Inkling of Wonder
I am a Calvinist. No, better to say that I am a rabid Calvinist. I am the son of a Calvinist. My spiritual grandfather was the Calvinist’s Calvinist, John Gerstner. When I consider my own theological education, I divide it into three equal parts. First, I was raised by R.C. Sproul. Calvinism not only runs in our blood, but it gave the savor to our soup. It was the spice in our stew. The ghost of John Calvin haunted my home, and for that I give thanks. Second, I studied theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. There, all my professors were required to affirm their commitment to Calvinism as a prerequisite for their employment. Third, as a boy, with the able aid of my pastor, I studied The Westminster Shorter Catechism for Study Groups, by G. I. Williamson. It was there that the pieces fell into place.
When I was in high school, while others were souping up their cars or lining up their dates for Saturday night, I was in my room, reading Calvinists. My children are Calvinists, and I pray their children will be Calvinists as well. Yet, if I am honest and consider those men who have most shaped my own thinking, right after my father and John Gerstner, there stands “Jack,” C.S. Lewis. How could such a fervent Calvinist be shaped by someone from the other side?
One might expect that the answer would be Mere Christianity. In that important work from Lewis he lays out the importance of not appending sundry appellations to our Christianity. We ought not be vegetarian-Christians or Libertarian-Christians. We ought instead to be Christians. It’s a sound enough point, as long as we understand the wisdom of Spurgeon, that Calvinism isn’t the icing on the cake of Christianity, but is the substance of it. Still, this isn’t why Lewis, despite not being a Calvinist, has had such a profound influence on me. Truth be told, and while I am loathe to cause this great man to spin in his grave, I love Lewis, despite the painfully obvious truth that he was not a Calvinist, because I am a Calvinist.
The great thing about Calvinism, rightly understood, is not its emphasis on the sovereignty of God. That instead is but a symptom of a previous commitment. Calvinism, as a system, emphasizes the gap between God and man. It is a system of thought that affirms that God is God and that we are merely men. It is a system that seeks always to awaken as many people as possible to the holiness of God.
Somehow, some way, Lewis, escaped becoming a Calvinist, while his life’s work was committed to this great, fundamental Calvinist truth, that God is God and that we are not. The center of his theology was not the sovereignty of God. It was instead, perhaps slightly more at the center of reality, the wonder of God.
Lewis builds an entire world around the wonder of God in his Chronicles of Narnia. There we discover that Alsan is not a tame lion, that he has not only consumed little girls but has consumed whole cities of children. There we witness creation as it truly was, not a marvelous feat of modernist engineering, but the fruit of beauty, the result of a song. There we come to discern the relationship of life on earth, as it is in heaven, as the Pevensies move further up and further in, at the “beginning” of the story.
We are taught the transcendence of God in The Abolition of Man. There we learn, long before any of us were even aware of post-modernism, that the great evil at work behind this world view is false — beauty is not in the eye of the beholder; rather, it is the manifestation of the very character of God. In That Hideous Strength, the final chapter of the Space Trilogy, we see the battle between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman as it really is, a battle between officious pettiness masquerading as world-changing power and humble service as the true linchpin of human history.
We find the same principle at work in The Great Divorce, an allegorical tale of the intersection of heaven and hell. There we discover the soft reality that reality is more solid, more substantial than the folly of the world around us. We discern, as we do in The Screwtape Letters, the foolishness of folly, and why and how we always seem to fall for it.
In the end the message is simple enough — God is God, and we are not. We will not enter the kingdom of God until we learn to do so not as theological scientists, but as children. The secret of spiritual maturity, according to Jesus, is learning to be like children. When we come to Narnia, therefore, we do not come as more sophisticated versions of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, but as more jaded versions, who must learn from our spiritual betters — children.
Lewis was not a Calvinist, though by God’s grace he is one now. He was instead a grown child who can lead us into the maturity of childhood. He was gifted by God to gift us in this way — he teaches us to be as children, that we might enter into the kingdom of God. He reminds us that God is God and that we are not. He reminds us that our response to this truth ought not to be mere theological speculation, but mere Christianity — crying out to our Father to have mercy on us, miserable sinners, and rejoicing that He has done so in Christ. He reminds us that this is how we move further up and further in.