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.”

Anthony Flew and CS Lewis come to God

Anthony Flew

I discuss and compare the journeys to belief of Anthony Flew and CS Lewis.

Clive Staples Lewis

Robert B. Stewart, in his “C. S. Lewis’s Journey to Faith,” describes Lewis’ road back to the faith of his early years:

The road back to faith was cluttered with obstacles Lewis once thought impossible to overcome. His conversion to a robust Christianity required years of intellectual struggle and came only after being convinced that faith was reasonable.” (My emphasis).

Here is part of Lewis’  reasoned decision to surrender to God; not yet, the Christian God.

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. Just how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? … Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning” (Mere Christianity, 45-46).

So far, Lewis is only a theist. This theism, however, is more than just the belief in a supernatural power controlling the world; this power is also personal, because an impersonal force , as far as definitions ago, does not have the foggiest “idea of justice” (Lewis above). 

Compare Anthony Flew, who at the time of his conversion to theism, was the world’s most celebrated and “cerebrated” atheist.” Here is an excerpt from the obiturary column of the Daily Telegraph:

After months of soul-searching, Flew concluded that research into DNA had “shown, by the unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life, that intelligence must have been involved”. Moreover, though he accepted Darwinian evolution, he felt that it could not explain the beginnings of life. ‘I have been persuaded that it is simply out of the question that the first living matter evolved out of dead matter and then developed into an extraordinarily complicated creature,’ he said.”

Flew went on to make a video of his conversion entitled Has Science Discovered God? and seemed to want to atone for past errors: ‘As people have certainly been influenced by me, I want to try and correct the enormous damage I may have done,’ he said.”

So far, we have two celebrated cerebral atheists whose intellect compelled them to accept the existence of a creator of the universe. In Flew’s case, we’re not sure whether his belief in a supernatural creative force went further than deism, where the creator kick-starts the universe into being with all its constants in place, and then leaves it to its own fine-tuned devices. 

Flew’s obituary continues:

But believers waiting to welcome this most prodigal of sons back into the fold were to be disappointed. Flew’s conversion did not embrace such concepts as Heaven, good and evil or the afterlife – let alone divine intervention in human affairs. His God was strictly minimalist – very different from “the monstrous oriental despots of the religions of Christianity and Islam”, as he liked to call them. God may have called his creation into existence, then, but why did he bother? To that question, it seemed, Flew had no answer.”

In Flew, we have a“God (who) calls his creation into existence,” and then flies off. And that’s why Flew is, indeed, a deist. But why then, as the Telegraph asks, did Flew bother (changing his fine atheistic tune)? What difference did this knowledge make to his “enormously damaging” (Flew above) life, for surely a belief in a deistic god didn’t add an inch to Flew’s moral stature, which he was so concerned about.

Lewis, in contrast, moved beyond theism/deism to a belief in a personal God. Here is Lewis (in a radio interview), The question of God: C.S. Lewis: A Leap in the Dark:

The fox had now been dislodged from the wood and was running in the open, bedraggled and weary, the hounds barely a field behind. The odd thing was that before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears to be a moment of wholly free choice. I was going up Headington Hill on the top of a bus. Without words, and almost without images, a fact about myself was somehow presented to me. I became aware that I was holding something at bay.”

I felt myself being given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut. I chose to open. I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt. Drip-drip. And presently trickle-trickle. I had always wanted, above all things, not to be interfered with. I had wanted — mad wish — to call my soul my own. I had been far more anxious to avoid suffering than to achieve delight. You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.”

Total surrender, the absolute leap in the dark, were demanded. I gave in, and admitted that God was God … perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

Wait a minute. An “absolute leap into the dark?” (Not about faith in Christ, mind you, but about faith in a personal supernatural being). What then do we make of Robert Stewart’s (see first paragraph):

The road back to faith was cluttered with obstacles Lewis once thought impossible to overcome. His conversion to a robust Christianity required years of intellectual struggle and came only after being convinced that faith was reasonable.”

There is, granted, no contradiction between intellectual conviction and a subsequent leap; but there certainly is a contradiction between intellectual conviction and a subsequent leap in the dark. Whatever way they believed they arrived at theism/deism, the determining factor for both these humanists was their freedom to believe. Whether one is forcefully persuaded, as in Flew or “gives in” as in Lewis, they both, in Lewis’ words, were “given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut. I chose to open.”

Brothers Lewis and Lazarus have been dead and buried for four days, and stinketh by now. Jesus says “Lazarus and Lewis come forth!” Lazarus exercises his atrophied muscles, rolls off the slab, staggers erect and stumbles out the entrance of the opened tomb. Lewis exercises his free choice to rise from the dead, get off the slab and move to the closed door. But look, the door is already open. I could’ve done that myself, says Lewis, but thanks for the gracious help.

As Lewis didn’t believe in the inerrancy of scripture, it would have been hard for me to appeal to what Jesus says in John 6:44:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Like a good Arminian, he believes that Jesus is knocking at the door of his will, and pleading: “Let me in, let me in, please; and if you don’t, it’s curtains – for me.” What does John 6:44 really mean? It means that God enables a sinner to come to him., which does not mean come as far as the moment of decision (shall I or shan’t I believe). No, “coming”means “believing,” And we need his grace to come to Him; that is indisputable.

A major reason why many hate the doctrine of radical corruption – there’s a flower growing out of the navel of Lazarus’ and Clive Staples’ soul – is because “dead in sin” (Ephesians 2:1-3) implies that a person plays absolutely no part in his salvation, for the obvious reason that the dead can do nothing, not even play a part. Lewis believed and taught that he came to Christ because he wanted to.  But here is the problem, as Charles Spurgeon explains:

The question is, are men ever found naturally willing to submit to the humbling terms of the gospel of Christ? We declare, upon Scriptural authority, that the human will is so desperately set on mischief, so depraved, and so inclined to everything that is evil, and so disinclined to everything that is good, that without the powerful, supernatural, irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit, no human will ever be constrained towards Christ. You reply, that men sometimes are willing, without the help of the Holy Spirit. I answer-Did you ever meet with any person who was? Scores and hundreds, nay, thousands of Christians have I conversed with, of different opinions, young and old, but it has never been my lot to meet with one who could affirm that he came to Christ of himself, without being drawn. The universal confession of all true believers is this-”I know that unless Jesus Christ had sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God, I would to this very hour have been wandering far from him, at a distance from him, and loving that distance well.” With common consent, all believers affirm the truth, that men will not come to Christ till the Father who hath sent Christ doth draw them.”(End of Spurgeon).

In conclusion, Anthony Flew shocked and shook the atheist world because he believed in a prime mover. No one was moved; least of all, perhaps, Flew. But as the Telegraph pointed out, why did he bother? It didn’t change anything for him. And Lewis, caught between the intellectual rock and leaping-off place, opened the door. Both could say “I did it my way.” Flew’s way was to follow the evidence where it leads – which led – ultimately- nowhere. Lewis’ way was “I will to ‘let God be God,’” and willed himself into (a version of) Christianity to boot, a Christianity that undermined the central doctrine of the atonement: the  propitiatory sacrifice of Christ. (See Myths, facts and blood sacrifice: CS Lewis at his best and worst).

Myths, facts and blood sacrifice: CS Lewis at his best and worst


 Lewis wrote many stories based on ancient myths. He suggested that these myths are based on dreams that God sends to the human race. For example, blood sacrifice and the resurrection of a saviour are common to many ancient dreams and myths. These dreams and myths become a reality in the life, death and resurrection of the Christ. I bring Christianity into the picture to show how it gives substance to these pagan myths.

 A materialist believes that human beings are nothing more than bags of remarkably versatile chemicals rattling through time and space. The materialist holds that myths, dreams, revelations, story-telling and the like are a lot of made-up stuff fabricated by a lot of stuff; chemical stuff.

If you are NOT a materialist then myths and the like will be more than stuff, even if you think that some myths are stuff and nonsense.

 CS Lewis’ view on the myths that have come down to us is that they are composed of a mixture of true history, allegory, ritual, the joy of story telling, and so on. Also included is the supernatural.

 If (as Lewis says) one’s religion (e.g. Christianity) is wrong, then the occurrences of similar themes and motifs in “pagan” myths, for example, Greek and Babylonian myths, must also be wrong.

 The prime example of motifs common to Christian history and Greek and Babylonian mythology (and many other mythologies) is the blood sacrifice of a saviour who comes down from heaven to redeem sinful mankind. Who then rises from the dead.

 It is not a sound argument to reject the blood sacrifice of Christ and his resurrection on the grounds that there were similar blood sacrifices in stories prior to Christianity. 

The disfigurement, death and resurrection of a redeemer in pagan myths prefigure the death of Christ. As Lewis said, “myth became fact.” The more mythical an event, the more poetic it is, while the more factual an event, the more historical it is. The incarnation of the Son and all the events that flow from it become incarnate in history, and not merely, like myth, encapsulated in the poetic carapace of poetry. (See ” CS Lewis on myth in Christianity and other faiths,” in “The Christian theology reader” By Alister E. McGrath, p. 613).

 Lewis argued that instead of rejecting paganism as a rupture in the fabric of common sense and history, we should give it credit for its role in preparing the world for God’s plan of healing the rift between Himself and humanity.

In general, CS Lewis has been, as is true for many, of great help. With regard to blood sacrifice, however, I think he has missed the mark – in a very serious way. I explain.

 What is the most uncomfortable doctrine of modern Christianity? The bloody substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. Lewis doesn’t put much weight on this glorious doctrine. In his “Christian Apologetics,” Lewis writes:

Our upbringing and the whole atmosphere of the world we live in make it certain that our main temptation will be that of yielding to winds of doctrine, not that of ignoring them.” With regard to the substitutionary sacrifice/atonement of Christ, I was blown away by Lewis. In his “Mere Christianity,” Lewis has fallen into the temptation of ignoring what should be a one of the core doctrines of “permanent Christianity.” He 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 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 desired. 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. (See Penal substitution: C S Lewis and the “formula” of Christ’s blood shed for our sins).

.

 

Penal substitution: C S Lewis and the “formula” of Christ’s blood shed for our sins

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

(Ephesians 2:12-13)

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

C S Lewis is one of the most influential Christian writers of modern times. Lewis says in “Mere Christianity” (correction: a reader pointed out that the source is “God in the Dock), I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

What is the most uncomfortable doctrine of modern Christianity? The bloody substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. Lewis doesn’t put much weight on this glorious doctrine. So, perhaps Lewis should’ve added (to his quote above):

“If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity. But not to worry, it won’t make you feel too uncomfortable.”

In October 2007, The Sydney Doctrine Commission produced its report on penal substitutionary atonement. Here is part of the conclusion:

“Penal substitution is an indispensable element in the Christian proclamation of the cross. It does not say everything about the atonement but it says a crucial thing, one which also helps to illumine every other facet of the Bible’s teaching on the subject. It has been treasured all through Christian history because it enables us to see how the atonement which reconciles us to God can be at one time an act of love, an act of justice and an act of triumphant redemptive power. What has been done for us was truly, morally done. What was done for us was complete and entire, addressing every dimension of the predicament we have created for ourselves. What was done for us secures our freedom and gives us a solid ground for assurance and hope. Precisely because in this penal substitution the consequences of human sin have been dealt with for those who belong to Christ, the words of Jesus from the cross are cherished above all others: ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30) (§45).

In his “Ch r i s t i a n a p o l o g e t i c s,” Lewis writes (my italics and underlining):

“Our upbringing and the whole atmosphere of the world we live in make it certain that our main temptation will be that of yielding to winds of doctrine, not that of ignoring them.”

Here is what the Apostle Paul says about “winds of doctrine”:

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

“14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching (doctrine) and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-15):

“We are not at all likely to be hidebound: we are very likely indeed to be the slaves of fashion. If one has to choose between reading the new books and reading the old, one must choose the old: not because they are  necessarily better but because they contain precisely those truths of which our own age is neglectful. The standard of permanent Christianity must be kept clear in our minds and it is against that standard that we must test all contemporary thought. In fact, we must at all costs not move with the times.We serve One who said, “Heaven and Earth shall move with the times, but my words shall not move with the times” (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33). (In Lewis’ “ESSAY COLLECTION and other shorter pieces. Harper Collins, London” ).

Lewis says:

With regard to the substitutionary sacrifice/atonement of Christ, Lewis, in his “Mere Christianity,” has fallen into the temptation of ignoring what should be a one of the core doctrines of “permanent Christianity.” Lewis says (in “Mere Christianity”; my italics and underlining):

“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 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.

Lewis acknowledges the great influence of George MacDonald: “MacDonald rejected the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement as developed by John Calvin, which argues that Christ has taken the place of sinners and is punished by God in their place, believing that in turn it raised serious questions about the character and nature of God. Instead, he taught that Christ had come to save people from their sins, and not from a Divine penalty for their sins.’ (Wikipedia).

Contrary to Wikipedia, the substitutionary blood atonement of Christ is not peculiar to Calvin; the New Testament is drenched in the blood of Christ that was shed for sin.

“When we say, said MacDonald, that God is Love, do we teach men that their fear of Him is groundless?” He replied, “No. As much as they fear will come upon them, possibly far more. … The wrath will consume what they call themselves; so that the selves God made shall appear.”

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.

For Lewis, MacDonald and many others, 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).

Modern Jews think that “blood atonement” is a Christian mishigas (craziness). Jews say that blood sacrifices in the Torah are only for unintentional sins. The Jewish view is that Jesus’ death could not possibly have atoned for anyone else’s sins. (See discussion on unintentional sins that follows “The Lion dug the nail into my hand” at the RoshPinaproject).

“To return to Lewis. He says in “Mere Christianity” (my emphasis):

“The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. … Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all of this are, in my view, quite secondary…”

“When Clive Staples Lewis was tempted to say: “our main temptation will be that of yielding to winds of doctrine,” (above) that was one time that he should’ve, perhaps, stapled his mouth shut.<

Lewis’ pallid treatment of blood sacrifice in his “Mere Christianity” brings the Lutheran theologian, Daniel M Bell, to mind. In Bell’s book “God does not”, there is a chapter entitled “God does not demand blood”. He says in the opening  paragraph of the chapter: “Christians have never embraced blood sacrifice. We have not offered chickens or slain goats, let alone sacrificed our firstborn children to God. Indeed, the very idea of blood sacrifice is abhorrent to us evoking in us an almost involuntary visceral reaction. it sends chills down our spines and stirs deep within us a strong impulse to act against such a horrific practice.” (My emphasis).

Who is this “us”? Certainly not those who believe their Bibles. In the New Testament, there are more than 35 or more biblical references to the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 9:12-14

He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.  For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit r offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Romans 5:9

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.<

Bell clangs on: “Christ is our substitute not in the sense that he takes our place in the execution chamber and suffers our punishment for us, but in the sense that he offers God the fidelity, devotion and obedience that we should have and did not, and subsequently could not.”  Bell’s idea that “(Christ) offers God the fidelity, devotion and obedience that we should have” must be at least as old as CS Lewis, who mentions the same idea above, namely, “Christ has done for us what we ought to have done.” Recall that for Lewis it is just as “true” to say that “Christ has done for us what we ought to have done” as to say “we are washed in the blood of the Lamb”. But what does Isaiah’s prophecy say? “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was he chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5).

The above passage contains three of Lewis’ four instances of “you can say”:

  1. Christ died for our sins.

  2. We are washed in the blood of the Lamb.

  3. Christ has defeated death (read more of Isaiah 53 to see this clearly).

Lewis says these are three alternate ways of saying the same thing. Not true. They are three aspects of the same thing, namely, Christ’s bloody sacrifice.

Lewis’ other alternate way, “Christ has done for us what we ought to have done” (the second way mentioned in Lewis’ passage), is  logically and chronologically related to the other three of his “ways”. Here is the chronological and logical progression:

We sinned. We are thus dead in sin. We deserve eternal punishment God’s justice demands this punishment. The Son takes on flesh and pays the ultimate price, namely, the horror of a bloody death on the cross. We are saved through faith in the blood of Christ. If you balk at the Blood, you’re not a basic Christian (as John Stott could very well have said in his “Basic Christianity”), but merely a “mere” one.

At the end of his Sermon (No. 23) “Curses and the Blessings” based on Deuteronomy 27:1 – 29:1, Dan Duncan closes with the following prayer:

“Father we thank you for the time this evening as we looked at a rather unpleasant passage in many respects, the curses of the law, and yet, Father, we can rejoice that those curses have all fallen on another, your Son whom you sent into the world to die for your people. Thank you for the grace that sent Him, grace that drew up a plan of salvation from all eternity, grace that chose for yourself a people, an elect people, a vast number, Father, and Christ shed His blood to purchase us for Himself. We confess that we don’t deserve that. We thank you for the grace that sent Him to do that for us and what we have; in His name we pray, amen.”

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

(Ephesians 2:12-13)

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

CS Lewis is one of the most influential Christian writers of modern times. Lewis says in “Mere Christianity, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

What is the most uncomfortable doctrine of modern Christianity? The bloody substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. Lewis doesn’t put much weight on this glorious doctrine. So, perhaps Lewis should’ve added (to his quote above):

“If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity. But not to worry, it won’t make you feel too uncomfortable.”

In October 2007, The Sydney Doctrine Commission produced its report on penal substitutionary atonement. Here is part of the conclusion:

Penal substitution is an indispensable element in the Christian proclamation of the cross. It does not say everything about the atonement but it says a crucial thing, one which also helps to illumine every other facet of the Bible’s teaching on the subject. It has been treasured all through Christian history because it enables us to see how the atonement which reconciles us to God can be at one time an act of love, an act of justice and an act of triumphant redemptive power. What has been done for us was truly, morally done. What was done for us was complete and entire, addressing every dimension of the predicament we have created for ourselves. What was done for us secures our freedom and gives us a solid ground for assurance and hope. Precisely because in this penal substitution the consequences of human sin have been dealt with for those who belong to Christ, the words of Jesus from the cross are cherished above all others: ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30) (§45)

In his “Ch r i s t i a n a p o l o g e t i c s,” Lewis writes (my italics and underlining):

“Our upbringing and the whole atmosphere of the world we live in
make it certain that our main temptation will be that of yielding to
winds of doctrine, not that of ignoring them.”

Here is what the Apostle Paul says about “winds of doctrine”:

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching (doctrine) and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-15)

Lewis continues (in his “Ch r i s t i a n a p o l o g e t i c s”; my underlining):

“We are not at all likely to be hidebound: we are very likely indeed to be the slaves of
fashion. If one has to choose between reading the new books and
reading the old, one must choose the old: not because they are
necessarily better but because they contain precisely those truths of
which our own age is neglectful. The standard of permanent Christianity must be kept clear in our minds and it is against that standard that we must test all contemporary thought. In fact, we must at all costs not move with the times.We serve One who said, “Heaven and Earth shall move with the times, but my words shall not move with the times” (Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33). (In Lewis’ “ESSAY COLLECTION and other shorter pieces. Harper Collins, London” ).

With regard to the substitutionary sacrifice/atonement of Christ, Lewis, in his “Mere Christianity,” has fallen into the temptation of ignoring what should be a one of the core doctrines of “permanent Christianity.” Lewis says (in “Mere Christianity”; my italics and underlining):

“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 quarreling with other people because they use a different formula from years.”

No narrow formulas. 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. In Wikipedia (one cannot ignore Wikipedia because for many that is a main source of their knowledge), we read:

“MacDonald rejected the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement as developed by John Calvin, which argues that Christ has taken the place of sinners and is punished by God in their place, believing that in turn it raised serious questions about the character and nature of God. Instead, he taught that Christ had come to save people from their sins, and not from a Divine penalty for their sins.’

Contrary to Wikipedia, the substitutionary blood atonement of Christ is not peculiar to Calvin; the New Testament is drenched in the blood of Christ shed for sin.

“When we say, said MacDonald, that God is Love, do we teach men that their fear of Him is groundless?” He replied, “No. As much as they fear will come upon them, possibly far more. … The wrath will consume what they call themselves; so that the selves God made shall appear.”

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.

For Lewis, MacDonald and many others, 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).

Modern Jews think that “blood atonement” is a Christian mishigas (craziness). Jews say that blood sacrifices in the Torah are only for unintentional sins. The Jewish view is that Jesus’ death could not possibly have atoned for anyone else’s sins. (See discussion on unintentional sins that follows “The Lion dug the nail into my hand” at the RoshPinaproject).

To return to Lewis. He says in “Mere Christianity” (my emphasis):

“The central Christian belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did this are another matter. … Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all of this are, in my view, quite secondary…”

When Clive Staples Lewis was tempted to say: “our main temptation will be that of yielding to winds of doctrine,” (above) that was one time that he should’ve, perhaps, stapled his mouth shut.

Lewis’ pallid treatment of blood sacrifice in his “Mere Christianity” brings the Lutheran theologian, Daniel M Bell, to mind.

In Bell’s book “God does not”, there is a chapter entitled “God does not demand blood”. He says in the opening  paragraph of the chapter:

“Christians have never embraced blood sacrifice. We have not offered chickens or slain goats, let alone sacrificed our firstborn children to God. Indeed, the very idea of blood sacrifice is abhorrent to us evoking in us an almost involuntary visceral reaction. it sends chills down our spines and stirs deep within us a strong impulse to act against such a horrific practice.” (My emphasis).

Who is this “us”? Certainly not those who believe their Bibles. In the New Testament, there are more than 35 or more biblical references to the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 9:12-14

He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.  For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit r offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

Romans 5:9

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.


Bell clangs on:

“Christ is our substitute not in the sense that he takes our place in the execution chamber and suffers our punishment for us, but in the sense that he offers God the fidelity, devotion and obedience that we should have and did not, and subsequently could not” (My emphasis).

Bell’s idea that “(Christ) offers God the fidelity, devotion and obedience that we should have” must be at least as old as CS Lewis, who mentions the same idea above, namely, “Christ has done for us what we ought to have done.” Recall that for Lewis it is just as “true” to say that “Christ has done for us what we ought to have done” as to say “we are washed in the blood of the Lamb”. But what does Isaiah’s prophecy say?

What Christ did/was going to do Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But
he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was he chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5).

The above passage contains three of Lewis’ four “you can say”:

  1. Christ died for our sins.

  2. We are washed in the blood of the Lamb.

  3. Christ has defeated death (read more of Isaiah 53 to see this clearly).

Lewis says that these are three alternate ways of saying the same thing. Not true. They are three aspects of the same thing, namely, Christ’s sacrifice.

Lewis’ other alternate way, “Christ has done for us what we ought to have done” (the second way mentioned in Lewis’ passage), is  logically and chronologically related to the other three of his “ways”. Here is the chronological and logical progression:

We sinned. We are thus dead in sin. We deserve eternal punishment God’s justice demands this punishment. The Son takes on flesh and pays the ultimate price, namely, the horror of a bloody death on the cross. We are saved through faith in the blood of Christ. If you balk at the Blood, you’re not a basic Christian (as John Stott could very well have said in his “Basic Christianity”), but merely a mere one.

At the end of his Sermon (No. 23) “Curses and the Blessings” based on Deuteronomy 27:1 – 29:1, Dan Duncan closes with the following prayer:

Father we thank you for the time this evening as we looked at a rather unpleasant passage in many respects, the curses of the law, and yet, Father, we can rejoice that those curses have all fallen on another, your Son whom you sent into the world to die for your people. Thank you for the grace that sent Him, grace that drew up a plan of salvation from all eternity, grace that chose for yourself a people, an elect people, a vast number, Father, and Christ shed His blood to purchase us for Himself. We confess that we don’t deserve that. We thank you for the grace that sent Him to do that for us and what we have; in His name we pray, amen.”

Yin Yang dualism, CS Lewis and Christianity

(See follow on post  “Yin Yang, God and the devil: a cosmic chess game”).

Does Christianity have an equivalent philosophy to Yin Yang? I examine this question in terms of C.S. Lewis’s discussion of dualism.

Yin Yang is a “dualistic” philosophy that teaches that there are two equal principles in the universe. Yin Yang is not itself a power or a substance. It’s merely a description of the universal principle of opposites that exists in both the material and spiritual realm.

In my poverty (Yin)  is my wealth (Yang); in my wealth (Yang) is my poverty (Yin). The Yin of death generates the Yang of life; the Yang of life generates the Yang of death. If life disappears, so does death; if death disappears so does life. Yin and Yang are locked in an eternal cyclic dance (battle?).

I remember one of my Greek philosophy courses where I was very interested in one of these early dualistic systems; that of Empedocles‘ “Love and Strife.” This is equivalent to the “light and dark” opposition in gnosticism, which is also found in the Yin Yang philosophy.

In Christianity, there is much about “light” and “darkness” but  darkness  is not equivalent in power too light; it is an absence of light. Now who would have thought that “absence” could create so much strife!

Here is C. S. Lewis on dualism (Mere Christianity, Chapter 7):

A universe that contains much that is obviously bad and apparently meaningless, but containing creatures like ourselves who know that it is bad and meaningless. There are only two views that face all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. The other is the view called Dualism. Dualism means the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of every thing, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war. I personally think that next to Christianity Dualism is the manliest and most sensible creed on the market. But it has a catch in it.

The two powers, or spirits, or gods–the good one and the bad one–are supposed to be quite independent. They both existed from all eternity. Neither of them made the other, neither of them has any more right than the other to call itself God. Each presumably thinks it is good and thinks the other bad. One of them likes hatred and cruelty, the other likes love and mercy, and each backs its own view. Now what do we mean when we call one of them the Good Power and the other the Bad Power? Either we are merely saying that we happen to prefer the one to the other–like preferring beer to cider–or else we are saying that, whatever the two powers think about it, and whichever we humans, at the moment, happen to like, one of them is actually wrong, actually mistaken, in regarding itself as good. Now if we mean merely that we happen to prefer the first, then we must give up talking about good and evil at all. For good means what you ought to prefer quite regardless of what you happen to like at any given moment. If ‘being good’ meant simply joining the side you happened to fancy, for no real reason, then good would not deserve to be called good. So we must mean that one of the two powers is actually wrong and the other actually right.

But the moment you say that, you are putting into the universe a third thing in addition to the two Powers: some law or standard or rule of good which one of the powers conforms to and the other fails to conform to. But since the two powers are judged by this standard, then this standard, or the Being who made this standard, is farther back and higher up than either of them, and He will be the real God. In fact, what we meant by calling them good and bad turns out to be that one of them is in a right relation to the real ultimate God and the other in a wrong relation to Him.

The same point can be made in a different way. If Dualism is true, then the bad Power must be a being who likes badness for its own sake. But in reality we have no experience of anyone liking badness just because it is bad. The nearest we can get to it is in cruelty. But in real life people are cruel for one of two reasons–either because they are sadists, that is, because they have a sexual perversion which makes cruelty a cause of sensual pleasure to them, or else for the sake of something they are going to get out of it–money, or power, or safety. But pleasure, money, power, and safety are all, as far as they go, good things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much. I do not mean, of course, that the people who do this are not desperately wicked. I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong, way. You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind action when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply because kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong–only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him. In other words badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled. We called sadism a sexual perversion; but you must first have the idea of a normal sexuality before you can talk of its being perverted; and you can see which is the perversion, because you can explain the perverted from the normal, and cannot explain the normal from the perverted. It follows that this Bad Power, who is supposed to be on an equal footing with the Good Power, and to love badness in the same way as the Good Power loves goodness, is a mere bogy. In order to be bad he must have good things to want and then to pursue in the wrong way: he must have impulses which were originally good in order to be able to pervert them. But if he is bad he cannot supply himself either with good things to desire or with good impulses to pervert. He must be getting both from the Good Power. And if so, then he is not independent. He is part of the Good Power’s world. he was made either by the Good Power or by some power above them both.

Put it more simply still. To be bad, he must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent. And do you now beg to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things-resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself. That is why Dualism, in a strict sense, will not work.

But I freely admit that real Christianity (as distinct from Christianity-and-water) goes much nearer to Dualism than people think. One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe–a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin. The difference is that Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel. End of Lewis.

It would be interesting to compare Lewis’ “third thing in addition to the two Powers” (his 3rd paragraph) with the TAO (Ultimate) from which the twins of Yin and Yang arise. Yin Yang originate together. Thus, Yin and Yang spring arm in arm out of the TAO – out of the ULTIMATE – into existence. If Yin disappears, Yang disappears. Yang is the masculine principle and Yin is the feminine principle. They can’t live without each other. Even monks need a woman to get born – if not to get born again.

Judaism finds in ADAM (man) a masculine-feminine principle:  “Our sages, says Jacob Neusner, lay stress on the utter uniqueness of  Adam (man/woman, born androgynous [ andros – man; gyne – woman]). Sin was the result of the “mixed character” of Adam.  (Jacob Neusner, Christian Faith and the Bible of Judaism: The Judaic Encounter With Scripture, 1987, William B, Eerdmans,  p. 32). No prizes for guessing who – Andy or Gyne – was responsible for sin’s entry into the Garden of Eden.

Yin and Yang originate out of the overarching principle of the TAO, which is ULTIMATE Being. If this is the theory, then it follows that there is a Third (Lewis’s “third thing”) overarching principle that creates the other two, namely, Yin and Yang.

Yin produces (what we call) the “bad”, the negative, and Yang the “good”, the positive.” The problem is that “bad” cannot be conceived as anything other than “not good”. The question now is: “What rule did the TAO use to produce the opposites of Yin (“bad”) and Yang (“good”). It couldn’t be a “good” or “bad” rule because the TAO is supposed to transcend the good and the bad. If the TAO is either “good” or “bad” then the TAO could not have produced Yin (“bad”) or Yang (good) because this would mean that the TAO itself is either Yin or Yang. It would then follow that Yin or Yang created Yin and Yang – which is daft.

Wait! I’ve got it. Yang is the good, Yin is the bad – and the TAO is the UGLY.

CIAO for NIAO.

(See follow on post “Yin Yang, God and the devil: a cosmic chess game”).