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…”

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