Tag Archives: C.S. Lewis

Moving Beyond Partisan Politics

by Kevin Hester

I recently read an article in Time magazine that traced the seemingly permanent impasse in the federal government to the election of a number of representatives during the presidency of George H. W. Bush. At a meeting with incoming House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich and Congressman Vin Weber, Bush expressed his greatest fear that they would allow their “idealism…(to) get in the way of…sound governance.”[1] His fear may not have been misplaced for Weber is noted to have said, “What is good for the President may well be good for the country, but it is not necessarily good for congressional Republicans.”[2]

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A Radical Call to Love God and Do What You Will

by Kevin Hester

I have two college-age sons, one in high school, and one in middle school. They have been raised in a Christian home and my wife and I have prayed that they would find and pursue God’s will. They seem to be trying, just like most of the students I deal with at Welch College, to do just that. My incoming college freshman is wrestling as I write this whether to major in missions, or psychology, or both. I can tell it’s really bothering him. I recently asked my oldest son what he considered to be the biggest question of his generation and he said, “finding God’s will…how do you know?”

I have thought a lot about this question since he posed it to me a few weeks ago. I remember the angst myself. God’s will always seemed to be so mysterious. I heard people talk about calls and experiences and though I felt God’s presence and truly committed myself to Him to do anything He wanted, what He wanted wasn’t entirely clear. I prepared for the ministry at Free Will Baptist Bible College. I was a pastoral major and worked during my senior year there as an assistant pastor and minister of music with a local congregation. I loved the work and the people. I graduated and moved to St. Louis, Missouri to attend seminary. I looked for jobs at local Free Will Baptist churches but none materialized. Instead, I focused on my studies, my growing family, and began slowly moving up the ranks of the custodial staff at Covenant Theological Seminary.

I had always loved history and ever since Leroy Forlines’ classes I had come to embrace theology as well. I took every class in church history, theology, and philosophy I could at seminary. They seemed to draw me in. One day, my systematics professor asked if I had ever considered doing further work. I hadn’t . I had always assumed as soon as I got out of seminary I would find a church and settle into a pastorate. But the idea was born. So, after seminary I applied to some churches and to some graduate schools. The churches didn’t call but the schools did. Five years later, I found myself teaching at Free Will Baptist Bible College.

For me, finding God’s will was something I fell or grew into. It wasn’t something that I ever could have sketched out. I couldn’t have dreamed what God ultimately had in store for me. After all, I was just a country boy from Alabama. I was willing to let God use me but I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to be worth much.

Only recently have I truly begun to realize how wrong I was, and to a certain extent how wrong I still am. I fear that much of our evangelical rhetoric and many of the voices speaking to our millennial youth have perpetuated the mythos of God’s will in ways that run counter to the Christianity of the previous centuries.

This conversation with my son reminded me of an article I read a couple of years ago by a friend of mine from seminary named Anthony Bradley (What Anthony said drew a great deal of flack at the time. He posed the thesis that presentations of “radical Christianity” and “finding God’s will” had left the millennial generation discouraged and kept “ordinary people in ordinary places from doing ordinary things for the glory of God.” Instead of a missional, radical experience Bradley calls us back to a traditional Christian understanding of vocation. He poses the question, “What if youth and young adults were simply encouraged to live in pursuit of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, education, wonder, beauty, glory, creativity, and worship in a world marred by sin…no shame, no pressure to be awesome, no expectations of fame but simply following the call to be men and women of virtue and inviting their friends and neighbors to do the same in every area of life?”

The radical call of Christ is a call to love as He loved. Being a disciple is a “radical” call in this world but the focus is on love and not on what is done out of that love. This is something that John knew and Augustine pointed out in his reflection on I John 1. “Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will.” Tractatus VII.8.

You see, sometimes love looks very ordinary. I was loving my church when I led them in worship. I was loving my wife and children when I cleaned toilet bowls so we could have a roof over our heads and food on the table. I was loving God when I crammed for those exams, read all those pages, and wrote all those papers to learn more about Him. And during all those times, doing all those things, I was in God’s will. God’s will is not only about the future. It is about the now. I wasn’t waiting for God’s will, I was in it even then, even in the ordinary.

Dr. Ken Riggs preaches a sermon where he makes exactly this point. If you want to know God’s will, read His word. God’s will isn’t a mystery. There are Ten Commandments, strive to keep them. Jesus summed it up in Matthew 22 with the statement, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul.” Do this and God will take care of the rest.

I am reminded of C. S. Lewis’ reflection on self-image from Mere Christianity. In this work he argues that people with a healthy self-image rarely think of themselves at all. I wonder if the same thing couldn’t be said about God’s will. Those persons “in God’s will” don’t seem to think much about it all. They are too busy doing, too busy loving, too busy being ordinary; and perhaps, that is the most radical thing of all.

So I think I know now what I need to tell myself, my sons, and my students. Be who you are in Christ right now. Love and live. Be faithful. Be ordinary for God and He can do extraordinary things with you. If he can turn an Alabama country boy into a theology professor, I can’t wait to see what God will do with you.

 

On C.S. Lewis & Chronological Snobbery

by Matthew Pinson

In my courses at Welch College, I often introduce my students to C. S. Lewis’s comments on “chronological snobbery.” Lewis described himself before he became a Christian, when he was still an atheist, as a chronological snob. He defined chronological snobbery as the “uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited” [1].

Lewis believed that this was what kept so many modern intellectuals from accepting Christianity. But he urged his colleagues not to be chronological snobs, insisting:

You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also ‘a period,’ and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them [2].

This is why Lewis recommended reading old books. In his introduction to Athanasius’s The Incarnation of the Word of God, Lewis comments on this. It was later printed under the title “On the Reading of Old Books” [3].

 It’s a good rule after reading a new book never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and especially liable to make certain mistakes. We all therefore need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means old books. . . . None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. . . . The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds and this can only be done by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them [4].

Recently I came across another quotation from Lewis on this theme. It was on the website of, of all things, an asset management firm. You can see why an asset management firm would be quoting someone about not taking just the recent past as our guide for wisdom. Asset managers and investors must look at what markets do over the long haul, not just at current trends, to advise people on how to invest their money. Listen to this incisive quote:

 “Most of all we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village. The scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age” [5].

Now, of course, I think Lewis would agree that this ability to “live in many times” is not limited to professional scholars. Anyone who wants to put forth the effort and “read old books,” learning from the wisdom of the Christian tradition (and the Free Will Baptist tradition in our case) will reap the benefits of which Lewis speaks.

Lewis’s lessons here are ones that we evangelicals in the early part of the twenty-first century need to learn. Many of us are quick to point out chronological snobbery in liberal theology, progressive politics, and the license with which modern liberal judges interpret the U.S. Constitution. But we also need to avoid chronological snobbery when it comes to our church lives. This is not to say that we do everything “just the way grandpa did it.” Yet it is to say that we need to avoid the trendiness and ecclesiastical fashionableness that we evangelicals seem to be so tempted by these days.

So I exhort you: resist the modern temptation to be a chronological snob. Read old books in addition to modern ones. And let the clean sea breeze of the centuries blow through your mind!

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[1] Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1966), 207-08.

[2] Ibid.

[3] In God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 200-207.

[4] Ibid.,

[5] The sermon from which this quotation comes can be found at Bradley G. Green’s excellent website: http://bradleyggreen.com/attachments/Lewis.Learning%20in%20War-Time.pdf. “Learning in War-Time,” a sermon preached in Oxford, UK, 1939.