Thursday, March 22, 2012

Law and Gospel in C. S. Lewis....

Few know of the letters of CS Lewis to Fr. Don Giovanni Calabria, in part because they were in Latin.Although an English translation was published in 1998, they remain in relative obscurity. The full collection is available here: The Latin Letters of CS Lewis  The letters are classic Lewis but speak directly to the secularization of Europe and the failings of Christianity and, though written in the 1950s, seem prescient about the situation we find more than 50 years later.

(Letter 26, Sept 15, 1953)
But God who is the God of mercies, even now has not altogether cast off the human race. We must not despair. And among us are not an inconsiderable number now returning to the faith. For my part, I believe we ought to work not only at spreading the Gospel (that certainly) but also to a certain preparation for the Gospel. It is necessary to recall many to the law of nature before we talk about God. For Christ promises forgiveness of sins, but what is that to those who, since they do not know the law of nature, do not know that they have sinned? Who will take medicine unless he knows he is in the grip of a disease? Moral relativity is the enemy we have to overcome before we tackle atheism. I would almost dare to say, “First let us make the younger generation good pagans, and afterwards let us make them Christians.”

As you read his words, you hear the clear sound of Law and Gospel even though he does not use those exact terms.  But I am intrigued by the last line... "first let us make the younger generation good pagans, and afterwards let us make them Christians."  Perhaps his genius is shining through this sentence even more powerfully than some of his more famous works.  His point is that most of the loss of faith has taken place still under the aura of Christianity and spiritual pursuit.  Because it is cloaked in the guise of liberal Christianity ripped from the Scriptures and divorced from the creedal character of the faith over history, those pagans do not see themselves as pagans.  They believe that this vapid spirituality with its Christian references is a decent substitute for the catholic faith borne of fact and event and prophetic promised fulfilled that those held captive to sin and its darkness and death might be freed by the death and resurrection of the Son of God in our human flesh and blood.  They are not ripe candidates for witness because they believe the differences between the real Christianity and their own Christianity lite is one of perception, choice, and feeling (without a truth objectively true for those who believe and those who do not).

Lewis is absolutely right.  We must make them good pagans before we can make them Christians.  In other words, we must strip away the exterior veneer of Christianity from this paganism being spewed forth by liberal Christianity and the me-centered preaching and teaching that dominates so many successful preachers today and call it what it is.  It is not an authentic version of Christianity paganism sure and true.  Only when we are convinced of our sin and living the lament of its darkness and death can the Spirit speak to us the sweet hope of Christ and His redemptive work in the Gospel.  It is exactly the Law in its raw force that is absent from so much preaching today and repentance has become simply living at ease with the person you are.  Lewis is framing the secularization of the world and its potential redemption precisely in the Lutheran frame of Law and Gospel.  In other words, you do not have to be Lutheran to speak in those terms and to recognize the value of this very Lutheran way of speaking.


Janis Williams said...

Agreed. And how will the truly pagan know there is sin if the Christian-pagans don't?

Rev. Mathew Andersen said...

um, maybe

But while the Law is seldom preached strongly, the Gospel is completely absent in much modern preaching. I listen to a lot of sermons as I prepare mine each week and in what passes for conservative evangelicalism today week will pass before the pastor even mentions the death of Christ as anything other than motivation to commit one's life to God and to live a more fulfilled life.

It is true that the Law that is preached today is not preached in its raw power but the first casualty was the Gospel. It died in most of these churches before the Law.

The liberal churches of our day began their descent when they first moved the atoning work of Christ and His resurrection from the dead from its central place in Christianity. The ELCA did not become what it is today by first proclaiming sinful lifestyles. It began with first denying the inspiration of Scripture and making the doctrine of the resurrection optional.

the conservative evangelical churches of today are following their example, not by formal declaration but by the simple absence of the Gospel in their preaching and teaching.

When the Gospel is absent then the Law must be reduced in power - much as the Pharisees were guilty of doing in Christ's day when they reduced the Law to that which was achievable by man.

To strip away the veneer from the paganism of liberal Christianity we must also maintain the clear proclamation of what they first dismissed - the atoning death and resurrection of Christ.

Only when we continue to proclaim clear Gospel can we ALSO present the Law in its raw power.