-Who Is Jesus?

A STONE FOR A PILLOW: Concerns with Madeleine L'Engle

By Marcia Montenegro, January 2017
Page 2 of 2

Faulty Views of Christ

The most serious concerns, aside from what I would consider a heretical view of the atonement, are about Jesus Himself. Jesus 'spoke' to L'Engle through the "culture of the pharaohs," a statue of a Buddhist saint, and even through a white china statue of Buddha on her desk (168). L'Engle did not mean literally speaking but that she perceived Jesus and his message through the religious meaning of these cultures or representations.

Jesus "could not be tamed" and was ill-treated as a rebel because he was a "threat to our local governments" (174), and Jesus was not sinless ("If he was sinless he wasn't exactly like us," she forcefully asserts on page 176).

The view of Jesus as an unruly rebel who threatens the status quo is beloved by many secularists, New Agers, and progressive Christians. This actually minimizes who Jesus is. Jesus did not come as a rebel or to challenge civil governments. He came to rebuke the Jewish leaders who had abandoned God's teachings; to reveal to Israel that he was the prophesied Messiah; and, most importantly, he came to die on the cross to pay the penalty for sins (Matthew 16:21; Luke 24:7; Romans 3:25, 8:3; Galatians 3:13 ), the very atonement that L'Engle denounces with strong whiffs of condescension (209).

To say Jesus was not sinless contradicts passages such as 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 7:26, 9:14; and reference to Jesus as the lamb who was "unblemished and spotless" (1 Peter 1:19).

Gravest of all is this:

Jesus of Nazareth lived for a brief life span, but Christ always was, is, and will be! (201)

The statement indicates a distinction between Jesus and Christ. Jesus is Christ; Jesus was bodily raised and is at the right hand of God, interceding for the saints in his resurrected body (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9; Romans 8:34).

There is no reason to try to separate Jesus and Christ since Christ is the Greek for "Messiah" and Jesus was the promised Messiah. The Son of God did not add humanity to his nature until the incarnation and he was called Jesus; however, it is not the case that some man named Jesus became the Christ or that Christ somehow supersedes Jesus or is any way different from who Jesus was/is.

L'Engle expressed similar thoughts in other works:

I believe in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus the Christ...not the literal resurrection of this tired body. From The Irrational Season (108-109)

Jesus was also Jesus the Christ as an infant. His resurrected body had nothing to do with becoming the Christ, since He already was (Jesus is called Christ in Luke chapter 2).  

Faulty View of Man

L'Engle declares that we should not think of ourselves as more important in God's eyes than "stars or butterflies or baboons" because we are all part of "the whole" (202-203). We should not think of ourselves as the "pinnacle of creation" (203).

Yet God tells us this:

What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field,
The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
Psalm 8:4-8

This refers to Genesis where God makes man in his image (Genesis 1:26, 27) and gives him dominion over the animal world (Genesis 1:26-28).

No other creature, including angels, are made in God's image. Yet the author seems more preoccupied with a restoration of fallen angels (addressed below) than the truth about man as given in Scriptures. 

Strange Admirations

L'Engle indicates apparent sympathy for and/or admiration for many beliefs or people who stand against the biblical Christ and the Christian faith, such as New Ager Jean Houston; the statue of a Buddhist saint in which L'Engle finds comfort; the pagan goddesses, because "our forefathers were afraid of the feminine" (107); her belief that Gandhi is in heaven; Egyptian spirituality; the Egyptian god Aton; the moon goddesses, as opposed to the "masculine, patriarchal God," 182); Fritjof Capra and various promoters of Eastern and New Age spiritual worldviews; by asserting that "Christianity is an Eastern religion" (192); and homage to that mystical monastic guide of esoteric spirituality, The Cloud of Unknowing (which I have read, hence my description - Marcia).

Her esteem for these icons of pagan and New Age spirituality, especially when she favorably contrasts them with a straw man version of the biblical God, speaks volumes as to her lack of knowledge of Scripture and even of who God is.

In numerous passages, L'Engle implies or states that Satan and the fallen angels (whom she calls the echthroi, a Greek word for 'the enemy'), will be restored to their original status with God through some kind of purging (225). The redemption of the fallen angels and Satan seems paramount to the author's universalism and she argues at length for this view (211, 222-225, 239). We can, she urges, "bless" the fallen angels by "holding them out to the love of God" (225).

L'Engle apparently misunderstands or is unaware of this passage in Hebrews:

For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. Hebrews 2:16, 17

Hebrews clearly teaches that Jesus incarnated to atone for the sins of men, not angels. The fallen angels have no redemption, having made a choice in God's very presence to rebel with Satan against God. The blood of Christ is not efficacious for angels. Jesus himself affirms the "eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).

Demonstrating a penchant for the mystical, L'Engle claims, without offering evidence, that since Christianity is an "Eastern religion," and that we in the West have sadly "Westernized" it, we need to go back to its "contradictory, paradoxical" roots (192). In this section, and throughout the book, L'Engle is bent on demonizing what she calls "forensic" as opposed to the more mysterious, loving, and contradictory truths of God, as she sees it. She equates contradictory with paradoxical, but the two are not the same thing.  

Faulty View of God

In another section, L'Engle takes her pen to what she considers the Bible's various types of God(s), writing that these contradict each other. L'Engle lists God as Creator, a tribal God, Maker of stars, warrior God, a jealous God who commanded killing which "seems forensically bloody," and calls God "an anthropomorphic God" envisioned by "primitive people" (122).

The impression I came away with is that L'Engle did not even believe in the God of the Old Testament as He is portrayed, or else she had no insight at all on what Scripture teaches. It seems she perceived the God of the Hebrew Scriptures as a god only subjectively experienced by the "primitive" population of the times, not as the true God objectively revealed in God's word.

Moreover, L'Engle does not seem to grasp the attributes of God nor what this means in terms of who God is. She was unable to reconcile through basic theology and understanding of the Bible that God loves but also has wrath on sin, and that God judges. Wrath and judgment are big missing blocks in the wobbly architecture of L'Engle's theological house, and her reaction to any instance of these is harsh resistance. She failed to see that God's attributes are all in balance and operate together. Love with no judgment on sin means acceptance of evil as well as injustice, traits that counter the righteous nature of God.

Nor is the forensic concept applicable to what God teaches. From the context, it seems as though L'Engle means legalistic by the term "forensic," and she applies the label "forensic" to anyone who believes as literal those parts of the Bible that she takes as mythical, as well as to those embracing the atonement as the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross (among other orthodox views that she disparages).

The repetitive negative references to "forensic" are a result of L'Engle writing this book while serving on a jury during a criminal trial of two men. Her view of judgment shows up initially when she states that these men are "God's children" and if guilty, it would only cause God grief, not anger (20). This belief is an early clue to her unwillingness to ascribe any wrath on sin or judgment to God.

One becomes a child of God by being adopted as a son or daughter of God through faith in Christ (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). But considering L'Engle's universalism, it is not surprising she ignores this biblical truth. 

A Faulty Foundation

Any accuracies expressed by L'Engle in this book seem almost accidental. The foundation of her beliefs is so laden with error when measured by God's word that no part can stand. Because I only heard praise and recommendations from Christians about L'Engle, I was troubled and confused when I first came across some of her interviews revealing not only universalism, but, more crucially, a disdain for the biblical doctrine that blood had to be shed on the cross for forgiveness of sins.

A secular source, The New Yorker, has this to say:

L'Engle, who for years was the librarian and writer in residence at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, on the Upper West Side, dotted her text with Biblical quotations, and foregrounded her belief in ecumenism--a particularly controversial passage in "A Wrinkle in Time" placed Jesus alongside Gandhi, the Buddha, and Einstein in the fight against evil. To be reductive, L'Engle's life philosophy is the kind of happy religious pluralism in which Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and even scientists can live together in peace. Needless to say, conservative Christians were not thrilled about the easy conflation. ("We Will Wrinkle Again," by Lucy Tang, The New Yorker, March 23, 2010 at http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/we-will-wrinkle-again

I think the term "ecumenism" in the above is too weak, however. No matter how good a writer L'Engle may be, her theology was not only seriously flawed but she applauded stances and concepts antagonistic to the Christian faith.


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