Monday, July 10, 2006

Getting an Inkling about Romantic Christianity

I’ve been stimulated to do some research by seeing how powerfully the emergent church movement is sweeping through evangelical churches.

My first encounter with the influence of the emergent church was listening to a CD from the 2005 Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference. The speaker, a representative of Word Publishing, was measuring Christian growth by comparing it to the movie The Matrix while at the same time exalting a book I hadn’t read called Blue Like Jazz. I was appalled to hear his enthusiasm for what seemed at the time like the kind of paganism I used to be involved in.

Around the same time, I also read a book by Brian MacLaren called A New Kind of Christian. Again, I was appalled by his approach and disturbed by his use of C. S. Lewis, and also by the interconnections with the Episcopal Church. For example, the hero of MacLaren’s book is a black man named Neo, like the hero of The Matrix, who’d gotten away from Evangelicalism and was enthusiastically embracing the Episcopal Church. I watched the video The Matrix and again was floored. This video was teaching paganism with a very few Christian associations. For instance, the heroine’s name was Trinity.

I was especially disturbed by all the associations with the Episcopal Church—especially its “renewal” form, which I had been involved with for many years through a variety of Episcopal churches on both the East and West Coasts and also by going to Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Pennsylvania. TESM was a really mixed bag, both a blessing and a trial. And I encountered two factors there that I also saw in Brian MacLaren’s book: the diminishing and relativizing of Scripture, and the exaltation of the occult and certain kinds of syncretism. For example, TESM’s pastoral psychologist was a Jungian. (Born to a Lutheran pastor, Carl Jung was a Gnostic psychiatrist who rejected Christianity and embraced many different kinds of pagan practices and philosophies in the guise of therapy. For details, see Richard Noll’s excellent book, The Jung Cult: Origins of a Charismatic Movement, Princeton University Press, 1994. Noll lectures at Harvard.)

And of course C. S. Lewis was unquestionably a major influence at Trinity and upon me.

While I was pondering all this, I found a Web site called Christianity and Romanticism (http://ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ38.HTM). I was startled to see a whole different aspect of Lewis and learn that he was really part of a definite intellectual and religious movement definable, at least in part, under the description Romantic Religion or Romantic Christianity. Lewis was part of a literary group called The Inklings – also part of the same movement – that met in his college rooms. He attributed to the Scottish writer George MacDonald the “baptism of his imagination” before he became a Christian.

This of course led to my attempt to read MacDonald’s books, Phantasies and Lilith, which according to Lewis were supposed to show his Christian imagination, but I was so repelled by the all-too-familiar images from the years I had indulged in occult paganism and witchcraft that I couldn’t stand to continue. (Read about my life at http://www.logosword.com/ministry.htm.) For example, the title Lilith comes from an occult myth of the first wife of Adam, who was a witch. [Read the whole corrupt story at http://gnosis.org/lilith.htm under Chapter 10: Adam's Helpmeets (Excerpt from The Hebrew Myths by Robert Graves and Raphael Patai (New York: Doubleday, 1964), pp 65-69.)]

“Romantic Christianity.”

Now I was on my way, feeling strongly called to study this thing called Romantic Christianity. What did it really mean, theologically and practically? I knew something about the Romantic Movement that took place primarily in Germany from the late 18th to the early 19th centuries, but I had no idea that there was any connection with contemporary events, especially involving these what seemed like “idols” of the Church—Lewis and Tolkien.

I managed to find a reference to a book called Romantic Religion: A Study of Barfield, Lewis, Williams, and Tolkien by R. J. Reilly (University of Georgia Press, Athens, 1972). As I read through it, I began to see how very different this Romantic Religion is from Biblical Christianity and that what I was seeing was also very different from the popular view of what the Inklings were really like. (The Inklings were the literary group that C. S. Lewis belonged to for many years. They included Charles Williams, Owen Barfield, and J. R. R. Tolkien.) Tolkien was a Roman Catholic; the other three were members of the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church.

A strong and interesting connection with all this is that I received my Master of Arts in Religion in Church History from Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry where there was a great emphasis on the history of the Anglican Church. The Church is very unique as it contains in one body almost every factor that can be seen in other churches worldwide. For instance, there is liberalism (called “the broad church” within Anglicanism), and Evangelical Anglicans who are Calvinists, and Anglo-Catholics, who are very much like and very focused upon Roman Catholicism and, to a smaller extent, Greek Orthodoxy.

With my background in church history, I began seeing certain patterns as I explored Romantic Religion. For instance, C. S. Lewis was an Anglo-Catholic, which made him very close theologically and ceremonially to Roman Catholicism. He believed in purgatory, which people erroneously conclude was one of the doctrines of all of Anglicanism. This is definitely not true, but it is a tendency that Anglo-Catholics have because they look to the Middle Ages and its theology as the archetype of Christianity. In fact, they didn’t start using the word “priest” for Anglican ministers until the late 1800s, when the Anglo-Catholic movement came in with its high ceremonial practices.

Thus, I began to see a very different picture of the influence of Lewis and the other Inklings upon Evangelicals. I began to see that Romantic Religion has much to do with the creation of idolatrous images in and by the imagination that are then given the worship due only to the Holy Trinity.

This is not to say that the imagination is evil in itself; it is a gift of God. It is like the hand. The hand can do wonderfully constructive things, and the hand can also hold a sword to kill someone. God gave us the hand; it’s up to us how we use it. There are godly uses of the imagination, but using it in the wrong way, even unintentionally, to create something that is then honored and worshipped, is horribly destructive and violates the First Commandment.

(Our booklet Visualization, Imagination, and the Christian examines and contrasts Christian imaginative meditation with occult visualization. http://www.logosword.com/pub_orders.htm.)

My next blog will include more quotes from the book Romantic Christianity and the writers he looked at. These quotes will show how really different Romantic Christianity is from Biblical Christianity and help show Lewis’s position in this stream.

“Just as the Enlightenment god of Reason was eternal and omnipresent, the Romantic interior deity of Imagination was everlasting and infinite.”

The Making of the New Spirituality: The Eclipse of the Western Religious Tradition by James A. Herrick (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), p. 87.

5 comments:

Jennie said...

I have read both your posts about C.S. Lewis with great interest. I found the first one on Berit Kjos' website. I was for many years immersed in reading Lewis, Tolkien, and MacDonald, and then, partly from reading some information about Lewis on a website called blessedquietness.com (which has many views on issues which I do not agree with) I began to see that I had made an idol out of reading these books.
I am very interested in what motivated these men and others like them. I know it is a complex subject, since we can't know another's heart, but so much about them, especially MacDonald, seems so Christlike and good. It's hard for me to understand how they could write things that seem to contain such an understanding of some of Christ's teachings (I guess I'm mainly thinking of MacDonald and somewhat of Lewis) but also so much error and even idolatry.
I guess my simple mind wants to know "are they good guys or bad guys?" but maybe it's not that simple.
What is most important is to recognize the error in them and not be turned aside from the truth by it, of course.
I am looking forward to reading your future posts about this subject.

Red Giants said...

Interesting subject, this "Romantic Christianity." For Christians, there's a great temptation to search vainly for Biblical truth in pagan myth/paradigm like some kind of spiritual comfort food. The Old Man clings to truths he perceives as "universal." The search for common ground sometimes finds itself in quicksand. "There is a way that seems right to a man...."


Looking forward to your future posts.

Denise said...

For further information on concerns about the beliefs held by C S Lewis could I direct readers to this link on the ministry website of Cecil Andrews of 'Take Heed' Ministries, Northern Ireland [where C S Lewis was born]
http://www.takeheed.net/Lewisavoid.htm

Bridget said...

The great Christian author G. K. Chesterton wrote in his excellent work "The Everlasting Man," "[Christianity] met the mythological search for romance by being a story and the philosophical search for truth by being a true story." What he is saying is that throughout history people have been searching for truth and for God in two ways: mythological and philosophical. The mythologies satisfy the human desire for romance, and the philosophies satisfy the human desire to know, but neither can completely satisfy because neither is complete. Yet both can lead us to Christianity, which is, as Chesterton puts it, the "true myth"; that is to say, the most romantic story imaginable which is at one and the same time gloriously true! God did love man so much that He sent His Only Son to suffer and die for our redemption!! Nevertheless, God works through stories and through philosophic thought in order to teach us, because we are weak and need learning aids. That's why Jesus told parables. Lewis, Tolkien and the rest may not provide a one to one correspondence of characters; rather, they express overarching themes and ideas of Christianity, such as Aslan, the "son" of the Emperor, who dies to save the sinner. And it is not a debt to the witch, it is a debt to the "deep magic" which symbolizes God's Justice. God's Justice is satisfied in the death of Christ, just as the deep magic is satisfied in the death of Aslan. But God is stronger than death, just as the "deeper magic" which breaks the stone table is stronger than that deep magic which must be satisfied. This is a beautiful expression of substitutionary atonement!! The parallels are all there and others have written whole volumes on it, but I wanted to put in my two cents. Hope someone finds it helpful!

Elle M. said...

Bridget - I couldn't have said it better. So glad you posted that!