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A love letter? The Bible and C.S. Lewis

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As I reflect on the place Scripture has had in my life and in
the communities of faith I’ve been involved in, I come up
with a wide spectrum of practices. I think back to my ordination
exam and a phrase I used that grabbed one of the men sitting on
the review board. I said: “I believe God’s Word is
His love letter to the human race.” Some years later I
still hold that to be a valid and telling statement of my view of
Scripture. I think it has a significant bearing on what the place
of Scripture should be in our communities of faith today.

I’ve seen Scriptures used as a doctrinal book to
substantiate systems of theology; to take verses to show that God
is leading one way or another; and, as a lab rat to be dissected
and analyzed. Encouragement, empowerment, and exaltation have
been ways that it has had a prominent effect in the communities
of faith. One gentlemen I worked with referred to it as merely a
history book and others have referred to it as a book of
literature in the category of mythology. Communities have used it
to guide their organizational procedures, to punish offenders of
the book, as a template for doing church and on goes the list.
Followers of Christ have been encouraged to have intimate time in
the word, to memorize, meditate and master the Bible as a core
part of the community of faith.

No mistake should be made many of these are viable ways of
God’s Word having a place in the community of faith but
many fall far short. I start this paper with the raw belief that
Scripture is to be central in our communities of faith and that
it is God’s inspired Word. What I want to wrestle with is
HOW and to some degree WHY?

Let me share a handful of Scriptural verses that resonate in
my heart as I prepare, verses that I memorized as a young man and
which still impact me and ring in my soul to this day:

2 Timothy 3:16 & 17 – “All Scripture is
God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and
training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be
thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Ps 119:11 – “I have hidden your word in my heart
that I might not sin against you.”
Hebrews 4:12 – “For the word of God is living and
active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even
to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the
thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Joshua 1:8 – “Do not let this Book of the Law
depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you
may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be
prosperous and successful.”
1 Timothy 4:13 – “Until I come, devote yourselves
to the public reading of the Scripture, to preaching and to
 teaching.”

Acts 17:11 – The Bereans examined the Scripture to see if
what Paul said was true…

The list could go on but as I look at these verses, they
represent almost ever genre of Scripture. They help shape my
thinking and action as I engage this Love Letter. It is given by
God himself as He inspired people through the ages and saved it
in written form for us today. He knows that our love, my love
would be tested so he gave us His revelation and encouraged us to
treasure it inside our hearts, minds and soul so that we
wouldn’t be enticed to other lovers and so sin against Him,
the greatest lover of all. This love letter is like no other love
letter in that it isn’t just words on paper; it is alive
and active somehow. Then again, if we were to go away from our
lover for say a year and receive letters, they would also be very
much alive I suppose. But, there is a uniqueness to the
Scriptures in that it is also very penetrating and it will catch
my tricky emotions and deceptions. It will expose me for who I
am. It sounds odd to say it, but this is a good thing, a very
good thing. Even more, when I’m really meditating on it
often, like day and night, I begin to do what it says. There is a
supernatural power to it that is changing me – I’m
sure in concert with the Holy Spirit whom the lover has sent to
be a constant presence and helper. Further, when I do what is
written in it, I am prosperous and successful. That is never to
be the reason for loving God or cherishing His revelation.
Another unique thing about this love letter is that I’m
supposed to share it, it isn’t just for me. I think if my
wife would share love letters from our early days, I might be
highly embarrassed. But we/I am to give it away and give public
attention to it.

Most recently, having read John Eldridge’s book
Waking the Dead, I am more convinced than ever about the
need to guard our hearts. Prov. 4:23 says “Above all else,
guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” Keeping
Scripture at the center of our lives and treasuring it in
our heart puts us well along the way of taking care of our
 hearts.

C.S. Lewis and the inspiration of Scripture

I was encouraged down this thought of a love letter as I read
C.S. Lewis on Scripture by Michael J. Christensen. I
gained a lot from reading this work which is an evaluation of
Lewis’ position on Scripture. Lewis never considered
himself a theologian and deferred such difficult subjects to
theologians but he comes at it from a literary perspective which
is helpful in many respects. While I don’t necessarily
resonate with all the conclusions either Christensen or Lewis
arrive at, I find some of the thoughts beneficial.

Lewis held Scriptures as “human literature, divinely
inspired and authoritative, but not verbally inspired or without
error.” (11) He viewed some parts as “more
Inspired” than others. “The kind of truth we demand
of Scripture, Lewis remarks in conclusion to this letter,
‘was, in my opinion, never even envisaged by the
ancients.’” (19) It becomes difficult to tell
where Lewis fit in the debate over Scripture. Liberals and
conservatives alike had problems with his views. “Lewis is
sometimes charged with being an occasional friend of higher
criticism.” (34) “It makes little difference to
Lewis whether the story of Ruth for example, is historical or
not. ‘I’ve no reason to suppose it is not,’ he
says. Either way, the truth of the story is inspired and acts on
us as the Word of God. Nor does he have any theological
difficulty in accepting Genesis as ‘Derived from earlier
Semitic stories which were Pagan and mythical.’ But because
the creation story has mythic qualities does not mean it is
untrue. Myth can be truer than historical fact.”
(34) “Lewis’ discovery of Christianity was
plainly a rather momentous event for him. But he seems not to
have been converted to a theological scheme at all, and he
refused all his life to think that an understanding of
Christianity would necessitate that he adopt an elaborate
theology.” (41)

One area I was challenged to think differently in is the area
of myth as Lewis talks about it. Myth as he defines it is
“the primary mode of imagery, the highest form of
symbolism.” (59) I think the word myth as understood by
the common person today is that myth is not a true story but more
of made up story or legend. He does not mean lie, error, illusion
or misunderstood history. Lewis of course used myth quite
extensively in his writing like the Chronicles of Narnia and
“believes ‘we come nearest to experiencing as a
concrete what can otherwise be understood only as an
abstraction.’” (59) We find that to be true today
as imagery inundates us from all sides and virtually becomes
reality for us. We should not shy away from that but draw heavily
from the imagery that God gives us in the Bible.

Who are the best teachers/preachers you’ve ever heard?
For me they are the ones that make the imagery come alive and
make me feel like I’m involved in the story. It
usually isn’t usually the one who gives me four
propositions to leave with. As Lewis looks at myth he
doesn’t see it as falsehood and even distinguishes it from
allegory. “Far from being less than true or factual, myth
puts us in touch with Reality in a more intimate way than by
knowing what is merely true or factual.” (61)
“Reality is received through the imaginative embrace of
pictorial patterns made romantically and spiritually real…
the images evoked through myth register beneath the surface of
the mind, allowing us to actually experience Reality and grasp
eternal truths which might baffle the intellect and confuse the
mind.” (64) In Lewis’ own writing, he allowed
truth to unfold mythically. As we embrace this love letter in its
fullness of truth I believe we would do well not to simply see it
as propositional or objective truth (not to lose sight of it
either), but to see it as great divinely inspired literature
which comes alive (Heb 4:12).

The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a
fact, Lewis insists … to be truly Christian, Lewis
admonishes, we must both assent to the historical fact and also
receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same
imaginative embrace we accord to all myths.” (pg 76)
“It can be concluded at this point that Scripture for Lewis
functions as myth, as well as historic fact.” (76) We
mortals often suffer from an either/or mentality. This has been
particularly evident in the rationalistic, reasoning, logical
side of modernity. Is God not after all an imaginative and
creative God?! Does God really want us to relegate Him or His
revelation of Himself to proposition and systematic? Must it take
away from the authority and inspiration of the Scripture if we
allow the “myth” of Scripture to impregnate our
minds? Yet, we must not remove some of the anchors that have been
put in place by modernity. Can we not also benefit by studying
from a systematic way? Does proposition and principle not come
loudly through God’s Word at times? Have we not learned and
experience much good in the Scriptures from the likes of Francis
Schaefer and others. This should drive us to find a medium point
rather than allowing the pendulum to swing the other direction.
Strive to find the point of tension in this issue!

Scripture as Inspired Literature

Lewis, though he never used the term, holds a literary
view of inspiration. The Bible is inspired literature carrying a
divine message. Human in its origin, biblical literature has been
raised by God above itself, qualified by Him to serve purposes
which of itself it would not have served.” (pg 90) Perhaps
Lewis was very postmodern in his outlook when he “insists
that the issue of inspiration is far less important than
evangelicals often make it out to be. Our real task, Lewis would
say, is not to focus on life’s “pointers” and
“signposts” to God and His kingdom, but to get on
with the journey at hand.” (91) Christenson uses Lewis
for a case in point “that one can be a dedicated
evangelical, accept the full authority of Scripture, yet
disbelieve in inerrancy.” (91) Personally I get
uncomfortable with tossing out inerrancy at this point but I
think there is something to be said about some in the evangelical
world making this out to be the whole point rather than preaching
 Christ.

I don’t want to be guilty of insinuating that Lewis did
not hold a high view of Scripture for he did. He believed
“the Holy Bible as we have it today, can be accepted as
fully inspired, reliable and authoritative … The Bible is
fundamentally a sacred book, and ‘demands incessantly to be
taken on its own terms,’ says Lewis. ‘Stripped …
of its divine authority, stripped of its allegorical senses,
denied a romantic welcome,’ it cannot achieve its
function.” (93)

This love letter has so much that inspires us and give us
hope. We need only look a prophecy that has been fulfilled and
those that are waiting to yet be fulfilled that we are perhaps
right in the middle of. Scriptures give us hope that our creator,
lover, and friend is coming back for us and will restore us to
what he originally made us for – perfect and complete
relationship with Him. Another detail that makes the love letter
concept helpful to me; it’s about relationship, not a
book
.

We must keep in mind; God’s love letter is not confined
solely to Scripture. He revealed Himself in Christ, He’s
sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us, and He’s revealed
himself in creation for which I am praising him especially today
looking out at trees that are vibrant and alive with color. The
hues of orange, yellow, red, brown and green are alive against
the deep blue sky and bright sunshine. Wow, how God must love us
to have revealed himself so magnificently to us!

Conclusion

I conclude where I started, the Bible is God’s love
letter to us. Not a love letter conveyed in one systematic
context but one that comes through a diversity of times, places,
people, experiences and stories that make it so rich –
something that MUST be treasured.

Some practical ways to cherish Scripture

Correction – restoration – I so often need
restoration on my spiritual journey. Scriptures serve not only to
correct me but to restore me and fill me up. In our grace
oriented communities we must figure out how to allow Scripture to
play a key part in the correction process of our communities thus
keeping away from a primarily punitive approach.
Treasure it in my heart and let it reverberate through my
soul again and again. This takes time to really reflect and
meditate even memorizing it so it sticks like glue.
Allow the penetrating power of God’s Word to confront
people where they need to be confronted. Don’t shy away
where Scripture doesn’t shy away but do be creative and
imaginative in presenting God’s Word.
Lead people to appreciate the value of imagery used in The
Bible. Somehow we move away from that when we get out of Sunday
School and into the teen age years. All of a sudden the Bible
becomes more objective, propositional, and something to be
mastered rather than a story to find ourselves in or be engaged
with.
In public, use creative or dramatic readings, responsive
readings, reflective readings, and congregational reading.
Scripture comes alive through music and the church has only begun
to tap this I believe.
Lead people to examine Scriptures together and alone like the
Bereans who were commended. It is a sad thing when people come to
our church communities and only encounter the Scriptures on
Sunday. Thought must be given to how we can provoke or stimulate
each other to examine Scripture and probably more appropriately
to let it examine us. Bible study is not bad though it seems we
tend to shy away from that word these days.

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