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Ric Machuga


Against Tapioca Pudding

N. T. Wright's antidote for vague spirituality.

At my alma mater we were reading C. S. Lewis before shelves of books were written about him. Though he smoked pipes in pubs, we overlooked such "personal lapses" because we were sure his books, especially Mere Christianity, would bring many into the Kingdom. At my church we affectionately refer to Lewis as "St. Clive" and adjudicate certain doctrinal disputes with a citation from the "Fifth Gospel" (i.e., his complete works). At the community college where I sometimes teach Augustine, Boethius, and Aquinas, students occasionally ask questions about their Christian faith. My discussions typically end by handing them a copy Mere Christianity.

But now Tom Wright has written Simply Christian. It obviously trades on the popularity of Lewis; worse yet, it's marketed as another Mere Christianity! Is there really room for a sixth gospel, or is this a covert plot to replace Lewis? My pastor fears it's the latter. I believe it's the former: some students should read Lewis, but others should read Wright.

Lewis' apologetic works—Mere Christianity, Problem of Pain, Miracles, etc.—are still the best introduction for the philosophically minded student with very little church experience. Lewis is able to write for pagans because he experienced paganism first hand. Wright, because he grew up in the church, is able to write for those in danger of becoming what Christian Smith calls "moralistic, therapeutic deists." These are students who speak "Christianese" fluently. They have been raised in Sunday School; at church camp they have committed their lives to Christ; most important, they are "spiritual"—they call on God for help with everything from passing a math exam to difficulties in personal relationships. But even so—and this is the crucial point—by the time they get to college, they choke on the name of Jesus.

This is hardly surprising, given the culture in which they have been raised. Lewis' generation worshiped science. Industrialism was triumphant, and ...

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