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Reading Classics - Mere Christianity (VI)
January 22, 2009
Today we come to our sixth (and second-to-last) reading in C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. This means as well that we have come to the fourth and final book that makes up Mere Christianity. And I think we are beginning to see why Lewis is known more as an apologist than a theologian.
Book Three, “Christian Behaviour” was, I think, Lewis at his best. I enjoyed each of the twelve chapters and thought Lewis was brilliant throughout. Through the first six chapters of Book Four, “Beyond Personality,” I’ve been mostly disappointed.
Lewis opens with a chapter on “Making and Begetting.” His opening words are useful as he shows the value of theology. “I think any man who wants to think about God at all would like to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about Him which are available. You are not children: why should you be treated like children?” I guess people in the 1940’s must have been much like people today, feeling that theology was for theologians, not for those who really wanted to follow God. They wanted to feel God without necessarily knowing God. Lewis counters this well. While he teaches rightly that doctrine is not the same as God, but merely something that points to God, he does not minimize the importance of knowing who God is by knowing God as he is. Theology has real and practical value and he is sure to point this out.
In this chapter he grapples with the difference between making and begetting. “A man begets a child, but he only makes a statue. God begets Christ but He only makes men.” Thus God begets God, something of the same kind of himself. He is careful to show that Christ is not a created being and yet somehow is still begotten of the Father.
In “The Three-Personal God” he tries to offer a reasonable explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity. His illustrations prove, as all illustrations must, just how difficult it is to explain the Trinity in human terms. Eventually Lewis concludes that we must trust that God’s explanation of himself as Father and Jesus as Son is the best illustration or metaphor we can have.
In “Time and Beyond Time” he shows how God exists outside of time, seeking to dispel the fears of those who believe that God could not possibly hear a million prayers offered to him at one time. Lewis shows that, though we cannot really understand such a thing, God exists outside of the bounds of time. However, he comes perilously close to open theism when he suggests that there is a sense in which God does not know our future actions until we have done them. I believe Lewis’ issue here is one that plagues every open theist—how God can know our future actions (thus showing that we cannot possibly do anything other than what God foresees) and how at the same time we can retain free will (defined as the ability to choose, of our own accord, the exact opposite of the action we took). Reformed theology offers an explanation to this, of course, saying that we are bound by our natures and are free to choose only as our natures dictate. But this seems to escape Lewis.
Lewis continues through “Good Infection” where he discusses a few topics that somehow did not become bound together in my mind, “The Obstinate Toy Soldiers” where he looks at how men can become sons of God and “Two Notes” where he pauses to offer further thoughts on two questions.
As I said at the outset, I found this week’s reading quite disappointing. It occurred to me as I thought about it, that while I had some familiarity with the content of the previous chapters simply by virtue of the vast numbers of times I’ve read them quoted in other works, I do not recall reading any quotes from these past six chapters. And there is, I think, pretty good reason for this. While I think Lewis was wrong on at least one or two points in these chapters, more often he is just a little bit muddled. His arguments lack the force and compulsion of the chapters that came before. Or that was my sense of it. I’d be interested in learning if you agree.
For next Thursday, please finish up the book. We’ll read the last five chapters, post some final thoughts, and I guess we’ll then begin to think about the next book we can read together.
The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.