MacDonald (as selected by Lewis)

Mark, for a while I’ve had this idea on my mind and couldn’t remember if it was a quote from a book or something someone had said here or elsewhere. Between your posts here and over in the “Ard Louis” thread with @Klax, I felt I needed to put my finger on it, because it expresses my gut feeling well. I found it this evening in Austin Fisher’s book Faith in the Shadows:

Once you have glimpsed the beauty of Christ, there really is no going back. It ruins you. The story of the God-man becoming flesh, touching lepers, embracing sinners, drinking wine, preaching a coming kingdom of redemption and revelry, dying for the crimes of every last crook and priest, resurrected as a harbinger of a looming apocalypse of love—once you have heard this story, felt this story, lived this story, everything else will let you down. To truly hear the gospel is to evolve past ever being satisfied with something less. This doesn’t mean it’s true, but it does mean your moral, imaginative, and existential palate will find all else pathetically bland. Once you’ve acquired a taste for communion wine, Moscato makes you nauseous.
(Faith in the Shadows by Austin Fisher, Bookshare edition read in Calibre, location 78%.)

Unlike Fisher, I am not able to speculate, where I would eventually land, if I didn’t believe any more in an external, personal God, who revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ. But I’m pretty sure, that anything less would feel like prostitution. I’m afraid Jesus ruins us for everything else.


(20) No Comparing

“But is there not the worst of all dangers involved in such teaching-- the danger of spiritual pride?” If there be, are we to refuse the spirit for fear of the pride? Or is there any other deliverance from pride except the spirit? Pride springs from supposed success in the high aim: with attainment itself comes humility. But here there is no room for ambition. Ambition is the desire to be above one’s neighbour; and here there is no possibility of comparison with one’s neighbour: no one knows what the white stone contains except the man who receives it. Here is room for endless aspiration towards the unseen ideal; none for ambition. Ambition would only be higher than others; aspiration would be high. Relative worth is not only unknown–to the children of the kingdom it is unknowable.

As found in MacDonald’s unspoken sermon: “The White Stone


Leaving God out of things is something that many people, including cultural Christians in the U.S. do on a defacto basis in how they choose to live their lives, but for MacDonald - ever trying to attend in obedience to Christ and Christ’s God, he never leaves that as a viable option. The irritating thing about MacDonald (though he would never say this of himself) is that he is more Christian than what most of us are culturally comfortable with - not less.

But I will ask this; Is it possible that what you react negatively to is all the God-talk that has so closely attended cultural “Christianity” where words, ultimatums, and doctrines are multiplied far beyond any evidenced change of life and deed?

Perhaps. Had to google around to get a better feel for what is generally meant by “cultural Christian”, “cC”. I’d had in mind those living in a culture where many actively participate in that religion either communally in a church or in their minds by reading the Bible or authors who treat of such things - but not doing so oneself. (That is the sense in which I would refer to myself as a cC.). But then the term “nominal Christian” came up and that required more googling. In the end I realized much of this nuance is beyond my reach. I do better clarifying what I believe from the inside out than by perusing descriptions of what others believe looking for similarities. That all led to this quote which I’m still waiting to see if it will go somewhere in me:

“ Jesus dealt with nominal Christianity in one of His letters to the churches. The church in Sardiswore a Christian label, but Jesus saw the truth behind the label: “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1). Or, as the KJV says, “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” God is not interested in the labels we tag ourselves with. Having a “name” that we belong to Christ is not enough. Nominal faith is not faith.nd the label: “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1). Or, as the KJV says, “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” God is not interested in the labels we tag ourselves with. Having a “name” that we belong to Christ is not enough. Nominal faith is not faith. “

It seems to me that much worrying about who is and who isn’t a Christian or whether somebody who identifies as Christian really is a true Christian comes down to this. Names as applied from the outside only matter in youth. Eventually the internal sense predominates.

That quote surprised me because I thought only Paul in the Bible as being a letter writer and I don’t think literacy was very widespread in biblical times.

From my inside, there is the sense of an ever present Other who knows much more than I can. I’ve long thought that belief in God/gods would adhere to that internal Otherness in the image made available culturally. But of course whatever form it takes for us is an overlay to what it actually is which is something that must remain mysterious because of the limitations of what we are in our focused, conscious minds. It is this limited part which we most identify with and it is this part that most craves certainty. I think the greatest mystery is inside us not in a supernatural zone far, far away.

Less or different? From where I stand focusing on “an external, personal God” feels like taking care over how one paints and cloths a stone idol. Why should the decisions we make about how to imagine what it is like be so important? @Randy says “I know I’m in pretty bad shape if I’m the only one to rely on”. But can’t God work through what you are to fortify, inspire and grant you insight? When we receive such gifts do we say “oh well that ‘s just something that popped into my head, of what possible use is that?” How can imagining Him as a loving father, transcendent hippy or divine mother make so much difference when choosing to impose that image is yet again just something that we do? I suspect the answer comes down to tradition.


The supernatural zone is very, very near (the word is immanent). And we have objective evidence that the lottery is rigged (it’s not your traditional lottery – it is very, very personal).

This reminds me of a question I once heard posed: If you are a master pianist sitting with a novice learning to play, does humility mean you see their playing the piano as better than your own? No, but it means you still see their playing as important.


Mark, sorry about the judgy freudian slip. Different is a better word choice, at least for public view. However, we are both dissatified with the other’s ideal sacred-other. Clearly, we both have evaluative views, but I don’t want to offend in any way, including by my poor choice of words.

To some degree God does do that, but in ways different and for different purposes from what I think you have in mind. I imagine that the idea of being “indwelt by the Spirit of God” is entirely at odds with your understanding of freedom and autonomy. But it’s essential to my (I think most Christians’) understanding of my relationship with God and how God communicates His love and encouragement to me day to day.

Going back to Merv’s quote from “The White Stone” that prompted your question: “Is this guy a real Christian?”:

By his creation, then, each man is isolated with God; each, in respect of his pecurliar making, can say, “my God”…

MacDonald’s language sounds very much like things you have expressed. But I think that MacDonald means something quite different from what you mean by “the sacred” or “what gives rise to god belief.” MacDonald, if I understand him rightly, Is talking about the Christian God being “big enough” that each of us can commune with him individually. There is no competition for God’s attention, although we can all have the attention of the same God at the same time.
Additionally, this section in contrasting “mass” and “body” is related to the section Merv shared the day before, specifically this part:

Even though Christians can meet individually with God, we are also bound by God, not into a roiling crowd, but (potentially) as a functioning, active body, of which we are all parts with particular roles. And when we fulfill those roles, we “bring revelation and strength to [our] bretheren.”
So we have both individual relationships with God as well as a communal relationship with God and each other.
As far as I understand, the sacred you have in mind does not bind people to each other in a particular way.

I want to come back to what you said about “From my inside, there is the sense for an ever present Other who knows much more than I can.” I don’t know how to reconcile our different experiences, but I certainly won’t deny yours. I recognize that this Other is essential to you and maybe even wonderful, although I still haven’t figured out how to understand it.


I wonder what you think is my understanding is of freedom and autonomy? I believe we have the freedom to act authentically to align with what is greater within or we can betray it and ourselves at once by failing to perceive it’s true significance and in our resulting alienation pursuing shallow things instead. Freedom lies in faithfully serving what is greater. I don’t think we differ so much over this.

Where I think we part ways is how we approach that service. You expect authoritative sources to convey how you should precede in a fairly general way that applies to everyone the same regardless of circumstance while I think what is greater is something within and entirely natural. The natural order of things is that our narrow conscious minds should act in accord with what is greater but the expansion of our powers of abstraction makes it easy to become disconnected, leaving us to make sense of our lives in utilitarian, hedonistic ways except where we catch a glimpse of a better way some of which are provided by human relations, education and the culture we are immersed in. I don’t believe what is greatest, which I think gives rise to God belief, is a being apart that is anything like a person. So I don’t think it has an agenda or a plan for us and I don’t think it judges us for the sake of some later life. Rather, It is our better nature which is largely similar in us all; it is only the manner and degree to which we fail to serve our better nature which differentiates us one from the other.

I’m sure he does have something very different in mind. He, like you and as you say most Christians, have in mind something received from without. Where you note alignment between circumstances in your life and that received guidance you feel encouraged or guilty, depending. But you also internalize that guidance as we all do and from many sources. Even the orientation of cultural Christians is affected by the Christian message just as Christians too are affected by other cultural influences both for good and bad.

Well it is a shared appreciation of the sacred which does the binding and since Christians make such great efforts to homogenize their beliefs and values the binding has traditionally been strong. At the same time you don’t have to look too far to find Christian’s behaving badly whether it be the Westboro denomination, televangelists, pronouncements by church leaders that natural disasters were sent to punish people whose life styles they don’t accept or just welcoming destruction in the hope that it will hasten end times and a better world. Neither religion nor secularism has been any panacea. But Christianity has historically been concerned with the well being of the poor and unfortunate, a needed note for the wider culture though Christianity’s historic concern with freeloaders has prevented it from endorsing progressive political attempts to protect the general welfare on more than charity.

Pretty sure I’m well into TL;DR territory so I’ll stop there.


Mark, as I have been writing a reply, I see more clearly that my grasp on terms is sometimes pretty loose.

When you say “serving” do you mean:

And “what is greater” is what I would call “God?”

Sorry. I feel like a lawyer here. It’s just really easy for these discussions to go off the rails quickly for no good reason but imprecision. Usually mine.

Not hardly. No footnotes. No bibliography. No glossary.

Freedom only lies in being what we were meant to be, namely being loving children of their heavenly Father and enjoying him (and enjoying everything else properly too, as ingenuous little children do). That full enjoyment is only possible only through adoption, and that adoption is only enabled through Jesus, the Christ. Then you get to call him Brother and Friend and cool things can happen. Some of them can be hard or very hard* (as in Severe Mercy), but in retrospect they are marvelous.

*Prostrate pleading may be required to get through them.

Maybe but of course not as you think of God so no. Plus when it comes to a foxhole moment, there is no sense that the sky is the limit. Absolutely no miracles and no extra innings after the fat lady sings. So very different.

So it really just comes down to valuing a perspective enriched by intuition. For someone who can get stuck in their head it is pretty cool … but not a God.

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Q1: yes
Q2: no.

All of your qualifications are agreed on.

I won’t get back to this tonight, but maybe tomorrow after work.

That was a no but I only see one question. Did I miss one?

Okay I see it, and correct that was affirmative.

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I was trying to type while cleaning the kitchen. Sorry.

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(21) The End

I greatly expanded around what Lewis chose to include in his last installment from the “White Stone” sermon here. Including the very end of MacDonald’s sermon too where he (as in all his sermons) drops the verse that is the subject of his next sermon.

Each esteems the other better than himself. How shall the rose, the glowing heart of the summer heats, rejoice against the snowdrop risen with hanging head from the white bosom of the snow? Both are God’s thoughts; both are dear to him; both are needful to the completeness of his earth and the revelation of himself. “God has cared to make me for himself,” says the victor with the white stone, “and has called me that which I like best; for my own name must be what I would have it, seeing it is myself. What matter whether I be called a grass of the field, or an eagle of the air? a stone to build into his temple, or a Boanerges to wield his thunder? I am his; his idea, his making; perfect in my kind, yea, perfect in his sight; full of him, revealing him, alone with him. Let him call me what he will. The name shall be precious as my life. I seek no more.”

Gone then will be all anxiety as to what his neighbour may think about him. It is enough that God thinks about him. To be something to God–is not that praise enough? To be a thing that God cares for and would have complete for himself, because it is worth caring for–is not that life enough?

But, Lord, help them and us, and make our being grow into thy likeness. If through ages of strife and ages of growth, yet let us at last see thy face, and receive the white stone from thy hand. That thus we may grow, give us day by day our daily bread. Fill us with the words that proceed out of thy mouth. Help us to lay up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt .

As found in MacDonald’s unspoken sermon: “The White Stone

MacDonald sometimes seems hopelessly pious to me - and here is one of those times.


I was puzzled at first to see piety referred to as hopeless. To wish to parrot words attributed to God for no one’s ears but God’s to secure some personal reward seems at least smarmy if not morally questionable. Is that what you found to be hopelessly pious?

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What I was referring to as “hopelessly pious” - which perhaps was a poor choice of words: let me try again with: “… piously idealistic” is MacDonald’s vision of everybody reveling in their specific identity in God and living just and only for the pleasure of bringing that forth for the blessing and edification of everybody around them. It all sounds so futuristically ‘eschatony’. Sort of like a lot of people see Jesus sermon on the mount and all his talk about turning the other cheek to your enemies and giving to others even more than what they are unfairly demanding of you. People often dismiss this as only applying to some future paradise too - after the last swords have already been beaten into plowshares. But (in Jesus’ case) the advice makes no sense if intended only for some future time when there are no enemies left. What MacDonald seems to paint for us though is pictures of society that is already brimming with Christ-minded individuals. It may be a pretty picture - and one to pine after and work toward being. I’m glad that in other writings of his he shows characters living life among society that includes small-minded, cruel, and greedy sorts as well so that we can see how his idealism plays or could be applied to the world as we presently find it.


I was, too.

This helps a lot.

And this, too.

Interestingly, I read this as through our discussions from last summer (Penner) as being the truth and a lived hermeneutic. Taking in truth, internalizing it so deeply that we are filled with it and interpreting it in living our lives.

But speaking scripture back to God is also a thing many Christians value and do. For example, I might rely on the words of a biblical prayer that already expresses well what I feel, the way people might use poetry with each other.
It’s not about brownie points or buttering God up, but talking to someone we love and trust about what’s on our hearts. When MacDonald uses a metaphor from the Bible:

it’s like when family members refer to experiences that are unique to that family. there’s some special or significant shared memory, rather than just parroting.

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Merv, sometime I’d like to hear more about this, and particularly your emphasis on “salvific.” Or feel free to point me to a rsource that explains it well enough for your satisfaction.