Tag Archives: Nicene Creed

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.

Replying to a critique from ‘The Grand Book’ blog

Back in April, I posted “Why Factual Discrepencies in the Bible are a Barrier to Faith.”

Today, I received a reply that  responded to several points I made.

And, now, here’s my reply to the reply:

Thanks for your reply. I approved your comment on my blog (I have it set up so I have to approve all comments because I was getting a lot of junk in my comments sections).

Your lengthy reply deserves an adequate response.

In the first section, I quote things you’ve said and made replies. After that, I give examples of factual discrepencies.

“And on what basis is rationality unassailable?”

My argument was not that rationality is unassailable, but rather that rational arguments based on non-rational grounds don’t make sense.

“…nowhere in New Testament literature do I see the preeminence of Reason” Oddly enough, here you are making a rational or reason-based argument based on a lack of evidence in the New Testament texts.

“Isn’t it really just a reaction to the Enlightenent where humanity, in it’s arrogance (for it issued in the bloodiest Century EVER when it deified Reason) decides it has the right to place “God in the Dock” (on trial).”

Maybe I can just say that Thomas Aquinas would probably not make reason the bad guy, but rather the people who use it. Actually, I’m more likely to agree with you in one sense: David Hume said reason is and ought to be slave to the passions. So it always has been a tool of convictions and beliefs, but that doesn’t mean that one can just say “the Enlightenment and 20th Century were bad therefore reason is to blame.”

On lower-order and higher-order concerns, let me give a brief illustration: If my wife, children and I are traveling, and our car breaks down in a rural area, I will certainly talk to the first person who stops to help. However, if that person does quirky things and says unusual things and acts strangely (lower-order concerns) then I’m going to be wary of his offer to take all of us to a safe location (higher-order concern).

“And how does one get better information than these eyewitnesses (or those who received information from them) as an English-speaking American postmodern skeptic 2,000 years after the fact? Why would I accept the culture-bound skepticism of my generation over the testimony of 1st Century Middle Eastern eyewitnesses who both spoke the language (Aramaic) and were able to write in the “lingua Franca” of het day?”

I like most of this point, and especially agree about culture-bound skepticism. However, I’m pretty sure the Gospels were written in Greek. You’re right to say the disciples spoke Aramaic. Considering their class and education, they most likely couldn’t write in Greek. So who wrote the Gospels?

“If some facts do not line up as reported by different sources from different cities for different audiences with different intents that does not equal a lack of truthfulness. The author of this article may have been a journalist as I was myself, but the authors of the N.T. books (for example) are under now such social contract to deliver the daily news.”

OK, as long as we’re admitting that we’re divorcing factual accuracy from truthfulness. Maybe I am too “Greek” in my thinking but I smell relativism here. Then again, I love poetry so I’m actually quite cool with metaphors and the idea of getting to the “essence” of an experience rather than just the facts. Maybe I should read the Bible in more of a poetic way. Seriously, maybe I should and will.

“This is patently poor thinking. Having undermined scripture (without a single example) he now wants to base the Nicene Creed on it? Then he says that a Bible-study industry cannot reasonably supported by these same documents? What Bible-study industry?”

Well, you may have gotten the facts right, but you sure missed my intentions (which ironically is what you say I’m doing with the Bible). I transitioned from my previous points by saying, “Of course, it’s not that simple,” which is my way of admitting that there is fault in what I have said previously, and I’ve only given a simplistic overview. THEN, I proceed to make a point that you made earlier, which is that multiple witnesses provide good evidence in the areas in which they agree. To answer your question about the Bible study industry, I use your own words: “Christian bookstores now stay open not by selling serious theological or exegetical works…” Yes, very true, but many of those books are still labeled as Bible studies, and wherever I go, I can’t get away from books by Beth Moore and Kay Arthur and others. Maybe I should have said, “alleged Bible studies.”

“Okay. Cherry-picking.”

No, the exact opposite — looking for broad thematic unity within the canon. The opposite of cherry-picking.

Now, before I give examples factual discrepencies (which I had before in earlier blog posts because I consider all the posts to be part of one work), I will say that I’ve been watching video clips of Ben Witherington, D.A. Carson, and others making a case for the reliability of the New Testament. And this actually goes to your last point: specialists CAN explain differences between, for example, the geneologies at the beginning of Matthew and Luke. I’m not sure how someone could take the plain sense of the text and make the two geneologies work  together, but specialists in other fields can. But as I give these examples of discrepencies, I am acknowledging that some scholars might be able to shed genuine light on the related subjects. However, very few people I grew up with — both in the non-denominational charismatic churches and in the Independent Misisonary Baptist schools — even KNEW the phrase “ancient near East literature.”

But I am acknowledging that “plain sense” or “historical-grammatical” isn’t necessarily always the “right” way to read the ancient near East texts.

In what follows, I show examples of discrepencies in the “plain sense” or “historical-grammatical” reading of Scripture, the way my Christian schools and churches all approached the Scriptures.

To be concise, I’ll begin by quoting Michael J. Christensen, who at the beginning of his book “C.S. Lewis on Scripture” tries to give the background for why he is writing the book.

“There are historical problems. For example, how did Judas kill himself? Matthew 27:3 records that he threw his money at the feet of the priests and went out and hung himself. Acts 1:18 records that Judas bought a field with the money he received and there fell headlong on the ground, his body bursting open and his intestines spilling out. [[Burch’s note: he couldn’t have thrown the money at the feet of the priests and then bought a field with it, even if the stories of Judas’ death could be patched together.]]

“There are genealogical problems. The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 does not agree with the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3. Neither does the genealogy of Genesis 4 square with that of Genesis 5.

“There are factual problems. According to Matthew there was one angel at Jesus’ empty tomb. Mark says it was a young man sitting down. Luke says two men stood by the women and proclaimed the resurrection. And John says two angels sat where the body of Jesus had lain, and appeared only to Mary Magdalene.

“There are numerical problems. 2 Samuel 10:18 records that David slew the men of 700 Syrian chariots. 1 Chronicles 19:18, a parallel account, records that David slew the men of 7,000 Syrian chariots.

“There are major and minor inconsistencies. Who commanded King David to take a census of Israel — the Lord or Satan? 2 Samuel 24:1 claims ‘the Lord.’ 1 Chronicles 21:1 claims ‘Satan.’ Whom did the voice from heaven address at the baptism of Jesus? Matthew 3:16 reads, ‘THIS is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’Luke 3:22 reads, ‘THOU art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.'”

Now, some other observations:

Genesis 1:1-2:4 presents a much different order of creation than Genesis 2:5-2:25.

Mark 6:8 and Luke 9:3, supposedly parallel accounts, differ on whether Jesus sent the disciples out with a walking stick or told them not to take one.

My Oxford edition of The New English Study Bible says, in its intro to 1 Thesalonians, that the account of Paul’s travels in Acts 17:1-18:5 does not seem to match up with the presuppositions of 1 Thes. 2:7-9 and Philippians 4:16. Admittedly, I’m not sure I fully understand this one, but I assume the folks behind the Oxford edition of a study Bible are sharp enough to consider.

Why factual discrepencies in the Bible are a barrier to faith: lower-order and higher-order concerns

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United St...

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United States Library of Congress, demonstrating printed pages as a storage medium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As this Ex-Fundamentalist-now-Reformed-Anglican-Anglo-Catholic-Episcopalian Mutt struggles with factual discrepencies in Scripture, I think I finally realized why evangelical and Reformed claims about the Bible have fallen on hard times.

And in part, this is a different thought to add to Ross Douthat’s analysis of why American became a nation of heretics, as described by Tim Keller.

The factual discrepencies within Scripture are nothing new, but what they mean, and why they mean what they mean, should be the puzzles addressed by Douthat, Keller, and many others who occupy influential positions in Christianity.

Otherwise, any Christian is on unstable intellectual ground: Making rational arguments based on a self-contradictory book is non-rational. If your starting point is non-rational, then ultimately, your rational arguments are unsupported.

To me, the challenge of defending the Bible in our time is understanding that people automatically, intuitively, common-sensically organize information according to “lower-order concerns” and “higher-order concerns.”

What do I mean by those phrases? Well, sometimes, when talking about how to grade an academic paper, my colleagues and I refer to “lower-order concerns” and “higher-order concerns.”

Lower-order concerns might be (in some cases) correct use of commas, while high-order concerns might be (in some cases) having a real argument and supporting it. Missing a couple of commas isn’t as bad as a thesis statement that argues nothing or an unsupported argument.

Considering claims about the Bible, people will be more likely to believe higher-order claims when lower-order claims are correct.

Basic factual information could be considered a lower-order concern. As a former newspaper section editor, I can assure you that, all kidding and warranted insults about journalists aside, a cub reporter can get the time and date and basic facts of a city council meeting — and get them right most of the time.

What that cub reporter (usually) cannot do is understand the political philosophies at work. The political philosophy, the ideas, behind a city-council decision might be a higher-order concern. (Granted, city councils don’t always appear to be populated by philosopher kings, but stick with me a few more seconds.)

Indeed, those journalists who leave newspapers and broadcast journalism to work for National Review or The New Republic are those journalists who, early on, excelled at getting the facts right — and then progressively moved into higher-order thinking. You worked hard at the lower-order concerns to earn the right to write about the higher-order concerns.

Now, in the Bible, what we see are numerous discrepencies in lower-order arenas. For whatever reasons, the Biblical texts we have today do not always give a consistent picture of the facts of important events — events important enough, evangelicals and Reformed folks assume, to be part of God’s revelation.

I think many, many people are not willing to believe the higher-order, theological and doctrinal, claims of the Bible because the lower-order issues are problematic.

Again, many people will say, “If you can’t get your facts right, why should I listen to you about anything else?”

Wouldn’t you think a similar thought if a salesperson or a politician couldn’t get his or her facts straight?

Isn’t that a normal, shrewd reaction backed by the Proverbs?

God hates dishonest scales, right? Let your yes be yes and your no be no, right? Truthfulness, right?

Of course, it’s not that simple — but simplistic thinking is exactly what evangelical and Reformed churches have offered on this topic. Sure, you can say there are non-simplistic answers by pointing to the big guns at the seminaries and all the Gospel Coalition folks, fine, but they’re not leading the vast majority of churches.

Here’s my current, tentative, in-progress solution.

I think believing in the Nicene Creed, based on the testimony of Scripture, makes sense. As ancient testimony, the Scriptures reasonably could support the Creed. I’m not sure the Scriptures reasonably can support the Bible-study industry that keeps Christian bookstores open.

I think believing in the atonement, based on the general thematic trajectory of the Scriptures, makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense are the Bible studies that try to unpack every little verse and turn each one into grand statements about humanity or morality or whatever.

The available text criticism simply does not render a Bible that reliable.  Furthermore, I don’t think the common use of the terms “inerrant” and “infallible” can possibly be relevant when glaring factual discrepencies exist. Maybe the problem is our post-Enlightenment, rationalistic way of considering something “inerrant” — without error — but more about that later.

Of course, text criticism is a very high-order matter. Someone might counter my arguments by elevating a side issue and saying that not many people know about the Bible anymore, at all, never mind text criticism. Not that many go to church anymore. Not that many people read anything anymore, so reading in and of itself, and the Bible, actually aren’t even the issues. The culture is the issue. Social change is the issue. Et cetera.

Maybe, but maybe not. Ex-evangelical and popular author Bart Ehrman teaches classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill each semester. I don’t know how large his classes are, but you can bet he’s taught hundreds by this point in his career.

And Ehrman is not the only one at a univeristy with his point of view. College for the middle class has almost become a political right, and kids have to take classes outside their fields to fulfill curriculum requirements. I imagine Ehrman’s perspective, and indeed his books, are presented positively in numerous universities to tens of thousands of students each academic year. (Although, as Ehrman himself has said, many people in New Testament text criticism remain believers.)

So consider the likelihood that many college-educated people have been forced to assess the higher-order claims of the Bible — its theology, its doctrine, its history, its claims about Jesus Christ — in light of the lower-order problems.

A significant portion of the college-educated middle class dismissed higher-order claims due to problems with lower-order claims.

When the lower-order claims fall apart, the higher-order claims do not seem legitimate.

Now, I also want briefly to note that we have to ask hard questions about why, if the Holy Spirit guided this canon down through history, God allowed us to wind up with a text that doesn’t offer the kind of testimony a cub reporter could get right.

And, if those discrepencies can be explained away legitimately and truthfully, then how can this Book truly be a book for all people, when it requires a specialist’s academic knowledge and historical and liguistic understanding to keep straight?

Could it be, simply, that certain understandings about “inerrant” and “infallible” render the Bible’s testimony unreliable at best, ridiculous at worst?

Maybe, just maybe, the task is to undo post-Enlightenment rationality. Maybe, as Stephen Toulmin tried to do late in his career, the task is to replace “rationality” with “reasonableness.” In other words, I don’t think we can advocate a self-contradictory text on the micro level, on the verse-by-verse level, unless we radically recreate everyone’s daily, default epistemology.

We could, however, begin understanding the Bible texts as historical testimony.

Please comment, correct, rebuke as you have time.

cheers,

Colin

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In The Episcopal Church, innovation is ‘For Me But Not For Thee’

I realized something about the 12-point claim that Bishop Mark Lawrence (Diocese of South Carolina) has left the doctrine and discipline (and worship?) of The Episcopal Church:

The people who assembled those 12 points would not pass my ENGL 101 class. That would be the one I teach to freshmen. Lawrence’s accusers wouldn’t pass because a fundamental contradiction undergirds the allegations.

In The Episcopal Church USA, numerous bishops and priests have allowed or embraced innumerable innovations in theology, doctrine, and worship – so on what grounds can Lawrence’s attackers say anything about what anybody else chooses to do?

Don’t say the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the church provides any grounds. That’s ridiculous.

The innumerable innovations in theology and doctrine haven’t followed the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church as presented in the Book of Common Prayer. Numerous priests and bishops deny the basic historic formulas of the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed, and they have received no discipline from the House of Bishops. So anyone who makes claims about violations against the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church has both feet planted in midair.

In this situation, I think my ENGL 101 students would realize that there’s no consistency in the church’s actions. The Episcopal Church USA has already allowed too many variations and violations.

The officials who put together the allegations  against Lawrence call to mind the title of a Nat Hentoff book: For Me But Not For Thee. It’s a book about the left censoring the right and the right censoring the left. Hentoff argues very few people take a principled stand on free speech and free expression; most people claim it for themselves while censoring others.

Flagrant, rank hypocrisy, in other words.

The message of Episcopalian diversity seems to be this: there’s no single way for everyone.

If there’s no single way for everyone, then how can you condemn someone for choosing his own way? His own expression of Episcopal-ness?

Since when does an essentially pro-choice denomination stop anyone from doing anything? (Referring especially to No. 7 on the allegations list.)

I’m beyond worry – this is all just hilarious. Grown-up liberals are acting like petty tyrants and fascists. Maybe it’s not liberalism that has influenced high offices of The Episcopal Church. Maybe the folks in those offices are under the spell of daytime TV.

There’s a solution, however. Let all those who made the allegations against Bishop Lawrence attend my ENGL 101 course. Or, we could just let one of my sections of the course take over the accusers’ positions. I’m thinking the 11:30 a.m. Monday-Wednesday-Friday group would do a great job.