Tag Archives: c.s. lewis

Will We Lose Our Identities in Heaven?

No, but this seems to concern some believers. Author Randy Alcorn, in his book Heaven, deals with this question.

A man wrote me expressing his fear of losing his identity in Heaven: “Will being like Jesus mean the obliteration of self?” He was afraid that we’d all be alike, that he and his treasured friends would lose their distinguishing traits and eccentricities that make them special.

But he needn’t worry. We can all be like Jesus in character yet remain very different from each other in personality. Distinctiveness is God’s creation, not Satan’s. What makes us unique will survive. In fact, much of our uniqueness may be uncovered for the first time.

At the very end of Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes, “Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self. Sameness is to be found most among the most ‘natural’ men, not among those who surrender to Christ. How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints. . . . Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him , and with Him everything else thrown in.”

There is a profound lesson here. The more like Christ we become, or the more we approach the good, the true, and the beautiful, the more unique, fascinating, and special we become. The farther away we move from Christ, or the more we move toward the evil, the false, and the ugly, the more dull and monotonous we become.

God brings out the best in us, and so we can never reach our full, glorious potential away from Him.

Why Should We Focus on Heaven?

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Christians are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.” The idea behind this statement is supposed to be that Christians are content to leave the world the way it is because we are simply biding our time here so that we can get to our final destination, Heaven. It’s only those people who don’t believe in Heaven that will do the hard work to improve the Earth, because Earth is all there is.

While this is a catchy cliché, it misses an important point. Christians do try to make the Earth a better place, every single day, and they do it because Heaven represents what Earth is supposed to be like. Heaven, the Christian’s final destination, is a perfected and transformed Earth. Heaven is what Earth was supposed to be before sin entered the world and corrupted it.

It is only by focusing on what is supposed to be, that we will change what is. C. S. Lewis says this eloquently in Mere Christianity:

If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.

Randy Alcorn summarizes the point: “We need a generation of heavenly minded people who see human beings and the earth itself not simply as they are, but as God intends them to be.” So, rather than chide Christians for focusing on Heaven too much, the non-Christian should hope that Christians do just the opposite!

The Christian vision of Heaven is what drives us to improve the Earth we currently call “home.”

What Is the Argument from Desire?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

I don’t expect this argument will work with a science-worshiping atheist, but I do think it will work for people who are into the New Age or  Buddhism, or who otherwise are aware of the transcendent qualities of the world around them. I just finished the Steve Jobs biography, and I actually believe that Jobs may have resonated with this argument.

So what is the argument from desire? Nobody explains it better than philosopher Peter Kreeft. Here is Kreeft from his blog post on the argument from desire, first giving the two premises and conclusion of the argument:

1. Every natural, innate desire in us corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire.

2. But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth, no creature can satisfy.

3. Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth and creatures, which can satisfy this desire.

Kreeft then defends the first premise:

The first premise implies a distinction of desires into two kinds: innate and externally conditioned, or natural and artificial. We naturally desire things like food, drink, sex, sleep, knowledge, friendship and beauty; and we naturally shun things like starvation, loneliness, ignorance and ugliness. We also desire (but not innately or naturally) things like sports cars, political office, flying through the air like Superman, the land of Oz and a Red Sox world championship.

Now there are differences between these two kinds of desires. We do not, for example, for the most part, recognize corresponding states of deprivation for the second, the artificial, desires, as we do for the first. There is no word like “Ozlessness” parallel to “sleeplessness.” But more importantly, the natural desires come from within, from our nature, while the artificial ones come from without, from society, advertising or fiction. This second difference is the reason for a third difference: the natural desires are found in all of us, but the artificial ones vary from person to person.

The existence of the artificial desires does not necessarily mean that the desired objects exist. Some do; some don’t. Sports cars do; Oz does not. But the existence of natural desires does, in every discoverable case, mean that the objects desired exist. No one has ever found one case of an innate desire for a nonexistent object.

Kreeft defends the second premise:

The second premise requires only honest introspection. If someone defies it and says, “I am perfectly happy playing with mud pies, or sports cars, or money, or sex, or power,” we can only ask, “Are you, really?”

But we can only appeal, we cannot compel. And we can refer such a person to the nearly universal testimony of human history in all its great literature. Even the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre admitted that “there comes a time when one asks, even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?'”

Finally, the conclusion:

The conclusion of the argument is not that everything the Bible tells us about God and life with God is really so. What it proves is an unknown X, but an unknown whose direction, so to speak, is known. This X is more: more beauty, more desirability, more awesomeness, more joy. This X is to great beauty as, for example, great beauty is to small beauty or to a mixture of beauty and ugliness. And the same is true of other perfections.

But the “more” is infinitely more, for we are not satisfied with the finite and partial. Thus the analogy (X is to great beauty as great beauty is to small beauty) is not proportionate. Twenty is to ten as ten is to five, but infinity is not to twenty as twenty is to ten. The argument points down an infinite corridor in a definite direction. Its conclusion is not “God” as already conceived or defined, but a moving and mysterious X which pulls us to itself and pulls all our images and concepts out of themselves.

In other words, the only concept of God in this argument is the concept of that which transcends concepts, something “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived” (1 Cor 2:9). In other words, this is the real God.

As usual, C. S Lewis summarizes in a way only he can:

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity, Bk. III, chap. 10, “Hope”)

How Is Apologetics Bringing Christians Together?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the largest blemishes on Christianity is the number of different denominations. Just among Protestants, there are dozens of major denominations and hundreds of smaller denominations around the world. And, of course, there are Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches as well. What does apologetics (defense of the Christian faith) have to do with denominations?

As a defender of Christianity, the very first thing you have to answer for yourself is this: what Christianity am I defending? It’s pretty difficult to defend something that you can’t describe.

I attend a Southern Baptist church, but when I started studying apologetics 10 years ago, I quickly came to realize that to defend the Southern Baptist denomination was not what I was called to do.

What I needed to defend was orthodox Christianity – the traditional, historical faith that was established during the first 500 years of the church, and codified in the ecumenical councils held during that time period. This is the Christianity that every major Christian group points back to in one way or another. As my seminary professor Norman Geisler once wrote, “Unity among all major sections of Christendom is found in the statement: One Bible, two testaments, three confessions, four councils, and five centuries.”

This is exactly the approach C. S. Lewis took in all of his apologetic writings. He always wrote about what he called “Mere Christianity.” Lewis had no interest in diving into the in-house debates among Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. His was a calling to defend the common doctrines that all of these groups held sacred.

As I’ve studied apologetics, I’ve read numerous non-Baptist scholars, including quite a few Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox thinkers. Every one of these men and woman do their utmost to enunciate mere Christianity to the non-Christian world. I guarantee that if I hadn’t been studying apologetics, I would not have been exposed to such a wide range of Christians outside my denomination.

If you’ve ever been to an apologetics conference, you’ve probably noticed the way that Christians from every denomination mingle and network without thinking twice. We don’t wear name tags that label our denominations. It never comes up, honestly.

I believe that Christian apologetics can be a powerful force that unifies all Christians around the essentials of our faith. When we truly focus on what is central, on what is at the heart of our faith, we find that many of our differences seem less important.

Are we ready to drop all of our differences and unite as one visible church? No. There are real and substantial disagreements to be worked out. But the apologists are at the forefront, whether we know it or not, of a global movement to unify around mere Christianity. I am really excited about that and I hope you are, too.

Was Jesus Just a Good Moral Teacher?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

There are people who take the Gospels to be more or less reporting history, but who claim, nevertheless, that Jesus was merely a good man, and nothing more. I am not here talking about skeptics who question virtually everything in the Gospels, who believe that almost all of the material is legendary.

The people I am referring to generally have a cursory knowledge of the New Testament and are turned off by traditional religion. They are fans of Jesus in a shallow way. If you stopped them on the street and asked them what they thought about Jesus, they would say he was a great teacher of peace and love, an exemplary moral figure. Jesus is still popular, even nowadays.

What is frustrating about these shallow-Jesus-fans is that they have completely missed what Jesus stood for. The only group that would be more frustrating would be the Jesus-is-a-great-carpenter club. C. S. Lewis gives voice to this frustration in Mere Christianity by pointing out the absurdity of the shallow-Jesus-fans:

Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would be nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world Who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.

Norm Geisler and Frank Turek, in I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, ask us to imagine our neighbor making these kinds of claims:

“I am the first and the last—the self-existing One. Do you need your sins forgiven? I can do it. Do you want to know how to live? I am the light of the world—whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. Do you want to know whom you can trust? All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Do you have any worries or requests? Pray in my name. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. Do you need access to God the Father? No one comes to the Father except through me. The Father and I are one.”

What would you think about your neighbor if he seriously said those things? You certainly wouldn’t say, “Gee, I think he’s a great moral teacher!” No, you’d say this guy is nuts, because he’s definitely claiming to be God.

Shallow-Jesus-fans, don’t be ridiculous. Jesus did not come to teach moral platitudes in a long line of religious moralizers. No, he came to demand your allegiance to him, for he is King.

Is There More to Life than Technology?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I own an iPhone 5. My family owns an iPad, two iPhone 4s, and multiple iPods. Oh, and we bought a Google Nexus 7 tablet for Christmas. We also have DirecTV with whole home DVR capability. This list could go on for a while – believe me.

I love technology, and, in fact, I work in the semiconductor industry. Semiconductor technology, in particular, has revolutionized our modern lifestyle, enabling all that is electronic in the world.

But what is the purpose of it all? Sometimes we forget that all of these gadgets are means to an end. The gadgets are not ends in themselves. The technology that produces these gadgets is also not ultimately an end in itself. The science that produces the technology that produces the gadgets is also not an end in itself.

With all of the gadgets surrounding us today, we sometimes forget what the purpose of all of it is. Our ancient ancestors, however, saw things a lot more clearly than we do today. They weren’t nearly as distracted as we are.

Thomas Aquinas, who lived in the thirteenth century, considered the answers that people of his day gave to the question: “What brings ultimate happiness to a person’s life?” Here are the answers:

  1. wealth
  2. honor
  3. fame
  4. power
  5. bodily health
  6. pleasure
  7. wisdom and virtue (goods of the soul)
  8. God

Notice the order. After studying each of these 8 answers, Aquinas listed them in order of least important to most important. Where are you spending your time?

Are you obsessed with building wealth? Aquinas would say that you are way off the mark – not even close to what brings ultimate happiness.

What about bodily health? We are clearly a culture obsessed with health. We want to postpone death as long as possible. But bodily health is not the ultimate good.

Of the earthly goods, wisdom and virtue are the highest, and the world would certainly be a profoundly better place if everyone used their technology to pursue them, but Aquinas argued that even wisdom and virtue miss the mark.

The only thing that our soul yearns for more than anything else is to know and experience the Perfect Good. According to Aquinas, the Perfect Good of man, the thing that will give him ultimate happiness, cannot be something which was created:

It is impossible for any created good to constitute man’s happiness. For happiness is the perfect good, which lulls the appetite altogether; else it would not be the last end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object . . . of man’s appetite is the universal good. . . . Hence it is evident that naught can lull man’s will, save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone.

Consider what Jesus said, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt 6:33)

Speaking to God, St. Augustine said “Thou has made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”

C. S. Lewis advised, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

Put your technology in its place. You can certainly use it to gain a modicum of wealth, honor and perhaps fame. Use it to gain power over your life. Use it to keep yourself healthy and provide recreation. Use it to gain wisdom and virtue.

But ultimately, all of that is less than nothing, a positive impediment, if you aren’t pursuing God.

How Did Canonization of the New Testament Happen?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Canonization of the New Testament did not happen overnight.  The books of the New Testament were written over several decades, with the final books probably being completed just before A.D. 100.  However, documents traveled slowly 2,000 years ago, and it took many years for the books, later to be recognized as the New Testament, to circulate throughout the Roman Empire.  It was a long and gradual process.

The early church, using several criteria, worked through the process of recognizing the inspired books of the New Testament during the first few centuries after Christ’s death.  For a brief summary of the process, I quote church historian J. N. D. Kelly from his book Early Christian Doctrines:

The main point to be observed is that the fixation of the finally agreed list of books, and of the order in which they were to be arranged, was the result of a very gradual process. . . . Three features of this process should be noted.

First, the criterion which ultimately came to prevail was apostolicity. Unless a book could be shown to come from the pen of an apostle, or at least to have the authority of an apostle behind it, it was peremptorily rejected, however edifying or popular with the faithful it might be.

Secondly, there were certain books which hovered for long time on the fringe of the canon, but in the end failed to secure admission to it, usually because they lacked this indisputable stamp. . . .

Thirdly, some of the books which were later included had to wait a considerable time before achieving universal recognition. . . . By gradual stages, however, the Church both in East and West arrived at a common mind as to its sacred books. The first official document which prescribes the twenty-seven books of our New Testament as alone canonical is Athanasius’s Easter letter for the year 367, but the process was not everywhere complete until at least a century and a half later.

Not only did the process take a while due to practical communication obstacles, the early church was trying to be extremely careful about recognizing the canon.  Their desire was to get it right, and for that reason alone, we should be thankful for their approach to this process.

One final comment about the canon.  For some of you, this information may seem dry and even boring.  After all, you might be thinking, how does this impact my Christian walk today?  Aside from the fact that you should just want to know about the origins of the Bible, there is another more practical reason.  If you don’t know what really happened, then you won’t be able to recognize revisionist historians who grossly distort or outright lie about Christian origins.

When The Da Vinci Code was published, one of the biggest misrepresentations of Dan Brown was the claim that the church Council of Nicaea voted on which gospels (he claims there were 80 or so to choose from) to include in the New Testament, based on the council’s desire to make Jesus a god.  First of all, this never happened, and secondly, it completely fails to accurately portray the actual process of canonization.  Brown got it completely wrong, but the Christian ignorant of church history would never know that.

C. S. Lewis once said that good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, to counter bad philosophy.  Likewise, true church history must exist, if for no other reason, to counter false church history.

Why Talk So Much About Atheism?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

If you’ve read this blog for any period of time, you’ve probably noticed that there are quite a few blog posts dedicated to discussions of atheism (there is no god or gods) and the philosophy of naturalism (all that exists is found in the material universe).  Atheism and naturalism generally go together, although not always.

Some of you may wonder why I (Bill) should spend so much time talking about atheistic naturalism when less than 5% of the population explicitly subscribes to this worldview.  Most of us don’t personally know practicing, outspoken atheists, so why bother addressing this worldview so often?  That’s a good question and one that I’ve asked myself.

The answer is that although the general populations of Europe and North America (the areas of the world that impact American culture the most) are not explicitly atheist, the percentages go way up for those who inhabit the highest levels in academia.  The academic world’s embrace of atheistic naturalism is unique among all the challengers to Christianity.

This may just confirm for some of you that academics are “not right in the head” or “out in left field” and that we should just ignore them.  While some of them may be like that, we ignore them at our peril.  I firmly believe that the ideas that are imbibed in the universities among academics eventually make their way to the general population.  History has proven this out time and again.

The battle of worldviews is being fought at our western universities and the major contenders are Christian theism and atheistic naturalism.  As a Christian apologist, I feel drawn to this battle as I consider it to be the heavyweight bout.

Now, I am not saying that we should ignore other worldviews that attack Christianity.  On the contrary, on this blog we have addressed many other worldviews, especially Mormonism, as my co-blogger Darrell is a former Mormon and understands that worldview extremely well.  I am merely saying that atheistic naturalism deserves a lot of ink because of the devotion of many western intellectuals.

Even though our friends and neighbors are rarely hard core atheists, atheistic naturalism impacts our culture often in ways we don’t even realize.  There are more and more people who are practical atheists, even if they don’t call themselves atheists.  They live as if God does not exist, even though they would not say they don’t believe in God if they were asked.  Our friends and neighbors are taking in naturalistic ideas without even knowing it.

How are they taking in these ideas?  Through the pop culture.  How is pop culture picking up on these ideas?  From western intellectuals.  We cannot just ignore the academic world.  We owe it to our fellow man to counter atheistic naturalism.  C. S. Lewis, as always, is ready with a helpful bit of advice.  “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”

Why Should I Care What Your Kids Are Watching?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The conventional wisdom these days is that what you do in your home is your business.  If you have children, and you let them watch inappropriate TV shows or movies, then who am I to judge?  After all, what you allow your kids to consume doesn’t affect me.  Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “If you don’t like that movie or TV show, then don’t watch it.  Change the channel.”  You have your life and I have mine.

In the real world, however, everything you do in your home, and especially everything you let your kids do in your home, does affect me and my family.  None of us lives on an island by ourselves.  We are all interacting with other individuals in our community every day.  The media that your kids consume influence how they think, talk, and otherwise behave.

Since my kids go to school with your kids, then how your kids behave is going to directly impact my kids every day of the school week.  When your kids speak on the phone to my kids, they are influencing them.  When your kids play with my kids on sports teams, they are influencing them.

All of us impact the people with whom we interact.  C. S. Lewis uses the metaphor of ships in a fleet.  As the ships sail in a tight formation toward their destination, it is imperative that each ship be in proper working order.  If one ship is damaged and loses its steering mechanism, then it can accidentally run into other ships, causing them damage, and negatively affecting the entire fleet.

In the same way, each person is a ship in the fleet of our community.  As we damage ourselves, we will end up damaging others around us.  Living in a community gives me a reason to care about what your kids are watching.  Ethicist Francis Beckwith elaborates on this point:

These [inappropriate TV] programs convey messages and create a moral climate that will affect others, especially children, in a way that is adverse to the public good. Hence, what troubles [concerned] citizens is that you and your children will not change the channel. Furthermore, it concerns these people that there is probably somewhere in America an unsupervised ten-year-old who is, on a consistent basis, watching late night HBO or listening to radio shock-jock Howard Stern. Most of these people fear that their ten-year-olds, who are not watching or listening to such programs, may have to interact socially with the unsupervised ten-year-old. Others, who may not have young children, are concerned for the declining moral health of their communities, which is sometimes manifested in an increasing level of rudeness, disrespect, incivility, crime, or verbal and physical violence.

Let me be the first to say that our household is not perfect; there is much we could do to improve our media consumption.  My point is not to cast my family as completely innocent victims.  My point is to make a case for why we should be concerned about how people in our community are raising their children.  I am trying to raise awareness of the concept of the public good.  We are all sailing in a fleet together.

If you aren’t concerned about the media’s effect on your children, then think about my children and change the channel.

Does God Send People to Hell? – #2 Post of 2009

Post Author: Bill Pratt

God wishes every person to avoid hell and be saved from it (2 Pet 3:9).  Christians do not believe God sends people to hell.  Hell is freely chosen by those who reject God.

God gave every person the power of free will and the most important decision we will make with that power of free will is whether to embrace or reject God.  Since heaven is a place where we spend eternity with God, then for those who reject God, there needs to be a place where they can escape him.

If you are a person who wants nothing to do with God in this life, then wouldn’t it be hell for you to be in heaven with God forever?

C. S. Lewis summarizes this issue well, as usual.  He says, “The door of hell is locked on the inside.”  All those who go to hell will to be there and to stay there.  He adds, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’  All that are in hell choose it.”

Why doesn’t God force everyone to ultimately choose him so that all people go to heaven?  After all, some might say, that is the right thing to do.

The problem with this solution is that God created free human beings, and if he forces them to do anything, then he is violating their freedom.  If God forces people to choose him, it comes down to a kind of “divine rape,” a coercion.  God’s love demands that he offer people a place where they can freely reject him, forever.