Education as formation isn’t the sort of thing that stays neatly within the walls of the school or college or university. If education is about formation, then we need to be attentive to all the formative work that is happening outside the university: in homes and at the mall; in football stadiums and at Fourth of July parades; in worship and at work.
Perhaps above all, this book is out to raise the stakes of Christian education, which will also mean raising the stakes of Christian worship. The goal is to get us to appreciate what’s at stake in both— nothing less than the formation of radical disciples who desire the kingdom of God. But in order for this stake-raising to take place, we need to become attentive to our environment and our habits, to see them with new eyes, as if for the first time.
For our money is the Lord’s, however we may have gathered it. If we provide for those in need, we shall obtain great plenty. This is why God has allowed you to have more: not for you to waste on prostitutes, drink, or fancy food, expensive clothes, and all the other kinds of indolence, but for you to distribute to those in need…. The rich man is a kind of steward of the money which is owed for distribution to the poor. He is directed to distribute it to his fellow servants who are in want…. For you have obtained more than others have, and you have received it, not to spend on yourself, but to become a good steward for others as well.
What happens in the body of Christ is precisely the opposite of separating the good from the bad, friends from enemies. What happens instead is that the distinction between friends and enemies is overcome, by Christ’s act of taking on the sins of the world. This is perhaps the deepest mystery of the Christian faith, that as Paul says, “God made him become sin who knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The Christian understanding of the whole drama of sin and redemption is based on the fact that God did not simply repudiate sin but took it into Godself, assumed it. For this, God became flesh, took on our vulnerable humanity in order to heal it.
Both the biblical writers and early theologians rejected any attempt to spare God from the full humiliation of being united to a sinful humanity. While maintaining that Christ did not commit sin, early writers found various ways to express the idea that Christ co-experienced sin, passion, vulnerability, and the depths of human revolt against God. As Hans Urs von Balthasar sums up patristic thinking: “the healing of nature demands a descent to that tragic point in man, where sin, as opposition to God, has come into its own. For sin to be overcome from within, it had, in some way or other, to be found ‘within’ Christ.”
This is part of what Paul calls the “self-emptying” of God. God is revealed precisely in the form of extreme concealment, a condemned man tortured to death on a cross. Divinity is not overwhelming power, but is revealed precisely in self-emptying and self-sacrifice. God’s solidarity with sinners is revealed here. What we see when we see Christ is not only the second person of the Trinity who has come to vanquish sin, nor only the perfect man who provides us a model of redeemed humanity to follow. What we see when we see Christ is the entire drama of sin and salvation acted out on the stage of his one person.
Lewis never used the jargon of his day and of his peers, and thereby avoided the corrupting influence of words that were both in fashion and carried with them fashionable ideas. He would not have used the word “text” to mean everything written or spoken, in the current academic fashion, because it imports, partially and quietly and under the table, the deconstructionist idea that all speech is without meaning and has only the meaning the reader decides to give it. Hamlet is not a play, and certainly not great literature; it is a text, as are romance novels, grocery lists, and the obscenities scrawled in men’s rooms in highway rest stops.
Jargon is easily absorbed, especially by academics and clerics, who are exquisitely sensitive to the movements—and to the vocabularies thereof—of the wider world. Why this is, I am not sure; perhaps their vulnerability to jargon reflects a mixture of a pastoral desire to speak the language of the people they are ministering to and an unhealthy desire to fit into the inner ring, inevitably of the enlightened and sophisticated, marked by the use of such jargon.
Lewis did not use such jargon, I think, because he was active in prayer and charity, an astute reader of his culture who was unusually sensitive to its peculiar language, and a courageous man willing to talk in ways of which his colleagues did not approve. The first gave him a clearer vision of himself and the world, the second a better understanding of the temptations he faced (to adopt the fashionable jargon, for example), and the third the willingness to speak as he should to his readers even when this carried a social and personal cost. Jargon marks the speaker as a member of the club, and Lewis was courageous enough not to join when joining meant a break with those to whom he was called to speak.
Keeping the C. S. Lewis Week magic alive
For those who enjoyed Scott Stephens’s visit to Perth for C. S. Lewis Week and want to keep the magic alive, or for those who weren’t able to make it and would like to get amongst it, here are some places to begin.
From the lecture
Scott’s lecture yesterday was based on C. S. Lewis’s book The Abolition of Man. Lewis says that schooling has created “men without chests”, people with no feeling for what’s good and right. More than that, our vision of the world as a bunch of blindly bumping atoms has left us unable to imagine that there’s anything more to life. The book was originally a series of lectures, so it’s brief and accessible - you could knock it over in an afternoon. The Internet Archive has it for free in a number of formats (or Amazon).
To speak into this culture we need to tell better stories, Scott suggested, quoting this brilliant article by Alan Jacobs. He also asked, where is the next C. S. Lewis? Who in our time can help us feel the world reverberating with divine love? Lewis was unique, Scott said, and so we thankfully read his work. Perhaps the better question is, who is the next Flannery O’Connor, who will shout for the hard of hearing, and draw large figures for the almost blind?
Scott briefly discussed this question in this interview, and suggested that the closest writer we have might be the wonderful Marilynne Robinson, whose novels illuminate the sacred nature of ordinary life. You’ve got to read Gilead.
Do you have any other suggestions of Christian novelists, poets, artist or film makers who are telling better stories? I would love to hear them on the Facebook page.
For more about Lewis’s life and work, Scott recommended Alan Jacobs’s introduction The Narnian. And Alister McGrath, who will visit Perth in February next year, has just written a new biography, C. S. Lewis: a life. He also wrote this short piece for Scott’s website, on why Narnia is still so popular fifty years after Lewis’s death.
C. S. Lewis said that it was the Scottish minster and author George Macdonald who “baptised my imagination”. Macdonald’s novels showed Lewis what Christianity feels like, something that the Narnia books have done for so many of us - George Macdonald was C. S. Lewis’s C. S. Lewis. He particularly mentioned the affect of the novels Lilith and Phantases.
From the round tables
At Sunday’s round table, some of the conversation was shaped by Bonhoeffer’s first work (and doctoral thesis) Sanctorum Communio. If haven’t read Bonhoeffer before (why ever not?) his short book on Christian community, Life Together, will give you enough to get on with for the rest of your life.
Scott also recommended Sam Wells’s book God’s Companions.
Discussing the challenges of speaking as a Christian into a journalistic culture where Bulverism passes for argument, Scott referred to his blazing response to some of Richard Dawkins’s most bigoted remarks on Islam.
Relive the memories
Yesterday Scott also spoke briefly about Lewis with ABC local radio (audio here).
And the lecture at UWA was recorded by the ABC. They say it will be broadcast on Radio National either next Tuesday 14 May or next Thursday 16 May. I’ll post an update when we know for sure.
Our Unichurch minister Rory Shiner will give a lecture on C. S. Lewis’s conversion on this Thursday evening 9 May, 6pm in Fox Lecture Theatre (Arts), UWA (Facebook event).
A C. S. Lewis dinner, with readings, tweed, and hearty English fare, to celebrate his life, on Friday 22 November at St George’s College, UWA.
And Alister McGrath visiting Perth in February 2014.
The most interesting question about the Sermon on the Mount is not, Is this really a practical way to live in the world? but rather, Is this really the way the world is? What is “practical” is related to what is real. If the world is a society in which the strong, the independent, the detached, the liberated, and the successful are blessed, then we act accordingly. However, if the world is really a place where God blesses the poor, the hungry, and the persecuted for righteousness’ sake, then we must act in accordance with reality or else appear bafflingly out of step with the way things are.