Thursday, January 9, 2014

Ray Comfort's The Way of The Master, As Told By CS Lewis

 I’ve been reading a few chapters a night out of Mere Christianity, a seminal work by CS Lewis that I’d heard much about and even quoted from but never yet read, which [my friend] gave me. What I didn’t realize was that most of the chapters were initially broadcast pieces that Lewis gave during WWII in Britain, and was actually asked to give by the BBC. Different times, dear reader. With The Battle of Britain in mind, I offer this fascinating excerpt out of Book one, chapter 5, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy,” fascinating by virtue of the strong similarity it has to Ray Comfort’s The Way of the Master evangelism method, Ken Ham’s argument for Creation as the foundation to understand the Bible, and to a video clip I saw of Paul Washer explaining that the most terrifying truth about God is that He is good. Without further ado:

“For the trouble is that one part of you is on His side and really agrees with His disapproval of human greed and trickery and exploitation. You may want Him to make an exception in your own case, to let you off this one time, but you know at bottom that unless the power behind the world really and unalterably detests that sort of behavior, then He cannot be good.

            On the other hand, we know that if there does exist an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do. This is the terrible fix we are in.  If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again. We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger—according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way.

            Now my third point. When I chose to get to my real subject in this roundabout way, I was not trying to play any kind of trick on you. I had a different reason. My reason was that Christianity simply does not make sense until you have faced the sort of facts I have been describing. Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness. It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know they have done anything to repent of and do not feel that they need any forgiveness. It is after you have realized that there is a real Moral Law, and a Power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with that Power—it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk. 

                   When you know you are sick, you will listen to the doctor. When you have realized that our position is nearly desperate you will begin to understand what the Christians are talking about. They offer an explanation of how we got into our present state of both hating goodness and loving it. They offer an explanation of how God can be this impersonal mind at the back of the Moral Law and yet also a Person. They tell you how the demands of this law, which you and I cannot meet, have been met on our behalf, how God Himself becomes a man to save man from the disapproval of God. It is an old story and if you want to go into it you will no doubt consult people who have more authority to talk about it than I have. All I am doing is to ask people to face the facts—to understand the questions which Christianity claims to answer. And they are very terrifying facts.

            I wish it was possible to say something more agreeable. But I must say what I think true. Of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay. In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair. Most of us have got over the pre-war wishful thinking about international politics. It is time we did the same about religion.”

                        The doctor analogy is also one used frequently by Todd Friel, not highly surprising since he and Ray and Kirk Cameron are close friends on the theological stage. Todd’s response to a Rob Bell video parodied its introduction but then gave a parable followed by demonstrating the difference between the Bell/Friel approaches. Imagine four doctors. Doctor Woo tells everyone how cool and exciting the hospital is. Don’t you just want to check it out? Doctor Scare walks around telling everyone “yer gonna die!! yer gonna die!!” He lets people know they’re ill but doesn’t make them inclined to want to pursue a cure, if they even know how. Doctor Love wants everyone to know that the doctors love them, and come to the hospital so you can sleep on our nice comfortable beds, eat our great cafeteria food, and feel better about yourself. But Dr. Love doesn’t tell the people that all the while they’re carrying dangerous illnesses that will kill them if left untreated. Is that really love? I don’t recall if the fourth doctor was another example of a bad doctor or not, but the final example was I believe Doctor Reason. He treats people with dignity and respect, but tells them the truth that they have a deadly disease. But he doesn’t stop there—he tells the patient that he has a cure. When the patient knows he’s ill, he desires the cure, and receives it with gladness. All of these were metaphors for different approaches by different churches on how to preach the Gospel (or fail to) to the Lost of the world. Dr. Scare symbolizes hellfire preachers who fail to focus on anything but condemnation, leaving out love and grace and forgiveness. Dr. Love fails in the reverse way, not warning people about sin and judgment and failing to generate true converts as a result, just people who have a false sense of security. Dr. Woo represents celebrity preachers or preachers who use gimmicks and showiness to try to lure people in with flashy things that produce people who expect church to be entertaining for them. Dr. Reason represents the “Law-and-Gospel” approach promoted by Ray Comfort and all associated with him, that seeks to inform people of their NEED to be saved, before urging them to take the cure (repentance and faith), knowing that otherwise people simply won’t respond because the message doesn’t connect.

~ Rak Chazak

* Mere Christianity is published by HarperOne, a division of HarperCollins. The citation is taken from pages 30 through 32 of the copy that I have.

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