Thursday, August 25, 2011

Conversation on Lewis

This is the transcript of a conversation I had with one of my Twitter followers. It started with me retweeting a quote from a favorite author of mine, C.S. Lewis.

Ted: Christianity if false is of no importance & if true is of infinite importance but it can't be moderately important-CSLewis

R: Lewis is wrong you know. Even if you find the "Christian" in Christianity false, it's still of infinite importance.

Normally, I wouldn’t have started a discussion based on a comment like that. I would have just let it go. But my pastor had just given a talk about having what he called ‘push back’ against the things that oppose us. It was time to put that teaching into action.

Ted: not sure I understand what you are getting at. I think the emphasis is in too many treating it like its moderately important. Christianity doesn't fit into our lives, it takes over our lives.

R: it doesn't have to. You can respect and adhere to the teachings of Christ and not see him as your savior. Good people of other religions (or no religion for that matter) can tell you they respect his word. And in that sense Christianity as a religion may be false to them, but it is still of significant importance.

Ted: Lewis himself answered you: "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 a 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."
Then Lewis adds: "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 up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

or as was said by Kenneth Scott Latourette, historian of Christianity at Yale University: "It is not His teachings which make Jesus so remarkable, although these would be enough to give Him distinction. It is a combination of the teachings with the man Himself. The two cannot be separated."
Jesus claimed to be God. He didn't leave any other option open. His claim must be either true or false, so it is something that should be given serious consideration."

Ted: it comes down to the very question Jesus asked his disciples (recorded in Matt 16:15) "But who do you say that I am?"

R: and that's not a flawed expectation? People can't be good or respectful of Jesus unless they choose to accept him as their lord and savior? You just pointed out why so many people fear Christianity. When the right cries of a war on Christian values, know it is because they chose to demand unconditional surrender and and inability to respect the views of other religions. A dangerous perspective to say the least when others might otherwise respect you and your beliefs. Lewis may have made a reasonable argument, but it doesn't make it right, at least not to someone who tolerates those who might disagree.

Ted: just so I'm clear in my response, tell me what 'respect' means to you in this context.

R: I mean that the guy next door can't admire how you live you're life and not agree with you on religion? I mean the guy next door can't read the bible not as gospel but as a part of a different view of society and choose to follow its teachings in context and that not be enough? When I say respect, I'm talking about both tolerance and a genuine interest in sharing your belief in serving a grander good. Many religions are not that different and yet we bicker on the details despite the messages being the same. Admiring your faith and how you exhibit it but deciding another is for him should be enough to prove Christianity can be seen as false (to him) yet important.

Ted: of course he can admire my life and not agree with me (I hope he does admire how I live my life and it gives me an opportunity to talk to him one day about why I live the way I do.) Of course he can read the Bible and not accept its message (many do, some even within the church.) But Christianity isn't about serving a grander good. It's about establishing a relationship with Jesus Christ himself.

Christianity can coexist and be tolerant with other belief systems. A key component of Christ's message was giving people the permission to reject him. But it will never fit into the pluralistic philosophy you described. Christianity makes two claims, and as far as I know it is the only religion to make them. That it's main guy (Jesus) was dead and rose again and that He and He alone is God and the only way to God. That's why it's so pivotal that its claims be true or not. If its claims are true, it is the only way to God and is of the utmost importance. If its claims are not true, then Jesus lied. While we can appreciate his moral teachings, appreciating the moral teachings of a pathological liar seems a little odd, and I would say that as a belief system it would have much importance.

R: it took me a while to think about this, but...If I concede that you are correct, YOU are the one telling those who don't believe what you believe must conclude YOUR savior must be a madman or a liar. Islam and other religions don't make that claim about Christ, but Lewis et al insist that must be the belief of non-believers. He et al have made victimized themselves and their savior while others refuse to do so. There is a terrible danger in such actions.

Ted: Yes, it is Christianity that recognizes this issue with Jesus, because Jesus himself leaves us no other logical conclusions. What other option is there? We have a man here who has laid claim to being God. If that claim be false, what else can we call him? It's not dangerous, or victimizing Jesus. It's acknowledging what He said while He was here on earth. What I find so odd is that people of other belief systems are so willing to ignore the very claims Jesus made about himself.

And that was the end of the conversation. It was never my intention to try to win an argument. I wanted to learn something from someone who held a different belief than me, and I hoped to teach him a bit more about my beliefs. That is the essence of an exchange of ideas. It is rare to find someone else, especially on the interwebs with the same goal.

I do hope that this conversation may lead to others and that through my example, and my words, I can be an force that attracts people to Christ.

In retrospect, I regret not getting more into a discussion about 'good' people of other beliefs or religions. This is one of the pervasive myths I encounter as a follower of Christ. People have this idea that when they get to the end, all their 'good' will be weighed against all their 'bad' and if the 'good' comes out on top, they will be in heaven. It's so foreign to what Jesus taught while he was here on earth.

The teachings of Christ reveal that no person is good. It's like we are trying to jump from San Diego to Hawaii. Ain't nobody is going to make it. The sad thing is that Christians have decided to beat up on other people because they jumped a little farther. We have disobeyed Christ's own teachings to us about judging our fellow man, and done much harm. It's about to the point where I wish I could claim another word for what I believe. In my profile, I call myself a follower of Christ, which I like better than Christian.

(I also wanted to comment on the quote my twitter follower gave: “When the right cries of a war on Christian values…”  The right is something all together separate from Christianity. Some of my best Christian friends lean considerably left.)


Kinzlayer said...

The black and white argument that if we believe in Jesus' words/moral teachings then we MUST believe that he is GOD is naive. I will akin his or whoever introduction of his moral teaching as an adult teaching a child. As a child maybe you have to either believe that the adult is supreme or what they taught you is false however why can't we be a teenager, see the moral teachings, question how and why we should follow it and then except it or reject it but not deify someone or something to validate the teaching.

Ted said...

We don't deify Christ to validate his teaching, we deify him based on who He is.

You can believe his moral teachings all you like, but you can not believe His words without deifying him because by His words He stated that He is God.

You are free to reject that, but if you do, it follows that you think him a liar when He claimed He was God. You may wish to follow the moral teachings of someone you proclaim is a pathological liar, but I will find that stance a bit odd.

Bill D said...

You hit on one of the profound truths about Christ in your post, one that it took me a long time to understand. God made us with complete and total free will, he will not force anyone to do or believe anything. Along with this freedom comes the ability to choose to walk away from him. Everyone is free to listen to his moral teachings and make their own decision, but if you do not accept him as your savior you will go to hell. It doesn't matter how much "good" you do, it only matters if you accept Christ as your savior. God does not want anyone to perish, but he will not force you to believe.

Ted said...

Thanks, Bill. I feel like sometimes I've portrayed Christ as more insecure than He was or is. He's not insecure at all, He's confident.

But it's more than just an issue of heaven and hell. It's also about how we live today, on earth that matters.

Bill D said...

If we believe in Christ as our savior, we also allow him to live in us and through us. In that case we will surely live "good" lives here on Earth. Unfortunately we are still human and we will stumble, but overall his glory will shine through!