Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis

•October 12, 2011 • Leave a Comment

It’s been a while since I last wrote a review. When I finished Mere Christianity, I was still thrilled by C.S. Lewis’ depth of insight. Then I saw a copy of Lewis’ Reflection on the Psalms. Since this book is quoted by John Piper in Desiring God, I immediately grabbed it.

Unlike Mere Christianity, I find Reflections more challenging to understand. But as usual, one will still find the genius of Lewis in the book.

Here’s what I’m going to do. I’ll be discussing two topics that got my interest.

Death in the Psalms

First, death in the Psalms. It fascinated me that there is no concept of the afterlife in the Psalms. Lewis writes:

It seems quite clear that in most parts of the Old Testament there is little or no belief in a future life; certainly no belief that is of any religious importance. The word translated “soul” in our version of the Psalms means simply “life”; the word translated “hell” means simply “the land of the dead”, the state of all the dead, good and bad alike, Sheol.1

Lewis tries to understand this concern:

I am more concerned to try to understand the absence of such a belief, in the midst of intense religious feeling, over the earlier period. To some it may seem astonishing that God, having revealed so much of Himself to that people, should not have taught them this.2

But it does not astonish him:

It does not astonish me. For one thing there were nations close to the Jews whose religion was overwhelmingly concerned with the after life. In reading about ancient Egypt one gets the impression of a culture in which the main business of life was the attempt to secure the well-being of the dead. It looks as if God did not want the chosen people to follow that example. We may ask why. Is it possible for men to be too much concerned with their eternal destiny? In one sense, paradoxical though it sounds, I should reply, Yes.2

I agree. Men can be too concerned with their eternal destiny. But why is such belief absent? Lewis clarifies:

It is surely, therefore, very possible that when God began to reveal Himself to men, to show them that he and nothing else is their true goal and the satisfaction of their needs, and that He has a claim upon them simply by being what He is, quite apart from anything He can bestow or deny, it may have been absolutely necessary that his revelation should not begin with any hint of future Beatitude or Perdition. These are not the right point to begin at.3

He’s right. The afterlife is “not the right point to begin at.” As I understand Lewis, it is only when “men have learned to desire and adore God, to pant after Him ‘as pants the hart’,” only when men “will desire not only to enjoy [God] but ‘enjoy Him forever’,” that a right belief in the afterlife is possible.

A Word About Praising

The second topic I’m about to discuss is what Lewis found a stumbling block: The praise of God…and that He Himself demanded it. He writes:

We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence and delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand. Thus a picture, at once ludicrous and horrible, bot of God and of His worshippers, threatened to appear in my mind. The Psalms were especially troublesome in this way—“Praise the Lord,” “O praise the Lord with me,” “Praise Him.”4

I have to agree with Lewis. God seems to be an ego-maniac, like “a vain woman wanting compliments, or a vain author presenting his new books to people who never met or heard of him.”

But he later writes:

The most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise…The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game.5

So enjoyment inevitably results into praise. It is spontaneous. Lewis adds:

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation…The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.6

That’s it! Praise does not only expresses the joy; it completes it! And when God is “demanding” our praise, it is not to feed His ego. It is to make us fully happy in Him. He is after our joy therefore. He is a loving God!

Conclusion

I learned a lot from Reflections. However, as I’ve mentioned earlier, I find the book difficult to understand. This is perhaps because Lewis lived and wrote from a different era, or he is just deep. It’s hard to determine any theological errors. Considering this, I withhold recommending this book until another reading and further reviews are done.


1C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: Walker and Company, 1987), 37.
2C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 39.
3C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 40.
4C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 90.
5C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 94.
6C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 95-97.

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C.S. Lewis on Being in Love

•August 3, 2011 • 2 Comments

There are so many deep insights from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. As much as I want to quote most of them, I’ll refrain from doing so since I’m planning to write a series of blogs about my musings on the book. This is what I will do instead: I’m going to excerpt a long portion of the book, from a chapter entitled Christian Marriage, on the topic of being in love. I’ve figured out that many will be interested. Here’s the excerpt:

What we call “being in love” is a glorious state, and, in several ways, good for us. It helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and it subordinates (especially at first) our merely animal sexuality; in that sense, love is the great conqueror of lust. No one in his sense would deny that being in love is far better than either common sensuality or cold self-centredness. But, as I said before, “the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs.” Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can relied on to last in the full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people, the state called “being in love” usually does not last…But, of course, ceasing to be “in love” need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense—love as distinct from “being in love” is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both parents ask, and received, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be “in love” with someone else. “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.1


1C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: Walker and Company, 1987), 165-167.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

•August 2, 2011 • 1 Comment

It’s been a while since I last read a book and made a review of it. And the latest book I finished reading is C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Okay, so how do I begin this review? I’m not sure how, but I will make a shot.

Mere Christianity blew my mind away. When I got a copy of the book, I already knew that I’ll be diving into the mind of a great thinker. I was right.

The book’s content was first given on air before it was published into three separate parts: The Case for Christianity (1943), Christian Behaviour (1943), and Beyond Personality (1945).1

In the preface of the book, Lewis, who describes himself as a “very ordinary layman of the Church of England,” warns that he is not going to argue for a particular denomination.

The reader should be warned that I offer no help to anyone who is hesitating between two Christian “denominations.” You will not learn from me whether you ought to become an Anglican, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, or a Roman Catholic…In this book I am not trying to convert anyone to my own position.2

In line with this, he writes that he will be silent on certain disputed matters. He writes his reasons:

In the first place, the questions which divide Christians from one another often involve points of high Theology or even of ecclesiastical history which ought never to be treated except by real experts…And secondly, I think we must admit that the discussion of these disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold. So long as we write and talk about them we are much more likely to deter him from entering any Christian communion than to draw him into our own. Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and the Jesus Christ is His only Son. Finally, I got the impression that far more, and more talented, authors were already engaged in such controversial matters than in the defence of what Baxter calls “mere” Christianity. That part of the line where I thought I could serve best to be thinnest. And to it I naturally went.3

Now we know why Lewis calls his book Mere Christianity. By “mere” he means “what it is and was what it was long before I was born and whether I like it or not”4

The book is divided into 4 sections: (1) Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe; (2) What Christians Believe; (3) Christian Behaviour; and (4) Beyond Personality: Of First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity. I shall refrain dealing with each section, for it would take a lot of time discussing; I shall do it in another venue if ever.

I now jump on the things I like about the book. Whenever Lewis is explaining an idea, he is most of the times, if not always, successful in doing so. This is because he uses analogy after analogy in driving his point. Even though the topic is complex, it becomes simple because of the analogies.

The section that I like most is the third one, Christian Behaviour. In this section, also called Book III, Lewis discusses the four “cardinal” virtues (prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude); the three “theological” virtues (faith, hope, and charity); sexual morality and Christian marriage; forgiveness; and the great sin, which is pride. But among these discussions, I like it best when he tackled sexual morality and Christian marriage (I’m thinking of blogging on this in the near future). Book III is simply a section telling Christians how to live; thus the title Christian Behaviour.

One more thing I like about the book. In one of the chapters in Book IV, Lewis writes that theology is practical.5 I have always believed that this is true. Now that Lewis says it in his book, I can’t help but rejoice. Again, theology is practical.

You may have noticed that I didn’t write any criticisms about the book. I have to admit that it was hard for me to locate errors, for I was carried away the deep thoughts of the author. So I’m leaving the critiques to experienced reviewers (Tim Challies has Reading Classics series on the book, and Kevin DeYoung has a warning).

Mere Christianity is a book well-written, rich in deep and provoking thoughts. It’s a classic that should be included in your library of Christian books. It blew my mind away, and I hope it does the same for you. I highly recommend the book to you.


1C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: Walker and Company, 1987), v.
2C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, vi-vii.
3C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, vii-viii.
4C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, ix.
5C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 238.

Charles Colson on What Christianity Means

•May 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Christians must see that the faith is more than a religion or even a relationship with Jesus; the faith is a complete view of the world and humankind’s place in it. Christianity is a worldview that speak to every area of life, and its foundational doctrines define its content. If we don’t know what we believe—even what Christianity is—how can we live it and defend it? Our ignorance is crippling us.”1

The Faith by Charles Colson and Harold Fickett

•May 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment

It’s been a while since I last finished a book and wrote a review. Charles Colson and Harold Fickett’s The Faith is a refreshing read. Right;y subtitled “What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters,” The Faith is a book that discusses the important doctrines of the Christian faith. It is written “with the deep conviction that this is what people need to defend and live the Christian faith in the midst of the extraordinary challenges of our time.”1

While The Faith discusses the basic truths of Christianity, it is not your usual book on systematic theology. Aside from quoting Scripture, the authors seek to explain the basic doctrines by recounting stories, sometimes personal ones, and by drawing from numerous resources. Among these resources include the works of C.S. Lewis, John Stott, J. Gresham Machen, and Louis Berkhof. These authors, along with many others, profoundly influenced Colson.

In chapter 9, entitled Reconciliation, I find Colson discussing on the need for unity among denominations within the Church. I truly admire his ambition for reconciliation among these denominations. However, I believe this is impossible, as there are points among denominations that are irreconcilable. For example, evangelicals and catholics differ on their views of justification.

Colson, a co-signer in the document Evangelicals and Catholics Together, seems to treat evangelicalism and catholicism on level ground. Although I firmly believe that Colson holds deeply to evangelical convictions, I wished he was more explicit about it. This would properly distinguish evangelical and catholic beliefs, avoiding confusion.

This book is obviously a call to orthodoxy. Colson writes, “The people who are drawn away from historic orthodoxy are missing the most exciting thing in life—a drama without equal in human history, the promise of incomparable joy.”2 He continues, “Orthodoxy is not only important for enjoying life and understanding our relationship with God but also for our witness to the world. An essential factor in the success of Christianity in the early centuries was what Christians believed. Right doctrine led to right behavior, often with unforeseen but wonderful consequences.”3

Indeed, The Faith is a celebration of orthodoxy. I now join Rick Warren, J.I. Packer, Russell Moore, and many other Christian leaders in recommending this book to you.

Summer Reading Challenge

•May 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Summer has reached its midpoint. And if you’re not doing anything, then I’m challenging you to finish at least one book this season.

If you have no book in mind, the following are worth reading:

1. A Tale of Two Sons by John MacArthur. This book is a rich and intensive exposition of Luke 15. MacArthur uses cultural, biblical, and sometimes historical references to explain the parable of the prodigal son.
2. Desiring God by John Piper. This book is radically God-centered and mind-blowing. It invites people to intensify our longing for happiness, which is good and not sinful, and pursue it in God, to whom the deepest and most enduring happiness can only be found. Throughout the book, Piper expounds on Christian Hedonism, the philosophy that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. You may read this book online or download it for FREE at the Desiring God Web site.
3. Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper.┬áThis is a book on, obviously, how to avoid a wasted life. Piper discusses topics such a boasting in the cross, magnifying Christ through death and pain, risks, making others glad in God, living to prove God is more precious than life, secular work, and missions and mercy. This book is profound in content and is interesting.
4. Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris. This book is a good introduction to theology. Harris tackles important doctrines including of God, Scripture, Jesus, atonement, salvation, sanctification, the Holy Spirit, and the church, and uses personal stories on how they were weaved into his life. (Harris linked my review in his Web site. See it here).
5. The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. So far, this is the most intellectually-moving book I ever read. It is a must-read for skeptics and believers and it has given me intellectually-compelling claims in responding to skepticism and in grounding my faith.

So go and read this summer. Enjoy!

The Sermon on the Mount by D.A. Carson

•April 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I have read Matthew 5-7, or more known as the Sermon on the Mount, many times. I have also memorized it. But I have not fully understood what it meant until I read D.A. Carson’s The Sermon on the Mount. Rightly subtitled “An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5-7,” this book carefully explains the famous sermon. So far, it is the most scholarly exposition I have ever read.


Admittedly, it wasn’t easy for me to finish the book. It’s not because it’s hard to comprehend; it is simply deep and rich in content. How I wish I can make a review of it, but the book’s content is so vast that I am left clueless as to where to begin. All I can do is recommend this book.

The Sermon on the Mount will be helpful to those who want to gain a deeper understanding of Jesus’ famous sermon. The book will also be a valuable tool for personal Bible studies and sermon preparations. I highly recommend this to you.