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Reading Classics Together

February 26, 2009

I posted this last Thursday but wanted to offer this as another reminder…

Real Christianity WilberforceIt is time to think about the next classic book of the Christian faith that we will be reading together. The impetus for this project was the simple realization that, though many Christians want to read through the classics of the faith, few of us have the motivation to actually make it happen. This program allows us to read them together, providing both a level of accountability and the added of interest of comparing notes. Those who have participated in each of the programs will now have read Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross by A.W. Pink, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I have benefited immensely from reading these books and know that others have, too.

Today I’d like to announce the next classic. My rationale for choosing this book was that it somehow just seemed to fit. Perhaps it had something to do with the media focus on race or perhaps it was something to do with recent celebrations of William Wilberforce’s life. But as I thought about what I wanted to read next, my thoughts were drawn to Wilberforce’s Real Christianity: Discerning True Faith from False Beliefs. Here is a brief description of the book: “William Wilberforce (1759-1833) came from a prosperous merchant family. A politician by age 21, his early years were relatively unremarkable, but his conversion to Christianity in 1785 soon changed that. Wilberforce committed himself to two ambitious callings: rousing professing Christians to understand the nature of true faith, and bringing about the end of slavery in England’s colonies. Real Christianity challenged the ruling classes of early 19th Century England more than any other writings. To this day, Real Christianity remains a compelling work that soundly teaches the tenets of evangelical faith and stirs the consciences of Christians.”

I do not think we can easily overestimate the impact of Wilberforce’s life. As I read biographies of him last year, as I watched the film that traced his life, I knew that sooner or later I would want to hear him in his own words; I’d want to hear that passion that drove him through year after year of conflict.

And so this seemed like a good opportunity to do just that. The book has just seven chapters so this will be just an eight week study (allowing a week to read the Introductory matter). But I trust it will be a valuable one. As always, you can buy the book at Monergism Books (and I believe you can also find it in various places online if you don’t mind reading electronically). If you scroll down a little bit on that page you’ll see two related books. If you would like a brief biographical sketch of Wilberforce’s life, Piper’s book is worth the read. The other book is (I believe) geared to children so may be worth reading to or with them.

We’ll begin reading Real Christianity on Thursday March 5 and continue reading one chapter per week until it is complete. Please read the introductory matter for March 5.

Buy It Here

February 20, 2009

I am going to address two topics in this post, so be sure to read long enough to catch both of them.

In just a moment I want to tell you about the next classic book of the Christian faith that we will be reading together. But first, I want to announce a special reading project that I’ll be leading.

The Cross He Bore

The Cross He BoreEaster is fast approaching and I think it would be both fun and worthwhile to read a book together as we prepare to remember the Lord’s death and to celebrate his resurrection. The book that always come to mind this time of year is Frederick Leahy’s The Cross He Bore. This is a series of thirteen meditations on the sufferings of the Redeemer, beginning with Gethsemane and ending in the outer darkness. In his Foreword to the book, Edward Donnelly says, “in rereading these chapters, I found myself more than once compelled by emotion to stop - and then to worship. I cannot help feeling that this is exactly how they were written and that the author’s chief desire is that each of us who reads should be brought to gaze in fresh understanding and gratitude upon ‘the Son of God,’ who loved me and give himself for me.”

This book ranks on my list of all-time favorites (read my review here) and I look forward to reading it again this Easter. I’d love to have you read it with me! I assure you that you will find it well worth the read. The book costs only $3.75 when you buy it from MonergismBooks.com. So why don’t you purchase a copy (or two or three) and we’ll read it together. We can begin reading it on Sunday March 29 and read one chapter per day in the thirteen days leading to (and including) Good Friday. I will post a brief reflection on the chapter each morning.

Buy It Here.

Reading the Next Classic Together

Real Christianity WilberforceIt is also time to think about the next classic book of the Christian faith that we will be reading together. The impetus for this project was the simple realization that, though many Christians want to read through the classics of the faith, few of us have the motivation to actually make it happen. This program allows us to read them together, providing both a level of accountability and the added of interest of comparing notes. Those who have participated in each of the programs will now have read Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross by A.W. Pink, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I have benefited immensely from reading these books and know that others have, too.

Today I’d like to announce the next classic. My rationale for choosing this book was that it somehow just seemed to fit. Perhaps it had something to do with the media focus on race or perhaps it was something to do with recent celebrations of William Wilberforce’s life. But as I thought about what I wanted to read next, my thoughts were drawn to Wilberforce’s Real Christianity: Discerning True Faith from False Beliefs. Here is a brief description of the book: “William Wilberforce (1759-1833) came from a prosperous merchant family. A politician by age 21, his early years were relatively unremarkable, but his conversion to Christianity in 1785 soon changed that. Wilberforce committed himself to two ambitious callings: rousing professing Christians to understand the nature of true faith, and bringing about the end of slavery in England’s colonies. Real Christianity challenged the ruling classes of early 19th Century England more than any other writings. To this day, Real Christianity remains a compelling work that soundly teaches the tenets of evangelical faith and stirs the consciences of Christians.”

I do not think we can easily overestimate the impact of Wilberforce’s life. As I read biographies of him last year, as I watched the film that traced his life, I knew that sooner or later I would want to hear him in his own words; I’d want to hear that passion that drove him through year after year of conflict.

And so this seemed like a good opportunity to do just that. The book has just seven chapters so this will be just an eight week study (allowing a week to read the Introductory matter). But I trust it will be a valuable one. As always, you can buy the book at Monergism Books (and I believe you can also find it in various places online if you don’t mind reading electronically). If you scroll down a little bit on that page you’ll see two related books. If you would like a brief biographical sketch of Wilberforce’s life, Piper’s book is worth the read. The other book is (I believe) geared to children so may be worth reading to or with them.

We’ll begin reading Real Christianity on Thursday March 5 and continue reading one chapter per week until it is complete. Please read the introductory matter for March 5.

Buy It Here

And do let me know if you’re going to participate in one or both of these projects.

January 29, 2009

Today brings us to our final reading in C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. We’ve gone through it quite quickly but this has worked well, I think, as the book lends itself to a quick reading. This week we come to the final pages—chapters seven through eleven of Book 4. There was not a whole lot of discussion last week, but the consensus seemed to be that this is not the strongest section in the book. Lewis has lost a little bit of steam. Having said that, I think this week’s reading improves upon the last one.

Discussion

Then again, though I think that this week’s reading was better than last week’s, it was not without it’s troubling portions.

In these five chapters, Lewis focuses on sanctification, on putting aside the old man and on becoming sons of God. I found a lot of great quotes that were worthy of some highlighting. Because there were so many, I think I’ll focus on simply sharing a few of them today. Here are some favorites:

“We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are.”

“Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats; it only prevents them from hiding.”

“[Putting on Christ] is not a sort of special exercise for the top class. It is the whole of Christianity. Christianity offers nothing else at all.”

“Christ says ‘Give me all. I don’t want to much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it.’”

“As long as Dick does not turn to God, he thinks his niceness is his own, and just as long as he thinks that, it is not his own. It is when Dick realises that his niceness is not his own but a gift from God, and when he offers it back to God—it is just then that it begins to be really his own.”

“If you are a nice person—if virtue comes easily to you—beware!”

“We must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save.”

But there were some areas of the chapter that were not so good. for example, in the final pages he writes about evolution and seems to have drunk deeply of that explanation to man’s origins. I find it hard to believe that a man of his insight could have believed in evolution without seeing that it is almost a religion unto itself. And yet he seems to have believed in it wholeheartedly. It certainly puts a damper on the book to have all of that in the final chapter.

There is more. I realize that this statement could be taken two ways, but from what I know of Lewis, he may mean exactly what it seems he means here: “There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.” Lewis seems to have believed that other religions could lead people to enough of God’s truth that they could be saved. He does not articulate much further in Mere Christianity but apparently does so elsewhere. Obviously we need to set aside such unbiblical talk, realizing that it simply cannot be supported by Scripture.

So I guess in this last chapter we see again Lewis at his best and his worst. For every five or ten great insights (and many of them truly are great) there is one or two strange and unbiblical beliefs. And it’s too bad, really. I can see why Mere Christianity is regarded as a classic but it seems to me that this must depend largely on Books 2 and 3. It is here that we see Lewis at his finest and it is here that he is at times unparalleled. While there are moments of brilliance in the rest of the book, there are also quite a few moments I think we could do without.

Having said all of that, I am glad that we took the time to read this book and to read it together. It has fed both my mind and my soul.

Your Turn

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.

Next Up…

I guess we will wait just a couple of weeks and then start to think about the next classic we will read together. Feel free to share your suggestions in the comments.

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.

Discussion

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.

Next Week

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.

Your Turn

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.

January 15, 2009

We’re continuing to make our way through C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity having reached the final chapters of the third book (out of four). We actually have only a couple of weeks left in this book. Compared to some of the ones we’ve covered in the past, this one has gone by very quickly. But the easy reading is, thankfully, in no way an indication of the value of the content.

Discussion

This week we covered the final six chapters of Book III, “Christian Behavior.” It may well be my favorite reading yet, and especially so through the first four of the chapters.

The first chapter deals with Forgiveness and Lewis’ take seemed to be something like this: “Look, I don’t quite understand or like it either, but it’s just something we have to do.” “I am not trying to tell you in this book what I could do—I can do precious little—I am telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgiven those that sin against us.’ There is not the slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it. What are we to do?” When discussing how hard it is to offer forgiveness, Lewis asks this difficult question: “How could you hate what a man did and not hate the man?” His answer is brilliant. “Years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life—namely myself. … In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.” Thus Christianity does not require us to reduce our hatred for what is evil, but it does require us to hate properly—to hate the evil but still hope that the person who has committed evil may be cured from it.

We need to remember that this book was written in the context of the Second World War and Lewis has to make his words applicable to that conflict. “Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves—to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.”

Lewis turns next to The Great Sin of pride. He is brutally harsh on this sin. It “leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” It is an essentially competitive sin which “gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man” so that “once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.” He, as do so many Christian writers, sets this as the greatest and most dangerous of all sins. A right knowledge of God is what helps us fight against pride. “The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.” When we see ourselves in the light of God’s holiness, there is no place for pride. After all, “He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble—delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life.”

The next chapter deals with Charity, one of the three great theological virtues. Charity is more than giving away money but really indicates “Love, in the Christian sense.” It is not an emotion or a state of the feelings, but a state of the will. These words are worth heeding: “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you do. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” The opposite is equally true. “The more cruel you are, the more you will hate; and the more you hate, the more cruel you will become—and so on in a vicious circle for ever. Good and evil both increase with compound interest.” The lesson in all of this is that Christian love does not demand that we sit and try to manufacture feelings. Instead, Christian love asks “If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?” and then does it.

Chapter 10 looks to hope. “Looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.” This chapter is filled with some of Lewis’ most memorable words. “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.” “The real want for Heaven is present in us, [but] we do not recognise it.” “The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. 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. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” He gets beautifully sarcastic when he writes about the stereotypes of heaven in which people spend eternity sitting on clouds playing harps. “The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. … People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.”

Lewis concludes with two chapters titled “Faith.” I found these chapters slightly more obscure than the ones preceding. He seeks to cover two ways that Christians use the word faith. In the first chapter, faith is “the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” In this way, both atheists and Christians exercise faith that may be strong at one time and weak at another. This habit of faith must be trained to persevere through weak times. He asks this good question: “If you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?” He also offers wisdom on accepting our own badness. “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.” “We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.” In the second chapter he looks at faith in a higher sense. This kind of faith comes after a person has tried to practice the Christian virtues and has still failed. He has discovered his moral bankruptcy and now has to put his faith in another—in Christ—trusting that He will make things right.

I could go on and on. But I will stop here. I am really looking forward to hearing what parts of this chapter you enjoyed the most.

Next Week

I think we’re keeping up a pretty good pace here. So why don’t we read the first six chapters of Book IV for next week. Again, that is only about 30 pages—pretty easy to cover over the course of a week. That will leave us just one more week after that and we’ll be done with Mere Christianity.

Your Turn

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.

January 08, 2009

This morning, after a lengthy holiday break, we return to C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity in our effort to read together some of the classics of the Christian faith. After two short and preliminary sections (which were actually first published as short books) dealing with “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe” and “What Christians Believe.”, we are now in the heart of Lewis’ classic. And I think we are beginning to see what sets Lewis apart and why Mere Christianity remains an important and even unmatched book even today.

Discussion

In Book 3, Lewis turns to his discussion of “Christian Behavior.” Here he shows how Christians are to live. He immediately distinguishes moral ideals from moral rules and shows that he has foreseen society’s slide into postmodernism. These words are near-prophetic: “It is dangerous to describe a man who tries very hard to keep the moral law as a ‘man of high ideals,’ because this might lead you to think that moral perfection was a private taste of his own and that the rest of us were not called on to share it.” And this, of course, is exactly what society declares today. We have left behind morals and have turned instead to values; we have left what is absolute and unchanging and turned instead to what is personal and temporary.

A couple of the chapters seemed a little bit odd or unexpected to me and perhaps none more so than “Morality and Psychoanalysis.” I suppose this reflects the time in which the book was written since psychoanalysis isn’t a term we encounter so often today. Then again, perhaps psychology has become so ingrained in our culture and our minds that terms like that one have almost lost their meaning. I did appreciate this warning: “Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. … That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man’s choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it.” This is also a quote to file away and think about: “When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. … Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.”

Where I thought Lewis was at his best is in the chapters dealing with sexual morality and Christian marriage. I am quite sure I’ll write at length in the future on Lewis’ thoughts on modesty, chastity and such. More on that another day. Here are two statements I had to highlight: “Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body” and “Christianity has glorified marriage more than any other religion.” Lewis deals very well with the early years of the loosening of sexual mores that have continued and escalated between then and now. The lie in all of this “consists in the suggestion that any sexual act to which you are tempted at the moment is … healthy and normal.” While Christianity celebrates sex, it does so within its properly God-given context. Lewis’ encouragement to those who fight against sexual sin (or any other kind of sin) is well-taken. “Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again.” “We learn, on the one hand, that we cannot trust ourselves even in our best moments, and, on the other, that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven. The only fatal thing is to sit down content with anything less than perfection.”

And then Lewis turns to marriage, presenting it as a good gift from God. “The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union.” I was really struck by his words about the way love inclines lovers to bind themselves to one another with promises. Lewis says, “The Christian law is not forcing upon the passion of love something which is foreign to that passion’s own nature: it is demanding that lovers should take seriously something which their passion of itself impels them to do.” Hence the promises of marriage are simply the promises of love taken to their natural end. For a man who, at this time in his life had never been married, Lewis had much mature wisdom to impart.

For sake of time I will stop with just these few reflections. I could go on at much greater length for this section really was a gold mine. I look forward to reading about the areas that stood out to you.

Next Week

For next Thursday, let’s just finish up book three. Again, six chapters seems like a lot, but in reality most of the chapters are only a few pages. To read only half of them would amount to only 20 pages of fairly light reading. After Edwards and Owen we should be well equipped to handle 40 pages of Lewis in a week!

Your Turn

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.

December 11, 2008

Today we continue reading classics together. We have come to our second reading in C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. We read all of book I, “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.”

Discussion

In our reading we covered five short chapters: The Law of Human Nature, Some Objections, The Reality of the Law, What Lies Behind the Law, and We Have Cause to Be Uneasy. In this first book, Lewis sets out to prove the existence of some kind of universal moral law—what he calls the Law of Nature. Looking to how this law was explained in the past, he writes “The idea was that, just as all bodies are governed by the law of gravitation, and organisms by biological laws, so the creature called man also had his law—with this great difference, that a body could not choose whether it obeyed the law of gravitation or not, but a man could choose to either obey the Law of Human Nature or to disobey it.” This is a universal law that governs human behavior, telling us all what is wrong and what is right. Though there are some who deny such a law, they cannot do so in good conscience, for the moment they insist the law does not exist, you can outrage their sense of morality by doing something they consider unfair. Fairness can only exist in the presence of some higher moral standard.

Once we admit the existence of this universal law, we can examine ourselves (and others) to see that we do not always behave in the way this law demands. “These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.” A law exists; we do not keep the law.

Lewis is careful to nuance his argument to insist that the existence of this Law of Nature does not necessarily demand the existence of the God of Christianity. He will get to this God soon, but first he wants to have people understand that there is a morality that underlies all human beings. It is only at the very end of this short book that he suggests how the existence of this moral law ought to make us uneasy, for if this law exists and if it exists because of some law-giver and if we have broke this law, well, then there must be some kind of consequence. Lewis wants the reader to know that, properly understood, Christianity ends with comfort, but only if it first begins with terror.

Just a couple of observations I should make. First, I really enjoyed Lewis’ use of metaphor, whether he was discussing mice or pianos or rocks or clocks. He illustrates his points very well. And second, I find his writing style so consistent with The Chronicles of Narnia. This should not be a surprise, I suppose. But I’m enjoying seeing how his distinctive writing style remains so similar even between genres.

Next Week

For next week, let’s read Book II. Again, it’s not as bad as it sounds. As with last week, there are only five short chapters that together come in at 30 pages. I think this section is best read as a unit so we’ll treat it in that fashion. So read those pages and come back here next Thursday! Next week we’ll read a less than a whole book.

Your Turn

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.

December 04, 2008

Here we are, at the beginning of another round of Reading Classics Together. In the past months we’ve read four great Christian classics—Holiness by J.C. Ryle, Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen, The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross by A.W. Pink and The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. And now we add to the list Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I trust that this will be a slightly easier read than Edwards, whose great work we finished just a few weeks ago.

If you are interested in joining in this effort, please feel free to do so. Simply buy, borrow or download a copy of Mere Christianity and start reading. Our assigned reading for this week was nothing more than the Preface and Foreword, so you will not be far behind. Every week we will read a portion of the book and then return here on Thursdays to enjoy a little bit of discussion. It’s a good, easy way of making your way through some of the classics of the Christian faith.

Discussion

This week’s reading was, by design, very simple. To help set the stage for the book, we read just the Preface and Foreword. Essentially, we learned a little bit about the book’s genesis and Lewis’ rationale for writing it. And, of course, we learned what he meant by the term “Mere Christianity.”

Lewis wastes no time discussing the book’s origins. “The contents of this book were first given on the air, and then published in three separate parts as Broadcast Talks (1942), Christian Behaviour (1943) and Beyond Personality (1944).” The book has been adapted slightly to fit the print medium, but is otherwise consistent with what he taught over the radio. In the Foreword, Kathleen Norris provides further context by setting these messages in the midst of the Second World War, in a day when people were asking questions about the nature and existence of God. Lewis “gave talks to men in the Royal Air Force, who knew that after just thirteen bombing missions, most of them would be declared dead or missing. Their situation prompted Lewis to speak about the problems of suffering, pain, and evil, work that resulted in his being invited by the BBC to give a series of wartime broadcasts on Christian faith.” This is not a work of academic philosophy but a work of oral literature, delivered to people at war.

In the Preface, Lewis addresses the inevitable question of “what is mere Christianity?”. He says it is “the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” While he does not hide his own Anglicanism, he says that he will not be arguing for one particular denomination. Nor will he concern himself with issues of secondary importance since, as he says, these tend to fracture rather than divide and are not very useful for purposes of apologetics. “I am not writing to expound something I would call ‘my religion,’ but to expound ‘mere’ Christianity, which is what it is and what it was long before I was born and whether I like it or not.”

Norris writes this: “The ‘mere’ Christianity of C.S. Lewis is not a philosophy or even a theology that may be considered, argued, and put away in a book on a shelf. It is a way of life, one that challenges us always to remember, as Lewis once stated, that ‘there are no ordinary people’ and that ‘it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit.’ Once we tune ourselves to this reality, Lewis believes, we open ourselves to imaginatively transform our lives in such a way that evil diminishes and good prevails. It is what Christ asked of us in taking on our humanity, sanctifying our flesh, and asking us in turn to reveal God to one another.”

And so mere Christianity is the essence of the Christian faith—those beliefs that have been held in common by all true Christians through all of the church’s history. And on that basis, I think we are ready to move forward, knowing what it is that Lewis hopes to accomplish through the book.

Next Week

For next week, let’s read Book I. It’s not as bad as it sounds. There are five short chapters that together come in at less than 30 pages (which together are probably easier to read than 5 pages of Edwards or Owen!). I think this section is best read as a unit so we’ll treat it in that fashion. So read those pages and come back here next Thursday!

Your Turn

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.

November 18, 2008

Reading Classics Together

I’m inviting you to read one of the classics of the Christian faith with me. Read on to find out more…

To this point the “Reading Classics Together” effort has gone very well, at least in my opinion. Every week we’ve tackled together just a short portion of one of the classic texts of the Christian faith. In this way we’ve read through J.C. Ryle’s Holiness, John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation, A.W. Pink’s The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross and Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. We’ve had hundreds of people participate by reading the books together and discussing them each week (though, inevitably, I think many more people begin each of the efforts than finish them and many more people read than comment!). All along we’ve been reading some great works—books many of us have always wished to read but books few of us have ever made time for. And now it is time to decide on the next classic we’ll read together.

Through the first four rounds we have bounced from a more modern work to a more ancient one. We’ve gone from Ryle to Owen, Pink to Edwards. Now that we’ve finished Edwards and have slogged through his brilliant but difficult Affections, we’re ready to move forward in time to try something a little easier. And the next classic we will tackle together is one that should prove a far easier challenge: C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. This is regarded as a classic apologetic work that stands, even 55 years later, as a superior introduction to the Christian faith. It is a book that has been so widely quoted that I’m quite convinced that many of us have read most of it in other works!

Here is my disclaimer in which I hope to head off the inevitable critiques. I think we’re all aware that C.S. Lewis held to the odd point of strange theology—unbiblical theology. So as we read this book we’ll be appreciating it for what it does so well, but we’ll also be ready to take note if and when what Lewis teaches does not accord with Scripture. The purpose of Reading Classics Together is not only to read books we agree with entirely, but to read books that have become Christian classics, whether for good reasons or bad! In this case I’m convinced there will be far more gold than dross.

Let’s count on beginning with the Preface and Foreword on December 4. That gives you just over two weeks to find a copy and read the first few pages. After December 4 we’ll proceed at a pretty good clip. The book has over 30 chapters but we’ll read several chapters a week (many of them are just a few pages long) and try to work through it quite quickly. But we’ll be sure to move at a reasonable pace so everyone can keep up, even through the holiday season.

Mere Christianity is very widely available. It has gone through many printings in both hardcover and softcover, can be found in e-book, audio book and, I think, even on YouTube. I’m sure you can also find free versions online, though I believe these (and the YouTube versions) would be unlicensed and therefore either illegal at worst or pseudo-legal at best. Just about every used bookstore will have a few copies in stock. So if you have a couple of dollars to your name, you’ll be able to join in the fun.

If you are going to participate, please just leave a comment so I can try to gauge interest. And then find a copy of the book and get reading!

Here are links to three of the places you may shop (and in each case feel free to hunt around the sites as they probably have it in multiple versions):

Monergism Books | Westminster Books | Amazon

November 13, 2008

We made it! This marks the final reading in Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections. I hesitated for a while before suggesting that we read a 380-page book together, but we did it. And what a read it was. My only real regret is that I feel like I have only skimmed the surface. In his companion volume to this book, Sam Storms says that he had to read the Affections many times through to have any confidence that he knew what Edwards was saying. I am sure that is a near-necessity. While I know I’ve learned a lot from the book, I know also that I could read it again and benefit just as much. Someday I’ll have to do that.

This week we read a rather lengthy portion of the book—Edwards’ twelfth and final mark of genuine religious affections—that they have their exercise and fruit in Christian practice. He saved the best and most important mark for last and, over 80 pages, proved time and time again that a Christian’s confidence in his salvation is to be found primarily in his practice of the Christian faith. A person will know he is a Christian if he is inwardly and outwardly conformed to the image of Christ. As Edwards says, “Christian practice is the most proper evidence of the gracious sincerity of professors, to themselves and others; and the chief of all the marks of grace, the sign of signs, and evidence of evidences, that which seals and crowns all other signs.”

Instead of interacting with all 80 pages of this week’s reading, I thought I’d simply share some of the quotes I highlighted. These will give the flavor of all Edwards had to say.

“Hypocrites may much more easily be brought to talk like saints, than to act like saints.”

“In order to a man’s being properly said to make a profession of Christianity, there must undoubtedly be a profession of all that is necessary to his being a Christian, or of so much as belongs to the essence of Christianity.”

“No external manifestations and outward appearances whatsoever, that are visible to the world, are infallible evidences of grace.”

“A man’s actions are the proper trial what a man’s heart prefers.”

“The things that put it to the proof whether men will prefer God to other things in practice, are the difficulties of religion, or those things which occur that make the practice of duty difficult and cross to other principles beside the love of God.”

“If we put true gold into the furnace, we shall find its great value and preciousness: so the truth and inestimable value of the virtues of a true Christian appear when under these trials.”

“God’s future judging of men, in order to their eternal retribution, will not be his trying, and finding out, and passing a judgment upon the state of men’s hearts, in his own mind; but it will be, a declarative judgment; and the end of it will be, not God’s forming a judgment within himself, but the manifestation of his judgment, and the righteousness of it, to men’s own consciences, and to the world. And therefore the day of judgment is called the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”

“Certainly that which our supreme Judge will chiefly make use of to judge us by, when we come to stand before him, we should chiefly make use of, to judge ourselves by.”


And that’s it for The Religious Affections. Please feel free to add comments, share your experiences, and so on. If you’d like to suggest the next book we read together, feel free to leave a comment on that as well. We’ll start our next round of Reading Classics Together in a few weeks.

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