Recently, Wheaton College issues a Statement of Repentance for the conduct of the rioters on January 6. The question discussed in the article, given Lewis’ essay on the Dangers of National Repentance, would he find the Wheaton Statement problematic?
Thank you for this, Bill. As an alum of Wheaton, ‘56, I am saddened but not surprised. Thank you for the excerpts from Lewis.s essay, Biblical and incisive as usual. I absolutely agree. My only quibble concerns the Biblical example of national repentance. Its context is the Old Covenant; Israel was God’s own, a theocracy, with divinely ordained priests and prophets and anointed kings. While the Christian faith of many of our founders is documented, and we are blessed by it, America today is not a Christian nation. I am not convinced the OT example is applicable. Further, the letter is unworthy of Wheaton’s claim to intellectual rigor in its unexamined assumptions.
Wow. I’ve now lost a great deal of my formerly-high regard for Wheaton College. One of our pastors is a Wheaton alum; I’ll try to remember to ask him if he’s seen this. This isn’t a statement of repentance, it’s a statement of condemnation, with repentance only as a (very thin) smokescreen. The pretext for calling it “repentance” (“we didn’t do enough to stop them”) is sheer folly–first, in that they had no particular call to do so; second, in that there have been a great many voices in evangelical Christianity, with big platforms, doing everything in their power to demonize rebuke anyone who’d even think of voting for, much less actually support, Trump; third, in that they have no more basis to have “spoken truth” on the integrity of the election than anyone at the protests–and probably significantly less so than many of them.
Lewis is as insightful and incisive (and prophetic) as always. Since it looks like this essay appears in GITD, I’ll need to read the whole thing. It seems directly applicable to other cases of would-be corporate repentance, such that I don’t think there’s any real question what he would have thought about this statement.
I agree with this distinction. I think it’s also relevant that the biblical examples of repentance for the sins of the people were generally from those who had some basis to speak for the people–kings, priests, governors, etc. Even if they hadn’t personally engaged in the sins for which they were repenting, they had “skin in the game”, so to speak.
Just for the record, the entire essay is in God in the Dock.
Friends, I join Lois, Dan and those of you who felt dismay at Wheaton’s call for “repentance.” And agree that Lewis’ article on national repentance speaks to the relevant issues well. It is especially sad because Wheaton prides itself on being the home of the Wade Center, https://www.wheaton.edu/academics/academic-centers/wadecenter/#
While Wheaton may house some of the material legacy of Lewis, it sounds as though it has parted ways with Lewis’ intellectual and spiritual legacy, by far the more important. Very sad for the institution.
It may also mark the degree to which many Christian institutions of all denominations have drifted towards the contemporary worldview. Those of us who honor and love that ancient faith articulated by the Bible and the great creeds find ourselves increasingly being lumped together with political right wing extremists, as far from the faith on the one side as liberalism is on the other. Achieving clarity in our identification seems to be more and more of a struggle these days.
Were it styled as a “call for repentance”, I would have been less bothered. A call for repentance would say, “you who stormed the capital, you who promoted (and continue to promote) lies, you who are white supremacists, you who are calling for rebellion against the government–you are in sin, and you need to repent.” This would raise a variety of other issues, but it would have been much more honest. This statement purports to itself repent, but the only “repentance” is for not doing enough (which its authors had neither obligation or ability to do–so it truly is, as Lewis observed, cheap repentance) to keep those awful people from doing the awful things they did. Even granting the truth of all the underlying assumptions, it’s fundamentally dishonest.
I believe this is correct. It seems that many in the church embrace (often while denying they’re doing so) godless ideologies, to the extent of rebuking those who refuse to do so. Disparities in income or wealth are presented as evil, for example, despite a complete absence of biblical support for this position. We’re told that we need to work toward “racial reconciliation” (whatever that is) in the church, despite Col. 3:11 saying that should have been settled 2000 years ago.
Is there not some question, too, as to what possibly might change as a result of this “repentance”? Indicators of repentance are actual changes to action or direction. Who is the “we” and what will be different in the future in light of this “repentance”? If nothing, then their statement is simply virtue signaling; as you have mentioned, a low-cost way to presumably gain props for correct thinking, or to gain a feeling of at least separation from and, perhaps even superiority over, those whose actions they disliked.
I’m guessing there are very, very few who thought the actual rioting (as opposed to peaceful protesting) at the capitol was okay. In some sense, by lumping themselves in with the rioters by “repenting” of their actions, the Wheaton folks bring to mind Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23, who by supposedly honoring dead prophets actually allied themselves with those who killed them. The potential parallel there is interesting to ponder!
Meditating on the “Meditation”Dr Snyder January 23, 2021
C. S. Lewis was not a person who enjoyed political arguments. That distaste went back to his home life in Belfast as his father and guests to the home would enter into such arguments. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t think about good governance and the Christian’s role in that governance. His most direct and detailed commentary on how Christians should approach politics is found in an essay he wrote for the Anglican newspaper, The Guardian, in 1941.
“From many letters to The Guardian, and from much that is promoted elsewhere, we learn of the growing desire for a Christian ‘party,’ a Christian ‘front,’ or a Christian ‘platform’ in politics,” he writes. While Lewis is sympathetic to the desire for Christian faith to make an impact on politics, he immediately turns to “certain difficulties” in attempting to do what those earnest letter writers seek.
The primary problem lay within the Christian world itself. While it might be nice and comforting to say that since we all are Christians, we should all agree with the aims and methods for achieving those aims, it simply isn’t true. Lewis then describes three types of Christians who come at politics from entirely separate philosophies. All, he notes, will consider themselves devout Christians as they promote their distinct approaches.
First, we have the person who “is convinced that temporal welfare can flow only from a Christian life, and that a Christian life can be promoted in the community only by an authoritarian State which has swept away the last vestiges of the hated ‘Liberal’ infection.” This type of Christian, Lewis warns, is close to fascism, which is “not so much an evil as a good thing perverted” and who “regards democracy as a monster whose victory would be a defeat for Christianity.” In other words, it is the government’s job to impose Christianity upon everyone. Such a person will work with those outside the faith who also believe in the authoritarian State, hoping they can be the “leaven” in the midst of this fascism.
Then we have an equally devout Christian “deeply conscious of the Fall and therefore convinced that no human creature can be trusted with more than the minimum power over his fellows.” This person wants to ensure that the State never infringes on Christian freedom and sees democracy as the medium to maintain that freedom. This person “is tempted to accept aid from champions of the status quo whose commercial or imperial motives bear hardly even a veneer of theism.”
The third type of Christian is the one who is so exercised over the inequities of wealth in society, and is so convinced that the church has succumbed to the world and has betrayed what Jesus originally taught, that he “demands of us a Left revolution. And he also is tempted to accept help from unbelievers who profess themselves quite openly to be the enemies of God.”
As an American Christian not writing within Lewis’s British context during WWII, I nevertheless see the same types of Christians active today in our politics. Within modern conservatism, there is now a group of Christians advocating a more forceful state that will tell citizens what is right and good and make sure they follow it. A second group looks upon the guarantees of religious freedom found in the Constitution and wants to make sure that church and state stay in their own realms of influence and authority. And there are always those who call for a more radical transformation of society in their demands for social justice.
Lewis, in his essay, speculates what might happen if the three types tried to set up a formal Christian Party. He predicts, first of all, “that either a deadlock ensues (and there the history of the Christian Party ends) or else one of the three succeeds in floating a party and driving the other two, with their followers, out of its ranks.” What remains will be a party with “a minority of the Christians who are themselves a minority of the citizens.” Such a party will accomplish little or nothing.
Lewis continues by doubling down on the extent of the disaster that will follow. He becomes quite specific when he says, “The demon inherent in every party is at all times ready enough to disguise himself as the Holy Ghost.” When we attribute to any party or leader of a party the mantle of God’s special favor, it is all too easy to follow that party—shall we say “tribe” as well—into whatever action it leads us. We will justify its actions because we consider it to be God’s party. Lewis warns, “If ever Christian men can be brought to think treachery and murder the lawful means of establishing the regime they desire, and faked trials, religious persecution and organized hooliganism the lawful means of maintaining it, it will, surely, be by just such a process as this.”
In his final paragraph, Lewis encourages instead that Christians transcend parties and become a voice that applies the right kind of pressure on all parties equally. If they want our votes, they need to carefully consider what is most important to us. He asks, “So all it comes down to is pestering” our representatives? “Yes: just that. I think such pestering combines the dove and the serpent. I think it means a world where parties have to take care not to alienate Christians, instead of a world where Christians have to be ‘loyal’ to infidel parties.”
Even if Christians are a minority, Lewis maintains, we can have a substantial influence. He ends, though, with this thought: “But I had forgotten. There is a third way—by becoming a majority. He who converts his neighbour has performed the most practical Christian-political act of all.”
My final thought: If we are to convert our neighbors, what is it that will get their attention and encourage them to listen to us? Will it be our strident and arrogant speech? Will it be our shrill outcries of frustration and anger? Will they come around to our views when we physically attack them or try to overthrow the government? Or will it be the testimony of our lives as those who seek to reach out and show the love of Christ to those with whom we disagree?
I choose that last option.
Thank you, Dimitry! A very timely post, this carefully thought-out (of course!) essay on a subject that was not an area of great interest!
I find today, though, that the charge of tribalism is flung about whenever a person finds that the policies of one party, to them, align more with Biblical truth and example than those of the other parties do. Our two main parties have increasingly grown poles apart, with deep differences in many areas. I am sure there exist loyalists to whom Lewis’s criticism rightly applies, but the charge should not be made without substantiation.
I agree. This is a very interesting article. I shared it on Reddit.
Thanks Dimitry! This is very apposite. I’ve seen every type of believer, during my life, in politics. I see the first, in Australia, in its present pseudo-Christian government. I’ve been, probably, one or another of those types, briefly, myself. The third perhaps mostly. Meditation is needed, when one contemplates politics. “Pestering” has become my rationale at present. That we should transcend parties and become a voice, and that the testimony of our lives should be the loudest voice, is also the way that I choose.
Carolyn in OZ