(With apologies to chapter 5 of The Great Divorce.)
The year is the distant future, and an elderly Rob Bell (who has aged masterfully well) is sitting in his study, finishing his latest manuscript, when he is startled by the materialized spirit of C.S. Lewis.
Lewis: I was sent to you, my friend. Your time is soon, and I have been commissioned to aid in your last rites. A bit of a jump start, as it were.
Bell: Well isn't that fascinating! I never would have guessed such a thing, though why not? All things are possible, you now.
Lewis: (grins) All except the impossible, friend.
Bell: Ah, sir. It's charming to see you still being a stickler for rigid categories. Reminds me of when I used to read your books. I suppose you've changed your views a bit since then. You became rather narrow-minded around middle-age, but I suspected death would broadened you back out.
Lewis: How do you mean?
Bell: Well, it's obvious to you by now, isn't it, that you weren't quite right. Why, my dear sir, you actually believed in a literal Heaven and Hell! (laughs humorously)
Lewis: But wasn't I right?
Bell: Oh, in a spiritual sense, to be sure. I still believe in them in that way. I am still, good sir, looking for the Kingdom, but nothing fundamentalist or outdated....
Lewis: Excuse me, my friend. Where do you imagine I've been?
Bell: Why, right here! In a higher dimension, perhaps, but under God's endless hope of morning and empowerment, with its field for indefinite progress and human aggrandizement. That is, in a sense, Heaven, if only we had eyes to see it. It is a beautiful idea. (looks expectantly) Have you, perhaps, been sent to tell me as such.
Lewis: I have been sent to give you a jump start on your last rites.
Bell: Ah! Right. Well, go on, good sir, go on. What have I to confess first?
Lewis: Well, your heresies for starters.
Bell: (taken back) Are you serious, sir?
Bell: You really think people are penalized for their honest opinions? Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that those opinions were mistaken?
Lewis: Do you really think there are no sins of the intellect?
Bell: There are indeed, good sir. There is hide-bound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. But honest opinions fearlessly followed---they are not sins.
Lewis: I know you like to talk that way. So did I until my middle-age when I became what you call narrow. But it all turns on what are honest opinions.
Bell: Mine certainly were. They were not only honest but heroic. I asserted them fearlessly. For example, when the doctrine of Hell ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I openly rejected it. I wrote my famous book. I defied the whole of evangelicalism. I took every risk.
Lewis: What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what actually came---popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and a loyal following?
Bell: (offended) What are you suggesting?
Lewis: Friend I am not suggesting at all. You see, I know now. Let us be frank. Your opinions were not honestly come by. You simply found yourself in contact with a certain current of contemporary ideas and plunged into them because it seemed relevant and fashionable. When did you put up one moment's resistance to your loss of orthodox beliefs?
Bell: If this is meant to be a sketch of the genesis of liberal theology in general, I reply that it is mere libel. Do you suggest that men like....
Lewis: I have nothing to do with generality. Nor with any man but you and me. Oh, as you love your own soul, consider! You know you were playing with loaded dice: you didn't want the other side to be true. You were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule in front of Oprah and any number of secular idols, afraid of real spiritual fears and hopes.
Bell: I'll admit I needed to step out of the limelight for a while, which I did. And I'll gladly admit that men can make mistakes, and that they may well be influenced by current fashions of thought. But it's not a question of how my opinions were formed. The point is that they were my honest opinions, sincerely expressed.
Lewis: They were sincere in the sense that they did occur as psychological events in your mind. If that's what you mean by sincerity, then they were sincere. So were mine, in my younger days. But errors which are sincere in that sense are not innocent.
Bell: (scoffs) Such intolerance. You'll be justifying the Inquisition any moment!
Lewis: Why? Because the Middle Ages supposedly erred in one direction, does it follow that there is no error in the opposite direction?
Bell: Well now...I hadn't looked at it that way before. (considers, then chuckles) My dear sir, I apologize. Is not this disagreement verging on mudslinging? I am a Christ-follower, like you. I am a believer, like you. We may not by perfectly agreed, but you have completely misjudged me if you do not realize that my religion is a very real and a very precious thing to me. (leans forward) I simply believe in a religion of certain guarantees, certain assurances about the next life: a wider sphere of usefulness, and further scope for the talents God has given me to flourish, and an atmosphere of free inquiry! In short, all that is truly meant by a civilized, contemporary spiritual life. Can you not, from your exalted perspective, confirm these things for me?
Lewis: No. I can promise you none of these things, for you or anyone else. No sphere of usefulness: you are not needed there at all. No scope for your talents: only forgiveness for having perverted them and restoration to what they ought to have been. No atmosphere of inquiry, for you shall be brought not to the land of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God.
Bell: Ah, but we must all interpret those beautiful words in our own way! For me, there is no such thing as a final answer. The free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind, must it not? "Prove all things." The journey is more important than the destination. To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.
Lewis: If that were true, and known to be true, how could anyone travel hopefully? There would be nothing to hope for.
Bell: But you must feel yourself that there is something stifling about the idea of finality? Stagnation, dear sir, what is more soul-destroying than stagnation?
Lewis: You think that way because you have experienced truth only with the abstract intellect. I have been where you can taste it like honey and be embraced by it as a bridegroom. Your thirst shall be quenched.
Bell: Well, really, you know, I am not aware of a thirst for some ready-made truth which puts an end to intellectual activity in the way you seem to be describing. Will I still have the free play of Mind, good sir? I must insist on that, you know.
Lewis: Free, as a man is free to drink while he is drinking. He is not free still to be dry.
Bell: (brows furrowed) I can make nothing of that idea.
Lewis: Then listen! (leans forward) Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and were glad when you found them. Become that child again!
Bell: (smiles) Ah, but when I became a man I put away childish things.
Lewis: (concerned) You have gone far wrong. Thirst was made for water; inquiry for truth. What you call the "free play" of inquiry, or the "sacredness" of doubting, or "holy questioning," has neither more nor less to do with the ends for which intelligence was given than masturbation has to do with marriage.
Bell: Easy now! (sits up straighter) The suggestion that I should retrogress back to the mere factual inquisitiveness of childhood strikes me as preposterous. That question-and-answer conception of thought only applies to matters of fact. Religious and speculative questions are surely on a different, much higher level.
Lewis: There is no religion where you're going: there is only Christ. There is no speculation either. Soon, you will come and see! You will be brought to Eternal Fact, the Father of all fact-hood.
Bell: I should object very strongly to the describing God as "fact". The Divine Progressive would surely be a much better description. It's hardly....
Lewis: (alarmed) Do you not even believe that He exists?
Bell: Exists? What does Existence mean? You still keep on implying some sort of static, ready-made reality which is, so to speak, "there," and to which our minds have simply to conform. These great mysteries cannot be approached in that way. If they could, then I would not be interested in it. It would be of no religious significance. God, for me, is an inward spirit pushing us progressively forward, into sweetness and tolerance and...and service, good sir! We can't forget that, you know!
Lewis: (saddened) Then...the thirst of the Reason is really dead.... (ponders next move)
Bell: (waits, twiddling thumbs) You know, if you're going to stand there for a moment, I'd like to tell you about my latest and, it seems, last book! I'm taking the text about "growing up into the measure and stature of Christ" and working out an idea which I'm sure you'll find interesting. I'm going to point out how people always forget that Jesus was a comparatively young man when he died. He would have outgrown some of his earlier views, you know, if he'd lived. I am going to ask my audience to question what his mature views would have been. A profoundly interesting idea, wouldn't you agree? What a different Christianity we might have had if only the Founder had progressed to his full stature! I shall end up by pointing out how this deepens the significance of the Crucifixion. One feels for the first time what a disaster it was, what a tragic waste! So much promise cut short... (startled as Lewis fades away) Oh, must you be going? Well, so must I. Goodbye, dear sir, and see you soon! It has been a great pleasure, most stimulating and provocative.
|No way through....|