Archive for the ‘ Christians & Culture ’ Category

When Clyde Kilby Met C. S. Lewis

clyde-kilbyClyde Kilby was the man responsible for bringing the C. S. Lewis Papers to the Wade Center at Wheaton College, where not only Lewis’s papers now reside, but also those of Tolkien and five other British luminaries with ties to Lewis.

Kilby and Lewis met face-to-face only once, back in 1953, but the impression from that visit stayed with Kilby the rest of his life. When Kilby returned from England, he wrote about his experience.

Upon knocking [at Lewis’s Oxford office door], Kilby was greeted warmly by the man who had meant so much to him in writing. First impressions? “He has a pleasant, almost jolly face, full though not fat, with a double chin. He has a high forehead and thinning hair. Actually, he is a much better looking man than the published picture of him.”

Kilby also liked Lewis’s sense of humor, of a type understood best by a fellow academic: “He spoke of the making of a bibliography as just plain labor and laughed about the idea of the scholar’s life as a sedentary one, saying that the physical labor of pulling big folios from the shelves of the Bodleian was all the exercise he needed.”

It was the sharing of minds, though, that stood out to Kilby as he looked back on this meeting. They spoke of the nature of the Renaissance, with Lewis’s comments foreshadowing what he would say the next year in his inaugural lecture at Cambridge. They also talked about Palestine/the new nation of Israel and of Kilby’s recent trip there. Lewis longed for the pleasure of visiting the Holy Land someday, and they speculated about the possible rebuilding of the Jewish temple and the reestablishment of sacrifices on that ancient spot in Jerusalem.

c-s-lewis-3Further, they discussed the relationship between Christian faith and art, as well as all things people consider secular. “He said the same relation existed between Christianity and art as between Christianity and carpentry.” Of course, given Lewis’s penchant for writing novels, they debated the exact nature of that specific species of literature.

When Kilby quoted someone who had said a novel is no better than a well-told lie, Lewis objected: “As I expected, he disagreed completely with this claim, saying that one is far more likely to find the truth in a novel than in a newspaper. In fact, he said he had quit reading newspapers because they were so untruthful.”

Kilby also sought to know if Lewis would be lecturing while he was in Oxford. “He said he had no lectures scheduled and bantered me as a college professor wanting to hear a lecture while on vacation. In fact, in all his talk there is an incipient good humor and genuineness that makes a conversation with him a real pleasure.”

Front CoverThe only awkward moment was when Kilby asked him to autograph one of Lewis’s books he had brought with him. Although Lewis agreed to the request, he commented that he saw no sense in doing so. That led Kilby to conclude something about his character: “Both from reading his books and talking with him, I get the impression that he is far more fearful than most of us of the subtle sin of pride and tries in every way to escape it: thus his reticence to give an autograph.”

This account of Kilby’s encounter with Lewis is found in my new book on Lewis’s contacts with and influence upon Americans. America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact is currently available at the publisher’s site. It’s coming to Amazon soon. It is replete with such stories, so if you liked this one, I’m sure you’ll like the others also.

Review: The Light Between Oceans

Not one car chase. Not one shootout. Only a glorious film that deals with conscience, the consequences of violating one’s conscience when swayed by love for another, a willingness to suffer on behalf of the one you love even when misunderstood by that loved one, and the spiritual release that comes from confession and forgiveness. Put that all together and combine it with stunning visual beauty and superb acting, and you have one of the most compelling movies I’ve seen in some time.

Light Between Oceans

While I like a lot of movies—after all, my undergraduate degree was in radio, tv, and film production—only rarely do I leave a theater thinking as deeply as I did after viewing The Light Between Oceans.

Bare bones plot:

An emotionally scarred Australian man returns from WWI seeking solitude, so he takes a lonely job as the only person on a small island tending a very important lighthouse situated between the Pacific and Indian oceans.

A young woman who has lost both of her brothers in the war helps him come to grips with his war experience, they marry, and now the two of them are the only inhabitants of that island.

The marriage is healing for both of them but she suffers from two miscarriages, thereby creating emotional trauma for both. Then a small boat washes ashore. In it is a dead man and a newborn baby girl needing love and care. Do they try to find out if there is a mother somewhere or do they take the child and raise her themselves?

The decision they make leads to the litany I described above: matters of conscience, sacrifice, and forgiveness.

I won’t go any further in laying out the plot. If you have been looking for a film that demonstrates the love of God and love for another, a film that forces people to grapple with heartbreaking decisions and whether to forgive, let me suggest that this is the film for you.

Christian faith is an important element in the story. Ultimate decisions are based on that faith. Needless to say, I heartily recommend The Light Between Oceans.

Where I Come From & Where I Am Today

I’ve been musing the past few days on the roots of my political and/or governmental philosophy. Why am I where I am today in my understanding of what’s best for the governing of this nation?

I wasn’t raised in a home that taught me what I now believe, so it’s not a matter of merely copying what my parents thought. In fact, I grew up thinking the Democrats were the party to support.

I was conservative as far as I understood what conservatism was, but didn’t grasp the drift taking place in that party. I thought that because I was sympathetic to the civil rights movement, I was a good Democrat.

Liberal-ConservativeIt took a conversation in college with someone knew the difference to show me I was truly a conservative in outlook and that my views lined up better with the Republicans. That actually surprised me.

Yet I didn’t just follow the advice of that person blindly. I began to investigate what I should believe and why. Two factors guided my thinking: my growing Christian faith and the influence of certain writers I was beginning to enjoy reading.

First, I began to learn about Biblical principles and how they should be applied to society, including government. Those principles continue to guide me today.

William F. Buckley Holding BookSecond, two periodicals honed my thinking in accordance with those Biblical principles: National Review and The Freeman. The first offered witty and insightful commentary on the current political scene, and I greatly admired William F. Buckley, the founder of the magazine; the second grounded me in free-market concepts.

When I decided to pursue my doctorate in history, I was in a time of uncertainty spiritually. I was searching to see if anything else could fill that void. My professors, generally speaking, were far more liberal than I, and some of the reading I was given allowed me to test my convictions. Would they stand?

They did. I was now grounded in what liberals thought, as I expanded my understanding of both worldviews.

My advanced degrees offered no answers for life; God mercifully drew me back to Himself. Yet that pursuit of higher education did prepare me to better define what I believed and why.

My path to what I believe is not everyone’s path, by any stretch. My spiritual quest combined with my educational quest to make me what I am. It was a fascinating integration of intellectual and emotional satisfaction.

TextbooksI have been in higher education circles ever since. Seven of my years of teaching were at the graduate level; another five at a college that stressed classical education.

In my courses, I try to communicate to my students a worldview that is spiritually and intellectually sound.

I’ve always approached politics from this foundation of Biblical principles and solid reasoning from a well-grounded conservative philosophy. I don’t repent of any of this, but I do think my approach has left me a little bewildered by the politics of 2016.

As I meditate on what has developed politically over the past year, I have been astounded by what seems to me to be a devastating loss of principle in both the Christian world and the corresponding conservative world.

Donald Trump at DebateI’ve been trying to understand why this is so. You see, for me, the first time I saw Donald Trump on the stage with all those other candidates, I came away thinking that this was the biggest con of recent political history and that no one would take him seriously. Why? Because I didn’t perceive him as a serious candidate.

Trump had no command of the issues. He was an egotist who blustered, interrupted, and insulted anyone he thought was in his way. His entire history was as a liberal Democrat, and now he was trying to convince everyone he was a Republican.

I thought everyone would see through this charade. I’ve been sorely disappointed.

True, he didn’t get the majority of Republican votes in the primaries. I console myself with that fact. But once he became the nominee, so many who had previously said he was unacceptable suddenly decided he was now worth supporting, and anyone who disagreed should be shamed and guilted (is that a word?) into abandoning their principles and declaring their undying allegiance.

My entire background and training doesn’t allow me to board this train. I’m dismayed that so many others have decided to do so.

PrinciplesI’ve learned a valuable lesson, though. I have to realize that not everyone makes decisions based on principles only. Sometimes emotions carry the day. The emotion that leads some to vote for Trump now is fear—fear of a Hillary Clinton presidency.

I understand that fear. What I don’t get is why those same voters don’t see the danger of a Trump presidency as well. In my view, both are equally undesirable.

Some probably wonder why I continue to warn about Trump when it is clear that one or the other—Trump or Hillary—will be the next president. The answer is this: I’m looking beyond this election; I’m trying to keep us thinking about what comes next and whether there will be a Christian witness left to the nation after this, and whether there will be any conservative movement to build upon and salvage the disaster that is sure to come regardless of who wins this particular election.

We need to be principled people. My task, I believe, is to stay true to that calling and convince as many others as possible to do the same.

Modernity & the Church

Impossible PeopleI’m working my way through a new book by Os Guinness called Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization. It diagnoses the problem of the church as it becomes co-opted by modernity.

Guinness says, quite correctly, I believe, that it’s not the frontal attacks of secularism and atheism that do the real damage; rather, it is the seduction and distortion of the faith through modernity that leads us astray and destroys the Christian witness to civilization.

Guinness says that predictions of the disappearance of religion in our culture are off-target. In fact, religion is flourishing, but the nature of the Christian faith has been subtly altered, thereby making it less genuine.

One major change in perception that has changed the faith is the undermining of the whole concept of submission to authority. We have shifted “from a stance under authority to one of preference. . . . All responses are merely a matter of preference.” This is at odds with basic Christianity. “Unique among the gods believed in throughout history, the Lord is transcendent, so what he says is truth, binding truth, because it addresses us as authority. To dilute this authority is to dismiss the Lord himself,” Guinness notes.

The statement “Jesus is Lord” is the essence of Biblical truth. There is no other name through which anyone can be saved.

Our modern world, though, informs us that there is no ultimate authority; we have unlimited choice in life.

From breakfast cereals to restaurants and cuisines to sexual identities and temptations to possible sexual arrangements of all types to self-help techniques and philosophies of life, we are offered an infinite array of choices, and the focus is always on choice as choosing rather than choice as the content of what is chosen. Simply choose. Experiment. Try it out for yourself.

Os GuinnessGuinness goes on: “Our freedom is the freedom to choose, regardless of whether our choice is right or wrong, wise or stupid. . . . Choosing is all that matters. Truth, goodness, and authority are irrelevant.”

In the world at large, this leads to the rejection of any absolute standard. Guinness explains,

Does it matter . . . whether your sister-in-law is straight or lesbian, or your boss is a heterosexual womanizer, a homosexual, or was once a woman? There are different strokes for different folks. We are all different, so who are we to judge? . . . This is my choice. That is yours. We are all free to choose differently, and our choices only amount to different preferences, so who is to say who is right? . . . And what business do any of us have to judge other people’s preferences?

It’s understandable that the world outside the Christian faith would fall for this, but when it shows up in the church, that’s when the faith is compromised and loses its witness of truth to the world.

As Guinness laments, “Christian advocates of homosexual and lesbian revisionism believe in themselves and in the sexual revolution rather than the gospel. They therefore twist the Scriptures to make reality fit their desires rather than making their desires fit the truths of the Scriptures.”

In our seeker-friendly church world, we often exchange the truth for a lie. Guinness quotes from a Christian marketing consultant who said, apparently without any sense of irony, “It is . . . critical that we keep in mind a fundamental principle of Christian communication: the audience, not the message, is sovereign.”

TruthGuinness expresses his shock over such a statement: “The audience is sovereign? No! Let it be repeated a thousand times, no! When reaching out as the church of Jesus, the message of the gospel and Jesus the Lord of the message is alone sovereign—and never, never, never the audience, however needy, however attractive, however prestigious or well-heeled an audience may be.”

While we are to be sensitive to those seeking the truth, we must have truth to offer them. While we are to be all things to all people, the purpose for that admonition is to bring them to the Truth Himself.

Here is the challenge, as Guinness so clearly lays it out:

All Evangelicals should search their hearts. For a generation now the air has been thick with talk of “changing the world,” but who is changing whom?

There is no question that the world would like to change the church. In area after area only the church stands between the world and its success over issues such as sexuality. Unquestionably the world would like to change the church, but does the church still want to change the world, or is its only concern to change the church in the light of the world?

Something is rotten in the state of Evangelicalism, and all too often it is impossible to tell who is changing whom.

I would add that as I survey the current political state of America and the evangelical rush to support, and even promote, a candidate whose worldview and lifestyle is contrary to the Gospel, that I see this rot infecting evangelicalism to its very core.

Who is changing whom?

I applaud Os Guinness’s clarion call that we be the church once more.

The New University Culture

I have taught at Christian colleges and universities for 27 years. I’ve noted in past blogs that there have been bumps along the way and that none of those higher education institutions have been perfect. But I still believe in Christian higher education and am grateful that I’m not subjected to most of the insanity that is in the ascendance on many of our secular campuses.

One of the areas of study that is under attack the most is American history, which is what I happen to teach. I have the liberty to teach that history from a Christian perspective, discerning what was in accordance with Biblical principles and what was not. I have never, at my current institution, been told what to teach or threatened because of the content of my courses.

I shudder to think what might happen to me if I attempted to teach at a state university somewhere:

Welcome to College

I’m afraid I would have to undergo “sensitivity” training. My approach to my courses just wouldn’t fit the new, enlightened perspective:

Can't Take

Some organizations are trying to correct the imbalance by bringing in more conservative speakers to these campuses. All too often, those speakers are now being banned from the campuses. You see, they’re too controversial and might damage the self-esteem of those snowflakes who are huddled in their comfy ideological corner:

Banning the Speakers

And it’s becoming increasingly difficult for students to stay in line with the “correct” ideology because it keeps changing so rapidly. Princeton now wants all faculty, staff, and students to stop using such terrible words as “man.” That’s much too patriarchal for our tastes now.

Gender-Neutral Human

So where are we culturally?

Rhetorical Question

Classes for me don’t begin this year until after Labor Day, so I have a little more time to prepare. The nice thing is that I don’t have to dread my time in the classroom, never knowing when I will be called out for being too male, too white, too heterosexual, and too Christian.

I feel for my colleagues who are attempting to bring truth to students in a different environment. May they stay true to their calling and may God protect them.

Reflections of a Natural Introvert

I’m an introvert. Really, I am. Whenever I inform students of that fact, they have a hard time believing it because I’m animated when I teach and love to interact with humor.

But I am an introvert.

BooksMy natural inclination is to sit in my recliner in my study, surrounded by books, and devote myself to them. Let the world go away. Give me my peace and solitude. That, and a cup of coffee, is a pleasurable way to pass the time.

I’m constantly reading. Here’s what I have going right now on my reading schedule: C. S. Lewis’s The Allegory of Love (slow going for someone who is not well versed in medieval writings); Paradise Lost (taking up a challenge because I’ve never read it and I would like to understand Lewis’s preface to it—another future reading); Jonah Goldberg’s The Tyranny of Clichés (honing my cultural analysis); Os Guinness’s new book, Impossible People (a clarion call for Christians to be thorough Christians in our culture); and another Stephen Lawhead novel (because I just love his writing).

Yes, I’m reading all of those simultaneously. When classes begin again, I’m not going to get quite as much reading done as I am now.

That natural inclination to withdraw and enjoy my own little world comes into conflict with the urge within me, planted by God, I believe, to break out of the cocoon and speak His truth.

That’s why I teach, and that’s why I write this blog. Personally, I would love to avoid all controversies. I would relish leaving politics behind, especially this year when I see no viable option for the presidency.

Yet there is this “calling.” I’ve mentioned the prophet Jeremiah before, the one who cried out to God that he didn’t want to speak anymore because he kept getting bad reactions to his words. I understand.

Take My YokeThis is what God does to (and for) us, though. He pushes us out of that place of comfort. He tells us to take up His cross and be His disciples. He never promised that we would sail through life without burdens to bear.

I know that. Some days I embrace it; other days I utter the Jeremiah complaint.

The Lord allows us to withdraw at times; Jesus did the same in His ministry. But all withdrawals are for one purpose: regaining the strength to continue the calling. Withdrawals, if done properly, are the times we draw on His reservoir of grace so that we will be the most effective witnesses of His truth that we can be.

All of my reading is part of the preparation to be what God wants me to be in that world out there. As long as I keep that perspective, and not make an idol out of those relaxed times of peace, He will be able to use me for His ongoing purposes.

That’s my reflection for today. I thank God for the time to reflect. It steels me for whatever lies ahead.

A Baptized Imagination

Chad WalshThe first book to analyze C. S. Lewis and his popularity was written by an American, Chad Walsh, an English professor at Beloit College in Wisconsin. It came out in 1949 with the title C. S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics.

Walsh had Lewis to thank for his own conversion. “In my case there was no childhood faith,” Walsh wrote in an account of how he eventually found the Christian path. “If I ever believed in God as a small child, no memory of the time remains with me. I regarded myself as an atheist from the moment I learned to read—and, indeed, pamphlet editions of Ingersoll, et cetera, were part of my earliest reading.”

At the University of Virginia, Walsh, as a student, found himself free of the dominant Christianity of his small hometown of Marion, Virginia, and flourished as a convinced atheist—at least until world circumstances forced him to think more seriously.

The rise of Hitler in Germany, and the growing awareness of the actions of that regime, forced him to confront the problem of evil in the world. Walsh’s companions in atheism and/or agnosticism, when challenged by Walsh to come up with a response to what Hitler was doing, would provide excuses, albeit excuses that were actually consistent with their worldview.

Walsh recounts, “They agreed with me that the world was a senseless jungle. Very well, they reasoned, if the world is a jungle, it’s absurd to speak of right and wrong. Everything is relative. Hitler thinks he’s doing right to invade Poland and murder the Jews. Very well, it is right for him. It’s all in the way you look at it.” That response shook him. He knew he had to come to grips with the reality of evil.

Coming to grips with evil also meant coming to grips with the whole idea of right and wrong and where the concepts originated. That led him to finally consider not only the existence of God but what his response to this God might entail. In this transition period of his life, Walsh came across some of Lewis’s writings. One, in particular, changed his life forever.

PerelandraIt was in either 1944 or 1945, he recalls, on a short vacation to Vermont, that a friend enthusiastically lent him a book she had just finished reading; she just knew he would love it. That book was Perelandra, the second in Lewis’s Space Trilogy in which the protagonist, Elwin Ransom, is transported to Venus to save an innocent world from falling into sin.

Walsh was transported as well: “I quickly consumed it from cover to cover. I was struck first of all by the sheer beauty of the book. It transported me into a kind of Elysian Fields—or better yet, an unspoiled Eden, inhabited by the innocent and unfallen.”

A second revelation was that, even though he had always been a science fiction fan, he had never read any science fiction like this, where it could be used as a “vehicle of great philosophic and psychological myth.” The third revelation, though, was the greatest of all:

Finally, and most importantly, in Perelandra I found my imagination being baptized. At the time I was slowly thinking, feeling, and fumbling my way towards the Christian faith and had reached the point where I was more than half convinced that it was true. This conviction, however, was a thing more of the mind than of the imagination and heart.

In Perelandra I got the taste and smell of Christian truth. My senses as well as my soul were baptized. It was as though an intellectual abstraction or speculation had become flesh and dwelt in its solid bodily glory among us.

As Walsh looked back on this event years later, he came to the realization that the way he found Lewis was quite typical. A person reads something by Lewis, becomes so enthused that he/she lends the book to a friend, who in turn catches that enthusiasm and passes it on to others.

For Walsh, “The result was that I began buying everything else by him that was available in America and also passed along word of the discovery to other friends. It was as though I had discovered a new ingredient in my intellectual, emotional, and spiritual diet that I had unconsciously desired but had not previously found. I think many others, coming on Lewis for the first time, felt the same way.”

As you might guess, the above is excerpted from my new book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis, which will be available in a few short weeks.