[Today we move into Part 2 of Making the Best of It by John Stackhouse. We will look at three twentieth century theologians Stackhouse considers resources for the recovery of Christian realism: C. S. Lewis, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He devotes about forty pages to each of these men. My aim is to extract some salient points and put them in one post. There is no way I can do his fascinating reviews justice, so you’ll need to get the book and read it.]
Chapter 2 – C. S. Lewis: The Christian Individual
As a storyteller himself, one of the things Lewis tapped into was the narrative nature of the Bible … creation and fall, redemption, and consummation. Lewis used the narrative as an interpretive lens evaluating life.
Lewis believed that world was created good, but immature. There was a “nascent shalom” at Eden but the world is to evolve beyond that primitive state. The fall resulted in total depravity … not total in the sense of having become abjectly evil, but total in that it has touched every aspect of our being. Redemption in Christ includes salvation but Lewis seemed particularly attuned to sanctification; we die to ourselves and enter the process of taking on the image of Christ.
Stackhouse, quoting from an Essay, Christianity and Culture, writes:
By “innocent,” Lewis seems to mean that it can still be seen as a good thing to be undertaken, rather intrinsically something evil to be avoided. (54)
Four reasons why culture can be a proper undertaking:
- The need to earn a living.
- Culture can be harmful, so “it is therefore probably better that the ranks of the ‘culture-sellers’ should include some Christians – as an antidote.”
- To awaken the unconverted to “something more” points toward the gospel. (54)
One of the key points Stackhouse makes about Lewis is that he has little to say about the church or society as whole. Quoting Lewis, “To me, religion ought to have been a matter of good men praying alone, and meeting by twos and threes to talk of spiritual matters.” (55) This was Lewis before he became a Christian but Stackhouse points out that little seems to have changed afterward.
Lewis generally saw the workplace, the economy, and societal institutions as cursed by stupidity and alienation. These institutions seem not to be his focus. From Good Work and Good Works:
The application of Christian principles to various spheres of life was to come from Christians as they lived their vocations in those spheres. No grand agenda on issues of civil authority and civil obedience were forthcoming from Lewis.
In eschatological terms, Lewis did not embrace the dualistic notion of disembodied spirits as the ultimate destiny of humanity. Heaven is the place where things become more firm, thick, and vivid, not less so. There would be a new creation that would somehow be both continuous and radically discontinuous with our present reality … is not an unmaking but a remaking. Is something being remade or replaced? Stackhouse suggests that Lewis’ answer would have been, “yes.”
This observation by Stackhouse was particularly insightful:
Later in the chapter Stackhouse concludes:
For Lewis, culture always demonstrates three elements in tension.
- Culture is always plastic: we are always shaping it (as, to be sure, it shapes us), and it is not inexorable, permanent, or linear.
- Culture always is also marked by the intransigence of evil and the active resistance of evil agents, human and diabolical.
- Culture is yet under the providence of God, who has promised to redeem the whole world. Thus Lewis felt neither optimism nor pessimism was appropriate; rather, he advocated a realistic hope for both now and the future. (69)
An interesting side note that Stackhouse picked up on that I’ve noticed as well is Lewis’ distaste for the city. In the Narnia Chronicles, London is a place to be escaped. All the cities mentioned are places of evil. In The Great Divorce, Hell is a city and Heaven is a countryside. Stackhouse wonders if Lewis need to reflect more on Heaven as the New Jerusalem.
What do you think?
There is so much more in this chapter but I’ll leave it here. What are your thoughts about Lewis’ “Christian individual?”