Saturday, August 7, 2010

Faith matters more than feelings

Touchstone provides from its archives a 2007 essay by N.T. Wright evaluating C.S. Lewis as an apologist with particular reference to Mere Christianity:
There’s a good reason why we allow Lewis to lead us on. There is a real, not a pretend, humility about his “only-a-simple-layman” stance. For some of the time, as I shall suggest, he is a professional pretending to be an amateur; for much of the time, he’s a gifted amateur putting some of the professionals to shame; sometimes he’s an amateur straightforwardly getting things wrong....

But he constantly says, “If this doesn’t help, go on to the next bit, which may,” and he seems really to mean it. In particular, when he’s talking about the struggles and strains of trying to live as a Christian, we know we are listening to someone who has been struggling and straining. ....

There are two constant powerful refrains throughout Mere Christianity. First, faith matters more than feelings; faithfulness to the high and hard standards of Christian behavior matters more than doing what you feel like at the time. Lewis was swimming against a strong tide of popular romantic existentialism, a tide running even more strongly in our own day.

He was not, of course, opposed to feelings; but he knew, and it comes as a relief to our generation to be reminded, that if you go with the flow of feelings you will be inconsistent, unfaithful, lacking in all integrity. To realize that we don’t have to float out to sea on that strong tide, but that we can and must swim against it, is challenging but also liberating.

Second, you can understand falsehood from the standpoint of truth but not the other way around, just as someone who knows light can understand darkness but not vice versa: Thus you can understand sexual perversion once you know the norm; “good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either”; “virtue brings light; indulgence brings fog.” ....
Wright spends the bulk of the essay discussing what he considers to be weaknesses in Lewis's understanding or argument and concludes:
.... Lewis has indeed built a fine building with lots of splendid features, and many people have been properly and rightly attracted to buy up apartments in it and move in. Some parts of the building have remained in great shape, and are still well worth inhabiting. But I fear that those who move in to other parts will find that the foundations are indeed shaky, and that the roof leaks a bit.

Someone who converted to the Christian faith through reading Mere Christianity, and who never moved on or grew up theologically or historically, would be in a dangerous position when faced even with proper, non-skeptical historical investigation, let alone the regular improper, skeptical sort. Lewis didn’t give such a person sufficient grounding in who Jesus really was. ....

.... Lewis himself would have been the first to say that of course his book was neither perfect nor complete, and that what mattered was that, if it brought people into the company, and under the influence (or “infection”) of Jesus Christ, Jesus himself would happily take over—indeed, that Jesus had been operating through the process all along, albeit through the imperfect medium of the apologist. .... [more]
Touchstone Archives: Simply Lewis