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Posts Tagged ‘C.S. Lewis’

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all (both?) of us here at BBG.  We hope you and yours have a great time remembering the astounding miracle we celebrate each Christmas.  As Luther said, “The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.”

4.  Since I clearly cannot maintain a blog with any regularity, I’ve recently joined twitter: @BMarchionni.  Perhaps I can manage to put out 140 characters of pith on a regular basis.  Hold your breath.

3.  The sermon I preached at The Harbor a few weeks ago is now available here.  Astute listeners will notice much overlap with the sermon I preached from Ps.107 earlier in the year, which is by design.  The sermon is actually an amalgam of the sermon on Ps.107 and another one I preached from Is.55 years ago.  It was a last minute opportunity, so I had only a few days to prepare.  In the process, I learned that it is extremely difficult to preach the same sermon (or even something similar to the same sermon) twice.  In the end, I probably spent as much time modifying, cutting and cleaning the pieces of the two sermons as I would have if I started over from scratch.

2.  Regarding Christmas, or more technically speaking, the Incarnation, I’ve always loved C.S. Lewis’ illustration:

Lying at your feet is your dog. Imagine, for the moment, that your dog and every dog is in deep distress. Some of us love dogs very much. If it would help all the dogs in the world to become like men, would you be willing to become a dog? Would you put down your human nature, leave your loved ones, your job, hobbies, your art and literature and music, and choose instead of the intimate communion with your beloved, the poor substitute of looking into the beloved’s face and wagging your tail, unable to smile or speak? Christ by becoming man limited the thing which to Him was the most precious thing in the world; his unhampered, unhindered communion with the Father.

1.  I recently caught a half-hour or so of BBC’s “Planet Earth” that focussed on the jungle, and had to manually re-attach my jaw.  The beauty and diversity of nature – however fallen – can easily fry my circuits when I consider what awaits us in the life to come, when He makes everything new.  If words cannot do justice to some of the beauty and wonder we experience now, how much more so for the New Heavens and Earth?  Statements like, “God is amazing,” in such a context seem so hopelessly impoverished.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons why our praise and worship needs to extend beyond what we can speak, write or sing.

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One of the things I marvelled at when reading The Da Vinci Code was author Dan Brown’s claim that the early church, (in a power grab, of course), shrouded Christ’s humanity in a veil of divinity, thus obscuring His humanity.  This created the need for the church as a mediator of Christ’s revelation, otherwise Jesus would be incomprehensible.  Brown’s claims are backed up by several gnostic “gospels,” such as those found at Nag Hammadi.

What was amazing to me about this view, (aside from the fact that it is historically puerile and hopelessly inconsistent to the point where one wonders if Brown even bothered to read a gnostic text, or even look up the word “gnosticism”), was that Brown made such an effort to assert Christ’s humanity, and emphasize his human ministry.  This was interesting to me merely on a personal level, because for the bulk of my Christian life, I have had far greater struggles convincing non-Christians of Christ’s divinity.

This struggle, I learned, was actually much easier than describing what Christ’s divinity actually meant.  How was he God and man?  This difficulty could have been much reduced if only I had read Packer’s 5th chapter in Knowing God.  Here, with the simplicity and clarity that has made this book so popular, Pakcer tackles the incarnation:  Jesus as fully human and fully divine.

Particularly helpful in this chapter is Packer’s precision in expressing that Jesus was not God minus certain divine characteristics, but God plus humanity.  His explanation of Paul’s text in Php. 2:7 is helpful (p.60,63):

When Paul talks of the Son as having emptied himself and become poor, what he has in mind, as the context in each case shows, is the laying aside not of divine powers and attributes, but of divine glory and dignity…a volutary restraint of power; an acceptance of hardship, isolation, ill-treatment, malice and misunderstanding; finally, a death that involved such agony-spiritual even more than physical -that his mind nearly broke under the prospect of it.

As well as one may be able to describe Christ’s nature, we should note that it will always be mysterious and intrinsically baffling; there is nothing in the universe that serves as an accurate analogue for the Trinity.  God is our only example.  All we can do is express what the Bible teaches.

But even after understanding (best I could) the Bible’s teaching on Christ’s nature, I encountered a third struggle when I met with some Jehovah’s Witnesses to discuss the Bible.  Jehovah’s Witnesses deny Christ’s divinity, and instead claim that he was a created being, and while he may be ontologically superior to us, he is not divine.  As I labored to reason with them through the Scriptures that Jesus is indeed the God-man, a chilling question surfaced in my head:  What’s at stake?  Does it matter that Jesus was human and divine?  Am I still Christian if I deny this?

Packer hints at the ramifications of Christ’s nature in the beginning of his chapter.  Gallons of theological ink can be spilled to answer why it is crucial to Christianity that Jesus be divine and human.  Consider my very brief, very incomplete list:

  1. Jesus as the God-man is the only adequate explanation for the information we have of him (i.e., Scripture).  It best accounts for his self-understanding, his actions, words, and teachings.  If he were not divine and human, Jesus was either a lunatic, an apparition, or a scoundrel.  None of these seems a plausible option.
  2. Jesus’ nature as God-man means he is the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins in kind (he is human) and quantity (he is infinite).  Even more, we might ask of Scripture:  Who alone saves?  Who alone forgives sins?  It is only and always God.  Jesus is no savior if he is not God.
  3. Jesus’ nature explains the resurrection.  How could one die, yet raise himself up again by his own authority (see Jn. 10:17-18) if he were not both God and man?
  4. Jesus’ nature cements the authority with which we understand his teaching.  If he’s just another guy with amazing, revolutionary things to say, why would we listen to him over and against the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama or Karl Marx?
  5. If Jesus were not human, we lose the awesome realization of how deeply God loves us, and the expanse of Christ’s humility.  C.S. Lewis says it this way in Mere Christianity (p.179):

The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body.  If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.

Packer concludes with the practical application of my point above, that as we model God, and “make our attitudes the same as Christ Jesus,” (2 Cor. 8:9), we too become poor, so that others might become rich.

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In his preface to the 1961 edition of the The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis laments that his book is unbalanced.  Screwtape tells the one-sided tale of two demons seeking to keep an individual from God.  He wishes there could have also been written an account of angelic responses to the lies of the demons, but notes that no man could write such answers: “Even if a man – and he would have to be a far better man that I – could scale the spiritual heights required, what ‘answerable style’ would he use?…Every sentence would have to smell of Heaven.”

51p-xoe2ajl_sl160_While Lewis was disinclined to imagine angelic responses, William P. Young boldly envisions the words and manner of God Himself in his spiritual juggernaut, The Shack.  The result is an emotionally charged novel with millions of copies in print, multiple translations, and all of the controversy one might expect from a novel wherein the main character eats dinner with the Trinity.

The story is simple:  Mack, the victim of unspeakable tragedy, is invited to the very scene of the tragic event (a shack in the woods) by none other than God Himself.  So begins a weekend-long journey of healing as Mack encounters the Trinity firsthand, complete with hugs, lively conversation, hiking trips, and all the camaraderie one might expect from a weekend in the woods with three close friends.  Readers looking for numerous characters, intense action, or plot twists will be disappointed.  The heart of the book lies in the exchanges between Mack and God.  The story is just substantial enough to create a backdrop for the dialogue, and little else.

We must therefore realize upfront that although Young’s book is indeed a work of fiction, its purpose is to teach about God.  If the text itself were not obvious enough, the advertisements that follow the author’s acknowledgements are a dead giveaway.  Here, readers are encouraged to share The Shack with others.  In this way, they may get “a magnificent glimpse into the nature of God.”

It is therefore entirely fair to ask if Young’s depiction of God is true.  After all, I have no more interest in knowing a god of fancy than I do in knowing Frodo Baggins; both are a fiction.  I wish to know the God who is.  This issue I hope to address more thoroughly in part II, when I consider the theology of The Shack.  For now, I wish to make some preliminary comments to motivate and frame such a venture.

As to Young’s method, I tend to find the dialogical approach to teaching overly contrived, and The Shack is a perfect example of why.  The veil (dialogue) that conceals the author’s intent (exposition of God’s character) can wear thin.  The puzzled interlocutor (Mack) lobs up meatball questions as the teacher (God) winds up to spike the answer.  This can make the story facile, or even trite.

My own preferences aside, however, the real difficulty in Young’s method of teaching is that it is difficult to check (per 1 Ths. 5:21; 1 Jn. 4:1).  As a Christian, I believe Scripture holds the place of absolute authority for truth when it comes to the character of God.  Everything should be weighed against Scripture.  Since The Shack is a piece of fiction, Young doesn’t cite Scripture references to back up his theology.  This makes it difficult to weigh what is being said, because you do not always know its basis.  The reader is left to wonder if a statement is either based on or inferred from Scripture, or simply Young’s artistic imagination.

This is especially problematic because Young does not give us much insight into his view of Scripture.  The glimpses that we do get tend to be pejorative, or at best, focus only on the abuses of Scripture rather than its proper use (see pp.65-66).  Much greater emphasis is given to knowing God through experience (e.g., pp.195, 198).  Indeed, the very premise of the book is about a man coming to know God through experience!  This is not intrinsically wrong, but it is dangerous to let experience hold the highest position of authority in a Christian’s life.

Therefore, given the book’s purpose, it is advisable to read it with a critical eye.  While I take no issue with suspending a critical reading to allow the emotive force of the book have its effect, the content oughtn’t be taken for “Bible Truth” at face value.  It is worthy of a critical reading as well, perhaps even more-so since the emotional weight of the book could easily suspend our better judgment.  As good as Young’s god might feel, we must test him and ask, is he really God?  I believe the answer is a mixed bag, but we shall make a better go at this in Part II.

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