Friday, April 20, 2018

Book Review: Lewis on the Christian Life

Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God. (Theologians on the Christian Life). Joe Rigney. Edited by Stephen J. Nichols and Justin Taylor. 2018. Crossway. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence from the introduction: The best way to learn about Lewis “on the Christian life” would be a book club. If I had my druthers, every person reading this book would join me in a small group (about ten or so individuals) to read and appreciate what Lewis can teach us about the life of faith.

First sentence from chapter one: “Begin where you are.” This little phrase, tucked away in one of the letters to Malcolm, is the right place to begin our exploration of Lewis on the Christian life. Lewis calls this a great principle, and it is implicit in almost everything he writes. Again and again, he wants to bring us back to brass tacks, to awaken us to the present reality, to help us feel the weight of glory that presses on us even now. This is the real labor of life: “to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”

Crossway publishes a series titled Theologians on the Christian Life. Lewis on the Christian Life by Joe Rigney is one of the books in that series. It examines the life and works of C.S. Lewis. Rigney purposefully chooses not to focus on the main works of Lewis: Mere Christianity, the Chronicles of Narnia, and Screwtape Letters. He chooses instead to draw inspiration from his other books, the books that readers are less likely to have read and reread.

Rigney writes: In everything he writes, his aim is to remind us that we are here and now, that God is here and now, that this God makes total demands of us, and that therefore we must choose to bow the knee or to bow up, to surrender and join our wills to God’s or to resist his will and insist on our own way. In short, Lewis is ever and always attempting to clarify for us the nature of the Choice.

I have a love-hate relationship with C.S. Lewis. I love all but one of the Chronicles of Narnia. I DESPISE The Last Battle. I love the Screwtape Letters. Mostly. I like some chapters of Mere Christianity. Some of the ideas in Mere Christianity are true--biblical. Other ideas found within Mere Christianity are not all. Lewis can quite honestly be quite mistaken and just plain WRONG on doctrines of the Christian faith. Every Lewis quote is--in my opinion--to be weighed carefully and thoughtfully in light of the Word of God. Anything that disagrees with the revealed word of God--no matter how lyrical, no matter how appealing--is to be rejected.

Lewis believed in purgatory. This book discusses Lewis' ideas on purgatory. It doesn't seek to correct Lewis' flawed theology. It just presents it as Lewis' own idea not drawn from scripture. Lewis' views on hell also appear to be STRANGE.

The table of contents:

  • Introduction
  • The Choice: The Unavoidable Either-Or
  • The Gospel: God Came Down
  • Theology: A Map to Ultimate Reality
  • The Gospel Applied: Good Infection and Good Pretending
  • The Devil: The Proud and Bent Spirit
  • The Church: Worshiping with Christ's Body
  • Prayer: Practicing the Presence of God
  • A Grand Mystery: Divind Providence and Human Freedom
  • Pride and Humility: Enjoying and Contemplating Ourselves
  • Christian Hedonics: Beams of Glory and the Quest for Joy
  • Reason and Imagination: Truth, Meaning, and the Life of Faith
  • Healthy Introspection: The Precarious Path to Self-Knowledge
  • The Natural Loves: Affection, Friendship, and Eros
  • Divine Love: Putting the Natural Loves In their Place
  • Hell: The Outer Darkness
  • Heaven: Further Up and Further In
  • Orual's Choice: Discovering Her True Face
  • Conclusion

Did I like the book? No. Yes. No. Maybe. I enjoyed some chapters more than others. Some chapters were more accessible and straightforward than others. All the chapters were packed full of quotes by C.S. Lewis. But not all Lewis quotes are supported or drawn from Scripture. The book seemed--in my opinion--to be more about Lewis' theories and imaginative ideas than biblical doctrines.

At times the book provided much food for thought.
Our little decisions, when gathered together, turn out to be not so little after all. We are always sowing the seeds of our future selves. Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. 
Death is both a punishment for sins and a mercy that delivers us from the hell of our own gnawing self-centeredness. 
Real forgiveness means not only forgiving someone seventy times for seventy offenses but also forgiving someone seventy times for a single offense. 
“As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing, but learning to dance.”  The best worship service is one in which our attention is fixed on God, not on our steps.  
I just finished reading Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life. The two books couldn't be more different from one another, perhaps because these two men couldn't be more different from one another.

Lloyd-Jones worldview seems--upon some study--to be drawn solely from the Word of God. Lewis' on the other hand seems to be drawn from a broad variety of sources in addition to the Bible: mythology, philosophy, sociology, literature, his own imagination. One source doesn't seem to carry more weight or authority.

Lloyd-Jones was a preacher for the people--for the common people. He spoke with conviction to be understood by the masses, wanting every man, woman, and child to come into the kingdom of God. Lewis, on the other hand, was an academic, a scholar, a man who embraces complexity rather than simplicity.

To read Lloyd-Jones on the Christian Life is to have central doctrines of the gospel clarified, amplified, expounded for the glory of God. To read Lewis on the Christian Life, on the other hand, is to have the gospel--the central doctrines of the Christian faith--muddied and confused.

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.” ~ C.S. Lewis 
(1) You are here and now; (2) God is here and now; (3) God demands all of you. These three facts yield a fourth: (4) Every moment of every day, you are confronted with a choice—either place God at the center of your life, or place something else there. Either acknowledge the way the world really is, or attempt to live in a fantasy of your own devising. Either surrender to your Creator and Lord, or rise up and assert your own independence. Reality, Lewis says, “presents us with an absolutely unavoidable ‘either-or.’” ~ Joe Rigney 
There is no question that we will have ideas about God; the only question is whether those ideas will be true. “Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones—bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas.” This is one reason why good theology exists: “because bad [theology] needs to be answered.” ~ Joe Rigney and C.S. Lewis
Our tempters encourage us to make claims of ownership without realizing we are doing it, the only evidence of these claims being our constant sense of frustration and righteous sense of injury. The devils persuade us to say “my own” about all sorts of things that cannot really be ours in any ultimate, possessive sense—time, our bodies, people, positions, prosperity, even emotions like happiness and bliss. Our tempters obscure the different senses of the possessive pronoun so that all uses of my become the my of ownership. And the more successful they are, the more vaguely aggrieved we become, living with a perpetual sense that our rights and privileges have been violated by we-know-not-whom. ~ C.S. Lewis (I think) 
Words are anchors for our prayers. They are the conductor’s baton that orchestrates the music of our devotion. Or, to switch the metaphor again, they channel our worship or penitence or petition in particular directions so that our prayers don’t become wide and shallow puddles. ~ Joe Rigney (I think) 
Our individuality demands that we address God as ourselves and no one but ourselves. We must bring before him our concerns, our situations, our needs and desires, our blessings and comforts. ~ Joe Rigney
The world would have us believe that God is the great forbidder, the cosmic killjoy. It is the devils who try to lead us into pleasures, in order to ensnare our souls. God calls us away from pleasure to self-denial and fasting. But Screwtape (and Lewis) know better. The fasts and vigils and renunciation are only a facade; they are not the deepest reality.  God is a hedonist. He made the pleasures, invented every last one of them. There is no such thing as a fundamentally diabolical pleasure. Hell has not been able to produce one. All demons can do is to twist legitimate pleasures by tempting us to enjoy them at times, or in ways, or in degrees that God has forbidden. ~ C.S. Lewis (and maybe Joe Rigney)
Whatever else Christian love may be, it is not safe from sorrow. Love demands vulnerability. Apart from such vulnerability, our hearts grow hard and stiff. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. We will not preserve our love for God by suppressing and resisting all love for creatures. The road of safety first, the road of no risk of tragedy, leads only to damnation. 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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