We are now in the fourth and final section of Mere Christianity, the section entitled “Beyond Personality”. This section is all about what a God who is beyond personality looks like, and how we as humans can enter into the life of a God who is beyond personality. Lewis starts off by laying the groundwork for his conception of the Trinity with the distinction between “making” and “begetting”, with the key ideas that what man begets is man while what God begets is God, and that man is made by God but not begotten by God.
Lewis then goes on to illustrate how three persons could make up one God by using the example of dimensions; in one dimensional space all we know is lines, in two dimensional space lines combine to form figures, and in three dimensional space figures combine to form solids. In the same way, in the human “dimension” all we know is individual persons, while in the divine “dimension” three persons combine to form one God. Lewis then goes on to lay out how this understanding of three persons and one God fits with all that we know of how God operates in our lives, both on an individual level and at the level of the whole Church.
In this chapter Lewis digs deeper into the distinction between man and God as it relates to begetting. When one man (or woman) begets another, the one who begets always comes before the one who is begotten; that is, there is a stretch of time when the one who begets exists but not the one who is begotten. But when God the Father begets God the Son, both are in existence for all of eternity. There was never a point in time when God the Father existed but God the Son did not. Continue reading “Mere Christianity 22: Good Infection”
In this chapter Lewis takes a brief detour to address a common stumbling block related to the subject of prayer. It is this question: How can God attend to all the prayers of all the people in the world if they are all praying to Him at the same time?
This question arises because we as humans live in time; life comes at us moment by moment, in a manner that we can conceptualize as a straight line. We have a present, a past, and a future. The present is what is happening now, the past is what has already happened, and the future is what has not yet happened.
So it is natural for us to think that God lives in time as well. We conceive of Him as sitting there, listening to each person who prays as if they were all standing in one long line and waiting their turn. We can imagine God doing this if everyone waits in line and addresses Him one at a time, and if God has an endless amount of time to listen to all these prayers. But if all these prayers are coming at Him all at once, we cannot possibly imagine how He pulls it off.
The key is that God dwells outside of time. Which means that God does not have a present, a past, or a future, like we do. All moments are present for Him. Continue reading “Mere Christianity 21: Time and Beyond Time”
This is what I absolutely positively cannot stand about Microsoft Word:
We are now in the fourth and final section of Mere Christianity, the section entitled “Beyond Personality”. In the previous chapter Lewis laid the groundwork for his development of the idea of the Trinity by introducing the distinction between “making” and “begetting”, the idea that what man begets is man while what God begets is God, and the idea that man is made by God but not begotten by God.
Lewis starts off by noting that many people say they believe in God but not a personal God. That is their way of saying that whatever God is, he must be something more than personal. Christianity agrees with this. But it is only the Christian view that gives us any idea of what a God who is more than personal actually looks like. If you look at the ideas of God which other religions hold, you will see that for them, “beyond personal” turns out to actually mean less than personal. For instance, the Eastern religions speak of God as this big thing, this force or essence if you will, that permeates all of the universe. Eventually, whether at the end of this life or at the end of other lives to come, we are absorbed into the essence of God, in much the same way as a drop of water on the shore is absorbed into the ocean. But, that means the end of the drop, even though the water molecules which made up the drop still exist somewhere out there in that great ocean. Christianity is the only religion which can offer any idea of what it means to be absorbed into the essence of God and still remain yourself–and in fact become much more yourself than you ever were before. Continue reading “Mere Christianity 20: The Three-Personal God”
We are now starting the section entitled “Beyond Personality: or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity”, which is the final section in Mere Christianity. The first section was an apologetic which starts with that thing inside each of us which tells us that some things are right and some things are just wrong and leads us to the existence of God. The second section looks at what we can deduce about the character of God from the sense of right and wrong which He has placed inside of us and determines that of all the conceptions of God that are floating around out there in the world, the Christian conception is the best fit. From there we get into Jesus, who He was and what He came into the world to do. The third section is a look at Christian morality, with a detailed discussion of all the virtues which are expected of Christians, which leads to the conclusion that any serious attempt to live out these virtues for any sustained period of time will lead one to a place of dependance upon God and faith in Christ, who has lived a life of perfect obedience and perfect virtue right from day one.
In “Beyond Personality”, Lewis now devotes his attention to exploring some of the basic theological concepts of Christianity. The first chapter of this section, called “Making and Begetting”, consists of two sections which probably ought to be two separate chapters. The first is a justification of the relevance and role of theology in the day-to-day life of the ordinary believer, and the second is an introduction of the distinction between “making” and “begetting”, which is one of the foundational concepts in developing Lewis’s expression of the Christian doctrine of the Trininty. Continue reading “Mere Christianity 19: Making and Begetting”
UPDATE: Here is an interview of The Shack‘s author William P. Young on the Steve Brown Etc. podcast.
UPDATE: Ben Witherington has written a review of The Shack. Witherington gets that The Shack is a work of fiction and not a personal confession of faith or doctrinal statement, yet recognizes that there are some parts of it that require theological tweaking.
UPDATE: Here is Douglas Wilson’s review of The Shack. Wilson argues that the main problem in the world is fatherlessness, and that Young recognizes this but his way of attempting to speak to the pain of fatherlessness is problematic.
The Shack is a book that has very quietly grown to become one of the hottest bestsellers in the country. This is amazing, because there has been no advertising, publicity, or any attempt by any major publisher to promote it, but everywhere you look people are reading it or talking about it. Here is what Michael Spencer has to say about it.
Not all of the attention that this book has been getting is good. Tim Challies has some not-so-flattering things to say about it. And here is a link to a Mark Driscoll sermon clip in which he bashes the hell out of it.
The Shack is a story about a man named Mackenzie Allen Phillips, known to all who are close to him as Mack. He and his family live on the outskirts of Portland. One year, during Labor Day weekend, he and his family go camping in northeast Oregon. On the last day of their trip, the youngest daughter is abducted. The trail of evidence leads eventually to an abandoned shack out in the middle of nowhere, where all the evidence indicates that she was brutally murdered by a notorious serial killer. Almost four years later, Mack receives a mysterious letter claiming to be from God and inviting him back for a weekend at the very same shack which was the epicenter of all the tragedy and suffering surrounding his daughter’s disappearance. Against his better judgment (and the better judgment of his best friend), Mack goes to the shack at the appointed time. What he finds there…well, you’ll just have to read the book yourself to find out. Continue reading “Book Review: The Shack by William P. Young”
Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant who sees numbers as shapes, colors, and textures, and who can perform unbelievable feats of calculation in his head. In 2004 he became something of a celebrity in England when he memorized and recited the first 22,000 digits of pi, setting a new world record. This book is a memoir starting with his early childhood years and going all the way up to the present.
Daniel Tammet likens himself to the movie character “Rain Man”, and that characterization is true in many ways. He has savant syndrome, an extremely rare condition which enables him to perform incredible feats of mental acuity, such as performing mathematical calculations at lightning speed, remembering names and random facts, and learning foreign languages. He also has a compulsive need for order in his world. He eats exactly 45 grams of porridge for breakfast every day, weighing his bowl with an electronic scale just to make sure. He counts the number of items of clothing that he is wearing every day before he heads out. He has to have his cup of tea at exactly the same time every day, or else he stresses out. And when he gets stressed out, he soothes himself by counting. But unlike Rain Man, he is able to live a fully independent life. Continue reading “Book Review: Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet”
We have now reached the end of the “Christian Behaviour” section of Mere Christianity, and before we go any further I want to offer a rant on something that I see a lot of in the world of evangelical Protestant-dom: our tendency to believe that superior moral living is what distinguishes us from the rest of the world.
We believe that the most powerful and profound evidence of our Christianity is changed lives, and the most profound evidence of change in our lives is our ability to live at a superior moral level. Now it is true that when we become Christians our priorities shift; certain things that were important to us before, such as money, sex, prestige, status, career, etc. become less important while other things, such as seeking to honor God in all that we do and to give ourselves away for the benefit of others, become more important.
But what I’m talking about is this idea that Christians are more faithful to the commands of God. Christians don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t cuss, don’t get divorced or cheat on their spouses, don’t cheat in business, and that is how we differentiate ourselves from the rest of the world. It’s not true. There are numerous statistical surveys which show that the divorce rate among Christians is identical to the divorce rate for the rest of the culture. And the same is true for other vices of choice. Continue reading “Superior Moral Living as an Apologetic for Christianity? I Don’t Think So!!!!!”
Now we have come to the close of the section on Christian behavior. In the final two chapters of this section, Lewis treats the virtue of faith on two different levels. The first is simply belief in a set of statements about the world, specifically those statements which Christianity makes about the world.
At first blush, this does not appear to be much of a virtue at all. The assumption is that people are rational beings who will go on believing something until they find some compelling reason to not believe it anymore and to believe something else in its place. But the truth is that we are not creatures ruled by reason; this is seen in the patient who knows the power of anesthetics but fears that the doctors will cut him up before he is properly under, or the woman who is afraid to drive on a high bridge over a river even though she knows it to be perfectly safe. Thus the virtue of faith at this level lies not so much in accepting a certain set of propositions, but in holding on to what reason has accepted in spite of the moods and feelings that rise up against it. Continue reading “Mere Christianity 18: Faith”
In this chapter Lewis talks about the virtue of hope. This is chiefly a continual looking forward to the next world. Lewis sums it up with another of the most well-known quotes from this book: “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
Much of the good that has been done in this world has been done by Christians who had the hope of heaven as the primary focus of their lives.
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
Continue reading “Mere Christianity 17: Hope”