God on Trial

What C.S. Lewis Said about Our View of God and Sin

Who does God think he is? What right does he have to tell you and me what to do, or to send us to hell if we break his rules? — Such is the thinking, or at least the attitude, of many people in our time. We act as if God is on trial.

God_On_Trial

One of the things that I enjoy most about the holiday season is that I have more time for reading than I do the rest of the year. In addition, when my family exchanges gifts as part of our Christmas tradition, I am usually given some interesting books as Christmas presents. This year, one of the books I was happy to receive was God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics by C.S. Lewis.

God in the Dock

In the essay which bears the same title as the book, “God in the Dock,” Lewis speaks to the mindset and attitude that I referenced above.  He makes some keen observations about modern people’s view of God and sin and Christian preaching.

I believe what he says is as relevant today as it was when he first said it, which is why I want to share it with you. He write,

“The early Christian preachers could assume in their hearers, whether Jews, Metuentes or Pagans, a sense of guilt. . . . Thus the Christian message was in those days unmistakably the Evangelium, The Good News. It promised healing to those who knew they were sick. We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.”

This statement resonates as true with me. It seems to me that there needs to be a different starting place for Christian witness now, in this generation, than there did with early Christian preachers.

Bringing an ‘Unwelcome Diagnosis’

What jumps out at me as most relevant is that last sentence: “We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.”

Lewis continues to say,

“The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: If God should have a reasonable defence for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God is in the Dock.”

For many living in our time, including many young adults and university students, this is still the case. Man has put himself in the position of judge and God is on trial.

This is backwards thinking. In reality, God is the judge and we are the ones who will be judged (Hebrews 9:27, Isaiah 33:22, James 4:12). Yet, understanding the thinking of those in the culture, no matter how faulty it is, will serve to orient us as we seek to engage in Gospel conversations.

Question: How do you go about bringing the ‘unwelcome diagnosis’ to this generation, in a way that leads to understanding and hunger for the solution? How can we help others care about cure for sin that we offer in Christ? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Thinking Right & Living Right—Why Both Matter

Should a minister be godly or knowledgeable? Is this even a choice that has to be made? I don’t think so, but sometimes one is set up against the other as a kind of false choice, as if we can only choose one.

I came across this great quote from B.B. Warfield in my studies today, which has bearing on this question, and shows that the kind of thinking that leads to this erroneous thinking is not new. In Warfield’s little book The Religious Life of Theological Students he writes:

A minister must be learned, on pain of being utterly incompetent for his work. But before and above being learned, a minster must be godly. Nothing could be more fatal, however, than to set these two things over against one another. Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it is better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soldiers should have both legs.

These are some wise words for all who ministers of the Gospel, or those who aspire to be (such as the Princeton Seminary students whom Warfield probably had in mind).

I remember one person, years ago, who, when he saw me carrying a systematic theology textbook that I had been reading, proceeded to discourage me from such study!

He was had such a low view of knowledge that he apparently thought serious doctrinal study would somehow hinder my spiritual growth. While it’s certainly possible to be come puffed up with knowledge, it’s also dangerous to teach and lead without having adequate knowledge (James 3:1).

I don’t think it’s wise to pit knowledge and godliness against each other, and I don’t think it bears good fruit long-term. Paul instructed Timothy to watch carefully both his life and doctrine. (1 Tim. 4:16) Careful thinking should not be set against careful living. Proverbs says it’s not good to have zeal without knowledge. (Prov. 19:2)

Usually, those who emphasize godly living to the neglect of learning are simply reacting against the opposite (and equally dangerous) extreme. There are many examples in history and today of those who have  a lot of knowledge, but whose knowledge has served to corrupt them and others, rather than aiding in godly living and effective ministry. (Many 19th century German theologians come to mind, and more than a few college professors.)

In Jesus’ day the Pharisees and scribes were good examples of those who fell into this trap of much learning, but little obedience to Jesus.

However, on the other hand, it’s worth noting that while Jesus used unlearned fisherman to propagate the Gospel, he also used a converted Pharisee, who had much learning, to write over half of the New Testament, plant numerous churches, and serve as a missionary to the ends of the earth. That knowledge—with the addition of a renewed heart—was a powerful tool for ministry.

We need not throw out learning in our well meaning attempts to live godly lives, least of all those of us who aspire to lead in ministry. Rather, learning and loving the truth should support long and faithful ministries.

Question: As you consider your own life, which of the two are you more comfortable focusing on? Why do you think that is? 

Surprising Kindness

Too many ministry blogs are all about what’s wrong with the with everyone else.

Today, I just want to share something encouraging which I recently saw. I’m confident that if you take a couple minutes to watch this video, you will be glad you did:

It’s amazing how an expression of surprising kindness not only changes the recipient, but also the giver, and those who witness it.

Jesus said it this way, “let your light shine before others that they may see your good work and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16)

I’m thankful for the example of these young boys and how they showed love to the kid on their team that wasn’t even viewed as cool. From the looks of him, that quarterback will never be the same.

Question: What could you do today to brighten up someones day today? Who could use some kindness from you?