C.S. Lewis is the paper doll of Christianity. He has been dressed in more sets of theological clothing than I thought possible when I started reading him in 1985. Since that time, I think I read everything by him in print, as well as many things about him. What I discovered is well known in evangelical circles; Lewis is not an evangelical. Not even close. A very honest read of The Last Battle or The Great Divorce should be enough to convince any evangelical that Lewis is a member of a different tribe. Yet...yet...Even as evangelicals are writing love letters and homages to and for him on the event of the 60th anniversary of Mere Christianity, a book that was not "merely" anything, Paul Young has resurrected the corpse of the irrascible anglo-Catholic to phil0sophize in Young's new book Cross Roads.
The publisher sent me a free copy for review, and since I met and interviewed Young about this book not so long ago, I am happy to oblige. However, within the first few pages, I realized that I was not going to read the whole thing and then review it. Rather, I'm going to stop every time something threatens to give me an embolism and review that section. Thus, C.S. Lewis opening this post. I should say I did a series of reviews on The Shack as well. The first is here. I hated the book. Can't express how much I hated it. I read it at a time when my now defunct faith was defuncting, and like the utterly awful Blue Like Jazz, I recognized in The Shack that tendency to create new metaphors for the faith, but the metaphors were only meant to deconstruct wrong thinking about the faith as conferred in stories, not deconstruct the stories or faith themselves. In other words, both those books were attempts to make evangelical Christianity more palatable to readers widely assumed to be suffering some sort of postmodern relativistic epistemological meltdown. The cure, apparently, was a shitty set of new metaphors that did nothing but make an already inscrutable faith less scrutable.
During the interview linked above, I asked Young why he didn't deconstruct the grammar of the faith and not just the old set of metaphors. It seems to me that once you begin the game of creating new metaphors, you've already begun to play with the possibility that we aren't understanding something clearly, and if we're not understanding it clearly, it's very possible that the story is wrong to begin with and not just the metaphors meant to convey the story. If the metaphors are breaking down, it just might be because the story is non-functional or contradictory or simply false. This isn't a fun thought for Christians, and typically they hide their uncertainty or inability to answer the question in mysticism. Mysticism allows them to believe anything. Anything. More on mysticism later.
Young told me that the new book would begin to deconstruct the grammar of the faith. I think he meant it would deconstruct how we thought about the grammar, not the grammar itself. I suspect that when I finish this book, I will discover that Young does not abandon his faith in the end. I was prepared for the beginning of the deconstruction, but I got C.S. Lewis instead. It is literally impossible for C.S. Lewis (Jack to his friends and in this book) to believe everything that's been attributed to him by evangelicals and post-evangelicals. He would have to be the most confused man in the world, and unlike contemporary evangelicals (as a tribe, not all individually), Lewis could discern a good argument from a bad one, at least within the context of his metaphysical assumptions.
Jack shows up in Cross Roads to explain the difference between real and true. Yes, that this is necessary is befuddling to me, but it does make a certain perverse sense if you're going to say tons of shit that can't be verified but want readers to believe it is real and true. Myticism needs some sort of justification. Normally, that justification has been a reference to Scripture. Mystics can intuit all sorts of things, but if they get too far afield, the external authority known as the Bible can be brought to bear on their intuited knowledge. (This is, of course, the difference between mystics and transcendentalists; the latter had no governing authority over their pantheistic intuitions.) Young's mysticism is of a different variety, though. He's going after the grammar, allegedly, and therefore, he'll need to do some work outside the purview of Scriptural authority. You can't go after the grammar without assuming some parts of the Bible are just plain wrong. (You also can't use mysticism or intuition as a mode of knowledge unless you want to run completely off the rails. Just ask the International House of Prayer how that's working for them this month...)
Enter C.S. Lewis, or Jack. Young brings the authority of this exhausted old Irishman to his philosophical trick. Lewis sounds smart. That is different than actually being smart, but that's not important. Lewis was brilliant and plainly wrong about many things, but he has a reputation as smart and philosophical. Adding him to the critical juncture of the book as a sort of baritone voice of reason, a James Earl Jones narrating how reasonable this shit is, and you avoid the hard work of actually deconstructing what is clearly a poor move philosophically and theologically. That he does this at the first critical juncture of the book leads me to believe the rest will be fundamentally dishonest, but not in an intentional way. Young suffers from that peculiar and noble affliction of wanting to explain how God is not as big a dick as God's followers and an honest read of the Bible have led people to believe. You see, it doesn't matter if something is real and true if you can't demonstrate it, not in the realm of metaphysics.
Young asserts that we have created a sense of separation from God because we do not believe God's Word, whatever the hell that means. We refuse to believe the truth because we have created a false sense of the real. Wow! The move is dishonest because it assumes the fault lies with us. Mystics talk a great deal about God's presence, as if it is obvious enough to be noticed if we of little faith would tighten up our belt of truth, lay aside our proud questions, and just allow Jesus to hold us. (Yes, that's in the book. Jesus holds the protagonist. Can I just say that if I found out tomorrow there is a Jesus, I still wouldn't want him to hold me? It's just weird.) The problem, of course, is that many of us tried and tried and tried, and there was no holding or answering going on. The question that no one ever answers, and maybe someone will finally try, is that if God wants so much to be in relationship with us, why not make godself much more apparent? I don't tell friends I want a relationship with them and then insist on some sort of cosmic fucking scavenger hunt. What friend would put up with that? How would you even call that a friendship?