The very first time I read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, I remember being deeply taken with the following observation:
Christianity thinks that a Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees with Dualism that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel.
Enemy-occupied terrority — that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.
Lewis was an Englishman writing during World War II. As I read these lines, I am reminded both of that war and of the legends of the English hero Robin Hood, who fought against an evil king until the rightful king returned to claim his throne.
Our metaphors might be different and our frames of reference are not those that Lewis used. I’ve worked a bit on mapping this image onto the Star Wars movies, which also feature a rebel movement within a vast evil empire. Whatever metaphors we use, though, I find the basic idea compelling.
To me, this basic idea — that the universe is in rebellion against its Creator — creates a lot of tension with the way we often think about the state of the world and our place within it. It is a rich and creative tension that calls us into forms of life and ways of being Christian that do not sit easy with cultural Christianity, but it also has risks. This “fighting religion” view of Christianity can lead us into grimness and its own kind of darkness. We must be careful of that even as we recall that the world is not as God intends it to be. It is bound by a dark power, and as servants of the light we are unavoidably at odds with it.
I was listening to an Andy Stanley podcast yesterday in which Stanley presented the bedrock of Christian faith as resting on an event – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
His point was that if you were going to start from scratch to build a Christian faith — throwing out everything you’ve learned or been taught up to now — you would start with this one event and build from there.
I’ve been wondering a bit about that.
I think if John Wesley were to go back to a single bedrock, it would not be Easter but Calvary. Wesley often taught that faith itself is the belief that Jesus Christ died for our sins so we might be pardoned. This is not surprising. That kind of focus on the cross is the hallmark of evangelicalism of the Great Awakenings that influenced Wesley and were influenced by him.
I think Wesley would say Easter confirmed who Jesus was but that the cross is the foundation upon which our faith is built.
I’m not sure what the implications of this contrast are.
When I put the focus on Easter — maybe this is just me — I am tempted to start talking about hope. Easter is God’s way of telling us that death does not win. It is a sign to us that whatever darkness we are in, dawn is coming. And so on.
When I turn my gaze upon the cross, I am moved more to talk about Jesus and what would compel him to suffer that way. I want to speak more about love than hope, I suppose.
Perhaps this mental exercise illustrates that Stanley is on to something important but also leaving something out. Perhaps we cannot reduce it all to one single event, because the work of Christ is more than any one of those things.
Perhaps when you reduce it all down to its foundation, we are not called to believe in an event but a person.
Someone can always come up with a reason not to believe. We can always cook up a story that does not need God in it. We’ve been doing that from the start, but one of my favorite illustrations of this is in Matthew 28:
While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
Indeed, the story is still circulated today. Some of our best-selling Christian authors even peddle the myth concocted to debunk Easter.
It happens because we want an explanation that does not depend on God. We like to run the world as if none of its truths depend on God being God. And so we set our sharp little minds to crafting godless stories and our greedy little hearts to believing them.
The lies about Easter get some traction in the church.
The lies about Christmas are in some quarters almost dogma.
They are taught to the wise ones in the pews as secret knowledge. The truth is dismissed as fairy tale and Sunday School pabulum. It is okay for the children’s pageant but not for adults. All this stuff about the virgin birth and going to Bethlehem and angels and shepherds and wise men catches in the throat of too many of our pastors who tell these stories with their fingers crossed behind their backs.
I don’t understand that.
If we believe Jesus died and rose on the third day, why is it so hard to believe he was born of a virgin?
Sure, people can dream up stories that explain the orthodox teaching away. There are lots of garden guardians eager to take the gold coins from the elders. But we have the testimony of the Spirit and the cloud of witness.
They say, “Believe.”
We say, “Amen.”