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.”
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.