Wednesday, December 7, 2016

AN INTRODUCTORY INTRODUCTION TO CHRISTIAN ETHICS - A Book Review

Introducing Christian Ethics: A Short Guide to Making Moral Choices. By Scott B. Rae. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016. 189 pp. $16.99. ISBN978-0-310-52118-1.

            In the study of moral philosophy, we discuss the most controversial subjects of our time. Thought it is, by far, preferable to begin discussing moral issues once we have a solid foundation in metaphysics and the philosophy of human nature, a minimum of instruction in ethical subjects is necessary for living a moral life—assuming that one wishes to live a moral life. So it is that, for those who will never pursue studies in moral philosophy or theology, an introduction to the subject could certainly be quite informative, and helpful. Introducing Christian Ethics, by Scott B. Rae, professor of Ethics at Biola University, is just such a book. We will here provide a brief overview of this book, followed by some comments as to its relative worth.

            The author does not explicitly state either the purpose of the book, or the intended audience. However, it seems obvious that the book is intended for neophytes to moral philosophy, and is written with the purpose of providing a brief overview of the primary themes that are discussed in moral philosophy. The book is composed of 12 chapters which are followed by subject and a scripture indices. In chapter 1 Rae introduces the reader to some notions of moral philosophy, such as the ontological foundations of morality, the relationship between moral philosophy and Christian theology, and the relationship between morality and the law. He also discusses some of the main elements of moral assessments. He proposes that Natural theology and God are the sources of human morality. In chapter 2 he outlines the foundational principles of a moral theology. In chapter 3 he summarizes a number of approaches to morality that are prevalent in our contemporary society (such as Deontology, Utilitarianism, Egoism and Relativism). He shows how these different approaches come to moral claims, and brings out some of the difficulties they must deal with. In chapter 4 Rae discusses moral dilemmas in general, and how to properly resolve them. He provides us with an example, and then uses his 7-step method to answer the dilemma in his example.

            In chapter 5 the author first considers, and refutes, arguments in favor of abortion. He then considers arguments against abortion. He finishes with a brief discussion concerning stem cell research and the harvest of fetal tissues. In chapter 6, Rae looks at a number of options in reproductive technologies. He summarizes how they work and mentions the major areas which are liable to cause moral questions. Rae attempts to provide biblical principles as guidelines for approaching this question, and, in general, does fairly well. He does not answer all of the moral issues which are brought up by these technologies, though he does suggest some areas of potential moral conflict. In chapter 7 he provides a brief discussion of bioethical subjects related to reproduction, such as genetic selection and cloning. He does not provide very clear positions, in this chapter, on the morality of each issue.

            In chapter 8 Rae discusses end of life issues, such as physician-assisted-suicide, euthanasia, and the termination of treatment. These are issues that more people should know about. In chapter 9 the author addresses subjects related to the death penalty. Without explicitly taking sides in the debate, Rae looks at the pros and cons of both sides of the debate. In chapter 10 the author looks at discussions about war between pacifists and just war theorist. He provides a summary of the positions and appears to lean towards Just War Theory. He then discusses torture in a very summary fashion (he takes no clear position, and does not define his terms). In chapter 11, probably the longest chapter in the book, the author explains the various issues related to the numerous moral debates in sexual ethics. Though he does not take a clear position on some issues, he does introduce most of the important debates in this area. In the twelfth and final chapter of the book the Rae discusses economics and a Christian workplace ethic. He also talks about how all occupations should be seen as “ministry”.

            This is a very short introduction to some of the main issues in contemporary ethics. Each chapter is no more than an introduction to the subjects discussed, which, to be covered properly, could take up many books. Though the author does not take a clear position on many of the subjects discussed, and the subjects are covered in a cursory manner, this book most definitely will be helpful for a particular audience. In my humble opinion this book will be overly simplistic even for those who are in undergraduate studies in philosophy. However, this book, written for a Christian audience, is a must read for those Christians who do not plan on pursuing studies in moral philosophy or theology, but who wish to better understand the moral issues that they will be confronting in our contemporary society. This book is a great introduction to the issues, and would be a great addition to every young persons, parents, and pastors library.

            

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Discovering the Septuagint: A Tool for the Student of the Greek language

Discovering the Septuagint: A Guided Reader. Edited by Karen H. Jobes. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2016. 351 pp. $39.99. ISBN 978-0-8254-4342-8.

            Learning any language is difficult, even one’s own. So, learning Greek, specifically that Greek which was used in the first century of our era, can seem like a daunting task. Yet, learning this language is such a rewarding and important pursuit. Rewarding because by learning to read Greek, a whole world of literature is opened to the reader, including not only the New Testament manuscripts, but, with some differences, many of the Greek texts of the early church fathers, and the ancient Greek philosophers. What is more, one will also be able to read the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament that is known as the Septuagint. The Septuagint was the version of the Old Testament that was used by many Jews in the time of Christ, and it became the “Old Testament” of the early church (being referred to by such great Christian thinkers as Justin Martyr and Tertullian). The most common practice for learning Greek in Seminaries is to introduce the student, bit by bit, to the Greek New Testament—frequently starting with the Gospel of John, or the Epistles that bear his name. Advanced courses in Greek may look at different, more difficult, books of the New Testament. Now the student of Greek can also interact with the Greek Old Testament.

Discovering the Septuagint introduces the intermediate Greek student to a number of important texts from the ancient Greek Old Testament. After a short explanation concerning the purpose and best use of the book, and a short introduction to the Septuagint, the student of the Greek language is introduced to many important Old Testament texts. The selections are taken from Genesis 1-3, Exodus 14-15, Exodus 20, the entire book of Ruth, the non-canonical sections of Esther, several Psalms (including Psalm 22), selections from Hosea, the entire book of Jonah, Malachi, and sections from Isaiah. Each of the major sections, which present various selections from different Old Testament books, are edited and introduced by different specialists. This means that the reader of this book is being taught how to read the Septuagint by those who have spent years studying the Septuagint. Each passage is given a verse-by-verse treatment, meaning that we first read a verse in Greek, followed by a detailed explanation of some of the more difficult or nuanced words. Each section concludes with a note about where the verses in that section might be quoted in the New Testament, and a full translation of all the verses looked at in that section.

This book is a welcome addition to the already enormous selection of Greek study materials. Students of Greek will find in this book an excellent introduction to the Greek of the Septuagint, and an excellent resource, not only for improving their ability to understand Greek, but, also, for improving their understanding of Old Testament exegesis. 

I received this book from Kregel publications, free of charge, so that I could write an unbiased review.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The ScrewTape Letters by C. S. Lewis: A Commentary, part 10

Key Themes in The Screwtape Letters, or,
What we learn from Screwtape: part 6

          This is part 10 in a series of blog posts that is dedicated to The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. To see part 1, click here; to see part 2, click here; to see part 3, click here; to see part 4, click here; to see part 5, click here; to see part 6, click here; to see part 7, click here; to see part 8, click here; to see part 9, click here. In part 1 we introduced the Screwtape Letters and provided a brief outline of the book. In parts 2-4 we provided an analysis of the literary sources that inspired the Screwtape Letters. We saw that the two most obvious literary sources for The Screwtape Letters are (1) the biblical teachings on angels, demons, and sin, and (2) John Milton’s Paradise Lost. We then looked at a number of other influences, and references to other literature, that can be seen in the ScrewTape Letters. In part 5 we began an exposition of the key themes that are brought up in the Screwtape Letters. Due to the nature of the Letters, it is important to understand that Lewis is not providing an indepth philosophical or theological analysis of each subject, but, rather, is providing what might be called a popular-level analysis.
 In part 5 we looked at some comments that Lewis makes concerning the Natural Sciences, Time and Change (which might be considered a sub-category of natural philosophy, or Metaphysics--depending on how the subject is approached), and Metaphysics. In part 6, we looked at some comments that Lewis makes concerning Theology Proper (the doctrine of God), and Christology. In part 7 we looked at comments that Lewis makes concerning Human Nature, Hamartiology (or the doctrine of sin), and Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). In part 8 we considered some comments on sanctification, heaven and hell, and some final thoughts concerning demons and angels. Then in part 9 we looked the approach that C. S. Lewis takes to the relationship between divine sovereignty and human free-will. Now, in part 10, we will consider, one of the most interesting subjects in the Screwtape Letters (in my humble opinion), C. S. Lewis's attempt to answer the problem of evil with a soul-making theodicy.




A Soul-making Theodicy

            If we pay close attention as we read this book, we will see Lewis proposing, through the pen of Screwtape, a powerful soul-making theodicy, by which he seeks to explain the existence, in this world, of all kinds of evil.[1] Evil is not the fruit of hazard, but, rather, used by the all-powerful God to bring men to Him, and to make them become like Him. Lewis addresses two types of evil in this work: (1) Devastating evil (both natural and man-made such as wars and natural disasters by which men are brought face to face with their natural mortality), and (2) the evil of the difficult times that all men experience (periods of personal depression, sadness, poverty, and other difficulties which weigh heavily on man, but without forcing him to confront his own mortality).

            Lewis explains, early on, that God allows devastating evil to arrive in our world, first of all, so that men are forced to confront their mortality, and in so doing, turn to God.[2] He later expands on this theme, noting that God allows these disastrous evils to arrive in order to teach men to value true virtues—such as courage. Screwtape says, “We have made men proud of most vices, but not of cowardice. Whenever we have almost succeeded in doing so, the Enemy permits a war or an earthquake or some other calamity, and at once courage becomes so obviously lovely and important even in human eyes that all our work is undone.”[3] Screwtape continues, a little bit later, “If we promoted justice and charity among men, we should be playing directly into the Enemy’s hands; but if we guide them to the opposite behaviour, this sooner or later produces (for He permits it to produce) a war or a revolution, and the undisguisable issue of cowardice or courage awakes thousands of men from moral stupor. This, indeed, is probably one of the Enemy’s motives for creating a dangerous world—a world in which moral issues really come to the point.”[4] So, says Lewis, devastating evil exists in this world, both manmade evil (such as wars), and natural evil (implied by the phrase “a dangerous world”), so that man, confronted with his mortality, will learn to value true virtue, and turn to God.

            There is, however, another type of evil that is seen in this world, and it is the draining, oppressing, subsiding but ever-returning, evil of lived human experience. This evil comes and goes, or it presses on with no sign of an end in sight. Man is not impressed with his mortality, but is oppressed by difficulties that never seem to end, and when they do, after a brief reprieve they return in a different form. Lewis explains why this type of evil exists in the 8th letter. Screwtape begins by noting that humans are changing creatures who live through highs and lows. Indeed, their lives are just a continual sequence of highs and lows. “Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.”[5] Screwtape hopes to help Wormwood to understand why God created humans this way, and points out that God indeed relies on these difficult periods, “in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.”[6] This seems obviously absurd. How could such a tactic work?

            Lewis goes on to explain that in order see why God uses this tactic, we must first understand just what God is after. Lewis explains that “the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.”[7] God is seeking to make humans into perfect reflections of Himself.

This is why, proposes Lewis through Screwtape, God constantly allows humans to go through these difficult times. “That is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment…Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo.”[8]

How does it work? How does these difficult times form man into the image of the son of God? “He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be.”[9] That is, says Lewis, God “wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.”[10] The difficult times are the divine equivalent of an earthly father taking his hand off of the bicycle, so that his son can learn to ride by himself. Will the boy fall? Perhaps. Will he hurt himself if he falls? Most likely. Will he learn to ride by himself if the father never takes his hand off of the bicycle? No. So the potential pain is necessary for the learning process. This is why God allows us to pass through difficult times—to mould us into the image of His Son. Indeed, returning to an earlier part of the book, Lewis notes that God has taught his followers that perseverance through persecution is a necessary part of their redemption to become sons of God.[11]

Screwtape concludes by noting that, “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”[12] Evil, then, of all kinds, is not random pain cast upon man by some sadistic deity, but, rather, the loving hand of God who is helping us to learn to walk on our own. God desires grown sons and daughters, not babies.




[1]Note that there are two primary responses to evil. A Defense, by which we show that the presence of evil and the existence of God are not self-contradictory states. A Theodicy, by which we attempt to explain why God allows evil things to happen in this world.

[2]Ibid., 31.

[3]Ibid., 147.

[4]Ibid., 148.

[5]Ibid., 44.

[6]Ibid., 45.

[7]Ibid., 45-46.

[8]Ibid., 46.

[9]Ibid., 47.

[10]Ibid.

[11]Ibid., 32.

[12]Ibid., 47.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The ScrewTape Letters by C. S. Lewis: A Commentary, part 9

Key Themes in The Screwtape Letters, or,
What we learn from Screwtape: part 5

          This is part 9 in a series of blog posts that is dedicated to The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. To see part 1, click here; to see part 2, click here; to see part 3, click here; to see part 4, click here; to see part 5, click here; to see part 6, click here; to see part 7, click here; to see part 8, click here. In part 1 we introduced the Screwtape Letters and provided a brief outline of the book. In parts 2-4 we provided an analysis of the literary sources that inspired the Screwtape Letters. We saw that the two most obvious literary sources for The Screwtape Letters are (1) the biblical teachings on angels, demons, and sin, and (2) John Milton’s Paradise Lost. We then looked at a number of other influences, and references to other literature, that can be seen in the ScrewTape Letters. In part 5 we began an exposition of the key themes that are brought up in the Screwtape Letters. Due to the nature of the Letters, it is important to understand that Lewis is not providing an indepth philosophical or theological analysis of each subject, but, rather, is providing what might be called a popular-level analysis.
 In part 5 we looked at some comments that Lewis makes concerning the Natural Sciences, Time and Change (which might be considered a sub-category of natural philosophy, or Metaphysics--depending on how the subject is approached), and Metaphysics. In part 6, we looked at some comments that Lewis makes concerning Theology Proper (the doctrine of God), and Christology. In part 7 we considered some comments that Lewis makes concerning Human Nature, Hamartiology (or the doctrine of sin), and Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). In part 8 we looked at sanctification, Heaven and Hell, some final comments on Angels and Demons, the moral law, and moral teachers throughout history. Now, in part 9, we will look at the very involved subject of Divine Sovereignty and Human Free-will, as C. S. Lewis approaches the subject in the Screwtape Letters.



Divine Sovereignty and Human Free-will

The question of the relationship between Divine sovereignty and human free-will is one of the most debated subjects within Christianity. There are many different theories, and the different answers have caused division in the church. Even in this small book C. S. Lewis is able to offer not only some interesting insights, but what amounts to a full response to the question. Is it a response that all Christians will agree with? Obviously not, but one cannot deny that it is a response, that, though briefly explained, it is a good response, and that it resembles the response to this question that has been given by some of the most important theologians of the church (such as Augustine, Boethius, and Aquinas). Lewis addresses this question in two places, the 8th letter and the 27th chapter.

The problem of the divine sovereignty and foreknowledge in relation to human free-will is a problem that goes about as far back in human history as men have believed in divine influence in the created universe (thus, it is not a problem that is unique to Christianity). The problem is created by two seemingly contradictory claims: (1) God is sovereign over all the created universe and foreknows, without fail, all that will come to be. (2) Man has free-will. C. S. Lewis, in the Screwtape Letters, claims that both claims are true, when properly understood. He puts the problem as follows: “If you tried to explain to him [man] that men’s prayers today are one of the innumerable co-ordinates with which the Enemy harmonises the weather of tomorrow, he would reply that then the Enemy always knew men were going to make those prayers and, if so, they did not pray freely but were predestined to do so.”[1] Either God is not all-knowing and all-sovereign, or man is not free.

Lewis clearly affirms, at numerous places in this little book, that man has free-will.[2] He does not, however, go into just what is meant by free-will. He also claims that God is all-knowing and all sovereign, but, that God willingly does not remove human free-will, “You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistable and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve.”[3] The reason why God does not remove human free-will, as Lewis states in the above quotation, is that His desire is that humans freely chose to obey, serve and love Him.

How, then, are we to solve this problem of divine sovereignty and foreknowledge versus human free-will? Is it a one or the other dilemma? Lewis begins solving the problem by noting that part of the pseudo-problem is man’s false understanding of God’s relation to time. Man is temporal, says Lewis, but not God. The problem is created because “he [man] takes Time for an ultimate reality. He supposes that the Enemy [God], like himself [man], sees some things as present, remembers others as past, and anticipates others as future.”[4] The reality, says, Lewis, is quite the contrary. God is not a temporal Being, he is neither in time nor limited by time, so, the pseudo-problem of how divine foreknowledge and sovereignty could be compatible with human free-will is based upon a misunderstanding of the nature of God. “How it does so is no problem at all; for the Enemy does not forsee the humans making their free contributions in a future, but sees them doing so in His unbounded Now. And obviously to watch a man doing something is not to make him to it.”[5]

Problem solved, or, rather, pseudo-problem disposed of. This, at least, is Lewis’s summary answer to the question, as he briefly approaches it in The Screwtape Letters. Those who have already studied the great church theologians, such as Augustine, Boethius, and Aquinas, will recognize that Lewis is giving a response that is entirely in line with their responses. Lewis ties this response to Boethius,[6] but anybody who has read Aquinas will recognize that Aquinas gives the same basic answer. The problem, says Screwtape, the demon who can’t possibly understand why in the world God would want these filthy bipeds to love him, is not How it is possible for God to infallibly know all things (past, present, and future), and yet maintain human free-will. Rather, “Why the creative act leaves room for their free will is the problem of problems.”[7] Demons seek forced submission, not freely given service.

Go to part 10.


[1]Ibid., 138.

[2]Ibid., 46, 139.

[3]Ibid., 46.

[4]Ibid., 138.

[5]Ibid., 139.

[6]Ibid.

[7]Ibid.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The ScrewTape Letters by C. S. Lewis: A Commentary, part 8

Key Themes in The Screwtape Letters, or,
What we learn from Screwtape: part 4

          This is part 8 in a series of blog posts that is dedicated to The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. To see part 1, click here; to see part 2, click here; to see part 3, click here; to see part 4, click here; to see part 5, click here; to see part 6, click here; to see part 7, click here. In part 1 we introduced the Screwtape Letters and provided a brief outline of the book. In parts 2-4 we provided an analysis of the literary sources that inspired the Screwtape Letters. We saw that the two most obvious literary sources for The Screwtape Letters are (1) the biblical teachings on angels, demons, and sin, and (2) John Milton’s Paradise Lost. We then looked at a number of other influences, and references to other literature, that can be seen in the ScrewTape Letters. In part 5 we began an exposition of the key themes that are brought up in the Screwtape Letters. Due to the nature of the Letters, it is important to understand that Lewis is not providing an indepth philosophical or theological analysis of each subject, but, rather, is providing what might be called a popular-level analysis.
 In part 5 we looked at some comments that Lewis makes concerning the Natural Sciences, Time and Change (which might be considered a sub-category of natural philosophy, or Metaphysics--depending on how the subject is approached), and Metaphysics. In part 6, we looked at some comments that Lewis makes concerning Theology Proper (the doctrine of God), and Christology. In part 7, we considered some comments that Lewis made concerning Human Nature, Hamartiology (or the doctrine of sin), and Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). Now, in part 8, we will look at Lewis's comments on sanctification, heaven and hell, some random comments on angels and demons, and some comments on the moral law and moral teachers.





Sanctification

            Lewis portrays sanctification as the gradual process by which God slowly but surely transforms a human person so that they become, more and more, what God wants them to be. Lewis has Screwtape describe the process as follows, “The Enemy will be working from the centre outwards, gradually bringing more and more of the patient’s conduct under the new standard.”[1] Later, in the 8th letter Lewis will have Screwtape describe the purpose of Sanctification as the creation of men who are like God in Christ-Jesus, “He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His.”[2]

            Concerning the results of sanctification, Lewis has Screwtape say, “the Enemy also wants to detach men from themselves, but in a different way…When He talks of their losing their selves, He only means abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.”[3]


Heaven and Hell

            So, does Lewis believe in a real heaven and a real hell? He certainly seems to talk about both places as if they were real, almost geographically located, places. He sees Heaven and Hell as polar opposites, which may, indeed, be the purpose for the cosmological topography—that is, one better illustrates the immense difference between Heaven and Hell when one describes them as occupying entirely opposite sides of a universe that is extended beyond human comprehension. Let us look at his descriptions of heaven and hell.

Heaven is described, in the eleventh letter, as a place that is full of music.[4] Later, heaven is described as “eternal union” with God,[5] or as the eternal world of God.[6] In Heaven, finally, man will see God.[7] Heaven is also described as a “world where pain and pleasure take on transfinite values and all our arithmetic is dismayed.”[8]

Hell, in the eleventh letter, is described as a place that is full of noise,[9] and, in the final letter, as the Kingdom of noise.[10] Hell is also described, in the eleventh letter, as follows, “the realism, dignity, and austerity of Hell.”[11] Lewis describes Hell in Miltonian terms, as we mentioned earlier, as the place where Satan sits on his infernal throne.[12] More importantly, Lewis describes Hell, in the 15th chapter, as eternal separation from God.[13]


Angels and Demons

We have already noted a number of claims that Lewis makes about the fallen angels, but there is at least one more point that we can point out. C. S. Lewis clearly believes in the existence of both Angels and Demons, and that they are personal spiritual beings (pure spirits untainted by matter)[14] who are powerful and enemies of God. He reminds us, in the preface to The Screwtape Letters, that “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”[15] We also see Lewis describing the expulsion of Satan from heaven.[16]


The Moral Law

C. S. Lewis also discusses the notion of the Moral law that is known by all humanity, and which is passed on from generation to generation. In Mere Christianity he uses human knowledge of the moral law (even if only unconsciously demonstrated by their actions and reactions) to show that morality is objective and that there is a creator. He discusses the moral law in other books and articles as well. Here he notes that the moral law, which is known by all humanity (in accord with Romans 2:14-16), is sufficient to give man a sense of sin, which is what awakens him to his need for a saviour.[17]


The Role of Moral Teachers in Human History

             In the same section where he discusses the Moral law, Lewis notes that God has sent frequent messengers to humanity to remind them of the moral law. Lewis brings up this point to remind us that Jesus is not a simple moral teacher, as was Socrates, but so much more. At this point we are interested in pointing out that Lewis seems to approve of the idea (found throughout church history, and culminating in the middle ages) that some of the great philosophers of history played a role in God’s sovereign plan by reminding humanity of the Moral law.[18]


Go to part 9.



[1]Ibid., 20.

[2]Ibid., 46.

[3]Ibid., 68.

[4]Ibid., 57, 113, 114.

[5]Ibid., 76.

[6]Ibid., 143.

[7]Ibid., 159.

[8]Ibid., 160.

[9]Ibid., 114.

[10]Ibid., 156.

[11]Ibid., 58.

[12]Ibid., 156.

[13]Ibid., 76.

[14]Ibid., 12, 26, 158.

[15]Ibid., 9.

[16]Ibid., 97-98.

[17]Ibid., 119.

[18]Ibid., 118.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The ScrewTape Letters by C. S. Lewis: A Commentary, part 7

Key Themes in The Screwtape Letters, or,
What we learn from Screwtape: part 3

          This is part 7 in a series of blog posts that is dedicated to The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. To see part 1, click here; to see part 2, click here; to see part 3, click here; to see part 4, click here; to see part 5, click here; to see part 6, click here. In part 1 we introduced the Screwtape Letters and provided a brief outline of the book. In parts 2-4 we provided an analysis of the literary sources that inspired the Screwtape Letters. We saw that the two most obvious literary sources for The Screwtape Letters are (1) the biblical teachings on angels, demons, and sin, and (2) John Milton’s Paradise Lost. We then looked at a number of other influences, and references to other literature, that can be seen in the ScrewTape Letters. In part 5 we began an exposition of the key themes that are brought up in the Screwtape Letters. Due to the nature of the Letters, it is important to understand that Lewis is not providing an indepth philosophical or theological analysis of each subject, but, rather, is providing what might be called a popular-level analysis.
 In part 5 we looked at some comments that Lewis makes concerning the Natural Sciences, Time and Change (which might be considered a sub-category of natural philosophy, or Metaphysics--depending on how the subject is approached), and Metaphysics. In part 6, we looked at some comments that Lewis makes concerning Theology Proper (the doctrine of God), and Christology. Now, in part 7, we will look at comments that Lewis makes concerning Human Nature, Hamartiology (or the doctrine of sin), and Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church).




Human Nature

            When discussing prayer, we first come across some statements by C. S. Lewis that give us a glimpse at his understanding of human nature—that which is common to all that can be said to be Human, and as human. He has Screwtape say, “they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.”[1] In the 8th letter Screwtape repeats the same claim, but in a different way, “Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal…As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change.”[2]

Later he says, “Think of your man as a series of concentric circles, his will being the innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy.”[3] In this little phrase we get a hint of Lewis’s understanding of the composition of man. We already know that he sees humans as a composition of body and soul, but that we can distinguish, within the human person (not a “Real distinction”, but a distinction of reason), the “fantasy” or imagination, the intellect, and the will. Lewis seems to suggest that the Imagination is that which is most affected by experience or the senses. That the intellect is influenced by the imagination, and that the will is influenced by the intellect. Concerning the human will, Lewis is quite adamant that humans have freedom of the will.[4]

Humans are temporal beings, and this temporality invades everything they do, “The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change.”[5] Though humans are temporal, changing, creatures, they were destined for eternity.[6]


Hamartiology

            This book is, in a sense, a book on sin and sins. Too lay out everything Lewis says about sin and sins in this little book would require a book length commentary, as such, we will only note one comment that C. S. Lewis makes, which are particularly interesting. He proposes that all sin is rooted in the future, saying, “nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead. Do not think lust an exception.”[7]


Ecclesiology

            Lewis says quite a bit about the church, both the local and the universal church, in the letters of Screwtape. Speaking of the universal church Lewis describes it, through the pen of Screwtape, as “the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.”[8] He not only notes that the universal church transcends time and space, but he also refers to it as invisible (another title that it has sometimes received), “it is quite invisible to these humans.”[9] In the preceding sentence he alludes to what Jesus said about the universal church in Matthew 16:18 “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Screwtape says, concerning the universal church, “That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy.”[10]

            What does Lewis think about the Local church? One of the immediately obvious aspects of the local church, in Lewis’s understanding, is that it is filled with all kinds of different people from different levels of society,[11] who are sinners saved by grace, but still humans struggling with very real sins and temptations.[12] In the sixteenth chapter Lewis has Screwtape describe the church as follows, “being unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires.”[13] Another aspect of the local church is its size and, more importantly, its many warring factions, as they appearance to outsiders.[14] Lewis notes that the smaller the church, and the more it is fractured by inner divisions (regardless the reason), the more it will appear (to outsiders) like a cult.[15] The more it appears like a cult, the less it will be able to successfully preach the gospel.[16] The cult-like factions push men away from the Gospel, rather than drawing them in. Lewis comes back to this point in the 16th letter.[17]

            Lewis also discusses the importance of faithfulness to the local church. That is, it is not appropriate, thinks Lewis, to visit different churches incessantly. Rather, one should be faithful to his local assembly.[18] The purpose of church attendance is not to find a church that suits one’s tastes, but, rather to modify one’s tastes so that they conform to God’s desire for the Christian—to become a disciple.[19] Lewis also has something to say, interestingly enough, about church polity, “The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction.”[20] In other words, congregationalism is seen to be a form of church polity which is useful for creating the divisive factions, mentioned earlier, which are detrimental to the spread of the Gospel. Lewis explains that what God desires for “the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise—does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going.”[21]

            He doesn’t say much about church practice, except to say, first of all, that if they are made into a routine, then it is possible to think oneself Christian, when one is only imitating true Christianity.[22] He notes, secondly, that some debates about the Lord’s supper are pointless (because those engaging in the debates don’t properly understand the points of the “sides” they have taken), and are more about semantics than truth.[23]

Go to part 8.


[1]Ibid., 25.

[2]Ibid., 44.

[3]Ibid., 37.

[4]Ibid., 46, 139.

[5]Ibid., 126-127.

[6]Ibid., 143, 157.

[7]Ibid., 77-78.

[8]Ibid., 15.

[9]Ibid.

[10]Ibid.

[11]Ibid., 76-77.

[12]Ibid., 18.

[13]Ibid., 81.

[14]Ibid., 41.

[15]Ibid.

[16]Ibid.

[17]Ibid., 84.

[18]Ibid., 81.

[19]Ibid.

[20]Ibid.

[21]Ibid., 82.

[22]Ibid., 61-62.

[23]Ibid., 84.