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How we need to argue as Christians

C.S. Lewis and the need to remember common ground

G. Connor Salter | Contributor

“Christians have become known more for what they disagree on than the gospel they believe in.” Pastor Ronnie Floyd said in a discussion with Ed Stetzer, published in the April 2018 edition of Christianity Today.

As hard as that sounds, Floyd knew what he was talking about. These days, every religious idea that comes up in American Christian circles seems to be divisive. Whether we’re talking about whether social justice fits Jesus’s teachings, which political theories to support, what we need to do about environmental problems – we all seem to be arguing with little consensus on anything.

Certainly, we understand some of this friction. As James Spiegel professor of philosophy and religion noted in a 2007 article for Sophia, “Religious beliefs tend to be among the most firmly and passionately held.”

This makes sense, since religious beliefs talk about how the universe works and who runs it. It would be foolish not to have opinions about such life-defining concepts.

Christians need to join together in their faith

Christians need to join together in their faith

But when we spend all our time discussing what we disagree on, we lose sight of the common beliefs we hold as Christians. Instead of feeling like we’re standing together on a firm foundation, we feel like we’re all standing together on a waterbed. The ground keeps shifting, no one has a strong sense of stability, and the winner is whoever knocks everyone else over first.

In such times, I think about one of the few things we all genuinely seem to agree on at Taylor: we all like C.S. Lewis. It’s hard to take a class, have a theological conversation or get through a year of chapel sermons where someone doesn’t quote Lewis or a principle from his writings.

The fascinating thing about Lewis is he focused almost entirely on describing the common ground that Christians share. In an article titled “Rejoinder to Dr. Pittenger” (later collected in “God in the Dock”), Lewis said he started writing theology because he saw many people either communicating Christian ideas in highly emotional or highly complicated language, and neither seemed to help most people. So, Lewis set out to be a translator. As former Taylor professor Ted Dorman commented in his book “A Faith for All Seasons”, Lewis basically tried to avoid presenting any new theological ideas. Instead of suggesting new theories, Lewis wanted to explain basic Christian concepts in a way regular people could understand.  His most famous book, Mere Christianity is really summed up in the title – the simple Christian principles we all agree on, regardless of our denominations.

Certainly, Lewis had opinions about religious topics. Some of them (such as his thoughts on evolution) are ones many of us disagree with. But he always phrased them as simply his opinions. Let’s talk about the primary things first, and then if you want my thoughts on the smaller stuff, here they are, he seemed to say.

We can’t all do what Lewis did. We still need people willing to tackle the big, tough ideas that we’re all concerned about.

But before we start arguing about how to apply Christianity to pressing issues, we need to remind ourselves about the “mere Christianity” we share. When we see our discussions in that context, we’re less afraid of what our disagreements will do to us. We remember our faith’s basic foundation and agree that we share it. Then, together, we can move forward to understand how to apply that knowledge to the issues we’re concerned about.

 

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