Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Complete Apologist

I have been invited to introduce Ravi Zacharias when he gives a lecture on apologetics at Tyndale University in Toronto in 2010. I am honored to do this. From time to time Ravi graciously recalls conversations that we have had together about C. S. Lewis. They began when we sat together once on an airplane and I commented how wherever I went, when I spoke on evangelism or apologetics, almost inevitably someone would come up to me afterwards and testify about how they had come to Christ by reading C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.
I would call C. S. Lewis the complete apologist. In his day he practiced apologetics in every way that it could be done. He not only saw it as an intellectual activity, but as spiritual warfare. Furthermore, when I say he practiced apologetics in every way it could be done, I mean that not only did he practiced the defense of the faith on a wide intellectual front, also he opened up a new area of apologetics when he ventured into addressing the foundational structures of thinking which psychologist Carl Jung was labeling as myth. And more, he also aggressively used more than one way of delivering his apologetic to the marketplace rather than to the limited academy. In this he moved beyond apologetics as pre-evangelism to evangelism itself. And, in so doing he clearly understood that he was conducting spiritual warfare.
My own debt to Lewis cannot be overstated. Simply put, my ministry career has been one of protracted reading of most of what he has written.
In previous blogs I have noted that key evangelical apologists have followed the path of logical refutation of atheistic assaults on Christianity with variations on theistic arguments. In spite of the claim that post-modern thought rejects this line of defense, I have pointed out that the current aggressive atheistic arguments that have reached a mass audience follow the classic line from Hume to the present and that the response by current apologists are well done and well deserved.
Certainly C. S. Lewis considered himself part of this company. He wrote a number of carefully thought out apologetic essays and two closely argued books, Miracles and The Problem of Pain. In a previous blog I mentioned Alvin Plantiga’s argument against naturalism published in the summer 2008 issue of Books and Culture. Of interest is that he says that he is building on the argument which C. S. Lewis put forward in Miracles.
These two show Lewis’ instinct for the issues of the day, day here meaning the entire 20th century and at least the beginning of the 21st. Why is there pain? Why do people suffer? Could not an infinite God who also loves have made it so that we all lived happily? And, attached to the last question is the denial of the possibility of God, who by definition is outside the natural system. Lewis takes these questions on directly. In Miracles and PofP Lewis aggressively asserts that the presence of pain is not something that is incompatible with the existence of God and that Hume made serious errors in asserting that God could not at once be outside the natural system but act within it.
Personally I think these are wonderful books. I have read each a number of times and each time I have been encouraged and strengthened. Further, they are works that do not allow a person to think of Christianity in an off-handed manner, as something that may be contemplated outside of oneself, but point the reader toward encounter. This is especially so in the final chapter of Pain where Lewis opens the discussion of heaven, a discussion carried forward imaginatively in both Perelandra and The Great Divorce. To be honest, I do not know of a single writer who has written about heaven with the power that Lewis has. To read all of his writings on that fair land is to be filled with longing, or, as he might put it, to recognize the longing that fills our every waking moment.
However, back to my conversation with Ravi Zacharias, I have never had anyone tell me that they came to Christ because they read either Miracles or The Problem of Pain. Instead they tell me that they came to Christ because they read Mere Christianity.
Mere Christianity is the next step in understanding Lewis as the complete apologist. It is a compellation of addresses given over the BBC during World War II. One can almost hear air raid sirens in the background as one reads thinly veiled attacks on the world view of the Nazi’s. However it is so much more than a morale booster, even though apparently that is what some at BBC originally had in mind. It is a straightforward presentation of Christianity.
Here Newbigin comes back to mind. Lewis does not feel that somehow he should get people to “accept Jesus” and then, down the road, teach them the basics of Christian doctrine. Rather, he teaches doctrine, and then from within the doctrine the listener/reader is expected to see the whole truth and how she personally is part of that truth.
Most of us are familiar with this work. It begins with what is known as the moral argument for the existence of God. I feel that this is a very powerful argument and attempts to overcome it by arguing that “we can be good without God” because morality can be explained with evolution are in fact answered by Lewis and the answers resonate with many. Lewis moves on into Christian morality, with a discussion of such things as marriage, sin, forgiveness, incarnation and the Trinity, to mention a few. One of my favorite quotes is as follows:
Very well then, atheism is too simple. And I will tell you another view that is also too simple. It is the view I call Christianity-and-water, the view which simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right—leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption. Both of these are boys’ philosophies. (Mere Christianity, Chapter 2, 1st paragraph)
It is, he is saying, the very complexity of Christianity, and Christianity’s willingness to face the hard reality of life that commends it. And all of this is aimed at the cabdriver, the mother, and the young teen ready to leave for basic training, as they quietly sat by the radio in the evening. No one really knows how many thousands have turned to Christ because of this one work.
And yet, he did not stop here. He pushed out into totally uncharted territory for apologetics; he pushed out into the sea of imagination.


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NewWord said...

Franklin writes: "Lewis does not feel that somehow he should get people to “accept Jesus” and then, down the road, teach them the basics of Christian doctrine. Rather, he teaches doctrine, and then from within the doctrine the listener/reader is expected to see the whole truth and how she personally is part of that truth." Doctrine should convict of living truth. The teacher filled with the Holy Spirit proclaims the living Word of God. When hat happens the listener then comes face-to-face with God, not a dead doctrine.

Theodore A. Jones said...

I have been scan reading through Pyles comments. The thought that comes to my mind is, "If you love father or mother more than Me," well........jumping off bridges is done every day. I was convinced that Jesus has said "If you continue in my WORDS you will learn what is true." To me ,at least, I think that's what he meant by what he said. Admittedly I'm a bit skeptical of the theologian's conclusions that admits to spending half his life reading C. S. Lewis opinions and says he has come to understand the opinion of God.