Mere Christianity, Book Four, Chapter 1: “Making and Begetting”

Theology means ‘the science of God,’ and I think any man who wants to think about God at all would like to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about Him which are available. You are not children: why should you be treated like children?

Theology and doctrines are like a map. They give us an idea of what God is like, but they are not God and they are not, in truth, “real.” Theology, though, gives us a much greater scope of the personality of God that we cannot get on our own.

But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God-experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map.

The map analogy goes a long way:

  • Our personal “God moments” don’t lead us anywhere greater than the moment
  • Basing your relationship on “God moments” leads to a vague and useless (but easy) religion
  • “But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic…”
  • “…and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music.”
  • “Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea.
  • “Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map.”

Theology is practical:

  • Just because you don’t listen to/read theology, does not mean you won’t have ideas about God.
  • By not learning about theology, you will inevitably have the wrong ideas about God.
  • Most of the novel ideas about God in popular media today are the very same thing that theologians tried and rejected centuries ago.
  • “To believe in the popular religion of modern [America] is retrogression – like believing the earth is flat.”

The modern version of Christianity is pure simplicity:

  • Jesus was a really nice guy, and moral teacher
  • His ideas might lead to a better social order, or help us avoid another war.

It is quite true that if we took Christ’s advice we should soon be living in a happier world. You need not even go as far as Christ. If we did all that Plato or Aristotle or Confucius told us, we should get on a great deal better than we do. And so what: We never have followed the advice of the great teachers. Why are we likely to begin now? Why are we more likely to follow Christ than any of the others? Because He is the best moral teacher? But that makes it even less likely that we shall follow Him. If we cannot take the elementary lessons, is it likely we are going to take the most advanced one? If Christianity only means one more bit of good advice, then Christianity is of no importance. There has been no lack of good advice for the last four thousand years. A bit more makes no difference.

Real Christianity says something very different from the popularized version:

  • Jesus is the Son of God (whatever that means)
  • Those who give their lives to him can become Sons of God. (whatever that means)
  • His death saved us from our sins (whatever that means)

Now, those are difficult concepts to grasp. Christianity tells us about something beyond the world we smell and touch and see… another world that we can’t directly contact.

The most shocking claim of Christianity is the statement that we can become ‘Sons of God.’

  • In a sense we are ‘sons of God’ by being the children of Adam who was the ‘son of God.’ We have been created by God, right?
  • ‘becoming’ the Sons of God must mean something different, then.

Christ is spoken of as being ‘begotten’ of God, not created. Theological language here gets fuzzy. When speaking of Jesus as “the only begotten Son of God,” the reference is to the pre-incarnate God the Son, the Word, the Logos. The theological language for ‘begotten’ speaks of the pre-existent Word. The Word (see John 1) existed before time, before the creation of the world. The ‘Word became flesh’ speaks of the Word becoming human, becoming the Jesus through the virginal conception. The Word/Logos/Christ is of the same stuff as the Father, and is not a creature, but the creator.

In God’s image, imago De:

  • ‘Created in God’s image’ does not mean we look like God.
  • When we speak of ‘likeness,’ we speak of sculptures or paintings looking like the person they were created to look like.
  • In the same way, space is huge, like God, but not as huge and it is not God in its likeness to him.
  • When we look at plant life, it is like God in that it is alive, but it is not God in its likeness to him.
  • Man is like God, more than any of God’s other creations, to the point of being His image barer:
    • Man is creative
    • Man is imaginative
    • Man is free to choose
    • Man is free to act
    • Man can love and is free to love
    • Man is uniquely expressive among the animals

Let us take cases. Many a sensible modern man must have abandoned Christianity under the pressure of three such converging convictions as these: first, that men, with their shape structure, and sexuality, are, after all, very much like beasts a mere variety of the animal kingdom; second, that primeval religion arose in ignorance and fear; third, that priests have blighted societies with bitterness and gloom. Those three anti-Christian arguments are very different; but they are all quite logical and legitimate; and they all converge. The only objection to them (I discover) is that they are all untrue. If you leave off looking at books about beasts and men, if you begin to look at beasts and men then (if you have any humour or imagination, any sense of the frantic or the farcical) you will observe that the startling thing is not how like man is to the brutes, but how unlike he is.

It is the monstrous scale of his divergence that requires an explanation. That man and brute are like is, in a sense, a truism; but that being so like they should then be so insanely unlike, that is the shock and the enigma. That an ape has hands is far less interesting to the philosopher than the fact that having hands he does next to nothing with them; does not play knuckle-bones or the violin; does not carve marble or carve mutton. People talk of barbaric architecture and debased art. But elephants do not build colossal temples of ivory even in a rococo style; camels do not paint even bad pictures though equipped with the material of many camel’s-hair brushes.

Certain modern dreamers say that ants and bees have a society superior to ours. They have, indeed, a civilization; but that very truth only reminds us that it is an inferior civilization. Who ever found an ant-hill decorated with the statues of celebrated ants? Who has seen a bee-hive carved with the images of gorgeous queens of old?

No; the chasm between man and other creatures may have a natural explanation, but it is a chasm. We talk of wild animals; but man is the only wild animal. It is man that has broken out.

All other animals are tame animals; following the rugged respectability of the tribe or type. All other animals are domestic animals; man alone is ever undomestic, either as a profligate or a monk.

— G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Man includes two kinds of life:

  • Physical/biological life — Bios
    • Comes through nature
    • tends toward decay
    • requires ‘subsidies from Nature’ – air, water, food, etc.
  • Spiritual life — Zoe
    • Comes to us from God
    • eternal

The two are as different as the ‘greatness’ of God and the ‘greatness’ of space. (i.e. NOT the same.)

Bios has, to be sure, a certain shadowy or symbolic resemblance to Zoe: but only the sort of resemblance there is between a photo and a place, or a statue and a man. A man who changed from having Bios to having Zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved stone to being a real man.

And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop. We are the statues and there is a rumour going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.

[[ Next: Mere Christianity, Book Four, Chapter 2: “The Three-Personal God” ]]

Parent: Mere Christianity: Leaders’ Notes Series

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