Mere Christianity 28: The New Men

Well this is it folks.  We have finally reached the end of Mere Christianity.  In the previous chapter Lewis considered the question of whether or not Christians ought to be expected to be nicer than non-Christians.  He came out saying that the true question is whether a Christian is nicer than he or she was before becoming a Christian, and even at that, that is not the point.  Jesus did not come to earth and die in order to make us nicer people, He came to make us into new men.

And that is what Lewis focuses on in this final chapter of Mere Christianity.  All of you young-earth creationists out there beware, because in this chapter Lewis shows quite clearly that he is not in your camp.  (I read this book right after I became a Christian, and I think the reason this did not raise any red flags for me was that I did not yet know enough to know that I wasn’t supposed to believe in evolution.)

Lewis uses evolution as an illustration to describe the process of our becoming “new men”.  Go back to the time of the dinosaurs.  Assuming that you could talk to dinosaurs and find out their thoughts on where the direction of evolution was going, you would probably find them thinking–assuming that they think about such things at all–that the next step in evolution would produce bigger, badder, stronger, faster dinosaurs with stronger armor and bigger teeth.  None of them would even suspect that the next step in evolution would produce relatively small, physically weak, armorless creatures who gain mastery of the entire world through the superior strength of their mind.  But that is exactly what happened.  The stream of evolution took a completely different turn, and here we are. Continue reading “Mere Christianity 28: The New Men”

Quick Hit: Is Obama “Dragging Biblical Understanding Through the Gutter”?

Well folks, our good friend James Dobson has gone and done it again.  As Obama tries to reach out to evangelical voters, Dobson has accused him of distorting Biblical understanding and pushing for a “fruitcake interpretation” of the Constitution.

Let’s look at some of the comments by Obama that have drawn so much ire.

“Even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools?” Obama said. “Would we go with James Dobson’s or Al Sharpton’s?” referring to the civil rights leader.

That seems to me like a perfectly legitimate question to ask.  Many people outside of evangelical Protestant-dom have the perception that we are all about trying to hijack the government of America and turn it into a repressive theocracy.  That is the perception which people on the outside have of us, whether we like it or not.  And given the things which the conservative Christian political activists who are getting the most media face time are saying, I don’t think this perception is too far off the mark.

Dobson took aim at examples Obama cited in asking which biblical passages should guide public policy — chapters like Leviticus, which Obama said suggests slavery is okay and eating shellfish is an abomination, or Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application.”

“Folks haven’t been reading their Bibles,” Obama said.

The truth is that the Bible says an awful lot of things which are very difficult for us or which make little if any sense to us.  If we were to take everything that the Bible says at face value, we would have to dismantle an awful lot of American culture.  So we have constructed an interpretation of the Bible that makes it safe for us, by which anything that challenges us out of our materialistic American suburban lifestyle really doesn’t have anything to say to us.

Dobson and Minnery accused Obama of wrongly equating Old Testament texts and dietary codes that no longer apply to Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament. “I think he’s deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology,” Dobson said. Added Minnery: “… He is dragging biblical understanding through the gutter.”

That may be true, but at the same time are we as American evangelicals dragging biblical understanding through the gutter by seeking to ignore or tone down the parts of the Bible that challenge our materialistic suburban ways?

Quick Hit: Scott Hahn on Mary

Those of you who have been tracking with me for any length of time know my views on the Catholic Church:  I believe that there is much in the Catholic faith that is worthy of respect and admiration, but I am content to admire from a distance.  Today we are going to talk about one of the reasons why I am content to admire from a distance.

One word:  Mary.

Some of you who have been tracking with me for a really long time will remember a series that I did a few years back about my view of Catholicism.  In Part 3 of this series, I made the point that there are several aspects of Catholic belief that run contrary to the teaching of Scripture, and I detailed some of these.  I made the point that recent Church pronouncements on Mary rival the Mormons for creativity.

And then I found this little piece from Scott Hahn in which Mary is likened to the Ark of the Covenant.  Read it, if you will.  Be warned, though:  it is a very long read.  But then, it’s summer right now; what else are you going to do while you’re kicking back at the pool or beach?

There is very little in the way of direct Scriptural evidence to support the doctrines of Mary that have been made into dogma in recent years, but Hahn does a masterful job of pulling out a little bit of Scripture and making it seem to do the trick.

It’s as if the Catholic Church is saying, “Do you really want to be part of the One True Church?  Do you REALLY REALLY want it?  How badly do you want it?  Because if you want it bad enough, you WILL find a way to wrap your mind around all this and make it work.”

I think it would be more honest for the Catholic Church, in response to the question of why we have to believe all this stuff about Mary, to simply say “The Church teaches it” and leave it at that, rather than to send Scott Hahn out on some exegetical adventure to try and find a way to show that all of this is really connected to Scripture after all.

Book Review: The Message in the Bottle by Walker Percy

Walker Percy was a Louisiana author whose career spanned over three decades and whose interests included philosophy and language.  He is best known for his 1961 novel The Moviegoer.

The Message in the Bottle is a collection of essays spanning the full length of Walker Percy’s writing career.  They all hang together around the question of why, despite all of the prosperity and technology of modern times, people are increasingly sad and unfulfilled.  Percy postulates that the answer has to do with the fundamental difference between man and all of the other animals on the face of the earth–language. Continue reading “Book Review: The Message in the Bottle by Walker Percy”

Mere Christianity 27: Nice People or New Men

We are now only two chapters away from the end of Mere Christianity.  We are in the section called “Beyond Personality”, in which Lewis discusses what a God who is beyond personality looks like and how we as humans can engage with a God who is beyond personality and experience that life which is beyond personality.  Along the way, Lewis answers a number of common questions and objections, and in this chapter Lewis tackles the question:  “If Christianity is true why are not all Christians obviously nicer than all non-Christians?”

What lies behind this question?  There are two possibilities, one reasonable and the other not so reasonable.  The first is that if Christianity is real then there is an expectation that it ought to be able to change lives, and that we ought to be able to see at least some evidence of this in the behavior of people who identify themselves as Christians.  Indeed, Jesus Himself told us that we would know whether or not someone is truly a Christian by their fruit–that is, by the difference that it makes upon their outward behavior.  If being a Christian has truly made no difference upon the outward behavior of one who identifies himself as such, then there is reason to doubt whether or not he is really a Christian at all.

The second, which is not so reasonable, is the idea that the world is clearly divided into two camps:  people who are 100 percent Christian, and people who are 100 percent non-Christian.  And the people in the Christian camp are without fail going to be nicer than the people in the non-Christian camp.  Many non-Christians hold this expectation, and love to cite examples of Christian misbehavior as evidence to discredit Christianity.  Many evangelicals are among the worst offenders of those who hold this expectation.  They love to say that people are either in or out, saved or not saved, that there is no such thing as “almost saved”.  (I wrote about this in an earlier post.)  And they love to say that Christians are morally superior people (because of the power of God) who can keep the commandments and live moral lives better than people who do not believe.  (I also wrote about this earlier.) Continue reading “Mere Christianity 27: Nice People or New Men”

Mere Christianity 26: Counting the Cost

In the previous chapter Lewis asked the question “Is Christianity hard or easy?”  He said that Christianity is all about surrendering everything inside of us to Christ, and this is hard.  But in the long run it is a whole lot easier than this business which most of us are trying to pull off–to indulge our natural, selfish, sinful desires and still turn out as good people.  In this chapter Lewis considers the command “Be perfect” (or “Be ye perfect” in the old King James).

Most of us shy away from this because it seems an impossible order.  And it is, for us as humans acting on our own strength.  If the whole Christian life depended upon our being perfect, our position would be hopeless.  But Christ is there to help us.

And that is the only help He will give us.  He will not help us to simply become better people; the only help He will give us is to become perfect.  This may–and in all probability it will–be a long, arduous, and painful process, but that is exactly what we are in for and nothing less. Continue reading “Mere Christianity 26: Counting the Cost”