Lewis sighting: on the Coronavirus?

Somewhat related to the prior discussions of science vs. scientism, here’s a response to NT Wright’s abominable piece recently published at time.com:

The BCP confronts us as 21st century Westerners especially that we are overly “naturalized” adherents of what C.S. Lewis called “scientism.” We don’t speak of “creation” as the theater of God’s glorious activity but of “nature” as the result of random processes. Thus our modern fascination with controlling and manipulating our lives through our allegiance to scientific experts.

The Book of Common Prayer would have been Lewis’s tradition as well.

Prayers for safety for all here.

N. T. Wright is my favorite New Testament scholar, and I like that TIME article very much. What he says there – that we shouldn’t look to Christianity for facile answers to the “problem of suffering” – is not incompatible with the passages cited in the rebuttal article. Sometimes it sounds rather arrogant to claim to be certain “this is why God caused or allowed this disaster.”

Margaret Carter

Your mentioning N. T. Wright brings back a very old memory of when I read a criticism of something that was wrong in his theology, but it is so long ago that I have forgotten what it is!! Anybody here know what that is?


But that isn’t what he says there (or at least, not all he says there)–he says there that Christianity provides no answers, which is thoroughly false. No, Christianity doesn’t provide all the answers (it has nothing at all to say, for example, about how the disease should be treated), but it most certainly provides some, and some very important ones at that:

  • This disease, like all disease and death, is part of God’s judgment on creation for sin (Rom. 5:12)
  • God has used plague and pestilence to judge in the past (e.g., pretty much all of Exodus), and there’s no reason to rule out his doing so again.
    • This does not mean, and in the absence of an Old Testament-style prophet cannot mean, that we can say it’s judgment for any particular sin or group of sins (though the degree of worldwide rebellion against God in these days would certainly warrant such judgment)
  • God is in absolute and total control over every single instance of this virus. It did not surprise him; rather, it was ordained by him. (e.g., Hab. 3:5)
  • God is using this pandemic for his own eternal glory, in accordance with the counsel of his own will (Eph. 1:11)
  • God is using this pandemic for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28)
    • As a result (and only as a result) of these three points, we can be confident that there is a purpose to this (and all other) suffering. Contrary to Wright’s position, there is a reason for this pandemic, and we can say, to a degree, what it is.
  • This pandemic cannot separate believers from the love of God in Christ. (Rom. 8:38-39)
  • “Bad things happen to good people” only happened once, at the cross.

Wright is right to remind us of the biblical tradition of lamentation, but he is wrong (both theologically and factually) to view the lament as the end. Yes, we weep for the sick and the dead. But we do not (should not) weep without hope, as he counsels.

Thank you! That is the right perspective!


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I would suspect, though I’m not all that familiar with his work, that it has to do with his acceptance/endorsement of the so-called “new perspective on Paul.”

Yeah, I think that might be it. I do remember the “New Perspective on Paul” phrase and that it was wrong, but I have forgotten why because it was so long ago, plus he was not one of the thinkers I devoted a lot of attention to.


I’m not familiar enough with NPP to say one way or the other, but I’m automatically skeptical for two reasons:

  • There really is nothing new under the sun–the chance that this is truly a new and unprecedented perspective on Paul is very close to zero, and
  • Novelty in Christianity is not a good thing–if it is something new, the chance that it’s true is (once again) extremely close to zero.

…but neither of these touches on the substance, with which (again) I’m unfamiliar.

The best response that I have read to new interpretations of the New Testament is in Lewis’s paper, “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism” (in “Christian Reflections”), specifically:

“All theology of the liberal type involves at some point – and often involves throughout – the claim that the real behaviour and purpose and teaching of Christ came very rapidly to be misunderstood and misrepresented by His followers, and has been recovered or exhumed only by modern scholars…The idea that any man…should be opaque to those who lived in the same culture, spoke the same language, shared the same habitual imagery and unconscious assumptions, and yet be transparent to those who have none of these advantages, is in my opinion preposterous. There is an a priori improbability in it which almost no argument and no evidence could counterbalance.”


“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

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Thank you, Dimitry, for providing some Lewis content to a thread in which I hadn’t provided much. And while Lewis wasn’t addressing the “New perspective on Paul” as such, it seems just as applicable to that as to a “new perspective” on anything else.

And though it’s really kind of off-topic for this thread, here’s some discussion of (and a response to) Wright’s “new perspective”:

Once again, I can’t vouch for this piece’s description of Wright’s theology, but he seems to address it pretty thoroughly.

Dan, when I posted Lewis’s thoughts about liberal theologians, I didn’t know what the “New Perspective on Paul” was all about. But I’ve just read this in Wikipedia:

“The “new” perspective has, by and large, been an internal debate among Protestant scholars. Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox writers have generally responded favorably to new-perspective ideas,[56] seeing both a greater commonality with their own beliefs and strong similarities with the views of many of the early Church Fathers.”

So I think that what Lewis wrote about “liberal theology” would not apply here. And since I’m at it, I want to quote what Lewis wrote about the definition of faith (in “Is Theism Important?” from “God in the Dock”):

“I think we must introduce into the discussion a distinction between two senses of the word Faith. This may mean (a) a settled intellectual assent. In that sense faith (or ‘belief’) in God hardly differs from faith in the uniformity of Nature or in the consciousness of other people. This is what, I think, has sometimes been called a ‘notional’ or ‘intellectual’ or ‘carnal’ faith. It may also mean (b) a trust, or confidence, in the God whose existence is thus assented to. This involves an attitude of will. It is more like our confidence in a friend. It would be generally agreed that Faith in sense A is not a religious state. The devils who ‘believe and tremble’ have Faith-A. A man who curses or ignores God may have Faith-A…As soon as we have Faith-A in the existence of God, we are instructed to ask from God Himself the gift of Faith-B.”

It seems to me that if we accept Lewis’s distinction between Faith-A and Faith-B, the question of “faith versus works” disappears, for to have Faith-B would mean to live according to our Lord’s commands.


“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)

Well, the name of “new perspective” would certainly open it to Lewis’s criticism. And the perspectives it challenges date back at least to Augustine, which would seem to be problematic for Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox believers, not only Protestants. But with that said, Wright purports to be a Protestant theologian, and I expect it’s true that most of the criticism does come from Protestant sources.

Considering the extremely wide variety of views held by many of the early church fathers (many of which, post-Nicaea, would be considered damnably heretical), it’s not in the least surprising that there’s support among some of them for, well, just about any wacky idea.

I wouldn’t dare to try to represent a “Protestant view” here, because there’s such a wide variety of views within the Protestant churches on the subject. But among the reformers more specifically, saving faith was considered to have three requirements:

  • Knowledge
  • Assent
  • Trust

Knowledge requires that you have some degree of knowledge of the thing believed–it’s inadequate, under this view, to simply say, “I believe whatever the church teaches.” You must have your own understanding of whatever the essential doctrines are considered to be (which would minimally include Christ’s deity, incarnation, death, and resurrection).

Assent requires that you agree that these things are true. These first two points together, I think, are what Lewis refers to as “Faith-A,” and indeed do not (by themselves) bring salvation–James tells us that even the demons have this (Jas. 2:19).

Trust is resting in, and relying on, the things that you believe to be true. This will inevitably result in changed behavior. You believe the chair is sturdy, so you sit on it. You believe your friend is a safe driver, so you get in the car with him. You believe that Jesus is the son of God, that he became flesh and lived among his people, that he died and rose again, so you follow him.

Thus, the Reformed view is that faith alone saves, but faith that saves is (almost) never alone. Faith alone is the basis for our justification, but that saving faith will inevitably produce good works, with the possible (albeit rare) exception of a true deathbed conversion.

Our omnipotence was destroyed by a tiny virus during the forty days of Lent. Coincidence?

Did God impose Lent this year?

I’m not sure the point of your question–God has never imposed Lent. And man has never been omnipotent.

We will remember this as the year Lent lasted past Pentecost…

4 posts were merged into an existing topic: Excessive/unexpected emails