The OED on “magic”

This is the section of the OED entry on “magic” relevant to the Prince Caspian discussion:

The ‘magic’ which made use of the invocation of evil or doubtful spirits was of course always regarded as sinful; but ‘natural magic,’ i.e. that which did not involve recourse to the agency of personal spirits, was in the Middle Ages usually recognized as a legitimate department of study and practice, so long as it was not employed for maleficent ends. Of examples are . . . the application of a medicament to a weapon in order to heal the wound made by it. These things, if now practiced, would still be called ‘magic’, thought the qualification ‘natural’ would seem quite inappropriate. On the other hand, the ‘natural magic’ of the Middle Ages included much that from the standpoint of modern science is ‘natural’, but not ‘magical’, the processes resorted to being really, according to the now known laws of physical causation, adapted to produce the intended effects.

Magic in the Narniad and Righteous Indignation

The release of Prince Caspian occasioned some discussion at my office recently. Some good Christians are—understandably, if they haven’t read the Narniad—wary of the magic in Lewis’s “supposal.”

Let me hasten to say that I do not want to push anyone past his conscience. But recriminations are coming back against Narnia lovers! And the reason I am a Narnia lover is that the series has helped me understand and love the God whose truth the Narniad pictures.

So let me offer some humble defenses of the “magic” in the Narniad (with some help from respected friends who discussed this with me recently).

In The Silver Chair, Jill, who’s never been to Narnia, suggests to the already-initiated Eustace various magical ways to get there:

“You mean we might draw a circle on the ground—and writer queer letters in it—and stand inside it—and recite charms and spells?”

“Well,” said Eustace after he had thought hard for a bit. “I believe that was the sort of thing I was thinking of, though I never did it. But now that it comes to the point, I’ve an idea that all those circles and things are rather rot. I don’t think [Aslan would] like them. It would look as if we thought we could make him do things. But really, we can only ask him.”

In other words, the kind of magic that the critics are worried about is explicitly condemned in the series. The other time someone tries to draw a magic circle, that someone (Nikabrik) winds up dead.

As for what Lewis calls the “deep magic,” this seems to be nothing more than the laws the Emperor (God) has established in the Narnia universe. See the OED definition of “magic” for how the word was used in the Middle Ages, perhaps the major period of history from which Lewis drew for his masterpiece.

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Christ and Culture Revisited; General Critiques of Niebuhr

In chapter 2 of Christ and Culture Revisited Carson offers some general critiques of Niebuhr which do not tie themselves to individual paradigms in Niebuhr’s five-fold taxonomy. Here’s one line of critique Carson gives:

  • Niebuhr wants to see various biblical authors as advocates, wholly or in part, of individual paradigms (e.g., Galatians and 1 John advocate the “Christ against culture” position; John’s Gospel is more partial to “Christ transforming culture”). But he’s assuming the liberal view that the Bible is not consistent, that it only gives us the boundaries surrounding the allowable options (40-41).
  • Individual Bible writers have individual personalities and emphases, and “exactly how the different parts of Scripture cohere has always been a matter of considerable dispute,” but “once such matters have been resolved, at least to the satisfaction of a particular Christian group, so that we see how the Bible hangs together, we may talk about what the Bible ‘says,’ not just about what one part of the biblical tradition says” (42). So we should speak not of individual, viable options for Christian interaction with culture but of the one holistic view which the Bible teaches. This one vision needs to be flexible enough to fit Washington, D.C., and Darfur, Sudan, but it is one vision.

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Fundamentalism and “An Evangelical Manifesto”

Os Guinness, Richard Mouw, Tim George, David Neff, and others have released “An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment.” Justin Taylor has already provided a good summary (with little comment). I thought I would comment on just one salient features, the manifesto’s treatment of fundamentalists.

(North-American Protestant) Fundamentalism in the Evangelical Manifesto

As Alan Jacobs points out in the Wall Street Journal, it really seems as if the very purpose of this (rather weak, Jacobs says) manifesto is to say, “We’re not fundamentalists!” Os Guinness’ remarks about fundamentalism (and throughout I mean the North-American Protestant Christian variety) in the recent 9 Marks eJournal issue closely mirror the words of the Evangelical Manifesto: fundamentalism is “an essentially modern reaction to the modern world.” Fundamentalism, he says, “tends to romanticize the past, some now-lost moment in time, and to radicalize the present.”

So fundamentalism becomes little more than a “Christ of Culture” position—namely, Christ of 1952 American culture.

Are fundamentalists no better than Protestant liberals (who currently canonize, say, 2006)? Do fundamentalists truly fit in Niebuhr’s “Christ of Culture” paradigm?

No, I believe not. On a few accidentals many fundamentalists do fit that paradigm. I include among these accidentals no-pants-on-women, the King James Version, excessive patriotism… and perhaps fear of modern art?

But fundamentalism, in its essentials, is a… is a… Christ-against-in-paradox-transforming-culture position! What in each of these hyphenated positions resonates with fundamentalists?

  • Christ against Culture: Yes, there’s a real us vs. them mentality in fundamentalism, especially in the U.S. culture wars—and that mentality can be problematic because it can lead to vitriol. But most of the same fundamentalists who will denounce secularism will gladly share Christ in love with the secularist in the next cubicle. That brings us to the next paradigm in which fundamentalists fit…
  • Christ and Culture in Paradox: The fundamentalist knows both that this is his Father’s world and that he’s just-a-passin-through it. He’ll sing both with gusto.
  • Christ the Transformer of Culture: A fundamentalist who knows his Bible knows that Christ will one day rule the whole world. No, fundamentalists are not typically optimistic about the progress of world history prior to the cataclysm that puts all things under Christ’s feet. But now on an individual level—and one day on a universal one—Christ will rule.

I offer this post as an exploratory discussion. I have to confess to only recently having begun to understand Niebuhr’s paradigms.

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Christ and Culture Revisited: Carson’s Summary of Niebuhr’s Taxonomy (5)

The final three views in Niebuhr’s five-fold taxonomy are all forms of “Christ above culture.”

5. Christ the Transformer of Culture

Summary: While the previous two views were respectively synthetic (Christ above culture) and dualistic (Christ and culture in paradox), this view is “conversionist.” And, as Carson points out, Niebuhr is not foregrounding individual conversion but conversion of the entire culture. “What distinguishes conversionists from dualists is their more positive and hopeful attitude toward culture” (Niebuhr, 191).

This more positive attitude comes from three convictions:

  1. “Creation is not only the setting for redemption, but the sphere in which God’s sovereign, ordering, work operates” (Carson, 26).
  2. The fall was “moral and personal, not physical and metaphysical, though it does have physical consequences” (Niebuhr, 194).
  3. The conversionist view of history “holds that to God all things are possible in a history that is fundamentally not a course of merely human events but always a dramatic interaction between God and men” (Niebuhr, 194).

Exemplars: Augustine (partial), Calvin (partial), F.D. Maurice.

Counterargument: Carson notes that Niebuhr never gives a counterargument to this view, so many have assumed that this is his personal view.

Carson adds in his chapter-two critique that Niebuhr’s use of John to support this view is suspect. The fact that the Λογος created everything does not make “whatever is” good, because sin has since entered and distorted that original good.

In addition, Carson says, what is this view but the absolutizing of one motif in Scripture? God’s plan to restore the world through a cataclysmic event (Christ’s return) becomes universalism: the view that “everything gradually gets better by the grace of the gospel” (Carson, 38).