Early comparisons and contrasts (Edwards & Lewis)

As any dear soul who reads this blog is already aware, I've recently completed reading through Jonathan Edwards' book Religious Affections with a group of bloggers at www.challies.com. Now Tim Challies is leading us through another classic, Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. (I'm very excited to have my husband participating in this reading as well!) It's really amazing to follow a great Calvinistic thinker with a great non-Calvinistic one. (I'm not experienced enough in things-Lewis to be able to classify him more specifally than that.) Because the last reading is so fresh in my mind, and because Edwards has left a deep impression, I find it nearly impossible not to make comparisons.

One of the main thrusts of Edwards' Religious Affections was to enable discernment between false and true Christianity in oneself and in others. So as I headed into Lewis, it seemed I was met almost immediately with a contradiction to Edwards' entire premise. Lewis says in his Preface: "It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men's hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge. It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense....We must therefore stick to the original, obvious meaning. The name Christians was first given at Antioch (Acts xi. 26) to 'the disciples,' to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles. There is no question of its being restricted to those who profited by that teaching as much as they should have. There is no question of its being extended to those who in some refined, spiritual, inward fashion were 'far closer to the spirit of Christ' than the less satisfactory of the disciples. The point is not a theological, or moral one. It is only a question of using words so that we can all understand what is being said. When a man who accepts the Christian doctrine lives unworthily of it, it is much clearer to say he is a bad Christian than to say he is not a Christian."

As I said, this statement seemed to me, on the surface to contradict Edwards. And this is one of the benefits of listening to different viewpoints. I went back to Edwards and found that though I would not say the two were in complete agreement, I can definitely say, they weren't so far apart as it first seemed. Though I think Edwards would be more inclined to refer to a professing Christian who lives in clear and prolonged disobedience to Christ as a hypocrite, than to refer to him as a "bad Christian"; at heart their attitudes are very similar. (This difference may also stem in part from a different aim: Lewis' apologetic, and Edwards' pastoral.) Here's how Edwards treats the matter: "That I am far from undertaking to give such signs of gracious affections, as shall be sufficient to enable any certainly to distinguish true affection from false in others; or to determine positively which of their neighbors are true professors, and which are hypocrites. In so doing, I should be guilty of that arrogance which I have been condemning. Though it be plain that Christ has given rules to all Christians, to enable 'em to judge of professors of religion, whom they are concerned with, so far as is necessary for their own safety, and to prevent their being led into a snare by false teachers, and false pretenders to religion...'tis also evident, that it was never God's design to give us any rules, by which we may certainly know, who or our fellow professors are his, and to make a full and clear separation between sheep and goats: but on the contrary, it was God's design to reserve this to himself, as his prerogative." (p. 193, 1959 Yale Ed.) And later he adds: "But nothing that appears to them in their neighbor, can be sufficient to beget an absolute certainty concerning the state of his soul: for they see not his heart, nor can they see all his external behavior; for much of it is in secret, and hid from the eye of the world: and 'tis impossible certainly to determine, how far a man may go in many external appearances and imitations of grace..." (pg 420).

Both men are in agreement that it is impossible to see into a man's heart, and that it is arrogant to insist otherwise. However, as I said before, each man had an entirely different purpose in making his assertion. Each comes at the matter from a different angle, with Edwards focusing more on not being able to judge a heart no matter how good a "Christian" someone may seem; and Lewis on not judging regardless of how bad a "Christian" someone may seem. I think Edwards has the Biblical edge in this case, because of an abundance of Scripture which indicates the idea that we can "know the tree by it's fruit". But I'm also happy and relieved to find marked agreement between these two very gifted, very godly, and very different men.

(All emphasis in bold is my own.)


Betsy Markman said…
Wow. I've read a little bit of Edwards, and I love him. I'd like to read more. But I think it's so incredibly cool to finally "meet" another female who reads deeply and thinks deeply. Edwards isn't "chick fare," and I don't believe I've ever met another woman besides you and me who reads him.
So glad you found my blog so I could find your blog! And I hope you don't mind if I follow yours, too!
Laurie M. said…
Welcome. I'd be blessed and honored. I was just telling my husband how impressed I was by your site - so well thought out, with serious topics & with topical series. (And I couldn't help but notice that we're the same age.)
Anonymous said…
Thanks for your thoughts, I haven't read any Edwards but have read Lewis. Now, I have another author to add to my list. On the distinction you make; I would not say either one is less Biblically correct, I believe you are correct in that a pastor is responsible for making (limited) judgments, guiding and even pruning his flock, however, we are not to judge those outside of the church as they have not submitted to the spiritual authority of the church. It is also written that those who teach (and therefore have authority) will be judged by a stricter standard. Here are some relevant verses…

James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

Romans 2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.

Romans 14:1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.

God bless,
Laurie M. said…
Thanks for stopping by and contributing to the discussion. These are certainly important matters to sift through, and I think we go farther when we're willing to do it together. It's always dicey when dealing with folks whose profession does not line up with a Christian lifestyle. Edwards and Lewis both clearly felt that tension and tried to address it. I really appreciate Lewis's perspective.
Jess said…
It is interesting that you should have read Edwards right before Lewis. While Lewis claims to not be a Calvinist, he is certainly God-centered. So God-centered that I once read an entire spread of R.C. Sproul's magazine, Tabletalk, that used his God-centered vision and writings to try to prove that he really was a Calvinist at heart. It was very fascinating. Regardless, the two men, while different, do have some similar themes running throughout the course of their writings. One that I have found remarkable is "Christian hedonism." Piper may have coined the phrase, but I have found it in Edwards and in Lewis, as Piper did also.
(ShiVeR)Curtis said…
I'd just like to add, if I may, "You will know them by their fruits." and the book of 1 John.

Though you can not know the true work God has done on someone who is weak in the faith, or not yet really settled on sound doctorine, you can know them by their fruits. If they, after making a profession, continue to walk in ungodliness, and lead a lifestyle of sin, you can know them by their fruits, good.....or bad. More than this, I believe the bible teaches there are those who profess faith in Christ yet are false converts, false teachers and wolves. Many of these teach and sit under clear false teaching and heresy, you will know them by their fruits.

I believe you must be very careful in this area, and rather than tell someone they are a false convert, hold up the law of God, hang them over Hell under the judgement of God and His holy wrath, then open up the wonderful gospel of Gods great love, mercy and grace. Lead them first to Mt. Sinai, before you lead them to Calvary, to Moses, before to Christ.

If you suspect someone is a false convert, lead them through the law and then grace, their response could be a good indicator of the validity of there profession.

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