In putting together last month's post on the Nature Institute, I was doing a little research on Lewis, Barfield, and Steiner and I came across this Kjos Ministries page of excerpts and commentary on C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man.
The page exemplifies an unfortunate presumption that has developed among some segments of the Christian community: that the the Fall so completely alienated creation from God that He has absolutely no claim on us apart from Christian faith.
Take a look at a selection from this page that quotes passages from chapter 3 of Lewis's The Abolition of Man. (I'm quoting everything here verbatim, leaving in place all emphases and brackets.)
Apparently, the Chinese Tao replaces the Bible as ultimate authority and guide for our lives -- and for the common good:
Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have not motive but their own 'natural' impulses. Only the Tao proves a common human law of action which can overarch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery."
"In the Tao itself, as long as we remain within it, we find the concrete reality in which to participate is to be truly human: the real common will and common reason for humanity, alive, and growing like a tree, and branching out, as the situation varies, into ever new beauties and dignities of application. While we speak from within the Tao we can speak of Man having power over himself in a sense truly analogous to an individual's self-control. But the moment we step outside and retard the Tao as mere subjective product, this possibility has disappeared."
"I hear rumours that Goethe's approach to nature deserves fuller consideration -- that even Dr. [Rudolf] Steiner [occult founder of Waldorf Schools] may have seen something that orthodox researchers have missed."
The author (probably Berit Kjos) fails to acknowledge that Lewis is not directing people away from the Gospel, but making common cause with other traditions against "scientific" secularists whose flat view of nature permits them to manipulate the natural world and their fellow men. He uses the Tao as a name for the natural law accessible to a limited degree by all men, but made most perfectly manifest in Judeo-Christian revelation. As he writes in chapter 1,
The Chinese also speak of a great thing (the greatest thing) called the Tao. It is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road. It is the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time. It is also the Way which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar. 'In ritual', say the Analects, 'it is harmony with Nature that is prized.' The ancient Jews likewise praise the Law as being 'true'.
This conception in all its forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, and Oriental alike, I shall henceforth refer to for brevity simply as 'the Tao'.
In essence, the Tao is another name for the law that the Bible teaches (i.e., the Ten Commandments).1 That Christianity teaches that there is a natural moral law open to all men is explicit in Scripture. Surely a "Biblical Christian" like Kjos is familiar with St. Paul's Letter to the Romans:
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. (1:19-20; of course this a paraphrase of Wisdom 13)
When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (2:14-16)
In other words, man can know of God through His creation and God's law is written on the heart of men even in their falleness. (It would hardly be just for God to condemn men who had absolutely no way of knowing Him or His law.2)
In chapter three of Jesus through the Centuries, Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan reviews how early Christian apologists used the elements of pagan culture as sign-posts to Christ:
While messianic hope and messianic prophecy had been the peculiar feature of the history of the Jewish people, they were not the exclusive possession of the history of Israel. "Even in other nations," Augustine said, "there were those to whom this mystery was revealed and who were impelled to proclaim it." Job, Jethro the father-in-law of Moses, and Balaam the prophet were three such "Gentile saints," spoken of in the Hebrew Bible, with whose existence both rabbis and the church fathers had to come to terms. Armed with such biblical warrant, Christian apologists found in Gentile literature other evidence of messianic prophecy that pointed forward to Jesus. (35)
Not to mention those quintessential Gentile saints, the Magi, who arrived to worship Jesus on the Epiphany, the feast we celebrate today; their Zoroastrian religion prepared the way for them to recognize Christ. (Of course Zoroastrianism also brings to mind Cyrus, of whom Scripture goes so far as to call the anointed or messiah—see Isaiah 45.)
With the exception of the death of Socrates, the most striking example of Jesus' prefigurement in pagan literature is in the second book of Plato's Republic. As Pelikan recounts it, Glaucon tells (Plato's character) Socrates,
let this one "righteous man, in his nobleness and simplicity, one who desires, in the words of Aeschylus, to be a good man and not merely to give the impression of being a good man," now be accused of being in fact the worst of men. Let him, moreover, "remain steadfast to the hour of death, seeming to be unrighteous and yet being righteous." What will be the outcome? The answer, for whose gruesomeness Glaucon apologized in advance to Socrates, must be (and to preserve the neutrality of language, this translation is that of Gilbert Murray) nothing other than the following: "He shall be scourged, tortured, bound, his eyes burnt out, and at last, after suffering every evil, shall be impaled or crucified." (44-45)
Another Kjos page on Tolkien and Lewis comments revealingly:
Lewis was wrong in calling the gospel "a true myth" that works "on us in the same way as the others." The gospel is made alive in us by the work of the Holy Spirit, not by human imagination. God's mercy has always reached out to pagans around the world through the sacrificial lives of faithful missionaries. But His gift of salvation comes through His Word and Spirit. Believers who were formerly oppressed by occult forces were transformed in spite of, not because of their pagan beliefs.
Kjos certainly is correct that occult forces of themselves do not lead to truth. But notice the unfortunate opposition drawn between the Holy Spirit and the human imagination: as if the Holy Spirit couldn't work in and through the imagination and other human faculties. The implication is that God comes in solely from the outside: as if our omniscient Creator couldn't work with our native faculties.3,4 The implication is that the world is not just wrong, but completely wrong and contains no elements of truth. It is to the core rotten: grace doesn't build on creation but negates nature, or merely covers it over.
But one has to wonder: if the flesh were completely evil, how could God come in it? To say that the flesh is completely corrupt is a subtle denial of the Incarnation. Rather, our Creator became our Savior to rebuild the goodness that He had made and that Sin could not completely destroy.5
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already. (1 Jn 4:1-3)
Kjos seems a sincere believer. She rightly repudiates the gnosticism of Steiner (that she thinks is also present in Tolkien and Lewis). The irony is that by going to the other extreme, by turning God from our Creator into an Invader, she has in fact made God an alien, and thus slipped into a subtle form of gnosticism. As in Hans Jonas's The Gnostic Religion: the Message of the Alien God and the Beginnings of Christianity, the gnostic god is "acosmic" and has no real relationship to creation, except perhaps to negate it.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit,
but test the spirits to see whether they are of God.
It is no wonder that this is the sort of extrinsic god that Philip Pullman, the atheistic author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, thinks Christians believe in: an old killjoy, that is, a Creator who seeks to frustrate His creation. Pullman is right to reject such a God, but wrong to think that it is the real Christian conception of God. In reality the Judeo-Christian conception of God is like a gardener, who prunes his garden to help it grow better. Our "natural" inclinations require discipline so that they work together to the good of our whole nature, not just some narrow slice of it on which we obsess.
1. It may sound that Lewis is placing the Tao before God; this is true in the order of discovery (we know nature before we know God), and not the absolute order of things (God is prior to all in His creation). Of course, Christians identify the Torah or Law with the Logos: understood so, the Tao is uncreated.
2. Alas, integral justice isn't the issue for some Christians, so much as being decreed "just" through forensic or nominal justification.
3. God in this view isn't so much a creator (responsible for the integral being of every thing) as a maker, which is to say, one who simply re-arranges pre-existing matter.
4. I sincerely doubt that Mrs. Kjos is a feminist, but this extrinsic notion of God makes an interesting parallel with some feminist doctrines that portray the masculine element as completely foreign to the female: as if the female weren't made for the male and didn't find fulfillment in union with the male. (Lest I fall afoul of feminists out there, let me point out that I don't mean to imply that the male in our created world isn't completed in the female.)
5. In the first millennium there were seven ecumenical councils (meetings of all the world's bishops) to repudiate heresies about who Jesus was and is. Many of the early heresies taught that Jesus was either not truly God or truly man. One of the early heresies was monothelitism, the belief that Jesus had only one will. In reality, Jesus had a human will as well as a divine will. Through the Incarnation, God rectified the human will and didn't merely replace it with a divine will. God fixes our faculties and doesn't destroy them.