Archive for the ‘Christian Life’ Category

C.S. Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain” (Context)

What I will attempt to do here is offer in several posts a critical review of C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain. This is a paper that I presented at MBTS using a rubric given by Dr. Jerry Johnson, dean of MBTS. So, the posts will follow the sections listed in the paper: context, content, positive evaluation, negative critique, overall reaction, and application. The first given here is Lewis’ context for writing The Problem of Pain.

The context of C.S. Lewis’ work The Problem of Pain is best understood by observing several factors. The first of these revolves around the time of the printing of Lewis’ book. The first printing of this work was released in 1940, which  falls on the heels of the great conflict of WWI and the rising tensions of WWII. What is, or should not be, lost on the reader is the provenance of the author. Lewis is writing from England, which is in the throes of great conflict and suffering. Interestingly enough, he writes his work after the horrific German bombing of London. 

A second factor of contextual importance is the mention of the English publisher Ashley Sampson (1900-1947). Sampson was the owner of Centenary Press and according to Lewis, it was Sampson who “suggested to me to write this book…” [1] During the same year that The Problem of Pain was published, Mr. Sampson also published a work titled The War and Christian Ethics. He was obviously a great admirer of Lewis as is revealed by his desire to have one of Lewis’ sermons, given at Oxford, to be published in a work titled, Famous English Sermons. [2]

A final contributing factor to Lewis’ context is his personal life experiences. He did not have what one would call a “joyous” childhood. His mother died when he was very young and in his own words from his autobiography Surprised by Joy he states the effect that this had upon him: “With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life.”[3] Lewis’ father never recovered from this tragic event, leading to a strained and difficult relationship between the two. Even in his early school years, C.S. Lewis met with great difficulty at the hands of a school master named Oldie, who displayed a parallel with his own father’s reaction to grief, “he reacted to bereavement by becoming more violent than before…”[4] Later, in the trenches of WWI, C.S. Lewis would be injured and for the rest of his life deal with the pain of a leg which never fully healed. Finally, Lewis experienced tragedy when his own wife was taken from him prematurely, leading him to write a second work after this one titled, A Grief Observed. 

In reference to the reasons given above, one can confidently say that C.S. Lewis was no stranger to pain and suffering. When these are taken together and summed up, what becomes clear is that Sampson’s choice of Lewis combined with the experiences and realities of suffering in his own life all become significant contributing factors to Lewis’ context and purpose for writing The Problem of Pain.

                [1] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. (Centenary Press: London, 1940), vii.

                [2] Bruce L. Edwards, An Examined Life: C.S. Lewis; Life, Works, and Legacy (Preager Publishers: Westport, CT, 2007), 174.

                [3] C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, in The Beloved Works of C.S. Lewis. (Grand Rapids: Family Christian Press, 1986), 13.

                [4] Lewis, 19.

The Problem of Pain

The Problem of PainRecently, I completed a book review on C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain. One of the questions which Lewis poses is worthwhile to offer up for discussion. He states that the real question is not why do people suffer, but why do some people not suffer? There is no satisfactory answer given by Lewis. He does take a swipe at answering, but simply says that this is due to divine omnipotence. Maybe so, but certainly it would appear that this may be the one of the most important philosophical questions he raises. It deserves to be teased out and thought about for us as Christians. So, think about this question and then I would love to hear your response.

Making the Leap

FrogDo you sometimes feel like life has you trapped in a bucket filled with dirt? The sides of the bucket are so high that there is no possible way you could ever get out? What do you do? You leap and maybe, just maybe, catch the edge of the bucket. Then, after all the effort, all you do is sit there. Freedom is just one more leap away, yet you are not able to bring yourself to follow through and jump.

The picture was taken by my children after they had caught a frog in the yard. They set him up a great environment in the bucket. He had dirt, grass, and even a rock to sit on. The only items missing were the ones that he needed the most, food and water. So, in desperation he jumped and landed on the edge. As I looked out of the window, I caught site of him suspended on the edge between captivity and freedom. I thought to myself, “Either he is enjoying his new found position (translation: how in the world did I ever get up here!),” or “I am unsure if I can make it from the bucket to the ground.” Okay, I realize he is just a frog, but stay with me for a moment.

How many times do we allow ourselves to be captured by people or situations that seem more powerful than we are? How often do we prefer to stay in the bucket rather than enjoy our freedom? If Jesus Christ has set us free, and He has, then why do we suspend ourselves between captivity and freedom? Many times, we are content to just perch on the edge, legs in the bucket and noses tasting the freedom of the wide open spaces. Does life have to be this way? The simple answer is no. Wisdom comes when we understand why Jesus has given us freedom.

Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as slaves of God. – 1 Peter 2:16

The ironic nature of our freedom in Christ is that we have been set free, if you will, from “the bucket” not so that we may abuse our freedom, but rather so that we might use our freedom to submit to a new Master. If you are living with one leg in the bucket, then you are not truly free. Make the leap and never look back. Only then will you find true freedom.

Taking Risks

Here is a great video from Francis Chan that illustrates how we are to take risks for the sake of the gospel. He does a great job explaining visually what most people do when it comes to living the Christian life. Take a look…

Once Again, Not God’s Best…

While perusing the morning news this morning, I came across on article about Joel Osteen’s recent appearance on Larry King Live. As a conservative evangelical pastor, the title of the piece, “Osteens: ‘God’s best is a male and a female‘” caught my eye. In the words of Paul Harvey, I had to know the “rest of the story.” The heart of the interview is about Larry King pressing them on the issue of how marriage should be defined. Certainly, this topic is one that presses upon us as evangelicals for an answer considering recent rulings in Massachusetts, Iowa, and Vermont.  

Since Joel Osteen considers himself an evangelical and apparently CNN considers him the only evangelical who deserves the spotlight, let us examine his response. Osteen says in the interview, “I’d love to see it [marriage] stay between a male and a female, not knocking anybody else.” Later he comments, “I think that, again, it’s best for a male and a female. I’m not saying that gay people aren’t good people…” What is wrong with his comments from an evangelical perspective? On the surface, they appear to be appropriate and he seems to be clear about where he stands. But, let us consider that once again, Osteen does not go far enough. At best, his comments are politically and culturally compromising rather than Biblically appropriate. As a side note, the main reason the Osteens were on LKL was to promote the Hope for Today Bible, a paraphrase not a translation of the word of God accompanied by study notes they themselves contributed. So, if Osteen is a man who stands on God’s word and is promoting God’s word, do his comments match up with God’s word? The answer is no. Here is why.

The Bible makes it perfectly clear that marriage is exclusively between a male and a female. I would offer, for the sake of brevity, the following passages as an example: Genesis 2:18-25; Matthew 19:4-6; Ephesians 5:22-33. According to these Scriptures, Osteen’s logic is flawed. Marriage between a male and female is not God’s best plan, it is God’s only plan. When Joel uses this well-known catch phrase what he is really offering is a pluralistic, culturally relevant olive branch to those who vehemently disagree with the word of God. If marriage between a man and a woman is simply just “God’s best,” then what follows is an open door for someone to say, “We will settle for less than God’s best because God is okay with such a compromise.”  The exculvisity of marriage must never be compromised or watered down either from the pulpit, in print, or in front of the pundits. Secondly, Osteen’s argument about “not knocking anyone else… ” and him “not saying gay people aren’t good people…” is flawed as well. Once again, the word of God makes it clear that there are no good people in the world. We are sinners who have fallen short of the glory of God. Romans 3:10 says, “there is none righteous, not even one.” God’s word makes it clear as well that homosexuality is a sin, 1 Cor. 6:9-11. Now,  just to be clear and so that I am not misunderstood, the Bible also says that coveting, pride, gluttony, drunkenness, adultery, lying, and hatred are all sins as well.

Here is the problem with Joel’s comments. They do not go far enough. When given an opportunity to take a stand against sin, by all means take a stand. Some might say from the argument that I just made that no one is qualified to marry or adopt children because we are sinners. That is not what I am saying at all.  I am saying that to justify a person’s immoral behavior by calling them “a good person” is Biblically incorrect and ultimately a tacit denial of the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. My advice to Joel Osteen? Preach the gospel. Talk about sin. Encourage repentance. Study the word. Maybe then he would go far enough and be one of God’s best.

Evangelical Collapse? No

Here is a link to an article written by Todd Rhoades at Monday Morning Insight. Todd lays out the main points of a controversial column written by Michael Spencer (a.ka. The Internet Monk). Spencer’s article has received a lot of attention on the blogs and is not worth republishing here, although, Todd does give a link if you would like to read further. Anyway, the discussion is one that is worth having, even if I have made up my mind that the answer is “no.” Check it out.

Indiana Jones and Spiritual Warfare

I ran across a great article this morning that I think you might like. Often, we do try to fight our spiritual battles with the wrong weapons, thereby becoming frustrated and defeated when in fact we are “more than conquerors.” Here is a great reminder of this truth. Enjoy!

Sanctification, Concrete Imprints, and Lexical Gymnastics

Sanctification is not exactly the easiest concept for Christians to wrap their minds around. Debate rages and views are espoused, as is evident by the amount of books that are presently written or being written today on the subject. Visit a Christian bookstore and you will find a majority of the books on the shelf deal either directly or indirectly with the issue of sanctification. We are to become Wild at Heart, we are to Break Free, and for some strange reasons we are even told that we must Get Out of That Pit. I thought I was already rescued from the pit? Confusion is abounding about sanctification and just how Christians appropriate it. Christians certainly appear to want to become “better” Christians or at least are striving to become “better,” that is, since the market for such literature appears to be making Lifeway’s bottom-line healthy. Please don’t get me wrong, I love Lifeway, they are not at fault, we are. A major component of the reason that Christians struggle with the issue of sanctification is that they have not truly sought to understand the Biblical view of sanctification.

One of the problems that exists with beginning a discussion about sanctification is how one defines the terms associated with it. When I was a young boy I assisted my dad in pouring a new driveway. When I say we labored, I mean we labored. Part of the challenge of pouring our driveway was that we lived on a hill. Not just any old hill, but a hill that would make a Tour de France rider get off his bike and start pushing. There was not only tremendous effort, but there was also tremendous exactness. My reward for the effort I exerted alongside my dad? I was allowed to place the imprint of my hands and my name in the wet concrete, a permanent reminder of my accomplishment and growth as a driveway artist. Many Christians approach sanctification in this way. They define sanctification with terms like progress, exactness, effort. And I do believe that many Christians hope that by defining sanctification with such terms that at some point, God the Father will tap them on the shoulder and point to the corner of the driveway for them to concretize their effort. Several of the views that might be grouped under this view of sanctification are the Wesleyan, Pentecostal, and Contemplative. The Reformed view flirts with this somewhat, while the Lutheran view is content to stand back and admire the Father’s work. Herein lies the problem with defining the terms associated with sanctification, no major view has a monopoly on such definitions.

Here is what I mean. Each view appears to have to do some lexical gymnastics with the terms of sanctification in order to allow such terms to fit perfectly with their theological understanding of sanctification. As believers we should not have to look at the definitional “degree of difficulty” in order to determine which view is precisely right. Everyone eventually falls off of the balance beam at some point. Each writer desires to define progress in the Christian life, when this may be a faulty starting point in the discussion about sanctification. I am not at all convinced that sanctification can or even should be discussed in a linear, gnomically concrete manner. What may be more appropriate to define is what is meant by growth in the Christian life. Less lexical pommel horse routines may need to be attempted if growth is focused on, rather than progress. Growth certainly appears to be addressed in the pages of the New Testament much more than progress. Come with me back to the driveway illustration for a moment. I failed to mention above that I was only five years old at the time I helped my dad pour the driveway. My effort in contributing to the artistry of the driveway was negligible, if any at all. One factor, though, that has never changed is the imprint of my hands and my name. Permanence is a wonderful concept to dwell upon, isn’t it? Sanctification may be more about the fact that when I became a child of God my name was inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life without any effort on my part to pick up a pen. Much of my appreciation of this fact is due to the growth I have experienced in direct relation to this fact. No amount of lexical gymnastics will get me there, only my growth in appreciation of what has already been accomplished on my behalf.

Evangelicals Said What?

A recent study by the Pew Forum Group revealed that, “…57% of Americans agree with the statement that ‘many religions – not just their own – can lead to eternal life.'” When I first read this statement I admit that I was concerned for a couple of reasons. First, I have never been one to place much confidence in polls, as there is often bias about what questions are asked and how they are asked, more on this later, and secondly I am a bit skeptical about the blanket term ‘evangelical’ that is often thrown around without adequate explanation of just who might be invited to the evangelical family reunion. What I discovered is that my skepticism may possibly be right on both points. There is a great article posted on Micah Fries blog which details this study and the problems that it has raised through a press release from Chris Turner, Media Relations Manager for Lifeway Research. I encourage you to run over and read it and then let me know what you think…