Category Archives: C.S. Lewis
By Aaron Cline Hanbury
The author’s death barely made headlines 50 years ago when he died on the same day as JFK and Aldous Huxley. But today, his writings are more relevant than ever.
Last month marked the 50th anniversary of a bizarre day in history. Three men of significant importance each died on November 22, 1963: President John F. Kennedy, author Aldous Huxley, and author and scholar C.S. Lewis.
On that day, the developed world (appropriately) halted at the news of the assassination of the United States’ 35th president. The front page of The New York Times on Saturday morning, the day after the tragic shooting, read, “Kennedy Is Killed by Sniper as he Rides in Car in Dallas; Johnson Sworn in on Plane,” and virtually every other news service around the world ran similar coverage and developed these stories for days and weeks following.
Huxley’s death, meanwhile, made the front page of The New York Times the day after Kennedy’s coverage began. The English-born writer spent his final hours in Los Angeles, high on LSD. His wife, Laura, administered the psychedelic drug during the writer’s final day battling cancer, honoring his wishes to prepare for death like the characters in his novels Eyeless in Gazaand Island. Huxley’s Brave New World depicts a haunting futuristic world where a sovereign, global government harvests its tightly controlled social order in glass jars; the Times obituary writer declared that Huxley’s well-known book “set a model for writers of his generation.”
The news of Lewis’s death, though, didn’t appear in print until Nov. 25, and it appeared in the normal obituary section of The New York Times weekday paper. At an earlier point in his life, Lewis enjoyed vibrant community with family, friends, and colleagues displayed famously in his writers’ club, the Inklings—which included, among others, J.R.R. Tolkien. By the time Lewis died, however, many of those relationships had fizzled out, and only a handful people even knew about Lewis’s funeral in time to attend. In one of the new biographies of Lewis by Alister McGrath (the now-definitive C.S. Lewis: A Life), the writer lists eight attendees, and assumes others, at the funeral for Lewis. No immediate family members were present—his brother, Warnie, stayed in bed, too drunk and distraught to venture to the ceremony. Lewis’s stepson, Douglas Gresham, represented the family at the understated memorial.
But amid all of the attention to these three men during the past year—new biographies, films, conferences, magazines, articles—the legacy of Lewis stands out in relation to both those of the 35th U.S. president and of the prescient Brave New World author.
As Henry L. Carrigan, Jr. puts it in Publishers Weekly, “While Huxley is now largely forgotten and Kennedy remains a symbol of lost promise, Lewis lives on through his novels, stories, essays, and autobiographical works.” While I think that oversimplifies Kennedy and underestimates Huxley, the underlying point is worth considering: In one of the great ironies of history, Lewis at his death received less attention than Huxley, and far less than Kennedy. But it may be true that Lewis’s ideas claim the most lasting influence, both on the Christian tradition and on the Western culture beyond.
Lewis helped Tolkien finish perhaps the best work of literature from the century, ‘The Lord of the Rings’; another biographer suggests the Harry Potter series is kind of homage to the Narnia stories.
Lewis, a native of Belfast, Ireland, taught English literature at Oxford and Cambridge during the middle of the 20th century. Beginning in his teenage years and up through his early career, he was an atheist—but an uncomfortable one. In 1931, he became convinced that the Christian faith was more than a series of rational deductions; that it offered him a narrative that not only answered intellectual questions, but also satisfied his spiritual longings—what he described as the “god-sized hole” in his life. From that point on, he dedicated a significant portion of his energies to this idea that Christianity transcends facts and experience—Lewis believed Christianity wedded facts and experience in a deeper logical and emotional reality.
Lewis’s writing flowed in three streams: scholarly works, defenses of the Christian faith, and fiction. His canon, in addition to hundreds of essays and short writings, consists of more than 30 books, including widely celebrated criticisms on English literature and widely read works of fiction, poetry, and children’s stories. Today, several of these titles are familiar even to those with only a cursory interest in literature—such as the Chronicles of Narnia (which includes 1950’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), 1956’s Till We Have Faces, 1952’s Mere Christianity, and 1942’s The Screwtape Letters.
Just about any list of the best Christian books in the English language, of course, will include at least one Lewis title. In fact, when Christianity Today magazine asked more than 100 Christian writers and leaders to rank the most influential religious books of the 20th century, they named Lewis’s Mere Christianity No. 1 by far—which explains why readers have purchased the around 18 million copies of the book. And Harper Collins, which distributed some 10 million in unit sales since it acquired the rights to most of Lewis’s titles in 2001, reports more than 150,000 copies of Mere Christianity sold in the past year.
But even those numbers seem small compared to the more than 100 million copies (in at least 30 different languages) of The Chronicles of Narnia series sold.
And Lewis’s stories seem just as comfortable in Hollywood as they are in a corner bookstore. In recent years, three stories of the Chronicles of Narnia appeared as major film adaptations, with a fourth in development. And other films based on his life and works have materialized, too—such as Shadowlands, which casts Anthony Hopkins as Lewis and tells the story of his marriage to Joy Davidman, and a forthcoming film version of The Great Divorce, currently in the development stage.
Lewis narratives both answer intellectual questions and satisfy spiritual longings; he demonstrates the importance of images and stories without forgetting the necessity of reasoned, coherent belief.
Lewis’s works also appear onstage: Shadowlands began as television film and later turned into a play, and the theater production of The Screwtape Letters will continue its current tour in California later this month.
Traces of Lewis even appear in the works of other writers. Most significantly, he helped Tolkien finish perhaps the best work of English literature from the century, The Lord of the Rings; McGrath calls Lewis the “chief midwife” to the stories. Another biographer suggests that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series includes seven volumes as a kind of homage to the Narnia stories. Rowling’s character Dudley sounds and acts like Lewis’s Eustace Scrubb (from the Chronicles of Narnia series), and in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Rowling said she found herself “thinking about the wardrobe route to Narnia when Harry is told he has to hurl himself at a barrier in Kings Cross Station.” Lewis’s work also shapes, axiomatically, the stories of Christian writers like N.D. Wilson (also the screenwriter for The Great Divorce adaptation) and Andrew Peterson, and has also influenced writers like Lloyd Alexander—who said, “In our times, every fantasy realm must be measured in comparison with Narnia.”
One of the few men who did attend Lewis’s funeral was the English theologian and philosopher Austin Farrer. In his eulogy that day, Farrer effectively described the combination of logic and emotion—of fact and imagination, of prose and poetry—that made Lewis’s writings resonate with many demographics of readers: Farrer said, “There lived in his writings a Christian universe that could be both thought and felt, in which he was at home and in which he made his reader at home.” In other words, readers found—and still find—that Lewis narratives both answer intellectual questions and satisfy spiritual longings; Lewis demonstrates the importance of images and stories for the life of faith, without forgetting the necessity of reasoned, coherent belief, as well.
But Lewis’s appeal clearly reaches further than his Christian audience and draws appreciation from adherents of other faiths and the non-religious. There’s a profound reason for that. As the flamboyant, avant garde theater critic Kenneth Tynan, a proud proponent of amorality, wrote in his diary after reading Lewis’s novels, “How thrilling he makes goodness seem—how tangible and radiant!” And after reading a work of nonfiction, he wrote, “C.S.L. works as potently as ever on my imagination.”
In a culture that views the world more as charcoal than black-and-white, Lewis’s vision of the world speaks to a whole new mind of the 21st century as well as his native 20th.
In honor of his achievements as a writer, officials of Westminster Abbey announced last month that they will honor Lewis in the prestigious Poets’ Corner alongside literary figures such as Geoffrey Chaucer and Charles Dickens. The memorial stone displays Lewis’ famous summary of his faith: “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not only because I can see it but because by it I can see everything else.”
This vision for a Christian lens to the world permeates Lewis’s stories, because, for him, the best stories hinted at the deep structures of reality, helping humanity in the journey for truth and significance. Good stories point to an ultimate story. And as Farrer—but few else—might have predicted, Lewis appears more relevant today than ever.
Lewis’s writings still often show up in both religious and secular conversations. As recently as last week, writers for The Atlantic recalled Lewis while analyzing contemporary, mainstream works of fiction: One writer invoked Lewis while in a critique of Disney’s Frozen, and another used Lewis’s The Four Loves to make a positive case for the film Love Actually. We live in a culture that views the world more as charcoal than black-and-white—a culture that prefers the mixed-motive, quasi-heroes in 2010’s True Grit to the good-guy-bad-guy figures in 1969’s version; a culture that prefers the more experiential, sensitive atheism of Slavoj Zizek to the cold, laboratory atheism of Richard Dawkins. But Lewis’s vision of the world still resonates in the 21st century as well as it did in his native 20th.
Like all good stories, Lewis’s includes an antagonist of sorts, or at least an opposing moral force: Philip Pullman, the author of the His Dark Materials Trilogy (perhaps more familiar to Americans as the series that includes The Golden Compass), an explicitly atheist alternative to the children’s literature of Lewis’s. In 2002, a headline in the Daily Telegraph read, “Pullman does for atheism what C.S. Lewis did for God.” Pullman decried Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia as “blatant religious propaganda.” and accused Lewis of sexism and racism, among other things.
But, as McGrath, author of C.S. Lewis: A Life, points out, Pullman’s statements about Lewis’s wide readership almost 40 years after his death only draw more attention to the Narnia author, and “affirms Lewis’s cultural significance.” In this way, “Lewis’s most strident critic, paradoxically, turns out to be one of the most important witnesses to his present-day influence and importance.”
Last month, a writer for The Guardian suggested that Huxley was actually the more “visionary” of the two writers who died on Nov. 22, 1963. He points out specifically how Huxley’s Brave New World hints at today’s social networking websites that exchange services for members’ “intimate details.” He writes: “So, even as we remember C.S. Lewis, let us spare a thought for the writer who perceived the future in which we would come to love our digital servitude.” Still, he admits that, compared to Lewis, “Aldous Huxley never attracted that kind of attention.”
And assessments of Kennedy’s ideas, in turn, remain mixed. His actions, certainly, caused massive repercussions on the nation: In part, his term shaped the future of presidential campaigns, as television became a normal aspect of elections campaigns. And his celebrity-type appeal added style, in addition to substance, to the list of essential characteristics of a United States president. But crises like the Bay of Pigs debacle, the Cold War, the convoluted situation in Vietnam, and racial discord around the country arguably mark his time in office more than his Camelot White House.
“Assessments of Kennedy’s presidency have spanned a wide spectrum,” according to Kennedy scholars at the University of Virginia. “Early studies, the most influential of which were written by New Frontiersmen close to Kennedy, were openly admiring. They built upon on the collective grief from Kennedy’s public slaying—the quintessential national trauma. Later, many historians focused on the seedier side of Kennedy family dealings and John Kennedy’s questionable personal morals. More recent works have tried to find a middle ground.” So, the legacy of Kennedy’s ideas remains ambiguous; today, he is perceived by many as an intriguing national figure who lost his opportunity to fulfill many promises.
Back 50 years ago, no one reading the news headlines from November 1963 would predict that the ideas of an English scholar and children’s writer would wield (arguably) greater influence on European and American cultures than Kennedy’s or Huxley’s. After all, Lewis’s funeral only included one family member, related by marriage.
Huxley once wrote that “the prophet must make a selection of the facts that are more significant, that will have the greatest effect on the greatest number of future human beings.” And Kennedy famously said that a “man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.”
And that’s why, in 1963, Lewis left us a legacy with influence that reaches far beyond 1960s England: He wedded significant facts with ideas that live on.
*SOURCE: THE ATLANTIC @ http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/12/why-cs-lewis-never-goes-out-of-style/282351/
C. S. Lewis wrote about how the writing of George MacDonald “baptized his imagination” for later receipt of the gospel of Jesus. The writing of Lewis himself did this for me. I consumed the Narnia stories in elementary school, the Space Trilogy in junior high, and most of Lewis’s non-fiction in high school. My experience is not rare, I know. For many Christians, the writing of C. S. Lewis serves as a gateway to both intellectual and imaginative Christianity. This is why he is the greatest Christian writer of the 20th century and one of the greatest of all time.
A burgeoning storyteller myself, I had an overactive imagination that spilled over into my sense of self and my understanding of the world around me. Childhood was magical because I wished it so. Everything in my environment seemed ripe with splendor and meaning. I was an odd kid. But I didn’t just enjoy Lewis’s Narnia—I felt it. I knew instinctively he had tapped into something truer and better about fairy tales and fantasy and also about the ordinary world that seemed on sabbatical from wonder, much less from the prevalent miracles of the Bible. But I didn’t know what.
When I graduated from high school in 1994, my Grammy gave me a paperback copy of C.S. Lewis’s “God in the Dock” and Other Essays. I devoured it. And when I came to my absolute favorite piece in the book, a little treatise on the importance of mythology called “Myth Became Fact,” the effect was similar to putting on corrective lenses for the first time. Clarity of vision descended. I am speaking of page 67 in my edition, specifically, where Lewis writes this: “We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology.” He has been explaining why the ancient myths continue to be so resonant; namely, because “myth transcends thought” (66). These stories are received on a deeper frequency than other transmissions.
I like theology and its systems. I like to think rationally and logically. (So did Lewis!) But there is an inscrutable logic in a statement like this:
“We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic . . . shall we refuse to be mythopathic?” (67)
Lewis’s point is this: Myths resonate because there is a residue of truth in them—not historic facts of course, but truth about reality. (In his novel Perelandra he writes that myth is “gleams of celestial beauty falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility.”) And in the biblical story of Jesus and his gospel we find the convergence of the radiance of the mythopoeic with the glorious radiance of fact! Finally the one true “myth,” the myth that is not fiction. Lewis writes:
For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher (67).
Can even the Christian scholar and philosopher deny that the facts of the gospel are received on a frequency deeper than just the intellect? We discern the facts of the gospel with our minds, of course, but we receive them with our hearts because the Spirit has freed our hearts to receive them as true—to receive Christ as The Truth, the one true myth that is incontrovertibly fact.
What Lewis helped me see in that page helped me to see period. Page 67 of “Myth Became Fact” helped me to make the difference between seeing along the beam of light and seeing into the beam of light (to borrow from a later essay in the volume, “Meditation in a Toolshed”). Lewis helps me see how wondrous our real God and Savior is, how expansive, how utterly and eternally glorious. These words in “Myth Become Fact” gave me permission to wonder at God and to deepen in enjoyment of the true story of his Son’s reversal of death, rescuing of the bride, razing of evil, ruining of the dragon, and reigning forevermore. He has helped me see that nothing is wasted under God’s sovereign authorship of the universe, not even our fictions.
Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont, and the author of the books Your Jesus Is Too Safe, Gospel Wakefulness, and the study 7 Daily Sins.
I owe more to C.S. Lewis than I can ever express. On this day, Nov. 22, 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of his death and the day that he is honored with a memorial in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey, I wish more than anything to say ‘thank you’ to this great man.
And so I decided to share a glimpse of how Lewis helped change my life. In my memoir Not God’s Type, I’d alluded to Lewis’s significance in my conversion to Christianity, but not gone into detail. In the revision, significantly expanded and revised, which will be published in 2014 by Ignatius Press (and tentatively retitled The Sword and the Cross) I write a great deal more about the role of Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles in my journey.
The following is an excerpt from Chapter 12 of my forthcoming book.
At this point in my journey of faith, I had accepted the arguments for the existence of God; I had become a theist. But what about the idea of a personal God? And in particular, what about Jesus? I found myself struggling, resistant, terrified . . . and so we jump in as I wrestle with the meaning of the Incarnation:
I had rejected the idea of ‘talking to God’ in prayer – not from intellectual disagreement, but from a visceral reaction of fear and anger, and although the cause was new, the feeling of baffled rage was all too familiar. I had felt it when I was eight or nine years old, weeping over my long-division homework (and refusing to do it); in high school, my stomach in a knot as I stared at geometry proofs that meant nothing to me; as a college freshman, sick with frustration as I struggled with my chemistry problem sets. I knew that there was some meaning locked up in these figures, these equations and problems, but I was unable to see what the teacher (and the other students!) seemed to find so obvious, and my inability easily to understand made me both angry at myself and, eventually, dismissive of the subject.
The idea of a personal God was almost impossible for me to grasp to begin with, let alone the Christian claim that the Creator become a human person, flesh and blood like me, yet also fully God. The ‘watchful dragons’ (as Lewis calls them) of my rebellious self spoke up loud and clear, insisting, “It can’t possibly be true that the Creator of the universe would respond to you, or even be aware of your existence. Who do you think you are, anyway? And these Christians are obviously talking nonsense. How could it be that the First Cause of the universe would somehow become a man, an actual human being walking around, getting his hands dirty, getting killed. Ridiculous. Who can believe that?”
I had nothing to say.
These new philosophical ideas about God made rational sense of the world as I saw it, but they did not show me that the God of the philosophers would have anything to do with me as an individual – much less that His concern for human beings would extend to becoming incarnate, as the Christians said that He had. God’s morality might apply to me, yes, but like gravity, indiscriminately to all people; or like a law code, written down and handed over, with its authority coming from the Law-Giver, but at a distance. Surely He could not, would not, take notice of me: I was too small; He was too big. Surely He would not enter into His creation; it was grubby and messy and material, and He was spiritual and orderly and infinite.
I could understand the definition of the word ‘Incarnation’ but not grasp its meaning. It seemed unimaginable that God would come close enough to be touched, would become man.
Or was it? I began to recall glimpses of something I’d been intrigued by, yet had been unable to name, from an earlier, deeper vision.
What if the idea of the Incarnation did not have to be solved like a math problem . . . what if I could get hold of its meaning in a different way?
I picked up The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: this time, not to analyze it for my dissertation, but to enter Narnia like a little girl again.
And I encountered Aslan.
First just as a name, a glimpse of hope – “Aslan is on the move” – and then as a hope fulfilled, the great Lion really present in Narnia, bringing an end to a hundred years of winter. Aslan was a force to be reckoned with: he led the Narnians into battle, and killed the White Witch himself; when he roared, “they saw all the trees in front of him bend before the blast of his roaring as grass bends in a meadow before the wind.” No tame lion, indeed.
And yet he was touchable, playful, personal. If I could have stepped through the wardrobe door and seen this character for myself, I don’t know if I’d have first run up and buried my hands and face in his shaggy mane, or fallen down before his great velveted paws with their terrible claws, afraid to look at him, but love and awe would have been mingled in both.
In Narnia, I found that the Incarnation was not a bizarre idea, out of place in the world. It infused the very atmosphere; I breathed it in and was strengthened by it. That God would join His creatures by becoming part of creation Himself seemed, here in Narnia, as fitting as the fact that winter’s end brought crocuses peeking brightly through half-melted snow; as right as the fact that sunlight warms chilled limbs and water quenches thirst.
In Narnia . . . but here, in real life? It might not be true that God was involved with His world; it might not be likely that Jesus was God incarnate . . . but it was no longer unimaginable.
From The Sword and the Cross – forthcoming, Ignatius Press, 2014
*ARTICLE ADAPTED FROM: http://www.hieropraxis.com/2013/11/my-debt-to-c-s-lewis/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Holly Ordway is a poet, academic, and Christian apologist. She is the chair of the Department of Apologetics and director of the MA in Cultural Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, and the author of Not God’s Type (2010; revised and expanded 2nd ed. forthcoming as The Sword and the Cross, 2014, Ignatius Press). Her work focuses on imaginative and literary apologetics, with special attention to C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.
He went quietly. It was very British.
While the Americans rocked and reeled, and the world’s attention turned to Dallas and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, one Clive Staples Lewis breathed his last in Oxford just a week shy of his 65th birthday. Strangely enough, science-fictionist Aldous Huxley passed the same day, and in one calendar square, three of the twentieth-century’s most influential figures were gone.
It was November 22, 1963 — 50 years ago today.
C.S. Lewis is known best for his series of seven short fiction books, the Chronicles of Narnia, which have sold over 100 million copies in 40 languages. With three of the stories already becoming major motion pictures, and the fourth in the making, Lewis is as popular today as he’s ever been. But even before he published Narnia in the early 1950s, he distinguished himself as a professor at Oxford and Cambridge, the world’s foremost expert in Medieval and Renaissance English literature, and one of the great lay thinkers and writers in two millennia of the Christian church.
Discovering Truth and Joy
Lewis was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1898. He became an atheist in his teens, and stridently such in his twenties, before slowly warming to theism in his early thirties, and finally being fully converted to Christianity at age 33. And he would prove to be for many, as he was for his friend Owen Barfield, the “most thoroughly converted man I have ever known.”
What catches the eye about Lewis’s star in the constellation of Christian thinkers and writers is his utter commitment to the life of the mind and the life of the heart. He both thinks and feels with the best. Lewis insisted that rigorous thought and deep affections were not at odds, but mutually supportive. And as impressive as he was in arguing for it, he was even more convincing in his demonstration.
What eventually led Lewis to theism, and finally to Christianity, was Longing — an ache for Joy with a capital J. He had learned all too well that relentless rationality could not adequately explain the depth and complexity of human life, or the textures and hues of the world in which we find ourselves. From early on, an angst gnawed at him which one day he would express so memorably in his most well-known single book, Mere Christianity: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
This World and the Other
Such is the heart of his genius, his spiritual genius. So few treat the world in all its detail and contour like he does, and yet so few tirelessly point us beyond this world, with all its concreteness and color and taste, with the aggression and ardor of C.S. Lewis.
And so for many his impact has been so personal. For me, it was a six-word sentence in Lewis — “we are far too easily pleased” — that popped the hood on a massive remodeling of my soul.
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Does Jesus really find our desires not too strong, but too weak? I had long professed Christianity, but this tasted so different than what I knew. It tasted! This affirmation of happiness and pleasure and desire and delight was, to me, so new in the context of the Christian faith. And Lewis was the chef.
My notions about God and the Christian life were exposed as mere duty-driven, and my soul was thrilling at the possibility that Christianity might not mean muting my desires but being encouraged (even commanded!) to turn them up — up to God.
Feel the Weight of Glory
As a layman, Lewis didn’t preach weekly, but occasionally had his chance at a pulpit. His most remembered sermon is one he preached under the title “The Weight of Glory.”
When he breathed his last and quietly slipped from this life 50 years ago now, he took one big step toward becoming the kind of glorious creature in the coming new creation he speaks about in that sermon.
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.
All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.
This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously.
For a growing number of us, Lewis occupies a class to himself. Few, if any, have taught us so much about this world, and the next, save the Scriptures. If you’d like to take him seriously, and with the smile and warmth he requests, start with his Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Abolition of Man, the Chronicles of Narnia, or just about anything you can find with his name as author. His writings are pervasively thoughtful, engaging, provoking, and rewarding. He will not disappoint.
ARTICLE ADAPTED FROM http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/half-a-century-since-c-s-lewis. 11/22/2013. This article also appears in the Minneapolis StarTribune and Saint Paul Pioneer Press. For more on the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’s death, see Justin Taylor’s and Joe Rigney’s brief comparison of Lewis and Kennedy, “The Two Jacks.” Rigney’s ebook on Narnia is discounted for the fiftieth anniversary. He was a seminar speaker at our recent National Conference celebrating Lewis’s life and work, from which the full audio and video are available, as well as John Piper’s 2010 biographical address on Lewis, “Lessons from an Inconsolable Soul.”
Topic: Christian Biography
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.
God in the Dock: The Apologetics of C. S. Lewis
In modern English the words apology and apologize indicate regret because some statement or action was offensive and wrong. This is not the case for “apologetics” in theology, for that discipline is intended to manifest “a point of view is right.” It is intended for those who differ in order to win them over, or for those who agree in order to confirm them in the truth for which the apologist testifies.
It is in this sense that C.S. Lewis is recognized as an “apologist,” for a number of his works are intended to manifest the adequacy of the Christian outlook over against a “naturalist” position, which asserts that the universe is simply a great material mass functioning in terms of its own mechanism or laws without any possible intervention from the outside and specifically without a creative or governing power of a mind. C.S. Lewis was very well prepared for this task because until late in his twenties he was a devotee of atheism without any reference to Jesus Christ and was twenty-nine years old before being converted and embracing a Christian world-and-life view. Thus, he was more knowledgeable than many Christian apologists who know the views that they dispute only from the outside. He also experienced personally the gravity of the problems that the atheist has to face and the way in which such problems may force a person of integrity to look beyond atheism for a suitable philosophical and religious outlook. C.S. Lewis wrote about his own experience in 1933 in an autobiographical volume entitled The Pilgrim’s Regress, in the manner of John Bunyan, and again in Surprised by Joy (1955).
His first contribution to apologetics was entitled The Problem of Pain, published in October 1940 as part of The Christian Challenge Series (it was reprinted ten times by 1943). He dealt there forthrightly with the question: “If God is almighty and supremely loving, why does He permit pain in this universe?” He showed how pain is inevitable for real persons wherever sin exists. Who could imagine what a frightful world it should be if sin could grow without restraint? C.S. Lewis proceeds in his analysis in an orderly and lucid manner, dealing with this difficult subject in a way that a lay person can readily understand. From time to time, he has striking comments that remain unforgettable, like the following: “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word “darkness” on the walls of his cell” (p. 41). From 1941–44, he delivered a series of thirty-three broadcast talks whose titles describe well their contents:
1941: Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe (5 talks)
1942: What Christians Believe (5 talks)
1943: Christian Behaviors (12 talks)
1944: Beyond Personality; or, First Steps in the Doctrine of the Trinity (11 talks)
First published separately in three volumes, these lectures were gathered together under the titleMere Christianity and often republished. The term mere in this title means “pure,” as it did in old English. The emphasis is to deal with major views largely common to all denominations in Christendom.
In 1943, The Screwtape Letters appeared, and this is probably C.S. Lewis’ most popular writing. Here we have a course by correspondence in which a master demon, Screwtape, instructs Wormwood, a novice in the art of tempting human beings and preventing on their part a true allegiance to God and the Gospel. This gives an opportunity to look on the Christian claims from below, so to speak, not with some artificial adornments provided by self-deceitfulness or charity in considering others, but with a kind of cynical realism that penetrates into the actual motives that people ordinarily attempt to hide. C.S. Lewis can cast a critical evaluation of many moves and motives that are flourishing under the umbrella of genuine Christianity. With sharp discernment and superb control of language, gained perhaps in his scholarly studies in early English literature, his wit and discernment surface on every page as some
of the following quotations evidence:
“We have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is [God’s] invention, not ours. He made the pleasure: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one” (p. 41).
“A moderate religion is as good for us as no religion at all — and more amusing” (p. 43).
“It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one” (p. 56).
“A good many Christian political writers think that Christianity began going wrong and departing from the doctrine of its Founder, at a very early stage. Now, this idea must be used by us to encourage again the conception of a historical Jesus to be found by clearing away later ‘accretions and perversions’ and then be contrasted with the whole Christian tradition. In the last generation we promoted the construction of such a ‘historical Jesus’ on liberal and ‘humanitarian’ lines; we are now putting forward a new ‘historical Jesus’ on Marxian, catastrophic, and revolutionary lines. The advantage of these constructions, which we intend to change every thirty years or so, are manifest. In the first place they all tend to direct man’s devotion to something which does not exist, for each ‘historical Jesus’ is unhistorical” (p. 106).
If these few quotations arouse your appetite, get the book and you will find much more than this sample.
The volume entitled Miracles: A Preliminary Study appeared in 1947, very shortly after Dr. E.W.Barnes, Bishop of Birmingham, published The Rise of Christianity, in which he denied the factuality of all miracles recorded in the New Testament, including those concerning the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The word preliminary in the title should not be mistaken for elementary, for it is a rather technical vindication of supernaturalism versus naturalism defined as a view that nothing exists except nature, that is, the gigantic interlocking of all particles of matter existing from times immemorial. Nature cannot explain the origin of rational thought, and even less provide a basis for morality and conscience.
We are led, therefore, to recognize a powerful and purposive reality beyond the material world, who is the creator and sustainer of all that exists. With this in view, it is not strange that there would be occasions in which interaction between this power and His world might occur where the laws that govern matter might not function as they ordinarily do.
C.S. Lewis then devotes an essential chapter to the “Grand Miracle” of the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. Then he discusses miracles of the old creation with “the Divine Man focusing for us what the God of Nature has already done on a larger scale” (p. 169). The miracles of the new creation are those in which a “reversal” is manifest, principally the resurrection, which is fundamental for the whole of Christianity.
A brief epilogue and two appendices conclude the book. Throughout we can appreciate the great qualities of C.S. Lewis, his earnestness, his meticulous care not to leave any gaps in his reasoning, his thorough commitment to Holy Scripture, and his marvelous style. Dealing with objections to the virgin birth of Christ, he says that some opponents of it “think they see in this miracle a slur upon sexual intercourse (though they might just as well see in the feeding of the five thousand an insult to bakers)” (p. 115).
That parenthesis is worth the price of the book!
Article Originally appeared @ http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/god-dock/
About the Author
Dr. Roger Nicole was professor emeritus of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Fla., and author of Standing Forth. A notable theologian of the twentieth century, he was very influential in the shaping of evangelical theology in America.
Tags: Apologetics and C.S. Lewis, C.S. Lewis the Apologist, C.S. Lewis' contribution to Christian Apologetics, God in the Dock: The Apologetics of C. S. Lewis, Roger Nicole on the Apologetics of C.S. Lewis