Monday, December 22, 2008

A Critique of Lewis's Views on Scripture

A more serious critique of Lewis from conservative evangelical quarters.

1 comment:

Gregory said...

Sprague's article begs many questions; not the least of which is:

What is inspiration?

Lewis' idea of a bottom up transposition of literature into the vehicle of communicating Divine truth is irrefutable. Although other verses can be used as illustrations, I will use 2 Peter 3:15,16 as a paradigm case.

Peter writes:

"as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of scripture"


1. The New Testament epistles were letters sent by concerned Apostles to outlying churches, in order to address specific issues with parishes struggling with spiritual problems, needing encouragement in the face of persecution and hardship, and/or to solicit donations and help for parishes that were in poverty. Peter, Paul, James, etc., were not trying to write an "inspired" document...they were writing to help fellow Christians.

2. Peter acknowledges that Paul, not God, was the primary author of whatever Pauline epistles he [Peter] is referencing.

3. Peter is addressing his target audience qua Peter. Notice his own admission about the difficulty in understanding some of Paul's writings (i.e. "some things hard to understand"). This makes perfect sense, if you understand that Peter---the uneducated fisherman---is personally commenting on the very educated "theologian" Paul, and Paul's epistles. Otherwise, you would have to interpret this verse, on Sprague's fundamentalist line, as God admitting that He doesn't understand some aspects of the epistles that He, Himself, inspired!!!

4. Systematizing theology cannot surmount certain hermeneutic obstacles. Just observe the plethora of theological options in Protestantism today.....and Peter's anticipation of something akin to that, in these verses.

It's interesting to note that Sprague references Garry Friesen's journal article on Lewis, when making criticisms of Lewis' views on inspiration. It must be remembered that Friesen wrote a full length book on knowing "God's will" titled "Decision Making that the Will of God", where he argues that the only way to know God's will is to read the Bible. Sprague is probably in agreement with Friesen on this. This, by itself, is not a reason to reject Sprague's points. But Friesen represents one theological opinion, among others, regarding "knowing" and "obeying" God. Henry Blackaby and Dallas Willard, on the other hand, are representative of a more "personal" and "relational" model of knowing God....a model which meshes nicely with Lewis' view. Why believe that the kind of "fundamentalism", as represented by Sprague and Friesen, is historic and orthodox?

What ever happened to the Christianity where Christians communed with the living God, and not just a book about Him?

5. But it's precisely this personal "communing" with God by which Christians, themselves, become "inspired" testaments to the reality of God (2 Cor. 3:1-3).
So, taken on the whole, Lewis' life is actually in line with the New Testament concept of "inspiration". The fact that Lewis is continually read and appreciated by Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant believers, nearly 50 years after his own death---not to mention non-Christian readers too---underscores this point. Lewis was inspired and is inspiring, in classic New Testament fashion.

Sprague writes:

"His [Lewis] hermeneutic, however, is not purely academic. The academic aspects are combined with some presuppositions of Christian faith"

This is a "so what?" point. Isn't Sprague guilty of this as well? Or maybe Sprague feels that he, himself, is the sine qua non hermeneutician, of which none greater can be conceived. I don't really understand how he can escape the double edge of his own sword.

On the other hand, if Sprague is intending on reiterating fundamentalism along "sola scriptura" lines, then he has undercut his own thesis---since his article is not "scripture". Scripture "alone" means just that....alone.

Sprague writes:

"In other words, he [Lewis] is saying that inspiration is the conversion of human words (literature) into the divine Word. Or to say the opposite would be to say that divine words were not made into human words."

I don't think Lewis and Sprague mean the same thing when they say "human words" vs. "divine word". In other words, I think Sprague is missing the mark by reading his "verbal, plenary inspiration" doctrine back into Lewis.

Furthermore, "human words" do not cease to be "human" just because they are communicating "divine" truth. And besides that, what does the contrast between "human" and "divine" words really amount to? Was the Bible not written by men, using human reason and language, to communicate with other men things "divine"? It's as though Sprague either takes a Gnostic view of the Divine-human interplay here....or has sold the farm to Islamic views of inspiration and authority.

As for criticizing Lewis' concepts about "myth-in-scripture" views, I would refer readers to Athanasius' "The Incarnation of the Word", Justin Martyr's "First and Second Apology", G.K. Chesterton's "The Everlasting Man", Tom Snyder's "Myth Conceptions" and C. Stephen Evans' "The Historical Christ and the Jesus of Faith".

I think Lewis is misunderstood and maligned regarding "myth", "truth" and "scripture". This topic is so broad that a few sound bites are just not going to cut it when defending Lewis here. I would start with C. Stephen Evans and/or Tom Snyder's book first.