C.S. Lewis and The Inner Ring

While I was away at the Twin Lakes Fellowship this past week I had the privilege of meeting many godly ministers throughout the PCA, OPC, and other Reformed and Calvinistic churches. Among the discussions had, one in particular has proved to be exceptionally beneficial. I was expressing the difficulty I have at conferences–the way in which there are the theologians who are something and then there are the rest of us–seeing men that ought to be associating with the lowly, instead associating with those in the same circle. Now we are all guilty of this in one way or another, but that does not mean that we should accept it and thereby silently approve of it. While discussing this issue with some mature, and rather unknown ministers I was directed to C.S. Lewis’ The Inner Ring. When I arrived at home, I read this talk that Lewis had given in 1944 at King’s College, the University of London. You can read it here. Lewis’ goal was to explain that there is always an inner circle in every level and every area of society. At one point Lewis explains the nature of this ring in the following manner:

Nor is it even a formally organised secret society with officers and rules which you would be told after you had been admitted. You are never formally and explicitly admitted by anyone. You discover gradually, in almost indefinable ways, that it exists and that you are outside it; and then
later, perhaps, that you are inside it.

There are what correspond to passwords, but they are too spontaneous and informal. A particular slang, the use of particular nicknames, an allusive manner of conversation, are the marks. But it is not so constant. It is not easy, even at a given moment, to say who is inside and who is outside. Some people are obviously in and some are obviously out, but there are always
several on the borderline. And if you come back to the same Divisional Headquarters, or Brigade Headquarters, or the same regiment or even the same company, after six weeks’ absence, you may find this secondary hierarchy quite altered.

There are no formal admissions or expulsions. People think they are in it after they have in fact been pushed out of it, or before they have been allowed in: this provides great amusement for those who are really inside. It has no fixed name. The only certain rule is that the insiders and outsiders call it by different names. From inside it may be designated, in simple cases, by mere enumeration: it may be called “You and Tony and me.” When is very secure and comparatively stable in membership it calls itself ‘we.’ When it has to be expanded to meet a particular emergency it calls itself “all the sensible people at this place.” From outside, if you have dispaired of getting into it, you call it “That gang” or “they” or “So-and-so and his set” or “The Caucus” or “The Inner Ring.” If you are candidate for admission you probably don’t call it anything. To discuss it with the other outsiders would make you feel outside yourself. And to mention talking to the man who is inside, and who may help you if this present conversation goes well, would be madness.

If any man is honest he will have to admit that he knows this to be true. Many of us have, no doubt, felt like we were outside the ring. We have stood looking on at those inside wishing that we could be there with them. But Lewis goes on to explain:

You have met the phenomenon of an Inner Ring. You discovered one in your house at school before the end of the first term. And when you had climbed up to somewhere near it by the end of your second year, perhaps you discovered that within the ring there was a Ring yet more inner, which in its turn was the fringe of the great school Ring to which the house Rings were only satellites. It is even possible that the school ring was almost in touch with a Masters’ Ring. You were beginning, in fact, to pierce through the skins of an onion. And here, too, at your University- shall I be wrong in assuming that at this very moment, invisible to me, there are several rings- independent systems or concentric rings- present in this room? And I can assure you that in whatever hospital, inn of court, diocese, school, business, or college you arrive after going down, you will find the Rings- what Tolstoi calls the second or unwritten systems.

This is the devistating truth about the inner ring–there are always other rings within the inner ring that you will find yourself outside of once you get into the first ring. Why is Lewis empahsizing this? Well, he concludes with a call to friendship:

And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that the secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues. It causes perhaps half of all the happiness in the world, and no Inner Ring can ever have it.

Aside from criticizing Lewis’ subtitle, On Making Good Men do Bad Things (there are not good men in the most natural sense of the term), I would emphasize that there is an inner ring into which all men need to get–the inner ring of fellowship with the Father and the Son. This is a ring of friendship, love, satisfaction and acceptance. No one will be excluded unless they willfully ignore the call to come into this ring. Everyone who the Father has detemined to bring into this ring will be brought in by the One is who in the center of this ring Himself–The Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus sums this up in John 17:1-5 where he thanks the Father for the authority He has been given to give eternal life to those whom the Father has chosen. the purpose of this authority is that they may know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent into the world.

One of my closest friends put it beautifully after I pointed out that even in Reformed circles it so often seems to be about who you know. He said, “Well, I know the Lord Jesus.” This is eternal life, that we may know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. This is the inner ring into which we all must find ourselves.

2 Responses

  1. Pingback : Monday Morning Moment – Inner Rings – the Mad Pursuit of Position, Power, Prominence, and Plenty | Blog – Deb Mills

Leave a Reply