The Gospel Nature of Sanctification, part 3

Monday I began blogging about the gospel nature of sanctification. With the many ways we could approach this subject, we began at the very beginning talking of the difference between justification and sanctification. Wednesday I moved on by discussing the gospel nature of sanctification. Today we end our mini series on the Holy Spirit’s work in sanctification in Galatians and Philippians.

In Galatians 3 Paul is making an argument against the Galatians who have begun well but have since turned to a different gospel. In Gal. 3:1-5 Paul says, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

In this rebuke Paul asks two questions. In v2 he asks, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” Then in v3 and v5 he asks the same question, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” The Galatians were converted by the Spirit’s work, just as all Christians are. This is not Paul’s contention with them. His issue is what they were seeking to after beginning so well. Having begun by the Spirit they began to try and do the work of sanctification by the flesh. Paul says this is opposed to how sanctification really happens. It doesn’t happen by works of the flesh, but by hearing with faith. In other words, the same way they were saved (hearing the gospel with faith) is the same way they will grow in sanctification. That the Spirit is mentioned in v5 tells us that the Spirit is One who opens the eyes and enables conversion to take place, as well as the One opens the heart and enables sanctification to place as well. Yes, we really do work, effort, sweat, and labor in sanctification. But behind all of our doing is the Holy Spirit who is doing it all.

As Augustine said, “We do the work, but God works in us the doing of the works.”

In C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity he asks us to imagine two books on a table, one sitting on atop the other. He goes onto say that book A (the bottom book) is doing the work of supporting book B (the top book). If book A weren’t doing its work of supporting, book B wouldn’t be in its position. Lewis uses this illustration to flesh out his understanding of how the Son of God could be the begotten Son of God and the eternal Son of God at the same time. I want to use this image to make a different point; a point about sanctification. Imagine the Holy Spirit is book A and you and I were book B. The Spirit is seen here as the One who always supports us, upholds us, sustains us, and enables us to be in the position we are in as children of God. Do you see now what enables sanctification? Because of the Spirit’s supporting work within us, we can do what God has called us to do, namely, to progress in holiness. The Galatian heresy was just the opposite. They sought to progress in holy living by their own power without the support of the Spirit of God. To say it another way, they were trying to be book B without the aid of book A.

Philippians 2 makes this point as well. In 2:12-13 Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

We should ask the age old question here about the chicken and the egg here. Which came first, our work for God or God’s work in us? Don’t say the really foolish thing here, that our work enables God to do His work in us. Be reminded. God is God, we are not. We never ‘allow’ or ‘let’ God to do His work in or through us. God is not in a box until we choose to let Him out. This is preposterous to the highest degree, not to mention arrogant. It is also foolish to state that man and God work together as two paddlers labor together within the same kayak. If that were true, God’s work in us would be dependent on our work for Him, which brings us back into the heretical notion we just mentioned and place God in our dependency because without our work His work couldn’t be done. No, these are foolish things to say. God’s work alone is sufficient to save and sanctify.

Rather than these two options, which really are the same bad option, just as in our book A and B example above, we must see that the reason we’re able to work out our salvation with fear and trembling is precisely because God is already working within us to move us toward sanctification. So what comes first, our work for God or God’s work in us? Clearly, not only does v13 come before v12, but v13 enables v12 to occur.

But wait, wasn’t this supposed to be about the Holy Spirit? Yes it was, and it still is. Let me point this out by asking a question: who is at work when God is working within us? Who is at work in v13?

None other than the Holy Spirit who is presented here as the One who both moves us toward sanctification and enables us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

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Are You Joyful? You Should Sing!

James 5:13 says “Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.” 

When I read this, I ask one question: why?  What is it about singing that seems to be the fulfillment of joy or cheer?

C.S. Lewis has a great answer:

But the most obvious fact about praise – whether of God or anything – strangely escaped me.  I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor.  I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise…The world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game…My whole, more general difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.  I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. (C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, page 94-95)

This, among many others, is a great reason why we should give ourselves to singing during worship with God’s people.  Singing isn’t optional – it’s the way we express and complete our joy in Jesus.  To not do this is wrong.

Man Must be Free for God to be Loving?

From C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, book 2, chapter 3: The Shocking Alternative

Why, then, did God give them (us) free will?  Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.  A world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating.  The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and woman on this earth is mere milk and water.  And for that they must be free.

Lewis here is disappointing to me, and I hope so to you as well.  Though if you, like thousands of well-meaning Christians do, believe in free will, I’m sure you love this quote.  Let me explain why I don’t.

Lewis clearly states above that love, goodness, or joy can only exist in any worthwhile form if free will exists also.  This implies that God cannot be, or pass onto us, love, goodness, or joy, if we’re merely robots (not free).  This has a big problem.  In eternity past before man was created God existed perfectly in all His attributes, one of which was His love.  Right.  This creates a problem for Lewis because if God is only loving when free will exists, how could God be love before man was created?  He couldn’t in Lewis’ view.  Even more, Lewis’ view creates a false view of God’s attribute of love by making it not possible to exist if man does not exist at the same time.

This leads to a bad end.  For God to be loving two things must be true for Lewis: man must exist, and man must be free.  If these two are absent, God is not love – therefore God is not love before man was created.  That is the implication of this reasoning.

I think this is wrong and dishonoring to God because God was God before man came to be.  This means God was perfect in love (and all other attributes) before man came to be as well.  How so?  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit lived together in unity, in community, and in diversity, loving one another before ever came on the scene.  Lewis’ idea of God’s love and free will cannot agree with this.

I wonder, can you agree with this?  I hope so.

Now, I would be just rambling if I were to say this and not give you a good definition of God’s love in response.  This ALSO comes from Lewis (he is wonderfully inconsistent, just like us!).  Lewis said in Reflections on the Psalms (page 97):

The Scotch Catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  But we shall then know that these are the same thing.  Fully to enjoy is to glorify.  In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.

You see it?  God is love because He invites us to do that which we were created to do forever, glorify Him.  He is made much of while we are satisfied to the full!  Amen.

Why Hyper-Conservative People Miss the Mark & Make Me Squirm

On the gulf coast of Florida there are a lot of conservative types, at least in my neck of the woods.  I am a conservative myself, but I think hyper-conservative folks miss the mark.  Why?

a) They have an unhealthy zeal for the 2nd amendment.

b) They detest liberals.

c) They seem to live under the banner of the unBiblical phrase “Don’t tread on me!”

You may think I’m overstating my case here because no one talks like this.  Maybe I’m not correct to call these people hyper-conservative.  Either way, though these people may not talk explicitly about these above three things, but I do think they live in a way that explicitly falls in line with these above items.  Overall the MAIN REASON hyper-conservatives miss the mark is this:

d) They wrap all of this mumbo-jumbo in Christian garb, and live in such a way so as to make these above things the main principles of Christianity.

To do this is sin, because it seeks to remake Christianity in the conservative agenda’s image.  It’s just as sinful as remaking Christianity in the liberal agenda’s image.  We’re not free to remake Christianity in our own image regardless who we vote for.  Jesus doesn’t wave a red or blue flag with a donkey or an elephant on it.

The flag He waves has His own face on it.

If you find yourself in this camp of people, or if this post angers you, you would do well to heed C. S. Lewis’s diabolical advice on how to get people away from the gospel, the main thing in Christianity.  This quote is from the Screwtape Letters, chapter 7 (emphasis added):

Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion.

Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part.

Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism.

The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience.

Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.

Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here.

Tolkien and Lewis: Breathing Deeply in Narnia and Middle Earth

cs_lews_jrr_tolkienJ.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were contemporaries and friends, authors and professors, soldiers and story-tellers.  They make it onto my list of those (dead) people who’ve influenced me greatly.  Why?  

Two profoundly meaningful reasons to me: Narnia and Middle Earth.

Of course when I speak of Narnia and Middle Earth I am referring to the epics these two men wrote called “The Chronicles and Narnia” and “The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings.”  These two books, though I’ve read them many times each and still desire to read them again, speak to my soul in ways I find hard to describe.  I think the reason this happens to me is because when I read these two epics I find myself craving to be with Jesus more, because Jesus is more real than anything in existence, and these two epics get into that other world “reality” deeper than anything I’ve ever read besides the Bible.  I often use their stories and quotes in my preaching because the grand theme of REDEMPTION is soaked throughout the whole.

Therefore, it is not surprising to me that in the moments I feel discouraged, or despairing over this or that in my life I usually turn to one of these epics first, and often find God turning me toward Him through it.

Here is a brief Christianity Today interview of their friendship:

Our world would be poorer without two other worlds: Narnia and Middle-earth. Yet if two young professors had not met at an otherwise ordinary Oxford faculty meeting in 1926, those wondrous lands would still be unknown to us.

British author Colin Duriez, who wrote the article “Tollers and Jack” in issue #78 of Christian History, explains why this is so in his forthcoming book Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship. Duriez tells the story of how these two brilliant authors met, discovered their common love for mythical tales, and pledged to bring such stories into the mainstream of public reading taste. Tolkien and Lewis shared the belief that through myth and legend—for centuries the mode many cultures had used to communicate their deepest truths—a taste of the Christian gospel’s “True Myth” could be smuggled past the barriers and biases of secularized readers.

Christian History managing editor Chris Armstrong reached Colin this week at his home in Leicester, England.

You have said that if it hadn’t been for the friendship between Tolkien and Lewis, the world would likely never have seen The Narnia ChroniclesThe Lord of the Rings, and much else. What was it about “fairy stories” that led these two men to want to rehabilitate them for a modern audience—adults as well as children?

They had both personal and professional reasons for this interest. Personally, they had both read and enjoyed such stories as they were growing up, in collections by the brothers Grimm, Andrew Lang, and others. Lewis had also heard Celtic myths—his nurse had told him some of the folk tales of Ireland.

Professionally, they studied and taught the literatures of medieval romance and, in Tolkien’s case, the background of Norse myth. And they realized that it was only quite recently that such stories had become marginalized as “children’s stories.” Through much of history these were tales told and enjoyed by grown-ups. Even strong warriors enjoyed them, rejoicing in their triumphant moments, weeping at tragic turns of events. These stories told them important things about life—about who they were and what the world was like, and about the realm of the divine.

It dawned on both men that there was a need to create a readership again for these books—especially an adult readership. Lewis’s space trilogy came out of this same impulse to write the sort of stories that he and Tolkien liked to read. He felt he could say things in science fiction that he couldn’t say in other ways. And Tolkien had been expressing this sense already for years when the two men met—ever since World War One he had been writing hundreds of pages of a cycle of myth and legend from the early ages of Middle-earth. This, it would later turn out, would provide the “pre-history” for The Lord of the Rings, some of which was published after his death in The Silmarillion.

Early in their relationship, in 1936, after Tolkien had written the children’s story The Hobbit, the two men had a momentous conversation about their desire to bring such stories to a wider audience (see below, at the end of this interview, for Duriez’s re-creation of that conversation). They actually decided to divide the territory—Lewis would take “space travel,” Tolkien “time travel.” Tolkien never got around to finishing his time-travel story, concentrating instead on his more “adult” trilogy, in which he placed hobbits in the context of his Silmarillion stories. But Lewis did write his space books: Out of the Silent PlanetPerelandra, and That Hideous Strength.

Lewis seems to have had the more forceful personality of the two. Yet you show that Tolkien had a deep influence on Lewis. What did he teach Lewis?

Lewis, used a very rational, knock-down technique in his rhetorical approach to philosophical questions, was a deeply imaginative man who regarded his imaginative self as his most basic self. Before he met Tolkien, he became friends with Owen Barfield, and the two of them had long conversations about the imagination. But as a brilliant young man who had decided that the Christian faith of his up-bringing was intellectually untenable, Lewis had no way of bringing together that imaginative side of his nature with his rational side. His rational side told him that while stories might serve to amuse, they couldn’t very well teach you about the things that really mattered.

What Tolkien did was help Lewis see how the two sides, reason and imagination, could be integrated. During the two men’s night conversation on the Addison Walk in the grounds of Magdalen College, Tolkien showed Lewis how the two sides could be reconciled in the Gospel narratives. The Gospels had all the qualities of great human storytelling. But they portrayed a true event—God the storyteller entered his own story, in the flesh, and brought a joyous conclusion from a tragic situation. Suddenly Lewis could see that the nourishment he had always received from great myths and fantasy stories was a taste of that greatest, truest story—of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

So Tolkien brought the imagination right into the center of Lewis’s life. And then, through a gradual process, with the example of Tolkien’s Silmarillion tales and Lord of the Rings before him, Lewis learned how to communicate Christian faith in imaginative writing. The results were Narnia, the space trilogy, The Great Divorce, and so forth.

What about Lewis’s impact on Tolkien?

Tolkien was a private man who, when he met Lewis, had written his mythic tales for a private audience. He had very little confidence that they could speak to a wider audience. But from the beginning of their relationship, Lewis encouraged his friend to finish and publish his stories. He delighted to hear Tolkien read chapters of his epic trilogy, as he completed them, at meetings of their Oxford reading group, the Inklings. And Tolkien was immensely encouraged by those meetings. It spurred him on.

There were some instances in which Lewis gave Tolkien something to think about. In his space trilogy, Lewis introduced the concept of Hnau, the embodiment of personality and rationality in animal and vegetable beings. This seems to have influenced the creation of the Ents in Lord of the Rings. There is also evidence that Tolkien pondered a lot on the Screwtape Letters. For the most part, however, Tolkien was extremely annoyed at Lewis’s popularizing of theology. He thought theology should be left to the professionals. Tolkien also disliked the Narnia series, feeling it was both theologically heavy-handed and artistically slapdash—an unfair judgment of what were among the most beautifully crafted of Lewis’s works, and probably the most likely to survive the next hundred years as “classics.”

You have said that Lewis and Tolkien shared three interrelated commitments—to “romanticism, reason, and Christianity.” Can you elaborate?

The two friends were interested in the literature of the romantic period because many of the poems and stories attempted to convey the supernatural, the “otherworldly”—and thus provided a window into spiritual things. Lewis explored romantic themes like joy and longing, and Tolkien emphasized the nature of people as storytelling beings who by telling stories reflect the creative powers of God. But they both rejected an “instinctive” approach to the imagination. Many romantic writers were interested in a kind of nature mysticism. They looked within themselves and at the world around them and sought flashes of insight into “the nature of things”—illuminations of truth that could not be explained, reasoned, or systematized. But Lewis and Tolkien insisted that the reason and the imagination must be integrated. In any understanding of truth, the whole person must be involved.

This is where their third shared commitment came into play—this sense of wholeness was a Christian approach, distant from the neo-pagan mysticism of some romantics, the “Pan worship” of the early twentieth century. Indeed, Tolkien worried increasingly towards the end of his life that people were missing the Christian balance of his work, and were taking it almost as the basis of a new paganism. You could argue in fact that one reason Tolkien didn’t finish the Silmarillion was his concern to make his imaginative creations consonant with Christianity. Obviously not wanting to make them into allegory or preachment, he was concerned his literary insights be clearly consistent with Christianity.

A Fateful Conversation: An excerpt from chapter 7 of Colin Duriez’s forthcoming Tolkien and C. S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship.

Lewis looks thoughtfully out of the window of his big sitting room in Magdalen College on to the deer park it overlooks. It’s the spring of 1936. … On his right hand is the reassuring sight of his favorite path—Addison’s Walk—where, five years before, Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, and he had had that momentous nighttime conversation that led to his conversion.

He turns to address his friend, who is perched on a threadbare armchair, the room’s handsome white-paneled walls behind him. Tolkien reaches for an enamel beer jug on the table and refills his tankard.

“You know, Tollers, there’s far too little of what we enjoy in stories. You liked Williams’sThe Place of the Lion just as much as I did. Really it struck me how rare such books are.”

Tolkien exclaims through dispersing wisps of smoke, “Not enough echoes of the horns of Elfland.”

He sucks on his pipe to encourage its dying embers. “Some of the Scientifiction [science fiction] around evokes wonder—sometimes offers fleeting glimpses of genuine other worlds. There is some deplorable stuff, too, but that’s true of all the genres. Space and time stories can provide Recovery and Escape.” He says the last two nouns with sudden loudness, perhaps to emphasize that they should have capitals. “I hope to lecture soon on this as a quality of Fairy Story. I relish stories that survey the depths of space and time.”

“To be sure, to be sure,” agrees Lewis, drawing attention to the slight Ulster in his vowels. He is unusually quiet this morning. “Take H. G. Wells. Even Wellsian stories can touch on the real other world of the Spirit. His early ones I care for—it’s a pity he sold his birthright for a pot of message. These kinds of stories that create regions of the spirit—they actually add to life, don’t they? They’re like some dreams that only come from time to time—they give us sensations we’ve never had before. You could say they enlarge our very idea of what’s possible in human experience.”

“Your Pilgrim’s Regress had something of what we like—romance. It’s a pity it didn’t do well with the public,” Tolkien puts in. “Was a bit obscure in places. It can be a deuce of a labor to get it right.”

“You know, Tollers,” Lewis says decisively, pipe in hand. “I’m afraid we’ll have to write them ourselves. We need stories like your Hobbit book, but on the more heroic scale of your older tales of Gondolin and Goblin wars. One of us should write a tale of time travel and the other should do space travel.”

Tolkien reminds his friend of a rather similar challenge well over a century ago—Lord Byron, at Lake Geneva in 1816, had challenged Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley to write a ghost story … and Mary, a mere girl at the time, went on to write Frankenstein. They needed, Tolkien continues, his eyes brightening, stories today that expose modern magic—the tyranny of the machine.

“Let’s toss for it, Tollers. Heads, you write about time travel; tails, you try space travel. I’ll do the other.” Tolkien nods his agreement, grinning.

Lewis fishes in the pocket of his crumpled and baggy flannels and a coin spins in the air.

“Heads it is.”

So Heavenly Minded You’re No Earthly Good?

From Justin Taylor’s blog, Between two Worlds:

C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.

It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.

The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.

It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.

Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

John Piper:

Yes, I know. It is possible to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use. My problem is: I’ve never met one of those people. And I suspect, if I met one, the problem would not be that his mind is full of the glories of heaven, but that his mind is empty and his mouth is full of platitudes.

I suspect that for every professing believer who is useless in this world because of other-worldliness, there are a hundred who are useless because of this-worldliness.

Nahum 3: We are Whores

We’ve come to the end of Nahum, and I have to commend you all for being attentive to God’s Word through what is by and large an ignored book of the Bible.  Today and the next few days we’ll turn our attention to Nahum 3:1-19.

I wonder if you feel it? Do you notice the disconnect between our culture and the message of Nahum? I mean, doesn’t it feel foreign? For three chapters now we’ve walked through the world of Nahum and seen firsthand things we don’t normally see, or perhaps things we like to ignore in our day: judgment, war, poverty, murder, jealousy, and death. But is this not in the Word of God? Indeed it is, and thus it is not only for us, it is a gift to us from God that we shouldn’t ignore meant to teach us innumerable things about our God and ourselves.

A brief reading of Nahum 3 shows us it is very similar to Nahum 2 in that the prophet Nahum is declaring God’s judgment upon the city of Nineveh. The thing that makes chapter 3 unique and different from chapter 2 is that in 3:1 we learn that all of Nahum 3 is a “woe” directed at Nineveh.

Though the visions of the Divine Warrior in Nahum 1 and His judgments in Nahum 2 are striking and alarming in and of themselves they are not a prophecy or pronouncement of “woe.” A “woe” is a heightening because it is a declaration not only of misfortune but death. We’ve seen this before in other passages of Scripture.   We see Isaiah declare a woe onto himself after beholding the glory of God in Isaiah 6 he says, “Woe is me, for I am lost! For I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips; my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” We see Paul declare a woe upon himself in 1 Corinthians 9:16 saying “Necessity is laid upon me, woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” Jesus said in Luke 6:26, “Woe to you if all men think well of you.” Other examples of woe are found all over Scripture. Do not miss that these are not mere statements of severity they are declarations that an end will come if God is not obeyed. This reveals that in a prophecy of “woe” like Nahum 3, a zeal to fear God above man exists. Nahum could have been scared to pronounce such a vivid judgment onto such a violent people as Nineveh. But Nahum’s source of courage, his identity, and therefore his strength, lies in God not man.

In Nahum 3:2-3 we see Nahum’s vision of the warriors who’ll come pillaging through the city of Nineveh, galloping on horses and racing in chariots, wielding swords and spears cutting down the Ninevites left and right, so much that 3:3 says there will be heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end.

In 3:4-7 Nineveh is likened to a whore prostituting herself off with graceful and deadly charms. Remember God once granted grace and repentance to Nineveh through Jonah’s preaching, but afterwards it’s clear that after they turned to God for salvation they turned away from Him to false gods and idolatry. Is this not the essence of sin? Turning away from God to devote your life to something else? Jeremiah 2:12-13 says it like this, “Be appalled O heavens, be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord. For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and dug out for themselves wells, broken wells that cannot hold water.” Nineveh was drank the living water of God but then turned to dig other wells, wells which not only do not satisfy but wells which cannot satisfy because they’re full of holes. Nineveh did this, we do this too. For such whoring around God says He’ll lift the skirt of Nineveh so the nations will see their nakedness and shame, making them a spectacle for all to see. When others see this they’ll cry out saying Nineveh is wasted. Do we not feel the same for those around us we see leaving Christ to dig their own wells, hoping they’ll satisfy? Do we not feel the same when we see ourselves doing this too? There is a reason God uses the graphic imagery of a whore to describe not only His enemies, but His own people throughout the Bible – we have all we ever could want, need, or desire in Christ and yet we leave Him thinking other things will fill us up while in reality they leave us empty and ashamed.

C.S. Lewis described it like this, I’m sure you’ve heard the quote: “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Reader, are you far too easily pleased?

Seeing Beauty & Saying Beautifully

Did you know John Piper has loads of free books on the Desiring God website?  Did you know he just released a new one, that is, again, FREE?  Gotta love it.  The new book is called Seeing Beauty & Saying Beautifully.  It’s in the series The Swans are Not Silent, and in this next offering Piper gives us a look into the hearts of George Herbert, George Whitefield, and C.S. Lewis.  Click here to get it for FREE.

Desiring God:

full_1400523950Read John Piper’s article on why he thinks this particular book of his is “the one most different from all the others.”

Herbert. Whitefield. Lewis.

In the sixth volume of The Swans Are Not Silent series, John Piper celebrates the importance of poetic effort by looking at three influential Christians whose words magnificently display a commitment to truth and a love of beauty.

Examining the lives of George Herbert, George Whitefield, and C. S. Lewis, Piper helps us appreciate the importance of carefully crafted words by exploring how Christians can use them to testify to God’s glory, wonder at his grace, and rejoice in his salvation.

Whether exploring Herbert’s moving poetry, Whitefield’s dramatic preaching, or Lewis’s imaginative writing, this book highlights the importance of Christ-exalting eloquence in our praise of God and proclamation of his gospel.

First Edition 2014
Crossway Books (Wheaton, Illinois)

Christianity is Education Itself

From book 3, chapter 2, of Mere Christianity: The ‘Cardinal Virtues’ – C.S. Lewis says:

If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you, you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all.  But, fortunately, it works the other way round.  Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened: one of the reasons why it needs no special education to be a Christian is that Christianity is an education itself.  That is why an uneducated believer like John Bunyan was able to write a book that has astonished the whole world.

I believe the book of Bunyan’s Lewis is referring to is Pilgrim’s Progress; it is a fascinating read if you haven’t read it.  But that is besides the point.  What I’m concerned with here is how Lewis can say something like this?  It is a huge claim to say that once one becomes a Christian that they’ll no doubt notice their intellectual equipment functioning better.  Does this imply that a non-Christian mind is not functioning as it ought to?  I think so.  Can he really say this?  Yes.  The Bible even agrees.  Romans 12:1-2 says this, “Therefore I urge you brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God, this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind; then you will know and attest to what God’s will is, His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

Did you see it in there?  There is a link between this passage in Romans and the claim Lewis makes.  Romans 12:1-2 clearly states that when one offers his body as a living sacrifice to God in worship, the mind goes along with it!  It is not possible to offer your body to God in worship while keeping your mind behind for yourself, it goes too.  When the mind goes into God, it is no longer functioning according to the pattern of this world. Rather it is being transformed and renewed.  Or in Lewis’ terms it begins to “sharpen itself” in a way that is more real than it has ever known.

I wonder what some of you think about this claim.  Some of you are very anti-intellectual I’m sure, while others of you are very pro-intellectual.  Those positions are neither here nor there, when you offer your body to God, you offer everything, and because everything goes to Him and because everything that goes to Him is transformed, nothing remains the same.  Even the mind.  Perhaps this is why Paul called Christians “thinkers” in 2 Timothy 2?  Perhaps this is also why Jesus told us to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength” in Mark 12:30?

Bottom line?  The mind glorifying to God is the mind being renewed by Him.  A renewed mind becomes renewed by thinking, pondering, reflecting, and pouring over the glorious Truths about God revealed in His Word.  This is how the mind transforms and “educates” itself in God’s presence.  Reader, don’t settle for an obese brain.  Don’t waste your mind.  Use it for the glory of God.  After all wasn’t that why it was made in the first place, to glorify God?

15 Quotes from the Desiring God C.S. Lewis Conference

For your enjoyment below is a sampling of 15 quotes from the wealth of information given at the Desiring God conference this past month.  Enjoy!

Douglas Gresham, conference introduction video —

This year the conference is titled, “The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis.” Jack, my stepfather, would be pleased by your organization’s name: Desiring God. For perhaps the most important element that led to his own conversion was a strange and powerful longing that he felt throughout his life. Though for many years he did not know what this was a longing for, in the end, he came to see that all along it had been a desire for God.

John Piper, first plenary, “C.S. Lewis, Romantic Rationalist: How His Paths to Christ Shaped His Life and Ministry” —

What was Lewis doing in all his works? He was pointing. He was unveiling. He was depicting the glory of God in the face of Jesus. He was leading people to Christ. The two paths he knew best were the paths of romanticism and rationalismlonging and logic. So these are the paths on which he guided people to Christ.

Joe Rigney, seminar, “Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles” —

We are, all of us, en-storied creatures, living our lives in a narrative, which means our lives have directions, trends, and trajectories. And Lewis is mindful of the fact that these trajectories are governed by an Author who is not mocked, who tells us that we will reap what we’ve sown. … Lewis is clear: we are always sowing the seeds of our future selves. We are embarked, heading in a particular direction, and sooner or later we are bound to end up there. Edmund reminds us that we might not like the destination at the end of our road. When it comes time to reap, we may find ourselves tied to a tree with a dagger at our necks. But, of course, Edmund’s story isn’t a tragedy. Yes, it’s true; reaping always follows sowing, like night follows day. But in this case, Aslan reaps what Edmund has sown. Edmund’s treachery, Edmund’s spite, Edmund’s beastliness is thrown onto Aslan and the Lion bears it away in his death at the Stone Table. This is the Magic of substitution, the Deeper Magic that turns traitors into kings, that turns beastly boys into just and wise men, the kind of magic that changes our stories forever.

Devin Brown, small talk, “A Quick Look at the Best of ‘Screwtape’” —

Long before there was Narnia there was Screwtape. For the one and only time in his life, C.S. Lewis appeared on the cover of Time Magazine (1947), pictured with a devil over his shoulder. The Screwtape Letters is the book that put him on the cover.

Randy Alcorn, plenary, “C.S. Lewis on Heaven and the New Earth: God’s Eternal Remedy to the Problem of Evil and Suffering” —

Why does Reepicheep the mouse want to go to Aslan’s country? To be with Aslan. It is all about Jesus. We are made for a person and a place. Jesus is the person, heaven is the place — but the place is meaningless if Jesus isn’t there.

C.S. Lewis on Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, as quoted by Piper in his first plenary —

I’ve never met Orcs or Ents or Elves — but the feel of it, the sense of a huge past, of lowering danger, of heroic tasks achieved by the most apparently unheroic people, of distance, vastness, strangeness, homeliness (all blended together) is so exactly what living feels like to me. Particularly the heart-breaking quality in the most beautiful places, like Lothlorien.

Kevin Vanhoozer, plenary, “In Bright Shadow: C.S. Lewis on the Imagination for Theology and Discipleship” —

For Lewis, waking is a way of describing conversion — a coming to new life. The Christian life is all about wakefulness. Theology describes what we see when we are awake, and discipleship is about staying awake. The sad truth is many of us are at best only half awake. We think we’re engaged with the real world — the world of stock markets, stock car racing, stockpiles of weapons — but in fact, we’re living in what Lewis calls the Shadowlands. We’re really daydreaming and sleepwalking our way through life, asleep at the wheel of existence. …

Theology ministers understanding, so that we can live out our knowledge of God. Theology is practical, it is all about waking up to the real, to what is, specifically to what is ‘in Christ.’ … The imagination helps disciples act out what is ‘in Christ.’ Theology exchanges the false pictures that hold us captive with truth and disciplines our imagination with sound doctrine.

Phillip Ryken, plenary, “Inerrancy and the Patron Saint of Evangelicalism: C.S. Lewis on Holy Scripture” —

Lewis’s doctrine of Scripture [inspiration/inerrancy] has often been regarded as sub-orthodox. But whatever deficiencies we find, they do not seem to have a devastating effect on his theology as a whole. Typically, such theologians downgrade other doctrines, they back away from the hard sayings of Jesus, or become skeptical about biblical miracles, or dismiss the deity of Christ. Lewis did none of that. He continued to give a robust defense of biblical Christianity.

Plenary panel discussion —

Phillip Ryken: [Contrasted to living authors who deny inerrancy] Lewis is very clear he wants to be in submission to the authority of Scripture. There are some people in the church today; you sometimes get the sense they’re standing a little bit in authority over Scripture. You don’t get that sense with Lewis.

Randy Alcorn: And a lot of people today who are Christian leaders are drifting; they have grown up holding to truths they’re now departing from, their trajectory is away from the gospel. Lewis came from atheism, moving to agnosticism, theism, came to a life-changing faith in Christ — he was growing in his life. He came from a world where he didn’t have the doctrinal reference points. His trajectory was, in my opinion, toward the gospel.

N.D. Wilson, small talk, “The Lie of Realism” —

Lewis wrote fantasy stories because he thought, correctly, that that’s what the world is really like. The lie of realism is that somehow we’ve let people name ‘important fiction’ in which there is no soul, no spirit, no supernatural — “realistic.” In realistic fiction, there can be no magic, no supernatural, no God, no soul to the character. … We’re on a rock, mostly molten lava, flying through outer space at about mach-86 right now, like a yo-yo being swung around a ball of fire in the sky. That’s our setting. What kind of story are we telling? We’re in the sci-fi fantasy section of the bookstore.

Douglas Wilson, plenary, “Undragoned: C.S. Lewis on the Gift of Salvation” —

I don’t feel safe around anything when Jesus is not the Lord of it. Calvinism without Jesus is deadly; it’s fatalism, it’s simply Islam. We need Jesus. When the precious doctrines [of Calvinism] are used to perpetuate gloom, severity, introspection, accusations, morbidity, slander, gnat-stringing, and more, the soul is not safe.

C.S. Lewis as quoted by Sam Storms in his small talk —

Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.

John Piper, final plenary, “What God Made Is Good — And Must Be Sanctified: C.S. Lewis and St. Paul on the Use of Creation” —

Eating food becomes worship by acts that terminate on God not merely on food. Thanking is for food, but to God. Believing is believing in God and his Son Jesus Christ. Knowing terminates on truth and ultimately on God. Eating is not worship. Eating becomes worship — through knowing and believing and thanking. The created world is not an end in itself. It finds its meaning when people, created in God’s image, use it with a mind that knows God, and a heart that believes in and thanks God. …

I’m suggesting, along with Lewis, that of all the possible ways that God could have revealed the fullness and diversity of the supreme value of his being, he concluded that a physical world would be the best. The material creation was not God’s way of saying to humankind: “I am not enough for you.” It was his way of saying: “Here is the best garden where more of what I am can be revealed to finite creatures. The juiciness of a peach and the sweetness of honey are a communication of myself.”

A Good Week to Breath Narnian Air

Opening The Chronicles of Narnia to get lost in Aslan’s country is as easy, joyous, inviting, and stunning thing to do, as climbing into a warm bed for comfort and rest.  Lewis’ work throughout these seven volumes is indeed legendary, and I’m sure, will be around for many centuries.  Though we did not cover all of it and though it is true that we have seen some parts of it that are very hurtful to the reader, I do submit that any reader will be helped a great deal by reading these fiction stories.  The series is indeed a pre-baptism of Christianity, and it should be taken as nothing more.  If it is taken as a full orbed systematic theology from Lewis or something along those lines, disappointment will surely follow quickly.  It is clear that Lewis could have done a far better job in certain places portraying Christian doctrine, but even after all these mistakes cleared up, Lewis is not inspired, only the Bible is.  If the series is taken as what it was meant to be, a children’s fiction fantasy world, no reader will be upset.  Though it is still true, the ideas within this fantasy world have their consequences that need to be talked through.

Overall the most fascinating thing about the whole mythology is of course, the character of Aslan.  The picture Lewis paints in Aslan shows the world what God in Jesus is like to humanity.  This stunning picture of glory and grace put into detail over and over throughout the mythology takes my breath away every time I open it to behold.  Is God really as gracious, powerful, terrible, beautiful and lovely as Aslan is?  No, He’s better!  When Christians get to heaven and behold the Lamb of God on His throne, Aslan will look like a pot-hole in comparison to Lord of Glory!

Mr. and Mrs. Beaver said it well in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, “‘Safe?’”  said Mr. Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  Course he (Aslan) isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.’” [6]

Polly Toynbee, a very well known columnist for the British Guardianreviewed the 2005 Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe movie and had this to say about it.

Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion…of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls…Did we ask him to?

No, we didn’t ask Jesus to do this.  I don’t think we would have given the option either.  He chose to do so.  He willingly died to bring us to God.

“Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18)


[6] Lewis, 146.

The Last Battle: Surprising Heresy & A Gloriously Small Picture

The Last Battle, the last volume in the Narnian mythology, was awarded the Carnegie medal in 1956 for the best children’s book published that year.[1] That alone tells you that the quality and candor of this book was, and in my opinion still is, in a category of its own.  Knowing this, it was very surprising to me to see something within it completely heretical alongside some of the most heavenly writing I’ve read in fiction.  Now, I am aware that claiming Lewis to be heretical is rare, possibly arrogant, and perhaps a bit foolish, but one part of The Last Battle is not Biblical, hurtful to readers, and dishonoring to God.

Lewis’ heresy is revealed when Emeth[2], a worshipper of Tash and one of the soldiers of Tarkaan from the city of Tehishbaan in Calormene, begins a monologue in chapter fifteen of The Last Battle.  Emeth is angry because the ape (who was using the names of Aslan and Tash for his own political power play) claiming that Tash and Aslan are indeed one and the same calling it Tashlan is blaspheming his god Tash, so he decides to see for himself which god the ape is hiding behind him in the stable.  Emeth rushes over behind the ape and walks into the stable door, supposedly holding this god Tashlan, and is surprised by what he sees.  Rather than seeing a dark hay filled stable room, Emeth sees bright lights, bright skies, and wide open country lands.  Soon thereafter Emeth sees a large lion running up to him, and says to himself, “He was more terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty he surpassed all that is in the world even as the rose in bloom surpasses the dust of the desert.”[3] After falling at the lion’s feet in fear he thought his time was up because somehow Emeth sensed that this Lion, who is obviously a god some kind, would be aware that he served Tash all his life rather than the lion.  The words from Lewis’ pen that come next are shocking.  Aslan said,

‘Son, thou are welcome.’  But I said, ‘Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.’  He answered, ‘Child, all the service thou has done to Tash, I account as service done to me.’  Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, ‘Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?’  The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, ‘It is false.  Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites – I take to me the services which thou hast done to him.  For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.  Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.  And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.[4]

Lewis is puzzling here to me, because it seems that he is putting some form of universalism to bear here in this passage.  Whether or not the Calormene man knew so, the service he did to the Tash, the false god, Aslan counts as service toward Himself, the true God.  Could this then imply that what Lewis means to teach is that a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or any type of pagan worshipper really worships Yahweh, the true God and God of the Bible, even if they are not aware of it?  Another meaning cannot be present here.  All evil is done to the service of Satan, while all good is done to the service of Yahweh.  This is unhelpful to the most extreme degree.  This is not merely a theological slip-up from Lewis, he is claiming that there are other ways to serve and honor the true God than by repenting from sin and believing in Him.  The child reading this, receiving his “pre-baptism” as Lewis calls it, is receiving teaching from this absolutely different than what the Christian Scripture puts forth.  Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  There is no other way to know this God.  “Good” service done in the honor of a false deity, from a Biblical point of view, is service done to the false deity, not service done to Christ.  This passage from the mythology is simply wrong, hurtful to man, and ultimately dishonoring to the true God.

I am sorry to say this last scene is not the only hurtful thing about the theology of The Last Battle.  After an apparent bus accident, all the characters from the former Narnia volumes find themselves back in Narnia, unsure as to how they arrived there.  Aslan informs them that there really was an accident in which all of them died, and that they are now residents of the real Narnia forever.  The joy that passes through them is extremely rich and very evident as they explore their new home, finding out that they can run faster than animals, swim up waterfalls, and not grow weary one ounce from doing so.  The description of Narnia is simply breathtaking, and gives the reader a foretaste of what’s to come in the New Jerusalem for certain.  Listen to the words that come from the Unicorn, “I have come home at last!  This is my real country!  I belong here.  This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.  The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.  Bree-hee-hee!  Come further up, come further in!”[5]

After this the party runs off into the distance as fast as they can.  They travel through the entire land of Narnia and make their way up the snowy capped mountains and then they see it, golden gates.  The door opens and out walks everyone they have ever known rushing to greet them in Aslan’s name.  The scene is breathtaking when Aslan finally walks up to them in this great golden city made especially for its inhabitants.  He tells them that they have now begun to the true story, where every chapter is better than the one before, and with that, the seven volume Narnian mythology is finished.

One might say, “What is wrong with that?”  To which I answer, one thing; it is glorious but small.  The description of the beautiful scenery is so breathtaking the reader cannot help but smile as he reads about this new Narnia.  But that’s just it, Lewis seemed to glory in the landscape and the glories of the new Narnia more than Aslan himself.  This is why it is a glorious but small.  Is this what the true heaven will be like?  In part yes, but the reason the citizens of that city will be rejoicing is because the One focus of the celebration will not be the country itself, but it’s foundation and builder, Jesus Christ.  Lewis painted a picture where the scenery of Narnia was treasured more than Aslan himself, when the real heavenly city will be just the opposite.  This prompts me to ask my readers, would you be happy in heaven to have all the purified joys you can have (friends, food, physical fitness, breathtaking nature, pleasures galore, etc) if Jesus were not there?  The Christian would answer simply, “No.  He is my prize!  If He’s not there I don’t want to be there!  He is my treasure, not His gifts!”

Therefore, though the imagery and literary genius of The Last Battle is clearly evident, and I have personally benefited from its work, I do think it is more harmful to readers than helpful in my opinion simply because it paints to much an un-Biblical picture.


[1] Sayer, 318.

[2] There could be an interesting word play going on in this man’s name, for it means “truth” in Hebrew.

[3] Lewis, 756.

[4] Lewis, 757.

[5] Lewis, 760.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: The Worst & Most Beautiful Pain

In the book Voyage of the Dawn Treader we find, what is in my opinion, the second greatest piece of Biblical imagery in the entire mythology.  A young boy named Eustace becomes an ugly scaly dragon as a consequence for being selfish and stubborn.  The reader feels somewhat happy this happens to him because he has been such a nuisance to the voyage.  Eustace repentantly realizes his mistake and desperately wants to become a boy again, so he tries and tries to tear into and rip off his dragon skin.  There’s just one problem, he can’t get his dragon skin off no matter how hard he tries.  The deeper he tries to go into his dragon scales, the more pain he feels.  After hours of self-determining effort on Eustace’s part, Aslan comes to his aid and leads him to a well to bathe in.  But since he’s a dragon he cannot enter the well.  Eustace realizes his skin must come off first.  Eustace tries again to painfully tear through the layers of dragon skin and gets farther this time but still sees that he cannot do it on his own.  To which Aslan says, “You’ll have to let me undress you.”  Eustace describes the event:

I was so afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back and let him do it.  The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.  And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.  The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.  You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place.  It hurts like billy-oh but it is fun to see it coming away…Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft…then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I had no skin on – and threw me into the water.  It smarted like anything but only for a moment.  After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm.  And then I saw why.  I’d turned into a boy again…After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me…with his paws…in new clothes – the same I’ve got on now, as a matter of fact…It would be nice, and fairly true, to say that ‘from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.’  To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy.  He had relapses.  There were still many days when he could be very tiresome.  But most of those I shall not notice.  The cure had begun.[1]

This story portrays a massive two massive realities present within the Christian life, that of regeneration and sanctification.  By regeneration I mean “that act of God by which the principle of the new life is implanted in man, and the governing disposition of the soul is made holy.”[2] In regeneration God does heart work.  He gives the person a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26-27), circumcises that heart (Deuteronomy 30:6), puts the fear of Himself in the person so they will not depart from Him (Jeremiah 32:39-41), and sees to it that this new spiritual life He began in them will be completed until His return (Philippians 1:6).  Eustace was made a new boy that day by Aslan’s hand, so too each person who puts their faith in Christ becomes a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).  As seen in Eustace’s story, man cannot do this work on his own, God must do it if it’s going to stick.  Also as seen in Eustace’s story, this process of regeneration in man will be painful, because tearing soul out of the grip of the devil’s grasp leaves it mark.  Once regeneration takes place, salvation has begun.  The man who was unrighteous is now right in God’s eyes, and God in response to His own work in the man, begins to turn that man into what He is not, righteous.

This is precisely where the second reality comes into view, sanctification.  By sanctification I mean the “gracious and continuous operation of the Holy Spirit, by which He delivers the justified sinner from the pollution of sin, renews his whole nature in the image of God, and enables him to perform good works.”[3] Just as Eustace felt the horribly painful claws of Aslan tearing into him, so too when Christ conforms us into His image, His pruning is often just as painful.  John 15:1-2 portrays this, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” The pruning of Christ can be very painful, but o’ is it good to be more like Jesus and less like our old selves!

Therefore, I submit that this image is the second greatest piece of Biblical imagery in the entire Narnian mythology.  It is wholly helpful to the reader and not hurtful in the slightest degree, because it shows the Christian reader how they came to be where they are now as Christians – namely that what Aslan did to Eustace, God did to every Christian.  It also shows the unbelieving reader how one begins the process of becoming a Christian namely by laying down your arms and giving all over to God, only to be surprised by the joy of finding out that your “all” was already God’s in the first place.


[1] Lewis, 473-476.

[2] Berkhof, 460.

[3] Berkhof, 532.

The Horse and His Boy: God is Sovereign, God is Good

Though the Horse and His Boy is not a well known work of Lewis’ it is an astounding work of fiction that, in my opinion, applies to all people no matter what age.  Shasta, the main character, has always thought of himself as an unfortunate boy, especially in light of his past events where he seemed to get left out.  The scene I want to address in this book finds Shasta as low as one can be, feeling so sorry for himself and his circumstances, that tears began rolling down his face.  What happened next put this to a direct stop.

Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him.  It was pitch dark and he could see nothing.  And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly feel any footfalls.  What he could hear was breathing.  His invisible companion seemed the breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature.  And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there.  It was a horrible shock.[1]

After going through all sorts of possibilities of what this large Thing could be Shasta could not bear it any longer.  He mustered up the courage to talk to It and ask It what it was.  The Thing replied and told Shasta that It was not a giant or something dead, and asked Shasta to tell It his sorrows.  Without noticing the Thing had not answered the question but redirected the entire conversation, Shasta began to tell the Thing his entire pitiful life story.  After detailing his unfortunate experiences the Thing turned to Shasta and said:

‘I do not call you unfortunate,’ said the Large Voice.  ‘Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?’ said Shasta.  ‘There was only one lion,’ said the Voice.  ‘What on earth do you mean?  I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and –’ ‘There was only one: but he was swift of foot.’ ‘How do you know?’  ‘I was that lion.’  And Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued.  ‘I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis.  I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead.  I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept.  I was the lion who gave the Horses new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time.  And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.’…‘Who are you?’ Shasta asked.  ‘Myself,’ said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again, ‘Myself,’ loud and clear and gay: and then the third time ‘Myself,’ whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it.[2]

Shasta was no longer afraid of the Voice, or the Lion walking beside him.  Rather he felt a terrible gladsome trembling in Its presence.  All of the sudden Shasta realized that as the Lion had been talking a light began to grow around Him, so much so that he had to blink over and over because it was almost as bright as the sun.  Then he turned toward the light and saw it.  There stood a Lion, walking beside him that was taller than his horse, soft and strong at the same time.  He caught a glimpse of His face, and jumped out of his saddle and fell on his face before It, without saying a word.  Their eyes met, and the Lion and all His glory around Him vanished leaving Shasta and his horse alone on the mountain path.  A few days later, Shasta was walking on a hillside far away where all the landscape could be seen around them.  Shasta noticed the path he walked on the other night where the Lion met him and was astonished to behold that the path they walked on was a cliff with jagged edges dropping far beneath on the left side.  Shasta warmly thought to himself, “I was quite safe.  That is why the Lion kept on my left.  He was between me and the edge all the time.”[3]

Thus we see Lewis’ purpose in The Horse and His Boy.  His aim throughout the whole story with almost every character was one and the same: to expand and display the reality present in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good, to those that love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  Aslan, as you have seen, has this kind of encounter with Shasta and many other characters.  All of the characters, even Bree the horse, seem to be down and out when Aslan comes to them with sovereign encouragement one by one.  This story is amazingly helpful because it teaches the reader that those awful circumstances in your own life which you think were the lowest of lows, were precisely the ones that God came to your aid, whether you were aware of Him or not, working them together for your good.  And not only your good, but God worked them the best possible way to get to your best possible good.  Aslan had been shaping, crafting, and carving out Shasta’s life from the very beginning, and when Shasta realized this he was infinitely humbled because such a glorious King such as Aslan was intimately involved with someone like him.  The same is true for all Christian and non-Christian readers.  Thus, I think this story has been, is, and will be used of God to bring many people to Himself throughout the past, present, and future simply because watching Shasta deal with real, hard life, and watching Aslan reveal Himself to Shasta gives the reader a window into God’s heart that is rarely seen in this generation.  Through life, Lewis learned one stunning truth that led his own heart to trust God like no other, namely, that God is sovereign and good.  This is the helpful, not hurtful, message of The Horse and His Boy.


[1] Lewis, 280.

[2] Lewis, 281.

[3] Lewis, 290.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: The Greatest Image of the Whole

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, perhaps the most well known book in the entire Narnia series, offers a multitude of Biblical imagery for its readers to take notice of.  Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy wander into Narnia through an old large wardrobe and eventually find out from Mr. and Mrs. Beaver its cold, snowy dreariness is due to the reign of the evil White Witch.  After losing Edmund to the White Witch through tempting him with Turkish Delight, Peter, Susan, and Lucy train for battle against the dark forces with Aslan at their side.  It is before the battle that we come to one of the greatest (if not the greatest) pieces of Biblical imagery in the whole of the seven volumes of Narnian mythology, the death and resurrection of Aslan.

As I said, Edmund was tempted and led into following the White Witch through her delectable desert Turkish Delight.  Edmund eventually learned that the promises of the White Witch were as empty and cold as her heart was.  Peter, Susan, Lucy, and others broke into the camp of the Witch’s evil minions to rescue Edmund.  They succeed and take Edmund back to their camp.  By this time Edmund is well aware of his own fall into sin and is very happy to be out of the evil Witch’s grasp.  Back in Aslan’s camp, Aslan takes Edmund aside to have a chat with him, and though the reader does not get to hear the details of it, it is clear that Edmund has been forgiven and restored to his previous position as joyful a Son of Adam.  This section of the narrative has much to tell the reader of temptation, sin, the folly of it, and the graciousness of God in our failure and guilt.

Shortly thereafter the White Witch fearfully strolls into Aslan’s camp and claims to still have ownership over Edmund because he is a traitor, and all traitors belong to her.  Aslan invites her into his tent, they talk, and she leaves the camp without Edmund.  We learn in the pages after this that Aslan made peace for Edmund by giving the Witch something in his place.  Night falls and while the whole camp is sleeping Susan and Lucy see Aslan leave camp walking off into the woods.  They follow Aslan and to their shock eventually see that he is going to meet the Witch and her minions at the sacred Stone Table.  They now understand what has happened.  Aslan has offered the Witch payment by giving her himself in return for Edmunds freedom.  Susan and Lucy watch in horror as Aslan begins to be beaten, mocked, scourged, shaved, and eventually killed by the Witch.  All hope seems to be lost.  The hilltop where the sacred Stone Table was broken in two from Aslan’s death is now empty and Susan and Lucy are weeping over the dead body of Aslan, when all of sudden a blinding light shines behind them and Aslan appears in resurrected bodily form alive and well.  He explains to the girls that there was a deeper and stronger magic from the dawn of time[1] that the Witch did not know about.  The three of them run back to the battle, which is already underway and going in favor of the Witch, and defeat the Witch and her minions for good.[2]

The first thing to be said is that Lewis has surely done a masterpiece here in this narrative.  The reader feels triumphant jubilance as the Witch is destroyed by Aslan in the end after what happened to him.  No doubt Lewis is making a very Christian theological statement in this book.  Sacrifice, love, substitutionary atonement, ransom, burial, death, and resurrection are all present within this passage.  Clearly Lewis has written the death of Jesus Christ into the Narnian mythologies.  The question to at hand is; is this a helpful or hurtful image of the death of the Son of God?  To which I answer; yes and no.  Yes this image is extremely helpful because so much in here is so obviously and richly Biblical.  Space and length prohibit me from going into all the Scripture fueling this image about the substitutionary atoning death and sacrifice of the Son of God Jesus Christ on behalf of His people.  Just as the innocent Aslan took the blame for guilty Edmund standing in his place to die for sins he himself did not commit, so too innocent, perfect, and sinless Jesus Christ was treated by God as sin though He never knew sin, taking the fatal blow for the elect that we would know and treasure Him above all things.  In this manner the passage points forward a reality greater than itself ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

But do you notice that the images are not identical?  This is why I must say that in part, the image of Aslan’s death is hurtful to the readers.  Who did Aslan offer himself up to on the Stone Table?  The White Witch.  Who did Jesus offer Himself up to on the cross?  God, not Satan.[3] It is precisely here that Lewis portrays a divergent view of the atonement called the Ranson-to-Satan theory. This theory defines the atonement of Christ as a ransom paid to Satan to pay for the debts mankind had accrued to him.[4] Origen, along with several other early Church fathers held this view, though they each stated it in a different manner.  Anselm’s writings show hints of this view here and there, but Berkhof shows that this view gradually disappeared for its lack of intelligent support soon after.[5]

Therefore, though this is by far the greatest piece of Biblical imagery (probably the one piece which stood out most to Lewis’ critics) in the entire Narnian mythology and therefore incredibly helpful, it is faulty in its understanding of atonement and therefore hurtful to the reader no matter the age.


[1] The reader is left feeling that this stronger magic from the dawn of time is the love with which Aslan loved Edmund and gave himself for his freedom.  Also echoes of the creation event at the dawn in Narnia where Aslan sung Narnia into existence come back to mind from The Magicians Nephew.  Perhaps Aslan was moved by love to create Narnia?

[2] This story is found on Lewis, 172-186.

[3] See Romans 3:21-26, Jesus died for God, not Satan.

[4] Berkhof, 384.

[5] Berkhof, 385.