I’m presently wading through a book that compares and contrasts the methods of two of the 20th century’s most effective apologists for historic Christianity—C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. How surprising both men were so similar in temperament, approach, methodology and in many ways, the theological content upon which they focused in defending the common faith once for all given to the saints.
Both Lewis and Schaeffer considered themselves evangelists. Their goal was to knock on the front door of people’s inner home. If the front door was locked, they’d walk around back. Finding the back door locked, they’d head for the window. Were the windows barred shut, they’d head for the roof.
Indeed, one of Schaeffer’s favorite strategies was what he called “lifting the roof off a person’s house.” By that, Schaeffer was speaking primarily of talking with people, asking questions about their view of ultimate commitments, what there deepest longings and desires were, etc, all the while making mental notes of internal contradictions between what they said and what, in reality, is.
Once Schaeffer climbed down into their inner fortress and understood where they lived and precisely what they believed in their own words, he gently drove them to the logical conclusions of their positions, all the while filling their house with the sweet perfume of historic Christianity.
Lewis possessed a similar approach to Schaeffer’s roof removal. For lack of a better term, we’ll simply call it “Draining the Swamp.” Lewis saw all humanity in the same predicament—drowning in a deadly swamp. His purpose as an evangelist was to, at all costs, get the people to the bank.
In addressing the man in the swamp, if the man calls out for help, Lewis quickly pitches a rope. But just as persistently as was Schaeffer to “lift the roof off,” when no call came or other ways failed, Lewis methodically drained the swamp around the man.
In draining the swamp, Lewis used his God-given skills as a literary evangelist, whereby he, in his own words said “any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people’s minds under the cover of romance without their ever knowing it.” Thus, one can easily see how his love affair with fiction was also a passion to share historic Christianity, the angel dust on which, all his works is sprinkled.
Two men shook the 20th century with the historic Gospel. Their influence still carries the day and will for years to come. Two men whose approaches were so similar and whose goals so identical, yet they never met in person. Two men, who made it always a prominent feature in their critiques of an unbelieving generation, to be precise and fair in their evaluations of those with whom they differed. Two men who, oh… by the way. Did I mention that one was an Arminian and the other a Calvinist?
I must confess, sometimes my emotions get the best of me when I both read and hear unfair portrayals of other people’s positions and/or personal integrity--especially the personal integrity. And, know this: I possess virtually identical emotions no matter who is offering the critique, whether they are friend or foe to my personal position. I even slump when I hear a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness get painted the wrong color about their views. Frankly, I am convinced truth doesn’t fear truth.
In the end, I cannot help how others critique, nor do I sense a Divine call to correctively police the way they critique. What I can do is purpose that when I attempt to critique my foe, I do so as fairly and precisely as I know how. That does not remove the risk that I may still be mistaken about the person’s position. Yet, if I have spoken as fairly as I know how and have evaluated as deeply as my God-given brain will allow, for me, I am acting responsibly and with integrity as I offer what I see the other person’s position to be.
Again, I could be mistaken about their view. But from the way I see it, being mistaken does not make me a liar, a deceiver, a slanderer. Mistakenness may be informed but all liars burn in Hell, I read from a Reliable Source. For my money, I think there stands a huge gap between the two.
I recently had extended discussions on some other blog threads about Dr. Nelson Price’s present essay on Calvinism in The Christian Index. It saddened me that rather than focus on the content of what Dr. Price had to say, many went after the man himself, calling him a liar, an intentional deceiver, slanderer and even alluding to him as of his father the devil.
From where I sit, destructively focusing on the integrity of a man like Dr. Price, whose character has stood the test of time and whose service for our Lord as Pastor and Southern Baptist Convention leader dwarfs so many of us, represents nicely the epitome of what’s wrong in evangelical ethics today.
So many of us who are well able to thinly slice, like so much cheese, theological distinctions to prove an opposing point non sequitur, appear to lack the same sharp edge when making moral distinctions—that is, in this case, morally distinguishing between being sincerely mistaken on the one hand and intentionally deceiving on the other.
Dr. Price’s public views are up for grabs, gentlemen--even so, only in a manner worthy of our calling in Christ, remembering the rock from which all of us are hewn. But to snipe one’s character for the lone reason you feel your foe has mistaken your view is, from my perspective, indicative of an even greater problem than imprecise theology. It very well may demonstrate that the theology for which one is contending remains little more than a hull...an empty, ineffective shell in a person's inner world.
A holy desire for holy theology is necessary for healthy Churches. But when personal criticism overshadows proper critique, surely there's nothing holy to say about that.
May our Lord raise up in us the healthy spirit of Lewis and Schaeffer.
With that, I am…