Generous Orthodoxy  

Sunday, June 04, 2006

C. S. Lewis in defense of St. Paul

Defending Paul the Apostle is a full-time job, as I discovered long ago. The bias against him persists almost everywhere, and even in those few places where Paul is appreciated he is mostly misunderstood. In many churches one simply never hears a sermon from any of the Epistles. Last year a clergyman told me (quite smugly) that he "never preached from the Epistles." Being of a certain age and no longer worrying as much as I used to about causing offense, I found myself saying, "Then you're not preaching the gospel."

Tonight while preparing to read Romans I was delighted to come across C. S. Lewis' foreword/introduction to J. B. Phillips' translation of Paul's Epistles, Letters to Young Churches. Here is a small part of what Lewis wrote:

A most astonishing misconception has long dominated the modern mind on the subject of St. Paul. It is to this effect: that Jesus preached a kindly and simple religion (found in the Gospels) and that Paul afterward corrupted it into a cruel and complicated religion (found in the Epistles). This is really quite untenable. All the most terrifying texts come from the mouth of our Lord [in the four Gospels]; all the texts on which we can base such warrant as we have for hoping that all men will be saved come from St. Paul. If it could be proved that St. Paul altered the teaching of his Master in any way, he altered it in exactly the opposite way to that which is popularly supposed. But there is no real evidence for a pre-Pauline doctrine different from St. Paul's. The Epistles are, for the most part, the earliest Christian documents we possess....