There Are Things Worse Than Sexual Immorality

Here is the final paragraph from C.S. Lewis’s chapter on Sexual Morality in Mere Christianity. Brackets are mine. All else is his.

“Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity [sexual immorality] as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting people in the wrong, of bossing and patronising and spoiling sport, and backbiting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside of me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self [sins of the flesh], and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.”

The Anguish of a Mass of Unrepented and Unexamined Sins

In the quote below C.S. Lewis is commenting on this phrase from General Confession in the Book of Common Prayer, “But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders.” At Christ Church, we say this confession, but replace “offenders” with “sinners.” The quote is one of the best I have ever read on how to confess our sins and the results of confession. Almost every line, especially of the last paragraph, is worth your careful time. 
“It is essential to use the plain, simple, old-fashioned words that you would use about anyone else.  I mean words like theft, or fornication, or hatred, instead of  ‘I did not mean to be dishonest’ or ‘I was only a boy then’ or ‘I lost my temper. I think that this steady facing of what one does know and bringing it before God, without excuses,  and seriously asking for Forgiveness and Grace, and resolving as far as in one lies to do better, is the only way in which we can ever begin to know the fatal thing which is always there, and preventing us from becoming perfectly just to our wife or husband, or being a better employer or employee.  If this process is gone through, I do not doubt that most of us will come to understand and to share these old words like ‘contrite,’miserable’ and intolerable.’
Does that sound very gloomy? Does Christianity encourage morbid introspection? The alternative is much more morbid. Those who do not think about their own sins make up for it by thinking incessantly about the sins of others.  It is healthier to think of one’s own. It is the reverse of morbid. It is not even, in the long run, very gloomy.  A serious attempt to repent and to really know one’s own sin is in the long run a lightening and relieving process. Of course, there is bound to be a first dismay and often terror and later great pain, yet that is much less in the long run than the anguish of a mass of unrepented and unexamined sins, lurking in the background of our minds. It is the difference between the pain of a tooth about which you should go to the dentist, and the simple straight-forward pain which you know is getting less and less every moment when you have had the tooth out.” 

If You Don’t Have It, You Can’t Give It

I just finished reading a wonderful little essay by C.S. Lewis called, “On the Transmission of Christianity.” It is in God in the Dock. The subject is education, not conversion. Here are a couple of quotes that I enjoyed.

“A society which is predominantly Christian will propagate Christianity through its schools: one which is not, will not. All the ministries of education in the world cannot alter this law.”

“As the teachers are, so they will teach.”

“A majority of them [teachers] failed to hand on Christianity because they had it not: will you blame the eunuch because he gets no children or a stone because it yields no blood?”

“Where the tide flows towards increasing State control, Christianity, with its claims in one way personal and in the other way ecumenical and both ways antithetical to omnicompetent government, must always in fact (though not for a very long time in words) be treated as the enemy.”

“If you make the adults of today Christian, the children of tomorrow will receive a Christian education. What a society has, that, be sure, and nothing else, it will hand on to its young.”

“As long as Christians have children and non Christians do not, one need have no anxiety for the next century.”

Flywheel, Eustace, and Redemption

 

“I made Jesus Lord of my life.”  Jay Austin in Flywheel
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right to my heart.  And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.  The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off…Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt—and there it was lying in the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been.” Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader after Aslan had torn off his dragon skin.
These are just some initial thoughts on metaphor and fiction in the Christian life. I am not criticizing the movies listed. I am just asking do they give me the vision of the Gospel that they claim to?
 
I just finished watching the movie Flywheel.   I also just finished reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.   After watching Flywheel, I asked myself why do I learn more about my redemption and salvation from a fictional story about a British boy who turns into a dragon than I do from a real story, set in a real place with a “real conversion?”  Why does Flywheel seem less real?  I am not talking about production values or acting. I understand that the men who did Flywheel are creating a path for Christian movies. Their subsequent movies have improved greatly in almost every way. And I am grateful for those movies. But even with movies like Fireproof  or Courageous  the point would still stand. Why do movies that preach an overt Christian message seem less realistic, less true to real life, than movies that don’t, but have an underlying Christian message?  Is my perspective too shaped by fiction and metaphor? Have I departed from a biblical view of true religion and conversion because I empathize with Eustace and not with Jay Austin?
I do not believe so.  I think C.S. Lewis understood how to convey the Christian message better than the men who did Flywheel. And that is not because C.S. Lewis was a better writer, but rather because C.S. Lewis understood metaphor. C.S. Lewis understood that painting a picture with words was how God often told us who we are and how we were saved. He wasn’t against propositions. But he understood that propositions need flesh and that flesh was metaphor and symbol and fiction.
We have come define or describe conversion in ways that are foreign to the Bible. We have tried to describe conversion in ways that the Bible on rarely does. Thus when we put a conversion on screen it rings hollow to someone whose mind is filled with biblical imagery.  It may come as a surprise to many Christians, but the Bible does not talk about conversion in terms that most evangelicals use.  Never are we told to “Ask Jesus into our hearts.”  Never are we told to “make Jesus Lord of our lives.” Never are we told to “Accept Jesus.” Never are we told to even kneel down and pray a prayer to be saved.  These pictures which almost completely define evangelical thought on conversion are absent from the Bible.  Even the term “born again,” which is standard fare in evangelical circles is only used in two places. (John 3 and I Peter 1:23) So most evangelicals have come to describe and define conversion by words and phrases that are not even in the Bible. We are supposed to be people of the Bible, but when it comes to conversion we talk in unbiblical language. That is why Jay Austin’s conversion is not as convincing as Eustace’s.
The Bible describes conversion almost entirely by metaphor, not by what the person actually does. The Bible tells us what happens at conversion, not what we are supposed to do at conversion. For example, the Bible does not say that the converts at Ephesus knelt down and asked Jesus into their hearts. It says, “You were dead, but now you are alive.” (Ephesians 2:1)  The converts at Thessalonica became “followers of [Paul, Silvanus and Timothy] and of Jesus.” (I Thess. 1:6) They also turned from idols to worship the living God. (I Thess. 1:9) Christians are described as those who have left darkness and come into the light. (Ephesians 5:8, Colossians 1:13, and I Peter 2:9) Paul describes conversion as reconciliation in Romans 5:10. We were enemies of God. Now we are his friends. In II Corinthians 5:17 Christians are described as a “new creation.”  In the Gospels, Jesus uses pictures like a feast or a son coming home or sheep being rescued or a man taking up his cross or finding a pearl or choosing a narrow way or listening to the words of Christ. We do not talk about conversion the same way the Bible does. There is nothing wrong with using the phrase “born again.” But there is a problem when that becomes the primary way of describing conversion. Why not describe conversion as being brought out of darkness into light or turning from idols to worship God or being raised from the dead?
So when we end up putting conversions on the screen we try to make it real by using real people, really repenting. But we might be better served, especially since movies are visual, to use metaphor to tell the story of a conversion instead of trying to picture a true conversion. C.S. Lewis fires our imagination as he describes the dragon skin being torn off of him. That is me in all my sin. He describes the pain of my sin being torn off. He even describes my pathetic attempts to deal with sin outside of Christ. We need more men like Lewis. They do not have to be as skilled as he is, but they need to have the same understanding of metaphor that he did. We should preach in the pulpit and in our homes and evangelism. But we should use movies and books of fiction to picture the Gospel.  A movie that shows two men who hated each other deeply and then are reconciled is a movie that pictures the Gospel. A long lost son who returns is a picture of the Gospel. A beautiful bride who prepares and longs for her husband is a picture of the Gospel.  A slave being set free is a picture of the Gospel. Even a movie where the ending is bitter can be a picture of man outside of Christ.
So as Christians we must develop a sanctified imagination. We must learn to think and write in pictures and metaphor. We need to make more movies that do not try to preach the Gospel, but instead  give our imagination a true picture of who we are and what happened when Jesus saved us.

Book Review: The Four Loves

The Four Loves (The C.)The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Whatever “it” is, C.S. Lewis had it. I keep coming to his books assuming at some point that I will be let down. So far, that has not happened. “The Four Loves” is an superb examination of how various types of love should work or be lived out. But he also shows those loves in all their twisted ugliness when they become perverted. This is one of the greatest assets of the book. He doesn’t just extol affection, friendship, eros, and charity, he shows how dangerous those loves can be. His second chapter where he discussed good and bad patriotism was invaluable.

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Book Review: Till We Have Faces

Till We Have Faces: A Novel of Cupid and PsycheTill We Have Faces: A Novel of Cupid and Psyche by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A stunning read. I felt like I was immersed in the world and thought of the main character. Lewis drug me into the story and I wanted to know what was going to happen. The second part where the main character realizes her folly is amazing. Some readers might be put off by pagan setting, but Lewis uses that as a foil for a Christian world view. Really, really, good.

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Smoking Jack’s Pipe: God Incognito

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more to remain awake.” C.S. Lewis in Letters to Malcolm.