We are in the middle of the last chapter of Mere Christianity, which is entitled “The New Men”. In this chapter, Lewis likens the process of going from being creatures made by God to being sons of God to the next step in the process of evolution. But there are some key differences between this step and any previous step in evolution. Namely, it is induced by something outside of nature (Jesus) coming into nature. Also, it does not involve sexual reproduction, it is strictly voluntary, it is not transmitted by heredity, it is happening at a much faster rate than any previous evolutionary change, and the stakes are much higher. Continue reading “Mere Christianity 29: The New Men (cont’d)”
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”
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”
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”
In the previous chapter Lewis considered the idea of pretending to be like Christ in order that you may ultimately become like Christ. But this is not simply some sort of optional exercise or special assignment for the top class, instead it is the whole of the Christian life. This is all that Christianity has to offer. There is nothing else.
In this chapter Lewis considers how Christianity differs from our ordinary ideas about morality. Typically we start with our ordinary selves, with all their needs, ambitions, desires, etc. and then admit that something outside of us (morality, decent behavior, the good of society, or whatever else you would care to call it) has claims on that self which interfere with its natural desires. We must satisfy those claims, and then we are free to indulge our natural desires with whatever is left over. Kind of like somebody paying his taxes; he pays them but hopes there will be enough left to live on afterward. And when we come to Christianity, it is natural for us to think of it as one more obligation outside of ourselves which must be satisfied before we are free to indulge our natural desires. Continue reading “Mere Christianity 25: Is Christianity Hard or Easy?”
We are now in the middle of “Beyond Personality”, the final section of Mere Christianity in which Lewis discusses what a God who is “beyond personality” looks like and how we as human beings can enter into that life of God which is beyond personality. In previous chapters Lewis explained that this life is transmitted by getting near that which has it, through a sort of “good infection” if you will. But that life is completely and totally opposed to the natural, biological life which we currently possess and everything which is in the nature of that life.
So how do we get around that?
Lewis starts off this chapter with an example from Beauty and the Beast, in which the girl kisses a beast as if he were a real prince and he turns into a real prince, and another example of a man with an ugly face who wore a mask to conceal it, and over time his face grew to fit the mask. These two illustrations start us off in moving toward the main point of this chapter, which is that the Christian life is all about this kind of pretense. We are nothing like Christ, but we pretend that we are, and in time we find ourselves to have become like Christ. Continue reading “Mere Christianity 24: Let’s Pretend”
In the previous chapter Lewis described the nature of the Trinity and how the special life that exists in God can be transferred to us, by a sort of “good infection” if you will.
But there is a hitch. The natural life which we as humans possess (Bios) and the special life which God possesses (Zoe) are different from each other. Not only are they different, they are completely and totally opposed to each other. The natural life inside of us is something self-centered, which wants to look out for itself at every turn and which values its own survival and preservation above all else. And it is especially afraid of anything which is bigger or stronger than it. So it sees the God kind of life as a threat; it knows that all of its pettiness and self-centeredness will ultimately be strangled out of it. Continue reading “Mere Christianity 23: The Obstinate Toy Soldiers”
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”
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”