22 October 2009

Schaeffer-"True Spirituality"; Lewis-"Screwtape Letters"

Neither Francis Schaeffer nor C.S. Lewis bowed to the defeatist and impoverished constricting gospel, nor were they content to do the minimum: being “spiritual” as a vehicle for their own selfishness. They evidently kissed the feet of the Glorious Risen Christ and felt (and expressed) the surge of the Spirit of Christ in their lives. Their readings profoundly show the fullness of their understanding of who this Jesus is.

On Practical Theology - Bouncing between “Type 1” and “Type 2” Errors:
Do you feel like you are often off course, spiritually? Schaeffer’s book True Spirituality and C.S. Lewis’ book Screwtape Letters served as a reminder to me of how I tend to swing back and forth, and the how I need to heed that in my over-correcting, I often fall off track, but in the other direction!
Both authors walk that fine line - that of the connection between man, his mind and God, His Creator and Lover of His Soul.
So let’s see what happens when it comes to our attention that we’ve veered off course-that our lives are not lived in concert with His and we need to make corrections.
We usually strike out in one of two directions, both are erroneous, I'll label one a “type 1 error” and the other a “type 2 error.”
Type 1 Error:
Upon realizing that we’ve fallen into a trap, we “muscle” our course, to reverse direction and rip ourselves away from tentacles that surround us. All very right-intentioned, we withdraw from any way of dealing with the real world and choose rather to build a wall around us. Looking to hunker down in a mental bunker, and only lobbing verbal grenades out now and then. So we grapple with Principles, try to find the point of our disobedience and end up clinging to a Spartan - ascetic - systematic ‘theology.’ We are looking towards building a better Future today, one brick at a time: yet we have no certainty that there will be a future. We have reached up with our understanding and are still uncomprehending what we are doing when we turn an infinite God into that which we can easily manage. We divorce ourselves from the pain of growth and experience of failure to prove that we can be “successful” (our definition). Yet what have we really done but created nothing but an idol? And what it is this form of Christianity but a kind of snobbery and intellectualism, and bears no resemblance to vital Christianity. Is that the attraction in Jesus Christ? No!

As to the “Type 2 Error:” we move to the opposite end of the spectrum and look to restore the good feelings we had when the day was golden and we ‘felt’ God’s blessing on us. In these, we are in error because we are trying to replicate a time in the past and a feeling in the past-none of which is available to us today. To do this we resort to some extraordinary means. We actually mimic the world around us-forgetting that we have a Savior-who said he would be with us, that he would never leave us or forsake us, and that the Comforter, the Helper is here for us. We flail and wail and feel such self-pity about our condition we cannot think these thoughts. We have either forgotten or never had an understanding that behind those Words of Jesus is real Meaning. What He said, He meant. In these cases we have heard but not listened. Like children reacting to a dark bedroom, we throw the covers over our heads, seeking light. Somehow the control of covering ourselves, bringing a double darkness, is brings its own calm: for we have complete control over those blankets. This is when we are sick or afraid or worried or fearful and our instant reaction is not to turn to God, to ask our friend or cleric for prayer, but look to therapeutic “Christianity” for our solution. Somehow the link between familiarity of the world cheers us…the bright lights of the tree guarantee us that Santa will come to our house. The bright lights of worldly therapy give us a small comfort, serving up a bit of false piety together with great pieces of emotion. We have our “Jesus AND..X” (quite wrong! how could the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, need an additive?)
If we get Good Feeling and Hope in Tomorrow as warm twins snuggling up next to us, it will not matter so much if they are empty of any Life. It is more important at the moment that we feel and believe they have life.
The problem with these practical errors in Christian living is that neither brings us into the middle of the river where the course is strongest, where the Spirit of Christ works most effectually in us.

Lewis and Schaeffer incisively show or illuminate the Type 1 and Type 2 Errors for what they are. Both errors have the right intentions, but the wrong means of restoration.
Lewis illustrates accurately how jargon has replaced reason and thought and how staying off the mark keeps the entire Christian life somehow shrouded in mystery of emotion-specifically, one’s own emotions.
Schaeffer challenges the thought that our Christian life is mechanistic and therefore something that we can carve out, much like handing a whittler a piece of wood and a knife. Schaeffer is deeply concerned with bringing back the humanness (and in some way, the humble) in human relationships. While many Christian authors stress this, Schaeffer’s’ uniquely approaches relationships by putting the stress on communication between personalities. In his terms, a church is showing forth how God is when they are in communication with each other. What Schaeffer means by this, I think is a high standard: he means people have to see their individual worth and weakness and created beauty in God’s eyes to be able to commune with other personalities. His critique of the Humanists is that they stress loving man with a capital “M” - “man as an idea - but forget about the individual. Christianity is the opposite.” (Lewis hits this point when he has Screwtape coach Wormwood on loving his brother in the church, as long as he can be held at an arm’s length.)
Then Schaeffer moves into our comfort zone when he urges us to make communication, confession, humility “moment by moment” rather than waiting for the big explosions. Schaeffer makes this claim after he points out the blunt truth of who we really can be when we are living life in Christ. He says, “If I am living in real relationship with the Trinity, my human relationships get more important in one way, because I see the real value of man, but less important in another way because I do not need to be God in these relationships any longer.”
Schaeffer pushes further with this point about being transparent and honest (see below). When I read it, I lost touch with the point in succeeding paragraphs and had to wend my way back to his origin.
Schaeffer began his point with God-God ‘hangs between the “internal” (unseen) and “external” (seen or manipulative things). And God the Father has set His Son not only as an example, but also at the center of all history. Schaeffer’s thrust regarding communication is that honesty, and openness between souls - God’s creations - happens only when we take the responsibility of living as Jesus did: honest and open before both God and man.
“..when you and I have some concept of really living under the blood of the Lord Jesus Chrsi, our confession to God and to man must be as open as Christ’s crucifixion was open on that hill, before the eyes of man. We have to be willing for he shame, as well as the pain, in an open place. It is not enough merely to agreen with the principle as we deal with these personal relationships; we must put it into practice. Only in this way can we give a demonstration to a watching world, in a way that they can understand, that we livin in a personal universe, and that personal relationships are valid and important. Only thus can we show that we are bought by the Lord Jesus Christ not just in theory, but in practice, and that there can be substantial healing of the separation between men in the present life, and not just when we get on the other side of death. And if the other man is not a Christian that makes no difference. The demonstration and reality is to be on our part, not his.”
[Phil 1:15-18 Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.]
“…in a psychologically-oriented day (like ours), people may try to explain away individual results in a Christian life, but love and communication between Christians add a human dimension, which…is not easily explained away.”
I haven’t the space or time to touch on the topic of marriage and then of children (family), I would add his unique definition of love. I would highlight another unique point - and not very theological-sounding - Schaffer makes. He stresses the value of humans, communication and personality. When he finally defines love, he gives it the greatest, most comprehensive definition in this book-and also one of the more mystical: he calls love the “interplay of the whole personality.” It would have been beneficial for me if he had expanded his point on the damage done when modern man cuts off of the body from the personality, divorcing the body (which expresses personality) from the communication of the personality. I say this because often counterpoint, clarifies or reveals a definition (such as his definition of love), and it may have fit in well here.
Later he criticizes those who would say we are only animals or machines. “The personal is needed. The thing must be seen as a whole, a unity…with the reality of communication and love.” (Speaking of marriage).
While Schaeffer does not say it outright, he hints that communication has fits and starts: that it is, like humans, fallible. There will be successes and pleasures and failures and misunderstandings. He is much less concerned with measuring how smoothly we are sailing along and grading us on that, and much more concerned with our transparency.
I think this is linked back at an earlier section in the book where he says that “ideas are the stock of the thought-world.” Schaeffer cannot stress too much how important thoughts are: more important than causes, efforts and organizations. He highlights this with an example of the effect of one persons’ thought, one decision on eternity. It is the decision that Adam and Eve made jointly. They had complete and total choice - Schaffer points out that they had no prior conditioning - and they still chose wrongly. And, the result of their idea, their choice, of their first sin was evil-evil entered the world.
And now though we live consequences of their folly, we also live with the blessing of Jesus’ broken body and shed blood for our wholeness and forgiveness, in addition to the empowerment through the Holy Spirit as Counselor, Comforter and Helper.

The great intersection of Schaeffer and Lewis is captured when Schaeffer says,” The spiritual battle, the loss or the victory, is always in the thought-world.” This indeed is where Screwtape spends most of his labors-trying to manipulate the thought-world of the Patient. He counsels Wormwood on strategies to get the Patient” focus off of God and on to something else-preferably something heroic, where the Patient will be receiving positive reinforcement from the world around him on his behaviors, and he will be less likely to awaken to his error and change his course. Reading the book for the 5th time, it is clearer to me than before that the minutia of life is where we tend to lose our direction. While that may be typical, it certainly doesn’t need to stay habitual. Screwtape’s efforts also seem to be trying to create a cycle wherein the sense of defeat is on the horizon. This, too, is in the thought-world.

In reality, Jesus Christ has conquered all enemies, we just get wounded. Rather than crawling off the battlefield in shame and bleeding to death (as Wormwood would like), Jesus has the “medic” readily available to us-and we will be healed. No man on a battlefield is ashamed of his scars, but the Enemy will certainly use this psychological warfare if he possibly can.
  • Charity Johnson