Volume 9, Issue 5: Anvil
C.S. Lewis Dude
We have occasionally been asked why we quote C.S. Lewis so much. One recent enquiry pointed out Lewis' erroneous views on biblical inerrancy as evidenced in his book Reflections on the Psalms.
The answer is at once simple and complex. The simple part is that quotation at one point does not imply agreement at every point. If we had to agree at every point, our editors couldn't even quote one another. Nor does favorable quotation mean that we believe that the unmentioned disagreements are unimportant. We quote Chesterton, too, and we cheerfully acknowledge him to have been a ruddy papist.
The reason we quote Lewis (and Chesterton) is that they provide a wonderful counterbalance to the modern Reformed techno-geek, systematic computer printout approach to theological issues. In short, Lewis was not a modern. He was far more medieval in his approach to most issues (that being a good thing) than most Christians today, and we frankly have a lot to learn from him.
Our doctrinal orientation is, we think, not invisible to our readers. We believe and are committed to a reformational understanding of the world. But we also hold to the admirable sentiment semper reformanda--always reforming. This necessitates a willingness to learn from people outside the camp.
The issue of inerrancy provides us with a good case in point. Lewis held views on Scripture with which we heartily disagree. We hold to scriptural infallibility, and contra Lewis, believe that modern Christians can and should sing imprecatory psalms without falling into malice and hatred.
But our objection to his position is not because he does not hold to "inerrancy." The modern evangelical assertion of inerrancy is as problematic as Lewis' errors. In countless evangelical statements of faith, we may see affirmations that the Scriptures were inerrant "in the original autographs." This is nothing less than a well-disguised abandonment of the classical Protestant assertion of infallibility in the manuscripts we have.
When the Barthian says that the Bible contains the Word of God, little yellow warning lights go off in our heads, as well they should. But when modern evangelicals say that the Word of God was located in a collection of long lost manuscripts, and that thousands of corruptions have since then entered the texts, what are they saying except that the Bibles we have in our hands simply contain the Word of God? Modern evangelicals differ with the Barthians only on the configurations of the container, and both are, in some respect, neo-orthodox.
But Lewis, with all his failings, was orthodox, and not a modern. We hope that we have the wisdom to imitate his virtues and avoid his errors. It is the same approach we take with modern Reformed theology.
One Cheer for Russia
By Douglas Jones
Russia recently had the gall to openly slap a modern idol, and the cries of blasphemy were deafening. President Boris Yeltsin signed a bill which enshrines the Russian Orthodox Church as the country's preeminent religion and limits the practice of many others, including Protestant. The new law pledges to respect other religions, but it rigidly restricts their public activities until they have been in Russia for fifteen years.
Religious and secular leaders around the world roundly condemned the bill, and so of course that should be a sign to us that it had to contain something good. Hundreds of Russians protested in the streets of Moscow, wiggling such banners as, "Where is freedom if there is no choice!" and "Protestants are Russians too." (The dominant brand of Protestantism there is so addicted to modernity that it can only do more harm than good.)
Now they picked an idolatrous faith (Russian Orthodoxy), but their idols are not as dangerous as ours. The Russians at least have some understanding that pluralism kills. Pluralism sells itself as a friend to all views, but over time it gobbles up every opponent. Pluralism's real goal is to slay everything which opposes modernity, all under the cloak of tolerance. While pluralism gives you a warm hug, it slowly digs a knife into your back.
At least Russian Orthodoxy has the spine to say that something is false. Pluralism is so rhetorically deceptive that it assumes the falsity of every view except itself, all while pretending to make no claims about truth.
Yet at the same time, I don't think Western Christians should dream of imitating Russia's law. Pluralism can also be used against pluralism. It's such a silly idol that it can't last. You need to let it die such a decisive suicide that it can't rise again. Russia has made pluralism a sympathetic, prone victim--its favorite position. Pluralism is sure to rise again there, especially since Russian Orthodoxy has no idea how to fight.
By letting another century stare at all the hypocrisies and intolerances of pluralism, folks will be so sick of the lie that it will die by laughter. At the same time, classical Protestants should disciple the nations and produce so much real fruit--caring for the poor, educating our children, and rejoicing in the arts--that its former opponents will see it as it is, the peaceful refuge far from the guillotines of pluralism.
Ethical Math Skills
By Douglas Jones
Mathematics has been described as the "science of patterns." In order to solve a problem, you find all the relevant patterns and dismantle it according to general principles. To find the patterns, you have to look past all the particular, tricky details and grasp the big, abstract picture lurking in the background.
This sort of reasoning disciplines one's judgment to deal in the world of generalities and abstractions. If, however, you just look at the particular details, you won't be able to solve the problem (and vice versa).
Over the past decade, the government schools of many states, especially California (of course), have focused on "particularizing" mathematics. That is, they've adopted curricula which try to minimize abstraction in mathematics and make it more "understandable" and friendly by obsessing about particulars, manipulables, and images for years on end. No doubt such things can be helpful at points, but when you try to develop a mathematical mind over years by minimizing abstractions, then you are asking for trouble. It won't happen. You will miss half of the story. And as one could predict, parents and critics are already lining up in various states to complain about this gutting of mathematics. They want to know why students continue to lack mathematical abilities.
The real fight here though isn't about algebra. Even if you never want to be an engineer, mathematics provides a discipline for all other types of practical reasoning, especially ethics. Think about legal reasoning in its simplest terms. A conflict between two persons comes before a judge and/or jury who have to determine whether a general rule applies to the details in the conflict. Is this a case of negligence? Is it an instance of a general prohibition? Cases turn on such judgments.
We do the same thing when we have questions in personal ethics. We look at the facts and judge whether this is a violation of God's commands. Is it an instance of a general prohibition or requirement? Ethics is like a giant word problem.
If you just focus on the particular details, you won't be able to make any ethical judgments. Thus we get a wonderful argument for the practicality of algebra and calculus far beyond engineering. It might even contribute to our sanctification, our discipline in working smoothly with ethical abstractions. And it might also help explain why mathematical ignorance fits so nicely with moral decadence.
Now of course this can't mean that math students are morally superior to other students. In fact, those who only live in mathematics tend to think all the world is a clean mechanical, engineer's dream, which can create even worse problems. Ethics is more messy and complex than calculusit desperately needs the poet's touch. And a good balance between math and poetry is what we used to call a liberal education.
Chuckles for President
By Douglas Wilson
The vast machinery of the next presidential campaign is still standing largely silent, although here and there on the evening news one catches a glimpse of some poor working stiff oiling up all the gears. But soon the parts will be humming smoothly again, and the complexities of democracy will once again resume the very important work of making hamburger out of what is left of constitutional government. For our democracy is, as Mencken tenderly reminded us, nothing less than the art and science of running the zoo from the monkey house.
Among other things, once again we will be treated to the spectacle of Christians looking at column A, being horrified, and consequently assuming, without looking too closely, that Column B is the reliquary of traditional values. As a consequence, we will see the solons of the church urging their people to get out there and make a difference, that difference being a huge evangelical vote for mountebanks, scoundrels, rapscallions, fools, ninnyhammers, hypocrites, lechers, jackels, poofters, weasels, and nonsmokers. And the Democrats are worse.
Why do we do this to ourselves every time? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. While the problem is really not a difficult one to understand, solving it does appear to be beyond our capacity. It would seem that even one with modest intellectual attainments, a convenience store clerk, say, or a federal judge, should be able to grasp this easily. It is not wise for Christians to vote for their enemies. There, I said it. Call me a radical. And enemies who pretend to be friends, and whose names rhyme with toot, are worse, not better.
Talking this way sometimes makes people think that you are advocating a retreat from the public square, or a withdrawal from civic discourse. Civil discourse, maybe, but not civic discourse.
Christians should certainly be profitably engaged in the political process. And at the current time, profitable engagement means pointing out, with high good humor, that an honest Christian man has the same chance of making it to the highest office that Jerry Falwell has of being selected by the college of cardinals as the next pope.
So what is our duty as Christians? The next time around on our electoral Tilt-a-Whirl, our nation's op-ed pages should be filled up with letters from bemused Christian observers. They should want to point out that, while the emperor may have some clothes on, he is nonetheless still in his skivvies.