I once had a waking nightmare where I thought for a few minutes about the possibility that the Westboro Baptist Church really were, as they claim to be, the only true disciples of Jesus Christ on the Earth. You know the Westboro Baptist Church. They are the ones who go to the funeral of a fallen American soldier and tell the family that he is burning in hell because he died for a reprobate nation. They are the ones who go to gay pride parades and hold up a sign saying, “God hates fags”. Let us not deceive ourselves, there are verses in the Bible that can be made to support their interpretation. It is, in fact, because these verses and their unloving interpretation have been the greatest stumbling block of my Christian life that I write this blog. If the members of the Westboro Baptist Church congregation are correct, then I do not want to live in “Heaven” and there is no hope in this life.
I thought about this nightmare the other day when I came across a series of YouTube videos critical of the “heretic and false teacher” C.S. Lewis. Curious as to what they would say, I watched for a few hours. As I watched, I became increasingly dismayed. I thought the videos would be laughable hatchet jobs that grossly distorted his teachings, but I found that some of their criticisms were valid. How do I square my respect for C.S. Lewis with my disagreements with him on issues like the authority of Scripture?
All Things to All Men
As I thought about this question, I came to the realization that the Christians who criticize Lewis don’t understand what he was doing. To a believer who comes from a Christian background, it is difficult to imagine what it is like to grow up without the Bible and have it presented to you as an adult. Many of the truths of the New Testament are easily recognized and accepted, but many other teachings of the Bible seem alien, wrong and amoral. When a person comes to Christ as an adult and is faced with the challenge of sharing his or her faith with others from a similar background, they emphasize the teachings that make sense and de-emphasize the teachings that do not make sense. (I just finished writing a long post entitled “Death of a Pacifist“, for example, wherein I outlined my struggle to accept certain passages in the Old Testament that depict Jesus Christ as a vengeful judge who slaughters entire armies with a sword.)
Now this might seem like spiritual cowardice to a Christian who has never met someone who did not grow up reading the Bible, but there is a very strong Biblical justification for this approach found in the teachings of the Apostle Paul:
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:20-22)
What did Paul mean by these words? Did he mean, “with the fornicators I fornicated that I might save fornicators”? Of course not! What he means is that he reaches people through the truths that they already know. We see this when he preached the “unknown God” to those who he met at Mars hill in Acts 17. You reach out to those who do not know Christ by appealing to them through the truths they already know and accept.
C.S. Lewis came to Christ as a member of the faculty at Oxford. If he was to be intellectually honest, he could not have said that he believed that the Bible contained no errors or no mythological elements. Even if he had instantaneously become a fundamentalist who believed that the Bible contained no errors and that the world was only 6000 years old, he would have been laughed out of Oxford by his peers and been completely ineffective. Instead of being intellectually dishonest, Lewis used his understanding of mythology, of philosophy, of logic and reason and his significant communication skills to share the gospel message with those around him as best he knew how. In the process, he made Christianity intellectually respectable and was used to bring many people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Is it so hard to believe that God saved this man knowing who he was and what he believed and used him to reach others who had a similar background and upbringing? Can you not give glory to God when you see that he can use a flawed man with an incomplete knowledge of truth for the glory of Jesus Christ? Given the basic unfairness of the other arguments that were made in these videos, I would guess not.
Lewis and Mythology
One of the criticisms made in the video concerned something that Lewis evidently said while visiting a temple to the Greek God Apollo. According to the video, Lewis wrote in a letter that it was difficult to keep from offering up a prayer to Apollo as he visited the temple at Daphne. This statement was coupled with something that he had written in one of his books to the effect that Christ came as the fulfillment of the Old Testament and the Pagan religions to suggest that Lewis was an intentional deceiver who attempted to disguise Pagan religious practices as Christianity and lure gullible Christians into worshipping demons.
This argument betrays an ignorance of who Lewis was. Lewis was a mythologist who studied and loved mythology of all kinds. When he read pagan mythology, he saw the yearnings of human beings for something better than what we have in this world. Apollo was the Greek God of Healing and enlightenment and he represented the human yearning for a world without the ravages of disease and violence. When pagans who worshipped Apollo heard the gospel message, they came to Christ in droves because they believed that Christ was the realization of the divine healing and peace for which they had long yearned. This is what Lewis meant when he talked about Christ coming to fulfill pagan religions. Christ came to give human beings “life and life more abundantly” and it is this life for which the worshippers of Apollo had longed without knowing it.
Used by Pagans and Witches
Another criticism that was made was that many “pagans” and “witches” have the Chronicles of Narnia or the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien as “required reading” before you are allowed to join a coven. The argument was then made that if pagans have the writings of C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien as required reading, then they must be demonic.
I don’t know where the people who made this video get their information on the practices of pagans and witches, but it seems to me like this is merely an effective marketing tactic. If you were trying to get people to believe in pagan ideas, then you would naturally take popular and respected writings and distort them into supporting your views. If I was going to try and get someone to believe in UFOs, for example, I might target people who were fans of Star Trek and use that as an introduction to a belief in alien abductions. If Satan can distort the words of the Bible to tempt Jesus Christ, then how much more can the writings of C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien be distorted into a usage at which they would be horrified?
A Fool for Christ
Another argument that was made was that Christians were eager to embrace Lewis because they were eager for intellectual respectability. Pursuing worldly acceptance caused these Christians to abandon the Bible and true Christian faith. These “Christians” are not really “Christians” because they don’t want to be “fools for Christ”.
When I heard this argument, I wanted to break out laughing. I was reminded of the old Steve Martin bit on Saturday night live. “Well excuuuuuuuuuuuuse ME! I want to believe in a faith that makes sense and is not completely ridiculous. I want to be all things to all men and appeal to those in the world with reason. I want to love the Lord with all my mind and make sense of the Bible in terms of what I know and experience of the world around me. Is this so bad?”
To understand why I don’t believe that interpreting the Bible in this way is legitimate, let us consider a couple of wacky evangelists. One decides that he is going to be a “fool for Christ” and he dodges cars in the middle of a busy freeway at rush hour while holding a sign that says, “Repent for the end of the world is at hand.” Another one decides that he is going to teach a vital saying of Christ and he stands on the street corner preaching the vital truth that Jesus had temporary wings when he spoke in Jerusalem:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Luke 13:34)
Now both of these wacky evangelists will get a lot of people calling them “fools”, but does this mean that they are racking up treasure in Heaven? I don’t think so. I think being a fool for Christ does not mean doing things that are ridiculous, but having other people believe that you are a fool because you believe in the necessity and power of the cross of Jesus Christ. As far as I am concerned, just being a fool is not at all profitable, but to each his own.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)
The Ministry of Tearing Down Other Christians
As I go through the internet, I find a number of Christians who seem to believe that they have the ministry of “standing for the truth” by tearing down other Christians. While I will respect a person like Jacob Prasch who rebukes error in addition to reaching out to those who do not believe, I cannot respect a Christian who, safe and secure in their armchair, quarterbacks other Christians as to how to witness to those who are lost. To these Christians I would offer some simple advice. Take your view of the Bible out to the world and see how long you last and how effective you are before you criticize those of us who try to make sense of the Bible before we share it with others. Beware the temptation to hate and despise those to whom you are preaching for their wicked rejection of your understanding, however, lest you become like the members of Westboro Baptist Church.