The Holy Spell of Heaven
In which I rant about how modernity has effected the Church and what to do about it.
“And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly one hundred years.”
C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” a sermon given in Oxford on June 8th 1941
Some Christians don't like the implications found in the words “spell” or “enchantment.” I know this because people like to tell me. I usually just nod or smile. But this is, in fact, a problem.
It's as if Christians would have the commercial elements of the Christian faith just without the more, shall we say, mysterious side of the faith. It's as if we've sanitized Christianity—removing the supernatural in favour of something a bit less threatening to our modern sensibilities.
The Dark Shadow of Evil
Lewis wrote his most beautiful and timeless works in the dark shadow of the Second World War. He was familiar with war, having been wounded in World War One, and lost one of his close friends. He understood a world in which leaders sought not only dominance but the annihilation of whole people groups. Evil exists in this world. Its very presence reminds us that life consists of material and spiritual realities.
The Christian life requires a world picture1 that depicts these realities, but we can now add 80 years to Lewis's count because modernism and so-called postmodernism (which is what Lewis is alluding to in this quote) are not only still at it, but diabolically so; moving through war but more so through western culture, which includes the entire world now.
I level critique at the modern Protestant Evangelical Movement because of its methods.2 Some people, even church leaders, tell me they'd rather have an alive church in a black box building than a dead church in a cathedral. But this retort misses the point. It's not a dichotomy.
My critique focuses on the removal of “the holy” from the church.3 From holiness there comes wonder. And awe. And it is through awe that true worship happens. The offering given by the Protestant evangelical church seems to be that of a strip mall. The world aches for the holy, and yet all we want to give them is a slick highly produced pep talk.
I like to imagine what would happen if a mega church unplugged for one year. No lights. No sound equipment. No hype. No “moody environment.” No smoke machines. Just a guy or gal on an old upright piano. Analogue. Lights on. Or God forbid windows not blacked out.
Would anyone even come without the promise of an emotional experience?
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Beware of The Plastic People
In my new book The Beauty Chasers, I used the phrase “Plastic People” to describe people who have allowed themselves to be shaped by the forces of modern thinking; a utilitarian, bottom-line type of people.
But the caveat is that we all have a bit of the Plastic People in us.
What I love about Lewis’s writing, especially around this time in the early 40s, is that you see him weaving these thoughts found in his sermon, The Weight of Glory,” into his novels—That Hideous Strength in particular. You can see the warring forces of good and evil, the supernatural holiness of the beautiful against the insidious brutality of hell.
I long for work like this; for books and art to take up this mantle. What publisher or patron is brave enough?
Why are all of our apologetics about rational arguments and presuppositional mishmash?
What happened to the imaginative Christian? Has she been replaced by the corporate Christian? The utilitarian Christian?
I think Lewis, were he alive today, would be aghast at how much we venerate him instead of following his lead. He doesn't want us creating “inkling” groups.
He wants us doing the work, producing the art. He doesn't want us preaching to the choir. He wants us creating worlds.
He doesn't want conferences about him. He wants art about the supernatural glory of God.
This is the work of the salty saint! This is the vision of an incongruous people not content with aping culture. But a people soaked in the enchantment of holiness, set apart and outside of culture, calling the world to the mountain of God, where real healing and change occurs.
What is interesting to me is that the great minds of our time are on this. And they're not always believers! Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek, philosopher Charles Taylor, writer Iain McGilchrist, Jordan Peterson, and Roger Scruton. All of these thinkers are looking to the beautiful in this world. All calling for healing of the modern condition through beauty and art.
And all Christians seem to be interested in is de-converting, de-constructing, inviting doubt, revelling in self, consumer church. All of which are indicators of modernism. All of which span conservative to progressive to liberal theological viewpoints.
Stop Arguing, Start Enchanting
The Apostle Peter reminds Christians to be able to give an account of the hope that is within them. The posture here is of a person living out the beauty of a hopeful faith, and being asked about the source of such hope.
People like to hoist Lewis up as the “King of the Rational Argument,” as an icon of what apologetics should be. But this couldn't be further from the truth.
Lewis was, if anything, “The Apologist of Beauty.”
His whole literary program is about showing readers heaven and convincing them, through whimsy, of its reality and their lives. That's the greater spell! The stronger enchantment! Why did Lewis do this?
Because he understood that the weight of glory is to be known by God. And that's what every person in this world desires. To be known as we truly are.
Lewis was not shy about calling out the sickness of modernity. He says that our whole cultural education is designed to silence “the shy, persistent, inner voice” of beauty within us.
Just as beauty has been violently removed from art, so too has it been silenced in religion. If we desire a more dynamic worship experience, then we should not buy a new soundboard. We should unplug the one we already have. And listen and wait for the shy voice to speak. For the fire to descend, for glory to irrupt.4
Here's to a new incantation. The holy spell of heaven.
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Many of you have sent me notes on how much you are enjoying my new book The Beauty Chasers. To help spread the love so that more people can find this little quirky lyric on beauty, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. This helps tremendously!
A recent review:
I've never read a book before that is such a mix of poetry, fiction, theology, and inspiring nonfiction. The gentle movement in and out of writing style was like taking a walk and making new discoveries around every corner in the trail. Timothy's voice is, in itself, something beautiful to experience.
I know this is a good book, since I've found myself making different choices in my day because of it. I've gone outside instead of watching another show on TV. I've looked out the window more. I've stopped to listen to birds. I've found myself making judgments about whether things I'm watching or reading or doing are truly beautiful or sad worldly attempts at beauty. Timothy's message did a valuable work inside of me, and I am grateful. I recommend you read this book slowly, over many days, and let the meditation on beauty sink deeply into your mind and heart.
When I use the phrase or term “world picture” I simply mean “worldview.” I just like using “world picture” better. Plus, it removes some of the baggage associated with “worldview.”
I am not an Evangelical hater. I seek to reform the movement. I’m actually still hopeful that much good can still come of it. But a new vision needs to form, and it should form on the basis of a theology based on beauty rather than power and numbers and relevance-seeking influence.
This observation is not new. It’s discussed among many in the literary and theological worlds. Iain McGilchrist, an agnostic, makes this same observation in his book The Master and His Emissary, as does philosopher Charles Taylor, philosopher Roger Scruton, and writer Annie Dillard, among others. The removal of the supernatural from this world is one of the primary problems facing modernity for the last two hundred-plus years.
Mid-19th century: (earlier (mid 16th century) as irruption) from Latin irrupt- ‘broken into’, from the verb irrumpere, from in- ‘into’ + rumpere ‘break’.