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Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

Here are a couple of limericks inspired by moments in the history of Western Thought.  What do they have in common besides that?  Both were moments of failing to see clearly stemming from a failure to realize that we can not reach ultimate truth from merely unaided human starting points—either epistemologically or morally.  By creating an epistemology that excluded truth from divine revelation and kept itself within the bounds of human reason alone, Kant let reality (the Ding an sich or “thing in itself”) slip through his fingers.  In like manner, Augustine at one point failed to cast himself wholly on the grace of God not only to see but to do what is right.  Unlike Kant, Augustine learned better than his original error.  So should we.

Immanuel Kant

THE SLIDE TOWARD SOLIPSISM BEGINS

Limerick # 32

 

“Our knowledge,” one sage used to rant,

“Is inevitably always aslant.

The true Ding an sich

Is so sly and so slick

That when you try to see it, you Kan’t.”

 

THE CONSISTENT INCONSISTENCY OF THE OLD NATURE

MAKES SELF-REFORMATION FUTILE

Limerick # 33

 

Before he was saved, St. Augustine

Was in love with the pleasures of lustin’.

He prayed, “Make me pure,

But not yet, to be sure!”

While he prayed, his own prayer he was bustin’.

Augustine

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

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Meditations with C. S. Lewis: The Right Defense through Education

C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity.  Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press.  On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.

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The right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments.
–The Abolition of Man

Here, Lewis is pointing out the only effective defense against the falsehoods of the world:  teaching the Truth.  This would seem to be so obvious that one would ask, “Where is the profundity in that?”  Unfortunately, if it were that obvious, we would be doing it more often.  Actually reaching that goal, thinking it through to the present and future, really will require a revolution in a modern western church that has abdicated it’s responsibility to teach more than a Sunday morning sermon.  We must “inculcate just sentiments” not just on spiritual issues, as we have for many years now, but on all levels of science and knowledge.  What’s more, the church must take this responsibility onto itself. We cannot rely on others to do it for us.

There was a time in the historical West when the most widely read and educated people resided in the Christian church.  Christians set the standards for research in history, science, and philosophy.  Christians created and discovered knowledge, they didn’t just borrow it and warm it over with their perspective.  Also, for a very long time, first in Europe but also later in the United States, Christian Truth and the Gospel were both at least acknowledged as right even by those who refused to follow them.  People did not object to their inclusion in broader education or government.  While that that was the case, Christians could “safely” delegate large portions of what was rightly the church’s authority to outside entities, like the government schools, and the government would in turn trust the churches to handle important cultural work, like charity.  That system, one could argue, was never very healthy in the best of times, and it led directly to the mess we are in now.

In more recent years, churches have distinguished themselves primarily for how disconnected from the wider culture they can be, especially after the Scopes debacle in the years of the fundamentalist movement.  When they do connect with the world, it is usually in less than positive ways–to copy a music style that secular culture pioneered and Christians only produce in pale imitation or to scream at the government that we are not afforded the special rights of a bygone era.  It is rare to find a truly well-educated, well-rounded pastor who really understands issues of philosophy, science, and technology or who makes any effort to find out about them.  Most sermons and attempts at church education fail miserably from an intellectual perspective, focusing exclusively on relationship building, the all consuming need to be “nice” people, or giving a shallow rehashing of Biblical stories that we’ve heard since childhood.

This has to do with the fact that the culture, by and large, has changed around us.  We no longer live in a “Christian” nation in any meaningful sense of the term.*  That requires a completely different approach to education, charity, politics, and many other topics.  Increasingly, we will need to take our lessons from believers in places like Japan, where Christians account for less than 1% of the population, Muslim nations, or even China. Part of that will involve the church redefining its approach to education while it still can.  It must once again become a center of all knowledge, not simply a purveyor of moralistic tidbits.

What should that look like?  Of course I can’t lay out an entire revolution in 1000 words, but here are some ideas:

  • Churches must begin to conceive of themselves as real communities of believers, not just Sunday morning associations–The churches must begin to minister to the whole human being:  mind, body, and spirit.
  • Churches must broaden their topical horizons–Like it or not, they now, at this moment, bear the responsibility for educating their members on apologetics, science, history, literature, philosophy/worldview issues, finance, relationships, theology, and much, much more.  If the churches do not take on this responsibility, they will take the blame before God for the failed lives of their parishioners.
  • Churches must pay attention to the very idea of education–Each church will need to make a serious effort to connect believers of all ages with engaging material from a very broad spectrum  of subjects.  Am I suggesting that a church offer classes in history and science on Sunday morning.  Yes.  And other times during the week, and on a broad range of other subjects too.  
  • Churches must follow their mouths with their monies–Once a church is talking about the right things, it must be willing to back up that talk with cash.  Pay for good materials and speakers, set up scholarships for poorer children to attend good high schools, and for older individuals to find good colleges and universities where they can get a balanced education.
  • Churches must, above all else, begin teaching their parishioners how to think, not just what to think.–They must engage the greats of Christian thinking, Lewis among them.

I could go on for much longer, but I think the general point is clear:  Lewis is 100% correct that as Christians we must “inculcate just sentiments” into our children and ourselves if we are to hope to survive the next century as a people and as a nation.  We can no longer afford to simply wait on someone else to do it for us.  It’s time for the churches to “summon up the blood” and Henry V put it, and close the breach in the evangelical mind.

Do you agree with me?  Share this article with your pastor, Christian education director, your Sunday School, or your congregation, and see where the conversation takes you.  (Yes, I am enough of an idealist to think that mere blog post could make a difference!)

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*Incidentally, I think this is where many Christian political movements run afoul of reality.  It is no longer a question of a “silent” or “moral” majority reasserting control.  The country must be re-evangelized from the ground up.

Click here for the entire run of “Meditations with C. S. Lewis” so far.

Meditations with C. S. Lewis: Jungles and Deserts in Education

C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity.  Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press.  On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.

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The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.
–The Abolition of Man

One of the real marks of Lewis’s genius as a writer is how well his points have stood the test of time.  In fact, most of the time when I sit down to write one of these meditations, I find myself simply restating the essence of Lewis’s points to a more modern audience.  Their content is still just as relevant, but our context forces a new application.  Here, though, I think western culture has changed enough to lead me to disagree with Lewis:  Since he wrote, education in western civilization has become both jungle and desert at once.  We cannot afford to ignore either.

When Lewis was writing The Abolition of Man, he was combating a rising tide of modernity that was trying to rid humanity of “sentimentality” by reducing all that is good and admirable to “scientific” principles that could be culled from observation of nature.  Put simply, humanity was being actively reduced to the status of an animal, and philosophers were unwilling to give up what everyone thinks is “good” about humanity at the same time. So, for instance, self-sacrificial love was supposed to be still laudable, even though we rejected the idea of a greater love or a transcendent right and wrong.

We cannot reason to the word “ought” from nature.  Lewis was completely correct when he pointed out that there is no legitimate way to justify most morally positive decisions by the dark practicality we see in nature, and he was also right when he decried the fact that this nonsense was being taught to children.  It was only a matter of time until some of them began to call the bluff laid down by the secularists:  If my morals are to be based on nature, why can’t I lie, cheat, steal, or even murder, if I can get away with it?  This has led, as Lewis predicted, to the significant moral decay we see all around us.

What Lewis did not predict was how the jungle would simultaneously intrude on our efforts to educate.  The average westerner–adult and child–has access to far more information now in the digital age than Lewis likely ever imagined would be possible.  Everyone is bombarded with literally hundreds of competing truth claims every day, from what toothpaste is best to who you should vote for to who you should worship.  This has contributed to a sort of information overload, since it would be patently impossible for most of us to even begin to sort through the mess.  Moreover, the sheer volume of “facts” out there can be used selectively to support whatever positions we might take a fancy to occupying that day.

For many children (and adults) the result is something akin to dropping them into the North Atlantic without a life preserver.  People today are drowning in a mass of “facts,” ideas, and truth claims that they have been ill-equipped by life and education to stay on top of and sort through.  The main philosophies that they have absorbed are often either of little help to them or will actively drag them down faster.  Many simply give up trying to stay afloat and allow themselves to “die” in a sort of intellectual suicide, clinging for comfort to whatever happens to make them happy for a time, no matter how true it is or what the consequences will be later.

If I were to stick to Lewis’s analogy, the job of the educator today is to both irrigate deserts and chop jungles all at once.  Better, we must teach our students–whether they be in a classroom or in a church–how to find their way through an arid jungle that offers only death to the better, more fertile lands beyond.

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Click here for the entire run of “Meditations with C. S. Lewis” so far.

WHERE IS THE BATTLE?

WHERE IS THE BATTLE?

Francis Schaeffer used to stress Martin Luther’s observation that unless we are defendingthe faith at the point where it is being attacked in our generation, we are not defending the faith.  He was right.  There is a Scandal of the Cross for each generation and each people, but it changes as the shifting stratagems of the Enemy vary.  For the Greeks it was the resurrection of the body; for the Jews it was the loss of their status as a privileged people defined by their keeping of the Mosaic Law; for the Modernist it was the supernatural, especially the miraculous; for all men at all times it is our absolute dependence on God’s grace, his unmerited favor.  What is the particular sticking point for our own time?  A good case can be made that it is the existence of objective truth, or, more subtly, the ability of human beings to know objective truth, and hence to be responsible for knowing it and accountable to God for what they do about it.

Current pseudo-philosophies reduce all truth claims to personal perspectives and power plays, and people influenced by them refuse to participate in any discourse (“logocentric”; “totalizing”) that does not acquiesce in those reductions.  There is therefore a strong temptation to think that we have to play by those rules in order to gain a hearing for the Gospel at all.  But if we yield to that temptation, are we still proclaiming the Gospel?  If I speak in such a way that I have already admitted by the form of discourse I adopt that the Gospel is and can be no more than my personal perspective on religion, have I not denied the faith, however much I may still mouth the prescribed formulae about Jesus dying for our sins?  For a Jesus who is lord only of my perspectives is not Lord of the cosmos and is therefore incapable of saving anyone.

It is good to be humble about our pretensions to knowledge and to admit that, while we know absolute truth, we do not know truth absolutely.  But in the current climate it is one small step from that admission to becoming intimidated about asserting that the truth claims Christ makes on our lives are absolute and come with God’s absolute authority.  That is ultimately the bottom line: is Christ Lord of all whether any of us perceives or accepts it or not, or is He just one of my opinions?

Are robust truth claims offensive to our generation?  No one can doubt that they are.  Should the soldiers of Christ then tiptoe away from that breach in our battle lines, or should they flood into it lest the entire phalanx of the Gospel message advancing into our culture be subverted and swept away?  The ancestors of modern theological liberalism began by downplaying and soft-peddling the supernatural elements of Christian truth, because they thought modern men could no longer accept them.  Their intentions were (at first) good and sincere, but they left their followers with only an impotent shell of the biblical faith.  Can we afford to repeat their mistake with the epistemological elements?

C. S. Lewis saw the importance of this question as clearly as anyone, and his answer was a resounding “No!”  He urged mere Christians to choose their Room off the great Hall by its truth rather than its paneling and its paint.  He commended Christian faith for its truth rather than its helpfulness in book after book.   He presents the choices perhaps most starkly in the essay “Man or Rabbit?” in God in the Dock.  “Either [the faith] is true, or it isn’t. . . . Isn’t it the job of every man (that is a man and not a rabbit) to try to find out which, and then to devote his full energies either to serving this tremendous secret or to exposing and destroying this gigantic humbug?”  Lewis’s own devotion to serving the secret was unambiguous and unmistakable.

Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.  His claims on our belief are absolute.  If we flinch at this point; if our trumpet gives an uncertain sound; if we present a Christ who is inoffensive because He is after all only one perspective among many; if we allow the enemies of truth to dictate the terms of engagement; if, in other words, we compromise on the issue of truth, then we betray the next generation to unrelieved darkness.  If we do this, then may God have mercy on their souls—and, even more, on ours.

Donald T. Williams, PhD, is R. A. Forrest Scholar and Professor of English at Toccoa Falls College.  His most recent books are Mere Humanity: G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien on the Human Condition (Broadman, 2006), Credo: Meditations on the Nicene Creed (Chalice Press, 2007), The Devil’s Dictionary of the Christian Faith (Chalice Press, 2008), Stars through the Clouds (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), his collected poetry, and Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012).

Order Stars through the Clouds ($15.00), at https://www.createspace.com/3562314.

Order Reflections from Plato’s Cave at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/.