Category Archives: fundamentalism

Would C.S. Lewis suppose God could be found or experienced outside of Christianity?

The guy who scorned liberal Christianity as watered-down (“Christianity and water”)—and who mocked “gin-and-lace” Anglo-Catholicism—turns out to believe God could be found outside of Christianity?

The guy who is loved by U.S. evangelicals and fundamentalists turns out to proclaim that people can experience God outside of Christianity?

Consider (here I paste from one of my recent replies in a social media thread):

…What I mean is, Lewis saw God in Plato. He also loved Rudolf Otto’s “The Idea of the Holy,” in fact listed it as one of his top 10 books outside the Bible, and Otto’s book affirms the human experience of God among many different cultures and religions, which seems reasonable considering Saint Paul felt it appropriate to quote a pagan poet who wrote, “In Him we live and move and have our being.”

Note Paul found a worthy piece of writing about God outside of Scripture, from a writer neither Jewish nor Christian.

Lewis also said, in “Mere Christianity” no less, “If you are Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through….If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth.” He goes on to say God may be working through the good parts of other religions to steer people to Christ.

And in the Narnia book “The Last Battle,” a character who seems analogous to a Muslim enters Aslan’s kingdom and joins the ride “further up and further in.”

Considering Lewis’s love for Otto’s book and his own words in “Mere Christianity” and “The Last Battle,” you…must consider C.S. Lewis to be a heretic. Perhaps he wouldn’t be welcome in the ACNA, which seems only capable of issuing demerits. Look at all the evidence against Lewis being orthodox! And you wouldn’t be the first to consider him insufficiently orthodox. But I don’t.…and until I can consider Lewis a heretic, maybe for the time being I’ll consider a church’s consistent recitation of the Nicene Creed as enough to count for orthodoxy…

In that social media reply, I went on to mention Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, which offers appendices that show similarities in moral and ethical teachings across various religions and cultures. Not that morals and ethics are the ultimate concern for many religious people (for them, salvation is), but similarities in identifying sin are probably important to notice.

In that reply, I should have also included this Lewis quotation, from a 1959 letter to Clyde S. Kilby, which alludes to James 1:17:

“If every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of Lights then all true and edifying writings, whether in Scripture or not, must be in some sense inspired.”

The harshest conservative critics will see the above as cherry-picking (selectively using evidence). However I think the above evidence reveals an undeniable tendency in Lewis’s outlook and worldview, in his theological and philosophical orientations, born from his deep and wide readings in classical literature and mythology.

So, more broadly, this post belongs to perhaps an emerging genre of posts, accumulating on this blog and elsewhere, carrying underneath a tonal blend of exasperation and bafflement at the U.S. evangelicals and fundamentalists who appreciate C.S. Lewis, who was neither evangelical nor fundamentalist. Many things evangelicals and fundamentalists scorn in other types of believers are the very things Lewis believed. But C.S. Lewis remains famous and beloved, and he was a scholar who believed in a God and better yet in Jesus Christ; so see, they have a smart person in their corner in a time when undefined, somewhere-out-there smart people seem to be the biggest threat to those in evangelical and fundamentalist circles. (Well, the biggest threat until recently.) Evangelical and fundamentalist leaders seem invested in articulating easily-remembered phrases that can become rhetorical memes that build cognitive walls against outside critiques. C.S. Lewis is so quotable, the rhetorical memes are already available. If they side step the fact that Lewis didn’t see the world or God the same way as U.S. evangelicals and fundamentalists, they can quote Lewis with faux gravitas, pat themselves on the back for being smart and bookish, and meanwhile convince no one else in their neighborhoods of anything.

That being said, this post was generated by a recent social media exchange in which an ACNA minister pressed me to seek disciplinary action against an Episcopalian priest for saying God could be found in the Koran. To that I made the above italicized response, also saying I would not be his heresy hunter because I’m not certain C.S. Lewis would play that role. The ACNA minister apparently did not see this as a response to the issue of the Koran. While admittedly not addressing the Koran directly, I argued from C.S. Lewis’s life and work that he thought people outside of Christianity could experience the presence of the real God (what more that might mean or indicate is up for discussion). I think the two strongest pieces of evidence for this are (1) Lewis’s strong appreciation for Otto’s book, not commonly read these days but historically important, and (2) his letter to Kilby. On balance, I’m not sure C.S. Lewis would be welcome in the ACNA except on the merits of his overwhelming celebrity in Christendom. Whether he should be read by ACNA members, as a matter of consistency with the ACNA leadership’s view of orthodoxy, is actually a different question from what I’m raising. But I doubt he would be accepted by the ACNA leadership today on the merits of his actual views. Maybe C.S. Lewis isn’t orthodox enough for the ACNA, or the Southern Baptists—or for that matter the PCA, for whom I have a great deal of love and appreciation, if probably not agreement.

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10-Year-Old Daughter At the Home-School Co-Op Embarrasses Dad

A couple of weeks ago, I’m told, my 10-year-old daughter was drinking some Coca-Cola—maybe guzzling is the right word—at the Christian home-school co-op she attends once a week. One of the Moms commented on my daughter’s ability to drink Coke so quickly. My daughter said she likes a strong lemon soda at Starbucks, suggesting she’s used to having her throat stung by carbonation and intense flavors. Then my kid added, “I’ll be great at taking shots when I’m older.”

 

‘Asad Shah death: Man admits killing shopkeeper because he “disrespected” Islam’ — Metro

This was new to me: Claiming to be a prophet could be an offense to Islam.

Although this alleged offense did not occur in the U.S., the claim to be a prophet is a very American thing.

Prophets were typical in the churches of my youth. Prophets would visit, and we would sit, hoping they would (or would not!) call upon us and give us a word from the Lord. More recently, at least one person was given the title of Prophet, in lieu of Reverend, in the credits for the film The Apostle, recently watched during a Tuesday dinner-and-book group I attend. These days, prophets still roam conference circuits.

In America, prophets are everywhere. The Mormons, members of a uniquely American religion, are led by a prophet.

The following article is about a man in England who killed someone who claimed to be a prophet, therefore presumably disrespecting Islam. Is such a murder typical? No. But I wonder if this will have a chilling effect on those who self-identify as prophets in the U.K. and the U.S.

From the article

In a statement, Ahmed, 32, denied the incident had anything to do with Christianity, instead saying that Mr Shah had claimed to be a prophet and therefore ‘disrespected’ Islam.

In a statement made through his lawyer, John Rafferty, Ahmed said: ‘Asad Shah disrespected the messenger of Islam the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. Mr Shah claimed to be a Prophet….’

Read the full story

via Asad Shah death: Man admits killing shopkeeper because he ‘disrespected’ Islam — Metro

Aside

These days politics requires incessant posturing to such a level of precision that no one can assume an opponent has said anything remotely correct about any detail of policy. Only barbed messages of radical certainty, please.

‘How The Plowman Learned His Paternoster’ or English Catechism Before the Reformation

What was the Church of England like before the Reformation? A snapshot comes from Eamon Duffy, in his award-winning book The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (second edition, 2005):

“Round the fourteenth-century font in the parish church of Bradley, Lincolnshire, is carved an English inscription, which runs

Pater Noster, Ave Maria, Criede,

Leren the childe yt is need.

“That injunction was directed to the godparents and was a formal part of the rite of baptism in late medieval England. Just before the blessing of the font at baptisms the priest was required to admonish the godparents to see that the child’s parents kept it from fire, water, and other perils, and themselves to ‘lerne or se yt be lerned the Pater noster, Aue Maria and Credo after the law of all holy churche’. The Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and Apostles’ Creed were in fact the irreducible core of a more elaborate catechetical programme for the laity which had been decisively formulated for the English Church at Archbishop Pecham’s provincial Council of Lambeth in 1281.”

Duffy’s book won the Longman-History Today Book of the Year Award, for good reason.

Writing in Sixteenth Century Journal, the late Stanford Lehmberg said Duffy’s book “presents a marvelously detailed new picture of traditional religious belief and practice in English during the century prior to the Reformation and it shows exactly when and how the customs of faith and ceremony were stripped away in the sixteenth century. Our interpretation of the Reformation and our understanding of Tudor religion will never be the same.”

In English Historical Review, the late Margaret Aston said Duffy’s book “takes a major step toward better understanding of the English reformation.”

Related:

The story of the Reformation needs reforming

 

The Strange Case of Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

From a March 3, 2016, post on the Stop Baptist Predators blog:

In the same week that the movie “Spotlight” won Oscars, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz created a Religious Liberty Advisory Council and named Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as one of its members to provide Cruz with guidance.

This is the same Paige Patterson who, in emails made public by the Nashville Scene and EthicsDaily, characterized SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, as “evil-doers” and said they were “just as reprehensible as sex criminals.”

….Furthermore, Patterson wrote those words to a distraught young woman who, as a teen, had been sexually assaulted by a pastor who was still in the pulpit. Patterson’s response was obviously far from compassionate or helpful.

But it’s not just harsh talk. Patterson wrote those ugly words shortly after SNAP requested that Southwestern’s trustees put Patterson on administrative leave to consider whether he should have done more in the handling of repeated abuse allegations against Darrell Gilyard, a pastor whom Patterson had mentored. By the time Gilyard was convicted on child sex charges in Florida, over forty young women and underage teens had made allegations against him — and that’s just the ones we know about. According to the Dallas Morning News, many of those claims had been reported directly to Paige Patterson, but to no avail….

There’s more to the post; be sure to read it. As you’ll note from the links in the above excerpt, Patterson’s questionable judgment stretches at least from 1991 to 2008.

Related:

Paige Patterson’s biographical page on the SWBTS site

What’s Collusion?

Justifiable skepticism: What did C.J. Mahaney really know, and when did he really know it?

 

Welcome to Sunday Morning

I’m sorry some of you will be seen as mere numbers to strengthen a church’s marketing or political power. That’s the way of big Protestant churches in which the leaders have culture-war mentalities. But you should be seen as a real person who is part of a living community. Refocusing on persons and relationships seems to be important to Christos Yannaras, a Greek Orthodox philosopher and theologian, in his book Person and Eros. To appropriate some of his words for my point, instead of a number, you ought to be “an individual in relation,” someone who can experience a “dynamic actualization of relationship” in community, but when the “understanding of  the human being” is “purely in terms of its capacity for rational thought,” then community relationships and the beauty of worship are diminished (in some cases tacitly, in other cases intentionally), and the sermon, like a college lecture or political speech, becomes dominant.