Yale student questions Theophilus' views of C.S. Lewis, Orthodoxy, evangelicalism

Dear Theophilus,

I am sure that you have received many responses to your essay on C.S. Lewis, but I wanted to clarify a few issues with you, in case no one else has brought them up.

I am happy that you have found a home in the Orthodox Church, but I would hope that you would understand the other branches a little better nonetheless. To respond to your three points:

1) It is not at all clear that Christianity has ever been as unified as you imagine. There were many different practices and peculiarities to the various churches of the Early Church. Even the Apostles had differing opinions on important issues such as circumcision and following Jewish Law.

Therefore, I think it would be a bit much to expect the sort of practical unity that you seem to argue the Orthodox Church expects to achieve—certainly not before the coming of Christ. Achieving uniformity of worship practices while we still have cultural, historical and other differences seems even counterproductive.

Also, the Anglicans, Catholics and Orthodox (and other ecumenically-minded Churches) do seek unity through achieving communion with one another. The Orthodox Churches themselves are in communion with each other but have separate hierarchies and practices. Why is the desire of the other Churches inferior to the Orthodox's?

2) I feel that you do not entirely have a fair picture of Anglicanism.

Yes it has Calvinist roots, but it also has stronger Lutheran ones. This is an important distinction to look into. Among other things, it deeply influences the Anglican theology of the Eucharist. The Lutheran influences can be seen clearly in the Prayer Book. Calvinism can only be seen in parts of the Catechism. The Calvinist, Puritan Anglicans largely left for Congregationalism and Presbyterianism, leaving a less Protestant Anglican Church behind.

Also, perhaps you can help me with this issue: I don't know of any churches that argue that humans can save themselves. Is this a part of the Orthodox thinking that I missed? Can you point me to some evidence? I had understood that God was the only one who can save humanity. Catholics and Protestants agree that God saves us by giving us the grace to have faith in God. Does the Orthodox Church leave out the role of God's grace?

Your view of evangelicalism is narrow. Many, perhaps most, evangelicals do not necessarily agree with predestination. In fact, it is hard to find an unadulterated Calvinist anymore. Those that do believe in predestination tend to be Fundamentalists, who form only one of many parts of the evangelical community. I doubt a single charismatic would agree with the doctrine.

3. You seem to confuse justification and sanctification, two very important concepts. Justification is the process by which God saves us through grace (assuming that Orthodoxy agrees with this). Sanctification is the process of making us holy and fit to appear before God. The Protestant and Catholic view is that after one is justified, one is sanctified in a long process that takes the rest of one's life. It involves struggling daily (with the aid of the Holy Spirit) to follow the commands of Jesus Christ. This sounds a lot like Lewis.

Yes, some evangelicals in trying to convert emphasize the easiness of Jesus' yoke, saying that he has already won the victory. But far more would assure you that it is a hard battle to walk in his path after conversion. Walk into a Christian bookstore and look at the section on Holy Living or whatever and count the titles that talk about these challenges.

I would also like to note that the mainstream of the Anglican Church today is quite orthodox, in distinct contrast to the Episcopal Church in the United States.

A note about Lewis: he could never really appreciate the Orthodox or even the Catholic Church because they were so structured, ceremonial and mystical. I am sure he would be bemused that his writings had moved you to join the Orthodox Church (although I am also sure that he would send you with his blessing).

In any case, I am thrilled that you have rediscovered Lewis. He truly is an admirable representative of the faith. I wish you happy hunting through his works for more jewels! Just remember that Lewis advocated Mere Christianity, that which undergirds (even today) all faithful Christianity. He did not support any particular denomination.

God bless you, and I would be happy to hear back from you especially on the Orthodox Church and salvation.

In Christ, Joshua Mosher
[via email from Yale University]

Next month, we'll examine and answer the questions in detail. —Theophilus

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© 1995 Jon Kennedy