C.S. Lewis: A Life, by Alister McGrath – Book Review

9781414339351_p0_v2_s260x420For as long as I can remember I the world of Narnia has captivated me. I have read the story of the Pevensie children and those that came after them literally hundreds of times throughout my childhood and into my adult years. I was the girl who consistently checked the back of her closet (I didn’t have a wardrobe) with the hope that I would meet Aslan or enjoy afternoon tea with Mr. Tumnus. I would offer up a brief prayer to God, reasoning that if he could do anything he could send me to Narnia, and then plunge behind my clothes. Sadly, I never got through, but I never gave up trying either.

As I grew older I discovered that the author of the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis, wrote many other books, both fiction and non-fiction. Lewis was already my friend through Narnia, and I grew to appreciate him on a deeper level as I read his other works, such as: Mere Christianity, The Space Trilogy, An Experiment in Criticism (less popular, but one of my favorites), God in the Dock, and Miracles. Lewis quickly became my literary hero. He communicated in ways that resonated with my intellect and my imagination.

It came as no surprise that when Alister McGrath – one of my apologetic heroes – chose to write a biography on C.S. Lewis entitled C.S. Lewis: A Life, I waited eagerly for its publication and then for my copy to come in the mail (thanks Amazon). Having studied under McGrath in Oxford – Lewis’s long-term and my short-term home – made my excitement all the more palpable. Into my hands in Wisconsin came a book about one of my favorite people, written by one of my favorite people, located predominantly in my favorite city. Continue reading

Of Mermaids and God

165919_5884Awhile back I was amused to see that the BBC had a news story entitled, No evidence of mermaids, say US government. According to the article, a broadcast on mermaids, which was a work of fiction, was mistaken as a documentary. This led to people questioning if mermaids actually existed, and the National Ocean Service stating, “No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found.” While mermaids have been a part of mythology across the centuries and in various cultures, they are nothing more than characters in ancient stories.

Of Mermaids and God

It hardly seems newsworthy to point out that there is no evidence of “aquatic humanoids.” Obviously they’re a work of fiction, a myth! Yet the more I thought about it the more I realized that this is the same way many people approach God’s existence – it’s outrageous. I can almost see an article saying, “No evidence of a Supernatural Being has ever been found.” He’s a myth that’s been passed down through the centuries. He’s just a character in an ancient story.

But is this the case? Is there “no evidence of God?” Is the belief in God similar to the belief in a mythical aquatic humanoid? Continue reading

Four Letter Words: Hope

“It is well we should become aware of what we are doing when we speak, of the ancient, fragile, and (well used) immensely potent instruments that words are.”[1]

So says C.S. Lewis in his less known, yet brilliant, work Studies in Words. This statement has captured my attention and imagination these past days.  I have this mental image of people spitting out words like bullets with no particular care about what they are saying or who they hit. Words, whether spoken or written, have the potential to wound like bullets or refresh like water on the parched soil of our souls.

This concept of words bringing a curse or a blessing has led me to contemplate the power of four letter words. But I’m not thinking of the four letter curse words that are most likely popping into your head at the moment. I’m not referring to the ones that are so flippantly spoken in everyday life, being the dominant vocabulary of movies, television, and music. I’m thinking of other four letter words which also have immense power to harm or heal. I’m thinking of words like hope, love, wait, and faith (I know that’s a 5 letter word, but it applies to this thought). These have become four letter words to me because while they are words meant to offer blessing, when used flippantly or at the wrong time they can feel like a curse. For example, for anyone who longs for marriage or parenthood, the often made comment of “Just wait on God’s timing,” while true, often rings hollow and does little to encourage in the midst of the wounds of longing. Or for the person going through deep suffering, to tell them to “not give up hope” or “You need more faith” may as well be like telling them to fly to the moon. It’s impossible.

This past week I’ve been immersed in conversations surrounding the four letter word Hope. We use it so haphazardly. We hope we make our flight on time. We hope traffic is light. We hope our favorite sports team beats their rival. And in the same breath we hope our loved one survives cancer. We hope we don’t lose our job in a struggling economy, or that we find a job. We hope our children grow up with strong character. We hope tomorrow is better than today. We hope we’re not wasting our life. We hope that whatever we are placing our faith in doesn’t fail us in the end.

So often we use the word hope and we mean nothing more than wishful thinking. It’s a word we use to communicate uncertainty and wish about the future. And when our hope shatters, we have no idea what to do or where to turn.

Into this concept of hope as wishful thinking, the Christian understanding of hope invades our hopelessness, shining brightly in what is often a very dark world. The Christian understanding of hope begins with an acknowledgement that the world is not the safe and good place we long for (which I think we can all agree on).  It does not ignore our pain. It confronts our pain at its very foundation of our own brokenness and inability to right what is wrong in our world and in us. It assures us that we can, with confident expectancy, look forward to the day when right-ness will replace all that is wrong and every tear wiped from the eyes of those who have looked to Jesus to mend what only He can fix.

Andy Bannister of RZIM Canada recently made this point so well. The Christian hope finds its stability in God’s reality and character. He is the only ground for, basis of, and object of true hope. Because its hope based upon the Person of God and knowing Him, the reasons for hope are as far from wishful thinking as one can get. [2] The uniqueness of this hope is that its founded on something outside of us and our world. All other worldviews look either within or without in the search for a better tomorrow. Only Christianity looks upward, acknowledging that there is nothing within us or in our world that can fix the darkness we live in.

As the Apostle Paul said, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Yet the message of Christian hope doesn’t end here, because “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Because of Christ, this four letter word of hope speaks a blessing and not a curse. We may use it carelessly, but the message of confident expectancy it communicates is anything but flippant.

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[1] C.S. Lewis, Studies in Words, Cambridge University Press, 1961,  p. 6.

[2] Notes from Andy Bannister’s talk, “Hope and Thinking,” at the RZIM Summer Institute, June 13, 2012. http://stayintheconversation.org/rzimcanada/

Is Faith a Crutch? You Better Believe It!

My four-year-old niece has a little stuffed panda named Pammy. Pammy is her “best friend” and the two of them do everything together. Even though this little bear is falling apart and almost as old as I am (she was mine as a little girl), she is my niece’s favorite toy. When she is sad, Pammy is there. When she’s afraid, she hugs Pammy for comfort. She shares her laughter, jokes, and kisses with this little stuffed animal. The joy and comfort she has received are legitimate. Yet in reality, my niece’s faith in Pammy’s ability to comfort her is a misplaced faith. Pammy is a toy that cannot offer her any real help.

For many, faith in God is similar to my niece’s relationship with Pammy the Panda. You may gain perceived comfort from it, but it’s a fictional comfort divorced from reality. Just as Pammy can’t really protect my niece from her fears, God can’t protect us, help us, or guide us because He’s not real. He may make us feel better, but in reality nothing changes because He’s just a psychological toy. He’s a crutch people use when they don’t understand what’s going on around them and don’t know how to cope with life.

If you had come up to me a year ago and told me my Christian faith in God was a crutch, the apologetic wheels in my head would have begun turning and I would have started sharing with you all the reasons why my faith has legitimate grounds. I would have delved into the evidence for God’s existence and tried to show you that my faith in Him is not wishful thinking. I might have looked at Freud’s understanding of faith as wish-fulfillment and compared it with how C.S. Lewis would respond. Maybe I would have taken you to passages in the Bible that talk about faith’s foundation being built on evidence for God’s existence and loving character. I definitely would have sent you to articles by apologists smarter than I am who have answered this question so well.[1]

But that was a year ago. A lot can happen in a year, and in my case a lot has. In a year I’ve gone through a period of depression, which in all honesty, I’m not sure has fully gone away. I’ve experienced the discouragement of unemployment in a struggling economy. I watched one of my closest friends lose the fight against cancer. I’ve worked through the pain of broken relationships and the loss of trust.  I’ve watched my family suffer and experience injustice that leaves me at a loss for words (which is saying a lot because I’m a very wordy person). When I’ve thought I can’t handle another wave of suffering without shattering into a million pieces, another wave has come crashing down. I’ve questioned my worth, purpose, and God’s goodness. I’ve gotten angry at Him, and agonized over how a good God can allow the personal suffering and injustice I’m experiencing. This past year I’ve had to wrestle through my faith in God where the rubber meets the road.  My faith’s been tested as I’ve had to wrestle through what, or who, I base my faith upon.

So what about today? If you came to me today and told me my faith is a crutch, how would I respond? Well, I still hold to and believe everything I would’ve said a year ago. I still believe my faith rests upon reliable evidence and not wishful thinking. But my response would be quite different.

Is my faith a crutch? You better believe it! In fact, it’s more than that. It’s my life support.  It’s what keeps my heart beating and my lungs breathing. My faith is an acknowledgement that I am utterly broken and weak. I can’t do this thing called life in my strength. My faith is kind of like that mustard seed Jesus talked about. It’s small and has no strength. But my God is strong! I desperately need Him and I have no one else to cling to but Him. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. Clinging to Him and not the brokenness of this world and my life is a safe place to rest.

My soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”[2]

 

Unlike my niece who finds fictional comfort and friendship in Pammy the Panda, my comfort comes from choosing to trust that God’s steadfast love and faithfulness in the midst of life’s sorrows is real.  I gladly acknowledge that He is my crutch.


[1] I still recommend you read these articles: “Your relationship with God is just a Psychological Crutch,” http://www.rzim.eu/your-relationship-with-god-is-just-a-psychological-crutch  and “Is Christianity just a Crutch?” http://www.rzim.eu/is-christianity-just-a-crutch

The Irrelevance of Culture

C.S. Lewis once wrote,

“Culture? The irrelevance of it!”[1]

If you are like me the idea that culture is irrelevant is ridiculous and goes against your understanding of our humanity and Christianity. We love Lewis, but considering the deep impact his life and writings have had on Western culture his statement is surprising. He’s way off here!

In recent years there has been a large push from the Evangelical world to become culture-makers and “sub-creators.” As Christians we believe we’re created in the image of God with the cultural mandate to fill and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28). This includes more than having babies and keeping plants and animals in check. It includes using all the talents and gifts God has given us for His glory. It includes music, literature and drama, fashion, politics, taking care of the environment, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. As Christians who take the Bible seriously it doesn’t get more relevant than culture. Yet, as Christ-followers, why don’t we see a greater impact on culture? Why is it that so often we are trying to keep up or catch up with the culture around us? We want to dramatically influence culture for the kingdom and glory of God (and in many ways we are), yet we often we seem to miss the mark.

This has led me to start asking questions. As a follower of Christ, am I to pursue impacting culture for Christ? Or am I to pursue Christ which will inevitably impact culture? It’s a subtle difference, but it is a difference. And I think it’s a significant one. I can’t help contemplating the idea that as Christians we’re not experiencing the influence we long for because we’re focusing on the influence itself. How does the world perceive us? Do they see us as relevant? Are we speaking their language? Do they get us, find us attractive, or want to imitate us? These are all good questions that we need to take seriously and work through. But is it the right place to start?

Regarding culture Lewis also said,

“True culture comes from genuine, spontaneous, un-sought after enjoyment of something.” [2]

In other words, true culture comes from who you are, not what you do. I would suggest that he was right and take it one step further. As a Christian, true cultural impact comes not from seeking to impact culture but from genuine enjoyment of SOMEONE, namely Jesus. If we are not having the impact we long for, does it indicate the depth of our love for God Himself? When I look at history, the greatest impact Christians have had on culture and the world (this includes Lewis) has been from those who were not seeking cultural influence. They had an awe-inspiring love for their Savior which they longed to share with others. With the Psalmist their souls hungered and thirsted for God. They longed for a better country, a heavenly one. Their cry was,

“My goal is God himself, not joy nor peace, nor even blessing, but Himself, my God.”[3]

Their consuming love for God poured out into all they did. It influenced art, science, politics, justice, and life both at home and abroad. Maybe Lewis was right. Maybe culture in and of itself is irrelevant. Just as culture is the outward manifestation of our inner longings and character, maybe the Christian’s impact on culture also comes from within. Maybe if my consuming goal was “God himself” I’d start to see the cultural transformation I rightly long for.


Note: For the first posting of this blog, visit Park Community Church

[1] Lewis quote taken from his essay “Lilies that Fester” in The World’s Last Night: and Other Essays

[2] Ibid

[3] Quote from Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest

The Apologetic of Not Knowing

For any lover of British humor Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a classic movie. The unique comedy of the film follows King Arthur and his knights as they search for the Holy Grail. As Arthur and his men draw closer to the end of their quest, they come across an old and dangerous footbridge guarded by an old man. In order to cross the bridge the brave knights have to answer three random and ridiculous questions. If they fail to answer correctly or have no answer at all, they fall into the ravine to their death.

This movie is not typically known to cause one to stop and ponder the deeper issues of life. Yet I believe the footbridge scene is a good example of how many people view apologetics and why they are afraid to share their faith. Apologetics is the word used to describe sharing the rich intellectual evidence Christians have for trusting in the historicity and truth of the claims Jesus and the Bible make.

For years I was afraid to share my faith and the hope that I had in Jesus. I was afraid that I would be asked a question I couldn’t answer correctly or wouldn’t know the answer to at all. I thought that if I didn’t have an answer to the tough questions it might mean my faith wasn’t real. Maybe I’d find out that my faith was blind and irrational. Or I thought that if I couldn’t answer a tough question I would forever hinder that person from knowing the truth. If I had no answer I’d fall into the ravine to the death of my faith and the faith of others.

Over time I have learned that there are answers to the tough questions of life. My faith is not blind. My lack of apologetic knowledge will not thwart God’s salvation purposes. Yet with all the ‘answers’ I have learned, one of the most significant lessons I have gained took me by surprise. To honestly answer a question by saying, “I don’t know,” is refreshingly liberating. Imagine my surprise to discover that there is a great apologetic for the Gospel in not knowing.

To admit there are things I don’t know can create many significant opportunities to share with others what I do know. I may not know the philosophical arguments for how a good God can allow suffering. But I do know that Christ in His goodness suffered on behalf of humanity. When He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he demonstrated that he knows personally what it means to feel rejected and alone. I do know that in the Bible God has promised to correct every wrong and bring justice to the earth.

“I don’t know” creates a natural invitation to investigate questions with the one asking them. Rather than brushing the inquiry aside I can ask the questioner to search for the answer with me. Not only will this investigation hopefully help answer the seeker’s question, it will also strengthen my faith as I see the reasonableness of what I believe.

To humbly admit I don’t have the answer also demonstrates that my faith is not based solely upon my limited understanding. Though what I believe rests on sound reason, “I don’t know” shows that my faith finds its basis in the personal Triune God.  While I will never know the answer to every question life produces I can still have confidence in my faith. This is because it rests upon a relationship with the trustworthy character of God, not my limited knowledge.

C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”[1] You don’t have to know the scientific process of the earth’s rotation to have confidence in the sun’s daily appearance.  In the same way, you don’t have to know the answer to every question to have confidence in the person and work of Jesus Christ. When the questions do come, which they inevitably will, you can face them with excitement and confidence. You can use “I don’t know” to know more than you ever thought possible.


[1] Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses, Harper One, 2001: p. 140