C. S. Lewis and Scripture

My brother recently asked me about C. S. Lewis and his views on Scripture, specifically that he’d heard that Lewis didn’t believe in the Old Testament. Not having heard this particular charge before, I did a little looking around to see what I could fine (here, here, and here).To my surprise, I found that Lewis was not an inerrantist. He was comfortable saying that he didn’t think certain parts of the Bible were literal (I saw mention of the creation epic, Job, Esther, and Jonah). But even in saying that, he also wasn’t bothered to think the rest of the Bible was true. In his mind as a literary expert, if a story read like a myth or a fable, he assumed it was. And he was very unbothered by the idea. He still thought it was useful for us as Christians.
More, I also came across some little side comments he made about Paul’s meanderings and the pseudo-contradictions between the gospel accounts. Again, in all instances, he leaned heavily on the human element of authorship, focusing on the fallibility of the authors and their personal quirks or wrong recollections muddying the Scriptures for us.

To give my highly uninformed opinion, I would presume that this finds its source in how Lewis came to believe in the first place. It was through his own reasoning that he came to see that Christianity had to be true. And as such, he saw reason and rationality as the means by which truth could be assessed and respected. Basically, in his mind, it didn’t really matter if parts of the Bible rang true or not—truth was truth, rather or not the Bible got it exactly right.

All in all, that’s a bit foreign to our ears. But historically speaking, it’s not as odd as one might think. As Lewis points out in one of the sites I checked, Calvin questioned whether Job was a historical account or not. The fact is that our current stance on the inerrancy of Scripture is a relatively recent development in terms of the affirmation, “The Bible is without error in the original manuscripts in everything it claims to be true.” This was in response to the rise of liberalism, which took the rationalistic line of thought which was cousin to Lewis’s view and ran it off the Cliffs of Insanity: we can discount anything at all if our reason seems to make no sense of it! And in response to that, a need was felt to respond with an affirmation that the Bible can be trusted. And rightly so! In that affirmation, it was recognized that human reason is no good judge of what’s true and what’s not, because in our sinfulness, we can too easily reject truths that make us uncomfortable, even to the point of denying the resurrection or even the very existence of the Creator outright.

So, what do I think of Lewis’s view of Scripture? On the one hand, I’m not terribly bothered by it. Strict inerrant views were mainly beyond his time. And besides, the basic fundamentalist/inerrantist/Bible-thumper sometimes struggles mightily to understand the differences between hyperbole and poetry and prophecy (“the moon will turn to blood”) and we end up with messes like the Left Behind series. Even while believing in inerrancy, it’s not always easy to parse what’s literal and what’s not. But on the other hand, I really don’t think we can set our own reason as the main guide by which we assess the rightness or wrongness of the Scriptures. Lewis did it and wrote some darn good stuff because he never doubted the life, death, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus. But his view is pretty troublesome if you doubt that part. Because then you get the right to call into question anything else you want, including doctrines that are central to the faith.

But C. S. Lewis was just a man. And he wasn’t right about everything. I’ll still take the 95% of his incredibly insightful and Spirit-filled writing while putting up with the other 5% of squishy views.

Book Review: Forgotten God

51rjvdzyf3l-_sy346_Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit by Francis Chan

From Amazon: In the name of the Father, the Son, and … the Holy Spirit. We pray in the name of all three, but how often do we live with an awareness of only the first two? As Jesus ascended into heaven, He promised to send the Holy Spirit—the Helper—so that we could be true and living witnesses for Christ. Unfortunately, today’s church has admired the gift but neglected to open it.

Breakthrough author Francis Chan rips away paper and bows to get at the true source of the church’s power—the Holy Spirit. Chan contends that we’ve ignored the Spirit for far too long, and we are reaping the disastrous results. Thorough scriptural support and compelling narrative form Chan’s invitation to stop and remember the One we’ve forgotten, the Spirit of the living God.

To start with, I really like Francis Chan, especially when I’ve watched interviews with him and seen his humility on display. I’ve especially appreciated how he left behind his Big Successful Church (all rights reserved) to start small churches that met in an apartment building. I really don’t know how that’s been going (though if it’s anything like my story, that’s not an easy question to answer anyway), but I’ve appreciated how he’s bucked come conventional YRR wisdom and done his own thing.

The Forgotten God was a book that I appreciated, even if I wasn’t overly moved by it. Chan’s intention seemed to be to remind us that the Holy Spirit is God and he dwells in us as individuals and as the church. And to that point, he succeeded. The book was refreshing to my soul, calling me to “open up your mind and your life to the leading of the Spirit” as I took a fresh look at the God I was largely ignoring.

In particular, Chan challenged me to see God the Spirit as still very alive and active. At times, there was a vibe that reminded me of David Platt’s Radical, like “The Spirit will lead you to the way of the cross, as He led Jesus to the cross, and that is definitely not a safe or pretty or comfortable place to be.” But I don’t mean that as an insult, just that he’s reminding us that God calls us to a good life, though not necessarily a safe one. And in contradiction to the way most of us beg to see more of the Spirit IN ME, Chan reminded me that: “When the Holy Spirit truly moves, God is the one praised. Jesus is the one lifted up. When the Spirit moved at Pentecost, people knew there was a power present that came from God.” It’s good to be reminded that the Spirit does what he does to bring glory to the Father through Jesus, not to Bill through Bill.

Throughout, Chan wrote with a warm tone and very personally. And to be honest, I appreciate that. He wrote like a human being, and I love that. In some ways, though, it was a weakness of the book because the book left me feeling just a little meh. And I still struggle to put my finger one why, and I’m not sure I really care to. Part of it was the tone of I-struggled-with-this-once-but-don’t-anymore: “There was a time when I got excited over a crowd showing up to hear me preach, but those days are long gone.” I still find such comments discouraging, because there are so few sins in my life that I can say are “long gone”.

I think the thing more than anything else that I felt uneasy about was the idea that there’s something wrong with our view of God and we need to get on fixing that straight away! For instance, Chan says, “What disturbs me most is when we’re not really bothered that God living in us has not made much of a noticeable difference.” I agree. And it’s true of me, too. But now what? Do I need to try harder to get the Spirit to work in me? Do I need to listen to the Word of Faith folks and get myself a greater faith? I see the gap, but feel like the only solution is to work my way into getting more of the Spirit. The thing is, I know that’s not what Chan is going for, but it kinda felt that way sometimes. And perhaps that’s just me, who still tires easily of books that “convict ya till yer worn through” and if I even feel an inkling of it, I get a case of the heebie jeebies.

So, despite a lukewarm review, would I recommend the book? I would indeed. Chan reminds us not to forget that we have a triune God, where each person of the Trinity relates to us and works in us in unique but important ways. We live in the age of the Spirit. The Spirit coming down at Pentecost was literally a ground-shaking moment, but it’s just ho-hum to most of us. And so I’m grateful for the book and for Chan’s heart in writing it.

Because at the end of the book, I found myself reminded that the Spirit is both kinder than I tend to think and more interested in my good and God’s glory than my prosperity and ease. In fact, the Spirit has been given to us like the Spirit came to Jesus: so that we can walk in the path of the righteous and follow the Way of Jesus. And that Way isn’t all glory and BMWs and flashy grins, but the path of glory through suffering, joy through sorrow, and life through death. I’ll finish with this great quotation:

“Taking up my cross” has become a euphemism for getting through life’s typical burdens with a semi-good attitude. Yet life’s typical burdens—busy schedules, bills, illness, hard decisions, paying for college tuition, losing jobs, houses not selling, and the family dog dying—are felt by everyone, whether or not they follow the Way of Jesus… The crux of it, I believe, is realizing that being filled with the Spirit is not a one-time act… Walking with the Spirit implies an ongoing relationship…an active pursuit of the Spirit… All of this living and action is done in the power of the Spirit. It is not by your own strength.