The Euphemist

Reflections on Jewish Studies and many other subjects big and little, by a perpetual student who sometimes searches a little too long for just the right word ...

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Christian, truth seeker, husband, son, brother & uncle, Lutheran pastor, musician (cello, etc.), Jewish Studies grad student, intellectual historian, aquarium enthusiast & pet owner, philologist, astronomer, Norwegian-American, Ford pickup driver, buffoon.

Monday, December 19, 2005

C.S. Lewis & understanding one another's spiritual languages

I just found an interesting quote from C.S. Lewis, in this article:

However, Lewis possessed a strong reason for avoiding the subject of differences among Christians. He recognized that "we must admit that the discussion of these disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold. . . . Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son." What wisdom!

An interesting point for bloggers such as I to consider. I'm not sure that I agree 100% with Lewis, because there are times that our duty to the truth will require us to say things that not all Christians will agree with. But we ought to do it with as much love and gentleness as possible, displaying the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23) which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. So I agree over 95% with Lewis. Others are out there watching how Christians treat one another, especially on these web sites readable all over the world. I'm not so sure that I did all that well with the post previous to this one. Perhaps I should delete it. What do you think?

James 1:19,20 says, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires." Many today are crying out and working for greater Christian unity, and I think that's a good pursuit. I wonder, if we only listened more carefully to one another as Christians, if we learned better to understand one another's differing spiritual languages, if we would discover that we're more unified already than we even realize? The above-linked article, in an Eastern Orthodox publication, explores the idea that Lewis was an "anonymous Orthodox" because of affinities with Eastern Orthodox thought. Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, a well-known British Orthodox leader and writer, is quoted as saying that there are "four significant points of convergence between Lewis and Orthodoxy", including that he was "acutely conscious of the hiddenness of God, of the inexhaustible mystery of the Divine." My only comment about that quote (& I'll leave it at that) is that the hiddenness & mystery of the God who has revealed Himself to us in Christ is something familiar, and not foreign, to my experience as a Christian who happens to be a Lutheran. Indeed, the deep, rich celebration of the mystery of the incarnation is part of what makes my college's Christmas concert such a rich experience. I have no resistance to the idea that Lewis had "points of convergence" with Orthodoxy, but I wonder how many of them are really simply "points of convergence" with the deep Christian faith of Christians from all parts of Christendom?

It was interesting to discover, as I read the above-linked article, that though it's on an Orthodox site, it was written by a Lutheran pastor! Maybe that's what I should do - write articles for publications of different types of Christian churches, and see how long it takes for people to figure out that I'm not "one of them." Awhile back my Town Church hosted a group of Seventh-Day Adventists for refreshments after they had held a graveside service at the local cemetery. I was invited to lead a prayer, and afterwards received some hearty thank-yous, both verbally and in a "thank you" note. In part I think it helped that I knew something about Adventist spiritual language, and I also knew better than to assert that the deceased was now "with God in heaven" in a disembodied existence (which isn't part of their belief system), but rather spoke of the hope of the Resurrection, and mostly just touched upon the deep truths of "mere Christianity" which I held in common with them.

The article also mentions that there have been "well-received" suggestions that "the writings of Lewis might provide a basis for Christian concord." I think that's putting it a bit too strongly. I don't think that any mere human writings (as I dare say he would characterize his own writings) could be the basis for Christian concord. At the "risk" of sounding Protestant, let me suggest that the best writings upon which to build Christian concord are the Old and New Testament Scriptures! But what C.S. Lewis shows us in his writings is an example of how to listen carefully to others and understand other spiritual languages. I think this is part of why so many different kinds of Christians see themselves in him - Orthodox think he was Orthodox, Lutherans think he was Lutheran (I've seen articles with both allegations), and so forth. Remember, his "day job" was as a literature professor - language was his thing, and as I've mentioned earlier, among his best books are ones in which he helps the writer to understand the conceptual language of earlier times periods such as the Medieval period.

So, as Christians let's celebrate the unity in Christ that we already have, and when we do have differences, let's discuss them very carefully and lovingly, keeping in mind that there's a non-Christian audience watching how we treat one another. Let me be the first to admit that I fail in this rather often. And let's be quick to listen and learn one another's spiritual languages - more often than we think, we may be saying the same things in different languages.


Anonymous michael h said...

Don't delete the previous post! While the discussion itself to which you link in the post could very well turn non-believers off (it certainly turned this believer off - I walked away thinking, "What a tremendous waste of time!"), your post about it was right on. I also think you have to consider who your audience is. Non-Christians are not going to understand half of what we talk about, even if we are discussing the most basic Bible verses in a simple way, simply because all these things are foreign to them.

As far as your central assertions in this post to which I am commenting, I agree. People want Lewis to endorse whatever agenda or belief system they are on about. A lot of people do the same thing with the early church and even with Jesus. When two people who each endorse a belief system that is in opposition to the other both claim that "this is what Jesus taught," or "this is what the early church taught," both cannot be correct.

12:36 PM  
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