In 1944 C.S. Lewis gave the Memorial Lecture to the young men of King’s College, London (read the whole of the lecture here). His title for the lecture was “The Inner Ring.” His goal was not to lecture about current events, facts, or philosophical ideals. Rather, he sought to give them advice into a well known reality in the world, one that each man and woman knows all too well, but few see for it what it is, and fewer still break free from its clutches. The reality, as Lewis names it, is that of “inner rings.”
Lewis defines the reality as following,
“There are no formal admissions or expulsions. People think they are in it after they have in fact been pushed out of it, or before they have been allowed in: this provides great amusement for those who are really inside. It has no fixed name. The only certain rule is that the insiders and outsiders call it by different names. From inside it may be designated, in simple cases, by mere enumeration: it may be called “You and Tony and me.” When it is very secure and comparatively stable in membership it calls itself “we.” When it has to be expanded to meet a particular emergency it calls itself “all the sensible people at this place.” From outside, if you have dispaired [sic] of getting into it, you call it “That gang” or “they” or “So-and-so and his set” or “The Caucus” or “The Inner Ring.” If you are a candidate for admission you probably don’t call it anything. To discuss it with the other outsiders would make you feel outside yourself. And to mention talking to the man who is inside, and who may help you if this present conversation goes well, would be madness.”
In other words, the inner ring is the exclusive group that people outside are trying to get in to. They are everywhere. They are in our workplaces, our schools, our governments, and our churches. They are the unwritten hierarchies that claim to give those who are admitted a place, identity, and value.
We all know the draw of the “inner ring”. It is the group(s) of individuals that we aspire to be a part of. Not so much for the friendships that we think we will find therein, but rather for the value that we think we will find once admitted.
Lewis notes the insidious nature of the “inner ring” as it plays on the heart (not that the existence of such groups is evil in itself–for, they are morally neutral and must exist to some extent). He warns of the futility and the pain of giving our lives to pursuing acceptance into such exclusive, elite circles. He provides two powerful reasons that we should avoid such a desire, and a plea for freedom against such a draw within us.
The Power to Make us Immoral
The first problem with the desire to be a part of such groups is that such a desire often times causes us to do things against our values and ideals in order to find acceptance within them. Lewis notes,
“And the prophecy I make is this. To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colours. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink, or a cup of coffee, disguised as triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still—just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïf or a prig—the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which ‘we’—and at the word ‘we’ you try not to blush for mere pleasure—something ‘we always do.’”
What Lewis means here, is that the draw towards becoming a ‘scoundrel’ often comes with choices made to bend our values in order to become accepted within such inner rings. Lewis summarizes this point by saying,
“Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.”
A Fleeting Satisfaction
The second problem Lewis sees with the desire to gain admittance to such inner circles is that it is a desire that will never be satisfied. What happens once accepted? We quickly find that the people who we thought could give us identity, value, worth, acceptance, etc. do not have the power to do that–and that there is yet a further ‘inner ring’ to which we desire to be accepted.
Lewis’ analysis is powerful:
“If you want to be made free of a certain circle for some wholesome reason—if, say, you want to join a musical society because you really like music—then there is a possibility of satisfaction. You may find yourself playing in a quartet and you may enjoy it. But if all you want is to be in the know, your pleasure will be short lived. The circle cannot have from within the charm it had from outside. By the very act of admitting you it has lost its magic.
Once the first novelty is worn off, the members of this circle will be no more interesting than your old friends. Why should they be? You were not looking for virtue or kindness or loyalty or humour or learning or wit or any of the things that can really be enjoyed. You merely wanted to be “in.” And that is a pleasure that cannot last. As soon as your new associates have been staled to you by custom, you will be looking for another Ring. The rainbow’s end will still be ahead of you. The old ring will now be only the drab background for your endeavor to enter the new one.”
In other words, the desire to find acceptance and identity from such groups will never be satisfied because there will always be other groups you are not a part of that you believe will provide you with such identity and value.
A Plea for Freedom
Lewis understands the need for freedom in the following assessment,
“Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain.”
He then pleas with the young men of King’s College to break the power of the desire to be found within the inner circles of the world before it breaks their hearts.
“The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow.”
The Gospel and the Inner Ring
Lewis does not lay out the path to freedom in the lecture, though he alludes to it. Reading this lecture got me thinking about the power of the gospel in breaking us free from the power of this desire and allow us to live a different way.
By the free gift of God’s grace we are brought into his family, having peace and satisfaction in God, but also being allowed to live for others rather than for what they can give to us. In the family of God we have been given a place, identity, and eternal value apart from anything in ourselves. Now, in the place of acceptance we can give of ourselves to others–not in order to receive worth, identity, and value, but rather to give of the love that we have been graciously given in Christ Jesus.
I am reminded of a fitting teaching that Jesus gave his disciples to live in a way counter to the prevailing inner ring culture that defines the power systems of this present evil age:
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)
To God be the glory,
This is to be, Lord willing, the first in a series of posts on communion. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper has been something I have thought on a lot lately, and I would like to begin formulating some of these thoughts here. Today’s post will primarily be a personal history rather than a theological formulation. Hopefully it will set the larger stage for some of my thinking in future posts.
Growing up I never thought much about communion. Most of the churches I have attended through my life observed the sacrament once every so often (whether once a month, or once a quarter–depending on their understanding of ‘regular’ practice), but gave little attention to it as a vital part of a Church’s service.
When it was practiced, it was usually done so between a worship song, often by passing a plate of oyster crackers and cups of juice (later to be replaced by the convenient all-in-one wafter/juice package). The whole experience seemed to be glossed over, much like the elements themselves, packaged as a necessity to be quickly consumed, not as a significant, life-giving event.
Several years ago, I began to see communion in a different way. Initially my struggle was merely with the frequency of communion. I thought that if Jesus had given us a sacrament–a means of dispensing his grace during the time of our sojourning–than why did we not practice it more frequently (I must say, as I hope to lay out in a different post, that the frequency of communion is not one of Scriptural command, but is something to be determined within each community based on intentional values in relation to how communion is conceived.)
This thinking was stirred when Abby and I took a trip to Chicago in November 2011 to look at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School as a possible ‘landing point’ for us. I had never been to a church that practiced weekly communion until then. There was something majestic about the way they celebrated the Supper of the Lord in that church. Communion was not individual, it was corporate. It was not pushed between worship songs; it was the climax of the preaching, a tangible response to the gospel by remembering what Christ has done in his death.
That service caused me to think differently again about communion. This time not necessarily about frequency, but about meaning. Maybe that was the power of where communion was placed within the service–it made me think about what it meant. Not that the bread and the wine had anything significant in themselves, but rather that these elements were charged with meaning that went beyond what I had ever stopped to consider before.
Over the past two years communion has become one of the things I look forward to the most when gathering as the people of God each week (again, I don’t think that weekly communion is a first order issue in the church–though for now, it is to me). Here are some of the things that I have come to see in communion, things I hope to write more about soon:
- Communion is not primarily an individual event, but a corporate celebration where we are reminded that we have been, by the death of Jesus, taken out of the kingdom of darkness and placed into a new kingdom; a family orchestrated by the grace of God, accomplished through the Son, and applied by the Spirit.
- Communion is a tangible celebration of the gospel. Where the proclamation of the word touches us in a cerebral way, communion reminds us, each time we partake of it, that the gospel is not a disembodied ideal. Rather, the gospel is grounded in history, with elements of this earth (which is why we must take it and eat it), and is ultimately concerned with the redemption of this earth.
- Communion is not primarily a rite of re-commitment, but a ritual of remembrance. The emphasis in communion is not us. The power in the bread and wine is not that we are committing ourselves again to God, but remembering that when we were absolute enemies, he demonstrated his commitment to us in the death of his Son, Jesus.
- Communion places us securely in the tension of an already-but-not-yet kingdom. It reminds us that Christ has accomplished and fulfilled all the promises of God in his death and resurrection. Yet, we are to practice it diligently ‘until he comes’, reminding us that though he has fulfilled his promises, he has not consummated them fully. There will be a day when the bread and the wine pass away, and we are brought into the wedding supper of the Lamb to feast with the one who gave his life as a ransom for the world.
To God be the glory,
If you follow me on twitter, you probably have read one of my posts about James Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom over the past week.
I have raved about this book on several occasions, and thought I would take a moment to praise the book in a longer format.
To start, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It has been, without question, one of the most thought provoking reads I have come across in some time–one that I hope to return to again and again.
The book’s claim is simple, but it is remarkable in its power. Smith claims that we have wrongly come to understand humans primarily as “thinking things” rather than “loving things”, and this understanding has had vast implications on how the Church has ordered worship and education. (Evaluating Christian education is one of the primary aims of Smith’s book–but his ‘philosophical anthropology’; or, concept of what makes humans work; is by far the most stunning part of this book.)
Smith argues that the modern conception of ‘person’ (and the Church has bought into this concept by and large) is that of a receptacle for ideas. This view holds that humans are essentially creatures of intellect/reason, and that our actions, choices, values, etc. all stem from what we think. This gives rise, in the Christian world, to the emphasis on the “Christian worldview” and “Christian perspective”, the means by which the Christian world engages the ideas and reason of the rest of the world. (It is important to note that Smith is not in any way anti-intellectual; a professor of philosophy by trade. Rather, he is arguing to put the intellect in the right place in understanding humans.)
Rather than being primarily thinking things, Smith argues (I believe rightly) that humans are “loving-things”. The argument is that humans order their lives (i.e., thoughts, choices, actions, values, etc.) based on what they perceive to be the “ideal” to which their affections are aimed. In other words, people have a perception of what Smith calls “the good life” that has captured their affections, and that their choices, actions, ideas, etc. spring out of a heart that is aimed towards this end.
Understanding humans in such a way has a host of implications (ones that I will not attempt to tease out here–but seriously, get the book) on how we understand Christian worship, and the goal of Christian engagement with the world.
One implication is that people are formed by their practices, like embodied actors (not simply thinking things). This changes the way we see ‘culture’–not so much as the ‘worldview’ it espouses (often times there is not a concise one presented), but rather what presentation of the “good life” it attests to, and how it attempts to captivate the heart to order its actions towards that goal. This also helps us rightly understand the ‘aim’ of God’s purposes–the vision of the “good life” presented to us in the Scriptures, and helps give vision for how we are to order our lives to long for and desire the kingdom of God above all else.
I am sure that I will write more along these lines in the weeks/months to follow.
To God be the glory,
Lately I have been thumbing through Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students. This book is essentially a collection of lectures given by Spurgeon to the men of The Pastor’s College in 1856 concerning the nature of pastoral ministry, with an emphasis on preaching. The lectures are often quite profound, and also quite humorous.
A few days ago I came across this amazing passage on the pastor’s need for books:
“A good library should be looked upon as an indispensible part of church furniture; and the deacons, whose business it is ‘to serve tables,’ will be wise if, without neglecting the table of the Lord, or of the poor, and without diminishing the supplies of the minister’s dinner table, they give an eye to his study table, and keep it supplied with new works and standard books in fair abundance. It would be money well laid out, and would be productive far beyond expectation. Instead of waxing eloquent upon the declining power of the pulpit, leading men in the church should use the legitimate means for improving its power, by supplying the preacher with food for thought.” (180)
“If some little annual income could be secured to poor ministers, to be sacredly spent in books, it would be a godsend to them, and an incalculable blessing to the community. Sensible persons do not expect a garden to yield them herbs from year to year unless they enrich the soil; they do not expect a locomotive to work without fuel, or even an ox or an ass to labor without food; let them, therefore, give over expecting to receive instructive sermons from men who are shut out of the storehouse of knowledge by their inability to purchase books.” (181)
Spurgeon’s point, of course, is that pastors need to be intentional about thinking deeply and thinking clearly—and that reading books (specifically good books) is one of the finest avenues through which to expose oneself to ideas for thinking.
Next week I begin my ‘official’ education at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (I have done 2 classes online). I wanted to write about the reasons that I chose Southern—specifically, coming from a charismatic context (I have had more than one person marvel at me and wonder how in the world I got here—I am, of course, quite an anomaly).
While still living in KC (I had not idea we would move to attend Seminary), I looked at several seminaries, and here are some (not all) of the reasons I chose Southern.
1. Strong commitment to the word of God. For the last three decades, SBTS has stood at the forefront of conservatism related to the word of God. I knew that in my search for a seminary, the most important factor was a strong, unwavering commitment to the inerrancy and authority of the Scripture as God’s revelation for his people. This is definitely not the case with every ‘evangelical’ seminary (though there are many that hold fast), but Southern has an unflinching commitment to the Bible that stood out to me when researching various seminaries.
2. Theological integrity. I have been on a type of theological journey over the past four years. It has led me to hold some pretty strong theological convictions, and those most readily line up with SBTS (see the Baptist Faith and Message 2000). At the very heart of Southern’s purpose is the intentional equipping of ministers of the gospel who are able to rightly divide the word of truth. This excites me greatly about the time that is to come.
3. Gospel centered. At the heart of Southern’s mission is the gospel. One of the taglines of the seminary is, “We are serious about the gospel.” This sums up the focus of the training, and the quality of ministers that are being equipped at the school.
4. Caliber of professors. I have dabbled in theological studies for the past ten years of my life. I have read few books that really changed the way I engage and perceive the Scriptures. One of those books is God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment by Dr. Jim Hamilton. This book deeply impacted me while I was teaching a Biblical Theology class. When I began searching for a seminary, I wanted to look into studying where Dr. Hamilton taught. When I learned that he taught at Southern, I began to realize that many of the other authors of books that I really enjoy (Thomas Schreiner, Bruce Ware, Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum) all taught at Southern, I began to seriously consider the school as an option (It also helps that there seems to be a resurgence of ‘Biblical Theology’ as a discipline here—which greatly exciting to me). What I have come to realize is that these men are esteemed highly throughout the academic world, and that their books are often read at other seminaries.
5. Emphasis on Biblical languages. One of the primary reasons I wanted to attend seminary was to immerse myself in the study of Biblical language (Greek and Hebrew). You can do a lot of theological study on your own, and you can learn a lot of ministry experience by doing it, but I found (at least for me, and my frame) languages are hard on your own. One thing that drew me to Southern was the Biblical and Theological Studies concentration, which allows a student to be saturated in original language exegesis classes.
6. Online/Distance program. Though this does not apply any more, it was a tipping point for me when I was first looking into different schools. Southern has an extremely flexible and practical online presence that allows people to do a majority of their degree online (two-thirds), while offering modular and hybrid classes to complete the residency requirements. It was one of the best online programs offered (of those that are not 100% online), and this was a key factor in me choosing the school.
To God be the glory,
I have lived in almost complete silence for the last three months (social media related, at least). Today, I am thinking about writing, and thought today would be as good as any to break the silence.
The extended silence has not, for the most part, been willful. Since our family left Kansas City on March 1st, our lives have not lacked a certain measure of craziness. I believe that we are (Lord willing) on the process of finally landing in our new(est) home, and settling in to a routine of life that will afford the opportunity to reengage “the world”.
I thought the best way to “break the silence” would be to give a quick update. Not only have we moved half way across the country—but four times since February 1st.
Here is the story:
As you may be aware, on March 1st of this year our family pulled up our roots from Kansas City and moved to Louisville, KY. As with any major life change there were a confluence of factors that led to this decision, but the primary reason we found ourselves relocating half way across the country was so that I could pursue a Master of Divinity at Southern Seminary. When we pulled out of the parking lot in KC nearly three months ago, we would never have imagined how our next several months would unfold—and I imagine we would have stayed put if we had any sense of what lay before us.
Arriving in Louisville, we were all excitement. Yes, the apartment we were moving to was small. But we know we could manage anything as a family, and that there would be sacrifices made along the way in order to achieve what we really wanted. After living in this small (and I mean small!) apartment for just over two weeks, we received a call from the landlord giving us an ultimatum: either move to the first floor (read, basement), or move out. It seems that the older, single woman that lived below us did not appreciate the elephantine footsteps of our three boys.
At first we were annoyed. We had just moved twice within the past two months (once from our home in KC to a temporary apartment, and once from KC to Louisville), and this was forcing another move on us. Then, we began to see this as a Godsend. Maybe we would find a bigger apartment that would not be such a sacrifice for us as a family (and also not on the third floor).
After looking for a week or two, we found a wonderful, spacious town home apartment that seemed like it would be perfect for our family. It was three bedrooms. It had a basement. It had big living areas. It seemed like our dream come true. We quickly applied, signed a lease, and moved in before we knew it.
Then, the problems began there. The first night there, our oldest son (Daniel, 6) had an asthma attack. Though he has struggled with asthma, he never has an attack unless it is exercise induced or tied to a respiratory sickness. After moving in we immediately began to recognize two major issues with the place: a previous history of cats (we could tell from the overwhelming pee smell) and a previous history of smokers. Both of these, we figured, were the problem with Daniel’s asthma, and we began to try and remedy the problem (we cleaned that place more thoroughly than anywhere we have ever lived).
However, no amount of cleaning could remedy the problem. Daniel continued to have asthma flare ups. Nothing too severe, but enough to be concerned. After about a week, we approached the management with the problem and they were eager to let us out of our lease (we came to find out from talking to our neighbors that there were likely mold issues because of a leaking roof).
What this meant was devastating: Two weeks after moving for the third time in less than three months, we were on the market again for a new place to live. I cannot begin to tell you how dejecting this felt to us. Our family has not really made a major life change in the course of its existence. Yes, we have added children—and though this is a change in a major way, it felt natural and drawn out (nine months of pregnancy, infancy, growing up, etc.). However, this was different. We were on the verge of living in four new places in as many months. For a family that thrives on a sense of routine and consistency (specifically my wife), we were, to say the least, unsettled.
We joked about understanding what the Israelites felt like in the wilderness. We were becoming efficient at packing up our things and moving to the next place we would stop. Our boys were starting to add the word ‘old’ to itself to describe where we had lived (i.e., “No dad, not in the old house. In the old, old house.”). Much of our family time was devoted to driving around Louisville looking for places to live (which, on a side note, has caused us to become quite familiar quickly with the new city).
After being released from our lease obligation at the town home (the mold place), we began to actively look for a new place. A week or two went by. Every day scouring Craigslist and Zillow, making phone calls, driving to another property just to see why it probably would not work for us (too few rooms, too expensive, too much on the third floor, too filthy, etc.). We really began to feel like there were no options for us. We did not know what to do, really. We had moved our family half way across the country, and we had no place to live—and we were not sure how we would find one. It was not like its just Abby and I, and we could hole up in any one bedroom we could find. Now, as a family of five, we have a lot more non-negotiables, and nowhere seemed to have them all.
We prayed. We looked. We called. We worried.
Then, one day, we looked at a random house (one that, I might add, I had no desire to go look at), and we knew it was for us. It was the first place we walked through that had all the non-negotiables. It was big enough. It was free standing (not an apartment). It was close to the church we attend. It was in our price range. We applied on the spot at the showing, and found out the next day that we could move in. Abby immediately took the boys to her parents’ in North Carolina (to get the boys out of the house with the mold), and left me to move oversee the fourth move in as many months.
We moved on Derby Day (May 4th), and began to settle in.
We have been here just under 3 weeks now, and we absolutely love it. There are no (foreseeable) problems, and we are starting to feel like we finally have a place to land here.
These three months have tested us. We have felt unsettled. We have felt dependent. We have had to really trust in the sovereignty and the goodness of God in ways that we have not in the past.
We are grateful to be in Louisville, and excited about what the Lord has for us in our time here. We are thankful to have a home and a place to put our feet for a while as we continue on our journey.
Next week I begin summer class, and I have a lot in my heart to write about and process.
To him be the glory,