If you read C.S. Lewis’s collection of essays God In The Dock you’ll find Lewis’s final interview conducted in 1963 at Magdalene College, Cambridge University with Mr. Wirt from the Billy Graham Association. These exchanges stuck out to me and I think apropos for this short piece.
Mr. Wirt: What is your opinion of the kind of writing being done within the Christian church today?
Lewis: A great deal of what is being published by writers in the religious tradition is a scandal and is actually turning people away from the church. The liberal writers who are continually accommodating and whittling down the truth of the Gospel are responsible.
Further on in the conversation Mr. Wirt asks Lewis about the use of the profane within writing as a means to make writing seem more authentic.
Mr. Wirt: Do you think filth and obscenity is necessary in order to establish a realistic atmosphere in contemporary literature?
Lewis: I do not. I treat this development as a symptom, a sign of a culture that has lost its faith. Moral collapse follows upon spiritual collapse. I look upon the immediate future with great apprehension.
Mr. Wirt follows up Lewis’s response by asking if the culture has been de-Christianized. Rather than commenting on the greater culture, Lewis looks directly at the church.
Lewis: I have some definite views about the de-Christianizing of the church. I believe that there are many accommodating preachers, and too many practitioners in the church who are not believers. Jesus Christ did not say ‘Go into all the world and tell the world that it is quite right.’ The Gospel is something completely different. In fact, it is directly opposed to the world.
I find Lewis’s ideas on ecclesial accommodation, spiritual collapse and feigned authenticity poignant even now, fifty years later. We live in the age of the marketing-savvy provocateur pastor, the liberated speech of the blogosphere and the land where the obscene and profane point to shame and mock.
"The ‘frankness’ of people sunk below shame is a very cheap frankness."
Perhaps most surprising is our general lack of humility. Here I take Richard Fosters definition of humility as being aware of the truth of things: I am aware of the truth of others and myself and of the situation in which I find myself.
Humility demands we understand our position before God. Without him we are raging rebels bent on destroying. With him we become Christ himself—the archetype of the humble servant.
We seem to forget who we are or worse, fabricate a humility and authenticity by way of our crassness and snark, writing it off to the gods of the hip and the real. And in the midst of our forgetfulness we ramshackle shame and stand blind to the notion and importance of hiddenness.
Part of our awareness of self lies not in our pathological need to expose everything in our lives in the name of “being brave” and “getting it all out” but in the realization that shame helps us see ourselves as we truly are. It helps us stay humble.
"When men attempt to be Christians without this preliminary consciousness of sin," writes Lewis in The Problem of Pain, “the result is almost bound to be a certain resentment against God as to one who is always making impossible demands and always inexplicably angry.”
Lewis does not claim to be a ‘worm theologian.’ On the contrary, he does not even believe in total depravity. He does not think we should be afraid of our true selves. He suggests that in order to know our true selves we must learn through the lens of shame and right position before God.
The Alter of Self promoted by our culture looks inviting. It says that shame is a dangerous game—liberate yourself and find your true voice.
But Christ says something completely different. He says, “If you lose your life, you will find it.” Perhaps it is time we return to lostness. A lostness in Him and in so doing, finding the trueness of ourselves.
Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.