Monday, February 06, 2006

C. S. Lewis and Cornelius Van Til

The following is from Scott Burson and Jerry Walls' C. S. Lewis and Francis Scheffer's C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer: Lessons for a New Centurty from the Most Influential Apologists Of Our Time: (IVP, 1998) P. 157

Os Guinness recalls an encounter with Van Til that illustrates this claiim. Guinness had just finished delivering a lecture at Westminister when an elderly gentleman accused him of making "a bad mistake." This elderly man turned out to be Van Til, who accused Guinness of making numerous references to C. S. Lewis during the course of the lecture. Van Til chided Guinness for his carelessness, then marched him off to his office, where he produced a stack of his own books about presuppositional apologetics and piled them into the reluctant arms of the visiting lecturer.

Preumably, on eo f those books was Van Til's apologetic treatise The Defense of the Faith. In this work Van Til leaves little doubt about his disdain for Lewisian methodology: "One can only rejoice in the fact that Lewis is heard the world around, but one can only grieve that he so largely follows the method of Thomas Aquinas in calling men back to the gospel. the 'gospel according to St. Lewis ' is too much a compromise with the ideas of natural man to constitute a clear challenge in our day.

VR: I heard that someone was in a class with VT and heard him say that no one first becomes a theist and then a Christian. When someone brought up the obvious counterexample of C. S. Lewis, VT replied that he was not at all sure that Lewis was a Christian. "Where is the gospel of grace in that man's writings?' he asked. I can't remember if the person who related the story actually said "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" in reply, and I know that person did not report a respone to that by Van Til.

6 comments:

Jason said...

Now, _there_ would be a fun thesis project for someone: hunting up examples of 'the gospel of grace' in the Lewisian corpus. First instances which come to mind: Lewis' constant insistence, throughout his Christian life and work (and somewhat against what one would expect from his apologetic thrust), that God had graciously and persistantly sought _him!_ Examples could be greatly multiplied.

On a related note, Reformed theologians (and students of VT, who continue to be highly appreciative of him) R. C. Sproul et al, collaborated on a book (_Classical Apologetics_), which focuses in its first half on a thorough analysis of VT's presuppositionalistic methodology. (_CA_'s second half, imo, isn't nearly as good, though.) Given the topic, Lewis' name comes up a few times.

Edward T. Babinski said...
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Edward T. Babinski said...

I think both Vic and also you, Jason, are missing the point about the kind of absolute "grace" Reformed presuppositionalists like Cornelius Van Til believe in.

Also, neither Vic nor Jason demonstrate the least inkling of knowledge regarding theological conflicts during the 1970s on this very topic. There were debates within Evangelical Protestantism of some who said you only have to believe in Jesus as savior, and others, the Reformed, who said you must also believe in Jesus as savior and LORD in order to be "saved." Christian colleges debated that in the 1970s, and still sneer at each other's views today.

As an example I even met a Christian here in Greenville who told me his story about being born again, raised a Christian, attended a fundamentalist Christian college like Bob Jones, but then started going to a Reformed presuppositionalist church, where her learned was GRACE was all about. Today he doesn't even believe he was ever "saved" until he became a Reformed presuppostionalist Christian.

Reformed Christian presuppositionalists like Van Til understand "grace" as "unearned favor from a king," which is its literal meaning, in other words it's something you can't get from believing, you don't even "convert," it's all God's unearned favor. Cornelius probably thought Lewis was soft on "grace" in the sense of being soft on the utter helplessness of human beings to believe or do ANYTHING pleasing to God. (According to Calvin and Luther "after the Fall, freewill was just a word.") So grace is literally everything. That's the kind of high "grace" Cornelius was speaking about, and that the conservative Reformed, Reconstructionist and Theonomists are talking about. Here's a little primer for folks who don't fully understand Calvinism and the nature of the "elect" and the whole total "grace" idea as Calvin and Luther understood it:
http://www.edwardtbabinski.us/religion/calvinist.html

Edward T. Babinski said...

Jason,
Bahnsen thought Sproul was less than fair when it came to fully understanding and appreciating Til's apologetics. It's all online in Bahnsen's articles.
Ed

Jason said...

{{I think both Vic and also you, Jason, are missing the point about the kind of absolute "grace" Reformed presuppositionalists like Cornelius Van Til believe in.}}

Considering that I'm strenuously critical about the absolute _limits_ of the kind of 'grace' Reformed presuppositionalists like Van Til believe in, I think I can say that I have some idea about what kind it is they believe in.


Here, conveniently, is an example of those limits:

{{There were debates within Evangelical Protestantism of some who said you only have to believe in Jesus as savior, and others, the Reformed, who said you must also believe in Jesus as savior and LORD in order to be "saved." Christian colleges debated that in the 1970s, and still sneer at each other's views today.}}

_Both_ of these are examples of what _I've_ been calling the heresy of Christian gnosticism.

Now, which of these would anyone say is _less_ restrictive and _more_ 'gracious', than examples such as Edward's salvation in LWW, or Aslan's acceptance of Emeth in _The Last Battle_?

When Evangelicals (Reformed or otherwise) snipe against Lewis, it's often because he presents God as being _more_ 'gracious' than they do.


When hardline Calvinists (and even Arminians) and I butt heads about the question of whether God intends to save _everyone_ or not, we're all agreeing that this occurs primarily because of God's grace, and we all agree that this means something _at least_ along the lines of "unearned favor from a king".

I say 'at least', because among Calvinists and Arminians alike (though moreso among Calvinists), I also find them denying the grace of God in this or that circumstance; and justifying this denial along the lines of mere kingship authority. _I_ say this runs against the full revelation of scriptural teaching, as well as against coherent metaphysical logic. When they present prooftexts for their positions, I know them already (though they tend to treat me as if I was ignorant of them); when I point out contexts and other scriptural testimony, they give me blank looks, or play the 'incomprehensible mystery' card. Plus denigrating my logic, not for being illogical, but for being logical at all. When they try to claim I'm using merely "human" logic, once again _I'm_ the one in the position of having to point out that the claim of merely human logic is a heresy (basically implying cosmological dualism).

_I'm_ the one who is actually holding consistently and thoroughly to the doctrines they most cherish, the ones which might actually count as good news. _I'm_ the one who ends up having to defend the grace of God (and, not coincidentally, orthodox trinitarianism), against Calvinists and Arminians alike.


Let us suppose for instance, which I think is a reasonably good guess (especially considering my own experiences with Calvinists), that VT would probably consider me (as he would probably consider Lewis) to be "soft on 'grace' in the sense of being soft on the utter helplessness of human beings to believe or do ANYTHING pleasing to God." Indeed! Yet pay close attention, and you'll find that _I_ am the one who who does _not_ implicitly (or even explicitly?) propose that a human can do anything _at all_ apart from God's grace. In practice, Calvinists routinely require that some things can be and are done apart from God's grace. (Which some hardliners take to the extent of denying that God has grace for some people at all.)


If someone doubts the relative extent of the doctrine of grace being proffered by various groups, then Victor can post up a test poll. Let us see how many Reformed theologians (or Arminians for that matter, though I expect a few more from among their ranks) are willing to agree with me, that when someone exhibits love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, meekness, trustworthiness or self-control, then these are fruits of the Spirit (in conjunction with the operation of the Father and the Son) and so indicate progressing results of God in saving that person from his or her sins--_even if the person is speaking a word against the Son of Man, even to blasphemy_.

I guarantee that if anyone decides I'm dead (and perhaps even damned) wrong about this, it won't be because _I'm_ preaching a doctrine of grace _less_ robust than theirs.


Jason

Gavin Bryant said...

Van Til was right on the money in his critique of C.S. Lewis, because Lewis did not believe in the Biblical "doctrines of grace" as Van Til spoke of it.

In particular, Lewis did not believe that there was a punishment for the violation of God's law. Or, to be more precise, he believed that God enforces his law by remedially punishing rather than by penalizing the non-believing law-breaker.

Thus, C.S. Lewis did not believe in "hell" as the Bible teaches it. Nor did he believe in the meaning of the cross as the Bible teaches it. Rather, Lewis believed that the non-believing sinner would unite with God in the eternal world by synergistically cooperating with the operation of God's infinite wrath:

Then Hwin, though shaking all over, gave a strange little neigh, and trotted across to the Lion. — "Please," she said, "you're so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I'd sooner be eaten by you then fed by anyone else." — "Dearest daughter," said Aslan, planting a lion's kiss on her twitching, velvet nose, "I knew you would not be long in coming to me. Joy shall be yours." (Lewis, "The Horse and His Boy" ch. 14)

As a young atheist Lewis wrote (on October 18, 1916) that he could not believe that God is "a bogey who is prepared to torture me forever and ever if I should fail in coming up short to an almost impossible ideal." Lewis became a "Christian" when he discovered that the meaning of "hell" and "the atonement" could be expressed in a theology that excludes any notion of punishment for sin.