Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: C. S. Lewis

Chapter 4 – Scenes from my childhood

I was three and a half years old the first time my parents moved. In the house we were leaving there was a telephone at the bottom of the stairs near the front door. It was on a party line rural phone system and I suppose I must have been frightened by this box on the wall that would suddenly make a loud ringing noise and sometimes my parents would feel summoned to go and talk into it and other times they would ignore it. This day I somehow knew this box could not make any sounds anymore, so I pulled up a chair, stood on it, picked up the receiver, turned the crank and began chattering into the phone. My parents had to drag me away when it was time to leave.

My father had sold his homestead farm just south of the western end of Old Wives Lake and bought another farm just past the east end of the lake. I have a fuzzy memory of the ride. I don’t think I remember the vehicle but I was told later that our first family vehicle had been a Buick car from the thirties, chopped off behind the front seat and converted into a pickup.

The next spring, when my mother was planting the garden and I was lying in the shade of a spreading maple tree, the breeze carried a sweet scent such as I had never known before. I searched for its source and found a patch of flowers with delicate petals having rings of pastel colours. I knelt on the ground and leaned close to breathe in the fragrance and the intricate beauty of the flowers. Then I ran to ask my mother what they could be. She called them Sweet Williams.

C. S. Lewis wrote that such memories are given by God to make us homesick for heaven. Certainly my childish wonder at the beauty of the flowers and their perfume has not been repeated in this life.

When I was four our dog Penny would not let me walk to the barn. Whichever way I turned he would always be in front of me and I couldn’t get around him. I think I cried in frustration and my mother came to my rescue and explained that it wasn’t safe for me to go out among the cattle.

Penny was a black and white land race collie and every farm seemed to have one in those days. He was as big as I was at that age and a gentle protector. My mother told me years later that if she ever wanted to apply some discipline to me she had to first ensure that there was a closed door between us and Penny.

A couple of years later I started school, walking a mile each way along the fence line into the little village of Bishopric to attend a one room school. Bishopric was a company town, all the houses, the school, the store and the railway station were built of brick and owned by the company that operated the Sodium Sulphate plant.

The area where we lived is called the Missouri Coteau. It is an area of rolling hills that rises up from the plains a few miles south of Moose Jaw and extends to the US border. The buffalo wintered here years ago, drawing Lakota, Nakota and Cree hunters and later Métis.

Not far from us there was a little town called Ardill located on the side of a steep hill. One of the members of the crew who originally built the road up this hill was an Englishman who dropped his h’s. He called it an ‘ard ‘ill and the name stuck. One winter day we were trying to get to Mossbank and the hill was icy. We got about two thirds of the way up and lost traction. The truck began to slowly slide backwards, edging ever closer to the ditch, and finally lay down on its side in the ditch. My father helped my mother and me climb out the driver’s door and then we walked about a mile to the nearest farm, where our relatives Ed and Julia Ludke lived. I didn’t see how he did it but Ed went out with the tractor and he and Dad righted the pickup and got it turned around.

There were no churches nearby. I remember once we attended a service held in a country school house. My Dad must not have approved, for we never went again. I don’t think we had family devotions in those first years. My parents enrolled me in Sunday School be correspondence and I dutifully did my lesson every week and sent it in. That was my introduction to the Bible.

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Sin

“Almighty and most merciful Father, We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep,  We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders..”

“Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men: We acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we from time to time most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings.”

These quotations come from the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church of Canada. The first is part of the confession in the Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer services. The second is from the confession in the Communion Service. The capitalization is the way it was in the book. For ten years in my youth I, along with the whole congregation,  recited one or the other of these confessions aloud every Sunday.

These are only words printed in a book, readily memorized and often pronounced without giving much thought to them. Still, for those with ears to hear and hearts to consider, they were a constant reminder that we are miserable sinners and there is no health in us.

We can dismiss those words as meaningless rote recital. For many people that was all they were. But have we gained in spirituality when most churches today hardly talk of sin?

C.S. Lewis discovered 75 years ago that most people he talked to had no concept of sin. Many of the things that churches have always named as major sins did not seem to be sin at all to people. They had been educated out of that old-fashioned notion. Some way had to be found to deliver the diagnosis that all people are sinners before they would have any inclination to hear of a remedy for sin.

“I cannot offer you a water-tight technique for awakening the sense of sin. I can only say that, in my experience, if one begins from the sin that has been one’s own chief problem during the last week, one is very often surprised at the way the shaft goes home. But whatever method we use, our constant effort must be to get their mind away from public affairs and ‘crime’ and bring them down to brass tacks — to the whole network of spite, greed, envy, unfairness and conceit in the lives of ‘ordinary decent people’ like themselves (and ourselves).” (C.S. Lewis, from a talk given in 1945, reprinted in God in the Dock ©1970, published by Eerdmans.)

That is very much the challenge that faces us today. If we are not conscious of our own sin and sinfulness, we won’t get very far in trying to share the gospel with others. James admonishes us: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.” How often do we do that? How often do we talk about other people’s faults?

The Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church in the USA and most congregations of the Church of England no longer use the Book of Common Prayer. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, Anglican Churches are fast-growing evangelical bodies. They have broken fellowship with the Anglican and Episcopal churches in Canada and the USA.

Ten years ago the Anglican Church of Canada commissioned a study on their future. The conclusion was that if present trends continue, in 75 years the Anglican Church of Canada will consist of two members.The trend has continued, and will continue. A church that no longer acknowledges sin has no reason for its existence. The Anglican Church of  Nigeria is now planting congregations in North America, including one in Saskatoon.

I am an Anabaptist today, not an Anglican. I am just trying to point out a graphic illustration of what happens to a church that decides to drop the issue of sin. That is a danger for all of us. We are not apt to ever make a decision to drop it, we just let it fade away. In such a condition, we no longer have a gospel to present to our neighbours — or our children.

Have we misdiagnosed the problem?

It is at least 50 years since C.S. Lewis wrote: “The greatest barrier I have met is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin . . . We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect then to welcome the news of the remedy.” (from God in the Dock, published by Eerdmans.)

The evangelism methods of 100 years ago still work quite well in many places in third world countries. Not so well in North America and Europe. In fact, hardly at all. Why, they don’t even seem to have a lot of impact on children raised in Christian homes.

Evangelicals have responded in various ways: We have to try harder; We have to make our approach more seeker-friendly; We have to avoid those parts of the gospel message that people find offensive.

Have we misdiagnosed the problem? People have been told for the last 100 years, by people calling themselves Christian, that it is the society around us that needs fixing; people aren’t sinners, the world we live in is sinful. Fix the world and we can all live like Christ wants us to live.

There is now a continual hubbub around us of people trying to save the world. And it seems that they are in a constant state of outrage towards those who don’t wholeheartedly endorse their project for fixing the world. If one steps back a moment to observe, it all goes to prove that people are indeed sinners. The anger, hatred, harassment and violence that comes forth from attempts to save the world actually prove the need for the message of the gospel.

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. (James 3:13-18)

Book review: Humble Roots

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Hannah Anderson is the wife of a country pastor in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia who finds inspiration for her writing in her garden and other growing things.

This book helped me understand why I have always felt uncomfortable when Christians talk about their humility. She tells us that “Show, don’t tell,” one of the cardinal rules of effective writing, should also apply to humility. If we have to tell people that we are humble, we probably aren’t. If people cannot see evidence of humility in our lives, there’s no use telling them we are humble.

She quotes C.S. Lewis: “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell them the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud.” Pride can corrupt our attempts at humility. We talk about feeling unworthy, about how undeserving we are, and all the while what we are really doing is drawing attention to ourselves.

In the book, Hannah Anderson says:”Humility is not feeling a certain way about yourself, not feeling small or low or embarrassed or even humiliated. Theologically speaking, humility is a proper understanding of who God is and who we are as a result.”

I highly recommend this book; it confronts the realities of life in a gentle, down to earth, and often humorous manner and leaves you with an important message to chew on.

© 2016 by Hannah Anderson, published by Moody Publishers.

Are we passive Christians or active Christians?

If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself.

-C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Memories of future bliss

“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. 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. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

– C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

I was probably about five years old, it was a hot summer’s day with only the slightest breeze. I had found the shade of a spreading maple tree near where my mother was working in the garden. Wafted on that gentle breeze came a scent that I had never noticed before, a scent sweeter than anything I had ever known. I searched for the source of that scent and found it in patch of delicate, exquisitely beautiful flowers. When I asked my mother, she told me they were Sweet Williams. That instant in time, the scent, the beauty, has lingered in the deep recesses of my memory all these years. Sweet Williams still bring back memories of that moment, yet never quite the fullness of the transcendent beauty of that moment.

Isn’t this what C. S. Lewis meant by “images of what we really desire”? These instants when natural beauty and events take on a character beyond their earthly nature are given to remind us that this earth is not really our home. They feed a longing within us for something unknown, something beyond knowing. That something is what the Bible calls heaven.

To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, our physical hunger indicates that there must somewhere be something that we can eat to satisfy that hunger. In the same way, our hunger for paradise indicates that there must somewhere exist a real paradise that we can hope to someday reach. Many will scoff at that, say it is far too simplistic, we must work to make this earth a paradise. To which I will simply ask: when have men ever succeeded in making an earthly paradise that satisfied that inner longing for paradise?

A sense of wonder

Aslan, copyright (c) Lucy Learns Ltd www.lucylearns.com

Aslan, copyright (c) Lucy Learns Ltd
http://www.lucylearns.com

There are sober and serious Christians who object to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books and Tolkien’s Hobbit books on the ground that they are not real life stories. To which I would ask “Is this visible world all there is to real life?”

Children are aware that there are unseen forces influencing the events around them. They live in a world of mystery and wonder that is sometimes frightening, sometimes reassuring. The schools do their best to abolish that awareness of unseen wonders. What is left of life when that is gone? Emptiness, meaninglessness and despair.

The Bible is not simply a book of moral teachings, with some history and some poetry. It is a book that allows us a glimpse beyond our mortality at the wonders that God has prepared for His people, and also the great spiritual forces that are trying to prevent us reaching that goal.

There are miracles all through the Bible. We accept them as fact. But they are only a small part of the spiritual realities hinted at in the Bible. Jesus, and many others before Him, revealed important truths by the means of stories, or parables. Are they all true life stories, things that really happened? Some may have been, but even then there are details that reach beyond the limitations of this earthly life.

Consider the parable of the prodigal son. He asked for his share of the inheritance from his father, wasted it all, and then returned home. When his brother complained of the favour the father bestowed on this wastrel, the father told him “All that I have is thine.” This is beyond the earthly division of property among a father’s heirs. When we waste our spiritual heritage, it does not diminish the wealth our Father has to bestow on His other children. Likewise, when we repent and those spiritual benefits are restored, there is nothing subtracted from the spiritual heritage available to others. There is a marvellous truth here that is beyond earthly reality.

The parable of the sower conveys a similar truth. A real life farmer will sow his seed in a prepared field where it has the best chance of producing a crop. In this case the seed is the word of God and our Father is altogether profligate in the way he strews it about, in the hope that even in the most unlikely places a few kernels might take root and amount to something. He also makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. A new spiritual life can spring up in places that we think are incapable of bearing fruit.

But the Bible goes beyond parables to describe the wonders of the world that now is and the world that is to come. John saw the streets of New Jerusalem as transparent gold and each gate as made of a single pearl. He was using the words and images at his disposal to describe something that has no earthly counterpart.

And consider this image: “For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12). There are many more verses like this. Will they be literally fulfilled? Yet the Scripture says that all Creation will rejoice at the coming of the Lord. There is a thrill in contemplating that great day of rejoicing.

There are works of imagination and fancy that try to twist the message of the Bible out of shape. Those we must avoid. A devoted student of the bible will find that it interprets itself; there is no need for some teacher to provide an explanation from his own imagination.

There are other works of fancy and imagination that portray humans as having magical or supernatural powers. These too should be avoided. But books that portray ordinary boys and girls, men and women, in a world of wonder and mystery, are more true to life than books that merely try to inculcate a moral lifestyle. It is not fair to children to teach that if they are honest and industrious, respectful to elders and never use bad words, that one day they will go to heaven.

They will encounter dragons and giants in life. If they do not expect such things, they may well flee and fall into a horrible snare. If they know that such things exist, and also that there are unseen helpers to help them overcome the giants and dragons, they are much more likely to face them with courage.

These are the options

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

To build and to plant

Starting this blog was an attempt to get myself motivated to do more writing, and to improve my communication skills.   I want to be able to write like C. S. Lewis or G. K. Chesterton.  Since I’m already 71, that may be beyond my reach.  Still, I don’t want to set my sights any lower.

Last night, in our family devotions, we read this verse and it has  stuck in my mind:  See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant (Jeremiah 1:10).

The first part of this verse is Jeremiah’s commission as a prophet, I cannot claim to have received anything similar.  However, a little light went on, showing me that effective Christian communication will often involve rooting out, pulling down and destroying ideas, beliefs, doctrines and practices that are contrary to the Word of God and which undermine our Christian life and witness.  But that will do no long term good if there is no building and planting.

This is what Lewis and Chesterton excelled at.   You can be drawn along in their skillfully crafted narrative, finding it just a very interesting read, then all of a sudden a thought is slipped in that makes you stop, go back and read it again.  And you begin to see things in just a little different light.  A seed has been planted.  I wish for at least a little of that talent.

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