This posting is a reflection on a portion of C. S. Lewis’ first Screwtape letter. (The John Cleese reading of this letter is at the end of the post)
MY DEAR WORMWOOD,
I note what you say about guiding our patient’s reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naive? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy’s clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that. Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false”, but as “academic” or “practical”, “outworn” or “contemporary”, “conventional” or “ruthless”. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.(emphasis my own)
When someone says we should not argue, be wary, the devil is lurking. Remembering the Bible begins with a dialogue, “Did God say…?” Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. The serpent introduced new theological jargon into the ‘spiritual’ dialogue ‘for’ Eve: “being-like-God” and who would not like to be like God? Except, they were already made in Image of God! The serpent tells Eve that this ‘Godness’ will be the result of eating, and so knowing good and evil and the serpent theologically concludes this is the attribute of the LORD; except in Genesis 2:17, there is not a hint of this. In fact, is knowledge of good and evil the ultimate attribute of God? From the Scripture we know of one ultimate attribute of the Lord and it is agape, that is His steadfast love and mercy by which He makes faith in our hearts through Jesus Christ. Serpents today will tell us all sorts of attributes for the Lord are paramount under the misuse of Scripture. The serpent did not want trust in the Lord and His hesed and so introduces theological jargon: “knowing good and evil”. This has Eve looking away from the Lord, keeping her away from Him and His Church and toward herself…alone and eventually very alone. This terrible reality of evil is precisely rendered in this woodcut by the Reformation artist, Lucas Cranach the elder: note the serpent has transformed itself into a woman but not any woman, but Eve! She liked what she saw: the image, and not the source of the image: the Lord. She bought the jargon and bit the fruit. No arguments about that.
I have noticed that in political and theological debates the last thing we are supposed to do is “argue”. Argument is bad but “discussion” and “dialogue” is good. “Can’t we all just get along?”, comes the plaintive plea. Lewis had it “spot on”: it used to be argument was good because philosophy, science, and theology were about truth or falsehood. The constant engagement with the entertaining media massages the brain to think in categories other than truth or falsehood; after all, the media is in thralldom to the sacred self and with the self, relativism, as it was not so long ago called. It is in the lingo: “it’s cutting edge”, “it’s speaking truth to power”, “it’s about reconciled diversity”, “avant-garde”, “the way of the future”. So when it comes to Biblical and theological “dialogue” it’s about jargon, not truth or falsehood, because someone does not want the faithful layman (and pastor!) to know that step by careful step the truth of God’s Word is being whittled away. The frog is being boiled. And finally, with jargon alone, not Word alone, doctrine and saving truth is the casualty.
After years of discussion on sexuality issues, the jargon has become a doctrine in the ELCA : “bound conscience”. The URL for this short description has these words in it: “what we believe, the basics”. ‘Bound conscience’ is then for them basic doctrine. In the link to the brief description: there are two bound consciences. The first one is the classical Lutheran teaching: bound to the Word of God (but it is Gospel reductionist). The second one is the ‘new’ teaching: bound to the conscience of my neighbor in service to him. This is based upon the two theme statements in Luther’s Freedom of a Christian.The consciences are equal and yet not. If my conscience is bound to my neighbor, and his understanding of Scriptures regarding,say, inclusive language, though non-Biblical, it does not matter: then I must respect him and his conscience. No argument. Bound Conscience II trumps Bound Conscience I, the Word of God. Note there is no arbiter between the two “consciences”, except political correctness or who is wielding power and in control. Two consciences is the classic schizoid mentality, split mind, certainly not the mind of Christ and His sound doctrine. The arbiter of Scripture alone is denied and so a liberal Protestant church body can no longer say, “We believe, teach and confess…”, as did the blessed Reformers.
We are to argue but without hatred and derision and to do so without ad hominem argumentation. It is clear from Scripture that our fight is not against, “…flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evilin the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God…” (Ephesians 6) Humanly speaking, in an argument this is most difficult to do, in fact impossible without the whole armor of God. It is not the person but whether what is taught, preached and said is true or false. We must argue for the sake of His Word so that you may know it is true and frees you from Screwtape! So that others may know and love Jesus Christ!
Triune God, be Thou our Stay,
Oh, let us perish never.
Cleanse us from our sins, we pray,
And grant us life forever.
Keep us from the Evil One;
Uphold our faith most holy,
Grant us to trust Thee solely
With humble hearts and lowly.
Let us put God’s armor on:
With all true Christians running
Our heavenly race and shunning
The devil’s wiles and cunning.
Amen, Amen, this be done,
O Lord, have mercy upon us.