on that Sermon on the Mount…CS Lewis

In another essay entitled “Rejoinder to Dr. Pittenger” from the God in the Dock collection, Lewis gives a dead-on evaluation of the Sermon on the Mount in response to criticism that Lewis liked Paul’s theology of sin too much and didn’t “care for” Jesus’ more optimistic ethics, such as found in the Sermon on the Mount.  (For anyone who has read Lewis and knows how LITTLE time and energy he spends discussing Pauline theology, this accusation itself is ridiculous.  This compares to someone accusing Martin Luther of spending too much time in practical books like James and not enough reading Paul.)

From Lewis:

“The statement that I do not ‘care much for’ the Sermon on the Mount but ‘prefer’ the ‘Pauline ethic’ of man’s sinfulness and helplessness carries a suggestion of alternatives between which we may choose, where I see successive stages through which we must proceed.  Most of my books are evangelistic, addressed to tous exo [Greek for “those without/outside”].  It would have been inept to preach forgiveness and a Savior to those who did not know they were in need of either.  Hence St. Paul’s and [John] the Baptist’s diagnosis (would you call it exactly an ethic?) had to be pressed.  Nor am I aware that our Lord revised it (‘if ye, being evil…’)

As to ‘caring for’ the Sermon on the mount, if ‘caring for’ here means ‘liking’ or enjoying, I suppose no one ‘cares for’ it.  Who can like being knocked flat on his face by a sledge-hammer?  I can hardly imagine a more deadly spiritual condition than that of the man who can read that passage with tranquil pleasure.  This is indeed to be ‘at ease in Zion.’  Such a man is not yet ripe for the Bible…”


On Trimming Theology…CS Lewis

In an essay entitled “Horrid Red Things” from the God in the Dock collection, which later appears as a chapter in the longer work Miracles, Lewis makes a bold challenge to those of his day attempting to strip the Christian faith from its theological baggage, especially that of an historical* or miraculous nature.

“I think there are two things that Christians must do if they wish to convince this ‘ordinary’ modern man.  In the first place, they must make it quite clear that what will remain of the Creed after all their explanations and reinterpretations will still be somehting quite unambiguously supernatural, miraculous, and shocking.  We may not believe in a flat earth [and I add that most Christians in history didn’t either, contrary to the myths about Columbus] and a sky-palace.  But we must insist from the beginning that we believe, as firmly as any savage or theosophist, in a spirit-world which can, and does, invade the natural or phenomenal universe.  For the plain man suspects that when we start explaining, we are going to explain away: that we have mythology for our ignorant hearers and are ready, when cornered by educated hearers, to reduce it to innocuous moral platitudes which no one ever dreamed of denying.  And there are theologians [and still are today] who justify this suspicion.  From them we must part company absolutely.  If nothing remains except what could be equally well stated without Christian formulae, then the honest thing is to admit that Christianity is untrue and to begin over again without it. [italics mine]

Speaking of education…CS Lewis

Every teacher (perhaps every parent?) should read CS Lewis’ “The Abolition of Man“- a critique of modern (and its step-child postmodern) education to its core.

A few quotes:

On the push for criticism of literature over understanding (and perhaps subsequent enjoyment) of literature–

For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity.  The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.”

A hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.

On the biases of such skepticism (or UK spelling- scepticism) and subjective thinking,

“Their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people’s values; about the values current in their own set they are not nearly sceptical enough.”

“An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful.  But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy.  If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut.”

On the Second Coming- CS Lewis

From the title essay “The World’s Last Night”, a few thoughts by Lewis on the second coming and date-setting.

Comparing our role in regards to Christ’s return as to actors in a play…

“To play well the scenes in which we are “on” concerns us much more than to guess about the scenes that follow it.

In King Lear (III:vii) there is a man who is such a minor character that Shakespeare has not given him even a name: he is merely “First Servant.”  All the characters around him–Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund–have fine long-term plans.  They think they know how the story is going to end, and they are quite wrong.  The servant has no such delusions.  He has no notion how the play is going to go.  But he understands the present scene.  He sees an abomination (the blinding of old Gloucester) taking place.  He will not stand it.  His sword is out and pointed at his master’s breast in a moment: then Regan stabs him dead from behind.  That is his whole part: eight lines all told.  But if it were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have acted [emphasis mine].”

Februaries are for Fighting…SBC Style. (updated)

I probably read more SBC blogs than a healthy person should.  One great help here is the site sbcvoices.com.  While occasionally there’s original content there that’s sparks some interesting conversation, the directory page is neat for introducing new bloggers and bloggers who run in different circles to each other in the SBC universe.

This past month in the SBC blogosphere has been a rough one though.  I mean Shrek-style ugly.  It’s amazing how the de-personalizing element of the Internet can can inflame minor disagreements and cause people (including pastors) to step across boundaries of etiquette and at times, morality.

For example, one blogger’s series about tithing (I’m guessing I saw so many of these the past month or so because many pastors teach on stewardship-related themes early in the year while many families are reconsidering budgets and finances anyways?) exploded into a full-blown controversy over email privacy, transparency at seminaries, and the usual issues of doctrine/cooperation so prevalent in the SBC.  Things were made public with a few clicks that only a few minutes’ conversation or a personal email (rather than a public b/f-logging) might have sorted out.

Another issue involves an apparently long-running and (unfortunately) heated dispute between a pair of apologists.  Believe it or not, they come to different conclusions on some issues of soteriology (Southern Baptists would never!!) and have managed to make each other running punchlines in their own circles.  I don’t really care about who hit whom first or whatever. Each side has its own groupies, shown by blogs blasting each other for talking about the other one–followed by a swarm of militant commenters eager to “gently” point out the original blogger’s errors in the name of love in all caps usually followed by a sinister emoticon of disapproval.

And that’s just the Christian blogs.  (ever read the comments below a news article?   same thing usually.  a few less theological terms.  but the bad spelling is still king of all.)

I didn’t put links on here for a reason.  I don’t know everything in those situations mentioned above.  The kids may be fighting but I’m certainly not anyone’s mommy.  (at best I’m an awkward bag boy watching as yet another scene is made in the supermarket aisle.)  But the truth is, people are watching.

I mean, is there no person with contact between any of these groups who might pick up the phone and say, “Friends, let cool it down a little.”  Do we have no one who can at least push for a detente?  or better yet, some form of Christian reconciliation between parties?  I can think of situations in my own life where relationships could have used such a peacemaker to step out, take a few shots from both sides but eventually get a truce worked out.  It’s not as if people don’t know these things are happening, especially those close friends who are staying in touch via twitter or bookface or whatever.

Unfortunately, there are very few who have this mindset.  I can’t imagine why we have fights in our churches, if this is the model our leadership gives.  The mindset of the “Christian” blogosphere isn’t to stop fighting with the known risk of taking an extra punch or two before the other guy quits.  It’s more like a playground fight where it’s assumed everyone’s getting detention so you might as well bruise whoever you can before the teacher shows up.  and of course, like any playground fight, having some bruisin’ buddies for backup never hurt either.

I’m glad for the Internet in many ways.  People in the SBC need to hear from people in the other states or in the other circles of influence.  We also need to remember Who is the reason that draws us together, one who “made both groups one” and identified those who make peace as his brothers and sisters.

Update: Not on any account of mine (I think I had a whopping two people read this original post!), but one of the major parties in the latter situation came forward and apologized in an effort to quiet the madness.  Good for him.  The response by and large from the other side still seems to be “well, thank you, but back to the problem…”  Oops. Sometimes we do a better service by letting some small things drop in the pursuit of loving, rather than demanding an exact apology for every wrong we ever suffered.

Conversations I won’t have over the Internet…

In light of some recent activity by bloggers from my particular denomination, I wanted to remind myself of things I try to avoid in cyberspace.  The list is not exhaustive, but the topics included certainly can be!

1. I don’t have non-public dialogue with women by and large.  My work e-mail is monitored, so that is ok, especially since I deal with mostly with parents of our students on there.  Except for the occasional quick Facebook chat with someone asking me what time “Event A” is or whatever, it doesn’t happen.

2. I don’t debate matters of theology by and large.  I’ve learned that whatever is typed will generally be interpreted in the worst possible light, and rarely do you wind up dialoguing with someone.  Usually you end up trying to answer 10 people, 2 of which agree with you (but argue so terribly it hurts your point), 8 of which assume that your SS number only has 3 digits which don’t exceed seven but aren’t less than 5.  Occasionally in the right forum I’ll offer a comment (if I know the person personally, it’s more likely.) But generally I offer my own opinions on here and here alone.  I also avoid theological statements that may unnecessarily alienate people I currently minister with and to.  I don’t want my view on Ezekiel 76 to cause conflicts because it’s just not important (and in this case, non-existent).

3. I don’t discuss personal matters related to my current job.  duh.  not even “anonymous” stories.  people will either know the person (so it’s still just gossip or breaking of confidence), or they’ll guess, which is probably worse, since now multiple characters are impugned.

4. I don’t argue politics.  and every time I break that rule, I “immediately regret that decision.”  that doesn’t mean I don’t care or that I’m not a good citizen.  it just means that most of the people out there are too <cough> stupid <cough> to have that discussion with and me not wind up wanting to go Corleone on someone.  And those generally are the people I agree with!

5. I don’t post other people’s mail. 🙂

6. I don’t write my own blog as a “comment” to some other person’s writing, and then leave 50 comments on their blog letting everyone know that “interesting post.  I actually wrote an article on this topic at <insert link to my blog>.”

7. I don’t promote my blog posts with 27 twitter updates describing in different terms the same post, spread throughout the day.

8. I always try to remember that the things I say and do online are easily recordable, transmittable, and likely to show up at an interview someday when I least expect it.

9. I don’t stay up blogging when my wife says it’s time to sleep.  So this list ends here.

On “Democratic Education”- CS Lewis

From his essay Screwtape Proposes a Toast, found both at the end of many editions of The Screwtape Letters, and in a collection of essays entitled The World’s Last Night.

In several essays he wrote, CS Lewis lamented the “democratizing” of education, specifically the tendency in public education to treat all students as equals, forcing the apt to lag behind and the less capable to overfeed on the wonder of their own self-esteem continually reinforced by doting educators (my words, not his.)  In a world where everyone goes to university, the value of a university education severely decreases.  In this case, England was about 30-40 years of the US.  If you don’t get what I am saying, google “Grade Inflation” and see what shows up.

But onto Lewis’ words, placed in the mouth of dear uncle Screwtape…

“For “democracy” or the “democratic spirit” (diabolical sense) leads to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and quick to snarl or whimper at the first hint of criticism.  And that is what Hell wishes every democratic people to be.  For when such a nation meets in conflict a nation where children have been made to work at school, where talent is placed in high posts, and where the ignorant mass are allowed no say at all in public affairs, only one result is possible.”

A similar essay called “Lilies that Fester” can also be found in The World’s Last Night and other Essays.