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Further Up and Further In: From the Introduction to More Christianity: Finding the Fullness of the Faith | Fr. Dwight Longenecker | Ignatius Insight

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C. S. Lewis may have claimed that his "mere Christianity" was "the highest common factor". In practice, however, the exercise to define "mere Christianity" is too often an exercise in finding the lowest common denominator. To seek the highest common factor is not to reduce the faith to a little kernel of agreed doctrine. Instead it is to embrace as much of the Christian faith as possible. The highest common factor is for the largest number of Christians to understand and accept the largest amount of truth that has been held by as many Christians in as many places as possible down through history.

F. D. Maurice wrote, "A man is most often right in what he affirms and wrong in what he denies." This little maxim is deceptively powerful, for if we are to affirm as much as possible, then our whole critical mindset will be transformed. To seek the highest common factor in the Christian faith is to affirm as much as possible. Whenever confronted with something new, different, and strange, we will try to see how we can accept it rather than automatically reject it. This positive little saying also forces us to reexamine our own assumed positions. Are the truths we hold actually an affirmation of truth, or are they a denial of some kind?

Too many of our religious positions are assumed more by what we deny rather than what we affirm. So, for example, an ultratraditionalist Catholic's enthusiasm for the Latin liturgy may actually be driven more by his dislike of the new liturgy than a genuine love for the old. A Protestant may worship in a bare preaching hall not because he likes bare rooms but because he thinks ornamentation is vain and idolatrous. Time and again our stance is determined by what we are denying rather than what we are affirming.

When faced with the challenge of affirming, not denying, the lifelong conservative Evangelical may well draw back. After all, he's been trained to "be discerning". He's trained to sniff out liberalism and wrong doctrine and pin it to the ropes with a swift right hook. To go about "affirming all things" sounds a bit gooey and "liberal". It's admirable to defend the faith, but too often Protestantism has taught us to protest, and our whole identity is defined by our protest. Protestantism has bred in us the mentality that immediately squints in suspicion and says, "Prove it." No wonder so many religious people and practices come across as sour, negative, and suspicious. Of course our denials are well-meant. We wish to avoid abuses and false teaching of various kinds. Unfortunately the desire to avoid an abuse has too often denied a right use. To make matters worse, in our denials we are almost always denying some misunderstanding that we've inherited rather than the real doctrinal position.

When I was at college, I was invited to join the opera chorus. I had never been to an opera, and as far as I was concerned, opera consisted of fat ladies bellowing in a foreign language. But the director of the opera chorus, who was desperate for more men to join, said I shouldn't reject something I didn't understand, and if so many educated people loved opera who was I to reject it? I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt, joined the opera chorus for Bellini's Norma, and turned up for rehearsals twice a week. Eventually I went out on stage dressed like a Druid with a fake beard and a wolfskin hat, bellowed out the big tunes, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. When there is something we do not understand, "more Christianity" either leaves it politely on one side or gives it the benefit of the doubt. If our mindset is determined by skepticism, suspicion, and doubt, we almost always deprive ourselves of some great growing point.

In the last Narnia chronicle the children enter the final frontier. They go into the real Narnia and exhort one another to go "further up and further in". As they do, they embark on an adventure of exploration that takes them into more and more truth and beauty while never denying any good thing on the journey previously. This book is an attempt at that kind of journey. In it I hope to encourage others to affirm all things—to explore with abundant joy all that is being offered as a positive gift to the people of God. I hope to exhort my brothers and sisters who have accepted "mere Christianity" to come "further up and further in" and to accept "more and more and more Christianity". "More Christianity" means leaving behind our preconceptions, prejudices, and pet likes and dislikes. It means leaving behind a suspicious mentality and seeking to affirm as much as possible while denying as little as possible. It means eschewing sects and pressure groups and setting out on an adventure of faith to see what other good things God has to give. It sings with the optimism of Saint Paul: "All things are yours, ... and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's" (1 Cor 3:21, 23).







At this point it is natural to draw back. Such an attitude is risky. It means change and requires trust. In the last Narnia story the dwarfs are offered a sumptuous feast, but they cannot see or taste the glorious food for fear of being taken in. Like the dwarfs in Narnia our instinct is to withdraw into our own little group and trust no one. We fear that we may be taken in. We would rather have the half truths we know than the full truth we do not know. We may end up believing something that is superstitious, strange, and unfamiliar. Does it matter? Which is better, to be guilty of gullibility or lack of belief? At the last day I would rather say, ''I'm sorry, Lord; I believed too much", than "Sorry, Lord; I didn't believe enough." Even Aslan can do nothing for the dwarfs. "You see," said Aslan, "they will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out." [15]

The non-Catholic Christian who considers the Catholic faith may think he has to give up what he already believes; but to accept the more Christianity of Catholicism is not to deny the goodness and truth of the Evangelical faith. Catholics affirm all that other Christians affirm; they simply cannot deny what they deny. "Catholic" means "universal", so the truly Catholic person affirms all that is good and true in the other forms of Christianity. Indeed the Catholic Church recognizes that her own fullness is depleted because of the divisions in the body of Christ. Catholicism is even more full when the good things from the other Christian traditions are added in.

Because I am a former Evangelical who has become a Catholic, it might be imagined that this book is a simple call for Evangelicals to "come home to Rome". It is more than that. I believe in all the essentials the Catholic Church has reformed herself to such an extent that the reasons for the Reformation no longer apply. But if more Evangelicals are to come into full communion with the apostolic Church, then Catholics need to continue to understand and accept the strengths of Evangelicalism. Evangelical churches are thriving for some good reasons, and many Catholics are joining them because they find in the Evangelical churches something they missed in the Catholic Church. If Evangelicals need more Christianity, then so do many Catholics. The Catholic Church needs to learn from the Evangelical experience. She needs to adopt and adapt the strengths of Evangelicalism and show all the faithful how the strengths of Evangelicalism can be integrated into the Catholic faith. This process will be like the mother who is humble enough to learn from her child; but it will also be like the child returning to the mother's warm embrace.

If the different denominations are rooms off a main hall, then More Christianity will introduce you to the Catholic room. However, Catholics wouldn't be totally happy with Lewis' picture. The Catholic Church is not just another room off the hall. It's been around longer, it's bigger, and it's more comprehensive than all the other rooms. Lewis' analogy of a hall with side rooms implies that the hall is part of a larger house. I think Lewis' analogy should be extended. If becoming a Christian is like entering a great hall, then becoming a Catholic is stepping from that entrance hall into an enormous country house. From the vestibule you can go into some side waiting rooms, but if you want to enter the country mansion and live there, go through that door that looks just like the doors into all the other rooms. If you do, you will find that your feet have been planted firmly in a large room (cf. Ps 31:8). You will have taken a step into a vast and magnificent country mansion that contains not only the hall but all the side rooms as well. In going through the door you may feel full of apprehension and anticipation at the same time. You may feel you have left all to follow Christ (cf. Mt 19:27), but once inside you will discover that everything has been restored. You will not have left home but arrived home and known the place for the first time. You will not have denied anything of true value; instead you will have discovered the source and fulfillment of all that has gone before. In becoming a Catholic you will have chosen not a hall or a side room but that ancient and glorious mansion that Christ himself has built.

ENDNOTES:

[15] C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle (London: Fontana, 1981), p. 141.



Related Ignatius Insight Excerpts and Essays:

A Perspective From Across the Pond | A Conversation with Dwight Longenecker (March 16, 2005)
Escape From Puritania | Joseph Pearce | An Excerpt from C. S. Lewis and the Catholic Church
The Thought and Work of C. S. Lewis | Carl E. Olson
Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe | Not Quite a Movie Review | James Como
Remembering C.S. Lewis: Recollections of Those Who Knew Him | An Interview with James T. Como
C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christianity | An Interview with Richard Purtill
An Hour and a Lifetime with C.S. Lewis | An Interview with Thomas Howard
The Relevance and Challenge of C. S. Lewis | Mark Brumley
The Thought and Work of C. S. Lewis | Carl E. Olson
Paganism and the Conversion of C.S. Lewis | Clotilde Morhan
Why Fantasy? | Richard Purtill | From the Introduction to Lord of the Elves and Eldils: Fantasy and Philosophy in C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien
C.S. Lewis and the Inklings | Various Articles and Columns



Fr. Dwight Longenecker was brought up an Evangelical, studied at the fundamentalist Bob Jones University, and later was ordained an Anglican priest in England. After ten years in the Anglican ministry as a curate, a chaplain at Cambridge, and a country parson, in 1995 Dwight was received into full communion with the Catholic Church. He has published in numerous religious magazines and papers in the UK, Ireland, and the USA, writing on film and theology, apologetics, Biblical commentary and Catholic culture. He blogs regularly at "Standing on My Head".



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