Christianity Is Not a Means

Our Faith is not primarily intended as a way to create a great culture. It is not primarily a way to run for political office. It is not primarily a way to advance literature, poetry, or song. All of these things are great effects of our faith, but they are not the reason to become interested in Jesus.

So too, we ought not go searching for churches based on which ones have the great pieces of literature or the more “beautiful” experience of worship. This method may seem like a step-up from the buffet-style Christianity you just left, but it is only a small step. Now you’re at the organic foods grocery. You’re still shopping.

Lewis nails this as well. He wasn’t opposed to a religion that created a “culture.” Of course not. He wasn’t disinterested in politics or the human condition. Of course not. He did, however, have his priorities in order.

Through Screwtape’s mouth we again get a gem:

Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that ‘only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and birth new civilizations’. You see the little rift? ‘Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.’ That’s the game.

~ Letter 23

“World and life view” folks (of which I am one), be convicted.

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About Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

10 thoughts on “Christianity Is Not a Means

  1. Wow good stuff. You convinced me, I need to read the whole thing again. The first time I read it was a several years ago and at that time most of the genius of this book went past me, mainly because the depth of my biblical training was focused on if the rapture would be pre, mid or post trib.

  2. Just as an interesting aside, I’m prety sure that the “Christian writer [who] recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that ‘only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and birth new civilizations’.” is Chesterton. From one of his later books (I can’t remember which one) where he explains why he converted from Anglo-Catholic to Catholic.

  3. Matt,

    Could well be Chesterton (a man in whom the most astonishing ignorance existed cozily alongside astonishing insight), though Eliot too says virtually identical things in a number of places. In any case, it is an attitude which marks a great deal of “worldview” Christianity nowadays. Lewis was right to rebuke it.


  4. Peter

    In one of Chesterton’s books (and I’m still forgetting which one) he talks at length about how it was the Catholic Church which weathered the Barbarian attacks, and as such, it is the Catholic Church which can weather all times, and hence is true. Even when I read that it seemed ridiculously circular–well, ok, but only if you presuppose that the Catholic Church is indeed the Church.

    But at the same time, I think Chesterton has something of a right instinct in looking at goodness as a key to truth. Though goodness does not determine truth, we perceive truth and are drawn to it, not because it is true simply, but because we perceive the idea presented as good or beautiful. (Even when we believe something is true simply based on logical argument my above statement is true because truth is the good of the intellect, and so in perceiving it is true, we perceive that the idea presented is good.) Truth cannot, as truth, move the intellect, goodness moves the intellect. And since truth, goodness and beauty convert with being, we are justified in believing something is true because it is perfectly good. Hence the theological virtues.

    Chesterton’s own writing is a tribute to relationship between goodness and truth. We don’t find his insights compelling because of argumentation, but because of their wit and beauty. And we find his silliness attractive because it is so beautiful. Similarly, Lewis, in Surprised by Joy and The Great Divorce testifies to it. What first began to turn Lewis toward Christ? An argument? Or a series of beautiful stories? And who was Lewis’ master? A great reasoner, or a master story teller? Yes, Lewis loved the Unspoken Sermons (though even they are beautiful), but he first fell in love with George MacDonald through his fiction.

    Of course in this world, all this is completely confused. The adultress seems beautiful and good. And the Cross seems ugly and evil. And how many people are led astry by the seeming beauty of Neitzsche? Or commited acts of sacriledge because of the beauty of David’s The Death of Marat and The Oath of the Horatii?

    And who can say that they are so perfect that they can tell what is perfectly good?

    Anyway, I agree Chesterton was being silly, and I agree that Lewis’ point is spot on. But at the same time, if we hold to it too strongly, we embrace the opposite error.


  5. James K. A. Smith and John Milbank argue that Christianity as a mythos should outnarrate other rivals, not simply “refute” them.

    Still wrapping my head around that one.

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