Monday, March 26, 2012

A Mere Christianity: Book 3; Chapter 12 (Faith (cont.))

 Faith vs. Works


I want to start off by affirming what Lewis says in the very beginning of this chapter... if you're at the stage of your faith where you've never considered the relationship of Faith vs. Works, or if its something where you're set in your ways and don't want to discuss something that can have a lot of distinctions and nuances, or if this topic typically causes you some sort of passionate rage, it's probably better to stop reading now and pick up in the next chapter.  This is not necessary for Lewis' arguments, but it is something that needs to be addressed for those that are ready.  That being said, I'll try to make it as simple and explicit as possible.

Lewis first describes a question, and its divided answers (typically between protestants and Catholics), which leads to the problem of faith vs. works.  The question is, "what is man capable on his own".  On one side (protestants) we find that man is completely debased in his nature totally incapable of any virtue or moral act on his own and completely dependent on the grace of Christ.  On the other hand (Catholic/Eastern Orthodox) we find that, while man has fallen, his nature is still intrinsically good, and thus his works have some semblance of merit.  We'll flush this out a bit more in a minute.

Lewis here shows his protestant leanings by saying that man cannot be virtuous on his own.  However, he does make some concessions for works.  He looks at it from the standpoint of obedience, which is perhaps where the best crossover between faith and works occurs.  He states that if you are truly and completely dependent on Christ, then you trust him and be obedient.  If you're not obedient in your acts then you must not truly and fully depend on him.  This is somewhat circular, and its what a lot of protestants have been arguing for years.  And its not incorrect.

Lewis next discusses it from the "final cause" in a sense... or what leads a Christian home.  Basically, how do we get to heaven--faith, or works?  Lewis correctly states that FAITH is the ONLY thing that can lead a Christian to heaven--we cannot be "saved" merely by keeping the law.  Even the Apostle Paul affirms that.  Here though Lewis again points to an "apparent" Catholic and Protestant divide (which only exists in spiteful and uneducated circles today).  Basically he says many people think Catholics think only works (especially giving money to the Church) is the only way to heaven, whereas Protestants (especially calvanists) think only faith matters, no matter what you do.  Obviously this is a load of bull... works without faith are empty, and faith without the fruit of works is dead.  Why are we still arguing about this all?

Here's my two cents--I agree almost completely with Lewis, but I think the issue must be approached keeping in mind the actual nature of the Human Person.  We have fallen, and so we sin.  But the human is no so degraded that we lose are free will, rationality, and ability to act in a somewhat moral fashion without Christ.  We need faith in Christ to get home, but the mere act of assenting and accepting the undeserved gift of Grace shows that humans are capable of good acts.  They cannot be taken separately of course, for even the ability to receive comes from God, but we still make the choice.  It's all very confusing, I realize that... but to neglect the fundamentally good nature of the human person is to neglect the creative intent of the Father.

So in short--Man was created good and is capable, at least at a fundamental level, of doing Good.  Faith and works are inseparable, but works alone cannot save.  Faith must be first but is only truly present through the fruit of good works.

For a better presentation of the issue though, just read the chapter ;-)