Mere Christianity | Book IV, Chapter 1

C.S. Lewis | Mere Christianity
Book IV | Beyond Personality: Or First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity
Chapter 1 | “Making and Begetting”

Question: What warning is Lewis not heeding in Book IV?

Answer: Everyone has told him “the ordinary reader does not want Theology; give him plain practical religion.”

Q: Why has he rejected that advice?

A: He does “not think the ordinary reader is such a fool. Theology means ‘the science of God,’ and I think any man who wants to think about God at all would like to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about Him which are available.”

Q: Why are some people “put off by Theology”?

A. Lewis shares the story of a military officer who told him he had no use for theology. The officer knew there was a God. He’d “felt him: out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery.” The officer wanted “the real thing” and not “all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him.”

Q: What does Lewis say about that man?

A: He agreed with him and thought “he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert.” To turn “from that experience to the Christian creeds” meant “he really was turning from something real to something less real.”

Lewis offers the analogy of someone looking at the ocean “from the beach” and then going to look at a map of the ocean. That is also “turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of colored paper.”

Q: What, then, is the value of the map?

A: One, it is based on the experiences of the many who have sailed the ocean. When we look at the ocean, we have “a single isolated glimpse,” but “the map fits all those different experiences together.”

Two, maps are essential to getting anywhere. As Lewis puts it, “As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America.”

Q: How is Theology like a map?

A: Theology is useful as a representation of the actual experience of God, though it is not God himself. “Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God.” Further, if you want to get somewhere with God, you need the map. Without the map, our experiences with God may be real and exciting, “but nothing comes of it.”

“A vague religion” is attractive because it gives you feelings about God—“all thrills and no work”—but in the same way you can’t travel anywhere without a map, “you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music.”

Two things are true at the same time: Looking at the map won’t get you anywhere, but it’s not safe to “go to sea without a map.”

Q: How is Theology practical “especially now”?

A: “Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed. Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones.” Often people say things today about God “which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected.”

Theology is especially important when it comes to the subject of Jesus who, in popular thinking, “was a great moral teacher.” If only we did what he said, the thinking goes, we could avoid trouble as a society. Lewis says that is true but not “the whole truth about Christianity.” Therefore “it has no practical importance at all.”

Q: What is the trouble with looking to Jesus for advice?

A: We have a record of 4,000 years of good advice. “We never have followed the advice of the great teachers. Why are we likely to begin now?” If Jesus is “the best moral teacher . . . that makes it even less likely that we shall follow him.”

Q: What do Christian writings offer besides advice?

A: Different from popular religion, “They say that Christ is the Son of God (whatever than means). They say that those who give Him their confidence can also becomes Sons of God (whatever that means). They say that His death saved us from our sins (whatever that means).” These are hard things to understand. But if the claims “about something behind the world” are true, it’s no wonder they are hard to understand.

Q: What “point in Christianity . . . gives us the greatest shock”?

A: The one that says “by attaching ourselves to Christ, we can ‘become Sons of God.’” In one sense, we are already God’s children since God is a father to us. He “brought us into existence and loves us and looks after us.” But when the Bible speaks “of our ‘becoming’ Sons of God, obviously it must mean something different.”

Q: What is at the center of Theology?

A: The statement “that Christ is the Son of God ‘begotten, not created’” who was “begotten by his Father before all worlds.” Lewis says this has nothing to do with the Virgin Birth. This is “something that happened before Nature was created at all, before time began.”

“Begetting” or “begotten” are not words we typically use in modern English. They are different from “create,” which is to make. Parents beget, which is they produce their same kind. People beget people, birds beget birds, etc. When you make something, it is different from yourself. People make things, birds make nests, etc. You can make a statue of a person, but it won’t be real or alive. It will only look like one.

Q: What is the first thing Lewis wants us to be clear about?

A: Be clear about the idea that God begets God and people beget people. When God creates something, it is not God. We “are not Sons of God in the sense that Christ is.” We “are more like statutes or pictures of God.”

The universe is like God in its vastness, the physical world is like God in its energy, “the vegetable world is like Him because it is alive, and He is the ‘living God.’” Living creatures resemble God in their activity. The higher animals have biological life plus instinctive affections. The highest animal, people, are “the completest resemblance to God which we know of.” But none of these things are God. Further, humans in our natural condition do not have “Spiritual life—the higher and different sort of life that exists in God.”

Q: What two distinct meanings does the word “life” have?

A: There is biological life, Bios, which comes from nature and tends to run down and decay and is always in need of supplies from nature. There is also Spiritual life, Zoe, “which is in God from all eternity, and which made the whole natural universe.” Bios and Zoe have a resemblance in the same way that a photo has a resemblance to a place, or a statue does to a person.

Lewis’ final point is this: “A man who changed from having Bios to having Zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man. And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumor going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.”

May we each know that hope—that the end of this life is no end at all, but the beginning of a life more real and greater than we possibly can imagine.






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