Friday, September 19, 2008

Mere Christianity - Doctorate Paper 1

From time to time you will see some of the papers that I have written as I work on my Doctorate in Theology. Perhaps you can gain something from these or help you get some rest in the evenings.

A Book Review of C.S. Lewis’
“Mere Christianity”

Lewis declares, “There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying that they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps.’ The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.”

After reading “Mere Christianity” it is easy to assume that we are all pre-school children when it comes to our understanding of the major concepts of the Bible. As one of the early 20th Century Christian apologetics, Lewis plumbs the depths of philosophy and theology and attempts to make the complex understandable, or at least to stretch the reader’s minds into the depth of Biblical Truth.

This classic text is back in vogue in America as we begin the twenty-first century. This is primarily because the United States finds itself in a similar cultural and theological situation that the United Kingdom found itself in half a century ago. We live in an age of skepticism, even in many churches. Pastors who do not believe in the inerrancy of the Word of God, the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus, or any other miraculous events recorded in the Bible.

Lewis’ book is all the more remarkable when we realize that he is standing with a small minority as he pens this book. In this age of syncretism the body of Christ must be called back the authority of the Biblical text or else we will, at best become weak, feeble, and ineffective. At worst, we will cease to exist as a living body. Much of modern Europe is a testament to this reality; marvelous church structures, yet most are used as monuments, museums, or mosques.
Jesus can not help His church who refuses to believe and obey His written words. We dare not forget the words of the apostle Paul from 2 Timothy 3:16-17 when he stated, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

While Dr. Lewis uses philosophy and reason through out this text, he is simply defending the ageless text of Holy Writ. He gives modern defense for eternal propositions. As this writer comments on this historic book, he will focus on the principles that will strengthen, defend, or help someone find their faith in Christ Jesus and the Word of God.

Lewis starts his book with a basic study of the law of human nature. He challenges the ethical thinking that is often being dealt with today. It is a discussion of right versus wrong without an absolute authority.

Lewis writes, “What was the sense in saying that the enemy were in the wrong unless right is a real thing, which the Nazis at bottom knew as well as we did and ought to have practiced?”
The point is often debated in our culture, school systems, and in political circles. The struggle exists when society tries to define right, but has nothing but personal opinion to back it up. The end result is a society where right and wrong can never be truly substantiated, for the circumstances, my difficult childhood, or lack of education may cause right to be wrong or wrong to be right.

Isaiah warned that we should beware when right is called wrong and wrong is called right. Yet without the authoritative truth of the Word of God anything goes. This is the culture today, not only of society, but sadly often also in the body of Christ. What is decent, moral behavior if there is not a measuring rod?

Lewis again states, “If no set of moral ideas were truer or better that any other, there would be no sense of preferring civilized morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality.” If morality can not be assessed from Exodus 20 in the Ten Commandments, then we have a world in a moral free fall.

“If your moral ideas can be truer, and those of the Nazis less true, there must be something-some real morality – for them to be true about” states Lewis. Everyone believes there truth to be truth. However, the Bible proclaims itself to be truth in Psalm 19, Psalm 119, Isaiah 40, and 2 Timothy 3. Either, the Bible is true and others false or the Bible is false and all others true. Philosophy forces us to make a decision.

He continues this same logic in the Creation versus Evolution debate. “We want to know whether the universe simply happens to be what it is for no reason or whether there is a power behind it that makes it what it is.” If you conclude that there is purpose and design in the universe, then one must figure out who the designer really is.

“Christianity differs from other religions. Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic – there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong, but some of the wrong answers are much nearer to being right than others.” Lewis is correct in that all other religions believe that everyone is right but Christianity. Jesus stands alone as He proclaims in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” This statement forces all so-called Christ followers to make a decision. Jesus is right or wrong, but He can not be just another alternative.

Lewis then delves into the subject of free will. He reminds us that God’s love is so great that He will allow us to love Him or rebel and turn from Him completely. However, love is only love if it is by choice.

The subject of free will is often debated, yet it seems that just a few examples from Scripture will validate the doctrine of freedom and that the sovereignty of God can work hand in hand with this freedom. Adam and Eve, Jesus praying in the garden, and Judas’ betrayal all exemplify this doctrine. God’s foreknowledge does not remove our will; it simply demonstrates the majesty and eternality of our God.

The love of Jesus is even more amazing when one realizes that He gave us the option to reject His sacrificial love. Nowhere in Scripture is God’s love seen more clearly than the sacraments. Lewis writes, “There are three things that spread the Christ-life to us: baptism, belief, and the mysterious action which different Christians call by different names – Holy Communion, the Mass, or Lord’s Supper.”

In these ordinances we connect with the heart and soul of our Savior. Hebrews 11:6 states that when we live “by faith” we please God. Romans chapter six teaches us that at baptism we are buried into the death of Jesus so that we may enter into the resurrection of our Lord. Communion is the point, regularly, daily, weekly, as often as possible, that we confess our sins and remember our salvation comes through Jesus. Paul reminds us of this principle in 1 Corinthians 11.

However, we must choose to follow Jesus now, for Paul tells us in Philippians that “every knee will bow”. Now it will be for salvation, if we wait it will be to our own damnation. Lewis states that at death “it will be too late to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing, it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it or not.”
As Lewis moves into the area of ethics and morality, he wisely reminds us that you have to decide your goals before you start the trip or else we will surely miss the mark. He reminds us that “however well the fleet sailed, its voyage would be a failure if it were meant to reach New York and actually arrived in Calcutta.” Our choices, morally, have a tremendous impact upon spiritual choices that we will make. Many today, and in fact throughout Christian history, church goes have tried to pretend that their ethical life did impact their spiritual lives. However, we are unified beings. Our minds, bodies, and souls all function as one. Right behavior moved by our desire to obey the Words of God should be every believer’s goal.

We next tackle the subject of Christ followers actually living their faith. Usually the struggle is two-fold, morality and stewardship. Lewis hits the nail on the head when he states, “If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and can not do because our charities expenditure excludes them. For many of us, the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear – fear of insecurity.”

Personally, I think the issue is very basic. Stewardship is simply a faith issue. Tithing, missionary giving, and benevolent giving are all commanded and demonstrated in scripture. We’re told in Hebrews 11:6 that “without faith it is impossible to please God.”
Many people tell me that they have faith when in reality they only have a belief. It is a historical faith with no truth for today. No service, sacrifice, obedience, or radical Biblical prayer. It is simply a spiritual memorial to those who used to live by faith. Yet Paul told us in Romans that, “The righteous will live by faith.” Belief must translate into radical obedient faith that relives Hebrews 11. Faith always acts out of obedience to the Word of Spirit and God’s Spirit.
Lewis reminds us that, “Before we can be cured, we must want to be cured.” This is true of faith, addictions, or obedience of any kind. Growth will never just happen, maturity will not be a part of our lives, until we are ready for total surrender to the Word of God. There is no room for ninety-nine percent faith. It really is all or nothing. So often people want to bargain with God, they will keep eight of the Ten Commandments and expect the blessing of God. Obviously it all comes down to obedience with no middle ground.

In the section on charity Lewis describes the lives of many Christians that do not want to love those who are different; perhaps unlovely, ungrateful, or the color or nationality. Jesus teaches that our love is to be unconditional and that it is to flow out of His love. In fact, when Peter asked, “How many times do we have to forgive the one who has sinned against us,” Jesus’ ultimate answer is “as many times as you want the Father to forgive you.” This brings life back into focus in a hurry even for the most self-righteous. Lewis states, “The great thing to remember is that though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not worried 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.”

This is indeed a tremendous reminder to all of us to be people of grace, love, and forgiveness. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:1, “we are to be imitators of God as dearly loved children.” You and I are to be copying God, imitating His love. Perhaps this is best illustrated in Luke 15 in the three parables that Jesus tells of the lost sheep, lost coin, and the lost son. The Father’s love for the lost is obviously the key to the stories and the fact that it is recorded in three different ways speaks of the importance of the message. I would guess that the Spirit had Luke write all three together to impress upon us our purpose as the Body of Christ to reach out to lost, hurting, and sinful people with the forgiveness, love, & hope of Jesus. The church must be in the grace business.

The struggle in churches seems to be between grace and legalism. Surely we can love and forgive without condoning or comprising the Word of God. In reality we are often far too easy on the saints and tough on sinners, when it should be the other way around. The church must deal in hope or else we have no message to offer our sin sick work. Jesus said, “aim at Heaven and you will Earth thrown in; aim at Earth and you will get neither.” Jesus’ desire for His church must be our desire.

Jesus calls His church to be holy and obedient. These two issues have always been a struggle for God’s people as both require change on our part. We dare not lose our calling or purpose as Lewis writes, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find until after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside, I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same.

Our culture is so self-absorbed that it would seem that they believe that they will live here on earth forever. They have laid up much for themselves, but do not seem to be aware of the fact that their souls will be required of them. It is an ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ culture even among the body of Christ.

In Hebrews 11 we are told that Moses turned his back on all the riches of Egypt because he was looking forward to a Kingdom that was to come. In fact, he accepted persecution, pain, and isolation because he believed that God has something better coming.

This vision is also what motivated Abraham as he left his comfortable life in Ur to go to a land that God promise and a hope that God promised, but he received no specifics. Apparently when we truly hear and understand God’s call on our lives, we are willing to sacrifice this world for eternity. When you tour the ruins of ancient Egypt, you can not help but be in awe of what this kingdom must have been like. Yet it is also a reminder that kingdoms come and go, power comes and goes, and people come and go. To not be prepared for eternity is the height of foolishness.
When we realize that we are made for another world it should impact our worship, our giving, our lifestyles, and our commitment to all that is the Word of God. Jesus taught in John 14 that He was preparing a place for all of us. This world is to be given away. If indeed we are made for another world, how should this fact impact the following?

a) Three billion people have never heard of Jesus
b) 200+ million children are starving
c) There are millions of orphans around the world
d) Missionaries are willing to go, but are lacking in funds
e) Fellow believers are under persecution, are arrested, or are sentenced to death

If our faith is not moved to mission passion and compassion then we might need to consider whether our salvation is real.

However, we live in a time within the church where people do not seem to want too much of God. They want just enough to cleanse their guilty conscience, but not enough to change their lives. They want a religion. Religion has been defined as man trying to reach to God, while Christianity is about reaching down to man and revealing Himself to all mankind.

Lewis states it this way, “Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Keep back nothing. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. But look for Christ and you will find him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

If our desire is simply to have enough of God to alleviate our guilt we will miss the true heart of Christianity. We miss the father-child relationship, the eternal plan for salvation. We also miss our calling to love, teach, pray, and act on behalf of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Perhaps what we must lose out on is the relationship God so desire to have with us. Religion will always keep God at a distance, while Biblical Christianity should always pull us close to our Heavenly Father.

Monday, September 15, 2008


I love to read. Here is a brief list of great books:

Psalms - David and some friends

The Case for Faith - Lee Strobel

Daring to Draw Near - John White

My Utmost For His Highest - Oswald Chambers

You've Got To Be Kidding - Pat & Ruth Williams

That None Should Perish - Ed Silvoso

It - Craig Groeschel

The Bare Bones Bible Handbook - Jim George