Surprised by Jack: C.S. Lewis on Mere Christianity, the Bible, and Evolutionary Science, Part 1

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December 10, 2012 Tags: Biblical Interpretation

Today's entry was written by David Williams. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of The BioLogos Foundation. You can read more about what we believe here.

Surprised by Jack: C.S. Lewis on Mere Christianity, the Bible, and Evolutionary Science, Part 1

Note: David Williams begins this series by noting that C.S. Lewis is held in such high esteem by American evangelicals that we often overlook the fact that his actual views did not entirely conform to popular evangelical paradigms, and cautions that we must be very careful when trying to enlist Lewis as an ally in contemporary debates about science and faith. An earlier version of this essay more directly addressed The Magician’s Twin, a collection on Lewis edited by John West, but the issues raised by that volume deserve a more sustained critique than was allowed in an essay whose main focus is discussing Lewis’ stated views on the Scripture, Adam and the Fall, and on evolution. We and Williams hope to engage with the arguments of West and his fellow authors more extensively in the future.

“All reality is iconoclastic.”1 When C.S. Lewis—or ‘Jack’ as his friends called him—penned that line in 1961, he was writing about God’s proclivity for repeatedly smashing our inevitably half-baked notions about Him. But much the same can be said for what reality does to our own cultural icons as well. And, if nothing else, Lewis himself has become a cultural icon for many American evangelicals, identified by many as the 20th century’s Christian intellectual par excellence.

With his compelling personal story of becoming England’s “most reluctant convert,” his towering intellect, and his inimitable eloquence, American evangelicals’ lionization of Lewis is certainly understandable.2 But when we attempt to lionize people we often ironically end up taming them, paring their claws so that our heroes and our preconceptions can safely cohabitate in our imaginations. But Lewis is no safer a lion than Aslan, and he will not go quietly into our tidy evangelical boxes. To be frank, American Evangelicalism’s infatuation with Lewis is in many respects somewhat odd. For here is a pathologically populist movement with a penchant for Big Tent Revivalism, an obsession with liturgical innovation, a deep-seated suspicion of ecclesiastical tradition, and a raw nerve about the doctrine of justification, falling head-over-heels for a tweed-jacketed, Anglo-Catholic Oxford don—a curmudgeonly liturgical traditionalist who was fuzzy on the atonement, a believer in purgatory, and, as we shall see, whose views on Scripture, Genesis, and evolution position him well outside of American Evangelicalism’s standard theological paradigms. All of that is to say that Lewis was not “just like us”—any of us—and if we would do him justice, we must be prepared to be surprised by Jack.

In what follows, I would like to look at three areas relevant to faith and science discussions where Lewis’s stated views might be surprising for his American Evangelical admirers—namely, his views on Scripture generally and Genesis in particular, his views on Adam and the doctrine of the Fall, and his views on evolutionary science and the myth of ‘Evolutionism.’

Reflections on the Scriptures: Lewis on the Bible, Myth, & Fact

Lewis derived his theological understanding of the Bible from his reading of Scripture, his intimate knowledge of the Church Fathers and the Medieval Doctors, and also from his awareness of modern biblical scholarship. While Lewis was regularly critical of Modernist biblical scholarship’s naturalistic dismissal of the miraculous, its pedantry, literary tin-ear, and over-eagerness to conflate Jesus’ story with the stories of pagan mythologies (he had precious little patience for Rudolf Bultmann, for instance ), he was not at all given to the knee-jerk reactionary Fundamentalism which has held so much sway in American Evangelical culture. In fact, Lewis incorporated many of the more well-supported conclusions of modern biblical criticism into his theology of Scripture, not least critical opinions about the historicity of much of the Old Testament. In good Anglican fashion, Lewis creatively drew upon the deep resources of the Church’s grand Tradition in order to think through the contemporary problems posed by modern critical scholarship. Here I wish to focus on three features of Lewis’s theological conception of Scripture—his understanding of the Bible as being incarnational and sacramental in character, and Christotelic in focus—before turning to his theological reading of Genesis 1-3.4

Inspiration and Incarnation

According to Lewis, the Bible is both a vessel of the divine Word and also a profoundly human collection of documents. In his longest, most substantive piece on Scripture, chapter XI of Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis frames a thoroughly incarnational understanding of the Bible:

The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naïvety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not “the Word of God” in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its overall message.5

Lewis’s reference to “[the] human qualities” of the Bible’s “raw materials” is suggestive. As Peter Enns puts it in his book Inspiration & Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, the Incarnation of the Son and the inspiration of Scripture are “analogous.”6 Lewis clearly agrees. He goes on in the chapter to articulate a theology of Scripture precisely in incarnational terms:

For we are taught that the Incarnation itself proceeded “not by the conversion of the godhead into flesh, but by taking of (the) manhood into God”; in it human life becomes the vehicle of Divine life. If the Scriptures proceed not by conversion of God’s word into literature but by taking up of a literature to be the vehicle of God’s word, this is not anomalous.7

According to Lewis, the means whereby God gives us Scripture is not by faxing us transcripts of inner-Trinitarian dialogue direct from Heaven, but rather, on analogy with the Incarnation, by taking up very human literature and utilizing it to communicate His Divine life to us.

“We might have expected, we may think we should have preferred, an unrefracted light giving us ultimate truth in systematic form—something we could have tabulated and memorised and relied on like the multiplication table.”8 But God has instead deigned to give us a very human book, just as He deigned to send us a fully human Savior. Lewis makes this point most poignantly in his Introduction to J.B. Phillips’s Letters to Young Churches where he writes:

The same divine humility which decreed that God should become a baby at a peasant-woman’s breast, and later an arrested field-preacher in the hands of the Roman police, decreed also that He should be preached in a vulgar, prosaic and unliterary language. If you can stomach the one, you can stomach the other. The Incarnation is in that sense an irreverent doctrine: Christianity, in that sense, an incurably irreverent religion. When we expect that it should have come before the World in all the beauty that we now feel in the Authorised Version we are as wide of the mark as the Jews were in expecting that the Messiah would come as a great earthly King.9

For Lewis, God’s work in the inspiration of Scripture not only communicates but also emulates God’s humble, self-effacing work in the Incarnation. If the heart of Christianity, “an incurably irreverent religion,” should be the Incarnation, “an irreverent doctrine,” then it ought to come as no surprise that that doctrine should be most fundamentally communicated via an irreverent book.

A corollary of Lewis’ incarnational and sacramental view of Scripture is that when it comes to studying the Scriptures we must be prepared to be surprised. Lewis warns against “the Fundamentalist’s” procedure of attempting to frame our ideas of Scripture a priori, deducing parameters for what the Scriptures can and cannot be from our preconceptions about God. Lewis thinks such an approach to be a nonstarter:

[There] is one argument which we should beware of using…: God must have done what is best, this is best, therefore God has done this. For we are mortals and do not know what is best for us, and it is dangerous to prescribe what God must have done–especially when we cannot, for the life of us, see that He has after all done it.10

Instead, says Lewis, we should take a humble, a posteriori approach, looking and seeing just what kind of book it is that God has actually given us before making grand doctrinal declarations. “To a human mind,” Lewis recognizes, an incarnational Bible “seems, no doubt, an untidy and leaky vehicle.”11 But it appears that this is what God has given us, and we must trust that God knows what He is doing. As Lewis says, “Since this is what God has done, this, we must conclude, was best.”12

Myth Became Fact

For Lewis, the Word is also like the sacrament. Just as ordinary water, bread, and wine are taken up into and become conduits for and communicators of the Divine life that we so desperately need, so, also, all-too-ordinary human writings are taken up into and become conduits for and communicators of the Divine life and word. In Lewis’s view, we must receive the Divine word by approaching Scripture in a sacramental manner. We “receive that word,” as Lewis says, again, “not by using [Scripture] as an encyclopedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its overall message.”13 For Lewis, at least when it comes to the Old Testament, receiving the Word means more than simply paying critical attention to the surface meaning of the text, the sensus literalis. Instead, we must press beyond the surface to the sensus plenior, to the “second sense” of the Old Testament, namely, Christ Himself. “It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God,” Lewis once wrote in a private letter. “The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him.”14 While such Christological sensus plenior interpretation may have fallen out of favor with many Protestants (to say nothing of thoroughgoing Modernist historical-critics), Lewis believes that “[we] are committed to it in principle by Our Lord Himself.”15 Citing Jesus’ words to His disciples on the road to Emmaus, Lewis argues that Christ “accepted—indeed He claimed to be—the second meaning of Scripture.” Citing a litany of Dominical sayings and New Testament texts, Lewis is clear that Christ is mysteriously the true spiritual center, climax, coherence, sum, and substance of the Old Testament Scriptures.16

Lewis stands in good company in thinking along these lines. The “good teachers” from which Lewis learned this hermeneutic are undoubtedly Aquinas, Bernard of Clairveaux, Augustine, Origen, and Irenaeus, not to mention the Apostles and Christ Himself. In short, Lewis is standing within the mainstream tradition of pre-Reformation theological interpretation. But Lewis is not simply striking a traditionalist posture. Like a scribe trained for the Kingdom, he is prepared to bring forth treasures new and old. By positioning himself within the grand tradition of pre-modern theological interpretation, Lewis frees himself to follow his highly-attuned modern literary-critical instincts regarding the historicity of much of the Old Testament while simultaneously upholding both a robust belief in the historicity of the Incarnation and a vital theological hermeneutic. He writes:

The earliest stratum of the Old Testament contains many truths in a form which I take to be legendary, or even mythical—hanging in the clouds, but gradually the truth condenses, becomes more and more historical. From things like Noah’s Ark or the sun standing still upon Ajalon, you come down to the court memoirs of King David. Finally you reach the New Testament and history reigns supreme, and the Truth is incarnate. And “incarnate” here is more than a metaphor. It is not an accidental resemblance that what, from the point of view of being, is stated in the form “God became Man,” should involve, from the point of view of human knowledge, the statement “Myth became Fact.”17

He sets up the above paragraph by saying, “[The Christian story] is like watching something come gradually into focus; first it hangs in the clouds of myth and ritual, vast and vague, then it condenses, grows hard and in a sense small, as a historical event in first century Palestine.”18 Apart from the Incarnation, then, much of the Old Testament would be but “myth,” “ritual,” and “legend.” These elements of the Old Testament only become tangible historical “Fact,” for Lewis, in the person and work of Christ.



Next time, Williams looks at how this understanding of Scripture framed Lewis' reading of Genesis 1-3.

Note

1. C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed, (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001), 66
2. See Smietana, Bob, “C.S. Lewis Superstar: How a reserved British intellectual with a checkered pedigree became a rockstar for evangelicals,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/december/9.28.html
3. “Through what strange process has this learned German gone in order to make himself blind to what all men except him see?,” wrote Lewis in “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism,” in Walter Hooper, ed., Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 156
4. I owe the word “christotelic” to my teachers at Westminster. See especially the discussion in Peter Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005)
5. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, (San Diego: Harcourt Inc., 1986), 111-12
6. See note xii above.
7. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 116
8. Ibid, 112
9. Lewis, “Modern Translations,” in God in the Dock, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 230
10. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 112
11. Ibid
12. Ibid, 113
13. Ibid, 112
14. Lewis in a letter, 8 November, 1952, in W.H. Lewis, ed., Letters of C.S. Lewis, (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1966), 247 cited in Martindale and Root, The Quotable Lewis, 72
15. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 117
16. Ibid, 117-19
17. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Essays, (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 129
18. Ibid


David Williams is the campus staff for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's Graduate & Faculty Ministries at NC State University, Meredith College and Campbell Law School in Raleigh, North Carolina. A native of North Carolina, David earned his MAR from Westminster Theological Seminary and his ThM from Duke Divinity School. He has taught students from grade school to college at St. David's School and Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, respectively. In April 2012 David organized the symposium Biblical Faith in an Age of Science: Adam and Eve, Evolution, & Evangelicalism at NC State University, which was cosponsored by InterVarsity and Ratio Christi. As a part of his ministry, David works to encourage healthier and better-informed conversations about the Christian tradition and modern science in both the university and the local church. You can follow him on his blog at www.resurrectingraleigh.com.

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Seenoevo - #75129

December 10th 2012

Is this a revised version of the article?

If not, what happened to the 30+ comments which were posted before the earlier article disappeared on 12/2?


Stephen Mapes - #75135

December 10th 2012

This is a revised version, as noted by the editorial introduction. Because the focus of the post has changed, we’re starting with a fresh comment section.


Seenoevo - #75142

December 10th 2012

“…and it is dangerous to prescribe what God must have done–especially when we cannot, for the life of us, see that He has after all done it.”

 

“Dangerous”?


beaglelady - #75150

December 10th 2012

Seenoevo?

#75142?

Dec?

10th?

2012?

Reply to this comment?

Report abuse?


David Williams - #75183

December 11th 2012

Hi Seenoevo,

For the record, I was a little bummed to see our previous conversations disappear, as well.  But I understand the decision.

In any case, note that Lewis is saying that it is “dangerous” to “prescribe” what Scripture can and cannot do, say, and be solely on the basis of our theological preconceptions and preferences.  This is dangerous because not only is it letting the theological tail wag the biblical dog, but it’s a dandy way of making a Bible in our own image.  A safer road, according to Lewis, is to first carefully examine, read, and attend to the Bible before making grand theological pronouncements about its nature and content.


Seenoevo - #75188

December 11th 2012

“In any case, note that Lewis is saying that it is “dangerous” to “prescribe” what Scripture can and cannot do, say, and be solely on the basis of our theological preconceptions and preferences. This is dangerous because not only is it letting the theological tail wag the biblical dog, but it’s a dandy way of making a Bible in our own image.”

To use some of your words,

Might Lewis have also thought that it is “dangerous” to “prescribe” what Scripture can and cannot do, say, and be solely on the basis of our scientific or naturalistic or materialistic preconceptions and preferences?

Might this be dangerous because not only is it letting the scientific or naturalistic or materialistic tail wag the biblical dog, but be a dandy way of making a Bible in our own image?


David Williams - #75191

December 11th 2012

Actually, Seenoevo, Lewis would certainly agree with your warning about naturalism and materialism.  Of course.  That’s what his book Miracles is all about.  But Lewis did not think that rejecting naturalism entailed accepting wholesale biblical literalism.  Nor were scientific concerns the main drivers for his reading of Scripture.  He read the Bible as a keen-eyed literary critic and as one who had been steeped in the interpretive traditions of the Church.  You’d be hard pressed to make the case for Lewis having said what he did about the Bible because he was a closeted Naturalist.

Am I missing your point?  Does that scratch where you itch?


robynhood - #75203

December 11th 2012

Just to be clear, Lewis does not say that it is dangerous to prescribe what Scripture can and cannot do.  His exact words are, “...it is dangerous to prescribe what God must have done…”.  I believe that is a very important distinction.

As for letting our preconceptions influence either our beliefs about God or our interpretation of the Bible, I don’t think Lewis is really making a case against this.  In fact, he was an advocate of using logic and reason as a means to discover truth.  After all, that is what led him to belief in God in the first place.  The truth of scripture was a later conclusion for him.

Relating this to BioLogos, if our scientific preconceptions (based on evidence of course) warrant the conclusion that the early chapters of Genesis are allegory, I think Lewis would (and did) agree.

I think the heart of his comment is really that we can’t put God in a neat little theological box of our own design.


HornSpiel - #75196

December 11th 2012

Just as Christ the eternal Logos is both fully human and fully divine, the written logos is both fully human and divine. It should be no surprise then to see fully human, even fallible elements in the written record, as long as those errors are not detrimental to the intended message. Moreover, as implied above, the medium—a divine-human amalgam—is the message: Even we, fully human, can participate in the divine and be used by him to communicate His love.

The idea of an infallible written word is a thoroughly a human ideal. We see that in many non-Christian or pseudo-Christian faiths where God dictates words to His prophets. This is where true Christianity stands out. It is not the written letter but the living Word, mediated by the Spirit, which is preeminent.

One way I like to think of it is: How can a translation still be the Word of God? In Islam only the Arabic Koran is the inspired Word. I understand there is a saying “And the Word became a Book.” So the Muslim ideal is to learn to recite the words, even if there is no understanding of the meaning. A good Muslim learns to read and understand Arabic and also adopts Arabic cultural ideals.

Not so in Christianity. Translation has a long and impressive history. Why? Because the Word became flesh, and lived among us. The written word we have is in a sense only a translation of the true Word into a written text. So the gospel is always still the Gospel even when translated again. More over Christian practice is also translatable into other cultural contexts. Christian are not made to become Jews. Christianity is not culturally bound because it is incarnational. God in you, the hope of glory.


Jon Garvey - #75207

December 12th 2012

Hornspiel

You’ve slipped into the common theological (and logical) slip in talking about the incarnation (and hence about Scripture if you’re going to follow the incarnational route for inspiration). To say “fully human and fully divine” is most emphatically NOT to say “a divine human amalgam”. That was the very issue that exercised the best brains and hearts of the Church, culminating in the Chalcedonian definition here .

That creed, agreed by an unusually large assembly of bishops, is what for 2 millennia since has precluded the idea of human error in Christ. As has been pointed out frequently, the Son did not become “a man like us”, but “a man like we should be.”

There are some issues about applying incarnational ideas to Scripture, but it’s a reasonable analogy - yet if done it ought to be done in harmony with the credal standards of the Church (see my article). Irenaeus, for example, well before Chalcedon, held that rather than Jesus being fallible like the apostolic writers, his perfection overflowed to them in their writing, or his divinity would be shown false. That was pretty universal teaching until the speculations of the equally-universally condemned Socinus at the time of the Reformation, but we seem now to be happy to adopt his teachings as “Evangelical”, and overturn the considered opinion of the early councils and Fathers. How did we get to know so much more?


PNG - #75234

December 12th 2012

If Jesus was “a man like we should be,” does that mean that we should be (in this life) infallible and inerrant?


Jon Garvey - #75251

December 13th 2012

Genesis 2-3 suggest yes. And Jesus said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

But to project the perfection of the incarnate Jesus on to life as it is lived here and now is just silly, and nothing to do with the argument about the uniqueness of Christ or Scripture. It is the perfection of Jesus that gives the commands not to sin their legitimacy, and makes them a promise for our redeemed future.

In any case, as ever the best way to get answers to questions like this is not to ask for a blog reply as if I made up the idea, but to look at some of the history of 2000 years Christian thinking that drew such conclusions as the Chalcedonian definition.


Phil Russell - #75262

December 13th 2012

Nothing wrong with senses plenior, but I imagine Lewis would have had a great deal of trouble with the driving agenda of Biologos, Peter Enns, Gale McCartny, Tim Keller et. al. to define the first n books (where n is a gradually increasing number) of Genesis as myth in order to have greater marketing appeal to non-believers.  In their perverse thinking they’ve decided that myth and confusion somehow sells better than truth.  The writer is an InterVarsity guy, which as an organization has been drifting liberal for many years now.  His attempt to invoke a Christian luminary like Lewis in their cause is pure propaganda.  (I wish he would read Lewis’ own portrayal of the propagandist in That Hideous Strength and be thereby convicted of his folly!)

I go back and forth between peacefully trying to get along with these guys and being really angry about what they’re doing.  I try to believe the best about them, but whenever I read stuff like this, I get sick and angry all at once.

Simply put, these guys don’t pre-suppose the Bible to be true.  They take those parts of the Bible as true which don’t contradict the prevailing culture, and the rest they try to explain away in their Ennsian hall of mirrors.  They consider themselves to be conservative, evangelical, “Christian” or whatever, but they’re really just the new liberals.  And like the gnostics of old, they consider themselves to have knowledge superior to that of ordinary orthodox, reformed believers.  The path they are on leads to disbelief and the ruin of church congregations and denominations.  They can’t be reasoned with because the epistemological hall of mirrors they operate in doesn’t allow for the normal rules of logic and reason, which can only come from pre-supposing the Bible to be the only true authority.  

At least post-moderns are clear about their presuppositions (or lack thereof) and agenda.  What the Biologos/Ennsian crowd is up to is far more diabolical because it is more deceptive and seductive.


Phil Russell - #75265

December 13th 2012

P.S. After seeing my previous post, a friend sent me this link to Lane Tipton’s excellent critique of Enns’ hermeneutic: http://www.ltslondon.org/joc/conference.php.  A must-hear for anyone dabbling in this stuff.  Before getting sucked into Ennsianism, please be aware that it is a significant departure from historical orthodox theology, and that there is signficant alarm and and pushback within the larger evangelical community!


robynhood - #75266

December 13th 2012

Phil Russell wrote:

“They can’t be reasoned with because the epistemological hall of mirrors they operate in doesn’t allow for the normal rules of logic and reason, which can only come from pre-supposing the Bible to be the only true authority.” 

 

Phil, can you explain what you mean by the “normal rules of logic and reason” and why those rules would not be allowed by someone if they did not pre-suppose the Bible to be the only true authority.

Also, do you think God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are a true authority?


Phil Russell - #75297

December 14th 2012

<<Phil, can you explain what you mean by the “normal rules of logic and reason” and why those rules would not be allowed by someone if they did not pre-suppose the Bible to be the only true authority.>>

Greg Bahnsen makes the case much better than I could begin to in his Presuppositional Apologetics, particularly Chapter 2.  For  brief overview, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presuppositionalism.  Yes, I adhere to Van Tillian presuppositionalism.

<<Also, do you think God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are a true authority?>>

Absolutely. However in opposition to the Ennsians, orthodox reformed theology holds that the particular way in which our triune God has chosen to reveal in our age (post closing of the cannon) is through his written word.  This is best expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. I: http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html. In particular, section IV: “IV. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.”

The Ennsian hermeneutic directly contradicts this in that it raises the “testimony of man” to an equivalent level of authority with that of scripture.


David Williams - #75271

December 13th 2012

Phil,

I’m just telling you what Lewis said in his published writings.  Don’t shoot the messenger.

Also, you might find me more amenable to reasonable dialogue than you imagine.  As a matter of fact, I went to Westminster Seminary and had both Enns and Tipton as teachers, so I’m pretty familiar with the framework you seem to be speaking from.  I used to be a strong proponent of the Van Tilian presuppositionalism but eventually found it less than satisfactory precisely on logical grounds (my undergraduate schooling was mostly in analytic philosophy).  Anyways, feel free to email me if you actually want to talk.  

By the way, do you actually see any problems with my analysis of Lewis’s writings, or do you just not like my conclusions?


Phil Russell - #75298

December 14th 2012

<<do you actually see any problems with my analysis of Lewis’s writings, or do you just not like my conclusions>>

No, from what I can tell (I’m not a theological or biblical scholar by any means), you’ve done a good job pointing out some of the weaknesses in Lewis’ theology, though you apparently view them as strengths.

My point about Lewis is, being the clever and perceptive chap he was, he most certainly would have known what you’re up to.  When one is propagandizing, rather than telling outright lies, it’s usually more effective to state known truths in a context and manner which seduces the reader into beleiving your ultimate lie (cf. The Screwtape Letters).  You have written in the service of the Ennsian/Biologos enterprise, which at its core is a purveyor of the lie that Genesis 1-n isn’t historically reliable, or at the very least can’t be interpreted with perspicuity.  And the lie that readers must have the Ennsian gnosis (I believe your lot call it “incarnation”) in order to understand what it really says.

<<found it less than satisfactory precisely on logical grounds>>

What is the authoritative source for your construction of the “logical grounds” by which you rejected Van Tillian presuppositionalism?


David Williams - #75304

December 14th 2012

Phil, my project is mainly to remind amnesiac Christians of what the giants of our Tradition actually said.  I’m sure, being a good Reformed guy, you’d be interested in my posts on Augustine (here), Calvin (here), and even Old Princeton (here).  We evangelicals tend to have selective memories, and I am trying to remind us of aspects of our theological heritage that we have forgotten and which could be helpful for navigating our contemporary challenges.  That’s part of what’s behind this series on Lewis.  If you want to call that “propaganda,” fine.  It’s a free country.  But just recognize that it’s not actually a counterargument.

As to my “authoritative source” for my “construction” of the “logical grounds” for rejecting Van Tilian presuppositionalism, I’m not sure what to tell you.  I rejected Van Tilianism because as a system it a) depends upon confusing epistemological categories (e.g., certainty, epistemic probability, etc.) with ontological categories (e.g., necessity, contingency, etc.), b) depends upon confusions about the nature of linguistic referentiality, and c) depends upon being highly confident about a lot of dubious exegesis.  I have other reasons, too, but there’s no need to go into them here (for points a) and b) go read Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity and then get back to me).

You may also be wondering what grounds I have for trusting logic at all.  Well, theologically speaking, I think that God has made us such that our cognitive faculties can partially and imperfectly trace out His own inherent rationality as well as the contingent rationality He built into the world.  Why do I think that?  I dunno.  Y’know, like, the Bible and stuff…

If you want to have a real conversation about this stuff, maybe we should take it to my blog or something.  It’d be a shame to have a healthy dialogue about these issues and for them to just get buried in the comments of a blog post about something else.


Phil Russell - #75368

December 17th 2012

Just so we can all be clear on what your “project” actually is, could you please state clearly your views on theistic evolution, Ennsian hermeneutics, etc.?  It’s one thing to say “a great man like Lewis hinted that such-and-such could be true.”  It’s quite another to say, “I believe that such-and-such is true, I have the support of great thinkers X, Y, and Z, in this, and here are the arguments they made, with which I happen to agree.”  The first is nibbling at the margins, the second is boldly stating your beliefs and making your case.  This nibbling at the margins is what I consider propaganda.

<<Why do I think that?  I dunno.  Y’know, like, the Bible and stuff…>>

Well if it’s the Bible, there’s hope for you.  Perhaps deep down inside you’re a presuppositionalist after all, but either don’t know it or refuse to admit it because it might be unpopular in your circles.  

As for the “and stuff…”, what stuff? Please be honest and forthright with your readers and with yourself about what you hold to be ultimate sources of authority!  Or do you even believe that any ultimate source of authority exists?

<<If you want to have a real conversation about this stuff, maybe we should take it to my blog or something.  It’d be a shame to have a healthy dialogue about these issues and for them to just get buried in the comments of a blog post about something else.>>

Well, I’m happy to discuss on your blog or anywhere else as time permits.  However I disagree that this is “about something else.”  At the core of the Ennsian/theistic evolutionary view are some very basic questions of epistomology and hermeneutics.  And even more to the core are matters of Christian faith and belief.  When I encounter a body of discussion whose entire tone and agenda seems to be “Has God indeed said…?”, it gives me chills and suggests that something truly diabolical is afoot.


David Williams - #75463

December 19th 2012

Phil,

Let’s say that I take the Bible as my “ultimate authority.”  What does that mean?  I still have to read and interpret the Bible.  This involves learning the languages of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, and our understanding of those languages—their vocabulary, grammar, idioms, and conventions—depends upon knowledge of lots of extra-biblical writings (how else would you determine the meaning of, say, a rare verbal form or a hapax legomena?).  Once I’ve kind of gotten the hang of the languages I still have to use my reason to make sense of the Biblical texts.  How do all of these pieces fit together?  Tradition tells me that putting these pieces together in a Pelagian, or Arian, or Docetic way is a no go, but sometimes the text is not so clear (as the WCF itself recognizes).  So I have to make a choice as to whether I will try read the text in concert with the Church’s historic regula fide or whether I will strike out on my own, interpreting the Bible any which way I can make a case for (I decided to take the former route, which was not a small thing for a biblical studies guy).  

I could go on, but the fact of the matter is that interpreting the Bible is an enterprise that involves our Reason, our Tradition (whether it be the Catholic Tradition, the Reformed Tradition, the Orthodox Tradition, the Jewish Tradition, the Enlightenment Tradition, or whatever), our Experience (not least the experience of the testimonium internum Spiritus Sancti that Calvin speaks of).  Using extrabiblical information to interpret the Biblical text is inevitable.  Does that mean that we’re “holding extrabiblical information (or our reason or whatever) over the Bible”?  Such a question presupposes(!) that our epistemological sources can be separated into tidy compartment and easily stacked and prioritized.  I don’t think that’s a helpful or realistic way of conceiving theological epistemology in the first place.

I believe that our ultimate authority is in Christ, but that Christ has, for whatever reason, not seen fit to completely adjudicate every debate we have.  I know Christ primarily through the Scriptures, but I also know Him through the Tradition of the Church, and my own experience of grace.

Anyways, when you hear me asking these questions about hermeneutics and epistemology, don’t hear “Has God indeed said…?”  I believe God “said.”  The question is not what He said, but what does what He said mean?  Instead, try to be charitable and hear me and others as asking, “What does the Torah say?  How do you read it?”


David Williams - #75543

December 20th 2012

Phil, feel free to email me if you’d like to pick this conversation up in another venue.  Finding my address on the interwebs shouldn’t be too tough.  Otherwise, I hope you have a merry Christmas.

Cheers.


Seenoevo - #75282

December 13th 2012

Phil Russell, where has your breath of fresh air been?


Phil Russell - #75299

December 14th 2012

There is a time for coating one’s words with sugar and a time for more direct and forceful speech.  The alarm within orthodox reformed circles about the Ennsian/Biologos exit ramp is sufficiently great that it is time for direct speech.  In the words of Walker Percy, “you can’t have it both ways: you will be told what you are doing.”


Seenoevo - #75305

December 14th 2012

What good is Scripture?

 

Phil Russell: “…orthodox reformed theology holds that the particular way in which our triune God has chosen to reveal in our age (post closing of the cannon) is through his written word.  This is best expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith… “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.””

But how can the authority of Scripture not depend upon the testimony of men if it was men who wrote and determined the ultimate contents of Scripture (i.e. determined the canon)?

And if it was God’s way for men to write and order Scripture, why would it not also be God’s way for men to interpret Scripture, and determine how it’s to be believed and how it’s to be obeyed?

More importantly, if God did not provide a way to assure that men interpreted Scripture correctly, then

what good is Scripture?


robynhood - #75347

December 16th 2012

Those are excellent points Seenoevo!

To me, Presuppositionalism seem completely arbitrary.  If you must first pre-suppose the Bible to be the only true authority before you are even allowed to use logic and reason (in other words, to think) then I don’t see why that method couldn’t be just as easily applied to any other ‘testimony of men’ that is supposed to be of divine inspiration. (i.e. The Koran)

If, in order to discover truth, you must first assume some ancient writing to be the sole source of truth, it seems your journey ended where it began.  Circular reasoning gets you nowhere. It certainly seems like it would be extremely unconvincing to anyone not already in the Christian camp.


lancelot10 - #75408

December 18th 2012

robyn.

I think Genesis is logical and reasonable - my presupp….  came about as I tested samples of scripture to be true eg re Genesis - but once I actually believed in God I knew that the Bible could not mislead anyone since God would make it perfect and inerrant.

However evolutionists presuppose evolution to be true and use circular reasoning to back it up.


Phil Russell - #75366

December 17th 2012

Seenoevo,

<<But how can the authority of Scripture not depend upon the testimony of men if it was men who wrote and determined the ultimate contents of Scripture (i.e. determined the canon)?>>

Excellent question.  God, not men, determined the cannon.  Men under the direction of the Holy Spirit only recognized it.  Indeed, it could not be considered to be God’s word if it were merely a matter of human authorship and canonization.

<<And if it was God’s way for men to write and order Scripture, why would it not also be God’s way for men to interpret Scripture, and determine how it’s to be believed and how it’s to be obeyed?>>

God used human instruments in authoring and recognizing cannon.  As Paul says to Timothy, scripture is God-breathed, inspired.  However I would make a distinction between what happened up to the closing of the canon and hermeneutic work which is (or at least should be) founded upon that scriptural authority.  The hermeneutic work itself isn’t divinely inspired, but is either more truthful or false depending on its adherence to the divinely inspired text.

<<More importantly, if God did not provide a way to assure that men interpreted Scripture correctly, then what good is Scripture?>>

God provided excellent means of knowing correct intepretation from incorrect.  He gave us minds and he gave us His word itself.  We use scripture to interpret scripture.  We avoid interpretations that disagree strongly with the whole counsel of scripture, such as those put forth by the Biologos advocates and leaders.  We accept interpretations that agree.  We also have a tremendous legacy of historical biblical scholarship which we can turn to in order to see how matters of specific interpretation have been worked out in the past.  Thus has developed our orthodox reformed theology, which, though not itself inspired, provides us with a framework that makes sense of it all.

BTW, many object to the argument I’m making on the grounds that it’s circular reasoning.  To those I would say, on the contrary, it’s the only framework that even allows for circular reasoning.  To break the ciricle, you need a starting place, a presupposed benchmark of truth.  Now you may place anything you like in this position of authority (e.g. your own intellect, science, tarot cards, or whatever).  I choose to take the revealed word of the God who created every atom of the universe, and time and space itself, as my starting point.

As for “assurance,” what standard of assurance do you seek?  And are you willing to apply that standard fairly to both science and scripture?  It’s ironic that those who demand a high degree assurance regarding scripture so often have so little when it comes to their own system of thought, sometimes proudly so.  You might say, “I would believe it if God came down and spoke it himself, and proved to me by signs and miracles that He was ideed God.”  If that is your view, then I have good news for you: Jesus did exactly that!

As a final point, I would ask you, Seenoevo, what do you take as a starting place for building your understanding of the world?

-Phil


Phil Russell - #75367

December 17th 2012

it’s the only framework that even allows for circular reasoning”

er, I meant to say “non-circular reasoning”


Eddie - #75372

December 17th 2012

Phil:

My guess would be that Seenoevo takes, as his starting place, the authority of Rome, and that he accepts Scripture because Rome vouches for it.  And I would guess further that when interpreting Scripture, he denies the Protestant individualist approach that most evangelicals take, and regards the Roman interpretation of Scripture—where Rome has pronounced officially—to be the final and correct one.  Ask him point-blank what he thinks about the authority of the Roman Church to interpret Scripture.  His answer should be instructive.


lancelot10 - #75412

December 18th 2012

Eddie - there were seven churches in asia(REVELATIONS) and all over the known world EG Jerusalem - rome did not start to dominate until the 5th century.  For 300 years until constantine the churches interpreted scripture for themselves NT and OT - occasionally communicating with each other.  Even pauls letters which would be read and circulated immmediately showed that each church had diiferent characteristics.


Seenoevo - #75371

December 17th 2012

“To break the ciricle, you need a starting place, a presupposed benchmark of truth. Now you may place anything you like in this position of authority (e.g. your own intellect, science, tarot cards, or whatever). I choose to take the revealed word of the God who created every atom of the universe, and time and space itself, as my starting point.”

Is not your starting point actually choosing your intellect (i.e. a presupposed God-given ability to comprehend reality accurately)?

Is not presupposing the divine inspiration of Scripture secondary, a step away from your true original presupposition?

If it’s a second step, then on what intellectual basis do you claim Scripture’s divine inspiration?

 

“As a final point, I would ask you, Seenoevo, what do you take as a starting place for building your understanding of the world?”

How could it be anything other than “a presupposed God-given ability to comprehend reality accurately”?


robynhood - #75374

December 17th 2012

Again - excellent points Seenoevo. It seems an utter necessity that our ability to think and draw conclusions is the first step. From what I know of C.S. Lewis and his writings, I am confident he would agree.

Being a rationalist, human reason was clearly the starting point for C.S. Lewis.  Reason itself is what led Lewis to reject Materialism in favor of belief in God.  Then, only after Lewis had first accepted Theism on rational grounds did he move on to accepting Christianity and the truth of the Bible.

Of course, after becoming a Theist, Lewis came to believe that the source of all human reason is God, and that God has gifted mankind with the ability to reason in order that he may seek and discover truth.

If our ability to reason and discover truth is locked up in a state of depravity unless we first pre-suppose the Bible to be the only true authority, how can we account for Lewis’ conversion?  How did he come to the truth without starting with the Bible?


Phil Russell - #75402

December 18th 2012

Seenoevo,

So you trust your own intellect as the highest authority in the universe?   

“a presupposed God-given ability to comprehend reality accurately”

Before the fall, Adam comprehended reality accurately. After the fall, his mind became utterly corrupted and depraved, and he, and all of us by way of Adam’s headship, could not comprehend reality accurately.  Such is the state of all unbelievers.  Only through the redemptive work of Christ working in the life of a believer does any kind of clarity begin to emerge.  And a key means of this redemptive work is the word of God as found in the Bible, which through the new eyes of faith, the believer acknowledges to be true.

“on what intellectual basis do you claim Scripture’s divine inspiration”

You’re turning the argument on its head.  I do not elevate my intellect to a position of authority from which it may judge scripture.  Rather scripture stands in authority above my intellect.  Christ demands that I submit my intellect to His word.  The question you should really be asking is, “What does scripture have to say about the state of my intellect? How does it instruct me to think?”

-Phil


robynhood - #75422

December 18th 2012

The doctrine of total depravity is a ‘testimony of man’.  It is merely one interpretation of scripture, and it is one that many thoughtful, committed Christians do not share.  

And isn’t it a doctrine we should be very careful with?  One that we should be quite certain about before accepting?  After all, is there any better way to subjugate someone else than to convince them that they are incapable of thinking for themselves?

But there’s the rub.  How can one be certain about the doctrine of total depravity if one is so depraved as to be incapable of rational thought in the first place?  It’s like sawing off the limb you’re sitting on.

In any case, a system in which you have to assume the Bible to be true in order to prove that the Bible is true is untenable.  And a system where you must accept one man’s interpretation of the Bible in order to prove that man’s interpretation is even worse.


robynhood - #75424

December 18th 2012


Phil wrote: “Before the fall, Adam comprehended reality accurately. After the fall, his mind became utterly corrupted and depraved, and he, and all of us by way of Adam’s headship, could not comprehend reality accurately.”

I do not personally take the Genesis account of the Fall to be historical, but to illustrate my previous point about the doctrine of total depravity being just one of many interpretations, consider the following:

According to Genesis 3:7, Adam apparently did not comprehend reality accurately before the Fall:

“...she took of it’s fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.”

And after the Fall, Adam had gained access to new knowledge that he did not have before: (Genesis 3:22a)

”Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.””


Jon Garvey - #75456

December 19th 2012

Robynhood’s post here is an absolutely classic example of the re-writing of the Adam story in the guise of the Prometheus myth that guided the humanist project of the Renaissance, and later the consciously anti-religious Enlightenment. That served to put man at the centre of the Universe and sideline God as the tyrant who kept us from our “rightful” share of knowledge, in the process neglecting the rather obvious fact of God’s judgement and the trail of evil that followed.

It’s an interesting and instructive story, and I’ve done a blog on it here for anyone who wants to understand the spirit of our age.

Lewis was well aware of Prometheus, of course (admiring Shelley’s poem and writing an essay on it in 1960). Andrew Ketterley, the magician in the Magician’s Nephew is very much in the Promethean/Faustian tradition. And his own attitude to Adam’s sin can be clearly seen in his Preface to Paradise Lost:

A creature revolting against a creator is revolting against the source of his own powers — including even his power to revolt. […] The same rebellion which means misery for the feelings and corruption of the will, means Nonsense for the intellect.


robynhood - #75486

December 19th 2012

How is quoting two verses that conflict with the Reformed doctrine of total depravity “re-writing” the Adam story?  I am simply pointing out what Genesis actually says.  The account of the Fall neither states nor carries any implication that Adam’s intellect was damaged by his disobedience.  The stated consequence in verses 17-19 is precisely this:

“...cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of you life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The notion that Mankind became totally depraved as a result of Adam’s sin is an interpretation based on other parts of the Bible and is built almost exclusively upon the foundation of Paul’s claim in Romans 5:12-21.  Many other passages scattered throughout the Bible are used to support the idea of total depravity.  They acknowledge that man, by his nature, is evil and self-serving, but they do not connect this to Adam’s sin.

The truth is that other Christian thinkers (Augustine, etc.) have also ‘re-written’ the Adam story in light of ideas they find elsewhere in scripture.  Whether they are right or wrong to do so is another matter.  The important thing to recognize is that none of us is immune from the possibility of reading our pre-conceived ideas into scripture.


Seenoevo - #75427

December 18th 2012

Welcome, Sir Lancelot!


Seenoevo - #75428

December 18th 2012

“How can one be certain about the doctrine of total depravity if one is so depraved as to be incapable of rational thought in the first place?”

Does that strike anyone besides robynhood and me as a reasonable and good question?


Seenoevo - #75429

December 18th 2012

Wouldn’t written dialogue be more productive if responders responded to what was actually written?

“Seenoevo, So you trust your own intellect as the highest authority in the universe?”

Did I really write that? That I trust my intellect as the highest authority in the universe? To repeat, with emphasis:

Phil Russell: “As a final point, I would ask you, Seenoevo, what do you take as a starting place for building your understanding of the world?”

Seenoevo: “How could it be anything other than “a presupposed God-given ability to comprehend reality accurately”?

 

“Before the fall, Adam comprehended reality accurately. After the fall, his mind became utterly corrupted and depraved… Only through the redemptive work of Christ working in the life of a believer does any kind of clarity begin to emerge.”

If that is true, then must not the following also be true?

- The Old Testament figures, as well as all other people before Christ, had an utterly corrupted, depraved and inaccurate comprehension of reality.

- Those utterly divorced from reality included, of course, the builders of the great pyramids and the wonders of the Babylonian empire.

- Since Christ’s crucifixion, virtually all human beings have demonstrated greater clarity than their forbearers in comprehending reality.

 

“You’re turning the argument on its head. I do not elevate my intellect to a position of authority from which it may judge scripture. Rather scripture stands in authority above my intellect.”

How can you seriously begin to judge scripture or anything else unless you first presuppose that your perceptions truly correspond to reality, including a trust in the perceived order of the universe?

 

“The question you should really be asking is, “What does scripture have to say about the state of my intellect? How does it instruct me to think?””

Isn’t the question you should really ask “Why should I heed Scripture as the word of God?”

What is the reasoning? Just because? Or more appropriately, just because I have faith that it is? Just because I hope it is?

How would “faith or hope alone” stand with Peter? Doesn’t he seem to be asking for more, maybe for some reasoning?

“Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” [cf. 1 Peter 3:15]


Eddie - #75435

December 18th 2012

Phil:

As you can see from 75429 above, Seenoevo will play with your words endlessly, responding to questions with questions, and then accusing you of misreading him when he does so.  He prefers constantly asking others questions—yanking their chains, so to speak—to forthrightly stating his own positions.  The only way to call an end to it is to do what I suggested above:  ask him point-blank what he thinks about the authority of the Roman Catholic Church to interpret Scripture.  And don’t accept any rhetorical questions as answers.  Demand a statement.  The result should clarify matters, and let you know if you wish to converse with Seenoevo further.

The alternative is simply to not respond to his posts at all.  When he sees that no one is interested in his game-playing, he will likely get bored and move to another site for his entertainment.


robynhood - #75437

December 18th 2012

Eddie,

Sure, Seenoevo seems to have a way with questions, but I don’t think you have characterised him correctly, especially in regards to his post 75429.

I beleive Phil really did misread him.  Saying you use your own intellect as a “starting place for understanding” is not the same as saying your intellect is the “highest authority in the universe”.

Furthermore, I think Seenoevo makes some good points regarding the topic of total depravity, especially regarding OT figures.  (i.e. Was Solomon totally depraved when he wrote Proverbs?) 


Greg Cootsona - #75467

December 19th 2012

I find this a timely and useful article. (I’m also looking forward to the next installment.) It seems right to me, and I say that in light of a Lewis book I’m working which will be published by WestminsterJohnKnox in 2014. In my research and reading of CSL, I’ve discovered that Lewis was truly a “mere Christian” and not a party-line evangelical. (You can find some of my comments on his view of Scripture in my blog, e.g., http://cootsona.blogspot.com/2012/07/c-s-lewis-how-bible-and-incarnation-are.html.) Lewis believed that Scripture did not have to be error-free in order to be carry the word of God while holding an high and Chalcedonian Christology. It’s a fascinating blend, that’s probably shocking for inerrantists, especially those who treasure Lewis.


W W W - #76425

February 7th 2013

I could go on, but the fact of the matter is that interpreting the Bible is an enterprise that involves our Reason, our Tradition (whether it be the Catholic Tradition, the Reformed Tradition, the Orthodox Tradition, the Jewish Tradition, the Enlightenment Tradition, or whatever), our Experience (not least the experience of the testimonium internum Spiritus Sancti that Calvin speaks of).  Using extrabiblical information to interpret the Biblical text is inevitable.  Does that mean that we’re “holding extrabiblical information (or our reason or whatever) over the Bible”? (cars)  Such a question presupposes(!) that our epistemological sources can be separated into tidy compartment and easily stacked and prioritized.  I don’t think that’s a helpful or realistic way of conceiving theological epistemology in the first place.

I believe that our ultimate authority is in Christ, but that Christ has, for whatever reason, not seen fit to completely adjudicate every debate we have.  I know Christ primarily through the Scriptures, but I also know Him through the Tradition of the Church, and my own experience of grace.


Ruan Dao - #77938

March 29th 2013

All reality is iconoclastic..I am shocked when i read this article.I will bookmark your blog and have my children check up here often. ffxi gil


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