Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Michael L. Peterson's "C. S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview"

Michael L. Peterson is Professor of Philosophy at Asbury Theological Seminary. His books include Science, Evolution, and Religion, God and Evil, and With All Your Mind. He is managing editor of the scholarly journal Faith and Philosophy.

Peterson applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, C. S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview, and reported the following:
If you open C. S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview to page 99, you will find yourself squarely in a discussion of the heart of the Christian view of reality. Most centrally, historical orthodox Christianity asserts that God, who is intrinsically personal and relational, willed that there would be finite human persons to be in relationship with him. In light of this, page 99 addresses the problem of the rational free creature’s essential choice—indeed its central struggle—regarding whether or not to enter relationship with God. Beginning the page is a quote from Lewis’s The Problem of Pain assessing the primeval human reaction to the choice:
They wanted, as we say, to “call their souls their own.” But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner.... This act of self-will on the part of the creature, which constitutes an utter falseness to its true creaturely position, is the only sin that can be conceived as the Fall.
The human “fall” caused relational damage, such that we are no longer in right relation to God, others, or ourselves.

All of this means that human persons living apart from relation to God are not their “true selves,” not in proper contact with God, their Ultimate Source. Yet the human purpose or telos is life in God—and living into our true purpose is authentic human happiness and flourishing. The Christian drama, then, which plays out Christian doctrine in the actual world, regards the gracious activity of God to repair the relational damage, the relational breach, caused by wayward human choice.

Page 99 is important as a kind of hinge of the book. It presents what Lewis calls the essential problem of human life, a major theme in his fantasy, fiction, and philosophical writings. As hinge, it follows prior chapters discussing Lewis’s twenty-year long intellectual and existential journey to God—from atheistic materialist to philosophical idealist to basic theist to Christian. The page is prelude to chapters interacting with Lewis’s explanations of central Christian doctrines and their implications for important philosophical problems.

Before page 99, we find treatments of Lewis’s reasons why he came to believe in the Christian God—his arguments from joy, reason, and morality as well as his deep personal longing for meaning and fulfillment. Yet, despite rational and personal elements that were drawing Lewis to God, he felt the same understandable human hesitation, and almost fear, of surrendering to God. Lewis had “wanted to call his soul his own” and had “wanted not to be interfered with.” After his conversion, he began to flourish and became the most influential Christian author in the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first century.

Following page 99 are chapters discussing Lewis’s elucidation of central Christian doctrines whose implications are explored through the remaining chapters. Lewis is eloquent on the doctrines of Incarnation and Trinity—explaining that Christ the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, became bonded forever with a historical human being, Jesus of first-century Nazareth, in order to show how close relationally he wants to be with us. The book evaluates Lewis’s defense of Jesus’s claims to divinity. Subsequent chapters then trace out implications of Christian ideas for major issues—like the problem of evil and suffering, the impact of science on Christian belief, the problem of salvation for people outside the faith, and the puzzles involving prayer and providence.
Learn more about C. S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue