A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“It is no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple… Such people put up a version of Christianity suitable for a child of six and make that the object of their attack. When you try to explain the Christian doctrine as it is really held by an instructed adult, they then complain that you are making their heads turn round and that it is all too complicated and that if there really were a God they are sure He would have made ‘religion’ simple, because simplicity is so beautiful (p. 40-41).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
In the context of this quote Lewis uses the illustration of a child praying. It is a simple act – having a conversation with God like you would anyone else. But if you ask, “How does prayer influence life, events, emotions, or choices?” then you move into a domain that is anything but simple.
Lewis’ point is that real things are not simple. Any child with blocks can make a bridge, but if you want to design a real bridge you need an advanced degree in engineering. The precision and technicality of the conversation depends upon your audience and the purpose of the conversation.
Any parent or teacher is (rightfully) content to allow a child to stack two vertical blocks and one horizontal block and call it a bridge. They would even allow the child to drive their toy cars over it. Middle school science classes allow students to design various types of miniature bridges to test durability of various designs and spark creativity in students.
In these cases no one “ambushes” the students with questions of advanced engineering to cast doubt upon whether the thing built is a bridge or would be the kind of bridge that would do any good. The definition of bridge and the exercise in bridge building is understood to be equivalent to the intellectual maturity of the student and the purpose of the class.
This means we teach simple religion to those young in their faith or new to Christianity. Yet the expectation is that we will “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity (Heb 6:1).” If we have been a Christian for any period of time and have not begun this journey, then we are not following the Bible.
There is a time in our Christian life when “Admit you are sinner, Believe Jesus died for your sin, and Confess your need for Christ” is sufficient. But that time is brief. You are called to love God with all your mind (Matt 22:37). We are called to always be able to make a defense for the hope that is in us (I Pet 3:15).
With that being said when someone presents a difficult question regarding our faith, we have (at least) two questions to ask in return. First, we ask “Do you really desire an answer for your question?” Some people ask questions as traps and not to get answers (example Matt 22:15). In this case the best our answer will do is reveal the insincerity of the questioner.
Second, we ask “Are you prepared to consider an answer as large as your question?” Answering large questions with brief answers will always be unsatisfying. We will be in a position to only offer clichés or simplistic answers.
A third question (if the person is willing to engage) would be, “Is the question you ask ‘next’ for you based upon your current understanding of Christianity?” This would be the best and ideal place to start the conversation. For instance, before we could answer, “Does someone have to be a Christian to go to heaven?” there are several questions that must be answered first. Why isn’t everyone going to heaven already? What does it take to go to heaven? Can we earn our passage to heaven? Until we answer these questions the original question is not “next.”
At that point the answer will not be “simple” but it can be both true and intellectually satisfying.