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.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Learning in war-time

The title "Learning in War-time" seems to have two meanings. First, it refers to Lewis' belief that some men are called to continue scholarly pursuits during times of war. Second, it references the many things that war "teaches" man. Or rather the truths that war reminds man of such as the evil of humanity, the constant turmoil that surrounds us, the morality of man, the nature of man, and the importance of the present.

While the initial pursuit in this speech is to determine the validity of pursuing “normal life” during war-time, Lewis makes a very strong argument to support a Christian’s involvement in, but not total obsession with, society and culture. Lewis contends that it is human nature to seek both knowledge and security at the same time. Man pursues knowledge even in the most difficult times because if he were to wait for the times of tranquility he would never be able to pursue knowledge. This is because there can be no peace on earth until Christ returns. I agree that the times in man’s history that we consider peaceful or normal were filled with underlying struggles and trials.

Lewis’ first most prevelant argument is that scholarly learning is a valid calling for some people even during wartime. He says that war cannot and does not consume the whole of human thought. It is a duty that is “worth dying for, but not worth living for.” Lewis says that if a man was to live for his country then he would be giving his being, which is rightfully God’s, to Caesar.
Lewis goes on to say how the war is really not an abnormal situation. Thus, man should not act abnormally during it. He warns about three dangers of wars that can lead men to put aside their pursuit of knowledge. Men can be swept up in the excitement of war and suddenly think that they must fight a new enemy before they can return to the pursuit of knowledge. Lewis counters this thought by reminding his readers that the war “has not really raised up a new enemy but only aggravated an old one… [and] favorable conditions never come.” Also a war can lead to frustration over not being able to finish the work begun. Lewis counters this danger by reminding his readers that the future should be left in God’s hands “for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to Him or not.” In other words, what can be done at this moment should be done and the future should be left to itself. The final danger that Lewis argues against is the fear, mostly of death and the truth of humanity’s evil, that war brings. Lewis says that “100 per cent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased.” War does not change the frequency or the pain of death. It does however remind us of the reality of death which is often thought of as a good thing. War also reminds us that we live in a cruel and evil world. We fear war because we must come face to face with the truth. I believe that during times that have seemed “normal” we have merely been able to turn our back on this truth.

Lewis also examines a much more important relationship between Christianity and society or culture. I once had a discussion with a friend about why Christians didn’t all just become missionaries if we were supposed to live with Heaven as our primary focus. I agreed that it sometimes seems trivial to take part in society when we could be furthering God’s kingdom through missionary work, but who is to say that being a part of society is not God’s purpose for us in His kingdom? Lewis asks the same question as my friend and his answer is much more articulate than mine. God’s claim on us is “infinite and inexorable”. If we live humbly as an offering to God then we are bringing God into our entire lives. Lewis describes Christianity as “a new organization which exploits, to its own supernatural ends, these natural materials [our lives in society].”

Furthermore Lewis points out that God has a different calling for everyone. As 1 Corinthians 12 says we are all given specific gifts and each gift is necessary for the entire body to function properly. (Lewis references this passage) Lewis also says that pursuing knowledge can “advance the vision of God [for] ourselves or indirectly” help others to do so. This reminded me of a quote that reads “I am here for a reason, but that reason may have nothing to do with me.” Lewis does warn his readers to “delight not in the exercise of [your] talents but in the fact that they are [yours].”

Lewis goes on to explain why Christians should participate in the things of this world such as pursuing knowledge. First, he says that these activities will occur with or without the church. Thus, it is better that the church be familiar with the views and activities of the world so that it can counter them. Second, it is important to know about our past so that we can compare the present to it. If we are aware of the past we will begin to see patterns of “temporary fashion” and thus will be better able to detect the lies that are presented to us.

The Corruption and Sin of the Fall

Plantinga spends a good portion of chapter 3 discussing corruption and how it acts as an amplifier of sin but is not itself a sin. Sin is an act of disobedience to God which destroys the intended shalom of His creation. Corruption is the cycle of sin throughout generations and around the world.

In comparing Plantinga’s description of shalom in chapter 2 to the world we live in and its description in the opening pages of chapter 3 it is obvious that the two descriptions are drastically different. This is the result of the fall, or the original of Adam and Eve in the garden, followed by Cain’s murder of his brother Able, and the successive acts of disobedience committed by all humankind. Plantinga says that corruption has advanced the original sin so that humans are in a state of total depravity. This corruption has two parts. First we use God’s gifts for purposes that He did not intend. Second, we include “unredeemed elements” in the actions that should bring God glory. According to Plantinga “we have kept on perverting and polluting God’s gifts.” (56)

Sin has become prevalent in our culture and is carried from one generation to another. “Human character forms culture, but culture also forms human character. And the formation runs not only across regions and peoples but also along generations.” We are trapped in a circular flow that passes sin and its consequences from generation to generation. The Bible says that the sins of the fathers will be visited upon the sons.

However, we are still able to experience goodness because of God’s common grace. Plantinga defines common grace as “the goodness of God shown to all, regardless of faith, consisting in natural blessings, restraint of corruption, seeds of religion and political order, and a host of civilizing and humanizing impulses, patterns, and traditions.” In other words, God gives blessings to Christians and non-Christians alike. These blessings may include intelligence, wealth, community, good health, etc. We all need this grace because the depravity of our sin is in all of us.

It is important to remember that we are not the rope in a tug of war between God and Satan. The evil that surrounds us is also within us and for this reason we can only be rid of the destruction of sin through the grace of God. In the end of the chapter Plantinga asks where sin originated. I do not think he ever provides a substantial answer. Instead he deflects the question to explain how sin is “not only personal but also interpersonal and even suprapersonal. That is, sin is more than the sum of what sinners do. Sin acquires the form of a spirit…” He goes on to say “it’s no disgrace to have more questions than answers here. It’s not even surprising. There is much we don’t know about the world and much we don’t know about the meaning of Scripture.”

There is much our finite human minds cannot understand. When I think about where sin originated I cannot come up with a satisfying answer. Instead I remember two important things: There is a God, and I am not Him.


“The Poison of Subjectivism” is a very complicated essay. Lewis’s first points are that it is impossible to be against subjectivism without being subjective in the process. If a person says that there is no good and evil he is already being subjective. Likewise Lewis says that a “scientist has to assume the validity of his own logic.” Lewis contends that the present “value judgments” which are the basis of the Moral Law and traditional explanations of good and bad cannot be removed from man’s reasoning.

His first reason is that “the human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of planting a new sun in the sky.” The second reason is that “every attempt to do so consists in arbitrarily selecting some one maxim of traditional morality, isolating it from the rest, and erecting it into an unum necessarium.”

Lewis then examines two arguments against traditional morals. First all traditional morals have the same foundational elements. Lewis shows this in a similar way to how he portrayed that the Natural Law is found in all cultures in “Mere Christianity.” Basically while slight deviations are present all cultures maintain favorable views of such actions as honesty, and alms giving and negative views of such actions as oppression, murder etc. A second complaint against traditional morals is that in referring to them we are prohibiting progress. As Lewis shows, trying to overtake a goal that is constantly moving is impossible. Furthermore, if we desire to progress in our morality we must first have something to build upon. The traditional morals are a good foundation for the progress of man.

Lewis goes on to reference “common grace” by showing how even if the core of humans are unrighteous we can still perceive good and bad. (Common grace contends that by God’s grace humans maintain some goodness despite their overwhelmingly bad nature resulting from the fall)

Finally Lewis asserts that God is goodness. If goodness was merely what God commands us to do then evil would have an equal claim upon us, and this is not so. If God chose his commands based on what is good then there would be a law greater than God and there cannot be anything greater than God. Lewis compares this confusing relationship between God and goodness to the relationship of the Trinity in which Three (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are one and yet Three are distinct. Our human minds have difficulty understanding these relationships because we can only comprehend the existence of three dimensions. It follows from this reading that man cannot remove himself from subjectivism to the traditional law of morality or value judgment; because God is good neither can man remove himself from knowledge of God.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Common Christianity explained in depth

I have enjoyed reading “Mere Christianity” because of the way it connects the Law of Nature to the existence of a Power in the universe. (Naturally as a Christian I believe this Power to be God) I have always been convinced of the existence of a Law of Nature mainly due to the fact that I have often been compelled to act in ways that I did not prefer to act. So, while I did not need to be convinced of the Law of Nature I value the arguments that Lewis has laid down which support my own beliefs on this matter.

To begin Lewis asserts that it is the Law of Nature to which many of man’s daily arguments appeal. Often the only justification offered in an argument is that one way is fair while the other is not. This sense of fairness is a sign of the Law of Nature—both parties are expected to understand the definition of fairness and come to the same conclusion while looking at the issue in light of it. Granted within different cultures these definitions may vary slightly but these differences are generally inconsequential. Lewis also shows how even those who claim that no Law of Nature exists will appeal to it when they are being acted upon unjustly or indecently. Lewis then shows how people can choose to disobey the Law of Nature and often do. However, when a man acts in a manner counter to the Law of Nature he feels compelled to make excuses for his behavior.

The second chapter shows that the Law of Nature is more than an instinct. The Law of Nature judges and directs our instincts in much the same that a sheet of music judges and directs which keys a pianist strikes. (I find this piano analogy very clear and helpful in this argument) When faced with two different actions led by two different instincts it is not always the more powerful instinct that the man follows, thus there must be something else occurring within the man to make him chose the lesser instinct. Some people contend that the Natural Law is merely a social order that is ingrained in man from childhood. Lewis believes that while the Natural Law is taught to man from childhood it was not invented by man. One reason for this belief is that a very similar Natural Law exists in every culture. It would be quite coincidental for every culture to have invented such a similar Natural Law without having some common guidance. A second reason is that when two opinions on the Natural Law are presented to a man he can determine which is “better” or “truer.” Lewis says that our understanding of the moral law has changed for the better. This belief explains why man prefers “civilized morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality.”

Lewis then shows how the Natural Law is actually beyond the reality we are most familiar with. Lewis contends that the Natural Law is what man ought to do and not necessarily what he does. This means that the Natural Law cannot be observed by an outsider looking at the facts of man. There is no explanation for why a man sometimes views things that are inconvenient for him as good and sometimes as bad or why he occasionally behaves in a way that is counter to his own desires. Lewis then follows a very complex argument for why this idea of a Natural Law cannot be gotten rid of. Basically Lewis shows how it is impossible to logically understand the actions that are caused by the Natural Law. Through all this Lewis comes to the conclusion that there is a reality beyond what we usually interpret as reality.

The final portion of this reading is an argument verifying the acceptance of our personal observations of this second reality. This is a very difficult logic to explain without following it as Lewis presents it. Lewis concludes that the power that exists behind the Law of Nature “would be not one of the observed facts (of man) but a reality which makes them.” He goes on to say that “the only way in we could expect to it [the power] to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way.” As the previous arguments have concluded such a power does exists for man and thus it can be assumed that such a power also exists in other areas of nature.

I have attempted to explain this very complicated but logical argument and I suggest that if this explanation does not satisfy you then you should read Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”. Lewis has writtin a logical argument to explain the existance which is obvious to most people, of a Natural, Moral Law.

Show and Tell

A passage from Plantinga's chapter 2 that stuck out to me reads "Humback whales for example, sing underwater arias; when they've finished, they often breach, soaring into an explosive half-twist back-flop with their "wings" flung wide." The passage is a beatiful reminder of how amazing God's creation is.
Similarly I read a devotional by Max Lucado that emphasized how miraculous the nature around us is. It opened with a reading from John 1:3 "All things were made by him, and nothing was made without him." From where I write I can see several miracles. White-crested waves slap the beach with rhythmic regularity. One after the other the rising swells of salt water gain momentum, humping, rising, then standing to salute the beach before crashing onto the sand. How many billions of times has this simple mystery repeated itself since time began? In the distance lies a miracle of colors-- teins of blue. The ocean-blue of the Atlantic encounters the pale blue of the sky, separated only by the horizon..." I would also add the miracle of wind shaping rocks like nothing else in the world can. "Miracles, divine miracles. These are miracles because they are mysteries. Scientifically explainable? Yes. Reproducible? To a degree." Scientists have tried to reproduce the miracles they see in nature and have been able to do so to some extent but not completely. "But still they are mysteries. Events that stretch beyond our understanding and find their origins in another realm. They are every bit as divine as divided seas, walking cripples, and empty tombs."
As Plantinga has told us, God's creation reveals his majesty. Take the time to marvel at what is all around you. In it we can see God being glorified. The Psalms are full of verses that describe the ways in which nature glorifies God.
Psalm 96:11 "Let the Heaven's rejoice, let the earth be glad. Let the sea resound, let the fields be jubilant."
Psalm 98:7-8 "Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Dangers of an Apathetic Life

The seventh letter in the Screwtape Letters reveals the dangers of apathy. Screwtape admonishes his nephew Wormwood to make the patient apathetic to his new-found Christianity. If the patient becomes apathetic he will be on the way towards hell. According to Screwtape “the safest road to Hell is the gradual one.”

The key to such a road is for the patient to feel a “dim uneasiness” that is not too strong but is still present in his thoughts. Screwtape warns that if the feeling is too strong the patient will become aware of the dangers that it presents: mainly his separation from God. On the other hand the uneasiness must be present in order for Wormwood to gradually separate the patient from God.

Screwtape explains that as time passes this uneasiness will lead the patient to neglect his “religious duties.” Gradually the patient will be distracted from his faith and become numb to the touch of God. Over time less interesting things will be required to fill the time that the patient would otherwise spend with God: “anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention.”

If such a process is followed the patient will realize all too late that he never did what he should have or wanted to do. He will realize that his life was inconsequential. He was lukewarm in his relationship with God. As Revelation 3:16 says “so because you were lukewarm- neither hot nor cold- I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” God will not accept the patient because he is lukewarm. Thus, Wormwood will have been successful in separating the patient from God.

I love this letter from Lewis’ book because I am constantly in need of the reminder not to become apathetic in my relationship with Christ. I think that Lewis’ choice to write from the perspective of a demon drives home the consequences of living an apathetic life and also stirs anger and resistance in readers not to live apathetically.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

God and His Creation

The second chapter of Engaging God’s World discusses two main, broad topics. First, it discusses the relationships between God, man, and nature. Second, it discusses the purpose of man and nature.

One of my high school teachers used the image of a triangle to illustrate the relationship between God, nature, and man. In this image the base vertexes were labeled creation (or nature when applied to Plantinga’s second chapter) and creature (or man according to Plantinga). The top vertex was labeled as Creator (or God). Two arrows connected the Creator and creation to represent the glory that nature gives to God and the care that God gives to nature. Plantinga expands on this to say that there is communication between God and nature. While I am convinced that nature reflects God’s glory and brings him praise, I do not agree that nature and God share the same kind of communication that God and man does. In my teacher’s image there were also two arrows connecting Creator and creature (God and man). This represents the fact that man is made in God’s image, is meant to bring him praise and that God cares for and guides man. Between creation and creature are also two arrows. These represent the interaction of man and nature. According to Plantinga this interaction would involve man’s stewardship over nature and nature’s revelation of God to those who see it through God’s Word.

Plantinga also discusses the purpose of nature. God purposefully chose to create this world in order to display His love and imagination. Every part of nature displays something marvelous about God. Furthermore, the general variety of nature shows that God takes pleasure in his creation.

Man and nature were both created out of God’s desire to do so, it was not a whim nor was it necessary nor was a solution to boredom. God delights in His creation more than we can understand. As G.K. Chesterton points out, God loved His creation even before it He made it. Plantinga says that “God loves creation. God celebrates creation. God even plays with His creation.” He does not need creation but His delight in it is beyond our understanding.

Plantinga maintains that man is made to be the image of God in three ways. First, we are images of God when we act as stewards of creation. Second, we are the image of God when we live in harmony or shalom with each other. Third, we are images of God when we suffer like Christ suffered.

Plantinga shows how man is in need of times of silence and times of rest. This corresponds to Lewis’ statement in “English Syllabus” that man works so that he can rest. Essentially they are both reminding us of Ecclesiastes 3 in which we are told that “there is a time for everything.” It is also a reminder of the fifth commandment to remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy. It is very easy to get caught up in our work and busy schedules in this culture where even our commercials remind us that we are “on the go.” (Dunkin Donuts) However, God has designed us and commanded us to break up our busy schedules with a time of rest in which we should seek God and be refreshed by Him.

In addition to these specific purposes for nature and man Plantinga discusses eight deeper meanings for all of God’s creation. First, all of creation is redeemable. Second, all of creation has a purpose even if it is somewhat mysterious to our finite minds. Third, there are no limitations to what God created because it was made from God’s infinite imagination. Fourth, because God created all of nature it should not be esteemed as anything other than an image of God. Fifth, everything that God has created is good. Sixth, God created man in His image and as such we have natural rights, responsibilities, and worth. Seventh, God has made us special as both individuals and also as a community of Christians. Eighth, man has a unique position between God and nature: we should not over value or undervalue ourselves.

To sum up this very detailed chapter, God has created a good world in which man, who holds His own image, may flourish with the ultimate purpose of His glorification.

All that Glory Entails

This essay that Lewis has written expresses a Biblical definition of glory and how we should react to such understanding. Lewis begins by explaining how man does not truly understand what his desires are. In reality every man has a natural desire for God, however, man tries to satisfy this desire with material objects that only leave us with less understanding and more longing.

According to Lewis, the fact that some men desire Heaven is proof that is exists. However, this desire does not equal understanding of Heaven. Neither does Lewis believe that the descriptions of Heaven found in the Bible are more than imagery. But, he does believe that the “scriptural imagery has authority.” Lewis also points out that the initial confusion that stems from Christianity proves that Christianity has a power beyond man’s own intellect. I think this is a valid point but it is hard to grasp.

Lewis then states the scriptural imagery that he referenced before: being with Christ, being like Christ, obtaining glory, be entertained, and receive a position in the universe. Lewis briefly comments on how being with Christ is the ultimate bliss because God is more than just a person. He says that the other images are a means to express how being with God is more satisfying than being in close proximity with a person of immense power. Lewis then chooses to focus on the promised image of glory for the remainder of the essay.

Lewis defines glory in two parts: having won approval and having luminosity. The glory of Heaven is such that we will receive the approval not of man but of God. We will be praised by God and we shall experience a child-like pleasure in receiving adoration from God. On earth we are unconsciously seeking to belong. We want to be a part of the creation around us that displays God’s glory. However, we are not part of this world. We do not belong. Thus, we long to receive the glory of God’s approval. We also long for the other definition of glory: luminosity. According to Lewis man has a desire to unite with the glory of creation. However, our sin and disobedience prevents us from such a union. Lewis says that we are called to “pass through Nature, beyond her, into that splendor which she fitfully reflects.”

The final portion of this essay is a call to apply this new understanding of man’s future glory in our interaction with others. If we view the people with encounter as they will be in the future, approved by God, then we will slowly begin a progression toward shalom: a life of peace. Lewis challenges his readers to see the future glory of others rather than their own future glory and thus learn to be humble. He challenges them to remember that “Glory Himself” is in your neighbor.

Lewis says “Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us…” this statement expresses a belief in predestination. The statement clearly shows that man only desires heaven if that is God’s purpose for him.

“Perfect humility dispenses with modesty.” This sentence stuck out to me because most of my life I have been practicing modesty or false humility. For about a year I have been struggling to overcome this practice and when I read this sentence I realized exactly what I was fighting against. Humility is not a matter of overlooking the glory of what is done; it is a matter of referring to God the praise that is addressed to me. When God works through me the result is good, denying that is like denying that God is good. Instead of denying that what has been done is good I should praise God for allowing me to do this good and thus refer other people’s praise of me to God. To be humble is to admit that it is not me accomplishing the good things that I do.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Learning and Education

In “Our English Syllabus” Lewis portrays education as a path on which man becomes increasingly understanding of reality so that he can participate in the pursuit of knowledge. The purpose of this path is ultimately to “produce the good man and the good citizen.” Such a man is one who maintains an interest in society and contains some interest for society.

A distinction is made between vocational training and leisure education. Lewis maintains that vocational training prevents man from reverting to his natural amateurish or savage behavior. It is the first step in towards civilization while leisure education distinguishes man from all other animals.

At this point Lewis contends that man is the only amateur animal; all the rest having some specific purpose which they are constantly carrying out. This is an excellent point. I believe this difference between man and other animals is one example of how we are made in the image of God. It is one reason why man was told to rule over the rest of God’s creation.

A second distinction that Lewis makes is the difference between education and learning. In his view education should be the focus of a school pupil, while learning is an activity that should be carried out by all men especially university students who are not yet under vocational strain. Lewis explains it best when he distinguishes the relationships these students have with their teachers. In a schoolroom setting the teacher’s is solely concerned with teaching and improving the student’s character. Likewise the student is solely concerned with obeying his teacher. On the other hand, the college teacher and university student have the same concern: the pursuit of knowledge. That is not to say that education does not occur in a university, but it is merely a by-product of learning.

Lewis has now reached his final point. A university environment should be such that the teacher strives to simulate reality and the student strives to discover knowledge without thought to self-improvement. A school setting allows the teacher to select all subject matter and thus offers a sheltered view of reality. A university setting points the student in the direction of the core of reality and allows him the freedom to experience reality on his own from that point. It is necessary to restrict the student’s exploration to the core of reality because otherwise he would need to explore everything; this is an impossible task to complete in a life-time much less four years. The reason to avoid following a teacher’s selection of a subject is to allow the student to expand upon present knowledge.

If find it interesting that Lewis' admonition to continue the learning process throughout our lives is applicable to this day and age. For example the most common suggestion for countering globalization and the loss of jobs in the United States to other countries is for people to continue learning even after college. It is believed that continuous pursuit of knowledge will improve one's value in the job market. Lewis' essay argues in favor of the continuous pursuit of knowledge because it is the purpose of being human.

I agree with Lewis’ reasoning in this essay. I have always thought of college as a stepping stone from the sheltered high school life into the “real world.” It is a time to begin personal exploration without the restraints of school curriculum. I also appreciate Lewis’ distinction between education and learning. Learning is not an activity that ends when one’s schooling ends. Learning is a process that must continue throughout one’s life. As humans we have such finite minds that we will never reach a point at which we have nothing left to learn. I also enjoyed Lewis’ metaphors in this essay, particularly the one at the end which depicts the university student as a person who is told to go out and get dinner rather than being handed a menu to choose dinner from. Furthermore, I appreciated Lewis’ statement: “Our selection would be an effort to bind the future within our present knowledge and taste: nothing more could come out than we had put in.” This statement accentuates the need for continuous learning. While it is specifically referencing knowledge of this earth I think it is also applicable to our knowledge of God. If we refuse to experience God in new ways we will never be able to fully experience Him. Thus we should always seek to learn more than we currently know even if in doing so we encounter truths that are contrary to our current understanding.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Hope Worth Longing for

There are days such as birthdays, graduations, weddings, and holidays that we fantasize about for days and yet are somewhat disappointed when they have finished. In all our fantasizing we have made that one day so special that reality cannot compare to the image we have in our minds, therefore, when the day is over a sense of disappointment remains. Such unfulfilled longings are the focus of the first third of Plantiga’s first chapter. Plantiga shows how everyone has a longing for Christ that cannot be suppressed. Unfortunately, we often seek fulfillment of this unidentified longing in material things. It is such short-sighted fulfillments that leave us in a perpetual state of restless discontent. However, we when we come to the understanding that our longing is for God, we experience a never-ending satisfaction.

The second portion of this chapter explains the connection between our longings and hope. Lewis B. Smedes says that “genuine hope always combines imagination, faith, and desire.” In order to hope we must have an idea about what to hope for, a conviction that it can be achieved, and a desire to achieve it. Those who seek to satisfy their desires with material things do so because they either cannot imagine or accept that God has made and loves us or they do not desire to accept God’s love.

Plantinga also explains that the majority of our hopes are self-centered. This is an accurate assessment of hope. It is easy to imagine great things for oneself and much more difficult to imagine great things for unknown or large groups of people. Part of this may be that it is harder to imagine that things like stopping world hunger or establishing world peace are possible, thus we lack the faith that belongs in hope.

Despite this, Plantiga encourages us to hope for Shalom. He encourages us to expand the range of our hope to include not only ourselves but also our communities and our culture and even our world. Hoping for Shalom is to hope for the way the world should be. Only Christians can have this hope because it is only through Christ that we can be convinced that this world will be redeemed into what it should be. Without Christ there is no redemption for this world and thus no true hope for it. Our hope cannot be in the past. When we hope in the past our hope is false because our memories of the past are incomplete. To hope in the present is difficult when we are surrounded by wars and rumors of wars. For that same reason it is difficult to hope in the future. Only the redemptive power of Christ can provide us with a lasting hope.

While Plantiga makes many agreeable points, they are overshadowed by the quotes that surround them. This technique of writing makes it difficult to remain interested.

Pursuing Happiness

The first thing that struck me while reading this essay is how directly it seems to address an issue of this present day and age. It is amazing how the same problems arise even half a century apart.

In his article “Have No Right To Happiness” Lewis claims that there is a Natural Law behind the laws of the state. He justifies this because without such a natural law the state laws would be absolute, and there could be opposition to them. Clearly this claim is supported throughout history as people have challenged the state’s right to make and enforce certain laws. Revolutions have occurred because a significant number of people have agreed that the laws of the state do not coincide with some inherent law to which everything is subject: Law of Nature.

Lewis goes on to examine two interpretations of the entitlement of man to “the pursuit of happiness.” First, Lewis accurately states the author’s original interpretation to mean that man is permitted to happiness as long as his actions are within the boundaries of the laws of both the state and nature. I agree with Lewis’ understanding of the original intent because it coincides with the provision for equal opportunity which is also found in the United States Constitution. Furthermore, Lewis incorporates this equality in his interpretation when he says that “whatever means of pursuing happiness are lawful for any should be lawful for all.”

The second interpretation that Lewis presents is one used by many average citizens. In this interpretation happiness is understood to mean sexual happiness. Thus, man’s right is to be sexually happy regardless of how such happiness is obtained. Lewis makes a startling yet very accurate observation regarding how average citizens control human impulses. He points out that most human impulses are “bridled” to some degree in order to prevent self-preservation from becoming cowardice, curiosity from becoming avarice etc. However, our natural desire for sex is more commonly given free-reign. This is particularly prevalent in today’s culture. It is common practice to overlook the means by which we arrive at sexual happiness. This is justified by linking sexual happiness to love. While Lewis makes no mention of the need to distinguish between the two I believe it is necessary to do so. Lewis does state that love, in connection with sexual happiness, is not guaranteed to last forever and will not necessarily result in lasting happiness. Just as it is impossible to come to a complete understanding by only looking along the beam, as Lewis describes in “Meditations on a Tool Shed,” so it is impossible to understand the true nature of our happiness while we are experiencing purely sexual happiness. After the sexual happiness has past, Lewis warns that we may discover its nature to have been an illusion.
Lewis’ final points are that allowing the pursuit of sexual happiness leaves women at a disadvantage and will lead to more concessions of moral behavior and ultimately the heart of civilization “will be swept away.” I agree that if we give temptation a foothold by overlooking the careless actions leading to sexual happiness, and sexual happiness itself outside of marriage, we will be hard pressed to guard the rest of our society from such temptations.

In his essay, Lewis addresses the issue of happiness mostly in reference to sexual happiness as it is commonly used. However, he also addresses the issue of happiness in general which he believes we have a right to obtain. I agree that we do have this right within the boundaries of state and natural laws as Lewis portrays. However, I would encourage everyone to pursue joy before pursuing happiness. Joy is more stable and less dependent on our situations. It is possible to gain this joy when we seek God and strive to follow His will.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Countering Pervasive Bulverism

C. S. Lewis recognizes the need for reason in searching for the truth in his essay on “Bulverism.” Lewis does this in two areas. In the opening paragraphs he exemplifies the necessity of distinguishing between tainted thoughts and non-tainted thoughts. Lewis provides examples of Freudian and Marxist logic that begins on the assumption that all thoughts are tainted by psychology or ideology respectfully. He then clearly refutes the argument that all thoughts are tainted by showing how such an argument would be invalidated by itself. Lewis then comes to the conclusion that the only argument that can still made is that some thought is tainted and others are not, and through reason one can partition thoughts into these two categories. Further on in the essay, Lewis shows how reason is required to argue against reason and to “bulverize.” Thus, reason is a necessary component or argument and thought.
The heart of Lewis’ essay is found between these two arguments on reason. It is here that Lewis establishes explains the idea of “Bulverism.” According to Lewis, the foundation of man’s reasoning is a practice of assuming that an issue is wrong and to focus one’s argument on why the proponent of the issue is “silly.” Such a tactic distracts from the issue of validity and focuses on the character of the one who holds the issue. Lewis’ also asserts that this type of argument is pervasive: it creates a level playing field for all members of society and all participants in discussion.
Lewis’ analysis of 20th century arguments is also true of many of today’s arguments. Even on an issue of religion it is common practice to accept those ideas which parallel one’s own convictions as truth without seeking further evidence of their validity. It is a common side effect of pride that people assume the validity of their own beliefs and refuse to entertain any logical argument against those beliefs.
Lewis presents several actions which can be used to combat the “bulverism” that pervades our society. His first suggestion is that people learn humility. Humility will allow the analysis of arguments that counter one’s personal beliefs before judging the truth of that counter-argument. Without humility it is impossible to accept that one’s beliefs might be wrong. This connects to Lewis’ insistence on the presence of humility in order to gain wisdom in “Meditations in a Tool Shed.” The second way to counter “bulverism” is to change the purpose of discussions and debates. If our goal in debates is to be right and thus win the argument then we will naturally revert to attacking the validity of our opponents rather than the validity of their logic. Thus, our goal in debates should be to discover the truth together. If debates are a means to discovering the truth then any logical reasoning can be analyzed.
I believe this essay properly admonishes its readers to set aside our assumptions, biases, and pride in a search for truth.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Meditations in a Toolshed

“Meditation in a Tool Shed” is a well-written chapter that provokes readesr to think about how to gain knowledge and wisdom. The examples used such as a beam of light and a young man in love are well presented and easy for readers to relate to. In this chapter Lewis makes the point that there are two ways to view any subject. One way is to remove oneself from bias and seek a scientific or outside explanation. The other way is to be inside the subject through a personal, emotional experience. Lewis asserts that discovering the truth requires both views.
Lewis convincingly portrays the value of each type of view while also reminding the reader that no matter how a subject is approached it has a source that is more interesting than the subject itself. Lewis’ argument in favor of an outside viewpoint is that often our inside viewpoint is unreliable due to bias. He says it is hard to completely understand a subject if we only trust our own experience of it. On the other hand, Lewis also discourages people from trying to deconstruct everything in an attempt to remove bias and rot. If a subject is deconstructed too far one no longer has a subject to view.
Lewis concludes that it is best to use both an outside, scientific viewpoint and an inside viewpoint of experience. He also concedes that there are subjects that are better viewed through one or the other viewpoint. However, he does not mean that these subjects should only be examined through one viewpoint because neither viewpoint by itself can provide us with a completely truthful understanding of any subject. Despite all these profound conclusions Lewis calls people to simply stop “brow-beating;” to stop always seeking further explanation. Science and experience can provide a base of knowledge but at some point one must also seek wisdom and humility through the truth and learning.