Pt 4: Response to C.S. Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain”

Guest post by theologian Dr Rob Knowles on The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis:

Part 4:  Chapter 8 – Hell

In his chapter on hell, Lewis takes the three notions of “destruction”, “eternal torment”, and “privation” and then works them into a systematic unity. This leads to two difficulties. First, Thiselton points out: (a) that the Bible has three traditions in it about hell that seem to contradict one-another: (i) hell is eternal torment; (ii) hell is eternal destruction, or annihilation; (iii) all are saved; (b) that all three traditions have been considered to be “orthodox” in the history of the church, even though “eternal torment” has been the dominant view in orthodoxy; (c) that it would be hermeneutically-premature, given where scholarship has reached, to press these three contradictory traditions into a unity in favour of any one of the traditions, which seems to militate against Lewis’s conclusions.

Second, if Thiselton is correct, then Lewis entirely dismisses one biblical tradition – that of universal salvation. Even if it were right to press all the traditions into a unity then Lewis would still have to press (i) “hell is eternal torment”; (ii) “hell is eternal destruction, or annihilation”; and (iii) “all are saved”, into a unity – along with his emphasis on “privation”.

Some, for example D.A. Carson, are adamant that eternal torment is the nature of hell, and that all who do not believe in Christ go there. Lewis, on balance, seems to favour a kind of qualified annihilationism whilst still holding onto a perspective-dependent notion of eternal torment. Others, such as G. MacDonald (alias R. Parry), reconcile the biblical traditions in favour of “all are saved, but in some cases only after prolonged periods of punishment in hell”.

11613659

Continue reading

Advertisements

Pt 3: Response to C.S. Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain”

Guest post by theologian Dr Rob Knowles on The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis:

Part 3:  Response to Chapter 6 & 7 – Human Pain/Appendix by R. Havard (a Doctor)

 

I agree with most of what Lewis says in Chapter 6. Lewis rightly stresses three forms of remedial pain: (a) retributive punishment that is justly deserved; (b) spell-breaking and the redirection of misdirected fallen nature; and (c) proving our God-wrought faith and righteousness genuine to us. In particular, Lewis rightly distinguishes divine retribution and vengeance from evil vindictive passionate revenge – a kind of tabloid Lamech-style brutalism that is evil, self-centred, over-harsh or disproportionate, and seeks only to destroy.

Lewis is also correct to argue that remedial pain is universal, life-long, and unevenly distributed (i.e. complexly, and not simply, related to “just deserts”); and Lewis is correct to argue that remedial pain faces us with a choice: whether in response to it we choose patience, humility and repentance or whether we choose instead to run with the crowd and adopt attitudes of culturally-normal anger and cynicism. Finally, Lewis adds an interesting Appendix at the back of his book which basically shows that most medium term pain has a positive effect on character.

11613659

Continue reading

Pt 2: Response to C.S. Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain”

Guest post by theologian Dr Rob Knowles on The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis:

Part 2:

Chapter 4 – Human Wickedness

Chapter 5 – The Fall of Man(kind)

 

Response to Chapter 4. Human Wickedness

Lewis is entirely correct to emphasize the unhappy truth that we habitually deny our sin, or at least its seriousness, and that we deploy self-deceiving means to do so. Lewis is right to emphasize: (a) evil (anti-Trinitarian “Lord of the Flies”-type localist tribal) clique-dynamics that only look evil from the world of the broader public realm; (b) the role of certain sin-denying popular trends in (pretentiously boastful pseudo-intellectual pseudo-wise) psychoanalysis; (c) a reductionist approach to virtue (which stresses a chav-ethics of outwardly-brutal ego-centric drama-triangle sentimentality and victim-aping self-pity); (d) the finger-pointing self-evading blame-projecting strategies deployed within the superficial outward comparisons used by sin-deniers who binary-categorize only others as evil (using terms like “offenders” and “scum”); (e) the evil things said about “nature” and “finitude” as though God (the very paradigm of innocence, more innocent than a baby) were at fault; and, (f), the view that time alone (rather than Christ’s high-priestly work of (re-)consecrating the defiled and unclean) brings about cleansing from sin and guilt. All these emphases – (with my views added in brackets) – are true.

Two points come to mind, however, in response to what Lewis says: (a) Lewis’s use of the notion of “virtue” has more of a classical feel than a biblical feel. One can speak in terms of “the seven virtues” and of the “seven deadly sins”, but in my view there are more biblical ways to speak of “right and wrong”. To speak only classically about “sin and virtue” is itself a liberal sin-denying strategy. (b) There are also more biblical ways of speaking about the ways in which we disguise sin and hide it from ourselves. Lewis is correct to point out some of the contemporary manifestations of sin-denial, but there are strategies of sin-denial that pervade all cultures and that are manifest in the contemporary manifestations of sin-denial that Lewis notes.

11613659

Continue reading

Response to C.S. Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain”

Guest post by theologian Dr Rob Knowles on The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis:

Part 1:  Chapter 1 – Introductory

Chapter 2 – Divine Omnipotence

Chapter 3 – Divine Goodness

 

Response to Chapter 1: Introductory

I agree with Lewis’s basic argument that the problem of pain emerges historically, and not philosophically. Suffering is a historical fact, and yet belief in a good all-powerful God is also a historical fact. The problem of pain, as an intellectual problem, simply emerges as the problem of how to understand the co-existence of these two historical realities intellectually.

My main query with respect to Lewis’s argument in his first chapter is that there are many intellectual reasons for holding to the truth of Jesus’ claims, whereas there seems to be more than a little liberal British Bultmannian School Neo-Kantian existentialism in Lewis’s appeals to the supposedly undergirding roles of universal experiences of the numinous and of the moral impulse. Whilst the Bible affirms the experiential, existential, moral, or practical side of revelation and of human existence, the Bible also affirms the cognitive, propositional, conceptual side of revelation and of human life – as part of a broader formative overall revelation in which Christ’s Spirit uses biblical texts relationally to form or build individual Christians and the corporate Church.

That is, Lewis seems to make the veracity of biblical content and formative function too dependent upon the universality of mystical and moral experience. In fact, though, revelatory content and formative function should be held together with, and should constitute criteria of authenticity in relation to, revelatory experience.

One of the big problems in the church today is an experience-centredness that refuses to allow itself to be tested against biblical criteria with content, and against the formative results or fruitfulness of a right relational engagement with the Scriptures – an engagement that is everywhere marginalised in such churches. But Jesus says, “by their fruit you shall know them”, John commands us to “test the spirits” and Paul, following Jesus, makes it quite clear that whilst “love sums up the law and the prophets”, transformation unto love or right-relating comes through a biblical “transformation of the mind”. As Jesus prays, “sanctify them by the truth – your word is truth”.

11613659

Continue reading

Your Christian Life

I’ve been re-reading Mike Reeves’ brilliant little book on the Trinity called ‘The Good God, enjoying Father, Son and Spirit’ (just check out the reviews on Amazon for proof).  His conclusion is short and succinct enough to warrant popping it here, in the hope that people will be inspired enough to get his book, read it and enjoy God afresh.  I’ve added the pictures.  When the book launched, Mike allowed me to take thirty copies back to my church in the hope of selling a few – they all went….

goodgodConclusion:  No Other Choice

“What is your Christian life like?  What is the shape of your gospel, your faith?  In the end, it will depend on what you think God is like.  Who God is drives everything.

So what is the human problem?

 Is it merely that we have strayed from a moral code?

Or is it something worse:  that we have strayed from him?

What is salvation?  Is it merely that we are brought back as law-abiding citizens?

Or is it something better:  that we are brought back as beloved children?

What is the Christian life about?  Mere behaviour?  Or something deeper:  enjoying God?

And then there’s what our churches are like, our marriages, our relationships, our mission:  all are moulded in the deepest way by what we think of God.

In the early fourth century, Arius went for a pre-cooked God, ready-baked in his mind.  Ignoring the way, the truth and life, he defined God without the Son, and the fallout was catastrophic:  without the Son, God cannot truly be a Father; thus alone, he is not truly love.  Thus he can have no fellowship to share with us, no Son to bring us close, no Spirit through whom we might know him.  Arius was left with very thin gruel:  a life of self-dependent effort under the all-seeing eye of his distant and loveless God.

The tragedy is that we all think like Arius every day (my emphasis).  We think of God without the Son.  We think of ‘God’, and not the Father of the Son.  But from there it doesn’t really take long before you find that you are just a whole lot more interesting than this ‘God’.  And could you but see yourself, you would notice that you are fast becoming like this ‘God’:  all inward-looking and fruitless.

The twentieth-century Russian theologian, Vladimir Lossky, put it like this:  ‘If we reject the Trinity as the sole ground of all reality and all thought, we are committed to a road that leads nowhere; we end in an aporia (a despair), in folly, in the disintegration of our being, in spiritual death.  Between the Trinity and hell there lies no other choice.’

However, starting with Jesus, Athanasius found himself with a God who could not have been more different from the God of Arius.  It wasn’t that he found himself with some extra small-print in his description of God (‘the Trinity’):  Athanasius had a God of love, a kind Father who draws us to share him eternal love and fellowship.

The choice remains:  which God will we have?  Which God will we proclaim?  Without Jesus the Son, we cannot know that God is truly a loving Father.  Without Jesus the Son, we cannot know him as our loving Father.  But as Luther discovered, through Jesus we may know that God is a Father, and ‘we may look into his fatherly heart and sense how boundlessly He loves us.  That would warm our hearts, setting them aglow’.

Yes it would, and more:  it would bring about reformation.

 z1dUrF3wMichael Reeves, The Good God, pg. 106-7

A Theological Colossus

A Theological Colossus

Peter Taylor Forsyth (1848-1921) is a theological colossus coming out of Scottish Congregationalism. I have heard him quoted and cited by T F Torrance, Alister McGrath and other luminaries (Gralefrit – ahem). He has been the most consistently abiding theological influence on my own life and thinking. I once knew a powerful visitation of God’s Spirit while studying The Holy Father.  True and amen.

PeterTForsythThis son of a postman, excelled at university graduating with first class honours when he was 21. Steeped in liberalism, he was ordained to the ministry at Shipley, Yorkshire in 1876. He had a fresh encounter with the grace of God in Christ in 1878 which renewed his mind, expanded his theology and gave him succour for his febrile state of health.

“It also pleased God by the revelation of his holiness and grace, which the great theologians taught me to find in the Bible, to bring home to me my sin in a way that submerged all the school (academic) questions in weight, urgency, and poignancy. I was turned from a Christian to a believer, from a lover of love to an object of grace. And so whereas I first thought that what the Churches needed was enlightened instruction and liberal theology, I came to be sure that what they intended was evangelization….” Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, pp192-193

He then became the principal of Hackney Theological College in Hampstead then back into parish ministry.

Forsyth holds together in a pastoral and prophetic synthesis, the rigors of academic theology, (The Person and Place of Jesus Christ), a deep love for the church (The Church and the Sacraments), the joy of prayer (The Soul of Prayer), preaching as sacramental as the traditional sacraments, a love of the arts (Christ on Parnassus) and a unifying vision of the Cross (The Work of Christ). He is relevant to every phase of ministry, every era of the age we live in and every teacher, preacher and pastor.

Here are some quotes that may be useful:

Continue reading