May 26, 2020

Open Mic at the iMonk Cafe: “Mere Christianity” Christians

radiomicToday, Chaplain Mike posts this Open Mic question on behalf of iMonk.

“Are the ‘Mere Christianity Christians,’ i.e. Christians who emphasize the smaller, more minimal and broadly efficient vision of C.S. Lewis and some of the early church fathers personified in the Apostles’ Creed, the greatest threat to modern Evangelicalism? More and more apologists are using this term (Beckwith.)

Several voices have used the term ‘Mere Christianity Christians’ as equaling enemies to a justification-centered faith and some even suggest they cannot be Christians.

Is this a real threat, or is it, finally, a coming together across lines to emphasize what is important? What choices does it prefigure or necessitate?”

Comments

  1. Could you explain how you see a “Mere Christianity” vision personified by the Apostle’s Creed? Further more I would not want to pit that creed against the other ecumenical creeds. And being in a church that prides itself on Justification by faith alone, as the article upon which the church stands or falls, and yet confesses the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene every Sunday during worship, I fail to see how it can be an enemy of a justification-centered faith. It does confess the Forgiveness of Sins.
    Just some thoughts, but I am on the outside of the “evangelical” world as you use it. Though thoroughly evangelical by any scriptural definition of the term.

    • It is my observation and I can’t do a full explanation. Discuss with generosity. We all can’t be Lutheran 🙂 🙂

      • No, that is just it we all could. Really you could, they could, everyone could be Lutheran. It would be great. I’m sure we would still find something to argue about, but … Your in my prayers.
        oh I also thinkg one day we all will be, but not this side of the Parousia.

      • We protestants all ostensibly hold to justification by faith alone, and are all Lutheran in that sense. The problem is that a lot of protestants then move on past justification by faith alone to find more interesting, but incorrect ways to get close to God. Faith does not equal special knowledge (that is, divining what is unstated in Scripture), faith does not equal perfecting our morality, faith does not equal achieving a constant joy. Faith equals simple trust in Christ’s promises/ the Gospel. From that everything follows, good works, joy, and understanding, but as a byproduct, not as the end itself.

        It would be great for the Kingdom if protestants, including more Lutherans, could grow in simply relying on Christ’s promises, including his promise to forgive our sins when we eat his body and blood and his promise to pour out the Holy Spirit on us and wash away our sins in Baptism.

        That is the secret of the sacraments: they are a mysterious gift given for our faith. We don’t need to figure out exactly why God wants us to remember him by eating Christ’s body and blood, or why he wants to use water to pour out the Holy Spirit. We just do what he says and trust his promise about it. That is mere Christianity.

  2. Are there really people who view ‘Mere Christianity” Christians as theological enemies??

    • Well I think I have viewed them in the past as opponents to the true faith, when they try to go for a lowest common denominator approach to Christian unity, and think us Lutherans should give up the tenacity with which we hold to the sacraments, because those aren’t “central” to the Christian faith.
      But then again I’m not sure that is how chaplain Mike is using the term “mere Christianity” Christian. I think the problem is everyone is looking to see the absolute minimum one has to believe to be considered a Christian, and often unjustly, and unforgivingly try to hold others to their concept, labeling them as divisive for holding to something tenaciously which they see little value in. Who are they to tell me that something Christ instituted, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper for instance, is something I shouldn’t see as so important.

      • I think it’s relevant to note here that, whatever the term means for the sake of this discussion, here’s what Lewis had to say in the prologue to Mere Christianity about one particular interpretation of it:

        “I hope no reader will suppose that ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions-as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable.

        It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling.”

        • That’s the passage I was thinking of – people get mad at THAT???

          • Dude, come on. You’re acting like you don’t know that pretty much every denomination and every individual church has people in it (usually those who are in paid positions – paid either in cold cash or in ego stroking) who can’t stand the thought that somebody somewhere claims to be a Christian and doesn’t agree with them on X. The only thing worse to those people than somebody who disagrees with them on Important Doctrine 639 as declared, expounded, and defended in Confessional Document Suchandsuch is somebody who thinks it doesn’t much matter either way.

  3. Maybe it’s just me, but I think a focus on the creeds and the topics Lewis addressed in Mere Christianity can only help solidify the Evangelical movement. At a time when various isms seem to vie for the most attention (i.e. Calvinism, Conservatism, Revivalism, Creationism), proclaiming the basics of what we know is probably a very wise idea. Much of Evangelicalism is plagued with what Lewis called “Christianity AND,” making sure the message Evangelicals most want to get across gets co-billing at best.

  4. My opinion is no, it is not a threat. That is because from my understanding of Lewis’ purposes behind his book had nothing to do with narrowing or codifying the faith; it was a point of common ground, where many expressions of Christianity intersect. I don’t think Lewis was trying to make everyone Anglican; in contrast, as much as I adore his writings, Chesterton’s apologetics ultimately point toward Rome. I think Lewis purposely left debate over the finer points of justification out of his book.

    Having said that, I am growing very concerned over this Manhattan Declaration, which is narrowing the faith in moralistic terms. This sounds conservative, but reducing Christianity to a moral imperative is very much a liberal notion. It’s a resurrection of Kant’s philosophy, with God and man living in disconnected spheres, where a man should feel embarrassed if caught in prayer. Any concept of justification is antithetical to that philosophy, because God is not allowed to interfere in the matters of men. In Kant’s world, there was no use for the church except to champion a “moral imperative”. I see this over and over in the culture war, where the church is forced into a political, patriotic role, being syncretized into a quasi-religious nationalism, or Rousseau-like civil religion.

    I know that is off-topic, but beware of anyone trying to defend the faith by narrowly defining it. I do not believe Lewis had any interest in doing that.

    • Dumb Ox says, “beware of anyone trying to defend the faith by narrowly defining it. I do not believe Lewis had any interest in doing that.”

      Amen to that.

      This sort of legalism has come up before, and again I’d like to paste a quote by Lesslie Newbigin, an Anglican bishop and missionary to India. The following is from an interview with Andrew Walker:

      “WALKER: I mean, if somebody was to come here, put you into a corner and say, ‘Now look here Bishop, what have you got to believe to be a believing Christian?’, what would you say were the basics?
      NEWBIGIN: I would simply say, ‘Jesus Christ, the final and determinative centre around which everything else is understood.’ If that is there, I am not enthusiastic about drawing exact boundaries. I think you can define an entity by its boundaries or by its centre. I think that Christianity is an entity defined by its centre. So provided a person is, as it were, ‘looking to Jesus’, and seeing him as the central, decisive, determinative reality in relation to which all else is to be understood, then even if his ideas are weird or off-beat, I would regard him as a brother in Christ.
      But once you start trying to define Christianity by its boundaries, you’ll always come up against some kind of legalism. You know: ‘Has he been baptised? Has he been confirmed? Was the bishop who confirmed him in the right apostolic succession?’ and so forth. Or: ‘Has he had the right kind of religious experience? Was his conversion datable? Did he have those kinds of feelings at that time?’ and so on. You always finish up with some kind of legalism, whereas I think Christianity is to be defined by its centre.”

      • “Jesus Christ, the final and determinative centre around which everything else is understood.”

        I like that. I think its on that basis that Christianity won over the Greek and Roman world. But then began the messy business of defining Christ’s deity, humanity, essences, etc. It would be nice to believe that everyone was on board after the Nicean creed, but it didn’t settle everything. Each following counsel tried to split the doctrinal hairs, and with each one unity became more and more precarious.

        I think McCleren has a valid point about a “generous” orthodoxy, but I’m not sure that I agree with its logical conclusions. As I recently read in one of Tillich’s books, the answer isn’t trivialize or remove our differences; the answer is for each of us to live out the full depths of our faith in our particular faith communities. That’s still going to sound wishy-washy to many. But I really think it’s time to stop waisting effort trying to convert the converted. I regret trying to convert my Catholic friends years ago to a variety of evangelicalism that am no longer a part of. Now, I listen to Catholics trying to convert evangelicals. Fair is fair, I guess, but billions of unreached people – many right here in the U.S.A. – are being neglected.

      • ‘But once you start trying to define Christianity by its boundaries, you’ll always come up against some kind of legalism.’

        Thanks for this quote Ted, I think this is very clarifiying to me personally and people that I know and discuss things with such as ‘grace’ and Christ as being more than a hood ornament to their faith.

  5. Scott Miller says

    I agree with Bror. I would expect the Mere Christianity Christians and those embracing the Apostle’s Creed, or for that matter any of the Christian Creeds, to be friends and comrades to justification centered Christians.

    It is the opposite side, the people who believe in a Christian mystical experience evidenced by emotion and who are offended by the Creed and justification as being too “stuffy” – these are the real threat to orthodox (small “o”) Christian beliefs and justification.

  6. I don’t see any contradiction between “mere Christianity” emphasis — if by that one means “here are some of the very basics beliefs of Christianity about which we must all talk, and about which most of us will agree.” One can also hold justification by faith in high regard without making it the only essential principle to be discussed.

    However, it is an obstacle if one believes this exact doctrine, formulated precisely as the Reformation formulated it, must always be cited as the one, most essential Christian idea. If this is your belief, then “mere Christianity” will be woefully deficient for citing other issues as essentials — and for suggesting at the least the possibility of ecumenical dialogue.

    I like the term mere Christianity and find the dialogue it promotes useful. My only objection to it is the implication some add to it that somehow “mere Christianity” might itself be True Christianity, and that everyone silly enough to embellish it further with theology and ecclesiastical structures is corrupting the simple, pure faith. One must ultimately move past basics into a tradition of some kind.

    • BTW, I just realized that my first sentence was mangled. I am sorry. Hopefully my meaning comes across even with the mistake. 🙂

  7. Perhaps the Wind blows when and where it will, both through and beyond our creeds?

    • There is great wisdom in your comment! The apostle Paul discouraged such things from those who claimed “I am of Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or Christ. Division founded on the assumptions and presumptions of men is folly… we are all of Christ, our creeds and labels are all boxes within which we attempt to trap our God. Fortunately our God defies confinement… even description… and invites us to live in freedom…freedom from creeds, denominations, and labels!

      • Jonathan Brumley says

        I want to give a different perspective here.

        I think some sort of creed or belief is essential to Christianity. Paul in his epistles taught a faith that required a belief in something that the second generation of Christians had not seen. It required a creed, because Paul believed that the knowledge of Christ, and faith in this man who had walked among us, was the only way to true freedom.

        These words in Corinthians kind of sum up Paul’s creed:
        “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

        It seems to me that denying even the most basic recorded creed of the apostles can lead only to the depressing conclusion that God may or may not have walked among us, that the resurrection may or may not have happened. And where is the freedom in that?

        I think we all want to know as much as we can about God. We all want to know how to live most fully. But to know that, we need to know the full truth given to the apostles. Given the shattered state of Christianity today, it’s hard to know where to turn with so many different interpretations, but we are surely at a loss if we don’t seek out the Church that professes the fullness of what Christ revealed.

        C.S. appeals to Christians not to remain in the hallway, and I am making that same appeal.

        God bless you all, and Merry Christmas!

  8. Thanks for Andi for posting what Lewis means by “Mere Christianity.” I don’t think his “mere” Christianity threatens any form of Christianity out there. It should unite Christians around the basics. I like his analogy of it being like we are all in a common hall and then we choose the various doors to various rooms. I read the book every few years.

  9. if someone has a problem with Mere Christianity – there is something wrong with them!!! C.S. Lewis wrote one of the greatest Christian books of all time!!! (I’m kind of a fan.) peace

  10. Allen Krell says

    Recently, I have taken interest in the “Mere Christianity”, and “Apostle’s Creed” simple beliefs, but not for the reason mentioned by many of the other commenters. Many of us stating these beliefs are rebelling against the watered down “How to be a better person in 5 steps” preaching that has taken over evangelical christianity. The move to “Apostle’s Creed” is an effort to solidify what we believe, not make it more open. In many “How to be a better person” churches today, even the “Apostle’s Creed” is considered too limiting. Much of the opposition to “Apostle’s Creed” is coming from those who have spent their whole lives in wayward churches, and don’t have the most basic grasp of justification or grace.

    • Scott Miller says

      Amen. The move to the Creed also shores up the foundation of Christian belief. There is a remarkable amount of people in evangelicalism who can’t successfully describe the Trinity without mixing the roles and the economy of salvation. I heard one today that implied that Jesus raised himself from the grave.

  11. 100 percent with you, Allen Krell. Well stated.

  12. Christiane says

    For those who are not familiar with ‘Mere Christianity’ by C.S. Lewis, there is a series of sites that cover the book.

    Here is Part One:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxJwSIIqQrU

  13. Louis Winthrop says

    I have never fathomed why anyone would take C.S. Lewis seriously as a theologian. He’s an amateur whose ham-fisted formulations show no appreciation of the theological difficulties they raise–and indeed shows outright contempt for the skeptical trend within biblical studies (as exemplified in his day by Albert Schweitzer).

    His books were the Jack Chick pamphlets of his day (including the cartoon demons!). “Liar, lunatic, or Lord” may make a great slogan–if you’re a Belfast Protestant–but come on, what kind of basis for dialogue is that? He wasn’t listening to his critics then, and evangelicals don’t listen to their critics now. THAT’S why they like this “back to the basics” talk–because it absolves them of the responsibility to listen to anybody.

    The concept of a “mere Christianity”–over and apart from concretized instances of it–raises a number of questions, among them:

    1. How are we to react to suggestions to the effect that most forms of first-century Christianity (plural even then!)–let alone the teachings of Jesus, to the extent that these can be reconstructed–would have been radically different from the proto-orthodox church? Are we to assume that this can’t be so–that they MUST agree–and reject out of hand “liberal” theologians who propose otherwise?

    2. Does an emphasis on certain selected creeds and church fathers unfairly (a) marginalize churches which do not emphasize these things, and (b) unfairly diminish the important differences which distinguish one denomination from another? (Imagine a similar approach to harmonizing the teachings of the various world religions.) The “lowest common denominator” approach would be unable to do justice, for example, to much of anything that the Quakers do.

    I have no problem with the idea that “Christianity” can be discussed in general (or else there could be no textbooks on it). “Mere Christianity,” however, simultaneously diminishes it (by denying its great diversity), and imposes upon it a certain superstructure which, on inspection, appears to reflect Protestantism of a certain stripe.

  14. donald todd says

    If I remember Mere Christianity correctly, Lewis noted that the Baptist thought he did not speak enough about faith and the Catholic thought he did not speak enough about works; however as was noted above, Lewis was not trying to get people into the hall but into one of the rooms. Accordingy it would appear that mere Christianity is the hall but not one of the rooms, and Lewis was not going to get you to follow him into a particular room. He saw that decision as a decision only the individual could make.

    It would appear that Lewis’ general train of thought as lived out, included a belief in the real presence in the Eucharist, the use of his Anglican rector for auricular confession, a belief in purgatory and a general sacramental outlook. He was a high-church Anglican in his practice and outlook.

    He had a profound influence on those closest to him (the Inklings) as a great many of them followed his thought to what they deemed a rational conclusion and saw something that caused them to swim the Tiber.

    They also conveyed the impression that the Anglicanism of the 1950s and 1960s would not have driven Lewis out of that Church. Lewis was not a Chesterton or a John Henry Newman, and his very real genius was not directed to determining the validity of the theology or history of the Church to which he belonged.

    Would the changes in today’s Anglicanism have brought about a change on the part of Lewis? We’ll never know because Lewis is not here to make that kind of decision, and if his closest friends did not see that coming, it would be unfair of me to make such an assertion. I do have an opinion because I read Lewis’ God on the Dock, but then you can read that book and quite possibly arrive at the same conclusion.

    Cordially,
    dt

  15. My favorite author (N.T. Wright), in one of his earlier books (‘What St. Paul Really Said’), made the controversial statement (or rather repeated one attributed to Richard Hooker) that ‘one is not justified by believing in justification by faith. One is justified by faith by believing in Jesus’. While there are boundaries as to what is orthodox Christianity (and many certainly have gone beyond the boundaries into all sorts of error, heresy, and even blasphemy – just turn on TBN!), and theology is important (even critical to a robust and growing faith), genuine faith probably does not depend on having perfect theology, or even a precisely-defined theology (at least I hope not!).

    I am reminded of an anecdote by one of my theology professors in a textbook he wrote. He told of attending a meeting where a shouting preacher loudly proclaimed that it was impossible for a person to be saved who did not believe in the virgin birth. After this preacher sat down, my professor leaned over the pew and asked him when he came to faith. He replied that he was saved at age five. My professor then asked him how much he understood about virginity at age five! His point was that what we deny is probably more critical than what we affirm, for we may not understand enough to affirm a well-defined theology, or even care to.

    I have known well-meaning Reformed Christians who have questioned whether Arminians are really saved since they are not ‘trusting completely’ in the grace of God (since they believe they had some part in their salvation, or so it is believed). This is clearly a case of a theological litmus test which goes beyond simple faith in Jesus (as noted in Chaplain Mike’s opening comments).

    But, the lack of a sound theology (or even a coherent one) is no doubt at the heart of most problems in American Christianity, particularly popular evangelical Christianity (the factors iMonk has noted many times, most eloquently in his post about the Coming Evangelical Collapse – consumerism, pragmatism, political entanglements, moralism, etc.). Sound theology can provide solutions to those problems, and in that sense a ‘least-common-denominator’ faith may only contribute to the problems, which is probably what some see as the threat.

    The key, as in so many things, is probably balance and generosity. We need theology, well-defined and defensible. But we also need passion, faith, commitment, and all those ‘touch-feely’ things, or else our orthodoxy, as I have seen too many times (even in my own life, perhaps particularly in my own life), merely becomes a resurrected Reformed Scholasticism – correct but cold. We also need to realize that people aren’t all wired the same. Some love that academic theology stuff, while others love to minister to the poor in Jesus’ name.

    • I found this comment so well stated and helpful that I have copied it to a word file of quotes that I keep for future reference.

      Thanks to the author.

  16. Exactly (what Greg said). Anyone who claims the Lordship of Jesus is my brother or sister.
    Of course it doesn’t stop there, we all have various beliefs about how it actually works, some of which we hold passionately, some lightly, but we are still brothers and sisters. i may think you are my significantly mistaken brother or sister in some respect, but we are still in the same family. Our understandings of how this Christian thing plays out may be so different that it would be hard even for us to worship together regularly, but you are still my brother or sister. You answer to jesus, not to me, for how you live out the jesus life.

    Is this a threat to evangelicalism? Only to an evangelicalism that has confused means with ends, that wants to command a false conformity, or has sunk into the business of cloning happy-clappy culture warriors. A healthy evangelicalism should welcome those who love Jesus and want to honour Him, even if they don’t speak the same code.

    I think I believe in a two level game, where most of us will believe and practice more than is contained at the “mere christianity” level, but that is the level at which we should recognise and accept one another

  17. Perhaps in the quest for a simple formulaic answer, it seems that more and more Christians are applying all sorts of “Christian litmus tests” to other people (including me at times). Or perhaps for some reason, I am just more aware of this going on. I have discovered that one’s faith can be questioned based on all sorts of concerns, such as political party or voting record, one’s beliefs about creation, baptism beliefs, spiritual gifting views, participation in the “culture wars”, stances on so-called “Christian liberties”, you name it.

    So I long for a “mere” Christianity, and take great comfort in the Apostle’s Creed, which I know connects me with an invisible thread to billions of other Christians around the world, both presently and back through history, regardless of church or denomination.

    I think we could all benefit from a little more “mere” Christianity.

  18. “Is this a real threat, or is it, finally, a coming together across lines to emphasize what is important? What choices does it prefigure or necessitate?”
    I don’t know if it is a threat to “evangelicalism” or not. I’m not in that world. At times I feel hopelessly disconnected from it and perhaps blissfully so. Maybe I shouldn’t even be in this discussion.
    But I have seen it used against that which I believe to be truly evangelical, the Lutheran confession. I don’t have a problem with what C.S. Lewis wrote, I definitely have none with the Apostles Creed. I do have a problem when people try to dictate terms for me as to what is primary and secondary to the faith. “i don’t happen to believe as you do concerning x (baptism, Lord’s Supper, the second coming, fill in the x) therefore it doesn’t matter, it is a secondary issue.” I am left wondering why Paul spilled so much ink over secondary issues. When the mere Christianity flag is flown to do that, then it is indeed an enemy of the faith. I don’t care if you ring bells or not in your church. I might find baptism to be a very important issue even if you don’t. Reading Mere Christianity does not give one the right to tell me it isn’t important. From my perspective one doesn’t understand Justification by faith alone if one refuses to baptize their children. The two go hand in hand. It goes right down to what one believes faith to be. And this “Mere Christianity” stance comes off with just a hint of self-righteousness and haughtiness in that case. So I imagine it does in other cases as well.
    Like I said I don’t know what all goes on in Evangelicalism, and whether this is a good or bad movement. Though Mere Christianity has been around long enough someone ought to have figured that out by now. But when this flag is flown in order to write someone’s position off as not mattering, or in a way that fails to take into consideration another persons concern, then it is not helpful.

  19. I think it all depends on what one means by “Mere Christianity Christians”, and I am quite sure that those who feel they are a threat define it differently from those who consider it laudable.

    Bror Erickson, if someone threw about words like “first order” and “second order” issues in order to tell me what I may or should believe, I would also resent it. If someone came into my church and tried to change things around by relegating certain things to “second” and “third order” places, I would also resent it.

    However, I have heard these terms used primarily in the context of not judging or condemning others for disagreeing with me over such issues, and I believe that is an appropriate use of the terms.

    I have become familiar with “Mere Christianity” (the concept, not the book) through the work of Touchstone magazine, and there you have thoroughly convinced and committed Catholics, Lutherans, Orthodox who nevertheless can accept each other as brothers in Christ and work to promote that which unites them rather than arguing about that which separates them. Of course they would never say that their vision of Mere Christianity constitutes the totality of the Christian Faith, nor that you could have a church that is based on Mere Christianity and nothing beyond it.

    Two personal observations:

    I just came across an article called “The Seven Solas” by Dr. Bruce Atkinson, at Virtue Online (http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=11854) which resonated with me because I have long wondered how one could say, “Sola Scriptura!” and then turn around and say “You must accept these five ‘Solas’ and you must understand them exactly like we understand them in order to be a true Christian”. Or, similarly, “Sola Gratia, Sola Fide!” and then turn around and claim that unless you _understand_ the Word of God in exactly this one particular way, you can’t be saved, which sounds more like a cry of “Sola gnosis” or however that would work in Latin. Or yet again, more in the tradition the iMonk comes from, and which I have also experienced extensively, “Sola Gratia, Sola Fide!” but you can’t be saved if you drink, smoke, play cards, or go to the movies.

    I also struggle with Christians who believe that everytime a Christian author opens his or her mouth they have to spell out the entire gospel or they are not being faithful and orthodox. So if a Christian speaks to the necessity of helping the poor without stressing AT THE SAME TIME that this is not how we are saved, he is advocating works righteousness. If a Christian testifies to an instance of divine healing, without at the same time stressing that normally one goes to the doctor when sick, he is an enthousiastic extremist faith healer. If a Christian praises the book entitled Jesus of Nazareth by one Josef Ratzinger without at the same time pronouncing condemnation of the same Josef Ratzinger for being not just a Roman Catholic but the Pope, who is surely the anti-Christ, he must be a crypto-Catholic.

    People like that will necessarily see “Mere Christianity Christians” as a threat, because they expressly don’t believe they have to re-iterate everything they believe every time they open their mouths. But those are the same folks who keep attacking Michael Spencer and others for the writings so many of us have found helpful, and I believe that in reality they are the real threat to Evangelicalism.

    • Very well said. Thanks.

    • Wow, amazingly well said—just like others commented earlier. Thank you.

    • Wolf Paul,
      I will go one step further here if you don’t mind. I tend to think that this sort of mere Christianity approach even hampers discussion, or often does, as to what scripture says and what it means. Rather than furthering a growth towards doctrinal unity, or even understanding, it closes off all discussion. It doesn’t have to be that way. You mention Touchstone, a Magazine that I have often read myself. I think they do a good job of actually tackling the issues that divide rather than trying to sweep them under the rug and say they don’t matter.
      When I hear people say they don’t matter, I begin to wonder. Who don’t they matter to? They seemed to matter to Jesus. They seem to matter to Paul. They matter to me. Are you saying that they don’t matter to you? Then why are we talking at all if you don’t care? I think they really ought matter to you. They mattered to Jesus. You call yourself a Christian, and then say these don’t matter? How can you say that? Why do you say that?

  20. Great post, Wolf Paul! If you could hear me, you would hear me applauding your comments.

  21. Here is what I think a ‘Mere Christian’ is, and why I think of myself as a ‘Mere Christian’.

    In Acts 11:26 it says: “. . . and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” This is the “label,” if any, that I want to wear. It is a name that literally means — Christ ‘in’ — and thus is a moniker that any person who has placed their trust in the Jesus of the bible can claim proudly. Of course, today, ‘Christian’ has many sub-sets underneath it as an general categorization; so that instead of using that “label” we identify ourselves as: Evangelical Calvinists, Calvinists, Arminians, Neo-Orthodox, Paleo-Orthodox, Biblicists, Evangelical, Fundamentalist, Non-Denominational, Covenant, Baptist, Lutheran, ad infinitum. Certainly these labels, beyond just claiming “Mere Christian,” can be helpful in understanding what theological quirks and idiosyncrasies a particular person believes best represents what it means to be a ‘Mere Christian’ — so I am not really trying to denigrate usage of such ‘markers’. Instead all that I am trying to underscore here, is that if these ‘markers’ become an end in themselves — if we believe that only our particular brand of theology is “Orthodox” and what it means to be a ‘Mere Christian’; then I think we have another thing coming, at the coming of the LORD!

    To be a ‘Mere Christian’ simply means that you have followed Jesus’ pronouncement when He asserted:

    Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. ~John 5:24

    This is all it takes to be called a ‘Christian’, just like the disciples were first called in Antioch! You might believe that narrowing it down by attaching a certain other label (like the ones I have listed above) to ‘Christian’ is necessary to truly be able to wear this label . . . but I would humbly submit that you are wrong. There is a minimum to what it takes to be a ‘Mere Christian’, and Jesus succinctly summarizes that for us in the passage provided by John the Evangelist.

    I find it refreshing to realize that I am simply a ‘Mere Christian’, based upon the simple and Free Grace offered to us by and in Christ; I hope you do too!

    Bobby G.

  22. Lewis’ view of halls and doors may have changed since his time. Back then, if you had already entered a door or had grown up living behind a door of a particular tradition, you probably wouldn’t venture into the hall then into another door. I am reading another book from roughly Lewis’ time that described an “iron curtain” separating different traditions, that authoritarian traditions shielded their followers from the influences and writings of other traditions. Four things happened since Lewis wrote “Mere Christianity”: 1) the end of Modernism, with the fall of the actual “iron curtain”, bringing an end to many dominating ideologies; 2) the rise of religious medias of radio, print, and television, making other traditions more acceptable; 3) the sixties, when spiritual experimentation and exploration became more acceptable; 4) the internet, where creating barriers to separate competing traditions is impossible. As a result, not only do different traditions meet and mingle in the hallway, but now these traditions freely venture into other doors on the hallway other than their own.

    I think this is positive and negative. the positive aspect is we all gain a much larger perspective on the faith beyond the borders of our own traditions. Many evangelical writers now quote freely from patristic, RC and EO sources. Religious art is more accessible, such as the popularity of gregorian chant a few years ago and reprints of icons and mosaics appearing in Christian bookstores.

    The negative aspect is a de-emphasis upon a tradition’s core teachings as materials external to a tradition are introduced, which actually may contradict that tradition’s core teachings – such as the popularity of Rick Warren, John Eldridge, Bill Hybels, and Joel Ostein among Lutherans.

    For a post-evangelical sojourner such as myself, this is helpful and really frustrating. It’s helpful, because I would have never ventured beyond the boundaries of normative evangelicalism had I not been exposed to Catholic, Orthodox, or Lutheran writings. It is frustrating, because when I moved my family to a different tradition, rather than being able to immerse myself in that tradition, all I found was kickin’ worship services and “‘Purpose-Driven Life” Sunday School classes – which is what I already had in the previous tradition. As my discontentment with the tradition behind my door lead me to the tradition behind this other door, those who grew up in the tradition behind this other door were also discontent and were themselves looking for another one. Got to love the irony.

    So this cross-pollenization of traditions can make the faith stronger but it could also spread heretical diseases and parasites throughout the church which would have otherwise been quarantined to a particular sect.

    In the end, I am in favor of freedom of movement and communication between traditions, rather than forcing everyone back behind iron curtains.

  23. “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe with your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9). Is there anything more simple and concise?

    May the denominations continue to bash each other about the head and shoulders for the entertainment of those who do not believe.

  24. Christiane says

    Maybe instead of suggesting how to find a false unity by re-arranging ‘priorities’ of what is primary , secondary, and tertiary doctrines in each denomination, ‘Mere Christianity’ is looking for the core ‘common denominator’ of who we are as Christians that already exists.
    I remember the Amish at Nickel Mines who forgave the murderer of their daughters and brought kindness and help to the widow of the murderer when they attended his funeral. The whole world took notice of something so mysteriously beyond worldly comprehension that it spoke of a faith beyond words and doctrines. Any denomination could honor what they did as central to Christianity and something well beyond the grasp of mere men to use as a tool of division.

    • Christiane, I agree that the Amish people forgiving that man who murdered their children was an amazing thing to witness. And the way they reached out to the man’s widow brings tears to my eyes just to think about. The poor woman must have been so devastated by what her husband did, seemingly “out of the blue.” And then to have the parents of the children offer their love and prayers to her must have been just so incredible. I wonder how she is doing today? How does one ever recover from something like that?

      • Donald Todd says

        I saw several things deserving of a response.

        One might do well to remember that the early Protestants attempted to define the “fundamentals” of the faith, and failed. They could not agree on what was central or on how it was to be understood.

        A comparison of the theologies of Luther and Calvin will bring about that recognition easily enough. Luther held out for a quasi-sacramental view; Calvin pretty much opposed it. Ask any Baptist if God can be present in bread, as in the Eucharist. No agreement on fundamentals but maybe just maybe cannabilism is involved. One can disregard the synoptics and John 6.

        Given that both Luther and Calvin had a very high impression of the Mother of God, as is seen in their writings, one might compare their impression with that of their current followers in Lutheran and Reformed Churches. The anabaptist position on Mary has taken precedence and the anabaptist position is that any woman would do. Nothing unique about the woman to whom Gabriel appeared, or about Mary’s appearance before Elizabeth and the praise that gushed from Elizabeth’s mouth at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Nothing unique at all. Mary was just another woman in a position where any woman would do just fine.

        I listened to a man talk about how, as an Anglican, he had taken the high church position (which contrasts with the low church position [think Methodist/Baptist in orientation]). He noted that he came to the realization that his position involved private judgment. He had made the decision on what he was, and understood that he could as easily have been something else if private judgment is involved.

        Anyone with a modicum of familarity with CS Lewis writings or history sees him as evangelical in practice. He was not Catholic, he was not Unitarian and he was not a Buddhist.

        He was known for speaking about our Lord in meeting halls, churches and on the radio. He accepted speaking engagements for the privilege of speaking in favor of the Christian God. He took that part of the line – the broad middle – in defending God and was found to be defending us as well. That recognition was why Baptists, Catholics, Methodists and Presbyterians could enjoy reading him and weighing the ideas that he had expressed.

        His Christianity was described as genial (open, friendly) and muscular. He defended those positions he listed in Mere Christianity. For many of us who had the privilege of reading Mere Christianity (and a large number of other, often complementary books), he anticipated our questions and gave us substantive answers.

        He deserves credit for what he did and what he wrote. If there is such a thing as mere Christianity, he certainly served it well.

  25. Though I haven’t read Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” (though I have it), and if I am understanding this correctly, is that the Christianity espoused in this book is at a very minimalist level. Though I would not immediately lump Lewis in the category of a “heretic” or “apostate”, my concern with a wholesale embrace (or re-embracing) of this brand of evangelical Christianity by many contemporary evangelicals is it will not do much into terms of genuine, biblically-based Christian spirituality.

    Many professing Christians these days who have embraced Lewis’ perspective have somewhat of a shallow (or non-robust) view of what it means to be justified in Jesus Christ, why born again Christians must be sanctified, what the role of God’s law is in redemptive history, the importance of a proper ecclesial life, and why perseverance in a faith that produces righteousness is absolutely necessary to enter the Kingdom of God. I believe that the common denominator of biblical Christianity is a bit more higher than what Lewis wrote in his famous work (again, if I am understanding properly what he is espousing based on what I have heard from others about the book).

    The reason why I still place my hopes on men like John MacArthur, John Piper, some of the Calvinist SBC crowd, and others of their ilk to maintain an authentic and biblically-based Christianity in our time of evangelical degradation in the West is because they take every warning and exhortation to be fruit-bearing in Scripture seriously. Something that is quite lacking in the evangelical crowds that like to back the banners of Lewis, Peterson, and similar Christian authors.

    • Dan Allison says

      Big of you not to “immediately lump” the 20th century’s greatest defender of the faith into the category of heretic or apostate.

    • read the book!!! it will change your whole persective of what being a Christian is. I picked up the book as a “compassionate Calvinist” put it down I was “ancient-future bible believing Christian” in line with the Mere Christianity he was professing. C.S. Lewis is a treasure to all evangelicals who want something deeper than just “what does the (encylophia-like) Bible says about this or that”. really read the book!!!! peace

    • Mark, you exemplify well those who define “genuine, biblically-based Christian spirituality” almost solely in terms of “doctrinal correctness” (from a truly Reformed perspective, of course).

      Sorry, I pursued that for many years. My head swelled so big and I became so self-righteous, there wasn’t an ounce of of genuine spirituality left.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Is that “Doctrinal Correctness” or “Ees Party Line, Comrades”?

        I’d like to think there’s a difference between Christians and Communists other than doubleplusduckspeaking different Party Lines.

    • Mark, I pulled out my copy today and read the intro and several chapters. Absolutely no heresy there, and nothing “shallow” about Lewis either. But I knew that from his novels and from Screwtape.

      You have used words like “must” and “necessary” in your list of requirements. I don’t see them in the Bible as requirements to enter the Kingdom of God, but possibly as recommendations to help our walk with Christ. I would call that walk sanctification, but would not include the word “must” with it.

      Chaplain Mike showed great restraint (above) in not pointing out that the name of his blog is “Weak on Sanctification”. Go there and maybe he can straighten you out 🙂 But read Mere Christianity too.

    • Probably a good idea to read the book before deciding whether C.S. Lewis is ‘lacking’ or below the common denominator. Don’t want to go out on a limb here but I’m thinking you’re going to learn something you didn’t know before. Always a good thing.

  26. But Lewis hadn’t read Piper, so he probably just didn’t get it, not to mention all that Papist like stuff. Sorry, that sort of stuff makes me put my fingers in my ears, and then I tend to run full steam into a wall somewhere.

  27. I am not really familar with the label , “mere Christainity Christians”, I am aware of the book of course. In saying that; anything that is directly opposed to justification by faith is not Christian.

    Does not matter if it’s a Baptist minister of 50 years who is a rank liberal or a Catholic priest.
    You deny that and you are not believing the true gospel.

    • The following quote from Herman Bavinck, Reformed theologian, showed up on Boar’s Head Tavern recently:

      [W]e must remind ourselves that the Catholic righteousness by good works is vastly preferable to a protestant righteousness by good doctrine. At least righteousness by good works benefits one’s neighbor, whereas righteousness by good doctrine only produces lovelessness and pride. Furthermore, we must not blind ourselves to the tremendous faith, genuine repentence, complete surrender and the fervent love for God and neighbor evident in the lives and work of many Catholic Christians. The Christian life is so rich that it develops its full glory not just in a single form or within the walls of one church.

      Now there’s a truly Reformed guy who gets it.

      • Mike,

        I agree with the underlying tone. Thats it.

        If somebody, anybody, has all their “little theological ducks in a row” and lives like an unbeliever then sure that is valid. That example can be used outside of the ‘catholic vs protestant’ context.

        The Catholic “righteousness” is filthy rags in His sight, like all good works outside of a biblical [true Christian] motive and setting.

        One may be saved inside the walls of the RCC, but one can NEVER be saved by a belief in the teachings of the RCC- which are heretical.

        Having not considered the context of this qoute, nor the man who spoke it. I cannot come to a conclusion, however on face value alone; it seems like rank ecumenalism to me. [Refer to the first pasrt of this sentence, reader, before alleging I am say Herman is that]

        • Notice what he calls, “righteousness by good doctrine.” That’s the pitfall. If Jesus pronounced heaven’s blessing, solely by grace, on the “poor in spirit” and the other helpless souls he came to save, surely he also blesses poor trusting souls who may not have all their theological ducks exactly in a row.

        • The idea that all that’s required for salvation is belief in correct doctrine more and more is pushing me away from Protestantism.

          It leads directly to the moral principle that Christ’s only purpose is as a Get-Out-of-Hell free card, and that the real object of worship is the Bible. Faith in doctrine replaces faith in Christ; condemning other Christians to Hell replaces feeding the hungry.

          There will be sheep and there will be goats, and correct doctrine has not a single thing to do with which group you find yourself in.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            It leads directly to the moral principle that Christ’s only purpose is as a Get-Out-of-Hell free card…

            i.e. what Slacktivist’s commenters call “Say-the-Magick-Words Salvation”.

            …and that the real object of worship is the Bible.

            And the Wall in the Mind slams down behind a solid barrage of thoughtstoppers. “IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN! (AL’LAH’U AKBAR! AL’LAH’U AKBAR! AL’LAH’U AKBAR!)”

      • And just to bring all the ecumenical love to a screeching halt…

        Can I as a Catholic go *headdesk* here? We don’t believe in salvation by works; salvation is by the grace of God and through faith. However, we do believe in the efficacy of works: they can be means of growth in holiness and tranmittal of grace. God permits our free will and accepts our stumbling efforts at love.

        You can’t earn, bribe, or pay your way into heaven by good deeds (or leaving loads of money for charitable purposes in your will after you’ve spent a lifetime grinding the face of the poor to amass that fortune). Even though many people have thought you could, and tried using almsgiving and other works of mercy to offset their lack of holiness as a kind of fire insurance, that’s never how it worked. So I just want to object to what I may be mistakenly perceiving as Mr. Bavinck’s mistaken perception of the Roman Catholic understanding of the place of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in the Christian life. I’m glad he doesn’t think we’re completely lost and astray, but I think the theology is wonky 🙂

        Yeah, I know: someone is going to pipe up about indulgences here, but they are a completely different matter. Anyway, back to the appreciation!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          If you’re talking Matthew, in the words of one Eighties SF novel: “Don’t bother trying to reason with him — he’s Born-Again.”

          After all, we’re just Romish Papists with Satanic Death Cookies, worshipping Satan under the names of Nimrod, Semiramis, and Tammuz. EVERYTHING coming out of our mouths is a Great Lie and Satanic Deception. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs, and Won’t Be Taken In.

          • Ah, I can’t be too hard on Matthew, because that was me, twenty or so years ago.

            You would not believe how reluctantly I went from “Aw, man, we can’t call Protestants heretics any more?” to “Fellow Christians who are *not* always WRONG!!!!”, and that was purely under the influence of our recent popes – with a lot of foot-dragging and humming and hawing along the way.

            But Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have dragged me, kicking and screaming, into at least the late 19th century 🙂

    • Christiane says

      I stay with ‘justification by Christ’.

      • I like that! 🙂

        [provided ‘works based’ salvation is not an added extra’]

        • Christiane says

          “One may be saved inside the walls of the RCC, but one can NEVER be saved by a belief in the teachings of the RCC- which are heretical”

          Well, being saved by Christ is a teaching of my Church.
          And I am Roman Catholic. We don’t think its a heresy either.
          Maybe you didn’t know.

          • Christiane says

            Matthew, perhaps this will help you. This is from the catechism of my Church:

            “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (I Cor 15:3).

            Our salvation flows from God’s initiative of love for us, because “he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” (I Jn 4:10). “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19).

            Jesus freely offered himself for our salvation. Beforehand, during the Last Supper, he both symbolized this offering and made it really present: “This is my body which is given for you” (Lk 22:19).

            The redemption won by Christ consists in this, that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28), that is, he “loved [his own] to the end” (Jn 13:1), so that they might be “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [their] fathers” (I Pt 1:18).

            By his loving obedience to the Father, “unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8), Jesus fulfils the atoning mission (cf. Is 53:10) of the suffering Servant, who will “make many righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities” (Is 53:11; cf. Rom 5:19). ”

            ——————————————————————————–

          • The terms “I am Roman Catholic” & “being saved by Christ” are not really compatiable considering the ‘Christ’ of RC is not the Christ of Christianity.

          • Th every fact that you pescribe to the teachings of the RCC, with all its anathema is of great concern…..

        • Wow, Matthew. The Christ of RC is not the Christ of Christianity? I guess there were no Christians before the 1500’s, huh? And I guess every Roman Catholic since the 1500’s should be identified with the indulgence-selling, merit-promoting false teachers of that historical period that Luther and the other Reformers opposed. There are a lot of correct Protestants over the course of history that I would never want to be identified with either.

          In the hymn, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” (F. Faber), we are warned:

          But we make His love too narrow
          By false limits of our own;
          And we magnify His strictness
          With a zeal He will not own.

          Your world is very small, Matthew. And I have an idea you won’t like the new creation either. Too many people there you disagree with.

          • Mike,

            There is the Roman Catholic Church and all its silly ‘extra-biblical’ traditions [and false gospel] and then there is Christianity – sure before the reformation there were was the Aposolic Catholic church, of which all true believers are apart of. And then there was the papacy…..of which definatley contained regenerated believers but it was not the RCC’s doing but rather inspite of them.

            Jesus Christ would not approve of the RCC and her rank teachings.

          • Oh, Chaplain Mike, I don’t mind Matthew, God bless him! I’ve seen a guy named TurretinFan denying that St. Thomas Aquinas was a Roman Catholic (as modern Catholics understand the term), seemingly on the basis that if Aquinas wrote something accepting the authority of Scripture in his “Summa Theologica”, he can’t be a proper Catholic.

            So, y’know, I’m not too shocked by the whole “Romanism is Paganism” thing 😉

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Matthhew:

            The Treaty of Westphalia ended the Reformation Wars in 1648.
            It is now 2010. Apparenty you still haven’t gotten the word.

            Get a clue or we’ll send Opus Dei’s Albino Monk Assassins after you.

            IA! IA! NIMROD!
            IA! IA! SEMIRAMIS!
            IA! IA! TAMMUZ!
            CTHULHU FTAGHN!

  28. Christiane, Matthew is displaying exactly the attitude and pridefulness that would make running into that wall preferable to following his faith rules. If Matthew is one of the few folks who truly understand God, then I’ll just not understand Him but trust always in His mercy. If you only guessed how many of my unbelieiving friends have been put off, shamed, offended by that sort of crap Reformed know-all-ness… well it’s just hard to undo that and find the face of Christ in all of my fellow human beings and let the judgement of their salvation be up to God.

    • Christiane says

      Hi Trooper,
      I have some good friends who are Dutch Reformed, and they are wonderful Christian people, so not all ‘reformed’ people are ‘Jack Chick on steroids’. 🙂
      I also have some wonderful blogging friends who are Calvinists, and even though I can’t understand Calvinist teachings, these people are absolutely Christian people.
      Maybe Matthew is just having a Bad Day.
      Thanks for the explanation, in any case. It was kind of you.

    • You mean standing for truth?

      Oh and I am guessing you contextualise your gospel to please carnal men too?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        We all bow in awe of your Utter Righteousness, Matthew.

      • Poe’s Law, right? It’s so hard to tell these days. If not, you should know that you’re quite the caricature. . .

      • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

        Brother, I’ve been reading your posts for a while, and there is a such a strong under current of anger in your posts.

        Why?

        Yes there is such a thing as righteous anger, but for us poor sinners, even our righteous anger is 99% anger and 1% righteous. If that.

        Again, why are you so angry? What pain are you hiding behind that anger?

        Even if the RCC is the enemy of Christ, shouldn’t you pray for them and love them as Jesus taught us to?

        Be careful brother, anger can make you feel soooo justified, when really you are trying to justify yourself. I have been down that path. It is madness.

        • Hello brother,

          Thanks for your comment.

          To answer your question – i do feel there differing members of the body who are distinct in certain areas. I am passionate about certain things the same way an end times theologian perhaps is about all that is going on.

          Passion applied can sometimes be viewed as anger.

          Sure, I am angry towards the false gospel that surrounds me and my brethren here in Australia – contextually that would make my posts slant towards that angle.

          However, I am at peace. A paradox if you may.

          I am not “hiding behind any pain”, but rather seeking the LORD.

          I am always open to correction and counsel from my eldership and others, so I thank you for your warning.

          Many blessings to you Jonathan.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      All I know is that Matthew’s brand of Uber-Christianity tore my head apart back in the Seventies, and Romish Popery was what put it back together. Matthew’s Christ may as well be Al’lah — He seems to attract the same Talibani types of Faithful.

  29. Chaplain Mike and Ted, just one question for both of you: when the author of Hebrews wrote “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (12:14, NIV), are you telling me that the author was only “recommending” practical holiness? The conditional in that verse is quite clear (in any version): without (experiential) holiness you will not see the Lord (enter final salvation).

    Of course, I by no means, saying that every true believer is experientially sanctified in the same way and to the same degree (1 Cor 3:1-3) nor that sinless perfection is possible in this life (1 John 1:8-10). What I am saying is that practical sanctification IS necessary if one is to enter the Kingdom. This is why I get frustrated with many modern evangelicals who are so big on Lewis. One can even say that the “Mere Christianity” phenomenon among young evangelicals today can be detrimental to their spiritual life because of its lack of a direct teaching on the necessity of transformed hearts and lives. These people often speak about how they can cultivate their spiritual life with Christ without also emphasizing that the Bible demands inner renewal and transformation as a necessary fruit of salvation (Gal 6:15). My concern with this “Mere Christianity” evangelicalism is that it is only a few blocks away from the seeker-friendly movements or the emergent church phenomenon.

    • Mark, I’m with you on much of this. Like you, I am concerned about “cheap grace” that makes a person think he can get away with anything.

      I had a similar discussion with iMonk a few months ago about Grace vs. Law, in which I was taking more or less your position until I understood what he was talking about.

      Commandments like the Hebrews one you cited are certainly important, as are the basics:
      — You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength.
      — You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
      — Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

      Etc, etc. The 10 Commandments are, after all, only two commandments: 1. Love God; 2. Love your neighbor. But the point that Chaplain Mike is trying to make, and I think iMonk was trying to make to me a few months ago, is that adherance to the Law for the sake of Law itself is not really loving God, nor loving one’s neighbor either; and can lead to a kind of pride-based works-righteousness. Remember the Pharisee who prayed, “Lord, I thank you that I am not like that guy over there.” (And we need to remember that we can get prideful too if we think, “I’m glad I’m not like that Pharisee”!)

      I quoted from Lesslie Newbigin earlier in this post because he keeps coming up. He said that Christianity should be defined by its center (Christ), not by boundaries, which lead to legalism. If we insist on too many boundaries there will be no end to it. We become a slave to the boundaries instead of walking toward Christ.

      Tritely put, it’s not the perfection but the direction–but it looks like you covered that in your second paragraph above: “nor that sinless perfection is possible in this life”. The Christian walk is full of paradoxes, and often we are talking about the same thing with different definitions, or emphases on one part of the paradox or the other.

      But beware the slavery of too many doctrinal rules and regulations that are man-made, even if they seem biblically based. To paraphrase 1Cor13, “Although I may have excruciatingly correct theology, if I have not love I am nothing.”

      Thanks for sharpening us up.

    • I’m not sure how we moved from “Mere Christianity Christians” = those who find unity with other Christians on the basis of the creeds, to “Mere Christianity” = a lack of concern for sanctification. We’re on two different trains here, folks.

  30. Another thing, I highly suggest people read Michael Spencer’s (old) blog piece on perseverance. You will find it somewhere in the archives here. Calvin was right when he said we cannot have Christ as our justifier if we cannot have him as our sanctifier.

  31. Mark,

    If you want someone “Calvinist,” and actually devotional and spiritual then read T.F. Torrance, a true “Evangelical” Calvinist!

    I agree with Chaplain, at least on this point, you can read Piper and folks but their doctrine of God, rooted in Thomist Intellecutalism as it is, will never do anything but puff your head up and deflate your heart — and neither of those should actually be in competition, but that’s what you get when you follow an anthropology that places the intellect as the defining feature of man. You get a the kind of Piperian, MacArthurian spirituality that is certainly more concerned with getting the i’s dotted and t’s crossed.

    Btw, on Calvin, I would be curious on how you’re reading “we cannot have Christ as our justifier if we cannot have his as our sanctifier.” Are you grounding that within a “Covenantal framework,” or one that is grounded in unio mystica (mystical union) and the vicarious humanity of Christ for us? If the former, then I would suggest, again, this is why you’ll end up with a spirituality that is arid of the love of Christ; if the latter you’ll end up on a trajectory lands you in an immediate and intimate relationship with the Savior. Calvin followed the latter (some are calling this reading of Calvin the NCP – New Calvin Perspecitve, if interested you should read Charles Partee’s “The Theology of John Calvin,” WJK 2008).

    Anyway, Mark, I understand your concern with sound doctrine, but to say that Lewis was “weak” is not to know C. S. I really don’t see his book “Mere Christianity” as providing the minimum for salvation or what it means to be a Christian; instead its really an apologetic work and provides a brilliant arguement for the “moral arguement” of the existence of God — if you’re into such apologetic methodology. But I wouldn’t really want to even imply that someone like Lewis was a ‘heretic’, the tone of his theology, as far as I can see is very paleo-Christian/Evangelical; and for that I appreciate the legacy of Lewis.

    • Bobby,

      I believe that justification and sanctification, though distinct, are also inseparable because of our union with Christ through faith alone and by God’s grace alone. I do not believe that this inseparability is due to some covenantal framework. I do not embrace a “covenantal nomism” view of salvation. That is a heresy conjured up by modern biblical scholars who have read Paul wrong.

      • Mark,

        That’s good to hear ;-).

        Peace.

        • Btw,

          I wasn’t talking about the NPP (i.e. Covenantal Nomism), it was NCP, a play on NPP; “New Calvin Perspective.” There are at least 4 ways to read Calvin’s theology, the NCP sees the “Mystical Union” as the touchstone from which Calvin’s theology orbited. I think you misunderstood me, Mark.

    • Also, though I would not label him as an unregenerate, I still have reservations about his works because of its theological “lightness.” However, I did really enjoy reading his sci-fi book (the first one of the three).

      • To be fair to Lewis, he never presented himself as a theologian, but as a layman explaining to other laymen why it seemed to him that Christianity was true and what it meant. I think he would be very uncomfortable as being seen as some kind of guru, which unfortunately certain elements of his modern fanbase tend towards (and for us Catholics, we can go the same way about Chesterton, who would never have claimed to be anything other than an ordinary man explaining why he felt Christianity first, and then Catholicism, was true and why he felt so.)

        From my reading of him, Lewis felt that he was (1) doing work that should really be done by the clergy of the time but which, for some reason, they weren’t doing and (2) as a non-specialist, able to talk to others who might be put off by formal theology by approaching it from a different angle.

        So pinning him down about “What is his particular understanding and position on justification/santification/sola Scriptura/immersion versus pouring?” is totally missing the point. Lewis himself would have said that when it came down to the matter of doctrines, this was where the clergy and the churches should take over. He would get you to the door of the church, but once you stepped in, that was for the shepherds to start shepherding.

  32. I am thoroughly confused.

    What did C.S. Lewis write in Mere Christianity that would be offensive to other Christians?

    I haven’t read that book in so long it is hard for me to remember, but it remember it being so minimal that I can’t imagine it becoming offensive.

    I don’t think Lewis intended that book to be exhaustive take on the Christian faith. He wanted to make a good defense for God in the face of atheism and mention a few pretty basic things.

    But do people think that everything he lists there is all that Christians ever need to know?

    • It could be it’s what he didn’t say is what is offensive. I recall a certain conservative political radio talkshow host saying that the only thing worse than a liberal is a moderate. I think the same thing happens in religion: extremism pushes things to the fringes and make a middle ground very difficult to hold.

      Chesterton said that when faced with a paradox or an apparent contradiction that one must embrace both sides as a mystery. He also said that lunatics look for simple answers, rather than seeing complexities and mystery. I understand that one can summarize the Christian faith in one or two scripture verses or in a phrase or statement of faith. But these summaries would be meaningless without the richness and depth which lies under the surface. That is part of the problem with the current pragmatism which makes the church a mile wide and ankle deep: we just want something simple that will “work”. We don’t care about the finer points of fly-by-wire avionics; we just want the plane to get us somewhere. Church history is full of examples where orthodoxy was a meeting in the middle of two opposing views. There’s a lot of things I love about Augustine, but his neo-platonism and tendacy toward manichaeanism had to be balanced by theologians who came after him. When you’re tempted to believe that life and faith are simple, read Job again.

      As I said before, I don’t think Lewis was making a Readers Digest version of the faith; I think he was, as already stated, opening a hallway we can all meet. If someone believes that the true Christian faith is found behind one particular door, the whole analogy of a hallway becomes meaningless. For a view of a world where everyone lives behind isolated doors of self-righteousness, read Lewis’ description of hell in “The Great Divorce”.

      • I can see what you mean about the pragmatism and ankle deep stuff.

        I take it that people think he contributed that?

        • No, just the opposite! I think Lewis brought a long-needed depth to the evangelical community. The last thing I would accuse Lewis of is pragmatism. I don’t think you’ll learn how to flip a rental property by reading Narnia.

          I think we play a theological version of buzz-word bingo, where individuals like Lewis are judged on the basis of whether or not they use the right words or catch phrases or superlatives. One can say something profound, but if he or she doesn’t garnish it with a quote from a reformed bobblehead or at least one reference to a “sola”, it is dismissed as heresy or “milk”.

          A lot of Christians are still skeptical of human reason and thought. It may go back to some dumb things done in the name of medieval nominalism. It could be due to the horrific things done during the enlightenment in the name of autonomous reason. Because of this, some may be a little fearful of Christian thinkers. It’s really tragic, but it just requires patience.

          • Amen brother! Usually the ‘buzzword’ crowd indicates a lack of deep thought, by using those very buzzwords, and usually repeated something said by one of the celebrity preachers (which quite often turns out to be wrong upon closer examination). As Os Guiness noted in one of his popular books (though not read by many evangelicals), anti-intellectualism (and its related anti-theologicalism) is killing us. He reminds us that Jesus’ version of the Great Commandment includes loving God with all your mind, the failure of which he calls our greatest sin and greatest scandal. We could use more thinkers like Lewis and less who want to reduce everything to black and white or rehash the debates of the sixteenth century every Sunday.

  33. Maybe with the “Emergent Church” being sooo last week, the watchbloggers need a new bogeyman.

    • Jonathan Hunnicutt says

      “Quick, Quick, I know you don’t see any wolves around, but that deer is starting look kind of wolfish, don you think?” 🙂

  34. This will probably be my last post on this article, but what I wanted to say in a nutshell is that Lewis’ works are only “milk” (only good for new believers) but certainly not “meat” (using Paul’s analogy in 1 Cor 3:2). My point is that as you grow in your faith you must go beyond the “theology of milk” (Lewis) and start feasting on the “theology of meat” (Luther, Calvin, Puritans, Spurgeon, Ryle, MacArthur, Piper, etc.). If you just stay where Lewis’ theology hovers there will be no spiritual growth and maturity whether individually or corporately – a recipe of disaster in this age of anti-Christianity in the West.

    • Hi again, Mark. I just posted to your earlier comment above, about the same time you posted here. But just to save you from the tomatoes and rotten eggs heading your way, let me pre-empt by saying that lots of us don’t see Lewis as “milk”. And Mere Christianity is, after all, a collection of radio broadcasts intended for the layman.

      You’ve mentioned Piper a few times. I have tried four (4) times to read his book “Don’t Waste Your Life” and I gotta say, this is milk. Skim milk. Please, please, don’t tell me this is one of his finer works because I know lots of good people who benefit from him. But about the only thing I can get from that book is the title: I don’t want to waste my life reading it.

      Sorry. I’ll take Lewis. Maybe this has something to do with 1Cor12. One body, many parts.

    • Have you read Mere Christianity? I wouldn’t exactly say its for new believers. That book is all meat! The problem of the shallowness of todays contemporary mere christianity has nothing to do with lewis’ book or title. If more mere christians actually read Mere Christianity it would do everyone good.

      • I would say the same thing about John Stott’s “Basic Christianity”. He did mean it for new believers, but it goes beyond “basic” to the point of being meat for long-time believers as well. I just re-read it a few weeks ago. Right up there with Packer’s “Knowing God”.

        • Ted, I think we both would agree here that Stott’s little renown book is certainly meat for any believer. What surprises me among contemporary evangelicals is that many of them are so keen to dig into Lewis’ stuff but know little of Stott’s small book that makes a major impact. That is both perplexing and sad. Heck, Stott even goes into the whole “lordship salvation” controversy in the book (of course, the book was written way before the issue got heated up in the 80s). Where do you get that kind of discussion in Lewis’ books? Another book I would highly recommend is J. C. Ryle’s “Holiness.” If many Anglicans/Episcopalians read that book their whole denomination would be in a better shape than it is right now, especially in North America.

          • “If many Anglicans/Episcopalians read that book their whole denomination would be in a better shape than it is right now, especially in North America.”

            I think many are, and, if you’re not familiar with this organization, here’s a glimmer of hope:

            http://www.acnaassembly.org

            Of course, from my own theological biases, I think I’d rather they be spending more time with the writers of the Oxford Movement ;-).

      • donald todd says

        Mere Christianity was taken from a series of talks that CS Lewis gave. He was giving a reason to become a Christian, in a broad sense. He noted that he had an Anglican, a Baptist, a Methodist and a Roman Cathoiic look it over prior to publication.

        Lewis was a convert, having been an atheist. Lewis was trying to convert people, and perhaps trying to convince people already in the pews to give a bit more attention to what they believed.

        He certainly deserves better treatment than some of the comments are willing to give him.

    • My guess is that 500 years from now seminary students (if there are still seminaries!) will be reading Lewis and nobody will have heard of Piper, and certainly not MacArthur.

      • i doubt it greg. i’d say all three will be remembered in a big way.

        • Although I have been well acquainted with John MacArthur for many years, I’m regularly surprised at how many Christians I meet who know nothing about him. Move out of the US (I’m a Canadian currently living in the US) and he is even less known. I greatly appreciate John Piper, but I think fewer peopel have heard of him than have heard of John MacArthur. I rarely meet someone who isn’t aware of Lewis (even if they may not have read much of what he has written). Like it or not, I suspect Greg is right (although I would reverse his order of MacArthur and Piper).

          • Dan Allison says

            In one hundred years MacArthur will be entirely forgotten. I respect him as my brother in Christ but I don’t get why anyone thinks that he is a great Christian thinker or theologian. Piper may (or may not) be remembered as a good preacher, along the lines of Jonathan Edwards. The people who will be read and studied in a hundred years are Lewis, NT Wright, Francis Schaeffer, John Paul II, and possibly David Bentley Hart.

      • Sorry to start us down that path.

        • To Dan Allison: I have never heard of David Bentley Hart before. I did an internet search and think I may want to read his The Beauty of the Infinite sometime. I have liked a lot of the Eastern Orthodox writings and teachings. I enjoyed Kallistos Ware’s The Inner Kingdom.

  35. Mark says:
    January 3, 2010 at 5:43 pm
    “Though I haven’t read Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”. . .”

    Mark, perhaps before you comment on a book, particularly if you are going to suggest in a discussion with other Christians that it is but “milk”, it would be a good idea to read it.

    Just a thought.

  36. Christiane says

    I love the writings of C.S. Lewis.
    He takes something as deep as the Mystery of Christ, and is able to express it through the persona of Aslan ‘in another setting’ so that young children can understand it. Of course, I speak of ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’.

    A lot more than ‘young children’ were fascinated by that classic story.
    There is a place in this world for the great theologians who speak of great things..
    And there is a place in this world for the ‘simple’, to whom it is given to understand what is kept from the wise.
    C.S. Lewis celebrated the abilities of ‘the simple’ ,of all ages, who are wiser than we know.

    If ‘Mere Christianity’ is pablum for the intellectuals of the faith, perhaps it is because they were never permitted to wander through ‘the wardrobes’ of their childhood.
    More’s the pity.
    Hmmm, from a great distance, I think I just heard the mighty Aslan roaring in agreement. 🙂

    • ” …perhaps it is because they were never permitted to wander through ‘the wardrobes’ of their childhood.”

      Well said.

  37. To those of you responding to Matthew, thanks for being other types of Christians. I’m feeling much better.

  38. Thank you for everything. Very useful