C.S. Lewis, John Calvin and Christian Joy

C.S. Lewis, John Calvin and Christian Joy

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis

We’ve been dipping into CS Lewis’s wonderful work, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (excluding drama) and have discovered some fascinating insights on the Protestant believers of the 16th Century and the Puritans that followed them in the 17th.

Lewis was never one to hold back his opinion and therefore readers of a variety of theological persuasion will find his views both illuminating and challenging. He has argued that our view of the early Protestant believers and our understanding of the Puritans needs some revision if we’re to understand what really drove their thinking forward:

C.S. Lewis on Protestant Joy: Too glad to be true!
‘It follows that nearly every association which now clings to the word puritan has to be eliminated when we are thinking of the early Protestants. Whatever they were, they were not sour, gloomy, or severe; not did their enemies bring any such charge against them. On the contrary, Harpsfield (in his Life of More) describes their doctrines as ‘easie, short, pleasant lessons’ which lulled the unwary victim in ‘so sweete a sleepe as he was euer after loth to wake from it’. For More, a Protestant was one ‘dronke of the new must of lewd lightnes of minde and vayne gladnesse of harte’ (Dialogue, III.ii)…Protestantism was not too grim, but too glad to be true.’[i]

Calvin’s freedom to enjoy God’s creation
‘Even when we pass on from the first Protestants to Calvin himself we shall find an explicit rejection of ‘that vnciuile [uncivil] and forward philosophy’ which ‘alloweth vs in no vse of the creatures saue that which is needful, and going about (as it were in enuie [envy]) to take from vs the lawful enjoyment of God’s blessings, yet can neuer speede vnless it should stoppe vp all a man’s senses and make him a verie block’.’[ii]

Lewis commends Calvin
‘When God created food, ‘He intended not only the supplying of our necessities but delight and merriment (hilaritas)’.

Clothes serve not only for need but also for ‘comelinesse and honesty’; herbs, trees, and fruits, ‘beside their manifold commodity’, for ‘goodlinesse, brauery, and sweete smelling sauour’.

The right mistake: Protestantism too earth-bound, enjoyable, ‘sensual’
A comparison of the whole passage (Institutio, III.x.2) with, say, the sermons of Fisher, will correct many misapprehensions. When Newman in his Letter to X Y professed an ‘abstract belief in the latent sensuality of Protestantism’, he was, in my opinion, dreadfully mistaken; but at least, like More and Harpsfield, he was making the right mistake, the mistake that is worth discussing. The popular modern view of the matter does not reach that level.’[iii]

CS Lewis on the freedom of the Protestants
‘To be sure, there are standards by which the early Protestants could be called ‘puritanical’; they held adultery, fornication, and perversion for deadly sins. But then so did the Pope. If that is Puritanism, all Christendom was then puritanical together. So far as there was any difference about sexual morality, the Old Religion was the more austere. The exaltation of virginity is a Roman, that of marriage, a Protestant, trait.’[iv]

To read the next post in this series (CSL on 16th Century persecution, including the Calvin and Servetus controversy) click here

To read the first post in this series on CS Lewis click here

©2013 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


[i] CS Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1954), p.34

[ii] ibid p.35

[iii] ibid p.35

[iv] ibid p.35

Charles Finney – Learning the Basics

Charles Finney

Strong-headed, rough as a broken rock, Charles Finney was converted and filled with the Holy Spirit.

Early difficulties
He soon realised that he was never going to be a lawyer, but had to be a preacher. He began discussions with his Pastor, George Gale, about ordination and applied to three seminaries, but was rejected (partly because he also applied for financial assistance, partly because he was already in his thirties).

It was agreed by the local presbytery that he should begin personal studies under the guidance of Gale and they would review his application for ordination. Six months into this agreement Gale became ill and advised them to ordain Finney so he could take over pastoral responsibilities at the church in Adams.

Unfortunately, it didn’t go well. While it is true he was ordained more quickly than expected, it was clear that his somewhat severe style was not going to suit a pastoral mode of ministry. Once again, Gale (whom Finney unfairly criticises in his Memoirs) stepped in to help by suggesting he be commissioned as a ‘missionary’ to evangelise.

This slightly unusual course proved to be providential for Finney. It gave him a pattern for evangelistic ministry and he began to mature as a Christian and a leader as he learnt to preach the gospel.

His reaction to criticism
Although his insecurities and defensiveness are very evident in his Memoirs (and presumably helped define the change from a Reformed to a strong Arminian position in his later theology[i]), he was clearly and wonderfully used by God.

His early meetings were not wildly successful, but he faithfully persevered. He became aware of two primary needs: firstly that the non-believer needed to hear the gospel clearly and respond to it personally, i.e., the command to repent and believe was a command that could be obeyed. Secondly, he became aware of the necessity of the Holy Spirit in working upon the hearts and minds of those who heard, in order that they repent and believe.

At times, in his writings, he flip-flops from one emphasis to the other. But the criticism he received from pastors, theologians and evangelists over his direct and personal methods to ensure responses to the gospel resulted in a decided anti-Reformed position in his thinking.

In fact, his biographer, Keith Hardman, asserts that, in connection with his recollections in his Memoirs, ‘Finney interjected his later theological position into it, as he did with all of these incidents.’[ii]

Prayer and Preaching
Throughout the 1820s Finney continued itinerating, trying to secure conversions to Christ. He was accompanied by a praying minister, Daniel Nash. Nash was no great preacher but recognised a preaching gift in Finney and committed himself to prayer for him and for the meetings. They travelled together in partnership, with Nash sometimes ‘shouting’ in prayer and even calling out the names of individuals whom they considered needed converting! This proved controversial, of course, but the praying/preaching partnership began to bear much fruit – as we will see next time in a post entitled, ‘Demonstrations of the Spirit’s power!’

To read the first part in the Charles Finney story click here

© 2012 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


[i] ‘His peculiar views, adopted since he has been at Oberlin, were no part of his theology at that time…Of the doctrine of election Mr Finney in his preaching said very little. His reason for it was that he was dealing with the impenitent chiefly, and he thought it was adapted to converted, or the mature Christian, rather than to the impenitent. This I always thought in some degree a wrong judgement…Had Mr Finney taken a different view of it, and dwelt upon it more, his faith would have been more firmly anchored, and he would have been saved from the position in which he has found himself…When he was licensed and first laboured as a missionary, he was very firm and faithful in bringing out this doctrine.’ George Gale, quoted in Keith J Hardman, Charles Grandison Finney, Revivalist and Reformer (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1987)

[ii] Hardman, p.53

How a Reformed Pastor Converted the Arminian Charles Finney

Pastor George Gale, who led Charles Finney to Christ

Charles Finney was not destined to become a schoolteacher, even though he loved it and was loved by those he taught. It was suggested to him that a career in law might be the thing.

At that time the procedure was to study, as an apprentice, under a practicing lawyer. This Finney did in the town of Adams, NY. He was a diligent and able student and during the few court appearances he made was a very real match for any opponent.[i]

The Authority of the Bible
During his studies he noticed the repeated references to the Bible. The Scriptures were often referred to as an authority in terms of legal principles. It was impossible to ignore.

‘This,’ said Finney, ‘excited my curiosity so much that I went and purchased a Bible, the first I had ever owned…This soon led to my taking a new interest in the Bible, and I read and meditated on it much more that I had ever done before.’[ii]

Free will, conviction and personal application
As a student of Law Finney learned three things that later marked his preaching. The first was the moral responsibility of a person with regard to guilt. The exercise of their own free will to commit a certain act was critical to securing a guilty verdict. If it was an involuntary act then the question of guilt is not clear. Secondly, he learned the importance of using close, searching, legal questions to convince both the guilty person and a jury of their guilt. And thirdly, he learned that in order to persuade a jury the lawyer needed to speak directly to them, not talk in an abstract way.

Finney, attending the Presbyterian Church in Adams, began to be troubled by the preaching of the Pastor, George Gale, who although younger than Peter Starr, preached in the same style. Decidedly Calvinistic, Gale emphasised the inability of a sinner to get right with God on his own, and, according to Finney, he never directly addressed the congregation – never saying ‘you!’.

Finney later acknowledged, ‘I now think that I sometimes criticised his sermons unmercifully.’[iii] But Gale continued to pursue and encourage Finney, visiting him in the law office and seeking to find out how much understanding of the gospel Finney was gaining.

Gale’s persistence and Finney’s conviction of sin
It must be acknowledged that Finney’s conversion, humanly speaking, was in large measure due to the evangelistic efforts of this young Reformed pastor.

Numbers were being added to the church in Adams. Gale was by no means an unevangelising hyper-Calvinist. Finney began to feel a certain, unshakeable conviction of sin.

After evangelistic sermons Gale would hold ‘inquiry meetings’ for those seeking salvation. Finney finally attended one. He wrote, ‘I trembled so that my very seat shook under me.’

Gale also wrote of that meeting, ‘He looked at me with an air of solemnity I shall never forget…
“I am willing now to be a Christian! Do you think there is any hope in my case?”
I told him he might be converted, but if he were it would be something very similar to God’s exercising miraculous power: It was not teaching that he needed. It was compliance with what he already knew.’[iv]

Peace at last!
Finally Finney submitted to God. He went up into the woods determined to get right with God before returning. He knelt down and surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.

He immediately experienced a freedom in his spirit and began to pray. He prayed for hours revelling in a peace that was inconceivable only moments before. He was determined that he would now preach the gospel to others.

To read about how Finney, on the evening after his conversion, was baptised in the Holy Spirit, click here

For the first instalment of the Finney Story click here

© 2012 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


[i] Keith J Hardman, Charles Grandison Finney, Revivalist and Reformer (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1987), p.37

[ii] ibid

[iii] ibid p.39

[iv] ibid p.41

Charles Finney’s False Starts

Lake Ontario, NY

Charles Finney grew up south of Lake Ontario in New York State. ‘My parents were neither of them professors of religion. I seldom heard a sermon unless it was an occasional one from some travelling minister.’[i]

He was a quick learner and was entrusted with some teaching responsibilities in the local school in Henderson from the age of 16 until he was 20.[ii]

Preaching that would make you laugh
Finney writes, ‘Almost the only preaching that I heard was that of an Elder Osgood, who was a man of considerable religion but of very little education. His ignorance of language was so great as to divert the attention of the people from his thoughts to the very comical form of expressing them.

For example, instead of saying, ‘I am’, he would say, ‘I are’ and in the use of the pronouns thee and thou etc, he would mix them up in such a strange and incongruous manner, as to render it very difficult indeed to keep from laughing while he was either preaching or praying. Of course, I received no religious instruction from such teaching.’[iii]

Preaching that would make you cry
In 1812, aged 20, Finney moved to Connecticut and lodged with an uncle and attend an Academy there. He began attending his uncle’s Congregationalist Church, led by the much-loved but aging, Peter Starr. This was the first time he began regularly attending church services.

Finney decided that he would hear Christianity consistently presented. Biographer Keith Hardman writes,

‘Having developed some abilities in speaking and leading himself, he naturally expected to find theology preached with a certain amount of vigour and dynamic. It was not to be.

To observe Starr’s methods, Finney sat in the balcony where he could look down on the pastor’s performance and note his techniques.

To his chagrin, he found that the pastor ‘read his sermons in a manner that left no impression on my mind. He had a monotonous, humdrum way of reading what he had probably written many years before…It seemed to be always a matter of curiosity to know what he was aiming at.’[iv]

Finney’s later criticism of local pastors and preachers was, in large measure, based on these experiences.

No further formal education
Already in his twenties, Finney asked his teacher about the possibility of attending Yale University. The teacher dissuaded him however, both in light of his evident intellectual ability as well as his age.

Finney later regretted that his formal education progressed no further than high school. But in his twenties he was extremely self-confident.

If, however, Finney’s spiritual advancement was also faltering there was at least one ray of light: his brother was suddenly converted. He wrote to Charles. He was the first of the Finney family to be converted and something about his letter to the twenty-six year old hit home: ‘I actually wept for joy!’ he said.

The seeds of grace were being sown.

For the next post in this series click here

For the first part of the Charles Finney Story click here

© 2012 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog


[i] Keith J Hardman, Charles Grandison Finney, Revivalist and Reformer, (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1987), p.30

[ii] ibid p.31

[iii] The Memoirs of Charles Finney, Ed. Rosell and Dupuis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1989), p.22-24

[iv] Hardman p.33

Message of the Month John Piper

Working for your Joy!

John Piper

The search for genuine joy in the battle of life is a search that concerns every person.

The soul’s thirst for satisfaction drives men and women, Christian and non-Christian, to try a myriad of promises – and often leaves them feeling empty, short-changed, duped.

In this compelling message, John Piper argues that the chief aim of the Christian leader is to make joy the ultimate aim of each person – by pointing them to the only ultimately satisfying source of joy: Jesus Christ.

Joy in Christ is the goal of the Christian life – Joy, Piper asserts, is not just the icing on the cake, it is the cake!!

John Piper - working for the joy of all peoples

The link below is to a video, but if you don’t have access to fast internet (as most people don’t yet), then there is a link on the page to an mp3 version of the message.

The context of this message was a 300 leaders conference in London, hosted by Newfrontiers Pastor Tope Koleoso. I hope you enjoy it.

The Message (click the link): Working for your Joy

© Church History / Lex Loizides

Influencing Culture – Engineering, Economics and Health Care

We’ve already seen how 19th century missionary William Carey, rather than being a culture-destroyer, actually sought to strengthen and build the nation of India.

We saw how he sought to instill a ‘basic scientific presupposition’ into Indian thinking and how he even helped develop Botanical research in India.

In this post we are continuing Vishal Mangalwadi’s imaginary quiz amongst modern Indian university students about Carey’s identity.

So, in answer to the question ‘Who was William Carey?’ a student of Mechanical Engineering suggests:

Locally produced steam engines and locally made paper
‘William Carey was the first Englishman to introduce the steam engine to India!

‘Carey encouraged Indian blacksmiths to make copies of his engine using local materials and skills.’

He was also the first person to make indigenous paper for the publishing industry. (Mangalwadi, William Carey and the Regeneration of India, Good Books, Mussourie, p.1)

Fair and Honest Banking
‘William Carey was a missionary,’ announces an Economics Major, ‘who introduced the idea of Savings Banks to India, to fight the all pervasive social evil of usury.

‘Carey believed that God, being righteous, hated usury, and thought that lending at the interest of 36-72% made investment, industry, commerce and the economic development of India impossible.’ (ibid. p.2)

Compassionate Medical Care
Next a Medical student raises his hand: ‘William Carey was the first man who led the campaign for a humane treatment of leprosy patients.

Until his time they were sometimes buried of burned alive in India because of the belief that a violent end purified the body and ensured transmigration into a healthy new existence.

‘Natural death by disease was believed to result in four successive births, and a fifth as a leper.

‘Carey believed that Jesus’ love touches leprosy patients, so they should be cared for.’ (ibid. p.2-3)

The more we read about Carey the less he sounds like the caricature of a blundering insensitive colonial missionary, and the more he sounds like a man bringing the authentic love of God into peoples’ lives.

In the next post we’ll examine Carey’s commitment to developing printing technologies and a free press in India.

We’ll continue to examine Carey’s breathtaking efforts here

To see the first part of the William Carey story click here

© 2011 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides

How Bible Translation Protects Indigenous Languages

William Carey's translation of the New Testament into Bengali

We’ve already seen how the first major contribution William Carey made to India was to teach that reform was not only necessary but possible.

Indian intellectual, Vishal Mangalwadi argues that the process of Indian Modernisation began with Carey’s rejection of Karma in favour of the Christian concept of a personal God who is the Creator:

‘The idea of Karma is that an impersonal law rules our destiny and automatically gives us the consequences of our actions.

‘According to the Bible, sin is breaking the laws of a Person – our loving heavenly Father. Therefore it is possible to find forgiveness and to be delivered from sin and its consequences.’ (Mangalwadi, William Carey and the Regeneration of India, Good Books, Mussouri, 1997)

Access to knowledge for all
Following the example of the Protestant Reformers of the 16th Century, Carey knew that in order to achieve spiritual and social liberation, the Bible must be translated into the languages in common use (vernacular).

Mangalwadi argues that this was the first step towards modernisation – the availability of knowledge in the language of the people.

Carey's Bengali Grammar, 1801

This meant the possibility of education for the masses as well as their protection from exploitation through ignorance. To Carey it was obvious that the most important text to translate was the Bible.

Mangalwadi writes: ‘A key factor in modernisation which Carey tried to popularise is that the spoken language of the people should also be the language of learning, the language of industry, of marketing, and of governing.

‘A feature of a medieval society is its use of an elitist language as a means of discriminating, and also as a method of granting to an aristocracy unearned privileges.

The preservation of indigenous languages – what Carey’s work enabled
‘It became possible for India to make the transition from Persian as the court language, to Urdu, and then to the regional languages (at least in the lower courts) because of Carey’s labour and leadership in turning the vernaculars into literary languages through Bible translation.’ (ibid p.79-80)

The promotion of indigenous languages

Carey became utterly consumed with the need to record, write and understand the local languages – in order that he might deliver the Bible to the people.

He translated and published the Bible into nearly 40 different languages. He started more than 100 schools and began the first college in Asia to teach in an Asian language (Bengali).

Hear the voice of a modern Indian scholar: ‘Their passion for reforming India by making the Bible available in the vernaculars motivated the missionaries to develop grammar for many Indian dialects, and eventually, to develop Hindi as a literary language for the majority of the citizens of India.’ (ibid p.80)

We know that mistakes were made, but the next time you hear the legacy of self-sacrificing, good-hearted missionaries slandered in the lecture hall, or classroom, in conversation or on TV, remember the work of William Carey and Vishal Mangalwadi’s assessment of his contribution to India.

For the first part of the William Carey story click here

© 2011 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides