After the greatness that is Perelandra, That Hideous Strength feels like a knuckle-curve thrown from left-field. I mean the Space Trilogy’s concluding volume is set on earth and Merlin is one of its heroes. It was a good book, just a little unexpected; I’m told its due to the increasing influence of Charles Williams on Lewis.
But the most intriguing aspect of the story (to me) was the character Mark Studdock. He is a professor at the fictional college in the story and he has just become a member of the inner circle of faculty who really run the college. The odd thing is that he doesn’t actually seem to like the members of the Inner Circle, but he craves being accepted by them. It comes out in the book that he has abandoned one set of people after another, always trying to climb into higher and higher "inner circles." This is how he gets sucked into N.I.C.E., who are the real villains of the piece. Only after he has lost everything does he come to his senses and get his priorities straight. To his credit (what little he can be given) he is offered a chance to get back in and although tempted he refuses.
I think this temptation to want to be in the Inner Circle is universal, though maybe not as pronounced as in the case of Mark Studdock. If you’ve ever felt the thrill of a shared secret, passion, or hobby then you know what I’m talking about. Think of the camaraderie that comes immediately; think of the new dynamic that is created. I remember in high school there was a guy that I didn’t have much use for and he felt the same way. Then one day we discovered that we were both addicted to boxing and suddenly we were talking like old friends or a couple of chicks gushing about shopping (sorry about the stereotype). Something new had been created. Suddenly there was an "us" and a "them." Those who knew the thrill of a right-hook landing flush and those who didn’t (or couldn’t – the Inner Circle creates arrogance as well). He and I, and those who were missing out.
There is a danger of this happening to our Christian faith. With our churches, the danger is that "us and them" dynamic. With small churches, that danger is compounded by the consolidation of power in Inner Circles and the ability to know everyone well. But there is a danger for individuals as well. It can come by way of a fascination with a doctrine that has captivated us and then discovering a kindred spirit who shares this love. Instead of a doctrine, it could also be an author or particular book. But suddenly there is an "us" who loves so and so and "all those other putzes" who really should acknowledge the greatness of our doctrine/hero/view.
Why is this so bad for a Christian? The "us" and "them" circles inside the church hinder the Christian fellowship that is supposed to transcend all barriers. And circles that become Inner Circles undermine the Gospel itself. Inner Circles are exclusive by definition, but the Gospel demands that church be wide-open to receive all who repent and believe in Jesus. The Inner Circle is dangerous and seductive and must be fought.