Sunday, January 25, 2009

Inner Ring

In “The Inner Ring” Lewis takes the initiative to warn about a common habit of men. He calls it “so perennial that no one calls [it a] current affair.” His topic are the circles or rings of society that exclude some people, intentionally or unitentionally, while including others.

Lewis shows how there are no concrete rules for these circles. No standards of admittance or rejection, no list of members, and no determined name. The only rule is that those outside of the circle are labeled differently from those who are inside the circle. Yet despite this undefined quality these circles exist in every workplace, school, community, hospital, inn of court, and college. This existence spawns from people’s desire to be “in the circle.” Sometimes the desire is recognizable sometimes it is not. Sometimes people are immune to the desire to enter one group by their desire to enter a different group. Often one becomes displeased after being included in one circle because of a sudden desire to be included in another circle. Lewis warns that “unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life.”
Lewis calls a person who constantly feeds this desire a scoundrel. He is never satisfied, but always wants to be included on the secrets he supposes others possess, when in reality they know very little than him. The point at which a man becomes a scoundrel is not a dramatic event. But as Lewis says, “the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.”

Lewis says that Inner Rings are not necessarily an evil thing. The problem with them is the exclusion that occurs automatically. Even a close friendship can become an inner ring when it excludes others from joining it or revolves around an activity that others cannot enjoy as much as those in the inner ring.

No one can deny that they have encountered inner rings. The classic example in today’s age in junior high and high school clicks. All the students want to be in the “cool” group but not all of them can be. But, these inner rings can also be seen in the scholars of the Enlightenment whose knowledge excluded others. Or the nobles of the Middle Ages who excluded those not born to noble parentage. Or the priests of the early Catholic Church who excluded the peasants who could not read the Bible, or the Hollywood actors and actresses whose perfect bodies and beautiful hair have become the envy of many American citizens. Or the bosses who refuse to look the interns in the eye. The list goes on. Perhaps you were on the inside preventing others from joining, or perhaps you were on the outside drooling over the idea of joining the group. Maybe you experienced a little of both.

The real challenge for us is to prevent the church from becoming the inner circle. It would be easy for us to exclude those who cannot speak “Christianese.” It would be quite unintentional for us to be so busy with youth group and bible study that we do not see the neighbor down the road across town who desperately needs our help. It would be easy for us to be so involved in our church community that we neglect and even ostracize the people we pass every day. It may be unintentional, but it is still a horrible thing for us to let happen.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Problem of Pain

The problem of pain is that it exists simultaneously with a loving God. The simple answer, which Peter Kreeft points out, to this problem is that “love may cause some alteration to the object of its affection if that object needs the alterations to become more loveable.” The more difficult answer for man to understand is that God’s ways are not our ways. No man can fully understand the mind and purpose of God, thus we cannot attach to him the attributes we have defined by our actions.

For instance, Lewis shows how humans often question why a “decent, inoffensive, worthy” person experiences misfortune. We believe that such a person should receive the blessings of a pain-free life. The problem is that the blessings we wish upon them could very well get in the way of them receiving greater blessings. Lewis says that sometimes pain or suffering is used by God to warn “them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover.” It would be better for them to suffer in this life than in the eternity which follows. Lewis goes on to say “the creature’s illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creature’s sake be shattered.” Jesus says that it is “easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven.” When a man is “blessed” with things of this earth he too easily dismisses God- the one person who can give him eternal blessings.

Another question that humans often ask is why following God must involve pain; people who are doing God’s will are clearly not blinded by the ‘blessings’ of this world so why do they need to experience pain? Lewis answers this by explaining that if God’s will allowed us to do painless activities then we would not be doing them for the right reasons and thus not truly following God’s will but rather our own. “The full acting out of the self’s surrender to God therefore demands pain: this action, to be perfect, must be done from the pure will to obey, in the absence, or in the teeth, of inclination. How impossible it is to enact the surrender of the self by doing what we like.” Lewis references Hooker when he says “they err who think that of the will of God to do this or that there is no reason besides His will.” It is an act of true surrender to the will of God when we endure pain in following His will.

We cannot suffer this pain only for a short time or only once because it is our nature to dispense of God when we are no longer in need of him. Thus, human suffering will continue until we are no longer affected by it or until we have become completely remade into the image of Christ and completely obedient to God.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Journey of redemption

This chapter contains fundamental truths of Christianity concerning the redemption of man through Christ. The danger in this is that as we read these fundamental truths we become callous to how wondrous they truly are. As I read and commented on this chapter this was my attitude. But as we were told in class we must look at these fundamental truths with new eyes every time we read them.

Let me comment on the idea of being made holier. Plantinga says that our lives should follow a rhythm: dying and rising in Christ is a way of life. We must constantly die by confessing our sins and avoiding the “old life” and then rise by receiving forgiveness and entering into the “new life.” Afterwards, in a new situation, we will have to do the same thing over again. A pastor once told me that “Christianity is a journey not a destination.” There will never be a moment of having arrived. I will constantly be on the journey towards obtaining a Christ-like character. Plantinga’s comments on sanctification reinforce the idea of being on a constant journey. He defines sanctification as a life-long conversion that begins with regeneration but does not by any means stop with it. “Regeneration is the explosion that starts its [sanctification’s] motor.” From that point we begin the rhythm of dying and rising with Christ.

I believe this chapter can be characterized by totality. There is total depravation from which we must be totally redeemed as a complete church solely through the grace of God and death and resurrection of Christ. Then we must live our whole lives on the journey of Christianity or the journey of sanctification.

I like the following quote because it sums up where we are as Christians and all that Christ is doing for us. “Her response is… ‘I am a person formed by the cross and resurrection.’ These are my events because I belong to the Lord of these events. And I belong to the people formed by these events. Because I have died and risen with Jesus Christ, I live with the people of Christ, under the shadow of Christ, in a world that has been changed by Christ and that will one day be wholly transformed by Christ.”

Man of Rabbit

In “Man or Rabbit” C. S. Lewis addresses the question “Can’t you lead a good life without believing in Christianity?” His simple answer is no. The basis for this answer is that a Christian and a non-Christian have different definitions of “good.” To a non-Christian a man’s life is short and thus it is good to consider what is best for society over what is best for an individual. To a Christian man’s life is eternal and society is only a passing entity. A Christian’s goal in life is not to live with good morals, but to follow good morals so that God might remake him into the image of Christ by making his character like that of Christ. To a non-Christian man’s the sole distinction of a good life is whether good morals are followed. Lewis sums it up in this way: “Firstly, we cannot do it; secondly, in setting up ‘a good life’ as our final goal, we have missed the very point of our existence.”

Lewis also spends a portion of this essay scolding the man who asks this question. It is obvious that the questioner knows about Christianity and does not wish to discover whether it is true of not. Lewis calls this man a rabbit for trying to shirk one of the main qualities that distinguishes man from animals: the pursuit of knowledge. Lewis outlines this distinction further in his other essays such as: “Bulverism,” “Learning in War-Time,” and “An English Syllabus.” I found this essay to be a little amusing as well as practical. It is a reminder that we are not here on earth to do good works but that good works will result when we pursue our true purpose: transforming ourselves to be Christ-like.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Abolition of Man by Man

“Abolition of Man” is a very difficult read. The first two chapters outline the subjectivism that Lewis observes in his contemporary school teaching. He shows how teachers are training students in the belief that an object has no value of its own. A man’s statement on the object is only a reflection of his personal feelings at that moment. Thus our world is only a reflection of our feelings at any given point, nothing in it has any good or bad value except in comparison to our present feelings. In the third chapter Lewis describes the consequences that would result if this type of teaching were to remain unchecked in our society.

Let me first go back to Lewis’ analysis in the second chapter of these teachers. He says “we continue to clamour for those very qualities which we are rendering impossible…In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” The teachers expect more morality from the students than they are training the students to have. In not teaching students to make value judgements the teachers have, in essence, judged tradition moral law to be bad. In explaining this Lewis shows how the teachers are being hypocritical both in their desire for a different society and in their expectations of their students. To make the same point Lewis says “A great many of those who 'debunk' traditional or (as they would say) 'sentimental' values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.”

I also want to comment on one of the results Lewis predicts for a society that eradicates the traditional moral law. Lewis says “There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car.” Lewis is saying that even as these teachers attempt to advance our society by removing all values of right or wrong they are also destroying our society. We are losing as much as we are gaining. I believe this to be a very accurate assumption of what happens when man rejects the moral law and even the Law of God. As was brought up in an earlier class God’s Laws have been implemented to protect us from harm (sometimes originating in ourselves). The example in class was soldiers who were told to carry shovels or spades with them to bury their excrements outside of camp and thus prevent the spread of disease. If this rule was not followed man would have harmed himself by exposing himself to disease. Another example would be a man who chose to murder someone. Even as he is killing someone else, he is killing part of himself as well: slowly the more he kills the more immune he will be to the pain he is causing. He is losing the compassion that makes him human and thus isolating himself from human companionship. As Lewis says “man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of man… man’s conquest of nature turns out to be… nature’s conquest of man.” Even as we try to separate ourselves from the traditional morals that are engraved on our hearts we are allowing nature to have more complete dominion over us. This is the point that Lewis is making.

There is much more theology and logic in this book that I have not mentioned and much that I do not fully understand.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Portrait of Eros Love

Lewis’ descriptions of love are breathtakingly accurate. I think these are the best explanations that I have ever read. The two aspects I would like to focus on are the distinctions he makes between Eros and Venus and his reminder that love may start spontaneously but then must be nurtured and cared for if it is to continue.

Lewis depicts sexual attraction as a component of Eros which he calls Venus. Venus is described as want of A woman and a needed pleasure, whereas Eros is the opposite: want of THE woman and an appreciation of pleasure. Eros obliterates the desire for pleasure and simply appreciates the pleasure for what it is. It also obliterates any recognition between giving and receiving that pleasure. Eros is a selfless love in which pleasure is the by-product. As Lewis points out, two people in love will not be deterred if they are told that their future will not be happy. On the other hand, Venus is a selfish love the purpose of which is pleasure. I think these distinctions are important for us to remember especially in a culture that emphasizes the Venus component of being “in love.”

Lewis goes on to describe these two components in terms of the roles a man plays while experiencing each. But I will only focus on the description of the role played in Eros love. I think Lewis does an excellent portrayal of the relationship not only between a Christian husband and wife but also between Christ and His church. The Christian husband takes on the role of Christ. This means he is the head of the marriage as Christ is the head of the Church. Despite common associations this really means that he is a servant. As Lewis says he now wears a crown of thorns symbolizing his suffering for his wife. The husband loves the wife despite all the imperfections. Lewis’ words on the subject of the love between Christ and His church and thus the roles the husband and his wife play are beautiful: “This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him, is- in her own mere nature- least loveable. For the Church has no beauty but what the Bridegroom gives her; he does not find, but makes her lovely… As Christ sees in the flawed, proud, fanatical or lukewarm Church on earth that Bride who will one day be without spot or wrinkle, and labours to produce the latter, so the husband whose headship is Christ-like never despairs.”

Lewis says that while this love is often attained without any initial effort it will be lost or will become a god if we do not work for it later on. “It is we who must work to bring our daily life into even closer accordance with what the glimpses have revealed” says Lewis. The initial effortless Eros shows us the beauty of such love but afterwards we must work together to make those glimpses last for more than the initial effortless love. As Lewis says, “We do the works of Eros when Eros is not present.” All this reminds me that love is not merely a feeling but also an action. Love is a challenge to us to shape our own will so that we remain faithful. This can only be done through a conscientious decision on our part before the testing of our faithfulness and the support of our friends, church, and Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Living in God's Kingdom

In chapter 5 Plantinga covers a broad range of material concerning a Christian’s role in the kingdom of God. Much of this material is familiar to Calvin students who have gone through prelude. However, several points stuck out to me either because they were presented in a new way or new to me.
Plantinga says that the kingdom of God has always been and we have been in revolt against it since the fall. Jesus’ incarnation brought the kingdom of God closer to us and now we must learn to accept that kingdom and to incorporate our own sphere of influence into it. It is often said that Christian’s should work to quicken the coming of God’s kingdom. I struggle with statements like these because I do not believe that human’s can control God’s kingdom in any way. God will establish His kingdom in His time. However, as Plantinga points out, we can mesh our spheres of influence together and better reflect the kingdom of God to those around us. Thus we will help to expand God’s kingdom.
A second point that Plantinga discusses is how all good is rooted in God. Lewis also touches on how “goodness is God and God is goodness” in “The Poison of Subjectivism.” I completely agree with this idea. Another way of looking at it is that “all truth is God’s truth” as Arthur Holmes says. Thus Plantinga encourages us to take part in any action that will further God’s kingdom whether its earthly roots are in a Christian organization or a non-Christian organization. He says, “But every genuine advance toward shalom is led by the Holy Spirit, who promiscuously chooses instruments of God’s peace.” (Shalom is the way we were meant to live or the original kingdom of God before the fall.)
A third point that I would like to comment on is Plantinga’s reference to John Calvin’s belief that “those who lean into God’s grace and let it hold them up can then drop some of their performance anxiety.” In class one student commented on the fear of failure which often surfaces when we are faced with a choice about God’s will. I can completely relate to this fear. Many times I hesitate to make a decision based on the fear that it is the wrong one or that I will not be able to accomplish it. However, this quote reminds us that when we are striving to please and obey God with our actions we do not need to do things perfectly. God accepts all forms of worship. He forgives our shortcomings and treasures our efforts to glorify Him; he even provides us extra strength when we are in need of it. Therefore, I am encouraged to step out on faith in my decisions trusting that God will accept whatever offering of praise I can give Him.
Plantinga also points out the importance of using our education and vocation to glorify God in His kingdom. Whatever vocation we are called to do can be done in a way that pleases and glorifies God. He also analyzes three components of good education: attaining knowledge, honing skills, and developing values.