The True TARDIS in Narnia and Bethlehem

I am not a great fan of Doctor Who, although I do remember watching the first ever episode. But many of my readers are fans. So this post is my Christmas gift especially to them, and to Whovians worldwide.

The TARDIS, the Doctor’s time machine which on the outside looks like a British police telephone box, is famous for being bigger on the inside than on the outside. As reported by the BBC, an American Doctor Who fan has created a model TARDIS which, he claims, is “Bigger On The Inside. No, Really.” Apparently it’s all a matter of some software trickery called “augmented reality”.

I must say I’m not very impressed. My church in England manages to look bigger on the inside than on the outside. That’s not because of clever technology, but because its entrance is a small storefront and the sanctuary (at least that’s what they would call it here in America) is hidden behind the other shops. So it is easy to create this illusion, but not so easy for it to become a reality.

But it’s an interesting idea, a structure being bigger on the inside than on the outside. Where did it come from? The Doctor Who writers didn’t take it from my church, which was built in 1971. But could they have taken it from C.S. Lewis? In his festive post Christmas in Narnia Tim Chesterton, himself a Doctor Who fan, writes:

In the last ‘Narnia’ story,The Last Battle, we see the end of the world of Narnia. At one point in the story the children find themselves in a stable. Seen from the outside it looked small and dingy, but when they go through the door they find themselves in a beautiful country that seems to stretch on forever. Someone comments that the stable is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

The Last Battle: the stable door from the insideIndeed. The precise words of C.S. Lewis, in the mouth of the Lord Digory (p.128 of my Puffin edition), are

Its inside is bigger than its outside.

So, is this where the Doctor Who writers got their idea for the TARDIS? Quite possibly. Lewis’ stable is also connected with a kind of time travel, as it brought characters from the Narnia’s ancient past (indeed Digory watched its first dawn) into its last days. And The Last Battle (1956) was a recent book when the TARDIS was first shown in 1963. It is perhaps a good thing that Lewis never got to watch Doctor Who and see how his idea had been abused, as he died the day before the first episode was shown.

But where did C.S. Lewis get this idea from? Many of his science fiction motifs are derived from others, such as the spacecraft in Out Of The Silent Planet which is closely modelled on the one in The First Men In The Moon by H.G. Wells. In the case of the TARDIS-like stable, Lewis gives us a strong hint about his source in his next words in the story, also quoted by Tim Chesterton:

“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a Stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”

As Tim explains, the whole Narnia series is filled with implicit Christian teaching. But these words of Lucy are probably the only explicit mention of anything Christian in any of the books.

A German nativity scene (click for attribution and license)So, it seems, the original TARDIS was the stable in Bethlehem – or whatever the building was where Mary laid her child in a manger. This stable couldn’t fly; in the legend of the Holy House of Loreto it was Mary’s family home which flew to Italy, carried by angels. But the stable was the birthplace of the only true Time Lord. Jesus was bigger than the whole world, and he still is as he reigns in heaven. But he allowed himself to become human, and even for a time to be limited by the body of a tiny baby.

Why did he do this? He did it so that we, his human brothers and sisters, could share with him what God intended for humanity, to rule over his creation (Genesis 1:26) and to be seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6).

That birth in Bethlehem was only the beginning of the story. This Christmas, don’t stop at the end of Chapter One, but read on to the end, and find how you too can follow Jesus and play an important part in God’s reality show in this world, which is far more exciting than Doctor Who!

C.S. Lewis to be remembered in Poets’ Corner

C.S. LewisThe BBC reports that

A memorial stone to writer and scholar CS Lewis is to be placed in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey in 2013.

A service will take place on 22 November 2013 to mark the 50th anniversary of his death.

Excellent news! We have exactly one year to wait for the big day – which I hope won’t be overshadowed by the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who the very next day. (Oh, and some President was assassinated, but will anyone remember that?) Thanks to Vernon White, Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey and an old friend from my Clare College, Cambridge (not sure if he will remember me!), for apparently being one of the driving forces behind this. Lewis well deserves his place among the greats of British literature.

C.S. Lewis on the cover of Time Magazine

C.S. Lewis on the cover of Time MagazineThanks to Brian LePort for linking to a “rediscovered” Time Magazine cover story, from 8th September, 1947, featuring the famous Christian author C.S. Lewis.

In his post Brian looks mainly at Lewis’s interesting remarks on anthropomorphic language – apparently quoted from his then forthcoming book Miracles.

I agree with Brian, and with Lewis. But this is the quotation I would like to share with you, not from Lewis but from the article’s author:

Lewis (like T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, et al.) is one of a growing band of heretics among modern intellectuals: an intellectual who believes in God.

65 years later, are believers still considered heretics, in those circles? And is their band still growing, or shrinking? The world needs more people like C.S. Lewis: forthright Christians with academic integrity and writing skills, or perhaps other media skills for our rather different age, who can speak God’s truth into our popular culture.

C.S. Lewis turned down an honour from the Queen

C.S. LewisAs reported by the BBC, the British government has today published a list of people who have declined honours from the Queen, from 1951 to 1999 and including only those who have now died.

It is interesting to see that one of those named is “CS Lewis, who turned down a CBE in 1952″. This well known Christian author certainly deserved this honour – not so much for his well known Narnia series as for his more serious works, for example of apologetics. I am somewhat surprised to see that he turned down the honour, but perhaps he felt that the glory should go to God.

Hell: comparing Rob Bell with C.S. Lewis

The Great Divorce - C.S. LewisPhil Whittall has posted an interesting review of “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis, which leads into a comparison of Lewis’ view of hell with Rob Bell’s. I read The Great Divorce many years ago, and it is certainly a good read whatever one thinks of its theology. I have still not read Bell’s Love Wins, although I have read a lot about it.

It is interesting to see the hoops that some try to jump through to defend Lewis while condemning Bell. For example, Tim Keller, as quoted by Whittall, seems to accept that Bell teaches the same as Lewis, but suggests that Lewis was right to do so because he was going against the spirit of the age but Bell is wrong because he agrees with the spirit of the age. Leaving aside the question of whether this dubious assessment is correct, does Keller really mean to claim that whether a teaching is right or wrong depends on the spirit of the age, not on whether it agrees with biblical truth?

Whittall’s conclusions are interesting. They are basically that Bell and Lewis are teaching the same thing, that there will be chances after death for those in hell to repent and go to heaven. The main difference between the two is that Bell expects that most, or perhaps all, will take these chances, whereas Lewis expected very few to do so.

I am not at all sure about this teaching about another chance to repent. I don’t see any biblical warrant for it. But I don’t see it clearly ruled out in the Bible either, so I am open to being convinced. But I think my expectation would be more like Lewis’ than Bell’s, at least concerning those who had heard the gospel in this life. As for those who never heard it, they are not Lewis’ focus, and I haven’t read what, if anything, Bell has to say about how they might be saved.

God does not break our will

Patriarch Teoctist of the Romanian Orthodox ChurchSome amazing words by the late Patriarch Theoctist (or Teoctist) of the Romanian Orthodox Church, quoted by Elizabeth Esther and reposted by Jeremy Myers:

Man has a very powerful will—so powerful that even God Himself does not break it. And by this [God] is actually showing that man is in the likeness of God. Without man’s will he could not make any progress on the way to goodness. So out of all the gifts that God grants the human being, we believe that freedom is one of the most important.

Agreed – assuming that “man” here is to be understood in a gender generic sense. I cannot accept the Calvinist position that men and women cannot resist the grace of God, because if God forced them to accept it he would be taking away their humanity and their image of God.

The problem is that the human will is so often opposed to the will of God. That, fundamentally, is why there is so much evil and suffering in the world. Don’t blame God, blame men and women who ignore his instructions and warnings.

And that is why in the end I disagree with what Rob Bell is supposed to have said, that hell will be empty. It won’t be because that is where some people will choose to go. Even if they were to have an eternity of chances to repent, many would not take them, as C.S. Lewis memorably put forward in The Great Divorce. It is not that God is a “vicious tormenter” who wants to send people to hell, but that he allows people to go to hell if that is what they want.

C.S. Lewis got it wrong on women priests

A couple of days ago I noted C.S. Lewis’ criticism of the arguments used by complementarians. But of course that does not imply that he was an egalitarian. Indeed I now have proof that he was not. I thank my commenter Iconoclast for a link to an interesting essay by Lewis apparently entitled Priestesses in the Church?, posted last year by Alice C. Linsley on her blog. According to this page the essay was originally written in 1948. In it Lewis makes clear his opposition to the ordination of women in the Church of England.

Lewis certainly would not have approved of Barbie becoming an Episcopal priest, as pictured here. Thanks to Dave Walker at the Church Times blog for the link (although it’s broken) to the Facebook group Friends of Episcopal Priest Barbie (not sure if my link will work any better). It is a real group, so this is not just an April fool, and I took the picture from it.

To start with, C.S. Lewis got one thing quite wrong: no one was asking for a separate “order of priestesses”, but for women to be admitted to the existing order of priests, as has now happened. But I think he is on the ball to say that

the opposers (many of them women) can produce at first nothing but an inarticulate distaste, a sense of discomfort which they themselves find it hard to analyse

– to which some would add a shallow and tendentious interpretation of certain Bible passages.

When it comes down to it, the argument which Lewis makes is that God is male, not female. That implies that for him women are less the image of God than men. He admits that it is “masculine imagery” which is used of God, but he confuses the imagery with the reality when he makes God really masculine. When Robert Burns wrote “My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose”, his beautiful poetic imagery was not supposed to mean that the woman he loved was in fact not a woman but a rose. I’m not really qualified to lecture a professor of literature like Lewis, but he seems to have forgotten the basics of how poetry works. Poetic images are figures of speech not to be taken literally. So if calling God Father is indeed “masculine imagery” of the poetic kind, it precisely does not imply that God is really and essentially male.

Lewis gets to the most basic issue when he writes:

The innovators are really implying that sex is something superficial, irrelevant to the spiritual life. To say that men and women are equally eligible for a certain profession is to say that for the purposes of that profession their sex is irrelevant. We are, within that context, treating both as neuters. As the State grows more like a hive or an ant-hill it needs an increasing number of workers who can be treated as neuters. This may be inevitable for our secular life. But in our Christian life we must return to reality. There we are not homogeneous units, but different and complimentary organs of a mystical body.

Here “complimentary” is a transcriber’s error for “complementary”; Lewis certainly wouldn’t have confused the two words, and the latter appears in this version of the text. So he upholds the principle of complementary roles for men and women, while in this essay being careful to avoid the kinds of arguments which he put in the mouth of the Ape in The Last Battle.

In the paragraph I just quoted Lewis has hit the nail on the head. Indeed I would hold, along with most egalitarians I imagine, that distinctions of sex are “irrelevant to the spiritual life”. But Lewis seems to disagree. So how can we resolve this? Lewis, having rejected reason earlier in the essay, turns to church tradition. As an evangelical I prefer to turn to Scripture. And there I read:

So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27 (TNIV)

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28 (TNIV)

Thus the Bible makes it clear that males and females are equally made in the image of God, and that the distinction between them is precisely “irrelevant to the spiritual life” in Christ. Thus the clear biblical position is that God is neither male nor female, and that neither gender is better fitted than the other to represent him to humanity.

Of course C.S. Lewis was right and prescient to write that

the Church of England herself would be torn in shreds

by allowing women priests. In the 1990s the shreds were inexpertly patched together by such means as the infamous “flying bishops”. Now that women bishops are in prospect the whole patchwork is falling apart again. But the reason this has been so contentious is that a large minority in the church has been taken in by the kinds of bad arguments about the essential masculinity of God which Lewis put forward.

To be fair to C.S. Lewis, he was a man of his time and so shared “an inarticulate distaste, a sense of discomfort” with the idea of women priests. In 1948 he was not young (he turned 50 that year) but still unmarried. He had little experience of women apart from his odd relationship with his surrogate mother Jane Moore. It is perhaps hardly surprising that he treated them more or less as a separate species. But, fortunately for half of humanity, that is not how God treats them.

C.S. Lewis on complementarianism

C.S. Lewis didn’t have anything to say about the kind of complementarianism that is being promoted by CBMW among others, according to which men and women are allocated complementary, but allegedly equal roles in the family and in the church – and it is men who decide which these roles are. That is because the concept had not been invented when he died.

But Lewis did have an idea of what it meant to speak of complementary roles where the allocation of these roles is all done by one side. In the first chapter of The Last Battle he writes of how the ape Shift, a clear figure of evil in his story, and the donkey Puzzle

both said they were friends, but from the way things went on you might have thought that Puzzle was more like Shift’s servant than his friend. He did all the work. … Puzzle never complained, because he knew that Shift was far cleverer than himself and he thought it was very kind of Shift to be friends with him at all. (p.7 of my Puffin edition)

After getting the reluctant Puzzle to fish a lion’s skin out of Caldron Pool, Shift says:

You know you’re no good at thinking, Puzzle, so why don’t you let me do your thinking for you? Why don’t you treat me as I treat you? I don’t think I can do everything. I know you’re better at some things than I am. That’s why I let you go into the Pool; I knew you’d do it better than me. But why can’t I have my turn when it comes to something I can do and you can’t? Am I never allowed to do anything? Do be fair. Turn and turn about. (p.12, emphasis as in the original)

With arguments like these Shift asserts his leadership over the poor Puzzle and exploits him as his servant, to do all the dirty jobs while Shift reserves for himself all the nice ones. These arguments sound remarkably like the ones which complementarians use to justify men getting all the desirable roles in church and in family, while all the ones which the men don’t want end up being given to women.

Now Shift probably was cleverer than Puzzle, so he could justify being the one who did the thinking – although not the evil he brought from it. But there is plenty of proof that men are no better at thinking or at leading than women are, and so no justification for men allocating to themselves all the leadership roles and any other tasks that they take a fancy to.

Telmarines seize Narnia domain name

C.S. Lewis must be turning in his grave. His estate seems to have been taken over by the Telmarines, King Miraz and his people who in the novel and film “Prince Caspian” had taken over Narnia by force and banished all the little people and talking animals.

According to this news report, a little person, a child rather than a dwarf, and his father had perfectly legally acquired, by purchase, the domain name narnia.mobi, for use by the boy on his mobile phone. But “C.S. Lewis (Pte) Ltd.”, which owns the rights to Lewis’ work, objected to this as a breach of trademark. Now the purchasers have been stripped of narnia.mobi by force, by the “World Intellectual Property Organization”, which, according to the reports, failed even to examine the purchasers’ evidence proving that they had not been using the domain for commercial purposes.

What we need now is a new Prince Caspian, new High Kings and High Queens, and a new Aslan, to put this injustice right, set free the Internet Narnia, and restore it to the little people who are its rightful owners.

Violence and the Kingdom – and Todd Bentley again

Roger Mugs writes about How I long to be a violent man, based on Matthew 11:12:

This is such a great verse just because it’s so strange. But the more I read it, the clearer to me it becomes that I am called to be a violent man taking hold the kingdom of heaven.

If this really is THE battle for the kingdom, through powers and such that we cannot see, then how passive of a role am I playing? Every time I come across this verse I’m reminded just how weak my prayer life is, and how forceful it should be. I want to be a violent man, a forceful man, I want the Lord’s enemies to be freaked out when I enter into battle with them. …

Wake us up to our wimpyness. Lord make us violent fighters taking hold of your kingdom by force.

Indeed! At first this post seemed so strange that I wondered if Roger was being satirical, but on closer reading I realise that he is both sincere and correct.

Now I don’t think Roger had Todd Bentley in mind when he wrote this a few days ago. But I was immediately reminded of the criticism that has been levelled at Todd that he uses violent methods in healing. In this comment CharismaticSceptic was the first of several people to send me a link to this video in which Todd tells of occasions when he used forceful methods in healing. On this CharismaticSceptic comments:

I’m sorry, but I cannot accept that this is how a minister of the gospel should behave, and have to seriously question if the voice Todd is hearing is that of the Lord.

Well, at the time I didn’t think of quoting Matthew 11:12 in response, but because C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian was in the news (I haven’t seen the film yet) I offered this quote from the book (pp. 133-134 of my copy):

Aslan pounced. Have you ever seen a very young kitten being carried in the mother cat’s mouth? It was like that. The Dwarf, hunched up in a little, miserable ball, hung from Aslan’s mouth. The Lion gave him one shake and all his armour rattled like a tinker’s pack and then – hey-presto – the Dwarf flew up in the air. He was as safe as if he had been in bed, though he did not feel so. As he came down the huge velvety paws caught him as gently as a mother’s arms and set him (right way up, too) on the ground.

It seems that C.S. Lewis’ conception of God allowed him to do apparently violent things to demonstrate that he is real. And from Matthew 11:12, at least as interpreted by Roger (and I know that there are other interpretations), it seems that Jesus also endorsed the use of violence in advancing the kingdom of God.

Now the world in the 21st century insists on wrapping everyone in cotton wool and treating violence against anyone (unless there is some rumour totally without evidence that they might somehow be linked indirectly with someone who has contemplated something which just might be considered terrorism) as the ultimate moral evil. And it seems that the critics of Todd Bentley have bought into the world’s thinking on this. But these are not the values of the Kingdom of God.