Volume 8, Issue 3: Ex Libris
The Coming Evangelical Crisis
John Armstrong, ed; Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1996
Reviewed by Douglas Wilson
The signs of the crack-up are all around us. An earthquake of monumental proportions is shaking the evangelical world, and it is not surprising that our attention is directed at the collapse of buildings and bridges. But pointing away from all the apparent action, John Armstrong has edited a book which analyzes the theological faultlines of the quake, which are hidden from the view of the average believer.
Of course, if we were to look merely to the symptoms, we would discover numerous oddities. In his essay on worship, John MacArthur cites the church which invites people to attend their worship service which is called "God's Country Goodtime Hour." The flyers invite the faithful to join with them in "line dancing following worship." And then there is the church which "had their pastoral staff put on a wrestling match during a Sunday service, even going so far as to have a professional wrestler train the pastors to throw one another around the ring, pull hair, and kick shins without actually hurting one another." It would be easy to stop the analysis here, simply appalled at the oddities. But MacArthur goes on to show that the problem is not "some people's children" -- people with no taste, and less class. The problem is the abandonment of the regulative principle of worship. At root the problem is doctrinal, and those who propagate the doctrinal error are not necessarily the same people who display the more eccentric manifestations of this disobedience.
The seriousness of our doctrinal crisis would be hard to overstate. For example, InterVarsity Press has taken to publishing various forms of postmodern apostasy. Albert Mohler points this out in his outstanding essay on what it means to be evangelical: "One of the most remarkable manifestations of the evangelical embrace of postmodernist ideologies is Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be, by J. Richard Middleton and Brian J. Walsh of Toronto's Institute for Christian Study. Middleton and Walsh reject the notion of absolute truth outright: 'Since all worldviews in a postmodern reading are merely human inventions, decisively conditioned by the social context in which they occur, and certainly not given to us by either nature or revelation, any 'truth' we claim for our cherished positions must be kept strictly in quotation marks.'" For those who have been in the evangelical church for any length of time, this denial of Christianity (for that is what this sort of thing is) is hard to comprehend. But over the course of the last one hundred years, we have seen enough churches and parachurch organizations depart from the faith that you would think we would know what it looks like by now. The evangelical movement as a whole is in the middle of such a departure, with certain wings of the evangelical movement already gone.
In his introduction, Armstrong rightly points us to the formal and material principles of the Reformation -- sola Scriptura and sola fide respectively. Without a recovery of this theology, there will be no recovery at all. Armstrong rightly notes, "Biblical religion stresses the objective Gospel of Christ and Him crucified. Until evangelicals get this right, all that the movements of revival will most likely bring is more revivalism. The results of this may bring us even closer to the very crisis this book addresses. Perhaps that is why the late A.W. Tozer once commented that, "if revival is more of what we are already doing, then evangelicalism most definitely does not need a revival!" Amen.
This is an outstanding and timely book. Any who call themselves evangelical, or who would like to do so without embarrassment, should thoughtfully consider the doctrinal challenges presented in this book.
That Hideous Strength
Reviewed by Nathan Wilson
That Hideous Strength is a very unusual story which begins with very simple character development of the central figures. We have Mark, a fellow at Bracton College and his wife Jane, a former career woman who is unhappy with her marriage because it has shot down her career. Both have been going down the wrong road. Jane is just getting discontented with her life and husband, while Mark is falling in with, to put it mildly, the wrong crowd.
The city Jane and Mark live in has always been a small, lazy, English, country sort of place. Until now. The N.I.C.E. (National Institute of Coordinated Experiments) is moving into town. The N.I.C.E. is a government- funded research operation... and a little more. It has its own police force, controls every newspaper in the nation, and is not accountable to anything outside its own walls. Within its walls, control is maintained by various forms of intimidation and ingratiation.
Mark is taken to the N.I.C.E. headquarters under the pretense of getting a job and is sucked headlong into the whole corrupt system. While Mark is away, Jane falls in with the enemies of the N.I.C.E., the small company of St. Anne's, and begins working with them to try to topple the system her husband has entered.
Mark's companions are satanic scientists striving for eternal life, while Jane is serving a Christian druid and the Pendragon. The story is brilliantly told. It develops slowly, placing all the characters carefully in position for an extremely fast-paced, climactic battle between Jane's crowd and those who have trapped Mark.
We've reviewed Lewis before, but only his nonfiction. We are now doing his fiction and we like it lots. Lewis is just about the coolest gringo there is, and as a result his writing is just simply great. He tells us the story of a modern Babel and its ruin, and well... we like it. This kind of book is why God made rainy days.
A.N. Wilson; New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990
Reviewed by Douglas Wilson
This is a fascinating and well-written biography of the well-known writer and Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis. Actually, it is a biography of the virtually unknown C.S. Lewis. As Wilson ably shows, a type of mystic aura has grown up around Lewis, obscuring him from the view of those who most admire him. This mystic aura comes in two colors -- Catholic and evangelical.
Walter Hooper, an Anglophile native of Kentucky, is overseeing the Roman Catholic facelift, in which Lewis is portrayed as High Church, celibate saint-fodder. "Most noticeably peculiar in Hooper's picture of his hero is his belief in the Perpetual Virginity of C.S. Lewis" (p. xvi). His preconversion adulterous relationship to Mrs. Moore and his marriage to Joy Gresham cannot be allowed to interfere with infallible church tradition in the making. Apparently Hooper is angling for the eventual canonization of Lewis and nothing like a little perpetual virginity to help that along. When Hooper met the pope, his astounding reaction reveals a lot about the man. "As he studied the figure of John Paul II coming down among the crowds, Hooper was aware that there was something familiar about him, but he could not at first tell what it was. Then he knew. '"This is Aslan," I thought, "this really is Aslan"'" (p. 308). Jeepers. Hooper had met Lewis shortly before his death and subsequently became the manager of Lewis's papers. His influence over the Lewis persona is as great as his input is goofy.
Over in evangelicalville, the real Lewis is equally a mystery. Here the ribald, pugnacious, jolly, "beer and Beowulf" Lewis is nicely ignored. But modern evangelicals, almost desperate for some type of ecclesiastical breeding papers, have adopted Lewis as their patron apologist. C.S. Lewis's brother, Warren, had not trusted Walter Hooper at all, and, through the influence of Clyde Kilby, left all his papers to the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. The Center houses some very important memorabilia (e.g. the wardrobe), and also some crucial papers (e.g. an eleven volume family history compiled by Warren Lewis). And while the hero worship on this side of the water is served up very differently from the Catholic casserole, they both have the unmistakable flavor of spam and bologna.
The Wilson biography of Lewis does contain some serious flaws. Most noticeable is Wilson's inability to follow some of Lewis's arguments. Lewis was a genius at explaining profound arguments in very plain terms, making "righteousness readable," but if a reader does not grasp those arguments, the simplicity can be written off as sophistry. Wilson does this in more than one place, demonstrating that when the unbelief of a modernist like Wilson encounters believing clarity of mind, the results can be hilarious.
In addition, Wilson sometimes reports various types of campus gossip and academic anecdotes as typical or representative, apparently not thinking that intelligent readers might ask what the other side of "this particular story" might be. The book is weak where it attempts to report the kind of incidents which are capable of high degrees of distortion -- especially as the years allow the animus of some of Lewis's enemies to mellow and deepen.
Having said this, the book is a delight to read -- provided the reader appreciates Lewis without worshipping him. Idolaters of Lewis should read something else more edifying. As Wilson reports on the objective details of Lewis's life, he comes through as a man with many faults, some of them glaring, but he was clearly a man in whom the grace of God was at work.
A particularly helpful aspect of this work is the placement of Lewis's books in the context of his life. It places his books in order and describes the circumstances surrounding the writing of most of them. Wilson offers insightful praise of some of Lewis's best work -- The Discarded Image, English Literature, The Abolition of Man -- but he commonly falls flat in his criticism. This is not because he criticizes, but rather because he attempts to criticize where Lewis has hit his biographer hard.
Lewis was converted in September of 1931, in part the result of a conversation he had with J.R.R. Tolkien, a Roman Catholic, and Victor Dyson, a High Anglican. Shortly after that conversation, Lewis, who loved animals, was traveling on an outing to the zoo. In his words, "when we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did" (p. 127). He met a bear at the zoo that day whom he nicknamed Bultitude. Bultitude plays an important role at the conclusion of That Hideous Strength.
Some Protestant readers may have been distressed at Lewis's tolerance of Catholicism, at least in some of his writings, assuming him to be rather High Church in his leanings. This, Wilson shows, is a very clear misreading of him (although it does not make him some kind of American evangelical). In later years, the close friendship of Lewis and Tolkien waned, and a major reason was the deep-seated Protestantism of Lewis. In one of his best works, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Lewis greatly annoyed Tolkien with his praise of John Calvin, his preference of Tyndal over More as a stylist, and his use of the term papist. Lewis had been brought up as an Ulster Protestant, and as far as Tolkien was concerned, Lewis's Protestant blood ran far thicker than appeared at first glance. In speaking of The Pilgrim's Regress, "Tolkien saw that there was more in the word 'regress' than had immediately met his ear" (p. 135). Although Tolkien's evaluation cannot be accepted without qualification, he believed that Lewis "would not re-enter Christianity by a new door but by the old one.... He would become again a Northern Ireland Protestant -- though with a difference, certainly...." (p. 135).
Lewis died in 1963, on the same day as JFK and Aldous Huxley. He left behind a record of his vast learning, a legacy of extremely helpful books and his life a testimony to the grace of the God, who saves very great sinners indeed.