C. S. Lewis Survey

C. S. Lewis 7Today’s post is going to be a little different. It’s not an analysis of politics or history or my own spiritual musings. But it is an invitation for you to be part of a research project I’m working on.

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m in a sabbatical year, doing research on a number of projects, one of which is a proposed book on C. S. Lewis. The goal of this book is to document, as much as possible, the influence, or impact, of Lewis on Americans. His books were well received in this country, even more so than in his native Britain.

20140804_184024The Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College is helping me collect testimonies from Americans on the influence Lewis has had on their thinking and their lives overall. Their help comes in the form of a survey posted on the Wade website and on its Facebook page.

The survey simply asks when and how you were introduced to Lewis’s works, which ones are your favorites and why, and any other details you would like to share about your experience reading and meditating on what Lewis has written.

So, if you are an American citizen and you have been impacted by Lewis, I invite you to go to the following link and post your comments. It would be an immeasurable aid to me as I amass my research and develop the book.

Here is the link: http://www.wheaton.edu/wadecenter/News-and-Events

When you go there, just scroll down a bit and you’ll see the announcement about the survey and where you can click to take it.

Walter HooperOne other bit of exciting news for me about this: Walter Hooper, who served as Lewis’s secretary for the last few months of Lewis’s life, and who has been the primary source for publishing most of Lewis’s works since his death in 1963, has just written to me to let me know he is very interested in this project and will be only too happy to answer questions I have for him as I go forward.

I am feeling blessed this day.

So, if you would like to add your thoughts, and possibly have them included in the finished book, please go to that link and help me out. Thanks.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

Smoke on the MountainLast Sunday, I introduced you to the book Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments by Joy Davidman, who later became Joy Davidman Lewis, wife of the renowned Christian apologist.

I commented that one of the things I most appreciated about this book was her unique wording, the way she stated things to capture one’s attention. I have another few morsels from that book today that I would like to share.

In commenting on the fear that dominates our society (remember, this was written in 1953–how much more fear might we have today?), the author takes aim at the so-called leaders in society:

But the articulate, the leaders of opinion, the policy makers, all those who set the tone of our society, seem for the most part to be frightened men. And how do frightened men deal with life?

They don’t; they run away from it. The simplest among us flee openly, rushing from woman to woman, from drink to drink, from one empty amusement to another, wondering why they get so little contentment out of the eighty-miles-an-hour joy ride from unloved Here to unrewarding There.

We ignore Jesus’ admonition, Davidman insists, when He said not to worry about the future:

The words of Jesus are timeless. What worked for other frightened men will work for us. But our society refuses to listen; this injunction about tomorrow is precisely the one we will not accept.

JoyThere is a Biblical answer to fear, she reminds us. We find it in the Scripture that tells us perfect love casts out fear, and that perfect love can be found in Him:

We do not need a world in which there is nothing to be afraid of–in which obeying the law would be easy. Nor can we have such a world, for all our strivings; no matter how pleasant and safe we make the journey, the end of it is death. What we do need is to remember that we have been redeemed from death and the fear of death, and at rather a high price too.

The Ten Commandments may tell us what not to do, but the flip side is the guidance on what exactly we ought to do:

“Thou shalt not” is the beginning of wisdom. But the end of wisdom, the new law, is “Thou shalt.” To be Christian is to be old? Not a bit of it. To be Christian is to be reborn, and free, and unafraid, and immortally young.

Life in Christ is uplifting, not dreary. It is full of promise, not dread. It is the beginning of real living.

Lewis: The Unique Blend

One of the more interesting things to me about C. S. Lewis was his unique blend of the scholarly, academic side of life with what might be called the common touch. His scholarly publications were superb, and acknowledged as such by nearly everyone; yet his reach with his Christian message has gained a wide following in the general population.

Perhaps I’m drawn to this aspect of him because I find myself in the same situation. Not that I’ve written a scholarly study as in depth as Lewis, but that I am on the academic side of things in my career/ministry. Yet I never want to write anything that cannot be understood by a general audience. Communication of God’s truth is paramount. If most people can’t understand what you are saying, why say it?

I tend to avoid evangelical clichés as much as possible and try to think of different ways of explaining the truth. That puts me outside the traditional evangelical approach that relies on tried and true phrases and methods. I think that’s why I can empathize with a comment Lewis made in his essay “God in the Dock”:

C. S. Lewis with BookMy own work has suffered very much from the incurable intellectualism of my approach. The simple, emotional appeal (“Come to Jesus”) is still often successful. But those who, like myself, lack the gift for making it, had better not attempt it.

It’s not that I can’t tell people they need to come to Jesus; I’ve done it often. However, I can’t perceive of myself giving the classic “invitation” at the end of a worship service. I want people instead to listen to the truth, ponder it, and have the power of it dawn on them deep within their souls.

I want them to spend enough time probing the evilness of sin and the absolute need for repentance that when they make their decision it isn’t just an emotional, fly-by-night response. Those who see clearly their lost state and make a mature decision to abandon sin and embrace the love and forgiveness of God will stay the course and not be tossed here and there by every wind of doctrine or every bad circumstance that crops up in their lives.

I’m not sure Lewis grasped completely just how effectively he communicated with that general audience, but there are untold thousands who can testify that he succeeded. If I can emulate him in even the slightest degree, I will be satisfied.

The Life-Affirming Ten Commandments

How often, when we think about the Ten Commandments, do we see them in the negative light of prohibitions? What if we were to consider instead that their main purpose was to point to a life of fulfillment in God?

Joy Davidman (who later became the wife of C. S. Lewis) wrote a book back in 1953 that is little read today. That’s a shame. In it, she takes a fresh look at those Ten Commandments and shows how we should see them, not through the face of fear or as the Ten Killjoys of life, but rather as life-affirming because they, if followed, would lead to true joy and enjoyment of life as God intended.

Smoke on the MountainThe book is called Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments. Not only do I appreciate her perspective, I also am struck by her lively style of writing. In the introduction, for instance, she handles that old cliché about God being a life preserver quite deftly:

God, for many of us, is a life preserver flung to a drowning man.

And so he is, if you happen to be drowning. But you can’t drown all the time. Sooner or later you have to start merely living again; you reach shore, splutter the water out of your lungs—and then what? Throw away the life preserver?

If your interest in God is based upon fear rather than love, very likely. In such a case, you will be willing to pay very high for that life preserver as you go down for the third time; you will offer for it all your worldly treasures, your lusts and greeds and vanities and hates.

But once safely on shore, you may be minded to throw it away and snatch your treasures back.

Joy LewisDavidman then contrasts three perspectives on law:

Saint Augustine phrased the Christian law as: “Have charity and do what you like.” The modern materialist often makes it simply: “Do what you like,” and then rushes off to ask his psychoanalyst why he no longer seems to like anything. Whereas the Pharisee, alas, tends to invert Augustine into: “Neither do what you like nor have charity.”

All too often, she says, Christians make God’s law a deadening thing, not at all what He intended:

For we live in an age of fear, and we have infected our very faith with our paralysis, as certain previous ages infected it with their cruelty. No wonder the Decalogue makes us uncomfortable. We have turned it from a thrilling affirmation into a dull denial.

Yet there was the sound of trumpets in it once.

The Law, the apostle Paul said, is a tutor to lead us to Christ. But it’s not a harsh tutor—it shows us what life would be like if we were to obey it. Through Christ, we now can enter into the kind of life God has always wanted for us.

Lewis: Leavening Society

C. S. Lewis 4C. S. Lewis didn’t write extensively on government or economics; in fact, he had a hard time being interested in either. Yet he did have a grasp of the basics. In this excerpt from Mere Christianity, he offers what may seem to be a simplistic solution to our problems, but, if followed, really would take care of them:

Some Christians—those who happen to have the right talents—should be economists and statesmen, and . . . all economists and statesmen should be Christians, and . . . their whole efforts in politics and economics should be directed to putting “Do as you would be done by” into action.

If that happened, and if we others were really ready to take it, then we should find the Christian solution for our own social problems pretty quickly. . . . The job is really on us, on the laymen.

This is a call for Christians to realize that a spiritual “job” is not limited to that of a pastor or missionary. Full-time Christian service must include every career path that exists. We are to bring our Biblical worldview into whatever we do. So when the laymen take that challenge seriously, we make headway in the society.

It’s well past time to stop confining ourselves to our little Christian corner; we have a message that needs to leaven the entire society.

Lewis: The Reasonableness of the Miraculous

The Christian faith is reasonable. It’s also based on believing in miracles: the virgin birth of Christ, walking on water, healings, resurrection after the crucifixion. How can one believe in miracles and still be reasonable? It’s not difficult if you consider the attributes of the God who created all things. Once you grasp His very nature, miracles are to be expected.

Reflections on the Psalms 2C. S. Lewis, in his Reflections on the Psalms, succinctly summed up his view, as well as that of all real Christians:

I have been suspected of being what is called a Fundamentalist. That is because I never regard any narrative as unhistorical simply on the ground that it includes the miraculous.

Lewis, one of the most learned men of the twentieth century, had no problem believing that the Creator God could alter His creation at any time in any place, and to me, that is a most reasonable assertion.

Like Lewis, I shy away from the term “fundamentalist” only because of the baggage it has picked up along the way. Yet all it intends to mean is that there are certain fundamentals that any Christian believes. God being above His creation is one of those fundamentals. And it is reasonable to believe it.

Lewis: Logic the Cornerstone

Some people think that scientific knowledge is somehow better than other types of knowledge. While it’s true that the scientific method is important, we need to have the proper perspective. I think C. S. Lewis provides that in an address he gave during WWII that showed up later in a collection of his essays as “De Futilitate”:

C. S. Lewis 1The physical sciences, then, depend on the validity of logic just as much as metaphysics or mathematics. If popular thought feels “science” to be different from all other kinds of knowledge because science is experimentally verifiable, popular thought is mistaken.

Experimental verification is not a new kind of assurance coming in to supply the deficiencies of mere logic. We should therefore abandon the distinction between scientific and non-scientific thought.

The proper distinction is between logical and non-logical thought. I mean, the proper distinction for our present purpose: that purpose being to find whether there is any class of thoughts which has objective value, which is not merely a fact about how the human cortex behaves.

For that purpose we can make no distinction between science and other logical exercises of thought, for if logic is discredited science must go down with it.

I think this is important to grasp because sometimes those of us who are not in the narrowly defined field of science may be tempted to think our thought processes are somehow inferior to “pure science.” Not at all. If we become proficient in basic logic, we have the cornerstone for all understanding. In fact, those too focused on a narrow definition of science can often be tunnel-visioned, and cannot provide real answers for life.

So don’t feel inferior, but do everything you can to develop your powers of thought. The Christian faith is not an emotion; it begins with a reasoning that flows logically: man is sinful; sin destroys the relationship with God and others; God intervened in human history to provide a way to redeem those relationships; if we turn from sin and turn to Him, we can be restored.

Pure science can’t reveal that, and even pure science is dependent on clear, logical thinking.