Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tao is the Way, the Truth, the Life? Part I

tao2In many respects, the writings of C.S. Lewis have served as a bridge to many fields of thought, including: 1. Roman Catholicism (see C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church by Joseph Pearce), 2. the Emergent Church movement (see Altar to an Unknown Love), and, to some extent, the eastern philosophy of Tao. All of these influences are deeply dangerous and should remind the reader that not all that glitters is gold in the Land of C.S. Lewis. Personally, I am amazed at how popular C.S. Lewis is, and continues to be, among professing Evangelicals. When I speak to others about Lewis, I find that very few know much about his core beliefs. It would appear to me that many are familiar with a few of his fictional works, but know precious little about his core convictions and teachings. For the sake of brevity and simplicity in this post, let me offer the following summary of Lewis' views:

1. Lewis had a strong deference towards fantasy and philosophical logic over Scripture.

2. He held to a purgatorial view of Hell which had the potential of reconciling sinners to God, postmortem.

3. He denied scriptural inerrancy.

4. He saw mankind as being innately good, and only partially depraved.

5. He held to a view of absolute human free will which clearly diminished God's freedom and sovereignty.

6. He had a view of the atonement that denied Christ's penal substitution.

Concerning his denial of scriptural inerrancy, the impact that this had on his writing is sadly ignored by many who should know better. Perhaps the greatest example of this is found within Lewis' highly celebrated work, The Abolition of Man (1943), which heralds the primacy of the Eastern philosophy of Tao: a philosophy of natural law which serves as the core form of thinking within Taoism, Chinese Buddhism, and Confucianism. Lewis believed that all of the natural law can be summed up in the principles of the Tao, and that such a philosophy should serve as a core standard for life and education. Collectively, Lewis had a high regard for the “wisdom” of all world tao2earthreligions, but chose to summarize all such philosophy within the Tao:

"The Chinese also speak of a great thing (the greatest thing) called the Tao. It is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road. It is the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time. It is also the Way which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar."

"This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments...There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgment of value in the history of the world."[1]

Lewis' theorem of the Tao's centrality as the way of life is repeated throughout The Abolition of Man. His version of the Tao was deeply eclectic, and was therefore an amalgam of various musings from all quadrants of the philosophical and religious world. For myself, I find it difficult to imagine a converted man speaking of the centrality of this “Tao,” especially within a chapter entitled: The Way. Uniquely, it was Christ who declared Himself to be the way, the truth, and the Life such that no man can come to the Father but through Him.[2] But Lewis shows no hesitation when throwing biblical texts into the same grab-bag of secular and Eastern-mystic expressions of "wisdom" in his effort to construct a body of knowledge that he calls the Tao. Believing himself to be a sound arbiter of such universal "wisdom," Lewis concludes The Abolition of Man with an appendix filled with various expressions of "wisdom." This he does in an effort to reveal the universality of the natural law in all lands and cultures. The problematic nature of his procedure should be evident, especially since Lewis fails to herald the primacy of Scripture as his infallible standard of judgment overall. Ultimately, mankind’s perception of the natural law cannot serve as a substitute for, or equal competitor to, divine revelation. A clock that is broken and therefore happens to be correct only twice daily is not made a reliable instrument thereby. For a professing believer to direct others to anything other than the Scriptures reveals a disturbing trend in thinking, especially since it elevates the broken cisterns of this world in a way that endangers others. Lewis' personal use of the Tao only adds to the confusion of his pedagogy. Consider the following passage from The Abolition of Man, Chapter 2 - The Way:

"I myself do not enjoy the society of small children: because I speak from within the Tao I recognize this as a defect in myself-just as a man may have to recognize that he is tone deaf or colour blind."

Coming from a man who made his bread and butter from writing children's fiction, a statement such as this is quite fascinating by itself. However, in relation to our point at hand, it is quite disturbing to find Lewis scrutinizing his indifference towards children, not from the standard of Scripture, but “from within the Tao.” In his Appendix (4. Duties to Children and Posterity), Lewis supplies a handful of references from Epictetus, Juvenal, Cicero, as well as an Ancient Chinese proverb - all of which speak about the value and importance of children; but as expected, none of them can compare to this Gospel wisdom:

Matthew 19:14: But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (italics mine)

While I can thank Lewis for his honesty regarding his struggle over indifference towards children, I can offer no sympathy to one who finds his aid through Epictetus, Juvenal, Cicero, and a Chinese proverb - even a very old one - over and above the comfort and consolation of Jesus Christ. What Lewis needed in view of his admitted weakness is the same thing that anyone else needs: the eternal wisdom of Christ. The indifference that the disciples suffered from was that which required a reminder concerning the centrality, not of the Tao, but of the Gospel of Christ's kingdom: "for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." It is the Gospel call of Jesus Christ, not the Tao, that is the "reality beyond all predicates," and it is shameful to suggest otherwise. But as a man who thought so little of the standard of Holy Writ, it should not be surprising that the mere drivel of Epictetus, Juvenal, Cicero, and various Taoist proverbs should serve as suitable substitutes for the matchless and precious words of Christ. It pains me to say it, but this was the sad reality for that inconsolable soul - C.S. Lewis.

In the next post, we will examine one of Lewis' citations of Epictetus in order to consider the manner in which Lewis loosely interpreted and used his sources when constructing his own understanding of the Tao. Along with this, we will reveal the manner in which Lewis often failed to produce accurate citations in the Appendix of The Abolition of Man. This is not an uncommon pattern in his writing overall - he often quotes the works of others, but without offering clear citations or accurate quotes. It is a wonder that the academic world has failed to see through Lewis' "scholarship." So problematic and frequent is this pattern in Lewis that some have bravely sought to clarify the vagaries of his citations (as in http://www.lewisiana.nl/index.htm). However, our primary focus will settle on Lewis' desperate attempt to construct his own Tao. In particular, we will consider his interpretation and use of Epictetus in order to demonstrate that the wisdom of men is no match for the eternal truth of God.


[1] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2001), pp. 18-19.
[2] John 14:6: 6. Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

"CRU": Sadly, A Very Fitting Name

cru

(Disclaimer: In presenting this critique, it is not my intention to imply that every member within CCCI is in harmony with what is here criticized. It is my intent to offer this word of warning with the hope that it may do others good, perhaps even those who now serve in CCCI).

This week Campus Crusade for Christ International (CCCI) announced that after a two year process of study, prayer, and deliberation, it will be "rebranding" the organization's identity to that of CRU in an effort to "be more effective in sharing the gospel and to see even more people come to faith in Christ." This announcement has stirred much disappointment and surprise among Evangelicals, especially in light of their choice to drop the name of Christ.

What surprises me is that so many are surprised by this.

CCCI and I go way back to my earliest years as a Christian. Even my first seminary class that I ever took was from CCCI's own school - the International School of Theology - ISOT. As well, throughout my years in the ministry I have had to face various influences brought on by the teachings of CCCI. The greatest such influence is found in what is called the "Four Spiritual Laws," written by CCCI's own founder, Bill Bright.[1] Overall, I agree with CCCI's proposed name change which is due to be implemented next year. In many ways, the new name says a great deal about the organization itself. But before explaining my affirmation, I should point out the following:

1. The word crusade is, historically speaking, a troubling term to say the least. In view of the nine or so religious/military crusades launched between the 11th-13th centuries, there is much within these campaigns that demands close scrutiny. What is most noble in the earliest campaigns is the effort to protect and defend Jerusalem's people and territory, but sadly, these crusades degraded severely into reckless and riotous endeavors over time. Overall, all of these crusades were saturated with motivations that were rooted in Roman Catholic dogma, including the promise of plenary absolution for all who would take the journey to Jerusalem and fight.[2] For this reason, I would have no hesitation in dropping the word crusade at all. Frankly, I never would have used it in the first place.

2. CCCI's stated desire to avoid offense in the presentation of the Gospel should have produced no surprise at all. In fact, the historic focus of CCCI has been to present a Gospel message that is devoid of any significant offense at all. In stating this, the reader should know that there is no value or merit in the introduction of offense in our Gospel preaching for the sake of being offensive. Our goal is not to be offensive when sharing Christ, however, our goal must never be to remove the inherent offense of the Gospel. When we remove the offensive elements of the Gospel, we remove some of the core tenants of its message. Thus, the historic premise of the four spiritual laws reveals the point here addressed: Law 1 - God loves you and offers a wonderful plan for your life. While true in a limited sense, this is only half the Gospel's message, especially in view of mankind's sin and active enmity against God. And though the second law does speak of sin, the presentation of the subject is tepid at best: Law 2 - Man is sinful and separated from God. Therefore, he cannot know and experience God's love and plan for his life. When we combine these two fundamental "laws" within the Four Spiritual Laws of CCCI, we find a significant contrast of thought to that of the Eternal Gospel in God's Word: Revelation 14:6-7: 6. And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; 7. and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.” Telling men to "fear God" and "give Him glory because the hour of His judgment has come" bears a strong offense to the natural man. What is emphasized in Revelation 14:6-7 (which is a summary of the biblical Gospel) is the worthiness of God, not man. However, when reading the Four Spiritual Laws, one is inclined to think that it is man who is deeply worthy in the Gospel's equation, and that a loving God wants desperately for such a salvation to work out in view of that worthiness. The Four Spiritual laws is utterly bankrupt of any mention of the pending doom that comes to those who reject the Gospel. Instead, those who reject such an un-offensive "Gospel" tend to walk away from God without understanding what an offense they are to Him. What they do not understand is that, without Christ, the wrath of God abides on them (John 3:36).

3. CCCI's founding president, Bill Bright, revealed throughout his life that he had a longstanding deference towards religious ecumenism. As one of the most prominent co-signers of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document (ECT, 1994), Bright showed the world that his version of the gospel was broad enough to embrace the works-righteousness system of thinking found within Roman Catholicism. However, the genuine Gospel is violently at odds with the false gospel of Rome. Thus, this is just another indicator of CCCI's historic endeavors to eliminate the Gospel's offense and divisiveness when it comes, not just to secularists, but to religionists as well.

ccci

Which leads me to my affirmation of the name change to CRU. In many respects, this new name represents everything that CCCI has been becoming over the years.

Campus: Their loss of the word Campus is somewhat insignificant, though understandable. Though the word poses no offense, it should be an obvious choice in view of the fact that their labors clearly extend far beyond college campuses. However, their other choices are, at best, disturbing -

Christ: The removal of the name of Christ is deeply troubling, but understandable in view of their history as an organization. In many respects, this is just another rung in the ladder that CCCI has been climbing for years in its pursuit of an un-offensive "Gospel." Certainly, the name of Christ does offend people, just as the genuine message of the Gospel itself offends people. By removing the name of Christ, CCCI has shown itself for what it is - an organization that is more concerned about offending men than it is about offending God.

Crusade: Strangely, the only term that should have been removed (for the reasons stated above) is the term that they have chosen to retain, but in abbreviated form. In many respects, this further exposes the historic practices and procedures of CCCI. For years now they have chosen to hide and veil matters before a watching world. Thus, instead of laying their cards out on the table when presenting themselves to the culture, CCCI has had this tendency of masking themselves and their message in an attempt to become more relevant and acceptable within this fallen world. Strangely, their rebranding efforts will most likely backfire on them. When an unbeliever comes to ask the question - "what does CRU stand for?" the CRU "missionary" will then have the awkward responsibility of having to explain this troubling term. Unwittingly, in their effort to remove stumbling blocks and unnecessary offenses, they have actually managed to magnify a very irrelevant offense - one that has nothing to do with the Gospel at all. While I don't delight in their choices – I truly don’t -  I must confess that I have little surprise in this.

Sadly, CRU is a very fitting name indeed.


[1] CCCI was founded in 1951, and the Four Spiritual Laws tract was made in the next year in 1952.
[2]"The Crusades furnished the popes the occasion to issue indulgences on a magnificent scale. Urban II,’s indulgence, 1095, granting plenary absolution to all taking the journey to Jerusalem was the first of a long series of such papal franchises. That journey, Urban said, should be taken as a substitute for all penance." Schaff, P., & Schaff, D. S. (1997). History of the Christian church. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Monday, July 04, 2011

A Happy (Belated) 3rd of July

(Reposted from July 3rd, 2007)

No, the title isn't a typo - I mean it when I say happy third of July!  For me it's the most memorable day of the year!  Now, I certainly don't mean to take anything away from our nation's independence-day celebration so, happy fourth of July as well!  

There is no doubt that the fourth of July is a great day of celebration concerning our freedom as citizens of this great nation.  Much blood has been shed in order to procure our American liberty, and for this we ought to be very grateful.  As we take time to reflect on the significance of our national blessings, we can thank the Lord that we live in a land where we still have the freedom to worship and proclaim Christ to the masses who need to hear the Gospel message.  But I have to say, for myself, that the 3rd trumps the 4th immeasurably.  I'm not being unpatriotic when I say this - I'm just being realistic.  You see it was on the third of July 1981, while I was serving in the Air Force, in Okinawa Japan, that I heard the Gospel message and trusted Christ as my Lord and Savior.  I'll never forget that day.  The unbearable burden of my sin had been taken away and for the first time in my life I became, by God's sovereign and precious grace, a truly free man.

July third 1981 fell on a Friday that year.  I have vivid memories of that day as I went about in a kind of heavenly daze.  The world around me seemed to fade into the background of this great truth that I was forgiven; that I was a child of God and there was therefore no condemnation on me because I was Christ's possession forevermore! 

Now I do recall being invited by some co-workers to go see a fireworks display on base the very next day, and I gladly accepted their offer.  While I can say that the fireworks display was spectacular, it seemed to be a faint light compared to the explosion of joy that the Lord granted me just the day before.  Ever since then I have spent my subsequent July 4ths celebrating a day early - by remembering that moment when I was granted freedom in Christ, by His shed blood.  This is real freedom, one that no one can take away. If you remain uncertain concerning the state of your own soul, please consider the following:

The Word of God teaches us that the God and Creator of the universe deserves all of our love and obedience: "Worthy are You [God] to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things" (Revelation 4:11)

But sadly, all of mankind has sinned and rebelled against this worthy God and because of that sin, all men stand condemned in His sight - Romans 3:23 "..all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." "..the wages of sin is death.." Rom 6:23.

Therefore, man is eternally separated from God and faces the severe consequences of eternal death - though man deserves this death (because of sin) something must be understood - " ..God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8.

Christ paid the debt that men owe by living a perfect life and then dying on a cross in the sinner's stead. He was raised from the dead on the third day and will return again in order to judge the living and the dead (Acts 17:24-31). Jesus said "..God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16). This is the great expectation of every Christian. The Lord has commissioned His children to share this good news with all men! But how does one receive this wonderful pardon and life in Christ? - "..if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved;" Romans 10:9. Please do not underestimate the importance of these truths, for Jesus also said - "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" John 3:18.

Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin (John 8:34); but when a person places their faith and trust in Christ they will be free indeed (John 8:36).  True freedom comes not from the governmental institutions established by men; instead it comes from the only One who has the power to set men from from the bondage of sin and death - the Lord Jesus Christ.