Friday, December 12, 2008

Reading the Classics: CS Lewis' Mere Christianity- Book One

Mere Christianity is a collection of talks Lewis gave over the radio in London during the Second World War. The larger book is divided into four sections or books. Book One is plainly titled "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe." It has five chapters. I'll briefly comment on each one.

Chapter 1: The Law of Human Nature
Lewis argues that everyone in the world has a sense of right and wrong. There is general agreement on what is good and what is bad. He then makes the point that we do not follow this sense of right and wrong (he calls it a Law of Nature and later calls it Moral Law and other things).

As I read this chapter, I thought of Romans 2:14-16 which reminds us that though there may be those who do not have God's written law and know it explicitly, because we are created in the image of God, His law is pressed into our consciences. A very good place to begin an argument for basic Christianity-- no one can argue that there is a fundamental right and wrong, no matter how hard they try. If they do, simply violate or do violence toward them, and they will immediately cry out for justice. Moral relativists are moral relativists only so long as relativism works for them and not against them.

Chapter 2: Some Objections
Moral relativists will object to any notion of a universal right and wrong. This chapter deals with that objection.

Chapter 3: The Reality of the Law
Lewis makes a very good point that while all people instinctively know the law of moral behavior, no one keeps it perfectly. I think this is a great jumping off point to show that all people are corrupt and, in theological terms, depraved. And because we don't keep it perfectly and yet it still remains, Lewis argues the Moral Law is something that exists outside of us-- it is not something we create. In other words, the reality of right and wrong, good and evil is transcendent above us.

Chapter 4: What Lies Behind the Law
Lewis argues there are two views for the origin of the universe. The first is the materialist view which says that everything has simply existed and everything has happened through evolutionary processes. The other view is the religious view that holds something caused and directed creation. This fits perfectly with the truth in Hebrews 11:1-3. Whichever view you hold, either a materialist view or a religious view, you are taking by faith. And since the Moral Law really exists, it points to a religious view of the origin of all things. SOMETHING (or SOMEONE) has made us and has impressed in our consciences a sense of what is really right and what is really wrong.

Lewis is quick to point out, probably to help unbelievers from ignoring the rest of what he had to say, that this belief in SOMETHING or SOMEONE is not the same thing as believing in the Christian God. I think this is a really outstanding point. Many people are religious. They know there is something or someone out there. But they don't know what or who it is. They have some vague notion and call it "God." They believe in a "god" but not THE GOD of Scripture. There is a huge difference. This explains why so many people claim to believe in God and even in Jesus, but their lives do not reflect such belief.

At the end of this chapter, Lewis offers a note that there is a middle view between materialism and religion. He calls it Life-Force Philosophy or Creative Evolution or Emergent Evolution. I'm not sure, but this view could be similar to Deism. Lewis writes,
"One reason why many people find Creative Evolution so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences... The Life-Force is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you."
This is the "god" most people worship. They want a god to make them feel good, a god who will fix things, but never a god they must give an account to. This is the wimpy no-god of many religious secularists.

Chapter 5: We Have a Cause to be Uneasy
Despite the desire to have a tame god, the reality is, if God really exists and if God really pressed into our consciences the Moral Law, then we have much to fear. Again, Lewis writes:
The Moral Law does not give us any grounds for thinking that God is 'good' in the sense of being indulgent, or soft, or sympathetic. There is nothing indulgent about the Moral Law. It is as hard as nails. It tells you to do the straight thing and it does not seem to care how painful, or dangerous, or difficult it is to do. If God is like the Moral Law, then He is not soft.

He goes on to write,
If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts in the long run are hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again. We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies.

Lewis has spent five chapters building and laying the foundation to get to this point. He argues that instinctively we know there is a god because we know there is good and evil and the Moral Law. And we know we are in trouble because we don't keep the moral law. We now know we have a serious problem and Christianity is now poised to show us what needs to happen.

These section is properly called "pre-evangelism." Lewis has not yet outlined Biblical revelation or the Christian Gospel. But he has shown us that:

1) There is a God, even though He has not yet shown us who that God is.

2) We know there is a God because we know there is a Moral Law.

3) No one perfectly keeps the moral law and so therefore we are all in some kind of trouble.

I'm looking forward to Book Two-- What Christians Believe. But for now, I think Lewis provides a helpful way of doing "pre-evangelism." One of the biggest problems in evangelistic work is "getting people lost." If people do not know or understand there is a problem, why would they look for a solution. The Christian Gospel begins with repentance and forgiveness. Until we help people understand why this is important, they never will repent nor will they seek forgiveness.

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