“…With All Long-suffering and Doctrine…”

A few years ago I began writing out the exhortations which are delivered at the beginning of our worship service each Lord’s Day just before the corporate prayer of confession. What follows (and shall weekly D.V.) is something of the fruit of that labor.

Two common practices are much to be deplored in worship. As these exhortations were being composed, one of these deplorable things I was in the process of coming out of, and the other one I wanted to avoid getting into. The former was the notion that spontaneity in worship is something that we want, the order of the day, and that all exhortations should be impromptu, “from the heart.” Of course all true godliness is from the heart, but so is everything else—sin included. If a vacuous man shares his heart, all the saints feel is a faint breeze. I was very tired of the sanctified rambling and repetition that had characterized most of my past.

So I wanted the discipline of writing things down, preparing my thoughts (and heart) beforehand. But the temptation that comes with prepared and set forms is that of drifting into holyspeak, dearlybelovedism, and other ministerial forms of sonorous praying and speaking through the nose. As a result, I labor to have the exhortations be an ongoing exercise in the discipline of plain speaking, and plain dealing. I offer them to you, along with the accompanying prayers, for your edification.

Almighty God and Father, we dare to approach Thee because we are dressed in the righteousness of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. From Thee all things come, the heavens and the earth, and all things in between. Thou didst speak into existence the farthest galaxy, and Thou didst do the same to the dust beneath our feet. Every created thing is a constant debtor to Thy manifold mercy for its continued existence. For it is of Thy mercy that we are not consumed because Thy compassion does not fail.

As we look around us, Father, we see that in one way everything declares Thy praise. The trees clap their hands, and the mountains shout for joy. Yet, in another sense we see that the trees and the mountains and the rivers and the stones cannot praise Thee in the way that Thou hast enabled us to praise Thee.

Once Thou didst place our father Adam as a steward over all creation, but he forfeited the dominion which Thou didst most graciously give to him. And yet, even though Thy justice would be preserved if Thou hadst chosen to leave us in our misery, Thou didst send a Second Adam to restore all things.

And so we gather in Christ, redeemed and restored. We recognize that while the silent creation has no tongue, Thou has given to us the means and the authority to speak for it. We thank Thee, O God, for Thou has appointed us as the secretary of Thy praise. So Lord, on behalf of all things which cannot praise Thee with words, we lift up our praise and adoration. On behalf of the children who have not yet learned how to form words, we praise Thee. On behalf of the aged, who through infirmity have lost the ability to utter praises, we magnify Thy name. There will be no rocks crying out here today, O God. To Thy name be all the glory.

We know these praises to be feeble. We know that they fall immeasurably short of Thy majesty. But we offer them promptly and sincerely. May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.

In the Strong Name of Jesus, Amen!

O Give Thanks Unto the Lord

It was the eternal mercy of God which first set our names down; it was everlasting grace which taught our names to an empty Book of Life. This was done, to the glory of the living God, before any of us drew a breath, thought one thought, or sinned one sin. This was done because God determined, out of the counsel of His own good pleasure, to be kind to us in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our duty therefore, as a congregation of Christ, is clearly the duty of thanksgiving. We are not hear to mumble our amens; we are not here to sing as though at a funeral; we are not here to act as though the sermon were a lecture in some kind of theological calculus.

Your thanksgiving is not a detached emotion, floating around your heart somewhere. Because theology is everything, your thanksgiving, like everything else in your life, will proceed directly from your theology. Moreover, your manner of thanksgiving reveals your true theology, which in many cases has been found to be quite different from what is professed with the lips.

Therefore, lift up your heads; your redemption draws near. Magnify the Lord, and exalt His name together. Deliverance is from the Lord; thanksgiving is therefore from His people. Taste and see that the Lord is good; and, having tasted, declare it together with all God’s saints this morning. Declare it ,with rejoicing, to a generation which is without God and without hope in the world.

Begotten But Made…

The very title of this article might be enough for St. Nick to scuttle down my chimney and slap my jaws. He has done it before. Well, not to me, but you get the idea.

The Libyan rabble-rouser Arius was the original recipient of those jolly love taps. St. Nicholas of Myra shook the Libyan lout like a bowl of jelly. At least, that’s how I sing the song.

Arius was prophet for profit who had been peddling lies concerning the Second Person of the Godhead. He affirmed that Jesus was “divine” but that it would be proper to use the lower-case with reference to Him. Arius held that the Lord Jesus was the first of Jehovah’s creations (sound familiar?). He said that there was a “time when he was not.” He was not, therefore, in any real way equal with the Father. The heretic held that Jesus was begotten in Bethlehem and that was when He was made; that is created. You can see how this might unsettle those of a more orthodox disposition who actually believe the Bible.

Arius had used a rather catchy pedagogical method for the dissemination of his trashy doctrines. He rewrote a few of the more bawdy bar songs of his day, those that were sung at pagan orgies, to reflect his more “progressive” view of the Faith. The songs were so crude that grown men would often blush. And Arius wasn’t even a celebrity pastor from from Seattle.

In 325 A.D., an ecumenical council met in Nicea to settle the question. The Arian party was large and influential. At a certain point in the discussion, Arius rose to his feet to regurgitate (because I am more polite than to say vomit) his drivel. He did so by breaking forth in one of his well known ditties. Historians have said that grown men ran out of the hall in embarrassment, blushing as they went. Even members of his own faction were ashamed. But not Nick. He was downright mad. He strode over to the transgressive troubadour and punched him in the face. It is here that the historians are divided. Some maintain that being faithful to his Lord, he didn’t “let his right hand know what his left hand was doing” and he “turned the other cheek” of Arius. One lick or two, it’s still a good story. Now before you get your knickers in a twist and say, “Well that wasn’t very Christ-like” let me say that I wish that the worst thing that we had ever done was to punch a heretic!

After the incident, the council went on to formally denounce Arius and his vile heresy, as well as give us the famous Nicene Creed. That creed of the Church set forth in very certain terms the essential equality of the Son with the Father.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The council affirmed that Jesus was begotten, not made. So you see why my title might raise the hackles of the Claus? The second section of the creed is definitively teaching us that Jesus was not “made” in the sense that He was not created. He eternally existed as the eternally begotten Son of the Father. So how dare I say that He was begotten but made? Well, because the creed says so.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man

Wait a minute! Isn’t this a blatant contradiction? No, not at all. The previous section says that Jesus was not “made” in the sense that He was not created. This section, however, says that He was “made” in the sense that He became something. That is, he was constituted something by virtue of the incarnation.

Think of some of the glorious statements in Holy Scripture that state this grand truth. There is a sense in which Christ, the Mighty Maker, was made.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh (Romans 1:3).

But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law (Galatians 4:4).

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man (Hebrews 2:9).

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree (Galatians 3:13).

Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens (Hebrews 7:25-26).

So, in a very real sense we should give praise to God because the Lord Jesus was begotten but made.

Made flesh!
Made lower than angels!
Made of a woman!
Made sin!
Made to be a curse!
Made higher than the heavens!

All of this so that we might be made Sons of the Most High God. Hallelujah! What a Savior.

Hence the Scratching and Clawing…

Come together, right now, over me.  ~The Beatles

If you take two cats and tie their tails together then you have a union; the last thing you have is unity. The vexed question of church unity is like the woman in the gospels—the more the physicians treat her, the worse she gets. In large measure, this is because church leaders (naturally enough) tend to place the locus of unity in government—ecclesiastical union. But we need to reexamine this. Of course, governmental unity among all Christians is certainly to be desired, but is it the foundation of all unity or an instrument toward it? Fortunately, the Bible tells us where to look.

The same Paul who tells us to labor to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace also tells us the basis of that unity. He tells us that we as Christians are to walk in a manner worthy of our calling as Christians (Eph. 4:1). Our demeanor in this is to be one of humility and patience (v. 2). With this attitude, we are equipped to obey his next command, which is the command to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (v. 3). This unity is kept by us, not created by us. Armed with the right attitude, assigned the right task, what we now need is the right foundation. What foundation does Paul declare as the basis of this unity?

There is one body because there is one Spirit. There is one hope of our calling. One Lord. There is only one faith. There is only one baptism. And above, through and in us, there is one God and Father (vv. 4-6). In heaven is the triune God, and on earth we find a common confessed faith and a common baptism—Word and sacrament. It is striking that there are no governmental bonds referred to here; the bonds are of another nature entirely. He does not list one holy Father in Rome. Nor does he say one ecumenical headquarters in New York. He does not refer to summit leadership conferences in Colorado Springs. He doesn’t even hint at an executive committee in Nashville.

Of course, this does not mean that government is irrelevant to this question of unity. In the next breath, Paul says that the one Lord ascended into heaven, and from there He gave the gift of godly government to men. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11). The reason He did this was so that these officers would labor in the perfecting of the saints, building up the body of Christ until we all come to the unity of the faith (vv. 12_13). The task before these officers is the presentation of a perfect man, a Church that has grown up into the measure of the fullness of Christ (v. 13).

This means the saints are exhorted to have an attitude of humility and patience as they endeavor to preserve that measure of unity they already have, a unity created by the Spirit of God. At the same time, they clearly do not yet have the full measure of the unity that God intends for His Church. So Paul teaches first that we have a unity that must be preserved. He also teaches that we do not yet have full unity. That is the pastoral and eschatological goal of those faithful officers who labor in the Church. The unity we already have is based upon the unity of God, the unity declared in baptism.

Faithful pastors, therefore, advance the work of true unity. Unfaithful teachers disrupt that unity and so their lying ministries must themselves be disrupted. As unity grows under a faithful ministry, we are no longer children, tossed to and fro by televangelists, or carried about by every wind of doctrine to blow out of the magisterium. We are no longer vulnerable to the cunning craftiness that makes us buy IVP books (v. 14). The work of true unity is not advanced by an irenicism that tolerates the “sleight of men.” A shepherd who tolerates wolves is a shepherd who hates his own sheep. A shepherd who loves his sheep is one who fights the wolves. And the wolves in sheeps’ clothing don’t like this, not at all, and so they raise a great cry—unity!

In dealing with this threat, faithful pastors do not declaim from the pulpit about “wolves abstractly considered.” They name names, like Hymenaeus and Alexander. And that is why it is treachery to the cause of true unity to refuse to point out obvious departures from the faith. I mentioned InterVarsity Press a moment ago only because wolves are running up and down the corridors there.

Pastors labor to this end of unity by speaking the truth in love, in order that the already unified body might become unified. We are growing up into our head, the Lord Jesus Christ. From Him, the whole body is being joined together—and the picture here of being joined and compacted, as every joint supplies, is an image of being knit together in the womb (vv. 15_16). There is an essential unity in an embryo, but there is also a unity toward which the embryo is growing. Many complaints about the disunity of the Church are actually complaints about how God knits in the darkness of the womb. We look over His shoulder and have the temerity to criticize what He is doing there. But we must go by what the Word says, and not by what we see.

So as we grow up toward this unity, to extend the metaphor, we necessarily fight false teachers who want to introduce their birth defects into the process. As we love one another in all humility and stand for the truth in love, we advance the cause of unity in truth. God directs how this process will finally culminate. Our task is not to oversee the whole process, but rather to be faithful and obedient in our small portion of it.

We therefore affirm a doctrine of apostolic succession, but this is not a succession of ordinations. That is not the basis of unity. Rather, it is a succession of baptisms, and all that those baptisms represent. He is one and we are one in Him.

Christmas is for Sinners

This is an excerpt from a sermon which I preached last year. It seems appropriate to state these truths yet again.  

Christmas was a messy affair. I don’t mean that it was messy because there was too much tinsel and garland scattered about either. Christmas was messy because this world is a messy place. It was into this mess that our Maker came.

If you think about the first Christmas and it leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside then you aren’t doing it right. We have been conditioned to think about that scene in Bethlehem like we think about cuddly kittens, playful puppies, and shiny rainbows after a nice summer rain. We just turn into mindless mush-heads.

Every year the Christian community whips itself into a frenzy over the secularism that has attached itself to our Holy Day. The Church decries the blatant commercialism that permeates the season with a loud voice. “Jesus is the reason for the season!” “Keep Christ in Christmas!” Then everyone lights some candles, dresses up like wise men, drinks eggnog and feels quite pleased with themselves. “We have saved Christmas.” But Christmas doesn’t need saving…we do.

If commercialism is the besetting sin of the secular crowd then, undoubtedly, sentimentalism is the crippling sin that afflicts the church. Every year we get better at rewriting the history of Christmas. Every year it gets just a little cleaner, a little neater, a little less rough around the edges. We polish halo’s and sweep out cattle stalls. We get better at inventing warm winter nights, babies that don’t cry and animals that don’t stink.  All of those “silent nights” and what not…

We want to sanitize that story because we want to white-wash our own story. We want to be the prince on the white horse instead of the troll in the Dark Tower. We want to feel good not guilty. We want to feel warm and fuzzy, not humbled and unworthy. Well, let’s just get it straight. Christmas wasn’t very merry. It was messy. It was painful. It was hard. It was mile marker number 1 on the way to a bloody cross and a lonely tomb. It was anything but sentimental.

Allow the Apostle Paul to tell us what Christmas is really about. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (I Tim. 1:15). So if you are bound and determined to go to war with Walmart over the Christmas trees and greeting cards, then at least know why. It’s not enough to say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” That statement doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t get deep enough. It doesn’t reach low enough. The truth of the matter is this: Christmas is for sinners.

A Dutchman with a Sword in the Wardrobe

This article is about the C.S. Lewis, Cornelius Van Til, and Agag. But of course you already knew all of that from the rather unambiguous title.

It must be remembered from the outset that the Christian world has a distinct surplus of C.S. Lewis “wanna bees.” Things have gotten to the point where any expression of appreciation for the work of Lewis is a potential embarrassment—not because of anything said or done by Lewis himself, but rather for fear of being taken for yet another rootless American evangelical enamored of apologetics with a British accent. Nevertheless, appreciation and criticism for Lewis are both in order in the area of apologetics.

The purpose here is to analyze certain aspects of the apology for Christianity presented by C.S. Lewis, and to discuss it in the light of the two basic apologetic “schools”— evidentialism and presuppositionalism. In much that follows, I will assume that the reader is familiar with the main features of that apologetic debate, and will content myself here with a brief summary.

The evidential apologist believes that there is a neutral place where a Christian may encounter an unbeliever, agree on some common ground rules, and reason from that neutral place to a faith in the God of the Bible. The presuppositional apologist, on the other hand, argues that there is no such neutral place, and that all reasoning presupposes, of necessity, the triune God of Scripture.

It is very clear that elements of both are present in Lewis’ apology for the Christian faith, but more must be said about this. For if presuppositionalism is correct, both elements are present in every apologist’s presentation—from Alvin Plantinga to Josh McDowell, from C.S. Lewis to Norman Geisler. Given presuppositionalism, everyone is implicitly a presuppositionalist. This is because presuppositionalism holds that because of the necessary relationship between the Creator and all creatures, presuppositional thinking is inescapable. A creature must start all his reasoning with certain “givens.” In fact, this entire apologetic debate could be summarized as an attempt by presuppositionalists to convince evidentialists that they are not really evidentialist.

This being the case, it is the purpose of this article to show, not that Lewis was implicitly presuppositional (for everyone is that), but rather that at certain key points, he was explicitly so.

There are also other places where he had an explicitly evidential approach. So this is not a fight over the body of Moses; this is no attempt to claim Lewis as a champion of presuppositionalism; rather it is simply an attempt to recognize and applaud him at those places where he went to the heart of the issue, and to critique him at those places where he did not.

Lewis was a master of making modern non-Christian philosophers eat their own cooking. In this regard, and to this extent, Lewis can be considered a presuppositionalist. Or, to be more precise, his critique of non-Christian philosophies required his adversaries state their presuppositions, and be subsequently consistent with them. Consider this passage from Miracles:

“All possible knowledge, then, depends on the validity of reasoning. If the feeling of certainty which we express by words like must be and therefore and since is a real perception of how things outside our own minds really “must” be, well and good. But if this certainty is merely a feeling in our own minds and not a genuine insight into realities beyond them—if it merely represents the way our minds happen to work—then we can have no knowledge. Unless human reasoning is valid no science can be true. It follows that no account of the universe can be true unless that account leaves it possible for our thinking to be a real insight …It would be an argument which proved that no argument was sound—a proof that there are no such things as proofs—which is nonsense.”

And a few pages later, he says that, given a naturalistic materialism:

“The finest bit of scientific reasoning is caused in just the same irrational way as the thoughts a man has because a bit of bone is pressing on his brain.”

In other words, materialism is a philosophy which cannot sustain itself—materialism cannot supply the preconditions necessary for doing materialist philosophy. Lewis is not arguing here that materialism is improbable; his refutation is absolute. Materialism is impossible. To use his words again: “You can argue with a man who says, ‘Rice is unwholesome’: but you neither can nor need argue with a man who says, ‘Rice is unwholesome, but I’m not saying this is true.’” There is no need to refute a philosophy which refutes itself. And those philosophies which refute themselves may be considered absolutely refuted.

Now this air of certainty is consistent only with a presuppositional approach. Evidentialism, in contrast, is concerned to present the Christian faith as probably true, as a reasonable option for reasonable men. In contrast, the presuppositional apologist says that Christianity is inescapably true. Lewis does not go this far, but he does say that certain unbelieving philosophies are inescapably false. And this makes at least one friend of his apologetic more than a little nervous. Richard Purtill writes,

“Here, I think Lewis makes one of his rare missteps in argument …What Lewis needs to argue, and indeed does argue indirectly, is that it is overwhelmingly more probable that mind will be produced by a previously existing mind than by a process such as evolution…”

This is a wonderful example of the hesitancy which afflicts evidentialism. It is merely improbable that blind purposeless chance brought our minds into existence. But evidentialism grants that there is a chance, however slight, that mindless chance could have produced all the wonders of creation. Because Lewis cuts materialism no slack—he says it is not improbable, it is demonstrably false—he is admonished for being too certain. There is a real irony here. Evidential apologists for the Christian faith want arguments for Christianity; they do not want proofs. Like the Israelites outside Canaan, they don’t want to launch a campaign of total conquest. And even though Lewis is not giving an unanswerable argument for Christianity, he is at least giving an unanswerable argument against one of its competitors, and this, for an evidentialist, is too close for comfort.

Consider Lewis again in a passage from Mere Christianity, this time recounting an objection he had to Christianity when he was an atheist.

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it?…Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world really was unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”

In Miracles, Lewis showed that materialism cannot consistently use or talk about reason. Here in Mere Christianity he shows that the atheist, given his premises, cannot talk about justice. For all who are familiar with a presuppositional approach to apologetics, this is familiar terrain. We see here an unbeliever confronted with his inability to generate ethical objections to the existence of God. So in conflict with various forms of modern unbelief, Lewis lays the ax at the root of the tree. In Lewis’ apologetic, contrary to the modern assumption, God is not in the dock—man is.

What Lewis is doing here is discussing first principles with modern unbelievers. In the discussion, he uncovers the fact that unbelieving arguments against God are invalid, i.e. their conclusions do not proceed from their premises. What Lewis then does is to ask his adversaries, quite politely, to change their conclusions so that they match their premises. He is quite consistent in pointing out this surreptitious inconsistency—for yet another example, consider this blunt assessment from The Pilgrim’s Regress: “The sciences bring to the “facts” the philosophy they claim to derive from them.”

In short, Lewis was a master at the demolition of modern, unbelieving attacks on Christianity. But this presuppositional method can be taken much farther than Lewis does. For a thorough-going and consistent presuppositionalism, we must turn to Cornelius Van Til.

In critiquing the materialist worldview, Lewis does a fine job of pointing out that the preconditions of reason are absent from the materialist view. Lewis does the fine destructive work of pointing out that materialists cannot derive reason from materialism, and hence have no right to employ reason in the advancement of their case. He does not go as far as Van Til, however, in that he does not go on to state explicitly where they do get reason.

If materialists cannot get reason from materialism, where is it derived? The answer given by Van Til is the God of Christianity. Lewis made the case that such non-Christian philosophies could not sustain life on their own; Van Til went on to make the case that they are parasites, and that Christianity is the host.

Another way of stating this is to say that for Lewis the self-contradiction of materialists was an argument against materialism. Van Til showed how these self-contradictions by unbelievers were an inescapable argument for Christianity. While Lewis would say that self-contradictory philosophies need not be heeded, Van Til would say that self-contradiction is the apportioned lot of every rebellious creature, and Christ must therefore be heeded.

We may therefore set the boundaries of Lewis’ limited presuppositionalism. When critiquing modern forms of unbelief, Lewis was negatively presuppositional. That is, he showed that the unbeliever’s presuppositions could not sustain the structure which unbelief wanted to build on it. So we may consider Lewis as a limited presuppositional critic of modernity.

In other areas, he was not presuppositional at all. For example, he was not presuppositional in his approach to the ancients—for example, he would not go after Plato in the same way he would critique a modern atheist. Nor was he presuppositional in his approach to modern non-Christians who were prepared to be “reasonable” as they listened to the Christian message.

While Lewis required the unbeliever to stand on his own avowed presuppositions when attacking Christianity, he did not require this of the unbeliever when he was hearing the message of Christ presented. It is here that Lewis’ compromise with the natural man is apparent. As Van Til put it:

“One can only rejoice in the fact that Lewis is heard the world around, but one can only grieve over the fact that he so largely follows the method of Thomas Aquinas in calling men back to the gospel. The ‘gospel according to St. Lewis’ is too much of a compromise with the ideas of the natural man to constitute a clear challenge in our day.”

Why would Van Til say this? In short, although Lewis believed fiercely in objective standards of beauty, ethics, etc., he also held that such standards could be, and had been, discovered everywhere, by Christian and non-Christian alike. In his Christian Reflections he states,

“If a man will go into a library and spend a few days with the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics he will soon discover the massive unanimity of the practical reason in man …he will no longer doubt that there is such a thing as the Law of Nature.”

We must be careful here. There is a great divide between proponents of “natural law” and the proponents of “common grace.” But the cleavage is not necessarily simple to understand; suffice it to say that Lewis appeared to be saying that pagan man had a good deal of ethical common sense about him, and that if he carefully listened to Confucius or the Stoics, and ignored the modern claptrap about ethics, he could learn a great deal about true morality.

This approach caused Lewis to postulate the existence of what he called the Tao—the collective moral wisdom of man. His most detailed treatment of this is found in The Abolition of Man, which Van Til cites in this passage.

“Lewis seeks for objective standards in ethics, in literature, and in life everywhere. But he holds that objectivity may be found in many places. He speaks of a general objectivity that is common between Christians and non-Christians and argues as though it is mostly or almost exclusively in modern times that men have forsaken it …But surely this general objectivity is common to Christians and non-Christians in a formal sense only. To say that there is or must be an objective standard is not the same as to say what that standard is. And it is the what that is all important.”

Lewis appears to hold that non-Christians can have these perceptions about “natural law” on their own. Of course the Lawgiver is God, but man has the ability to discover the law that God has placed in the world—in much the same way that men can discover mathematical theorems, or a new celestial body. A denial of natural law does not necessitate a denial that men have a common knowledge of ethical standards. Rather, it is the conviction that men know what they know about God because of His revelation of Himself.

Now of course if men can come to search out the truth about the world (ethical or otherwise), and they can do so on their own, then there is no problem with an evidential apologetic, which simply encourages them to do so. But if God reveals Himself to all men—at the most fundamental level possible—then knowledge of God is a matter of God’s revelation to man, and not a matter of man’s discovery of God. Because Lewis strongly accepted “natural law,” a necessary implication of this is that he approved of an evidentialist apologetic.

Lewis’s approval of an evidentialist approach can be seen also in a letter he wrote, shortly before his death, to John Warrick Montgomery concerning two lectures Montgomery had delivered at the University of British Columbia. Lewis had this comment on the lectures: “Your two lectures did me good and I shall constantly find them useful. Congratulations…Otherwise I don’t think it could be bettered.”
This comment of approval was made about lectures which were thoroughly in the evidentialist stream of things. Consider this statement by Montgomery from the second lecture.

“Now if you are not inclined in the direction of Christianity—as I was not when I entered university—the most irritating aspect of the line of argumentation that I have taken is probably this: it depends in no sense upon theology. It rests solely and squarely upon historical method, the kind of method all of us, whether Christians, rationalists, agnostics, or Tibetan monks, have to use in analyzing historical data.”

Montgomery of course is a leading proponent of the evidentialist school of apologetics; it is not surprising at all that he would make such a statement. What is pertinent here is Lewis’ approval of this form of argument—an approval which is not at all out of step with Lewis’ own approach elsewhere. What Montgomery is affirming here is that his argument for Christianity depends “in no sense upon theology.” Whatever else this proposition is, it is certainly pure evidentialism, and Lewis did not have a problem with it.

Now of course his acceptance of evidentialism at this point is inconsistent with his own forms of argument elsewhere. One can only speculate what would have happened if Lewis had observed a pointed collision between the evidentialism of a Montgomery and the presuppositionalism of a Van Til. For of course to say that certain areas of life can be lived without regard to theology (in this case, historical studies), is itself a theological claim—an all-encompassing theological claim.

So it appears that when non-Christians were willing to behave themselves in this “neutral zone,” Lewis was quite willing to deal with them under those conditions—and talk about history, or textual criticism, or literary criticism in a reasonable, “neutral” fashion. But if the non-Christians broke the truce, and attempted to attack Christianity, then Lewis was prepared to deal with them at the level of their presuppositions.

C. S. Lewis was a great man, and a great scholar, but it seems that at least in this regard he was a victim of something he described well in The Screwtape Letters: “Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together in his head.” In Lewis’ case, there were not a dozen incompatible philosophies, but only two. And they were not different philosophies of life, but rather differing philosophies of how to defend the Christian faith. Nevertheless, the contrast of differing approaches is present in Lewis’s apologetic, and the contrast is stark.

The presuppositional apologetic is one that flourishes in only one kind of soil—the theology of the Reformation. It can exist elsewhere, but it certainly cannot thrive. This may perhaps explain, at least in part, the inconsistencies in Lewis’ apologetic. As a conservative Anglican, Lewis exhibits some of the theological inconsistencies of that communion. He truly was a faithful son of his church. He seemed somewhat comfortable suggesting that eventually parallel lines might eventually intersect.  I have a Lewis quote book and found this illuminating passage.

“Of course reality must be self-consistent; but till (if ever) we can see the consistency it is better to hold two inconsistent views than to ignore one side of the evidence. The real inter-relation between God’s omnipotence and Man’s freedom is something we can’t find out …We have to leave it at that. I find the best plan is to take the Calvinist view of my own virtues and other people’s vices; and the other view of my own vices and other people’s virtues…It is plain from Scripture that, in whatever sense the Pauline doctrine is true, it is not true in any sense which excludes its (apparent) opposite.”

In other words, Lewis recognizes (unlike many contemporary Christians) that Paul taught something about predestination, and Lewis was also prepared to say that whatever that teaching was, it was true. At the same time, he was not ready to spell out the content of the doctrine—he simply acknowledged its presence, and sought to guard against an unbalanced acceptance of it.

Lewis was also a classical theist—his views of God and His attributes were thoroughly orthodox. According to Lewis (and Scripture), God is not bound by time, and we cannot comprehend fully His relationship to what occurs within time. He would have had nothing to do with recent evangelical attempts to stake out a position halfway between classical theism and process theism.18 But because these recent compromises are internally more consistent (just as Socinianism is more consistent that Arminianism), this places Lewis in the awkward position of maintaining a “Reformed” view of God, while not pursuing some of the ramifications of that commitment. But one of the direct ramifications is in the field of apologetics; the result in Lewis’ apologetic was inconsistency.

The reason that presuppositionalism depends upon a reformational approach should be obvious. The evidential assumption that some areas are neutral can only be sustained by a theological premise which asserts that there are some areas which God “leaves alone.” But if God is sovereign over all things, then there is no area which He leaves alone; there is no neutrality. And if there is no neutrality, then it is impossible to share common ground with the unbeliever as the gospel is presented.

Consequently, it is possible to speculate that perhaps Lewis was presuppositional when he was building on his orthodox belief that God is all in all—a godless universe is inconceivable (and unbelievers consequently can not consistently build a godless universe). He did not apply this profound understanding consistently in all areas; consequently, he was quite willing to appeal to the unbeliever’s reasonableness so long as the unbeliever was not drawing attention to his rebellion against God.

Van Til, on the other hand, was more than willing to assert that all men are in rebellion against God because the Bible says they are. This is assumed to be the case even when the rebellion is not apparent to us. Lewis dealt with the rebellion in a presuppositional way only after the rebellion was visible and apparent. Before that time, he was willing to speak to the unbeliever as one reasonable man to another.

Perhaps an allegory may be fashioned from a situation in one of Lewis’ Narnia stories—Prince Caspian. Peter, a king of the Narnians, is in a duel with Miraz, a usurper and tyrant. In the course of the fight, Miraz falls over and Peter, a true gentleman, steps back to let him rise.

In a similar way, Lewis watches his opponents fall to the ground, and in a typical English fashion, points out that they have done so. But he is a gentleman, and he is not in a battle to the death with all forms of unbelief—only the aggressive ones.

In contrast to this, the consistent presuppositionalist is not in a gentlemanly duel, with agreed upon common rules. He is in a total war; he is not interested in a negotiated settlement. There are no diplomatic solutions to be pursued. Like Samuel, he “hews Agag to pieces before the Lord.”

Deck the Halls

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We’ve loads of tales we love to tell,
Bout Jolly Old St. Nick.
Topping the lists, walloping fists,
Punching a heretic.

Nicea’s Hall started it all,
Arius came to chide.
Nicholas rose with fiery prose,
Error could not abide.

‘God the Son and God are one,
Both the same in essence.
Those who deny Christ the Most High,
Damned, stand in His presence.’

Arius sneered, Nicholas feared,
That he denied the truth.
‘Try preaching lies with blackened eyes,
Nursing a loose front tooth!’

The fool then smiled, driving Nick wild,
‘Christ was merely a man.’
‘No more Divine, than dogs or swine,
Answer me if you can.’

As he mocked him, Ole’ Nick socked him,
Knocking him to the floor.
When he could stand, Nick took his hand
And threw him out the door.

Nick, bearing gifts and busting lips,
Came through the hall that day.
Arius saw, with aching jaw,
That Old St. Nick don’t play.

No reindeer games, no elvish names,
He is known for his zeal.
His mean right hook defends the Book,
That’s faith that you can feel!

There’s a reason Christmas season,
Is always taking hits.
Christ deniers; God defiers,
Are ever pitching fits.

We still battle mindless prattle,
Hell gumming underneath.
Nick reminds us every Christmas,
The Church still has her teeth.

Table Manners…

There is a lot of confusion over how one is supposed to prepare to come to the Lord’s Table. Some are so casual that they approach the covenant meal like they approach the counter at Bill’s Burger Barn—fast and loose. Others are so cautious that they hardly approach at all.

As we come to the Supper it would help us if we understood it. Or at least understood what we were coming to do. In order to do this we must pay special attention to the words of our Lord Jesus:

Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. And He said unto them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Lk. 22:24-30)

No thinking Christian approaches the sacrament flippantly. The Corinthians did not discern the Lord’s body among themselves, and consequently, Paul says their meetings did more harm than good. We are therefore required to be in fellowship with one another as we partake. But what if we are not? Does this mean that one as the authority to suspend himself from the Supper, or excommunicate himself? Not at all.

If a man is coming to the Table with a bad attitude, then he should not hold back from partaking. Rather, he should come confessing the bad attitude. But what if he remembers that his brother has something against him (Mt. 5:23)? The passage is talking about presenting a gift, not about receiving this gift from the Lord. The common practice among evangelicals of routinely removing themselves from communion is simply unwarranted. Unless Christ has prohibited a man from coming through his ministers, that man should come.

However he should come with clean hands. The table is a place to eat, it is not a place to take a bath. This is one reason that a church should ordinarily have a time of corporate confession early on in the service. The earlier the confession the less dirt gets tracked through the rest of the house. The time of confession is the time where the saints “wash up” before coming to the Table. So if a brother is disorderly or has some unconfessed sin in his life he is not to compound the sin by refusing the blessing of God in the Supper. The proper course of action when we have sinned is to confess it, forsake it, and beat a quick path back to the family table.

All of this presupposes that the participant is actually a Christian. By that I mean that the communicant must be one who has been baptized into the Triune name of the Triune God. Whatever else a man may be (saved, converted, filled with the Spirit), he isn’t really a “Christian” until he has been come through the waters and identified with Christ. Although many disagreements exists among Christians over baptism, there is virtually no disagreement that baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the visible body, and the Supper is the sacrament of nourishment within that body. This means that no one should be taking the Supper who has not been baptized. Someone who has not come through the door should not be sitting down at the table.

It should also be mentioned that the Word should always accompany the sacrament. When baptism and the Lord’s Supper are observed apart from the instruction of the Word, superstition inevitably results. The Word grounds our observance and keeps it Christian.

Now for a final bit of etiquette. The authority of servanthood embodied by Jesus at the Last Supper was placed by Him on all His followers. He gave to them a kingdom, which was designed to be a kingdom of servants, but a kingdom nonetheless. A contrast is seen with worship among the Gentiles. A certain kind of authority is the most natural and carnal thing in the world. As the quarrels among Christ’s disciples made plain, that desire for that kind of authority can creep in among the people of God; it can come into the presence of Christ Himself.

Appearances can be deceiving. Who is greater? The one who sits or the one who serves? In the kingdom of heaven, the one who serves his brothers is the one who sits in authority. This lesson must be mastered in order to understand the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is where the Lord makes His servants into kings.

We are eating and drinking at His table, and so we should notice that Jesus gave the Twelve their authority in the kingdom in the context of the first communion meal. What did He say to them? He gave these servants a kingdom, so that they could eat and drink at His table, in order that they might rule the twelve tribes of Israel. We are seated at the same table today, in order to eat and drink. So we must come as servants as well.

This celebratory meal is the place where we as Christians proclaim the Lord’s death. But it is not a funeral. What is the meaning of His death? His death means dominion. His death was how the conquering servant came into His inheritance. We proclaim His death, not with somber funereal looks, but while seated on a royal dais, in the presence of the One who conquered everything. We begin with confession, but we quickly move on to solemn thanksgiving.

When we eat and drink at His table, with a servant’s heart, we are not attending a gloomy memorial, sitting in the dark, feeding on a dry cracker. We are engaged, by the mercy and grace of God, in the extension of Christ’s kingdom. We are conquering the world through sitting down in the peace of God. No more will a man learn war; we are seated in spiritual peace. He has brought us into His banqueting house; His banner over us is love. He has prepared a table for us in the presence of our enemies, and they will be be brought to lick the dust at His feet as we feast on our ascended Lord.