Our last small group study was on New Religious Movements, perhaps the politically correct way to say “cults,” though several of the groups studied in the book would not normally be considered cults, but instead major religions. For instance, Hinduism and Buddhism are included, though Hinduism was pared with Yoga, and Buddhism was just Tibetan/Dali Lama Buddhism.
I was not always that impressed with the book. While the object was to teach Christians about each movement and possible ways to relate to any members of the movement, some of the articles were much more biased than others. Part of that is due to the fact that each chapter is written by a different author, so it is not always cohesive. Some articles glossed over any good actions the group participats in or funds, and some articles explored only the extreme or negative aspects of a given NRM. I found it best to supplement each chapter with other articles found on the Internet, at sites such as wikipedia, beliefnet, lifeway, and even the NRM’s own official site.
The book is not necessarily written for a small group study — there is no list of group discussion questions at the end. However, I suggest reading the 1st and last chapter before all the NRM specific chapters. I created a checklist based on the last chapter that you follow about each NRM to find out when and how it diverges from “orthodox” Christianity, where “orthodox” means following major agreed upon doctrine.
We also supplemented the book with our own study of a few movements not included in the book
for NRM’s such as Scientology, religions such as Islam, and major philosophies such as Taoism.
I finished this at least a month ago, and really should have written about it then. But I’ve been busy and neglected it until now.
For most of the book, “pain” should be re-labeled “suffering” for our modern usage, but at times our use of physical pain is also included. Lewis summarizes the problem as follows:
If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.”
Then throughout the book he explores all aspects of suffering and how that relates to beliefe in an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent, God. His main argument is that Man suffers because of original sin, and that original sin really comes down to “turning from God to self.” I won’t go into more detail than that here, but I do think the book is well worth the read. It is not as exciting to read as something like the Screwtape Letters, reviewed here, but it is still very good.
Here’s my normal list of quotes and thoughts on some of them:
- I found this one interesting as it is something different that you’d likely here most present day pastor’s say. Lewis was not necessarily a theologin, at least a trained one, but I always find his insight very well formulated and often right.
And I certainly think that Christ, in the flesh, was not omniscient, if only because a human brain could not, presumably, be the vehicle of omniscient consciousness, and to say that Our Lord’s thinking was not really conditioned by the size and shape of his brain might be to deny the real incarnation…
- I found his discussion of eternity as something I had not really thought of before. I guess it is hard, or maybe impossible, to grasp eternity, because of how we typically view time as a line… Here is what he had to say:
If we think of time as a line — which is a good image, because the parts of time are successive and no two of them can co-exist; i.e. there is no width in time, only length — we probably ought to think of eternity as a plane or even a solid. Thus the whole reality of a human being would be represented by a solid figure. That solid would be mainly the work of God, acting through grace and nature, but human free will would have contributed the base-line which we call the earthly life: and if you draw your base-line askew, the whole solid will be in the wrong place. The fact that life is short, or, in the symbol, that we contribute only one little line to the whole complex figure, might be regarded as a Divine mercy. For if even the drawing of that little line, left to our free will, is sometimes so badly done as to spoil the whole, how much worse a mess might we have made of the figure if more had been entrusted to us.
But if suffering is good, ought it not to be pursued rather than avoided? I answer that suffering is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is, for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and, for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.
- I’ve never been into fasting, but recently, I’ve read several things on it that have made me think about it in new ways. I’m not ready to do it yet, but my mind is certainly thinking about it.
Fasting asserts the will against the appetite — the reward being self-mastery and the danger pride…
The spectacle of the universe as revealed by experience can never have been the ground of religion: it must always have been something in spite of which religion, acquired from a different source, was held.
I have been trying to make the believe that we actually are, at present, creatures whose character must be, in some respects, a horrot to God, as it is, when we really see it, a horror to ourselves.
- On God’s love for Man… (Or really, any beings love for another…)
Love, by definition, seeks to enjoy its object.
I had many other dog-eared quotes in the book, but I won’t bore you anymore with them.
Ok, and now the background on the last two posts…
The last two weeks our small group has studied Hebrews 1:5 – 2:18, which is about Christ’s superiority to angels. We had some really good discussions, including how (if?) “man is a little lower than the angels,” why, for a time, Christ was made a little lower than the angles, fear of death, the question of did the fact that Christ knew who he was make it easier or harder for him to suffer, etc.
At one point during the discussion of death, we talked about how there is no marriage in heaven. This fact actually saddens several of us, though we just discussed that our current views are skewed by our humanity. God plants the seeds of the desire of love and marriage here, so he must want us to feel this way.
Anyway, that discussion reminded me of the Pearl Jam song Angel. (Click here to see the lyrics.). And that song is actually based (at least partially), on a long poem called The Eloping Angles. (Click here to read.)
I told everyone I’d send out the poem and figured I’d just post it here.