A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“If there were such a [Christian] society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious impression… Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine. We have all departed from the total plan in different ways, and each of us wants to make out that his own modification of the original plan is the plan itself (p. 84-5).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I wonder what the “author’s original intent” was when Duct Tape was invented? How many ways did the nameless 1942 employee of Johnson and Johnson think his/her invention would be used? Was there any notion that this product was become synonymous with on-the-fly, amateur fixes?

Now countless people stand back from a household project completed with Duct Tape, beaming with pride, as if their “ingenuity” was the very purpose for which this versatile product was invented. There is a sense in which that is a good picture of what we do with God’s will. We creatively utilize part of God’s will according to our need and preference, then stand back as if that is what God had in mind before the foundations of the world.

Lewis tries to alert us to this tendency by raising the question if any of us would be comfortable in a completely Christian and genuine society. His answer is “No” because each Christian takes pieces of the kingdom and pretends they’re the whole thing.

It is like me when I finish building a piece of pre-fabricated furniture my wife brings home. I put it together paying attention to the directions (more or less). But at the end there are always pieces left over, which I try to quietly stash in the garage before I ask her to come brag on my craftsmanship.

Conservatives would think a Christian society was too liberal (and vice versa). Intellectuals would think it too expressive (and vice versa). Legalists would think it too gracious (and vice versa).

What is the take away? It is easy to reflect on something like this and cynically conclude that this void means the whole thing is hoax. But in the end cynics would think that a Christian society is too certain (and vice versa).

I would offer a different take away – let us talk more honestly and patiently with those with whom we disagree. If we recognize our tendency to call our castle the whole kingdom, then let us talk to those who live in other castles.

But the point of this conversation is not to concede that every castle is equally valid. The point is to gain an appreciation for the whole kingdom by talking with those who live in (specialize, treasure) other parts of it. We must be careful not to assume that the largest castle is the closest approximation of the whole kingdom. The earth is 2/3 water but we mostly track its history by what happens on the other 1/3.

Personally, this challenges me to a level of humility that makes me uncomfortable. When I engage in this kind of interaction I often wonder if I’m wasting my time or compromising my values. But when I have done so well, I usually come away with a renewed sense that I am merely a steward of one of the King’s castles in a vast kingdom and that I am not competing with any other castle steward in His kingdom, even when our perspectives are seemingly at odds.