C.S. Lewis: Did God send His Son to shed His blood for my sins? A hell of a question.

Concerning hell, C. S. Lewis wrote, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.” (C. S. Lewis, “The problem of pain”). J. D. Greear comments: “In many ways, I agree with him. No one, Christians included, should like the idea of hell. For years I’ve felt that if you were to give me a Bible, a divine eraser, and ten minutes, I would take hell out of the Bible.”

In the White Horse Inn podcast episode “Lamb of God Part 2” one of the participants quotes the same passage from Lewis, and comments:

The text is reality the same way the external world is for the physicist; it can’t be transcended. If we imagine that it can, then it is the one who rose from the dead who vindicates all his promises in the Old Testament scriptures and his promises to the not yet having been written new, who says “until someone else says that, you might as well listen to me.”

At that point, Michael Horton says “This is a great time to take questions.” Me, me, I have a question. “Onedaringjew, what’s it this time?”

I want to say that all of us here agree that the Bible is clear about hell, that it is eternal punishment. As our topic tonight is about blood atonement – the scarlet thread running through the whole Bible – the point we all want to emphasise today is that the texts in the Bible about the lamb who was slain as a propitiatory sacrifice, about the shedding of Christ’s blood for our sins, are as clear as the fact that there is no way we can hop over, or duck, or, to put it posh, transcend the physical world and say it does not exist outside our noggins. Except for idea-lists, of course.

Here’s a funny thing that C. S. Lewis said about the lamb that was slain, about the shedding of Christ’s blood says (in “Mere Christianity”):

You can say that Christ died for our sins. You may say that the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done. You may say that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. You may say that Christ has defeated death. They are all true. If any of them do not appeal to you, leave it alone and get on with the formula that does. And, whatever you do, do not start quarrelling with other people because they use a different formula from yours.”

No narrow formulas, says Lewis. Nor should we want a “cosy ecumenical love-in thing” (as someone said). Lewis, of course, indicates throughout his theological writings that this is the last thing he would desire. I wonder, however, whether this is exactly what Lewis has encouraged with his idea that substitutionary sacrifice (Lewis’ “washed in the blood of the lamb”) is merely an optional way of understanding the plan of salvation.

Lewis acknowledges the great influence of George MacDonald: “MacDonald rejected the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, and like many others, including Christians, believe that penal substitution, which involved the shedding of blood, was cosmic child abuse. MacDonald taught that Christ had come to save people from their sins, and not from a Divine punishment for their sins. (C. S, Lewis and the formula of “Christ’s blood shed for our sins.”

Lewis’s “optional formula” may not have found a way of transcending the text, or side stepping it; but definitely fudging it, or as Lewis might have objected, not definitely but “merely.”

C.S. Lewis and Hell: Self-chosen because free

I explain the title: Norman Geisler wrote a book called “Chosen but free,” in which he tries to show that the reason why God chooses to save a person is because he sees down the corridors of time that the person first chooses Him. This. Of course, is the Arminian view of salvation. In this article, I examine another popular (Arminian) notion, namely, that God does not send a person to hell; it is up to you where you choose to go because, says the Arminian, God will not interfere with the most precious thing you have – your freedom.

In the 16th century, Roman Catholics and Protestants (to simplify: Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists) believed in core doctrines such as the Virgin Birth, Original Sin, Hell. Nowadays, these denominational “covers” tell you very little about the “book” (doctrines) inside. I was speaking to an Anglican priest who said he did not believe in the Virgin birth or Original sin. He did however believe in Hell. With regard to Hell, he said that God sends no one to hell – or heaven; they decide where they want to go. I asked this priest, who ran a large parish, how he could, in good conscience, draw a salary every month. Let me just say we didn’t bond.

The idea of going to hell on your own bat – or to put it less sportingly, “Does Anyone Standing by the Lake of Fire Jump In?” (John Piper) – was popularised by C.S. Lewis. I have yet to meet a (literate) Christian, who has not read some Lewis. Lewis has played a major role in many conversions to Christianity (a good number to Roman Catholicism). Here are a number of “Hell: Self-Chosen” quotations from Lewis. (The Quotable Lewis, W. Martindale and J. Root, 1990). The quotations are in italics.

wpid-2014-09-15-20-30-38-707697381.jpeg

Clive Staples Lewis

Hell: Self-Chosen

1. A man can’t be taken to hell, or sent to hell: you

can only get there on your own steam.

(The Dark Tower & Other Stories. (1938, first pub.

1977), chap. 3, p. 49).

I assume that Lewis wants to remain faithful to scripture. Does the Bible teach that God stands back and lets people choose what they want? It depends on the issue. God does indeed sometimes give people what they want. For example:

Romans 1

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

2. I willingly believe that the damned are, in one

sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors

of hell are locked on the inside.

(The Problem of Pain, chap. 8, para. 11, p. l27)

Locked on the inside. Yeah, no one’s gonna come in here – not even you, God – and deprive me of my utter darkness, my unquenchable weeping and my gnashing teeth.

Matthew 10

11 And I say unto you, that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven: 12 but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast forth into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.

3. [On the unrepentant devils] That door out of

Hell is firmly locked, by the devils themselves, on

the inside; whether it is also locked on the outside

need not, therefore, be considered.

(Preface to “Paradise Lost,” chap. 14, para. 2, p. 105)

What do I like more than anything? Being tormented forever and ever. Not to forget an added bonus: no rest day or night.

Revelation 14:11

And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”

4. “How can they choose it [hell]?”

Milton was right,” said my Teacher. “The

choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the

words ‘Better to reign in Hell than serve in

Heaven.’ There is always something they insist on

keeping, even at the price of misery. There is

always something they prefer to joy – that is, to

reality. We see it easily enough in a spoiled child

that would sooner miss its play and its supper 

than say it was sorry and be friends.”

(The Great Divorce, chap. 9, pp. 69-70)

“Absolutely right; I’d rather die in hell than obey God.” The speaker dies happily and in a wink finds himself in hell. A demon unlocks the door from the inside. There’s no doorknob on the outside. The deceased crosses the threshold. “Praise Satan; am I glad my name was not written in the book of life! and sacrificed my play and supper time in exchange for this yummy never-ending swim in the lake of fire: “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).

John Piper writes:

When he dies, he will be shocked beyond words. The miseries are so great he would do anything in his power to escape. That it is not in his power to repent does not mean he wants to be there. Esau wept bitterly that he could not repent (Hebrew 12:17). The hell he was entering into he found to be totally miserable, and he wanted out. The meaning of hell is the scream: “I hate this, and I want out.” What sinners want is not hell but sin. That hell is the inevitable consequence of unforgiven sin does not make the consequence desirable. It is not what people want—certainly not what they “most want.” Wanting sin is no more equal to wanting hell than wanting chocolate is equal to wanting obesity. Or wanting cigarettes is equal to wanting cancer” (J. Piper. “How willingly do people go to hell?).

People may willingly go to hell. They say, “No sweat.” The question is once there, do they want to stay there. Lewis says yes. What did the rich man say to Lazarus?

Luke 16

19 Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day: 20 and a certain beggar named Lazarus was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table; yea, even the dogs come and licked his sores. 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: and the rich man also died, and was buried. 23 And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime received thy good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things: but now here he is comforted and thou art in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that they that would pass from hence to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from thence to us.

27 And he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house; 28 for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 But Abraham saith, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one go to them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead.

5. “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and

those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that

self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss

it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”

(The Great Divorce, chap. 9, pp. 72-73).

Dan Philips writes:

Well, I think we like it [the above quotation] because it’s binary, and many of us like binary. In fact, I suppose I could say there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who like binary, and those who don’t.

Sorry. Anyway.

The Bible is certainly binary on most things that matter: two wisdoms, two ways, two ends. This Lewis quotation is like that: “only two kinds of people.” We like that. And we like that Lewis exalts the Lordship of God, makes clear that knowing God, belonging to God, necessarily involves an embrace of His will.

I daresay many people really, really like this snippet because it makes Hell seem less objectionable. It takes the heat (no pun intended) off us — and off God — and puts it all on the lost. “They’re in Hell because they want to be,” we say, echoing Lewis. Oh. Well then, that’s not so bad, is it? We thought of Hell as a place God threw people, screaming and wailing and miserable. Terrified, not wanting to be there. But heck (again, no pun), if they want to be there anyway…

Yes, well, except that’s just the thing. They don’t want to be there. There is no evidence whatever that they want to be in Hell. This quotation, at least as commonly used, is mostly fudging, and mostly balderdash. (Dan Philips “C. S. Lewis on hell: Really deep, oft-quoted, really wrong).

Scripture warns:

“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?”

With regard to C.S. Lewis or any one else we read or listen to, examine to see whether they are in the faith – no matter how much you admire or have learnt from them.

C.S. Lewis, the God who takes risks and Open Theism

C.S. Lewis wrote that God takes risks, therefore he is what is known as an “open theist.” Here is Lewis:

“The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free. Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. … If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will – that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings, then we may take it it is worth paying.”(C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity).

(See “The plan of salvation: Is it worth the risk, my Son? What, risk! Ask Jacques Derrida, CS Lewis and Thomas Oord.”).

Lewis says above: “Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk.” What does Lewis mean by “what” in “he knew what would happen? In this passage it seems that Lewis is not referring to God’s micro ignorance of every future event but rather of his macro uncertainty of whether humans will use their free will for evil. If God was certain that humans were going to do evil, we could not describe God as taking risks.

As for God taking a risk (by creating humans), such a statement implies that when Adam and Eve sinned, God went something like this: “Ouch, what I dreaded could happen did. Oh well, it was still worth the risk.”

This “God of the risks” does not exist in any Christian movement except the modern movement – before Lewis – of “Open Theism.” It’s basic idea is that if God foreknows what a person is going to do, it’s no different from God decreeing what a person is going to do, because if a person wants to change his mind, he cannot change what God foreknew. In open theism, genuine human freedom implies that God cannot know future human thoughts or acts because divine foreknowledge implies foreordination, that is, predestination. (See “The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence” by John Sanders ).

Does anyone know how God would react in a risky universe? When it comes to humans doing bad, what Andy Stanley does know is that God is embarrassed and much more; he has knee-jerk reactions. That is why, says Stanley, the Carmen Christi (Philippians 2:6-11) is in Bible.

Philippians 2:6-11
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Say you’re in a church where the pastor/minister teaches vital doctrines, namely, that he stands on revelation alone, and preaches the biblical doctrine of sin and condemnation and hell, and also that the only way of salvation is in the Son by His blood, His death and glorious resurrection, and the power of the Holy Ghost upon it all, and then in one of his sermons reads Philippians 2:6-10 and says – not once but twice – that what is described in that passsage is God’s “knee-jerk reaction.” That is what drives God in Philippians 2:5-12, says Andy Stanley, in the second video of the Louie Giglio’s four-part video series “How great is our God.”

(See “The violation of Philippians 2:6-10: Knee-Jerk theism).

My question is this: If God could not be sure whether humans would choose to be bad, then doesn’t it follow that God cannot tell what the content of this bad – or any human good – will be. This is pure open theism: God knows the past, knows the presence, but not the future. Man’s pristine freedom remains intact. Goodbye you Calvinist robots and hello CS and Andy.

Depiction and Argument in C. S. Lewis: The formula of Blood atonement and the Blessed sacrament

We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.
For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.

(Hebrews 13:10-12)

(This is a follow-on from Penal substitution: C S Lewis and the “formula” of Christ’s blood shed for our sins).

Introduction

In the Bible, the greatest commandment is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength” and the second is “Love your neighbour as yourself.” For C.S. Lewis the adoration of the “Blessed sacrament” is second, and “Love your neighbour” is in third place. (C.S. Lewis and the three great commandments: Love God, love the blessed sacrament, love your neighbour; necessarily in that order). He also proposes that you can choose which “formula” (of faith) works for you. For example, instead of saying “I have been washed in the blood of the Lamb,” you could opt for “Christ died for my sins.” Lewis’ reasoning seems to be that it all comes out in the wash. In this article I argue that such talk is not merely irresponsible, but not Christianity at all. I also examine the link between Lewis’ elevation of the “Blessed sacrament and his denigration of blood atonement.

Depiction and Argument in C. S. Lewis

First a definition of the term the Passion of Christ. “Passion.” In normal English usage, “passion” means “strong emotion” of short duration. The heart of the “Passion” lies in its historical (etymological) meaning. “Passion” comes from the Latin root passio “to render.” So when we suffer, we have to submit to causes that deprive us of our freedom or well-being; we remain passive, and that is what the “Passion” of Christ means. (See Passivity and Suffering in the Passion of Christ).

Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” presents Mel Gibson’s view on how Christ died, but said nothing about why He died. The film, though, was indeed meant to be about the physical suffering of Christ, and not about why he suffered physically – and spiritually. His spiritual suffering, Christians believe, was far greater than his physical suffering, which itself was unique in the history of a crucifixion. This was so was because of the appalling treatment he received before the crucifixion. (Mel Gibson’s “How” in the Passion of the Christ: And the Why?). Gibson’s depiction of the Passion – many hate to admit this – is a moving description of the physical suffering of Christ.

C.S. Lewis is a master of depiction. We admire C.S. Lewis as “a master at two rhetorical arts, which he combined fluently: argument and depiction,” This double mastery contributed much to the success of his “Mere Christianity”, which “became the most important and effective defence of the Christian faith in its century.” (John G. Stackhouse Jr., “Why ‘Mere Christianity’ Should Have Bombed,” Christianity today, December, 2012).

Mere Christianity” is filled with deep philosophical/ theological arguments such as the the moral argument for the existence of God. Lewis shows how moral absolutes presuppose the existence of God. Mere Christianity works, says John Stackhouse, because “Lewis can both show and tell. He can tell us what he thinks we should think, and then make it appear for us in an image that usually lasts long after the middle steps of the argument have vanished from memory.” Here is an example from Mere Christianity:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

One cannot separate why Christ died (which Gibson above is silent about) from what Christ wants to do for sinners (the topic of Lewis’ paragraph above). What Lewis thinks – and tells us to think – is indeed unforgettably vivid ( “throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards”). The problem is that not only the middle steps of his argument but all of it from beginning to end is an imaginative flop. The reason: if the Gospel starts in the flesh – “Imagine yourself as a living house” – it may end in the flesh – Imagine yourself as a dead house.

Here is the biblical account (a masterful display of Christian argument and depiction). Begin by imagining yourself, not as a living house, but as dead in your house. Here is the Apostle Paul:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2).

We, in our natural state, are sinners standing under God’s divine judgement. God’s justice requires punishment. Instead of punishing sinners with eternal punishment, God the Father sent His Son into the world to suffer and die on their behalf. Whereas in the view (above), the most important point is the change that Christ’s Passion has wrought in sinners, the more important point is what Christ’s Passion has wrought in His Father, namely, the Father’s wrath has been “propitiated” (expiated, satisfied). The effect of the Passion was the overthrow of the powers of darkness (the devil and his angels) and the granting of God’s totally unmerited love. By dying on the cross, Jesus paid the price for the sins of his “sheep” (John 10:3), turning the Father’s ‘no’ into a ‘yes’. Jesus Christ became the sinner’s substitute for the punishment sinners deserved. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). (Mel Gibson’s “How” in the Passion of the Christ: And the Why?).

Find the formula that suits

Imagine yourself as living house” is a good foundation for what Lewis wants Everyman to think about the plan of salvation. What he thinks you should think is that you can think what you like (almost):

You can say that Christ died for our sins. You may say that the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done. You may say that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. You may say that Christ has defeated death. They are all true. If any of them do not appeal to you, leave it alone and get on with the formula that does. And, whatever you do, do not start quarrelling with other people because they use a different formula from yours.”

Yes they’re all true, but its highly irresponsible, at best, to tell human beings, who, in their natural state, all hate Christ that if the “blood of the lamb” formula (penal substitution, substitutionary atonement, blood atonement) does not work for you, ditch it. I will not be nice about it and so will quarrel about it.

The Blessed Sacrament and the Blood

In contrast to the Lewis’ à la carte of what Christ did, where the shedding of Christ blood for sinners is one among several delectables on the menu, what Lewis tells us to think about the “blessed sacrament” carries for more weight. In his “Weight of glory,” we read:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

Jesus reiterates the two greatest commandments of Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and the “royal law” (James 2:8), love you neighbour as yourself. For Lewis the two great commandments become three, with “love the blessed sacrament” displacing the “royal” commandment into third place.

For Lewis, what does it matter whether a Christian believes in the “formula” that he is washed in Christ’s blood? It’s no better than believing that “the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done.” But this bloodless salvation through Christ’s life (or through what “we ought to have done” ) rather than through His Cross is, according to scripture, no salvation at all. The New Testament mentions the “blood” at least 90 times: “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission ( of sin)” (Heb. 9:22). “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb. 9:12).

Where does all this leave Lewis’s “second” great commandment – love the “blessed sacrament.” Why not make the former, as he made the blood sacrifice of Christ, one more optional formula. Or should a person eventually wean himself off “mere” Christianity and mature into full blooded bloodied Christianity, without which there can be nothing “blessed” about the Eucharist for the obvious reason that without the sacrifice on the cross re-presented (not represented) in the Mass there is no body. No body of Christ means no re-presenting of the body of Christ in the Eucharist, the sacrament of “Communion.” (C.S. Lewis and the three great commandments: Love God, love the blessed sacrament, love your neighbour; necessarily in that order). For the Protestant Reformers, the reason for the existence (raison d’être) of the act of communion, in which the church – the “body of Christ) partakes of the bread and wine – is to commemorate Christ’s body broken and blood spilt for his sheep. Outside of communion, the bread and wine no longer have any Christian significance. (See Note1 on different views of the “Eucharist”).

Lewis regards the shedding of the blood of the precious Saviour as an optional “formula” of faith. It is hard to fathom that a good reader such as Lewis could arrive at such a view of clear scriptural passages that stress the centrality of the “blood” in redemption. Perhaps Lewis’ view that the incarnation (the word made flesh) is the grand miracle my help us understand why he thinks that second to the incarnation is the “Blessed sacrament” (the bread made flesh; the wine made blood).

The word made flesh; the bread made flesh

Here is his opening to “The Grand Miracle” (in ”God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975, p. 80), wherein he stresses the importance of miracles in Christianity, and what he says is the pre-eminent miracle of the Incarnation:

One is very often asked at present whether we could not have a Christianity stripped, or, as people who asked it say, ‘freed’ from its miraculous elements, a Christianity with the miraculous elements suppressed. Now, it seems to me that precisely the one religion in the world, or, at least the only one I know, with which you could not do that is Christianity. In a religion like Buddhism, if you took away the miracles attributed to Gautama Buddha in some very late sources, there would be no loss; in fact, the religion would get on very much better without them because in that case the miracles largely contradict the teaching. Or even in the case of a religion like Mohammedanism, nothing essential would be altered if you took away the miracles. You could have a great prophet preaching his dogmas without bringing in any miracles; they are only in the nature of a digression, or illuminated capitals. But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.” (See The Incarnation or Substitutionary Atonement, which is the grand miracle? CS Lewis and John MacArthur say the former; George MacDonald, definitely not the latter).

And what if you take away the “formula” of we were washed in his blood? Adolph Saphir hits the nail on the head: “But while we adore the great mystery of the Incarnation, let us remember, that the Incarnation necessarily leads to the Crucifixion. The mystery of the manger involves the mystery of the cross. It is not enough to know that unto us the Child was bom, the Son was given, that the Word was made flesh. He never would have come down to earth unless His purpose had been to offer His life as a sacrifice for sin.”(Adolph Saphir, from his lectures on 1 Corinthians 2).

But isn’t Saphir merely referring to one of Lewis’ optional formulas, namely, “he died for my sins.” No, Saphir emphasises crucifixion, the cross. Lewis regarded George MacDonald as his “master.” MacDonald considered the idea of penal substitutionary atonement (blood atonement) an affront to God’s justice. This fact may help help us understand the reason for Lewis’ attitude to the blood. God’s justice and the lamb that was slain: A critique of George MacDonald’s rejection of penal substitutionary atonement.

Conclusion

The Passion – the breaking of Christ’s body and the shedding of his blood on the cross – is the central even of human history. If you are one of those squeamish types, you don’t have to stick with the formula “I have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.” What is important, Lewis maintains, is not to believe the means (“Father if you are willing take this cup [of blood] from me” – Luke 22:42a) but to believe the end (salvation). For this reason “Christ died for my sins,” Lewis proposes, should cut it. This may be “mere Christianity” but is certainly not Christianity. For undermining the blood, C.S. Lewis, most of whose work I admire very much, deserves censure.

“Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen”  (Hebrews 13:20-21).

1Here is Louis Berkoff from his “Summary of Christian doctrine”:

a. THE VIEW OF ROME. The Church of Rome conceives of the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper in a PHYSICAL SENSE. On the ground of Jesus’ statement, “this is my body,” it holds that bread and wine change into the body and blood of Christ, though they continue to look and taste like bread and wine. This view is open to several objections: (1) Jesus, standing before the disciples in the flesh, could not very well say that He had His body in His hand; (2) Scripture speaks of the bread as bread even after the supposed change has taken place, 1Cor. 10;17; 11:26-28; and (3) It is contrary to common sense to believe that what looks and smells and tastes like bread and wine is indeed flesh and blood.

b. THE LUTHERAN VIEW. Lutherans maintain that, while bread and wine remain what they are, the whole person of Christ, body and blood, is present IN, UNDER, and ALONG WITH, the elements. When Christ had the bread in His hand, He held His body along with it, and therefore could say, “this is my body.” Every one who receives the bread also receives the body, whether he be a believer or not. This is no great improvement on the Roman Catholic doctrine. It ascribes to Jesus’ words the unnatural meaning “this accompanies my body.” Moreover, it is burdened with the impossible notion that the body of Christ is omnipresent.

c. THE ZWINGLIAN VIEW. Zwingli denied the bodily presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, while admitting that He is spiritually present in the faith of believers. For him the Lord’s Supper was mainly a mere sign or symbol, a memorial of the death of Christ, and an act of profession on the part of believers. Some of his statements, however, seem to indicate that he also regarded it as a seal or pledge of what God does for the believer in Christ.

d. CALVIN’S VIEW. Calvin took an intermediate position. Instead of the physical and local, he taught the spiritual presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. In distinction from Zwingli he stressed the deeper significance of the sacrament. He saw in it a seal and pledge of what God does for believers rather than a pledge of their consecration to God. The virtues and effects of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross are present and actually conveyed to believers by the power of the Holy Spirit.

(See related article Penal substitution: C S Lewis and the “formula” of Christ’s blood shed for our sins).

C.S. Lewis and the three great commandments: Love God, love the blessed sacrament, love your neighbour; necessarily in that order.

I was a guest at an annual end-of-year Bible-study party. Over the last three months, they had been watching the 12-part series of Del Tackett’s “The Truth Project.” Last week they watched the last video in the series, which I had also seen. About five minutes after my arrival – I allow the pigeons to settle a bit before I set among them – I asked: “We’re all Protestants here, not so?” Blank stares. Keep trying – very: Did you notice in the last video the bit about the Catholic priest who said that the “blessed sacrament” was more important than your neighbour? Blankety blank. I lauched into one of my theological perorations. The person next to me – the friend who had invited me – gave me a nudge, if not a wink. Then from across the lounge: “Let’s talk about the rugby, someone said – glad he didn’t say let’s talk rude. Then I heard all the tearful details of the South African sevens rugby team’s defeat to Samoa.

To “The truth Project.” Dr Del Tackett (of “The Truth Project”) is an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, who now works with Coral Ridge Ministries as a TV co-host for the show “Cross Examine.” Coral Ridge describes itself as “a congregation of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). The PCA is a family of churches that are doctrinally Reformed and governmentally Presbyterian. Below is a summary of our core beliefs which are developed in more detail in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Larger Catechism, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism.”

In the light of these details, it seems right to infer that Del Tackett would ascribe to the following articles in the Westeminiser Confession:

Chapter 27 The sacraments – iii The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them.

chapter 29 the Lord’s Supper. ii. In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; not any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same, so that the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect.

Here is the bit of “The Truth project” 9part 12) I mentioned at the Bible-study party. I quote Del Tackett (30 minutes into the video):

“Jesus said Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul and love you neighbour as yourself. You do not understand this until you gaze on the face of Christ… Fr Sirico (a Catholic priest) understands deeply the need to treat our neighbours right and why we should.” Insert Fr Sirico (I quote him): “The thing that made Christian charity distinct from philanthropy was the view of the human person. When the Christian confronts human need, the Christian understands that the being standing before us is an eternal being. CS Lewis says you have never met a mere mortal, everyone you ever come in contact with is either an immortal horror or an everlasting splendour. He reminds us how sacred the human person is. He (Lewis) says that the most sacred thing that presents itself to our senses next to the blessed sacrament is this.”

Article 28 of the Thirty-Nine Articles declares that “Transubstantiation … cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.” Some Anglo-Catholics, like CS Lewis adhere to a belief in transubstantiation and thus subscribe to the eucharistic theology of Roman Catholicism .

I wonder how the “blessed sacrament” (the “eucharist,” the “host”) got into the Prebyterian elder Del Tuckett’s “The Truth Project.” The bit before by Father Sirico was Kosher, but it’s kashe (“hard” in Hebrew) not only for a Jew to understand how someone who subscribes to the Westminister Confession can allow (was it bad editing?) the bit about the “blessed sacrament.” Hopefully, Dr Tuckett will edit out that very unPresbyterian bit. Or are some Pressies training to swim the Tiber any time soon?

We know what the Hebrew scriptures and Jesus said were the two great commandments: Love God and 2; love your neighbour. Now, CS Lewis (the Anglo-Catholic Church) and Fr Sirico (The Roman Catholic Church) tell us (from their “Oral Torah”) that there are actually three great commandments – necessarily in this order 1. Love God, 2. Love the “blessed sacrament” and 3. Love your neighbours ’cause you never know he might be an everlasting splendour; unless we have to love all our neighbours ’cause who knows, they might not be an immortal horror (everlasting horror?).

I want to weigh into Lewis; specifically his “Weight of glory,” in which we find Fr Sirico’s reference to Lewis (in “The Truth Project”) about immortal horrors and everlasting splendors:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat (truly lies hidden)—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

What has Lewis to tell us? For one thing, “You have never talked to a mere mortal.” But let me not be flippant. Rather, I focus on “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way…”

In Anglo- and Roman Catholicism the “blessed sacrament” is the “substance” of the Incarnate Son under the “accidents” (appearance of the senses). Without sacrifice (of the Mass), there can be no “blessed sacrament,” because the latter IS the (real) body (bones and sinews, etc) of Christ:

“The Roman Catechism, p.233 says ‘that in this Sacrament are contained not only the true body of Christ and all the constituents of a true body, such as bones and sinews, but also Christ, whole and entire’ and further that, page 239 ‘the body of our Lord is contained whole and entire under the least particle of the bread.’” (Is Communion in the hand a sacrilege?)

There is no sacrifice without a body, and no body without a sacrifice. The Protestant view is that – subsequent to Golgotha – there is no sacrifice because there is nobody to sacrifice. Here’s a funny thing, which is the matter I am coming to. Lewis places great weight on the Eucharist – so much so that his neighbour is pipped in the glory stakes – yet when it comes to the historical event of Christ shedding his blood on the cross, Lewis makes no bones about where he stands on the issue. Nowhere, or is it somewhere; nobody knows. Why do I say this? Because:

“You can say, says Lewis in “Mere Christianity,” that Christ died for our sins. You may say that the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done. You may say that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. You may say that Christ has defeated death. They are all true. If any of them do not appeal to you, leave it alone and get on with the formula that does. And, whatever you do, do not start quarreling with other people because they use a different formula from yours.”

No narrow formulas, says Lewis. Nor should we want a “cosy ecumenical love-in thing” (as someone said). Lewis, of course, indicates throughout his theological writings that this is the last thing he would desire. I wonder, however, whether this is exactly what Lewis has encouraged with his idea that substitutionary sacrifice (Lewis’ “washed in the blood of the lamb”) is merely an optional way of understanding the plan of salvation.

For Lewis, and many others such as his mentor George MacDonald, what does it matter whether a Christian believes in the “formula” (Lewis) that he is washed in Christ’s blood? It’s no better than believing that “the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done.” (Lewis) But this bloodless salvation through Christ’s life (or through what we! ought to have done) rather than through His Cross is, according to scripture, no salvation at all. The New Testament mentions the “blood” at least 90 times: “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission ( of sin)” (Heb. 9:22). “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb. 9:12).

Where does all this leave Lewis’s “second” great commandment – love the “blessed sacrament.” Why not make the former, as he made the blood sacrifice of Christ, one more optional formula. Or should a person eventually ween himself off “mere” Christianity and mature into full blooded and bloodied Christianity, without which there can be nothing “blessed” about the Eucharist for the obvious reason that without the sacrifice on the cross re-presented (not represented) in the Mass there is no body. No body of Christ means no re-presenting of the body of Christ in the Eucharist, the sacrament of “Communion.”

Let’s stick with the two great commandments. The greatest is “Love God,” and the second is “love your neighbour.” Christian, don’t despair that you can never perfectly obey these or any of God commandments. On the contrary, be of good cheer because Christ has obeyed them perfectly for you (a Jew or a Muslim thinks that’s daft). There’s much, much more. He brings back to life all those the Father gave him before the world began. That life is the true life that comes into the world to live in you – Christ in us, our hope of glory, our real “blessed sacrament.”

The Incarnation or Substitutionary Atonement, which is the grand miracle? CS Lewis and John MacArthur say the former; George MacDonald, definitely not the latter

Hugh Binning says of the Trinity, “All mysteries have their rise here, and all of them return hither. This is furthest removed from the understandings of men,—what God himself is, for himself is infinitely above any manifestation of himself. God is greater than God manifested in the flesh, though in that respect he be too great for us to conceive.” (Lecture X11 “Of The Unity Of The Godhead And The Trinity Of Persons“).

Which of the following do you consider the grand Christian miracle, the Incarnation or the Passion? I explain “Passion.” In normal English usage, “passion” means “strong emotion” of short duration. The heart of the “Passion” lies in its historical (etymological) meaning. “Passion” comes from the Latin root passio “to render.” So when we suffer, we have to submit to causes that deprive us of our freedom or well-being. We remain passive (passion). (See Passivity and Suffering in the Passion of Christ). Why did Christ suffer and die? The Bible is clear: To substitute Himself in the place of mankind as the object of God’s just punishment for sin.

In Hebrews 2:6, the writer quotes Psalm 8:4, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” In his commentary on this verse (in the MacArthur Study Bible), John MacArthur says, “the incarnation of Christ is the greatest proof of God’s love and regard for mankind. Christ was not sent in the form of an angel. He was sent in the form of a man.”

Hebrews 1 is the great chapter on the incarnation. Here is an excerpt from the chapter:

6 And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,

Let all God’s angels worship him.”

(Only God is to be worshiped)

7 In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels spirits, and his servants flames of fire.”

8 But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.

We return to Hebrews 2. Here is Hebrews 2:6 in context. (the section in italics is from Psalm 8):

In Hebrews 2:6-9, 14-18 we read:

6 “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?”: 7 He made him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: 8 Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. 9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.

Hebrews 2:14-18

Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. 16 For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. 17 Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.

Surely, the Incarnation, although chronologically and logically prior to the Passion (suffering and death of the Messiah), and indeed a great miracle – is only the curtain raiser to ”the greatest proof of God’s love for mankind” (which MacArthur credits to the Incarnation), namely, the Passion – the torn crucified curtain of flesh, through which believers ”enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (veil), that is, through his flesh” (Hebrews 10:19-20).

CS Lewis (with MacArthur) believes that the Incarnation is the “grand miracle” (Lewis). In the rest of this discussion, I focus on Lewis. Here is his opening to “The Grand Miracle” (in ”God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975, p. 80), wherein he stresses the importance of miracles in Christianity, and the pre-eminent miracle of the Incarnation:

“One is very often asked at present whether we could not have a Christianity stripped, or, as people who asked it say, ‘freed’ from its miraculous elements, a Christianity with the miraculous elements suppressed. Now, it seems to me that precisely the one religion in the world, or, at least the only one I know, with which you could not do that is Christianity. In a religion like Buddhism, if you took away the miracles attributed to Gautama Buddha in some very late sources, there would be no loss; in fact, the religion would get on very much better without them because in that case the miracles largely contradict the teaching. Or even in the case of a religion like Mohammedanism, nothing essential would be altered if you took away the miracles. You could have a great prophet preaching his dogmas without bringing in any miracles; they are only in the nature of a digression, or illuminated capitals. But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.”

 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

It is true, indeed it’s a truism (an obvious truth) that without the incarnation, there would be no crucifixion, no resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and for sinners, no salvation, no resurrection, no eternal life, no new earth. What is the most glorious act that Christ did for sinful mankind after taking on flesh? He redeemed (many of) them through the shedding of his blood. And without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness. I proceed to argue for the shedding of the Blood as the ”grand miracle.”

C S Lewis

We read in Hebrews 9,

12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.

15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance —now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant… 20 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

In Lewis’ “mere Christianity”, you can believe in the shedding of Christ’s blood for your sins if want or you can choose a different option. The main thing, for Lewis is don’t be quarrelsome with other Christians:

You can say, says Lewis in his “Mere Christianity,” that Christ died for our sins. You may say that the Father has forgiven us because Christ has done for us what we ought to have done. You may say that we are washed in the blood of the Lamb. You may say that Christ has defeated death. They are all true. If any of them do not appeal to you, leave it alone and get on with the formula that does. And, whatever you do, do not start quarreling with other people because they use a different formula from yours.”

No narrow formulas, recommends Lewis. Nor should we want a “cosy ecumenical love-in thing” (as someone said). Lewis indicates throughout his theological writings that this cosy love-in is the last thing he would desire. I wonder, however, whether this is what Lewis has encouraged with his idea that Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice is not a necessary belief (for salvation).

Lewis regards the shedding of the blood of the precious Saviour as an optional “formula” of belief. It is hard to fathom that a good reader such as Lewis could arrive at such a view of clear scriptural passages that stress the centrality of the “blood” in redemption. As I mentioned earlier, for Lewis, the great miracle is the incarnation, not the shedding of blood unto death for those the Son prayed for in John 17. When we see who the writers were whom Lewis admired the most, most of them would have rather have perished than harboured the thought of the “washing in the blood” as either optional or a “formula.”

There are, in contrast, many other churchmen, who, in their effort to “reform” the understanding of the Gospel, have shucked off this “formula” all together from their mortal coil. The rejection of blood atonement is common among “men of the cloth.” They believe that the idea that God (the Son) would sacrifice Himself and in such a bloody manner is a barbaric. The idea that the Father would plan – even if with the Son’s cooperation – that His Son would suffer such cruelty and anguish to propitiate the Father’s wrath against sinners who purportedly deserve eternal damnation. This is something that not even Old Testament “barbarism” (in their view) ever conceived. (Penal substitution: C S Lewis and the “formula” of Christ’s blood shed for our sins).

In his introduction to a translation of Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation” (De incarnatione) Lewis says:

I myself was first led into reading the Christian classics, almost accidentally, as a result of my English studies. Some, such as Hooker, Herbert, Traherne, Taylor and Bunyan, I read because they are themselves great English writers; others, such as Boethius, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Dante, because they were ‘influences.'” Well may Lewis have put “influences” in inverted commas, because, for them, the life-giving fluency of the Gospel is the blood of the Lamb. Consider a few of these influences in terms of blood atonement (other terms for the same concept are penal substitution, substitutionary atonement and vicarious sacrifice).

There’s Dante. We can discard him forthwith (not as poet, of course), for he believed more in the soporific of Virgil and Beatrice than the salvific of Jesus Christ, it seems. There’s also George MacDonald. Here is Lewis:

“George MacDonald I had found for myself at the age of sixteen and never wavered in my allegiance, though I tried for a long time to ignore his Christianity.” What was one of things, Lewis was ignoring? MacDonald execrates blood atonement, which he considered an affront to God’s justice. “Because he is just, says MacDonald, we are capable of knowing justice; it is because he is just, that we have the idea of justice so deeply imbedded in us.” One of MacDonald arguments is that because the one who commits an offense is totally responsible, he or she is the only one who can atone for it.

George MacDonald

Suppose my watch has been taken from my pocket; I lay hold of the thief; he is dragged before the magistrate, proved guilty, and sentenced to a just imprisonment: must I walk home satisfied with the result? Have I had justice done me? The thief may have had justice done him—but where is my watch? That is gone, and I remain a man wronged. Who has done me the wrong? The thief. Who can set right the wrong? The thief, and only the thief; nobody but the man that did the wrong. God may be able to move the man to right the wrong, but God himself cannot right it without the man. Suppose my watch found and restored, is the account settled between me and the thief? I may forgive him, but is the wrong removed? By no means. But suppose the thief to bethink himself, to repent. He has, we shall say, put it out of his power to return the watch, but he comes to me and says he is sorry he stole it and begs me to accept for the present what little he is able to bring, as a beginning of atonement: how should I then regard the matter? Should I not feel that he had gone far to make atonement—done more to make up for the injury he had inflicted upon me, than the mere restoration of the watch, even by himself, could reach to? Would there not lie, in the thief’s confession and submission and initial restoration, an appeal to the divinest in me—to the eternal brotherhood? Would it not indeed amount to a sufficing atonement as between man and man? If he offered to bear what I chose to lay upon him, should I feel it necessary, for the sake of justice, to inflict some certain suffering as demanded by righteousness? I should still have a claim upon him for my watch, but should I not be apt to forget it? He who commits the offense can make up for it—and he alone” George MacDonald, Sermon on “Justice”). Here in stark contrast is John Owen:

Whereas God was highly incensed with, and provoked against all and every one of those whom he was to save and bring to glory, they having all by sin come short thereof, and rendered themselves obnoxious to the law and its curse ; it was requisite for attaining the ends of this covenant, that he [the Messiah, Jesus/Yeshua] should, as the servant of the Father, make an atonement for sin in and by our nature assumed, and answer the justice of God by suffering and undergoing what was due unto them, without which it was not possible that they should be delivered or saved unto the glory of God (Isaiah 53:12). And as all the other terms of the covenant, so this in particular he undertook to make good; namely, that he would interpose himself between the law and sinners, by undergoing the penalty thereof; and between divine justice itself and sinners, to make atonement for them. And so are we come to the well-head, or the fountain of salvation. Here lieth the immediate sacred spring and foundation of the priesthood of Christ, and of the sacrifice of himself, which, in the discharge of that office he offered unto God.”

(John Owen, Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Volume 1)

The popular Jewish view is found in the Baal Shem Tov, who said that while we cannot actively change others we can and should change ourselves to help others. And “If you want to, you can overpower the Evil Inclination, as it says, ‘…it desires to control you, but you can overpower it” (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 30b). (Jewish and Christian views on substitutionary atonement).

Lewis says more about his favourite writers:

“They are, you will note, a mixed bag, representative of many Churches, climates and ages. And that brings me to yet another reason for reading them. The divisions of Christendom are undeniable and are by some of these writers most fiercely expressed. But if any man is tempted to think – as one might be tempted who read only con- temporaries – that “Christianity” is a word of so many meanings that it means nothing at all, he can learn beyond all doubt, by stepping out of his own century, that this is not so. Measured against the ages “mere Christianity” turns out to be no insipid interdenominational transparency, but something positive, self-consistent, and inexhaustible.”

Except for Dante (we can’t tell much about this poet’s – or most poets’ – beliefs) and George MacDonald, all the authors he cited earlier would never substitute “substitionary” for anything, for they considered it the marrow of their theology and of Christ’s divinity, his love. Consider two of these waiters, Richard Hooker and Thomas Traherne.Hooker, the Anglican “Maimonides” (both Maimonides and Hooker were radical rationalist theologians; all theologians, we hope, are rational), says in his “Laws:” “That which must save believers is the knowledge of the crosse of Christ the onlie

subject of all our preachings.” Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, II, p. 96. Thomas Traherne’s “Centuries of Meditations” is, says, Lewis “almost the most beautiful book in English.”

In his “Centuries of Meditations,” Traherne speaks of the Blood (of Christ) about 20 times. For example,

Would men consider what God hath done, they would be ravished in spirit with the glory of His doings. For Heaven and Earth are full of the majesty of His glory. And how happy would men be could they see and enjoy it! But above all these our Saviour’s cross is the throne of delights. That Centre of Eternity, that Tree of life in the midst of the Paradise of God!” (Free ebook).

At least CS Lewis kept open, in contrast to his mentor, George MacDonald, the “washing in his blood” option. Not that this concession will make it any easier to appease divine justice. Both these writers stand in stark contrast to Hooker and Traherne – and Bunyan, another of Lewis’ “influences.”

There is yet a more “beautiful book” than Traherne’s “beautiful English book” (Lewis), It’s a Greek book, the Book of Revelation. What is the first revelation in this book? He loves his own and frees them from their sins by his the shedding of his blood:

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen (Revelation, 1:4-7)

And

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,and they shall reign on the earth (Revelation 5:9-10).

To reiterate (and perhaps re-irritate), without the incarnation, there could be no redemption. But the incarnation is not Christ’s crowning glory; his crowning glory is his flock, whom he redeemed from every tribe and language nation through the shedding of his blood. Christ’s crowing glory is indeed to be Head of all things, but most of all Head of His “body,” the Church (built out of living stones).

At the beginning, I quoted Lewis:

“One is very often asked at present whether we could not have a Christianity stripped, or, as people who asked it say, ‘freed’ from its miraculous elements, a Christianity with the miraculous elements suppressed. Now, it seems to me that precisely the one religion in the world, or, at least the only one I know, with which you could not do that is Christianity.”

It’s a pity, though, that Lewis stripped the atonement of its flesh. Here is Spurgeon’s Saviour stripped of all that he had in order to become the saviour of the world:

I read, the other day, — I cannot exactly quote the words, though I give the sense, — a sentence by Samuel Rutherford, in which he said that he would like to pile up ten thousand million heavens upon the top of the third heaven to which Paul was caught up, and put Christ in that high place; and then he would not be as high as he deserved to be put; and, truly, no honors seem sufficient for him who stripped himself of all he had that he might become the Savior of sinners” – his church (Chatres Spurgeon, ”Christ’s crowning glory’‘).

Even if we – like all the Apostles and fathers of the church – prize the substitutionary sacrifice above all, the powers of our human frame are unable to fathom the glorious abyss of the cross. Taking all my sins – as well as of billions of others – past, present and future, including my sinful nature, and nailing it to the cross; this once-off dying miracle of the incarnate God is far more staggering than the birth in the stable. The cup of staggering:

Wake yourself, wake yourself, stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, who have drunk to the dregs the bowl, the cup of staggering” (Isaiah 51:17).

How shall we escape if we reject, neglect, or blanch such a great salvation, reducing it to an optional formula (Hebrews 2:3).

“Many assume, says, Oliver Crisp,that the Crucifixion and Resurrection make our transformation in Christ possible. And of course, there is a great deal of truth in this assumption. But we often think of the Incarnation as the warm-up to the real drama: Jesus needed to become human so he could die for us. What many Christians have forgotten is that our redemption began with the Incarnation.”

Yes, our redemption begins with the miracle of the Incarnation. But do not let that new insight make the miracle of the washing away of our sin by the Blood merely a consequence of the Incarnation. The death not the birth of Christ was the greater miracle, because it is His death that raises us from the dead (Ephesians 2).

The great miracle

John 1:14

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…

The grand miracle

Philippians 2:5-8

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

I end with Adolph Saphir, from his lectures on 1 Corinthians 2:

“But while we adore the great mystery of the Incarnation, let us remember, that the Incarnation necessarily leads to the Crucifixion. The mystery of the manger involves the mystery of the cross. It is not enough to know that unto us the Child was bom, the Son was given, that the Word was made flesh. He never would have come down to earth unless His purpose had been to ofier His life as a sacrifice for sin.”

The plan of salvation: Is it worth the risk, my Son? What, risk! Ask Jacques Derrida, CS Lewis and Thomas Oord

”Thomas Jay Oord is a theologian, philosopher, and scholar of multi-disciplinary studies.  He is the author or editor of a dozen books and professor at Northwest Nazarene University, Nampa, Idaho.  Oord is known for his contributions to research on love, relational theology, science and religion, Wesleyan/Holiness/Church of the Nazarene thought, Evangelical theology, and postmodernism” (From his biography).

Oord quotes CS twice in his “Imitate GodTake Risks!”

The two Lewis quotes are from Lewis’s lion character, Aslan, “(he is) on the move,” (describing Aslan), and what another Narnia character says of Aslan, “He’s not safe.  But he is good.” Oord applies these descriptions of Aslan to a “missional God.” A bit of Lewis that would have slotted in well into Oord’s “Imitate God—Take Risks!” is Lewis discussion about the risk that God took in giving man “free will.”

“The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free. Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. … If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will – that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying.”

(C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity).

Reminds me of Pascal’s wager addressed to man: risk choosing God, you’ve got much more to gain than to lose. The boot, for Lewis, though, is on the other risky foot (addressed to God): God risks choosing man. With this difference to Pascal’s wager.

“Granting free will to man (I’m ad-libbing,like a good libertarian) is an extremely risky business; who knows how my plan is going to turn out. But hang on, isn’t one of my attributes the ability to see ahead (pro-vidence)? Of course it is; and, although I don’t get everyone to do my pleasure, in the end I do win some; but, alas, also lose some – in fact, I lose a lot. Now you might quote my favourite prophet, Isaiah, who said – correctly – what I told him to write, namely, ‘Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure (Isaiah 46:9-10).’ Now, you (have to understand, indeed, uberstand – I’m speaking sub specie aeternitatis (from my eternal point of view) – that my pleasure will never interfere with the greatest thing I have, and also the greatest thing I have given my untermensch: free will.

Let’s come back to  earth, to Oord’s orchard.

“… God took the ultimate risk in the self-giving love of Jesus. In our everyday language, “risk” is often preceded by “foolish.”  Unfortunately, this combination of words – “foolish risk” – occurs so frequently that we may assume risk-taking and wisdom are antithetical.”

Oord is referring to the “Kenosis” (self-emptying) in Philippians:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:5-8).

Here is Alva J. McClain on the ” Doctrine of the Kenosis in Philippians 2:5-8:

“Nothing beyond a cursory review of the astonishingly numerous interpretations of this Philippians passage is enough, as someone has suggested, to afflict the student with “intellectual paralysis. This is especially the case in regard to that section (v. 7) which speaks of the self emptying”, or kenosis, of Christ. Some make of this a mere skenosis (see note); Deity was veiled, but was limited in no important or essential respect. Others think the self-limitation was real, though very inconsiderable. A third view holds that the Logos, in becoming man, retained full possession of His divine attributes, and that the kenosis consisted in His acting as if He did not possess them. Another school supposes that He actually gave up certain of his attributes, ones designated by theologians as relative, such as omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. Still others go farther in asserting that He gave up all the divine attributes, so that Deity was stripped to a bare essence. Finally, there are those who, excluding from the passage all reference to a pre-existent state, regard the kenosis as having taken place wholly within the earthly life of the man Christ Jesus.”

[Note: Skenosis Christology is the opposite of, and a reaction to kenosis Christology. While kenosis Christology emphasizes “emptying,” skenosis Christology emphasizes, “divine indwelling” in incarnation. The biblical basis for skenosis Christology is the Gospel of John, especially 1:14. The verse states that in incarnation the Logos “indwelt” (translation on contextual ground) the flesh (or indwelt humanity). This indwelling is the relationship where God graciously indwelt man (in Christ), and he in turn fully submitted to Him (God).”]

We can now add yet another theistic take on this keynote Kenosis passage: a risk-taking deity. 

Risky interpretations, besides the pleasure it affords, leads me to the philosopher and literary theorist, Jacques Derrida. Here is an excerpt from a broadcast interview with Derrida:

Interviewer – In your text, one always feels a lot of pleasure, a pleasure in writing, even a certain playfulness. For you, is the pleasure of philosophizing or the pleasure of philosophy essentially a pleasure of writing?

Derrida – Yes , if one uses this word “writing” very carefully. I don’t believe, for example – and perhaps contrary to what certain people might tend to believe – that I have a lot of pleasure in writing, that is, in finding myself before a sheet of paper and in devising sentences. I probably even have a certain immediate aversion for the thing. On the other hand, and also contrary to what certain people might think, I love to “talk” philosophy. Of course, it is also a writing, it is a certain form of writing… So pleasure, yes, but, you know, pleasure is a very complicated thing. Pleasure can accumulate, intensify through a certain experience of pain, ascesis, difficulty, an experience of the impasse or of impossibility; so, pleasure, yes, no doubt, but in order to respond seriously and philosophically to your question, we would have to open up a whole discourse on the pleasure principle, on beyond the pleasure principle, etc.

Then the interviewer mentions “risk.”

Interviewer – What is more your taste for philosophy also always takes a path through risk, adventure, high stakes . . .

Derrida – To have the very complicated pleasure we were just talking about, to have this pleasure, I suppose one must, at a given moment, stand at the limit of catastrophe or of the risk of loss. Otherwise, one is only applying a surefire program. So, one must take risks. That’s what experience is. I use this word in a very grave sense. There would be no experience otherwise, without risk. But for the risk to be worth the trouble, so to speak, and for it to be really risked or risking, one must take this risk with all the insurance possible. That is, one must multiply the assurances, have the most lucid possible consciousness of all the systems of insurance, all the norms, all that can limit the risks, one must explore the terrain of these assurances: their history, their code, their norms in order to bring them to the edge of the risk in the surest way possible. One has to be sure that the risk is taken. And to be sure that the risk is taken, one has to negotiate with the assurances. And thus speak . . . in the mode of philosophy, of demonstration, of logic, of critique so as to arrive at the point where that is no longer possible, so as to see where that is no longer possible. What I am calling here assurance or insurance are all the codes, the values, the norms we were just talking about and that regulate philosophical discourse: the philosophical institution, the values of coherence, truth, demonstration, etc.

(An interview broadcast in the program prepared by Didier Cahen over France-Culture, “Le bon plaisir de Jacques Derrida,” (“The good pleasure of Jacques Derrida”) on March 22, 1986 and published with the title “Entretien avec Jacques Derrida” (Interview with Jacques Derrida in “Digraphe” 42 (December 1987).

There’s the God of the gaps and now there’s the God of the risks. And surely, it would be anything but blasphemous – indeed it would be very fitting for a God who is not only the creator of language, but the supreme master of style – to put Derrida’s striking remarks on risk into the mouth of such a God, who does all things – as the Bible says – for his pleasure.

“To have this very complicated, I suppose I must, at a given moment, stand at the limit of catastrophe or of the risk of loss. Otherwise, I would merely be applying a surefire program. So, even though, indeed exactly because I am almighty and sovereign, I must take risks. That’s what experience is. I use this word in a very grave sense. There would be no experience otherwise, without risk.”

Derrida’s risk, like his faith in philosophy, is not blind. And I would hazard this to be true of Oord as well. God – please keep in mind I’m talking about the “God of the risks” and not the God I find in the Bible – also doesn’t, of course, do anything blindly, that is, without some kind of insurance. 

In CS Lewis, love implies the freedom to love. God took the risk by giving man the free will to choose Him. And Oord: this risk demonstrates the humility of God.

What do I explicitly think of these sentiments? Lewis was no postmodernist. For one thing, he left the world in the early 1960s. Oord is interested in postmodernism and teaches it, but I don’t know whether he is a postmodernist. He is also a Wesleyan, which explains his risk-taking God. Derrida is a postmodernist. In a postmodern universe everything is up for grabs, everything is open, nothing final, including the Messiah. In open theism, God has to take risks with his libertarian creatures. No, no, never; God never takes any risks. God said so, and that’s final:

‘Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure (Isaiah 46:9-10).’

And that applies to salvation, surely? Most assuredly. To return to Isaiah 46:9-10: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said, I’m now saying it twice: “Thats why you need a (respectful and reverential) kick in your Arminian pants.”