A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
“If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through… When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I become a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view… As in arithmetic—there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong; but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others (p. 35).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
When discussing the Gospel with the Rich Young Ruler it is said Jesus “looked at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing’ (Mark 10:21a).” It is worth noting that Jesus said he only lacked “one” thing. This implies that there are many more things he could have missed.
The young man was seeking God (even Yahweh, the One true God), he approached Jesus as the one who could give him direction, he knew the quality of his life mattered, but he was unwilling to sacrifice his material blessings for God’s kingdom.
This conversation was different from other conversations Jesus had when people asked him questions about the law or eternal life (see Matthew 22:15-46). In these cases the questioners lacked more than one thing.
What I believe C.S. Lewis is rightly pointing out is that our tone of conversation can be different with a person of faith than with an atheist. In
these conversations we know that we agree on at least some of the key questions, although not on the answers. While with the atheist we cannot agree on the answers, because we are asking different questions.
That advantage of this is that it allows us to avoid being condescending in our conversations. C.S. Lewis is not arguing that God gives partial credit. We either enter into heaven by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ or not at all. But someone who accepts that there is one God who created the universe who is good and that we are not good and must have our sin accounted for by some means is nearer the Gospel (conversationally) than an evolutionist who believes in the inherent goodness of people.
You may (rightly) say that my assumptions about other religions are too optimistic. You would be correct. Most other religions do not believe in everything I stated (one God, the goodness of God, Creation, sin, and some form of atonement). But if we find any of these elements in the belief system of a lost friend, we have a starting point of conversation that we do not have with the atheist. We can begin talking before we begin debating.
I think the main point C.S. Lewis was making was that Christianity gave him the ability to have honest, patient conversations. He did not have to “walk off the stage” (The View) or “fire” (Juan Williams) those with whom he disagreed as being unworthy of talking to or hearing from. In our current culture this has real appeal.
While we must be careful not to compromise the end of the conversation – after all Jesus did let the Rich Young Ruler walk away sad without altering Gospel (Mark 10:22) – we should not mistake the narrow road of entering God’s kingdom with harshness, defensiveness, or abbreviated conversations about the Gospel.