Mere Christianity 4: “Christianity-and-water”

C. S. Lewis has now gotten us to the conception of God shared by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, namely that of a God who stands apart from the universe, who is good and righteous, who loves love and hates hatred.  At this point he begins to move specifically into the Christian conception of God.  First he attacks a simplistic view of Christianity which he calls “Christianity-and-water”, which “simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right–leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption.”

I wanted to take some time to look at the idea of “Christianity-and-water”, because it seems that an awful lot of evangelical Protestant-dom believes this or some variant of it, in some form or another.  There is Joel Osteen (who is so not one of us–don’t even try telling me that he is) and the great and ever-growing nation of Osteeniacs, who believe that there is a good God in Heaven and everything will be all right and you will have “your best life now” if you just have the right kind of self-attitude and positive thinking.

And then there are those (primarily in the Calvinist camp but also in many other parts of evangelical Protestant-dom as well) who believe that there is a sovereign, all-powerful God in Heaven and He does as He pleases and that’s all there is to it.  To illustrate, let me direct your attention to a discussion which took place in the blogosphere during the weeks and months following the Minneapolis bridge collapse last August.

It all started when nationally known Bible teacher John Piper, who pastors a Minneapolis church located near the collapsed bridge, wrote a piece describing what he believed to be God’s role in this tragic event.  In summary, God caused it.  God has a greater plan in all of this that is well worth sacrificing the lives of a few thousand innocent people.  Oh wait.  None of us is innocent.  All of us are under divine judgment because of the sin in our world and the sin in our lives.  For inexplicable reasons, God chooses to have mercy and spare some of us–and it is not for us to know His reasons.  Unless we repent, then each of us is going to experience something far worse than what happened in Minneapolis.

Roger Olson of Baylor University responded with this piece, which basically says that he is frightened of the God of Calvinism.  And then all hell broke loose.  Rick Phillips of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals lit into Olson, saying that OF COURSE we ought to be frightened of God!!!  Phillips went on to essentially accuse him of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit–the unforgivable sin–because he dared to disagree with Piper and the Calvinistic take on the tragedy.  Blogger Justin Taylor posted his take.  This one is basically just a link to the Olson piece, but if you scroll down and read the comments, you will find plenty of juicy stuff.  And blogger Steve Hays joined the fun with this little fisking of OlsonKeith Schooley posted his response to Piper and Olson.  Finally Ben Witherington came out with this little zinger.  Witherington concludes by saying that Piper is “guilty of having an unBiblical view of God, that ironically is closer to the fatalistic one found in the Koran, than the Biblical one found in the New Testament.”  This one is a doozy–be sure to sit down and buckle up before you click the link.

This discussion is just one example of how the view that there is an all-sovereign God in Heaven and He does as He pleases has influenced the world of evangelical Protestant-dom.  We also see it in the way that many evangelicals have responded to Katrina–several of my friends spoke of this as God’s judgment against the sin of Bourbon Street and the gambling industry on the Mississippi coast.  We see it in the way that this blogger spoke of Kyle Lake’s death by electrocution as God’s judgment against the emerging church.  We see it in the way that evangelicals have responded to September 11–not just the ultraconservative wackos who say that God slammed those planes into the building because there were gays working there, but also the more reasonable types who claim that God allowed/caused this event in order to bring about a greater purpose of His own.  We see it in the charismatic maniacs (a la John Hagee) who want to party like a rock star while the bombs are falling on Jerusalem cause it’s the end times baby!!!  And we see it in the way that the charismatic prophet/evangelist that I remember from my college days (the first time around) recounted his experience of standing on a hill, watching tornados rip through the town in the valley below, and saying “Go God Go!!!”

As evangelicals, we so do not want to buy into the idea that the universe is simply the product of chance plus time which the scientific community under the influence of Darwin’s theory of evolution has put out over the last century or so.  So we have swung toward a view which says that God is in control of everything.  We run to verses like Romans 8:28 and use these as justification for looking for all the ways in which God is controlling the universe–that no matter how crazy or outrageous or downright terrible the things that are happening are–never fear, it’s all part of God’s plan!!!  God is in control, and He is working it all together for the advancement of His divine purposes.  Hundreds of people died in the bridge collapse; thousands died in Katrina; and hundreds of thousands died in the tsunamis in southeast Asia in December 2004.  God is glorifying Himself through all of this, and tough s–t for all those people who happened to be in the way.

In light of all of this, it gives me great pleasure to note that Lewis dismisses atheism and “Christianity-and-water” as nothing more than “boys’ philosophies”.