Tag Archives: C.S. Lewis

Celebrating C.S. Lewis: Lessons For Missional Churches

When I was in undergrad, there was a missionary from overseas who came to visit us at the campus ministry I attended. During his presentation, he worked to make everyone feel guilty. He claimed that if you were a Christian, you HAD to go overseas. Back then, I did not know better, and I was overwhelmed and ashamed of myself for not having the “missionary desire” to convert other brown-skinned people like myself. On this inside, I was overcome by such guilt (okay, it only lasted like a few weeks, but still), that I even condemned close friends for not feeling the same way that I did.

The statue of C. S. Lewis in front of the ward...

The statue of C. S. Lewis in front of the wardrobe from his book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in East Belfast, Northern Ireland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Look back at my spiritual journey back then, I can chuckle to myself about some of the ideas I had. But one thing I will never regret is the reading I did my freshman year. I wanted to learn about CHRISTIAN Particularity, so that I could discern for myself how to believe in a Post-9-11 world. Unbelieveably, the first book I finished that wasn’t a textbook was C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I still did not have a grasp of what I had read, but there was something about the second half of that book that appeals to me, the talk about the Trinity, and so forth. Last Friday was the fiftieth anniversary of Clives Staples Lewis‘ passing. There is much to celebrate and remember Lewis’ contributions to the Church Universal. No, this isn’t a typo. This is Rod here writing, the same Rod who had a small criticism of The Screwtape Letter. I hold on to my commitment to Nonviolence and Peacemaking and Intersectionality and all that jazz, but I can still admire the C.S. Lewis of the Space Trilogy. You see, before there was such thing as “missional,” there have always been Christians who acted and saw themselves as missionaries to their cities, their countries, their unique and beautiful cultures.

For a few years now, I have been interested in the conversations that writers for the Emerging/Emergent/Missional church have been having. If there is anything good that has came out of these talks, it is that the use of the term “missional” has got Christians re-thinking what it means to go on missions. No longer are mission projects viewed as short term, expensive overseas trips to convert the heathens, and to pat ourselves on the back. Christians are starting (rightly so) for making the case for more relational approaches: long term missions, becoming immersed in a culture, and showing God’s love. C.S. Lewis’ writings for many emergent Christians or believers who consider themselves “missional” are seen as inspirational. Works like his “The Problem of Pain” and “The Great Divorce” are texts that I hear about a lot. From Lewis, here are a few lessons for missional churches:

1. Never underestimate the power of imagination: In first book of C.S. Lewis’ Ransom Trilogy, Out Of The Silent Planet, Lewis was able to use such vivid imagery that he could put James Cameron’s Avatar to shame (as if critics hadn’t already done so already). Rather than relying on the old models of conferences with the most popular speaker, churches with the biggest pulpits, and writers with the biggest platforms and searching for signs from above, maybe it’s time to look below. What I mean is this: God has enabled us the power to imagine and dream great things. We are able to do greater works that what Christ did (John 14:12). If we remain faithful to Christ, the Spirit will renew our minds, and empower us to resist the status quo.

2. Particularity Is Not A Bad Thing: One of the things I will never get about emergence Christianity are the number of people who make up neo-logisms-as-labels, like an Eastern Ortho-Ana-Baptist-Methodist or something or other. These neo-logisms are not accessible to the person in the pew (I’ll admit, sometimes my writing style could be seen as unappealing to a general audience too), but why are these neologisms so popular? I suspect it has to do with shame in being part one particular Christian tradition or another. The great thing about C.S. Lewis’ witness and writing is that, on one hand, from the Space Trilogy, IT IS BLATANTLY OBVIOUS THAT HE IS A CONSERVATIVE ANGLICAN CHRISTIAN. Yet, C.S. Lewis was conversant with several other worldviews and Christian traditions, such as Catholicism and maybe even Eastern Orthodoxy. In my undergrad days, it was very popular to call yourself “a non-denominational Christian” so that you didn’t have all the baggage that came with labels. However, look closely at the belief statements, practices, and curriculum taught at “non-denominational” churches. Really, there is not such thing as a local church that is outside the Grand Narrative of the Church Universal.

3. Faithfulness Must Be Placed Before Relevance: For its day, the Space Trilogy was in response to popular spirituality movements (relevance) as well as the progress that science fiction literature was making. Lewis was simultaneously able to be relevant in philosophy, ethics, British culture, and the literary arts all while placing the focus on Jesus. We must ask ourselves: what disciplines, what areas of society is God sending us to. While discipleship is the life-long process of God working with us, apostleship (the missional life), is God calling and sending us, much like the story of Samuel. Samuel is called and sent by YHWH first to Elijah and the priests, then to the nation of Israel, and later to King Saul and the future monarch David. In each sending, God’s mission for Samuel differs, but the pattern is the same. God calls Samuel, Samuel delivers a message concerning rejection/being rejected to each party. Likewise, one of the offices in Eastern Orthodoxy for Christ is Apostle, as God’s Chosen Sent One. If missional churches are to go any where in culture and in the church today, they need to reflect and look in the Gospels to see where God’s Apostle was sent, and what is the pattern for this sending and going. The Spirit is with us to help us in our mission, and it is the Spirit that testifies to Christ as the standard to make sure our missions do not become gentrified.

4. Last, Self-criticism is a greater sign of humility than saying “I’m sorry”: In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis identifies humility as a great virtue. What does humility look like in our “Post-Christian” context? Does humility look like doubt over and against certainty? For some, it may be so, but according my understanding of Scripture, doubt is never an issue as much as faithlessness is. The people of God are not exiled because of doubters in their midst, but because they acted upon their doubts, or, resisted their own beliefs. It’s crucial for persons who are on mission to keep going back through prayer, reflecting on the Apostle to us apostles. What may look like an angry face may in fact be the Word you need to hear/read. While some may get tired of hear/reading criticisms about the emerging church’s race problem, criticism is important in moving forward. Forward where? Forward looks like a reflection of the Commonwealth of God, that we in Revelation, where persons from every tribe, nation, and language worships the Triune Missional God. Constructive ways forward include becoming immersed in the life your city, find Christian ways of discussing issues of race, class, and gender, and becoming mentors in underprivileged, at-risk neighborhoods.

As long as there have been followers of Christ Jesus, there have been apostles: divinely called-and-sent ones to their culture and language to communicate God’s love and justice. C.S.Lewis is just one example, but he is not alone. And neither are you.

“Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”- John 20:21

C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters: War Is A Better Teacher Than Jesus


02.14.06 (Photo credit: Urthstripe)

In the blogosphere, it has been noted that Clives Stapes Lewis had some really bad arguments against pacifism (are there any others, really?): check out Stanley Hauerwas’ take as well as T.C. Moore’s. In the past, I have managed to name Lewis’ views on war as “misguided.” After reading his The Screwtape Letters, I have changed my mind. C.S. Lewis sees war as salvific, and I will not qualify this statement.

C S Lewis makes some good points about humility and Christians making politics an idol in TSL, but there are some disturbing passages in this text that I would like to look at. The story is one of a demon named Screwtape writer letters to his nephew Wormwood on how the underworld works to make a Christian fall in her journey. In chapter 5, Screwtape tells Wormwood that he can deal with his “patient” either through persuading him to become an “extreme patriot” or “extreme pacifist.” At this warning (which we are to gather from the contrary, that the middle position is always right), I must scoff at Lewis’ being disingenuous here. Here’s a man, a war veteran, who has wholesale written long essays and speeches against pacifism, warning Christians about being extreme patriots or pacifists? Puuuhleeeze! When it comes to issues of war versus peace, Lewis is NO NEUTRAL observer in the least, he’s gung-ho Just War theory all the way. But the good that war brings, in Chapter 5, “we shall see thousands turning in this tribulation to the Enemy, while tens of thousands who do not go so far as that will nevertheless have their attention diverted from themselves to values and causes which they believe to be higher than the self.” Of course, Jesus [The Enemy in Screwtape’s words] “disapproves of these causes” and “often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives to causes He thinks bad.” Screwtape continues to argue that Christianity is a religion where faith is strengthened by long-suffering, and there is no other human institution other than war means death, suffering, and pain!

I think this theodicy is quite wrong; there would be a number of persons in the Southern United States who would argue that the Civil War was not God testing their long-suffering, for example. Lewis has taken the element of human choice out of the equation when it comes to the choice of going to war, and placed it on the hands of Necessity. War is NOT a necessary evil, it is a moral evil that comes by way of human choices, human weapons, and human actions.

Of course, for those social justice advocates in the world, Screwtape (along with the rest of the underworld) just delights in Christians who do social justice! “The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands and then work him on the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy [Jesus] will not be used as a convenience.”(Chapter 23). So it’s okay to go to war in Jesus’ name, but feed the hungry? Ummmm no…wrong….

Lewis continues that it is in times of war that men must see the face of good and evil (a privileged perspective to be sure) (Chapter 26). Lewis continues that just when humanity is living in comfort, right where the underworld wants them, it’s Christ that permits a natural disaster or war to occur, and then the work of the underworld is undone (Lewis’ term). At this point, I have to wonder whether Lewis’ view of suffering and evil (theodicy) overcomes any notion of Christology, to the point that Christ’s words become irrelevant? I think this is exactly the case. Christ’s demand to love our enemies as well as our friends are dismissed by Lewis; pacifism, to Lewis meant marginality and awkwardness, an outsider status his own politics could not bear. No, he was not an extreme patriot, but Lewis was a different creature all together, an ardent Just Warrior, which is still an extremist like that other two groups Lewis pointed out.

Of course, I see nothing wrong with being an extremist in favor of life and peace and justice, so long as Christ is the center.Obedience to Christ not only means following the way of the Cross in suffering, but understanding what suffering meant ultimately, which in the Resurrection it meant the conquest and colonization of Death, and freedom from sin and oppression.

“We [the underworld] want cattle who can become food; He [Jesus] wants servants who can finally become Sons.” (The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 8).

Enhanced by Zemanta

Quip of the Day: Why I Don't Believe Men Should Be Ordained As Bishops

Cover of "The Screwtape Letters"

Cover of The Screwtape Letters

A few weeks ago, there was all this bruhaha over the Anglican church narrowly voting against ordaining women as bishops. Amanda posted her thoughts and recognized soft-complimentarian Mike Bird for his thoughts who suggested, “Women bishops are inevitable.”

I would like to make a few points. I am all for women being ordains as pastors and ministers, just as full heartedly as I am for men as well. I do not support women being picked for bishops, or men for that matter! Why would that be? Because I am a Baptist, and I believe as a faithful Protestant in the priesthood of all believers. I live in the state of Texas, where even the Catholics behave with a certain neoconservative Southern Baptist swagger that’s easy to spot. Some may say it comes down to my biblical interpretation, and that it is subjective in nature. While I would call that crazy talk, I think one only need to glance at both recent history and church history in the past: parochial church structures are just as chaotic (if not more so) as congregational churches.

One typical anti- “low” church perspective and argument comes from the likes of C.S. Lewis, who claimed to believe in a “Mere Christianity” (only slightly tinged with high church conservative Anglican biases) to completely distorting the congregational principle in The Screwtape Letters, Jesus desires (according to Lewis through the words of Screwtape) “the parochial organization” because it brings “a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together” (see chapter 16). Meanwhile, as many Christians do, Lewis argued that the free church tradition is the church of the social clubs, the cliques, etc. How can anyone honestly read anything about Christian history and affirm this as true? And let’s talk about how problematic the high church/low church dichotomy is too, should we not? Such a division reflects a logic that allows for the continuation of top/down gender hierarchies, even in the form of “soft complementarianism!” There is no high church nor low church, but “THE CHURCH” and what I don’t know about you and what that means, but “the Church” for me only means that group of people who have in history confessed Jesus as LORD and Justifier and live their lives for causes of justice.

Enhanced by Zemanta