America Discovers Lewis at the Wade Center

Last night I spoke at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. Topic: my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact. The Wheaton campus was quite active last night, what with a Michael W. Smith concert and approximately six other events. Parking was at a premium, I was told, which made some of my audience a little late in arriving. Overall, though, there were about forty very interested people who wanted to know more about one of their favorite authors—that would be Lewis, of course, not me.

I offered a short history of how my interest in Lewis began and how I felt the Lord was guiding me into a niche in Lewis studies that had not yet been fully explored—his relationships with Americans and how Americans have received his writings.

From Chad Walsh (who wrote the first book on Lewis and became his close friend), to Joy Davidman Gresham (Lewis’s American wife), to Walter Hooper (the American who served briefly as Lewis’s helper/secretary and then became the executor of the Lewis literary estate), to Clyde Kilby (the Wheaton professor who had the vision to begin collecting not only all of Lewis’s papers and writings, but then extended that collection to six other famous British authors), it was a joy to share their stories.

Yet those are the ones people are most likely to know about anyway, so I was able to broaden the field of knowledge about other, lesser-known Lewis acquaintances and/or regular correspondents, and how his interaction with them provided spiritual guidance over many years.

Finally, I shared some (not as much as I wanted because I was running out of time) of the responses I got from a survey I sent out during the research for the book. How did you first come into contact with Lewis’s writings? Which ones have impacted you the most? What personal testimonies can you share? Those were some of the questions I asked in that survey, and the responses ranged from very interesting to poignant. I was not surprised that Lewis has truly made a “profound impact.”

I always love being at the Wade Center. Today and tomorrow I will do more research. My new interest in is Dorothy Sayers (one of those famous British authors that the Wade collected information on), her relationship with Lewis and how her Christian writings have had their respective impact.

Many thanks to David and Crystal Downing, the new co-directors of the Wade, for having me come to speak. They are Lewis scholars, and have been for many more years than I. Their appreciation of my first foray into Lewis scholarship has been an encouragement to me personally.

On Sunday, I’ll be speaking at a local church, one where I’ve spoken before. I’ve been asked to provide a solid overview of why Lewis has been one of the Lord’s most effective spokesmen. It will be a joy to do so.

On Monday, it will be back to my students, whom I love, and all that grading, with which I don’t have quite the same loving relationship. God’s calling isn’t all glory, you know.

John Eliot Prepared Indian Converts

Here’s a post I received from the Christian History Institute that I think is worth passing on.

JOHN ELIOT arrived in Massachusetts from England in 1631. He would become one of the colony’s most famous immigrants. Educated at the University of Cambridge, he was ordained to the ministry before coming to America. In the New World, he temporarily filled a vacant pulpit in Boston before moving on to Roxbury in 1632. That same year he wed Hannah Mumford. They would have six children.

Three years after his arrival in Massachusetts, Eliot’s concern for the  Native Americans got him into trouble with colonial authorities when he protested the manner in which a treaty was made with the Pequods without their consent. But his actual ministry began in 1646. His Algonquin hearers asked thoughtful questions such as whether God would understand them if they prayed in their language, Massachuset (also called Natick). By then he had learned the Natick dialect.

He traveled throughout New England preaching among the tribes who spoke Natick, resulting in many Native Americans converting to Christianity. Some became pastors and missionaries among their own people. Eliot also obtained land for them. To provide for their spiritual welfare, he translated parts of the Bible and other religious works into Massachuset.

On 13 October 1652, after fasting and praying all morning, a number of members of the Massachuset tribe gave their testimonies and made confessions so that they might be admitted to a church of their own. However, the confessions took longer than expected and had to be postponed to a later date. War arose, and it was not until 1660 that the converts got a place of worship at Natick, Massachusetts. At the outbreak of King Philip’s War in 1675, there were eleven hundred Christian Indians in Natick and other towns, but their church would face impossible odds. Unconverted Indians attacked the “praying Indians” as traitors, and whites attacked them as “red men.” Caught in the middle, many died.

Eliot lived until 1690, doing good to the end. A visitor from England described him as “the best of the ministers who we have yet heard.” Among the work of his last years was instructing African slaves and teaching large passages of scripture to a blind boy. Hannah, his “dear, faithful, pious, prudent, prayerful wife” died three years before him, as did four of his sons. One son and daughter outlived him.

Holding to the Faith

I have a rather large tome called The Timeless Writings of C. S. Lewis, which consists of The Pilgrim’s Regress and two of his essay collections: Christian Reflections and God in the Dock. Prior to my sabbatical back in 2014-15, I had read, over time, all of those essays.

I’m the kind of person who marks up his books, putting stars next to key passages and underlining the most significant sentences, in the hope that I can go back when needed and find the best parts more readily.

As I’ve pored over those essays again, I’m actually quite surprised by how detailed my earlier markings were. I’m also grateful I did that if, for no other reason, I cannot even recall now that I’d ever read some of those essays—they all seem so new to me. I trust that’s not Alzheimer’s.

For instance, one of Lewis’s essays in Christian Reflections, “Religion: Reality or Substitute?” caught my attention this morning as he explains the necessity of holding fast to the faith. Sometimes we question—we waver—but that is the nature of life itself. Lewis experienced that phenomenon not only as a Christian, but even when he had been an atheist.

Just as the Christian has his moments when the clamour of this visible and audible world is so persistent and the whisper of the spiritual world so faint that faith and reason can hardly stick to their guns, so, as I well remember, the atheist too has his moments of shuddering misgiving, of an all but irresistible suspicion that old tales may after all be true, that something or someone from outside may at any moment break into his neat, explicable, mechanical universe.

Believe in God and you will have to face hours when it seems obvious that this material world is the only reality: disbelieve in Him and you must face hours when this material world seems to shout at you that it is not all.

No conviction, religious or irreligious, will, of itself, end once and for all this fifth-columnist in the soul. Only the practice of Faith resulting in the habit of Faith will gradually do that.

Even though Lewis was quite strong in his apologetic writings, he acknowledges that pure reason and/or argument is not what normally leads a person into or out of faith. “It is always assumed,” he opines, “that the difficulties of faith are intellectual difficulties, that a man who has once accepted a certain proposition will automatically go on believing it till real grounds for disbelief occurs. Nothing,” he counters, “could be more superficial.” Then he offers an example from his own environment.

How many of the freshmen who come up to Oxford from religious homes and lose their Christianity in the first year have been honestly argued out of it? How many of our own sudden temporary losses of faith have a rational basis which would stand examination for a moment?

I don’t know how it is with others, but I find that mere change of scene always has a tendency to decrease my faith at first—God is less credible when I pray in a hotel bedroom than when I am in college.

It isn’t, at bottom, a conflict between faith and reason, Lewis concludes. It’s more of a conflict between faith and sight—what we see around us at a particular moment. Reason may be divine, he reasons, but “human reasoners are not.”

The sort of arguments against Christianity which our reason can be persuaded to accept at the moment of yielding to temptation are often preposterous. Reason may win truths; without Faith she will retain them just so long as Satan pleases.

We need to pray for that gift of continuing faith, Lewis urges, “for the power to go on believing not in the teeth of reason but in the teeth of lust and terror and jealousy and boredom and indifference.”

He ends the essay with a question/warning about what might really be going on inside us when we waver in faith:

And the answer to that prayer will, perhaps, surprise us when it comes. For I am not sure, after all, whether one of the causes of our weak faith is not a secret wish that our faith should not be very strong. Is there some reservation in our minds? Some fear of what it might be like if our religion became quite real?

I hope not. God help us all, and forgive us.

Platitudes vs. Reality in Home & Family

I love delving into C. S. Lewis’s many essays—mostly unknown even to those who appreciate his books—and finding pearls. This morning I came across one in God in the Dock that I had read long ago (I know that only because it is marked up) and had forgotten. It’s called “The Sermon and the Lunch.”

Lewis relates what appears to be a true story about listening to a certain vicar give a sermon on the home, a talk filled with platitudes about how dear home life is to everyone. Yet Lewis noticed that the vicar lost the attention of many in the congregation, especially those under thirty, as the  sermon became more unrealistic about the incessant joys of life in the home.

What followed was lunch at the vicar’s house. Even before arriving there, the vicar’s daughter whispered to Lewis that she was hoping he would come because “it’s always a little less frightful when there’s a visitor.”

What Lewis observed during lunch was a man—the vicar already mentioned—constantly interrupting both of his children with his own views that they must not contradict, and a mother going on about how badly a neighbor has treated her. When the daughter attempted to correct the impression given of that neighbor, she was quickly and forcefully silenced by her father.

The disconnect between the vicar’s sermon and his actual home life was disconcerting. “What worries me,” Lewis reflected, “is the fact that the Vicar is not telling us at all that home life is difficult and has, like every form of life, its own proper temptations and corruptions.” Home is not a “panacea, a magic charm” that automatically produces great happiness. As for the vicar himself, Lewis is rather blunt: “The trouble is not that he is insincere but that he is a fool.”

The remedy, Lewis asserts, is to be realistic.

Since the Fall no organization or way of life whatever has a natural tendency to go right. . . .

The family, like the nation, can be offered to God, can be converted and redeemed, and will then become the channel of particular blessings and graces. But, like everything else that is human, it needs redemption.

Where there are people, there are problems.

Lewis also notes that the natural affection common in a home is not the same as genuine love. In fact, affection, left to itself, has a tendency to become “greedy, naggingly solicitous, jealous, exacting, timorous. It suffers agony when its object is absent—but is not repaid by any long enjoyment when the object is present.” Sadly, Lewis laments that “the greed to be loved is a fearful thing. Some of those who say (and almost with pride) that they live only for love come, at last, to live in incessant resentment.”

But isn’t one of the principal attractions of home that it’s the place where we can set aside the disguises we use in public and can be truly ourselves? Lewis comes down hard on that sentiment:

What chiefly distinguishes domestic from public conversation is surely very often simply its downright rudeness. What distinguishes domestic behaviour is often selfishness, slovenliness, incivility—even brutality.

And it will often happen that those who praise home life most loudly are the worst offenders in this respect: they praise it–they are always glad to get home, hate the outer world, can’t stand visitors, can’t be bothered meeting people, etc.—because the freedoms in which they indulge themselves at home have ended by making them unfit for civilized society. If they practised elsewhere the only behaviour they now find “natural” they would simply be knocked down.

Lewis is not, of course, trying to belittle the home; he’s merely saying that all areas of human life—even in the home—have to be submitted to the Lordship of Christ. “It will never be lawful simply to ‘be ourselves’ until ‘ourselves’ have become sons of God,” he reminds us.

Home life has its own rule of courtesy—a code more intimate, more subtle, more sensitive, and, therefore, in some ways more difficult, than that of the outer world. . . .

In a word, must we not either cease to preach domesticity or else begin to preach it seriously? Must we not abandon sentimental eulogies and begin to give practical advice on the high, hard, lovely, and adventurous art of really creating the Christian family?

Only by being realistic about the challenges of life in a home can we ever hope to model what a Christian family should be.

A Righteous Anger

I spend a lot of time in this blog critiquing current events: our government and its policies; the unbalanced media coverage; the antichristian aspects of our culture; the way Christians sometimes go along with ungodly practices.

It’s easy to get angry when you focus on such things. I can say, though, that most of the time it’s not anger that motivates me, but anguish over the path we have taken as a society—a sadness that we are throwing away the many advantages and blessings we’ve received, and that we are trashing our heritage.

Anger is not always wrong, however. The prime Scriptural example in the New Testament has to be when Jesus took a whip and drove the moneychangers out of the Temple. I don’t think He asked them politely to move. He was angry with how they had cheapened the worship of God.

Jesus didn’t sin when he displayed His anger. His was a righteous anger. One key passage in the book of Ephesians gives insight into the anger issue when it admonishes,

In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

What does this teach us? First, anger is not necessarily sin. Second, it can become sin if it festers, so don’t allow it to direct your actions. Third, if you do give in to anger and do something foolish while angry, you’ve just provided an opportunity for Satan to use it to his advantage.

Sometimes I do worry about Christians who get involved in trying to change the society. Don’t get me wrong—we are to be involved, and God tells us to be the change agents. But we have to do so in the right spirit.

When is anger allowed?

  1. Sin should always make us angry, since the selfishness at the root of all sin destroys everything good that God has created. It devastates people and makes their lives miserable.
  2. A culture that rejects God’s standards should make us angry as well. When we see men setting themselves up as the determiners of good and evil, right and wrong, and their ways are not God’s ways, they are leading others into a horrible deception that will separate them from God and His love.
  3. Government policies that make civil government into the ultimate authority in people’s lives should engender anger. The arrogance that accompanies “government as savior” is the opposite of the true spirit of the Gospel.

Yes, for all these reasons, we can be angry. The key is to direct that anger into a God-inspired response, a response that certainly calls out sin for what it is, but simultaneously reveals the heart of God. What is that heart? More than anything else, God wants to rescue men and women from the pit into which they’ve placed themselves.

The rescue He wants to achieve must begin with a clear message that sin is sin and that repentance is required. Then it moves on to the revelation that God has provided a way for that sin to be forgiven by sacrificing Himself for humanity. The love displayed through that sacrifice can break down man’s wall of stubbornness and rebellion that he has erected against the One who reaches out to him.

What begins with anger should end with a deep desire to “salvage” those caught in deception. That’s what the word “salvation” really means. We’re involved in a salvage operation.

My admonition to my fellow Christians who want to see change is to be wise. Don’t let your anger carry you into sin yourself. Be open to how God wants you to respond and do so intelligently. Only then can we make a difference.

John Adams, Facts, & Brett Kavanaugh: A Primer

It was March 1770 when a crowd of Boston colonists began angrily harassing a British sentry. Soon other soldiers came to his aid. In the confusion, amidst the clamor, the throwing of snowballs, ice, and stones, and even being threatened with clubs, the soldiers misunderstood a command from the officer in charge and began firing into the crowd. Five colonists lay dead and six more were wounded. It became known as the Boston Massacre.

Emotions ran high. Would the soldiers have any hope of a fair trial? Into this tension-packed atmosphere, John Adams entered and volunteered to defend the soldiers. Adams was not in favor of British policies, but he believed the soldiers had been provoked into the attack, and therefore all the facts had to be taken into consideration.

He took a chance by standing up for them. He could have become the most hated man in Boston. Yet he showed that the crowd had been more of a mob than a simple crowd of people standing around. He argued for the soldiers while simultaneously critiquing the British government’s decision to place soldiers in the streets, thereby increasing the tension.

The result? The officer in charge was acquitted, as were most of the soldiers. Two were found guilty of manslaughter and sent back to England. Given that death would have been the sentence if a guilty verdict of murder had been returned, this was quite an achievement for Adams as he stood for the concept of the rule of law—a concept that is currently little understood, even less appreciated, and constantly under attack.

One of Adams’s statements in these trials has come down to us today, repeated by those who understand the basis for the rule of law. Here’s what he said:

Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

At different times in American history, emotions have run rampant and caused no small amount of anguish, civil disturbances, and assaults on the rule of law. I point out John Adams’s strong character in this blog today as a reminder that we must not allow passions to run wild. We must always make all our decisions on the basis of evidence, not mere emotion.

All I have seen in the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh up to this point is pure emotion, stripped of any genuine evidence of wrongdoing. The FBI has now been tasked with another round of interviews to find out if there is any corroboration at all for the allegations against him. This came about through one of the most disgusting displays of partisanship ever seen in Congress, and that’s saying a lot considering what has transpired many times before.

Thus far, all we have is the word of women who are basing their testimony on strong emotion . . . yet without even one piece of corroborating evidence. We are supposed to believe them because they are women.

Do women never lie? Are they always to be believed? Do they not also have agendas at times? Has the media looked into the backgrounds of those who are making the accusations, or are they focused on Kavanaugh only?

Whatever happened to the need for real evidence before convicting someone?

Yes, I know this is not a court of law, but someone can be convicted in the arena of public opinion to the point that truth no longer matters. Just believe, even when there’s no reason to do so.

Could Kavanaugh be lying? Well, if he is, he’s survived six previous FBI background checks. Further, women who have known him in high school have testified that he never acted like the accusers have said. Even further, dozens of women who have worked with him in government have stood solidly with him, attesting to his impeccable character.

But we’re supposed to believe someone, in the case of Prof. Ford, who has escaped all media scrutiny. Where have you seen any in-depth treatment of her background, moral behavior, or current political agenda? Maybe I missed it, but nothing I’ve seen has even broached the subject.

No, she’s a woman who came across as credible. Yet by “credible,” what is really meant is she came across as emotional enough to convince people she must be telling the truth.

Yet where is the evidence?

Thomas Sowell has been a favorite writer and commentator of mine for decades. I’ve come across a couple of his most poignant quotes lately, and they are appropriate for what we have been experiencing in this current controversy.

Facts are seldom allowed to contaminate the beautiful vision of the left. What matters to the true believers are the ringing slogans, endlessly repeated.

Emotions neither prove nor disprove facts. There was a time when any rational adult understood this. But years of dumbed-down education and emphasis on how people ‘feel’ have left too many people unable to see through this media gimmick.

He’s one of the new John Adamses in our day. May there be more.

The Greater Context of a Quintessential Lewis Quote

Nearly everyone conversant with the writings of C. S. Lewis has heard this famous quote:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

It’s such a striking comment that it has found a permanent place on Lewis’s commemorative stone in Westminster’s Poets Corner.

That wonderful insight is the very last sentence of Lewis’s essay called “Is Theology Poetry?” found in the collection The Weight of Glory. For me, the insights leading up to that final great insight are just as striking.

In that essay, Lewis is carefully debunking the concept of what he calls “universal evolutionism,” which imagines that all things proceed “from small beginnings to great endings, from the rudimentary to the elaborate.”

It seems to be natural in our modern world, Lewis opines, to believe that “morality springs from savage taboos, adult sentiment from infantile sexual maladjustments, thought from instinct, mind from matter, organic from inorganic, cosmos from chaos.” Lewis refers to this as “perhaps the deepest habit of mind in the contemporary world.”

Habits, however, are not necessarily right. They are merely habits. Lewis offers a counter-argument in this manner:

It seems to me immensely unplausible, because it makes the general course of nature so very unlike those parts of nature we can observe. You remember the old puzzle as to whether the owl came from the egg or the egg from the owl. The modern acquiescence in universal evolutionism is a kind of optical illusion, produced by attending exclusively to the owl’s emergence from the egg.

Well, most people might say, what’s wrong with that? Didn’t the owl emerge from that egg? Lewis continues:

We are taught from childhood to notice how the perfect oak grows from the acorn and to forget that the acorn itself was dropped by a perfect oak.

We are reminded constantly that the adult human being was an embryo, never that the life of the embryo came from two adult human beings.

We love to notice that the express engine of today is the descendant of the “Rocket”; we do not equally remember that the “Rocket” springs not from some even more rudimentary engine, but from something much more perfect and complicated than itself—namely, a man of genius.

Conclusion? “The obviousness or naturalness which most people seem to find in the idea of emergent evolution thus seems to be a pure hallucination.”

Lewis then distinguishes science, which tells us a lot about the universe in which we live, from a scientific cosmology that tries to explain everything, even Christianity. That just doesn’t work for Lewis.

If . . . I swallow the scientific cosmology as a whole, then not only can I not fit in Christianity, but I cannot even fit in science. If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees.

How does one trust one’s own thoughts if they are simply the result of that “meaningless flux of the atoms”?

Lewis then draws his essay to a close by comparing the dreaming world from the waking world.

The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world; the dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one.

For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific points of view to the theological, I have passed from dream to waking. Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself.

And this then brings us back to where we started.

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

Yes, those wonderful words can stand by themselves, but they take on even greater significance when we understand the greater context in which Lewis writes them.