Monday, January 26, 2009

My final integration paper

Plantinga’s paradigm divides the world’s drama into three acts: creation, fall, and redemption. These three doctrines provide a pivotal understanding of the Christian worldview. Yet, this paradigm is simplified in relation to the complexities of the divine dance. Although Plantinga’s book is entitled Engaging God’s World, it is impossible for us humans to engage in every part of God’s world here on earth because everything belongs to Him. As Abraham Kuyper said, “There is not a square inch on the whole plain of human existence over which Christ, who is Lord of all, does not proclaim, ‘This is mine’ ” (Plantinga xiii).

In our Developing a Christian Mind section, my class studied the various writings of C.S. Lewis as a part of learning to engage in God’s world. Through the class, we poured through C.S. Lewis’ ambitious works spanning through a multitude of disciplines: literature, philosophy, rhetoric, education, and theology. I was astounded at Lewis’ depth of understanding concerning many different subjects. Regardless of the subject at hand, Lewis wrote to lead people to truth. On our first day of class, the professors distinguished two types of people: flexors and extenders. Like their corresponding muscles, “flexors” tend to curl up into fetal position when things are hard, while “extenders” stand up straight and face reality. In many situations, it is easier to just curl up in a ball and avoid the hard questions. Yet, learning was a discipline that Lewis took seriously, a discipline that, coupled with humility, gave him a greater understanding of God.

With the gigantic categories of creation, fall, and redemption, it is overwhelming to make sense of it all. This task is especially difficult because of our current human condition, which wavers between fall and redemption. Jesus came to proclaim that the kingdom of God was “near” or “at hand” but not yet present in full. We have the wonderful news of the resurrection, but the world is still so fallen and broken. Metaphorically, we are living in Saturday right now: Good Friday has already past, but Easter Sunday has not yet come. We live in a state of being there, but not there yet. God equips people throughout the generations in their individual contexts to engage in His world in a particular way. Lewis engaged the world through his academic pursuits, literature, speeches, essays, and so much more. Although he did dabble in many subjects, Lewis focused his search for truth on certain aspects of culture and theology. Due to the magnitude and variety of readings from this DCM section, I will first focus on a few of Lewis’ key themes and then discuss how the class has affected me personally.

Lewis focused on writing theology in simple language, employing allegories, children’s stories, and fiction. In this way, he popularized theology for the masses. With The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis took the popular genre of children’s stories and infused it with Christian themes of fall and redemption. When at the professors’ house for lunch, we read a bit of The Pilgrim’s Regress, an allegory, and I found that to be fascinating. As a literature professor, Lewis understood what a powerful medium literature could be.

A theme on which both Plantinga and Lewis discussed in depth was that of longing and joy. Plantinga discussed our longing for “shalom,” which he defined as “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight” (Plantinga 15). Lewis also dedicated some writings to the concept of Sehnsucht, a German word indicating seeking or searching. In The Weight of Glory, Lewis put it this way, "I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both” (The Weight of Glory 3). Having become a Christian later in life, Lewis came to believe Augustine’s words, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” These desires for hope and joy cannot be filled from anything on the earth because God has made us for himself, a point that both Lewis and Plantinga acknowledge.

I also enjoyed Lewis’ logical stream of processing, which he employed to dissect certain philosophical propositions. His thought process reminded me of geometric proofs. Professor Ribeiro was actually able to create diagrams based on the flow of arguments in Mere Christianity, showing Lewis’ logical train of thought. Some examples of that writing were, “Meditation in a Toolshed,” “Bulverism,” “We have no Right to Happiness,” and “Man or Rabbit?” Lewis also questioned the logic of moral subjectivism, which he found to be extremely harmful, as we could see in “The Poison of Subjectivism” and The Abolition of Man. He confronted pervasive thought patterns of the time and challenged them using reason. After reading so many of these essays, I would think, “Wow, I never thought about that, but now that he brings it up, that is so true!”

We read so many of Lewis’ works, but certain themes interested me the most: concentrations in theology in popular culture, logical analysis of statements and propositions, and striving for joy. I would like to devote the rest of this essay to how this class affected me on a personal level. I interpreted the point of the class to be, “What does it look like to engage in God’s world?” Our study of Lewis’ writings showed me that there is no “spiritual” discipline. God’s world encompasses everything, so both Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and Adriana’s usage of biology in emphasizing spiritual truths are equally “spiritual.” After all, the kingdom of God is to infuse every part of the earth, which necessitates the cooperation of ministers, scientists, literature professors, and everyone in between.

Lewis also showed me that it was possible to use logic and reason in response to non-Christians’ theological objections. Ever since a camp counselor told me that my dad was going to go to Hell unless I told him about Jesus, I have struggled with how to address evangelism. Lewis’ logical and rational reasoning in Mere Christianity provided a fresh framework for discussing theological issues. His “Bulverism” essay was convicting to me, “Assume your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall” (Bulverism 273). As a psychology major, I spend a great deal of time and energy analyzing why people think the way they do, and I lapse into bulverism more than I’d like to admit. For example, I’ll discount my friend’s fundamentalist ideas because I know his dad raised him in a very strict manner. Lewis’ logic exposed me to a new way of looking at things. His arguments were simple and concise, but packed with philosophy and reason understandable to the common man.

I also appreciated Lewis’ discussion of pain and diabolic forces in Problem of Pain and The Screwtape Letters. These are perfect examples of issues in which Christians tend to curl up in a “flexor” position, rather than rising to the challenge as an “extender.” Pain and the devil are difficult and controversial, but I admired Lewis greatly for the remarkable insight within these books. The Screwtape Letters was an interesting depiction of the devil’s viewpoint. I especially found the professors’ powerpoint on the Christian application of The Screwtape Letters to be profound and helpful.

Lewis and Plantinga helped me understand the idea of engaging in God’s world, but I was most affected by incredible professors, Paulo and Adriana Ribeiro. Every morning, bright and early, I woke up to one of Adriana’s invigorating Bible lessons. I saw them interact with one another with such love, respect, and focus on God as the center of everything. Their marriage is so incredible inspiring. They are so humble, intelligent, passionate, interesting, fun, and hospitable. Throughout the class, they shared insights into life, stories, and what they think it means to be Christian, Their examples of mature Christian servitude affected me infinitely more than any reading could have. Through DCM, we were equipped in apologetics and how to understand the world in the rhythm of creation, fall, and redemption, but the most convincing apologetic I got was by observing my incredible professors’ lives. They embody the old saying, “They will know we’re Christians by our love.”

Work Cited

Lewis, C.S. “Bulverism.” From God in the Dock. 10 January 2009.

Lewis, C.S. “The Weight of Glory.” Theology, November 1941.

Plantinga, Cornelius Jr. Engaging God’s World: A Reformed Vision of Faith, Learning,

and Living. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Inner Ring

The description of the "inner ring" is so true. Everywhere there are independent systems or concentric circles of rings, these unwritten systems. In social psychology, we discussed in depth the phenomenon of group formation and the rather disturbing tendency toward "group think." I find that subject fascinating, and it makes me curious as to why human nature has a tendency to do that.

I also like his idea that "in all men's lives at certain periods, and in many men's lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside." Amen. That pretty much describes my K-12 education. My mom still is preoccupied with rings after having a dismal middle school "ring" crisis. I will also admit that I am still tormented from the cliques and drama of middle school. I remember in 6th grade thinking that if I wore the right brand of blue jeans, maybe the popular kids would like me. I was so insecure, always worried about fitting in. Social standing was like life and death at Derby Middle School.

The existence of Inner Rings is unavoidable and perhaps even innocent, according to Lewis, but it causes LOTS of problems. As he wrote, "In the whole of your life as you now remember it, has the desire to be on the right side of that invisible line ever prompted you to any act or word on which, in the cold small hours of a wakeful night, you can look back with satisfaction? If so, your case is more fortunate than most." That brings back a lot of memories. Sometimes in middle and high school, I would "ignore" certain people on my way to class (i.e. not wave to them) because they weren't cool enough. I have a serious problem with gossip, partly because I ate gossip for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day growing up. My upper-class, consumerist schooling just reveled on the latest morsel of back-stabbing and drama. I don't look back with satisfaction in anything I've said about others in order to get someone's approval.

Lewis wrote this address to "convince you that this desire is one of the great permanent mainsprings of human action. Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life from the first day on which you enter your profession until the day when you are too old to care." This obsession with inner circles, Lewis said, comes from little trivial decisions. Also, "as long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want."

These words really convicted me, "But your genuine Inner Ring exists for exclusion. There'd be no fun if there were no outsiders... Exclusion is no accident; it is the essence." Immediately, I thought of my short-lived sorority days (yeah, I know, I'm like the least likely person you'd ever expect to join a sorority). My mom told me stories of her awesome days in the sorority at U of M, and at age 12, I was already committed to rushing. I got to U of M and signed up for recruitment (which was a horrible, long, exclusive process). Different sororities "cut" you at different rounds. It was like a middle school popularity contest all over again. But the memories of my mom's stories danced in my head enough to keep me going. I pretended to be this preppy, bubbly girl who I wasn't. I got into my top choice sorority, and it was all about exclusivity. We had our secret rituals, meetings, and in my sorority, people became cliquish immediately. When I wouldn't dress up for our chapter meetings, I noticed people would ignore me more. I went to frat parties and bars (although I did not and will never, ever drink in my life, and I didn't then), just to feel like I belonged. I even compromised relationally and sexually to conform to everyone else. I started getting involved in my church and realizing that the sorority wasn't for me, but I still wanted to feel, well, wanted. I wanted to feel "in." The next year, during recruitment, I had just about had it. We were rating girls 1-7 on criteria such as "presentation" (appearance). One of my friends was cut from the sorority because a girl's conversation with her was "awkward." That was the last straw.

Leaving the sorority was the best decision I've ever made, but it makes me realize how much I yearn for acceptance. Indeed, "The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it." It is true that without that pressure, you will naturally be inside the circle of an "accidental" group without exclusivity, also called friendship. As Lewis concluded, "But he follows that desire he will reach no 'inside' that is worth reaching."

Discussion in class on 1/22/09

All day I have been processing the discussion we had in class this morning, and I feel compelled to write a bit about it. Somehow our discussion of "Man or Rabbit?" became a theological discussion of Lewis' possible universalism.

The passage in question is this:

We all know there have been good men who were not Christians; men like Socrates and Confucius who had never heard of it, or men like J. S. Mill who quite honestly couldn’t believe it. Supposing Christianity to be true, these men were in a state of honest ignorance or honest error. If there intentions were as good as I suppose them to have been (for of course I can’t read their secret hearts) I hope and believe that the skill and mercy of God will remedy the evils which their ignorance, left to itself, would naturally produce both for them and for those whom they influenced.

When I first read that, my discernment lights flashed a warning signal, but I had no idea that such an idea would be so widely disputed in class. Perhaps I had strong feelings about it because I myself have asked this question many times, and we discussed it a bit in Religion 241 (Historical Theology 1500-present). Basically, there are three ways to look at "other religions:"
1. Pluralism- the belief that many paths lead to God
2. Exclusivity- Jesus is the only way
3. Inclusivism- Christianity is the best way, but other religions can adopt from principles of Christianity and can be saved
Here's a little more info about that-

I would guess that Lewis would agree with inclusivism, but as we discussed in theology, these terms are all jumbled and intermixed. Essentially, "inclusivism" is really picking and choosing parts of religions that are "good" and "true." What, then, is good or true? A Christian might say, "The Bible is good and true." Well, then that is really exclusivism because you're saying that Christianity is really the only way to God. It gets more confusing but I don't want to get into that hardcore. In my class we came to the conclusion that exclusivity was the most appropriate stance to take. Inclusivism has a lot of "boundary" issues: where is the boundary between a "good" religion and a "bad" religion? What is the distinction between certain religions? Do only some other religions provide salvations? To me, it sounds a little like, "Christians get first prize, then other religions get 2nd and 3rd prizes. You all win!" Then that sounds universalist/ pluralistic.

I think the Bible is pretty clear that Jesus is the only way to God. I also agree that we can't judge people's eternal salvation. I additionally believe that God judges people based on what they're given. Thus, if someone is not exposed at all to Christianity, I believe God would be more merciful to that person than to someone who had been exposed to Christianity hundreds of times and had rejected it. But, I think the passage in "A Man or Rabbit?" and our class discussion brought up some serious concerns.

We have all sinned and fall short of the "mark," and Jesus paid the price for that sin so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. I'll put the Socrates and Confucius thing to the side, although we did discuss those who don't know about Christ in class as well. But J.S. Mill who simply "couldn't" believe in Christ, Lewis believed God would forgive him for that. I looked up J.S. Mill, as I had never heard of his ideas of Christianity. He said this: Christianity was "essentially a doctrine of passive obedience; it inculcates submission to all authorities found established." Now I'm not God, and I don't know what God will do, but on that, the Bible's pretty clear. It almost sounds a bit subjective (ironically) to just dismiss certain matters of unbelief and say that one certain belief won't be forgiven, and yet another will not be. We have objective TRUTH: Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!!!

I don't think we should go up to people and be like, "You're going to Hell." We don't have that type of authority to make that judgment. And it gets dangerous when Christians develop an "us vs. them" mindset, because something happens to our own souls when we condemn others as "out" and we are "in." But that doesn't mean that belief is "optional." If so, what's the point of spreading the Good News at all if we don't need it? The Good News is eternal, not just for this life. Why would Jesus have sent His disciples on the Great Commission if He didn't think people needed to hear the Good News not just for the sake of this life but for eternity?

I agree that there are certain "divine mysteries" that we can't understand, but that can also be applied to anything. My brother has this question, for example, "Why should people think about God if we can't understand Him?" Why do we seek for truth in anything if everything's just a "divine mystery?" God didn't have to reveal Himself to us, but He did, and with His Word, God gave us some insight into these divine mysteries. Yes, of course, we can't understand the universe fully nor should we try to. Jesus' atonement is a gift for a right relationship with the Father, but it is necessary for people to accept it. If you're offered a gift and refuse it, well, then you've refused it. I don't know if people will get a second chance to accept Christ after death, and I don't think God intends for us to know that. From our perspective, however, Jesus is the way to God, and we shouldn't make projections about God's forgiveness of certain unbeliefs.

I don't begin to think that I know what God will do with J.S. Mills or African tribes who have never heard the Good News or hypocritical Christians, for that matter. I just know that the Bible teaches the idea of objective truth, which is contrary to our pluralistic postmodern society. C.S. Lewis' comment in "A Man or Rabbit?" just set off alarms in my head, and our discussion in class frankly shocked me. I don't claim to be an apologist or know the exact theological reasons for the doctrine of exclusivity, but I find it important. This comment represents a far deeper issue. Yes, C.S. Lewis was imaginative and not purely a theologian, but in writing about God, theology is just as much a part of that as imagination or creativity or anything else. You can't just write essays about God and be like, "Well, you're putting too much emphasis on the theology." It's like writing a story about French culture and getting the culture all wrong. You could say, "Don't worry about the details, you understand the point." Obviously that doesn't make any sense. Theology is a part of writing about God, and it is very important, especially when dealing with such a crucial subject.

The Problem of Pain

This chapter of The Problem of Pain (chapter 6) addressed some very thought-provoking ideas. Lewis first distinguished pain in two senses:
1. A particular kind of sensation, ex. a headache
2. Any experience, whether physical or mental, which the patient dislikes, i.e. suffering, trouble
Lewis concentrated this chapter on the 2nd conception of pain.

Man was made to imitate the Creator, but due to sin, we are (according to Newman) "rebels who must lay down our arms." Surrending our self will is a kind of death that must happen daily. Thus, this process cannot be without pain, but paradoxically, "mortification, though itself a pain, is made easier by the presence of pain in its context." Lewis described this phenomenon in three ways:

1. The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Pain is recognizable and impossible to ignore. As page 91 so clearly says, "But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." Pain can of course lead to final and unrepented rebellion, but it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment."

2. Pain shatters the illusion that wht we have, whether good or bad in itself, is our own and enough for us. Lewis' friend said, "We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it's there for emergencies but he hopes he'll never have to use it." The only way we turn to God is if we have tried "any other resort where it (happiness) can even plausibly be looked for." God knows that modest prosperity and happiness are not enough to make people blessed, and Lewis makes a case that our "troubles" are actually "a Divine Humility." For our sake, God must shatter our illusion of self-sufficiency.

3. With sin, we have a whole new set of desires, and it is hard to know whether we are acting for God's sake or under the influence of our own inclinations. Thus, "the full acting out of the self's surrender to God therefore demands pain. Lewis then acknowledged the paradox whether God commands certain things because they are right, or whether certain things are right because God commands them. I don't really understand that whole argument about the "nature of morality" because I've never taken philosophy, and it sounds like a whole "did the chicken come first or the egg" type issue.

Lewis said that, "Human will becomes truly creative and truly our own when it is wholly God's, and this is one of the many senses in which he that loses his soul shall find it." I found this argument to be profound and influential.

The question still must be addressed, however, "From our present point of view it ought to be clear that the real problem is not why some humble, pious, believing people suffer, but why some do not." Lewis discussed two points here:

1. The actual moment of present pain is only the center of the whole "tribulational system." Lewis gave the example of himself "progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contentedly fallen and godless condition," only to experience pain, at which point, slowly, "I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times." This is what Lewis called the "terrible necessity of tribulation."

2. We must be careful to attend to what we know and not to what we imagine. Lewis observed, "I have seen great beauty of spirit in some who were great sufferers. I have seen men, for the most part, grow better not worse with advancing years, and I have seen the last illness produce treasures of fortitude and meekness from most unpromising subjects."

I also loved Lewis' last point concerning poverty: "Those who would most scornfully repudiate Christianity as a mere 'opiate of the people' have a contempt for the rich, that is, for all mankind except the poor. They regard the poor as the only people worth preserving from 'liquidation,' and place in them the only hope of the human race."

This essay struck my attention with the very word "pain." For the last two years, my brother has had this phantom chronic pain and he's seen specialists all over the state. None of them can figure it out. My brother has since turned away from his faith (part of that is the transition to a very non-spiritually nourishing secular school), but sometimes I'm sure he struggles with the reconciliation of his pain and belief in God. I know my mom has talked to me about it. She prayers for him every day, and she can't understand why God would let him suffer like this. I found Lewis' arguments very helpful in my understanding of suffering and the good that might come of it. Human suffering is a difficult concept for a Christian to comprehend, and I thought his points were good.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Man or Rabbit?

I loved this essay; in fact, it was perhaps my favorite essay of the class so far. The question grabbed my attention right away, "Can't you lead a good life without believing in Christianity?" Sometimes I worry that Christianity can become like glorified advertising. It just seems a little weird that some churches use the same marketing techniques as they do with businesses. I don't know, it just gives me the uneasy feeling that we're trying to "advertise Jesus," or manipulate people into a relationship with the living God. I would give a resounding AMEN to Lewis when he says, "Christianity is not a patent medicine." It's not like, "You need one Jesus pill and you'll get into Heaven for free." It sounds like an infomercial.

The question about living a good life without Christianity has deeper implications, says Lewis, that, "I don't care whether Christianity is in fact true or not... All I'm interested in is leading a good life." As Lewis wrote a few sentences later, "If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be: if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all."

I totally agree that "those who know the truth and thosewho don't should be equally well equipped for leading a good life." Both Christians and non-Christians would agree on things, obviously, but when it comes down to it, there are practical differences: their approaches to education would be different and their conceptions of individuals vs. groups and the universe. The Christian and the Materialist hold different beliefs about the universe, and they can't both be right!!

I was kind of skeptical when Lewis wrote that concerning Socrates, Confucius, and J.S. Mill, "I hope and believe that the skill and mercy of God will remedy the evils which their ignorance, left to itself, would naturally produce for them and for those whom they influenced." Later Lewis wrote, "Honest rejection of Christ, however mistaken, will be forgiven and healed." I don't think the Bible teaches that....

But I'm back on the same page as Lewis when he began talking about the man who asked this question. Lewis believed that this man was really saying, "Need I bother about it? Aren't good intentions enough to keep me safe and blameless without knocking at that dreadful door and making sure whether there is, or isn't, someone inside?" That is problematic, likened to a man who won't go to the doctor with pain because he's afraid of what the doctor might say. That is what Lewis calls a state of DIShonest error.

Lewis admitted that Christianity does do a person good, but in becoming a Christian, people must learn that, "Mere morality is not the end of life." In fact, "a decent life" is nothing compared to the Divine Life to which we are called. Lewis wrote that the "rabbit" in us must disappear.

The essay concludes with, "The idea of reaching 'a good life' without Christ is based on a double error. Firstly, we cannot do it; and secondly, in setting up 'a good life' as our final goal, we have missed the very point of our existence."

I just loved this essay because so often I see this "convenience story Christianity" or "ATM God" fallacy coming up in my own life. God used to fit in to my schedule, and that was it. It has taken a long time for me to come to terms with the fact that God never promises it will be easy. He never promises that life will be happy and we'll get whatever we want when we want it. Often I've found my prayers to be like me using an ATM, like, "God I want this, this, and this. Oh, and this! And make sure to do this. Gotta go!" I've also seen this approach in the church, at U of M, and even within my own family. I found Lewis' insight on this topic to be fascinating.

Plantinga Chapter 4 Redemption

My biggest fear is that I would get desensitized to Jesus' message of salvation. My church was liturgical and ordered exactly like Catholic mass. In other words, for 18 years of my life, I had THE EXACT SAME church service. I had memorized the Nicene Creed by age 8 easily and the Lord's Prayer far before that... not out of devotion, but out of pure repetition. Even now, when I read about the Lord's Supper, I instantly grimace, remembering the long chanting before Communion during which I would squirm and draw pictures on scrap paper. Then, after Communion was done, I knew I was home free. There was one prayer after Communion, and we'd be done with church. It amazes me to this day how people repeat the same words over and over, "We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of God," and you'd be thinking we were mourning in a funeral hall! It was like emotionless chatter. The Nicene Creed, the idea of the Eucharist, the Scripture readings... I was all "church talked out" by the end of elementary school. The words had meaning, but it was the way in which they were presented. God to me was like a dull, lifeless, boring Being because of whom I had to dress up on Sunday and pretend to pay attention.

When I heard the Gospel presented at an evangelical camp, suddenly everything became clear. It wasn't that the message was different, but it was expressed differently. But soon this new passion came to an end, too. Soon I was talking Christian-ese and expressing how wonderful God was, praising Him, reading my Bible... but my heart became more and more disengaged. My church in Ann Arbor was very much missionally based, very evangelical, so new people were coming to Christ all the time. They expressed this child-like joy at the message of the Gospel, this hunger to know God, to read the Bible. Seeing that, I realized how much I had lost.

"Jesus died for my sins!!!!!!!!!!!!" had become "Yeah, I know, I've heard it a million times, Jesus died for my sins. Next subject." One day in church we were singing the popular "How Great is our God," and my friend turned to me, exasperated, and said, "How great is our God? I know, He's great, why do we have to keep singing that?" I laughed at the time, but really, that's how my heart was.

The pastor of my Ann Arbor church said that he was still in ministry because he was in love with the story of the Gospel. Sometimes I fear that I have lost that joy, that child-like admiration God's grace and peace. Reading this chapter, I had some of those impulses. I was tempted to skip over sections of it, thinking, "Yeah, I know this. Let's get on with it." Then I caught myself. Wow, how jaded I have become!!!! Maybe I know ABOUT the Gospel, but is my life really like that? Am I expressing that with my daily life? Am I living like Jesus really rose from the dead? Am I totally sold out for God? No, I'm not.

On page 75, Barbara Brown Taylor wrote, "What we have lost... is a full sense of the power of God-- to recruit people who have made terrible choices; to invade the most hopeless lives and fill them with light; to sneak up on people who are thinking about lunch, not God, and smack them up side the head with glory."

Plantinga first went over God's grace in the Old Testament, starting with the Patriarchs in Genesis. I liked the comparison that the Ten Commandments "are guides for a free and flourishing life," rather than an annoying set of rules. God was certainly persistent with the disobedient Israelites, but there is a tendency in Christian culture to be like, "Those Israelites... why did they keep worshipping Baal? How dense can they be?" Maybe we don't worship the actual deity Baal today, but we're just as bad! God raised up prophets to try to help everyone, but that ended up not working out. The prophets spoke of the Messiah, and the people at the time of Jesus had certain conceptions of what the Messiah would be like: he would be human, political, and a military king. They were definitely not expecting Jesus.

Jesus came for several reasons, as Plantinga describes:
1. Pay the penalty for our sins
2. To destroy the works of the devil
3. Deal with sin and fulfill the law
4. To seek out and save the lost
5. To gather up all things in him or to reconcile himself to all things

Jesus indeed died for our sins, but three days later He rose, which is the "platform" for everything Christians have to offer the world. Now, we are called to proclaim to the world, in our different vocations, "The Lord is risen." I love the end of the first paragraph on page 82, but I don't have time to type it out.

Now the question is: now what? So Jesus died and rose again? So what then should we do? Plantinga describes on pages 83 and 84 that we are called to have faith in Christ and get involved in a church, i.e. a community of believers. We can enjoy personal communion with God, but also public acts of communion- corporal events like preaching the gospel, Baptism, and Communion.

I found it interesting that Plantinga wrote, "Confession of sin is an enormously freeing thing to do." A lot of times Christians feel pressure to "have it together," and I must confess, I have never felt that pressure so much as at Calvin and Grand Rapids. The statement "We are Christians, so we should be happy all the time" is just not true, but that's how a lot of people act at times.

After accepting Christ, a process of regeneration of a person's love for God and for neighbors begins. Plantinga describes "regeneration" like the exposion that starts the motor of a car, while "sanctification" is the lifelong conversion of conforming to Christ. Calvin called "sancitification" and "justification" a "double grace," which releases, relieves, and redeems us. Getting rid of sin is hard, but a surrender to God's grace is necessary.

Obedience is necessary after conversion, and I like the quote, "We are not saved by good works, but neither are we saved without them." If you're a murderer and you surrender to the grace of God, you can't just go on murdering people. If you really understood the message, you would know that that's not the plan. Jesus' redemptive work on the cross was not just a "free for all" ticket for people to do whatever they want. It is an invitation to a fresh start. I like the list on page 93 of the "glad instructions" that Christians should follow.

I also like the quote, "Christians are people who dress up like Christ, not because we want to deceive people into thinking we are better than we are, but because the only way we can become better than we are is by trying on our grownup clothes." The clothes are symbolism for virtues. Lately I have felt the need to grow in virtues or in character. You can talk the talk, but bottom line: if you're not living your beliefs, people discount you. If you're trying to lead someone to Christ by a beautiful description of the Gospel and then you start yelling at another friend, people can see through that, and they will tune out the Gospel in the name of hypocrisy.

Plantinga said that, "Everything corrupt needs to be redeemed." Then, of course, comes the question of an individual's calling within that massive mandate of redemption? Plantinga offered two sources of guidance: the Bible and Catechisms/ confessions. The last point is about discernment, about the importance of "testing the spirits," not just to seek wisdom for its own sake but because "it helps us find and follow our vocation within the kingdom of God." I was a little skeptical about the confessions and catechisms being put right alongside the Bible. Are these documents not just human works, subject to error and mistakes just like other things?

I really liked this chapter, and it was a humbling experience to try to read it from a different lens, a lens not of a jaded Christian but a hungry child.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Abolition of Man

I found chapters 1 and 2 of this book to be good background to properly understanding the 3rd (The Abolition of Man). In chapter 1, Lewis discussed negative aspects of a certain grammar book written by "Gaius and Titius" (obviously fictional names). Lewis did not have very nice things to say about this textbook, to say it lightly, such as the fact that these authors don't reference literature, wrongly overemphasize the emotional state of the characters, and dismiss all traditional values. Yet, Lewis believed that this type of education had far-reaching consequences. Lewis designated the term "the Tao" to represent the similar forms of morality that each culture and religion has generally adopted. Critical to the Tao is the necessity of objective value, that certain beliefs are true, and others are false.

Recent education has tried to scrap morality, and Lewis had a major problem with that. He wrote, "The operation of The Green Book (Gaius and Titius' book) is to produce what may be called Men without Chests," men whose chests are atrophied on the inside, lacking "fertile and generous emotion." In another way, he said, "We remove the organ and demand the function."

Chapter 2 is all about the moral/ natural law, which is described in the passage we read from Mere Christianity. I also noticed a lot of overlap from "The Poison of Subjectivism" essay. Thus, there is no use belaboring the point, but in essence: without any objective set of values, there is no point of debunking traditional morals without having objective values with which it is possible to compare.

In the first two chapters, it is all about the harm of taking morals out of education. I can appreciate Lewis' point here. Coming from U of M, I can totally see the harm of divorcing ethics from academics. Indeed, textbooks can contribute to the problem. I read a book once called When Jesus Came To Harvard by Harvey Cox, a Harvard prof, and it was very interesting. Harvard apparently was having problems with students' "ethics" and they required all students to take one ethics class. I've heard the same thing happening to all of the Ivy League schools. It is concerning. The quote we discussed in class today comes to mind, "Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil."

Then there is chapter 3, The Abolition of Man. This amplifies chapters 1 and 2 into a serious caution about the implications of "valueless education." Lewis first brought up the term "Man's conquest of nature." He came to the conclusion that, "The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself."

Education used to incorporate teachings of Tao (or the moral law), but now, "Values are now mere natural phenomenon." Now the "Conditioners" control what values to obey, and whatever Tao there is is a product, not the motive, of education. Without Tao at the center of teaching, "no conception of good can help them to decide," because there is no standard of comparison. Lewis boldly stated, "Man's final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man." Worse yet, "Man's conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of consummation, to be Nature's conquest of man."

Right now we are trying to have it both ways: to lay down our human prerogative and at the same time retain it. The choice is this, "Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own 'natural' impulses." This loss of natural law into education could lead to horrible consequences, since all moral values might be subjective.

Lewis even admitted, "I hardly know what I am asking for." Then later, he wrote, "Perhaps, I am asking impossibilities." He left the audience with the comment that, "To 'see through' all things is the same as not to see."

I think Lewis brought up a lot of good points, as usual, and I notice a similar logical style with which he wrote Mere Christianity and "The Poison of Subjectivism." I see Lewis' concerns, and certainly, in my time at U of M, I saw major concerns of valueless education. At the same time, I think Lewis brought a lot of abstract concepts into the 3rd chapter without really substantiating them or at least addressing that these were merely speculations. Also, chapter 2 to 3 seemed like a BIG leap, skipping too many important issues in between. You can't just logically jump from natural law to "the abolition of man." Lewis didn't have many constructive solutions to this problem.

I have grown up with secular humanism all around me, and I believe that Lewis was generalizing too much here. I know so many ethical, secular people who want to do the "right thing." In fact, these people are often more ethical than most Christians I know. Take my dad, for example, who is the most ethical person I've ever met in my life-- I've never heard him lie, swear, cheat anyone, steal, or gossip... and he's a self-professed humanistic agnostic! Many people don't believe in God, but they believe in an essential Tao. At U of M, the Christians on campus are a small minority, but the campus is HUGE into social justice and various social issues. People have a tendency to cling to a sense of right and wrong, with or without formal religion. I see Lewis' logic: that there are no value judgments, so people will do what they want and man will make itself instinct. But I think his speculations are misguided. There are many Christians who believe in Tao and read about Tao but don't do anything about it. Faith without deeds is dead, so I think Lewis needed to take into account the people who believe in Tao and don't practice it. Then, there are many non-Christians who are extremely ethical. I see so many non-Christians borrow from God's principles, who desire to see shalom penetrate the Earth, but they don't believe in God. Not everybody sees a lack of moral law and decided to do whatever they want because it's all subjective.

I don't think it's an education issue to try to make students more moral with different textbooks and educational curriculum. I think it's a heart issue. It's an issue that must be dealt with on a spiritual and emotional level. True, lasting, inward-motivated ethics cannot be shoved down students' throats. They must come with devotion and discipleship, a serious focus on the Author and Perfecter of our faith, and a desire to imitate Him.