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Ratio Christi Interview with Greg West on CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity
Greg’s Note: Earlier this year I had the honor of being interviewed by Ratio Christi President Rick Schenker in relation to a project on CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity, a book I wish I had read many years before I finally did…
RC: If a person does not believe in God, where does he develop his idea of right and wrong or just and unjust?
GW: This was the main idea that got Lewis to rethinking his atheism. His number one objection to Christianity was that if a ‘good’ God existed he would not allow all the evil that exists in the world—but Lewis knew that if he had an idea of what was evil, then he had to have some idea of what was good. If morality was simply a product of evolution, personal preference, or decided by society, then he new that the idea of morality itself was meaningless. The unbeliever can be a good moral person, but can have no objective basis of why anything is either right or wrong. Nietzsche had it right when he said that if there is no God, then everything is permissible.
RC: Why did a good God give humans free will, knowing they would be free to choose evil?
GW: The answer, to me, is simply because he loves us. We might forbid one of our children to do such and such knowing perfectly well they will disobey—but that does not stop us from from loving them or from having children in the first place. Ideally, we have children because we want to share our love with them and want them to love us back. Even if a child rejects that love, it should not stop us from loving them, which is why God had a plan already in place to bring us back into a right relationship with him. If God had created us without the ability choose evil, then we would simply be programmed robots incapable of love or even knowing what love is.
RC: Lewis compares the struggle of good and evil to a civil war in which a good power created by God went wrong and rebelled, as opposed to the idea of two equal but opposite forces, one evil and one good. What difference does it make which of these two ideas a person believes?
GW: If we think of good and evil in the terms of light and darkness, we know that light dispels darkness every time with no exceptions. If good and evil were simply two opposite but equal forces, then one would never triumph over the other and ultimately it would not matter which side you were on—but with the Christian worldview, we not only know that good will triumph over evil and that someday evil will be vanquished, we know that it ‘must’ happen because darkness cannot exist in the light and someday God will simply ‘turn all the lights on’, if you will.
RC: In Mere Christianity, Lewis gives a theory of Jesus being lunatic, liar or Lord. Briefly explain this theory. Does it resonate with people on the fence about accepting the truths of Christianity?
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GW: This question is just another way of saying that sooner or later, everyone must come to terms with who Jesus is, and that’s why I titled ‘The Poached Egg’ with the name that it has—to allude to that quote. It’s like Jesus asking his disciples, ‘Who do others say that I am?’, and then more importantly, ‘Who do YOU say that I am?’ Lewis’ theory does resonate with people on the fence, but skeptics simply write it off by saying that Lewis does not give all of the possible choices, that his ‘trilemma’ begs the question, ‘Is the Bible true?”, or in other words, did the NT accurately record what Jesus said? Well yes, we can make a whole other separate positive case on the reliability of the NT, and then present the trilemma again putting it this way, “If the Gospels accurately recorded what Jesus said, then he was either a lunatic, a liar, or Lord. Lewis was aware of this—he wasn’t stupid. He isn’t making a case for the trustworthiness of the gospels here, he’s making a case of who Jesus is and that the issue is not one that should be voided but confronted.I’m paraphrasing here, but Lewis said that to live life avoiding the question of who Jesus is the equivalent of living life with your head in the sand.
RC: In your opinion, what is the central difference between morality of Christians and non-Christians?
GW: Simply put, the believer has reasons to be good and to do good, the unbeliever does not.
RC: How would you answer the skeptic that says Christianity is a safe bet (meaning it doesn’t hurt to follow the advice of a good moral teacher)?
GW: It’s not following good advice and being good that can get us into heaven or make us right with God because no matter how good we think we are or how much good we do, it cannot erase the fact that we have broken God’s law and are accountable for that. Let’s face it, even the best of us do not live up to the standards of our own morality, let alone God’s.
RC: Why is theology important? Isn’t it enough just to believe in God?
GW: Jesus’ half-brother, the apostle James, tells us in his epistle that belief is not enough. He says that even demons believe and tremble. Following good advice, trying to be good morally, or just acknowledging that we believe in God or intellectually accepting the truth claims of Christianity, we have to trust Jesus himself—trust and believe that he is THE ONE who has taken our debt of sin upon himself by his death and his conquering of the the grave. James was saying that If we do this—wholly trusting Jesus and knowing that we cannot depend on ourselves or our own righteousness to make things right and allowing His Spirit to work in us, then good works are going to be a natural result of that. One cannot encounter Jesus and the cross and remain unchanged. If one is not in the process of being sanctified, then one is not a Christian in the first place. Learning good theology means learning to think rightly about God. Believing is just the first step—it doesn’t get us all the way there—to right thinking.
RC: What is the difference between the statements “God is love” and “love is God”?
GW: I don’t think that saying ‘God is love’ means what a lot of people think it means. Saying God is love does not mean that God=love. I think it means that God is perfect in his love, just like he is perfect in morality and justice. Saying God is love is like saying, God is moral, God is good, God is just—the list could go on; God is simply perfect in every way. To say that, ‘love is God’, to me, smacks of pantheism, which is the belief that God is everything and in everything, which is not what the scriptures teach. If it were true, then we may as well worship a tree, or the sun, or whatever, because in doing so we would be worshipping God. Biblically speaking, that would be idolatry.
RC: Why aren’t all Christians nice? Do you agree with Lewis when he says that “when we Christians behave badly, or fail to behave well, we are making Christianity unbelievable to the outside world”?
GW: Yes and no. Yes, in that Christians behaving badly gives people an excuse to reject Christianity, but that’s all it is, an excuse. That’s not to say it is a good reason to reject Christianity which brings me to the ‘no’ part. When Christians fall down, it simply testifies to the truth of scripture that we all fall short and we are all sinful. It’s Christ’s righteousness that we must put on—not our own. This goes back to the book of James again. James said that if we say we are without sin then we are either lying or fooling ourselves. One of the differences between the believer and the unbeliever is that the believer has recognized his need for God and admits that he is a sinner.
RC: Lewis warns readers to ‘count the cost’ before becoming Christians. What do you think he meant by this?
GW: Lewis said that if you’re looking for a religion to make you feel comfortable, then Christianity is not going to be for you. It’s like what Bonhoeffer calls the difference between ‘cheap grace’ and ‘costly grace’. Cheap grace, in a nutshell, is the kind of Christianity that ends with salvation— “I’m in, and that’s all I need- good enough for me.” On the other hand, costly grace requires surrender of our whole self. Jesus put it this way, “If you want to find real life, then you must lose your own.” Lewis put it this way, “The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to Christ.” In other words, Jesus commands us to take up our cross, and carrying a cross is not something that is comfortable—it’s costly. Grace is free but it is not cheap!
RC: What impact has C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity had on you personally?
GW: It has had a great impact on me, as it has of course, on so many others. I had read the Narnia books many years ago, but I was already studying apologetics before I finally got around to reading Mere Christianity. It was then that I realized, that other than the Bible, Mere Christianity is where I should have started my studies. Although I don’t agree 100% with Lewis’ theology (I don’t think I agree with anyone 100%), Lewis really takes us through the process of ‘thinking things through’, which I think a lot of Christians, even very Godly Christians, fail to do—and in failing to do that, we are failing to love God with our entire being, which includes our minds.