Throne, Altar, Liberty: Christianity in the Age of Unbelief
This is a blog post which is a review (well, more of a recommendation, but with commentary) of a blog post which is a review of a book. Such things may become problematic! At what point do they become circular, and self-referential? At what point, in contrast, do they stray too far from the thing itself? All I can say in response is, read this post, if you so desire, but then read Gerry T. Neal's excellent essay – and then, above all, read C.S. Lewis's God in the Dock! Don't take our word for it, see for yourself.
Like most (if not all) other writings by "Jack" Lewis, it is well worth the time and effort required. Time, because although the individual essays are fairly short, in the main, the collection itself is fairly lengthy. Effort, because although Lewis is a superbly gifted and engaging writer – at times provocative, at times witty and entertaining, and often both at once – he engages deep subjects, worthy of deep thought, and gives it to them.
As is common with deep thoughts, well-expressed, they often evoke feelings of "But of course! Now, why didn't I think of that?" And although I purchased and read God in the Dock way back in 1998, and have referred to it many times since, Mr. Neal's essay has provided me with some fresh perspectives on Lewis's work – and a few "ah-ha!" moments, as well.
An example is the fact that, in Mr. Neal's words, "Christianity, then, is not just another example of mythology, no different from the stories of the Egyptians, Greeks, Norsemen, and other pagans." Indeed it is not! The earlier myths, admirable, inspiring, and often instructive as some of them were and are, are foreshadowings of the truth, whereas Christianity is the thing itself – what Lewis called "true myth."
"Yes," Mr. Neal writes, "pagan mythologies involved a dying god who comes back to life, a symbol of grain, which is buried, and brings forth new life. There is a huge difference, however, between these stories and the Biblical account of the death and resurrection of Christ. The latter happened within human history. It happened to a specific person, in a specific place, at a specific time, under the nose of the authorities of the Roman Empire."
This is quite correct, and a distinction I have cited on more occasions than one, myself. But Mr. Neal goes on:
Lewis points out that the Gospels do not use the death and resurrection of Christ, the way pagan fertility religions do. The connection between His death and resurrection and the seed being planted is there, but it is not dwelt upon, and in fact is reversed. Christ makes the seed symbolic of Himself, not the other way around.
Bingo! This is it, precisely. The pagan myths are not false, per se; they do express truths – which is not surprising, if you believe, as I do, that the human religious impulse itself comes from God, and tends toward God. And the ancient myths do carry the hope that human beings, like the seed, and like the archetypal dying god, may be reborn after the death of their physical bodies. But those myths, while true in a limited sense, are not true enough; the truths they express are partial, and suggestive, but they do not reveal the full truth, as expressed in the Christian revelation: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life," Jesus asserts. "No man cometh to the Father, but through me." (*)
This does not, or need not, mean that only those who fully accept every jot and tittle of Christian doctrine may be saved; that may be reading more into Jesus' words than he had intended. God can save whomsoever He wants, however He wants, for whatever reason He wants, that is part of being the Sovereign Deity, the sole Creator: He alone can act in and on His creation with full autonomy. But (and this is a very important "but") it is only through the Incarnation of His Divine Word, in historic time, geographic place, and the specific person of Jesus of Nazareth – and the subsequent death and resurrection of that same Jesus the Christ – that salvation is possible at all.
There are other nuggets to be found in Mr. Neal's essay, as there are many in God in the Dock. Please read both, that you, too, may find and enjoy them!
(* One may, of course, believe this claim or not; whether one does or one doesn't is really what makes the difference as to whether one is a Christian or not. As Lewis puts it in another place:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
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