It’s the Real Thing

I’m not one to stifle true creativity, but I am getting a bit weary of all the evangelical novelty that is going around these days. Take the other Sunday when I met Stevie. In case you have never met him (and you ought to be glad), Stevie is a genuine Christian who expresses his faith in very artificial ways.

For example, when I was introduced to him, I put out my right hand to shake hands. Men often do such things. But Stevie put out his left hand, strangled my thumb in some weird way, and acted like he was challenging me to arm wrestle. “Put it there, brother!” Stevie shouted; to which I replied, “Put it where?” By then my right elbow was pointing to Betelgeuse, my thumb was paralyzed, and my arm felt like it was being twisted from my shoulder.

This was Stevie’s Christian handshake, a piece of gymnastics that he considers very religious. I am tempted to take judo lessons so I can be ready for him the next time he strikes.

As I was soaking my hand in hot water after church that evening, I pondered the question: Why do Christians think they need extras to let people know they trust the Lord? Stevie’s handshake is to him what a bumper sticker is to Tom, or a lapel pin to Dick, or a comb with a Bible verse on it to Harriette. (Hers reads, “The hairs of your head are all numbered.” Since I’m getting bald, mine reads, “Wherefore do I take my flesh in my teeth?” That’s Job 13:14 in case you have forgotten.)

The extras only announce that the essentials are lacking—like faith, hope, love, doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God. The product is not too good, so we have to advertise.

I am not a philosopher, but I seriously doubt that there is such a thing as a Christian handshake, or a Christian comb. If this trend keeps up, we’ll soon be taking showers in Christian water, lathering with Christian soap (made in Wheaton, Ill., or Lynchburg, Va.), and wearing Christian clothes made by Christian tailors from Christian wool grown on Christian sheep on the plains of Bethlehem. About that time, I’ll find a Christian cave somewhere, build a Christian fire, cook a Christian dinner, and ask God to deliver me from things artificial. And if you should see Stevie, please don’t tell him where I am.


Bob Dylan’s Conversion

Thank you for the articles on Bob Dylan (Refiner’s Fire, Jan. 4). He was the conscience and soul of a generation. With his apocalyptic view of reality, his introspective self-criticism, his prophetic vision, he shaped the consciousness of millions of young people who came of age in the late sixties.

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Before becoming a Christian, Dylan was a master at exposing the hypocrisy, hopelessness, and ambiguity of the human condition apart from God. As a Christian, Dylan has not abandoned the former perpsective. But this perspective is now wholly transformed by the possibility of truth, hope, and certainty—that is, salvation—through the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Dylan was right in his analysis. Perhaps through the grace of God, he may now help a generation find the answer.


Vice President

Cornerstone Books

Westchester, Ill.

Neat Little Categories

I am writing about your December 21 issue on the Gallup Poll. I wonder if God doesn’t view us with dismay—probably with a smile—as we work so hard to fit everything into our little categories, put labels on them, then take polls and publish them—while all the time trying to figure out God’s ways and organize them for our strategic tactics. What is happening to CHRISTIANITY TODAY?


Beaver, Pa.

Reading your definition of the orthodox evangelical (I call myself an orthodox [mere] Christian), I jibbed at “only” in “the only hope of heaven is through personal faith in Jesus Christ” (“The CHRISTIANITY TODAY-Gallup Poll: An Overview,” Dec. 21). I have that faith. There are good, truly good, men who don’t. God can limit me; I cannot limit him. Those good men are doing his will whether they know it or not.

I do not, for a minute, say that men cannot damn themselves if they choose. But the good man with the block against seeing and believing: he may, like the company in C.S. Lewis’s Great Divorce, have the final choice later at Heavensgate. That “only” sounds too arrogant. Shouldn’t we say perhaps “the only hope, as far as we can see”? Otherwise it’s too like limiting God.

Again, I’m not saying that all are saved any more than Lewis was; most of the people went back to the gray city. But what if one cried, “Oh God! It’s true, after all!”


Lynchburg, Va.

C.S. Lewis Defended

Thank you for the major article on Lewis (“A Closer Look at the ‘Unorthodox’ Lewis,” Dec. 21). By and large it seemed to be very perceptive. The treatment of him on the issue of inerrancy was, however, shameful.

One might ask why a Christian as brilliant and committed as Lewis did not believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures, as Donald Williams thinks he should. If he did not, then it should at least be open to debate.


Louisville, Ky.

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Donald Williams is right: there is no honest way to doubt that for C.S. Lewis Christian truth was objectively real. That Lewis was skilled in the use of metaphor and myth never meant the gospel message could be demythologized. Rather, he used those marvelous tools to make that truth credible to us flatlanders.

Let me, however, defend myself from inclusion within the ranks of those who see Lewis as nothing more than “a more poetic Bultmann,” where a quick reading of Williams’s article would place me. I wrote in my 1975 Christian Century article that the argument for God’s existence in Mere Christianity “simply does not work.” I was not, as Williams claims, discarding the rational and doctrinal basis of Lewis’s work.

For myself, Lewis’s arguments for God’s existence are quite persuasive. But I have found that they are more weighty for believers like myself than they are for those outside. In this realization of the impotence of naked reason I am only following Calvin, not liberal, existential, nor any other breed of contemporary theologians.


Professor of Religious Studies

Michigan State University

East Lansing, Mich.

I’m thankful that the conservatives have “long known and loved” C.S. Lewis. It’s quite biblical to do so, quite understandable also, for his writings opened a world of delight for all of us. But what’s this note about liberals finding ourselves embarrassed by him, or that we wish to explain him away? I suppose myself to be somewhere around the center of the liberal heart of our faith and I must report that I’m not at all embarrassed by Lewis and have no need to explain him away. In fact I’m a hearty enthusiast for him.

Mr. Williams’s entire article seemed to me to be a bit foolish (destructive?). He demonstrates a need to make Lewis into an evangelical of one sort or another. I would suggest that the world doesn’t need such suitcase packing of individuals. Lewis was a person, a Christian person. If he had wanted to be known as a fundamentalist or as an evangelical, he had a lifetime to arrange it. He chose not to. I for one see little value in the categorizing that goes on in much of today’s Christendom. It may keep journals like CHRISTIANITY TODAY selling, but it does little to unify the body of Christ.


Lind United Methodist Church

Lind, Wash.

Pretty Powerful

Thanks for the excellent article “The Power of Preaching” by Stephen Olford (Dec. 7). I was debating whether or not to renew my subscription and that article settled it for me. Keep up the excellent work.


B.L. Morrison Pentecostal School

Postville, Labrador, Nfld.

Art Lover Responds

Thank you so much for the Alba Madonna on the cover of your Christmas issue (Dec. 7). It indeed adorns it, and at last evangelicals can claim their heritage of Christian art. For years I have been presenting Advent and Lent series of Bible and art studies. I believe great masterpieces illuminate the Scriptures.


Lexington, Va.

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