Of Lewis and Scripture and OCPD

This gives an ongoing online discussion a platform (started on My Blogroll if you want some background). It’s between Dr Lance Heath and myself. I guess in many ways we’re similar yet there are Theological distinctives which separate us. I’ll leave it to the reader and contributors to discern what the differences are.

Lance Heath

Hi Mark

Just as I finally managed to rid myself of my tendency to box, label and categorise everything (in psych we call it obsessive-compulsive personality disorder) I stumble across your table!
Seriously though I think it is interesting and potentially useful – but also potentially harmful – depending on how it is used (as with any tool).
So… I could (kinda) label myself a Cessasionist Covenantal(?) Mystic Liberal Arminian [and quote chapter and verse on why I believe each of those are correct] and I certainly wouldn’t want words like “literalistic” or “legalistic” associated with me (not sure whether you’ve accommodated those comfortably) BUT…
I wonder (1) if it isn’t more important to focus on what we ALL share in common?
and (2) if it isn’t useful to be able to have an “I don’t know for sure” category … which says certain things aren’t THAT important after all is said and done anyway?
ALSO… MOST IMPORTANTLY: DO WE EVER EXPLORE THE REASONS WHY WE BELIEVE WHAT WE BELIEVE? (e.g. why do we choose to believe in God? why do we choose to be a Dispensationalist? why do we choose to believe that marriage can only ever be for two people of different genders? etc I think this would be the really interesting and bonding exercise … cos a lot of intellectualizing, rationalizing and academicizing tends to be a defence which prevents us from really exploring our depths … where God resides in us.
(PS – where do you fit in soteriological inclusivism??? ala-C.S.Lewis)

Mark Penrith

Hey Lance,

Re OCPD: I know; and this is the least of my short comings:).

Re the usefulness or harmfulness of this Blogroll: That lies in the hands of the user rather than the creator. That’s my official disclaimer:).

Re: I could (kinda) label myself: I’m indecisive as to whether to add you to my list. Obviously I follow you but your content is often of a nature that I’d not want to propagate (I’m not talking about the Theological stuff).

Re 1): Wouldn’t it be nice if that’s all that we needed to focus on.

Re 2): There are? for the “I don’t know for sure” folk.

Re the reasons why: This is where I spend my time. I love the study of hermeneutical outcomes. It’s kinda my pet hobby.

Re defence mechanisms: I think I agree with you. There’s a need to both pursue truth and to exemplify it.

Re Lewis: Are we talking about the last few chapters of Mere Christianity? I thought he went off the rails there.

Thanks for the interaction,


Lance Heath

loved your answer (especialloy its succinctness) … but feel you have ducked and dived and avoided (or misunderstood) one part:

to help you get it and to move along / go a little deeper: “why do you think you love the study of hermeneutical outcomes?” and “why do you interpret these in the way that you do? or agree with those that you do?”

(no probs not including my blog on your list … i fully understand your current scruples with doing so … and did not expect anything else … yet … but I also have every confidence you’ll outgrow these!

…and “WHY do you choose to think that CS Lewis went off the rails there?”

[deep calls to deep, mate] :)

Mark Penrith

Hey there,

Had to dig out a quote. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 176-177,

“There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand. There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it. For example, a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain other points. Many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth may have been in this position.”

There’s more but maybe that’s enough?

Lewis is a legend but he was certainly fallible (like Augustine and that whole allegorical nonsense :) ). It’s not only on this point that I would diverge with him; his understanding of Substitutionary Atonement was wonky to say the least.

Lance Heath

Okay. But maybe you’re missing the point… WHY do you personally find yourself disagreeing with CS Lewis above?

Personally I find myself agreeing with him… and I can give my reasons why … although may have to dig even deeper to get to the deepest reasons…:

[Maybe I need to express my creed at some point (which would start the exploring deeper motivations point)…]

I can’t believe that a loving God would allow humans to burn in hell for all eternity just because they didnt know His name, or understand the intricacies of Christianity. We know of many people who are definitely in heaven who never knew “Jesus” or understood what we do today about Christianity and the Church. (e.g. those cited in Heb 11). Personally I believe that ALL who trust in God for their salvation will be saved. Jesus is the means to this happening. But people don’t need to know His wonderful Name to trust Father God to save their sorry asses. Trust in God to save them (His “saving grace”) should suffice whether they realize that or not. I can’t handle the idea that the 4 billion people on the planet today who have never been exposed to the gospel + stillborn and other children who die too young to understand + mentally retarded and ill people will be doomed to hell simply because they don’t (and can’t) profess what we do. I think too many of us live in isolated, privileged bubbles or cocoons and try to understand reality from within our little safety “worlds” instead of trying to see the bigger picture. (Something God must surely see clearest?) True Christianity is the only religion which is not works based … for us God came down (in all other religions people have to try to climb the ladder – to work their way up) … but people in the darkest Amazon and in the middle of Pakistan who never hear the gospel can still hear Father God (surely God can reach them) and offer them His grace?

So why do I go with CS Lewis here … because in my experience of love so far it would not exclude people without giving them a fair chance, I guess. I would not feel comfortable with that and so I don’t believe God would either. And I trust Him to teach me different, through the experiences of my life, if He needs to :)

Your reasons???

Mark Penrith

Hey Lance,

My reasons.

Because I believe the Bible.

I believe in a holy God. I believe in a just God. I believe in a sovereign God. I believe that God hates sin. I believe God is wrathful. I believe God hates sinners. I believe in a literal heaven and a literal hell and I believe that God decides who goes where.

I believe it is not paradoxical, although it may well be quite incomprehensible, that God is loving. That He is merciful. That He is graceful. Even to me who certainly does not deserve it.

I believe that God holds each of these traits in perfect harmony without impinging in any way on any one of them.

I’m less concerned with what I feel comfortable with and more awed by what God says about Himself.

Lance Heath

Quite a few tangents I’d like to run off on right now [e.g. (1) Satan also believes in a holy God…

And (2) “I believe God hates sinners.” REALLY?!?!?!…

And (3) don’t you think C.S.Lewis also believed the Bible?!?…

And (4) maybe you need to heed the words of the person above who advised you to check out discourse analysis and post-liberalism…

And (5) also be careful not to knock things that you don’t understand i.e. remain humble…)


I will limit myself to once again asking: WHY do you believe as you do? You seem to have some contrasting views of God which you are determined are not paradoxical. Why? Why not believe that God is actually paradoxical (yet incomprehensible)?

Why are you less concerned with what you feel comfortable with and more awed by what God says about Himself (or more accurately what YOU currently understand – with all your human limitations – God to say about Himself in Scripture as you understand it)?

Surely you are aware that different people understand and interpret Scripture differently? Why do you choose the particular interpretations you believe in as opposed to those of other Christians? And are you really so sure that your interpretations are the right ones? …are better than those of others? (And again, why?)

Mark Penrith

Hey Lance,

(1) If he can grasp the basics why do you think so many people have such a hard time?

And (2) Psalm 5:5 for starters. I have a list if it’d be helpful?

And (3) Lewis believed a lot of things. Are we not to put them to the test?

And (4) OK.

And (5) Are you suggesting that I should have capitulated already?



You are right. I can’t hide behind a dusty book and pretend that I just think and don’t believe. As if I just have a list of witty answers to difficult questions that can be whipped forth and parroted out. I’m such a stickler, such an irritant, such a thorn because I don’t have any other option but to say it as I read it. I am not an academic, self-driven by a desire to be right; I’m a believer, faith-driven by a desire to bring glory to my creator.

So the answer is faith. You can’t smell it, you can’t taste it, see it or touch it but it’s part of who I am. It’s been rooted within my core, the new creation that God has wrought. I value Scripture because I believe God values it. That is why I believe what I believe.

Thank you for the sharpening.

Lance Heath

I’m not going down the tangents route (though I’d love to…including your list … just to see how many NT verses there are on it!)

I agree that the answer is faith.

This is my real concern:

Are you putting your FAITH in your own understanding (of God) (or of Scripture)? rather than in Father God Himself?

Do you see what I’m really getting at?

Mark Penrith

Yes I do, and the point’s well made.

My faith is in Jesus Christ alone.

My understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what that faith looks like is based on Scripture alone.

The two are so intricately tied that to forego the one is to lose the other.

This comment train is a bit long. Could I move it into it’s own post?


9 thoughts on “Of Lewis and Scripture and OCPD

  1. Pingback: Beliefquest 2011 check-in

  2. C. S Lewis had some really profund things to say, but he was a philosopher, not a theologian, he saw himself as a “world christian” and did not side exsclusively with Protestants or Catholics. He wa I think one of the more profund christian mystics of the last century.
    He wa not right on many scores, he was not right on the doctirne of Penal Subtituniary Atonement, which he denied, he was not right in acoiding of the wrath of God awaiting unbelievers, a doctrine he also denied.
    But man you have to read his books and you will see he understood the gospel. We would probably call him somewaht emergent today, but that would not do him justice. He spoke as a philosopher first and did not side with many.
    Lewis however did not embrace the fact that God Wrath abides on sinners who remain in unbelief. In that he made a crucial error. In the words of John Piper, “i use Lewsi for his insight into how we work as humans he really saw the “big picture” and he had an appreciation for the glory of God. But I would not study him for theology, he is way off target with that..

  3. Hi Mark

    At the risk of sounding both repetitive and pedantic … I’m still thinking you may be missing my point. I’m basing this on your main sentence in your last reply”

    “My understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what that faith looks like is based on Scripture alone”

    (I must admit I find this a potentially ambiguous statement and therefore a little unclear … but anyway…)

    Could you contrast your statement above with my slightly adapted version below and let me know what you think”

    “My understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what that faith looks like is based on MY UNDERSTANDING of Scripture alone”

    I think this might be the crux of the matter.

    Do you agree that the Bible is no easy text to understand? That it can be misunderstood (as Peter points out of some Paul’s writings in the Bible itself) and even misused (as evident where Satan quotes scripture while tempting Jesus)?

    …That two equally intelligent, equally diligent, equally genuine/sincere committed Christians might understand one passage quite differently?

    I’m trying to find a way to put it in a nutshell…. I guess this might help: The problem is not Scripture … but our (human, limited, fallible) UNDERSTANDINGS thereof…

    Whaddya think?

    • :),

      You might be a better man than me but my conscience dictates that I cannot yet concede that you’ve bested me.

      Sorry Lance, I’ve been a busy church goer, church leader, worker, father, husband and student this week. I’ve not blogged in a while and I think I’ll be snowed under till next week.

      I’ve not forgotten our discussion. Promise I’ll brb. Give me some space.

  4. Hey Lance,

    I’d have to agree that the Bible is no easy text to understand. It’s complex, full of intricacies, wonders and marvels. I would expect nothing less: It’s the written Word of God after all.

    Can it be misunderstood? Sure. Misused? Of course. Could two equally intelligent, equally diligent, equally genuine/sincere committed Christians understand one passage quite differently? Yes. Does that in any way negate our responsibility to study, come to understandings, apply those understandings into our lives and the church? No; surely not.

    Is not this revealed revelation the rule and the standard of our faith? Is it not by this book that we measure ourselves and are shown to be approved or wanton? Is there a basis other than Scripture upon which we can come to an understanding of who Jesus is and what faith looks like?

  5. my turn to apologize re delay in responding (somehow I never got a notification that you had replied … so was still waiting! hehe!)

    so there is much we agree on… e.g. scripture ain’t easy and ALSO that we have a responsibility to study it carefully… with our limited, fallible human minds.

    i also believe we need to be HUMBLE while we’re at it. (i’m 99.9% sure you agree with that too)

    to me being humble here means being tentative – not too sure of ourselves – constantly teachable, open to newer, greater understandings, even changing views… AND good exegesis too!

    i actually think it’s not so much about “understandings” as it is about “loving” … but that might be a chat for another day.

    and i rest easy knowing how much God has – and will continue to – increase your Love! (until the Love in your heart reaches its pinnacle … which might just flood over all the many understandings in your head! :)

  6. whoops! i see i neglected to (clearly) respond to your final question!

    “Is not this revealed revelation the rule and the standard of our faith? Is it not by this book that we measure ourselves and are shown to be approved or wanton? Is there a basis other than Scripture upon which we can come to an understanding of who Jesus is and what faith looks like?”

    I’d like to suggest that a Biblical understanding OF the Bible suggests that NO, the Bible is not the only “witness” – we need to look at it in conjunction with other Christians ( including ALL who trust in God for their salvation – not just those who agree with us w.r.t. our pet interests), as well as circumstances (providence), as well as the Holy Spirit (alive in our hearts, making Scripture come to life: Rhema not Logos words), as well as our God-given reasoning abilities (exegesis including history, sociology, linguistics etc.) …

    I think we need to always see what the Bible says i.t.o. what the Bible says is most important: LOVE (no doubt. too many key and self-stated important verses make explicit that all the other “bits” of Scripture should be understood in this light.)

    I think we need to remember that God IS bigger than the Bible!!!!

    I think we also need to beware that we never make an idol of the Bible (or of our own understanding thereof).

    Fortunately it’s okay that we don’t know it all… and that we DO know that we DON’T know it all! After all would we really need to have faith / trust / reliance / dependence / leaning on God if WE knew it all?

    I suggest that the mature Christian is one who loves. But in the realm of the intellectual this manifests as one who is humble and open to others interpretations trusting in God to let us know what we need to know, when we need to know it.


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