Son, the Word of God: “That was the true Light, which lights every man that comes into the world” (v. 9).  In other words, every person born into this world has a measure of knowledge about God.  In fact, they have enough knowledge about him that they can be judged by God for not living by it and being thankful for it (Romans 1:18).

Therefore, we should not be surprised if some non-Christian authors are aware of this truth in their consciences and occasionally say something true about it.  And since this light of the image of God is in every person, to some degree, it makes sense that the light would shine – however dimly – in every culture.  One would expect, at least, that some very fundamental, basic idea of morality would surface; the most fundamental idea being what we call “the Golden Rule.”  This Lewis demonstrates in his Appendix,

There are so many good things that follow from understanding this biblical truth.  For one – and evangelicals should like this – it gives us something in common with every person to which we can appeal, one way or another.  I’ll leave it at that.

Questions or comments?  Have at it below (be sure you are not reading this post from the main page).



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C. S. Lewis and Evolutionism

Some Christians have a problem with Lewis and his comments about Evolution.

Several years ago, I published a post about an article written on the asa3.org site in 1996 by Prof. Ferngren about C. S Lewis’ beliefs regarding the theory of Evolution.   He lays a lot of weight on correspondence Lewis had with Captain Bernard Acworth, written between 1944 and 1960 about the subject.  Ferngren writes:

“Lewis may have accepted a theistic version of organic evolution, but he resisted attempts to draw broad philosophical implications from scientific theories .”

More recently, Prof. Michael Peterson has written an article on Lewis and Intelligent Design, also on the asa3 site.   Peterson agrees with Ferngren that Lewis was primarily concerned about the philosophical problems behind the way biological evolution was being turned into Evolutionism.  Peterson’s contribution is evidence regarding how Lewis’ “mere-Christian” Trinitarian thought influenced his rejection of Evolutionism.

Interacting with Ferngern in note 38, Peterson writes:

“Reading all of Lewis’s letters to Acworth, we see Lewis basically reacting to the evidences against evolution that Acworth proposed by saying that at his age he could not become an expert and adjudicate such matters. He was certainly open-minded and willing to consider all putative evidence for any view. But any suspicion Lewis expressed about the factual nature of Evolution can be overblown by fastening on just a comment or two. The larger context which Lewis always establishes for any particular remarks about Evolution is his deep hostility toward Evolution as a kind of secular theological creed [my emphasis]….”

Consistent with this statement, elsewhere in his article, Peterson writes:

“But Lewis’s critical point for present purposes, in current parlance, is that we must distinguish the appropriate methodological naturalism of science from philosophical naturalism—something I[ntelligent] D[esign] fails to do. Methodological naturalism is the scientific approach of restricting the explanation of natural phenomena to natural causes. Philosophical naturalism, on the other hand, is the philosophical view that nature alone is real, that there is no supernatural” (p. 257).

The upshot is that Lewis had no problem with methodological naturalism.  He recognized his lack of expertise in the area and kept a humble attitude about it.  However, he was an expert in philosophy and had lots of problems with philosophical naturalism.

In your reading of Lewis, when he seems to favour Evolution, please make this distinction.  Don’t think he is not a Christian because he does not espouse your understanding of origins.  He would not have sided with people today who want to use forms of evolutionary theory to explain everything, including the origin of mankind or the existence of God.   As Peterson says, “he is clearly a Christian Theistic  Evolutionist, or an Evolutionary Christian Theist” (p. 263).  The key term here is “Christian.”

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Sheep Need a Shepherd

We all face our inadequacy at different times in our lives.  It is very uncomfortable to do so.  The best the Western world seems to have for our relief is to inflate our inherent tendency to pride and encourage us to give ourselves a “pep talk.”  We are to play psychological tricks on ourselves.

True, there are times when we are not appreciating our talents and resources, and we do need to jar an unhealthy negativity so we will appreciate and be thankful for adequacies we do have.  That is not a psychological trick but an attempt to be more truthful about ourselves.

Yet, at our core, none of us is adequate for all life can bring.  There is always a legitimate need for something outside ourselves to bring us closer to completeness, adequacy, fulfillment.  The quicker and more truly we can make this connection, the better.

The Christian Faith teaches us that our Maker, knowing our need, has provided someone to care for us.  There is someone who knows all about us and has the power to deal with all that we are afraid or ashamed of about ourselves

God has provided a Shepherd; the best possible: his own Son.  The Son has done and will do all we need to complete and fulfill our being.

However, for this Gift to work for us, we need two things.

First, we need to believe that this Shepherd – the eternal God who runs the whole universe – really cares for us individually.  In St. Luke, chapter 15, Jesus speaks of the shepherd who will leave all the rest of his sheep in order to save one that is lost.  C. S. Lewis picks up on this parable and argues that, if we were the only fallen beings in a universe filled with intelligent life, God would have sent his Son for us (Miracles, chapter 14, paragraph 24).  The implication of this particularizing of God is that, if you or I were the only fallen person in all the human race, God would still have sent his Son for us; Jesus would still have laid down his life in order to be our Shepherd.  That is why St. Paul can talk about God’s activity in saving mankind, and yet still speak of Jesus as, “the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).  Do you believe you can say that about yourself?

The second requirement is that we humble ourselves and admit we are a sheep that needs a shepherd.  Otherwise, we will not adequately put ourselves in his care.

You cannot in yourself handle all that life can throw at us.  You certainly are not adequate to face the holy, almighty God all by yourself on the Day of Judgment.  Will you follow the Shepherd, to your eternal happiness?

[Other passages to read: Psalm 23; St. John 10]

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Lewis’ Complaint Against the 23rd Psalm

Around this time of year – depending on which Lectionary you use – the appointed Gospel reading is from St. John 6, with Jesus’ words about being the Good Shepherd. No surprise that Psalm 23 also appears alongside. Psalm 23 is perhaps the most beloved of all the Psalms, beginning with those famous words, “The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”

What is a surprise is that C. S. Lewis had a problem with this Psalm. Yes! Psalm 23!

He does admit that he loves the psalm. The problem comes with verse 5: “Thou shalt prepare a table for me against them that trouble me” (Coverdale). He quotes another version that supports more of the idea that the enemies have to look on at David’s enjoyment, as in the King James Version. Lewis then comments:

“The poet’s enjoyment of his present prosperity would not be complete unless those horrid enemies (who used to look down their noses at him) were watching it all and hating it. This may not be as diabolical as the passages I have quoted above; but the pettiness and vulgarity of it, especially in such surroundings, are hard to endure” (Reflections on the Psalms, Fontana, 1969, p. 24).

Now, Lewis does go on to explain how we are to take those cursing passages in the Psalms as Christian disciples, but the objection remains. I think Lewis fails to allow the full context of the Psalm to inform his imagination of what this “diabolical” scene looks like.

Part of the genius of Lewis’ description of evil – which we love – is his ability to portray the presence of sin in the petty and vulgar. If we consider Lewis’ interpretation of what is happening in verse 5, that we have here some spoiled brat who’s been given the best place at the table in the presence of those snarly companions of his who have been looking down their noses at him and offending his ego – now getting their “comeuppance” – well, the enjoyment of this circumstance by the brat is just the kind of thing we would find inspired by Wormwood, or perhaps the kind of sin one of the ghosts in The Great Divorce would so love.

But that is not what is happening in verse 5. Read the context:
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.

We have a different picture here. If you remember the trials and perils of David’s life, reading these words, surely the picture is of a harried and exhausted man, who is pursued by enemies that want to kill him. Yet, he has been guided into a safe haven, guarded by a King, who provides him with protection and even nourishment and refreshment, while his enemies, just over the hill, are peering at the king’s tent, frustrated that they cannot get at him. The scene in verse 5 is not petty, but profound.

Well, perhaps Lewis thought better of David in his later years. In the meantime, we consider this one more example of David’s faith in his God as his shield, his rock, his high tower of defense, wherein he finds rest and peace. Thank God that he is thus so good to his oft troubled saints.

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