Archive for the ‘ The Christian Spirit ’ Category

Beginning Chapter One of the Great Story

It’s been a great C. S. Lewis semester for me: teaching my Lewis course at Southeastern University; enjoying the opportunity to teach his Mere Christianity along with my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis, at my church every Wednesday evening; and having the privilege of sharing about my book at the Wade Center at Wheaton College.

I don’t take any of this for granted, and I appreciate all the doors the Lord has opened in the last four years since He inspired me to research and write about Lewis during the sabbatical I received from Southeastern.

Yesterday in the SEU class, we finished reading and discussing The Last Battle, Lewis’s climax to the Narnia series. I chose this one for the students to read because most had already read or were at least familiar with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Yet there was another reason: the ending of The Last Battle contains one of the most wonderful depictions of the New Earth (even if it is in the fictional world of Narnia) that I have ever encountered. When God wraps up this tragi-comedy that we call “reality,” what will it be like? Lewis gives us a hint.

As all the characters that populated the seven Narnia books (except Susan, sadly) find themselves transported into Life after this life, they are trying to make sense of it all. The Lord Digory explains what has happened:

Listen, Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world.

You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.

Jewel the Unicorn captured it as well when he realized that he had “come home at last. This is my real country,” he proclaimed. “This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.”

There’s a reason why we can see beauty around us on this earth, yet long for more. As Jewel concludes, “The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that is sometimes looked a little like this.” And our tired old earth, regardless of being marred by man’s sin, nevertheless retains hints of the Reality that awaits us.

The final page of The Last Battle offers us a revolution in our thinking about death that is worth quoting in full:

Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”

“No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?”

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.

And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.

All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

If that doesn’t send a thrill up your spine, you’re not paying attention to the words. I look forward to getting past the title page and entering into the Great Story that goes on forever, and I am convinced, as Lewis says, that every chapter will be better than the one before.

From Atheism to Christianity: Lewis’s Winding Path

C. S. Lewis’s winding path from atheism to Christian faith is a fascinating journey. We can take that journey with him in Surprised by Joy, his step-by-step account of how God led this proud young intellectual to the point of surrender—to becoming, in his own words, “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

Lewis, the avidly voracious reader, found, at a certain point in his life, all of his books beginning to turn against him. They kept leading him to Christ. “I must have been blind as a bat,” he wrote, “not to have seen, long before, the ludicrous contradiction between my theory of life and my actual experiences as a reader.”

He then offered a litany of those experiences:

George MacDonald had done more to me than any other writer; of course it was a pity he had that bee in his bonnet about Christianity. He was good in spite of it.

Chesterton had more sense than all the other moderns put together; bating, of course, his Christianity. Johnson was one of the few authors whom I felt I could trust utterly; curiously enough, he had the same kink. Spencer and Milton by a strange coincidence had it too.

The ancient authors like Plato, Aeschylus, and Virgil, Lewis complained, were the kind he could best admire, and they were the ones who were the most religious, even if not Christian. He knew, as a modern intellectual, he was supposed to like others better, but found them wanting:

Those writers who did not suffer from religion and with whom in theory my sympathy ought to have been complete—Shaw and Wells and Mill and Gibbon and Voltaire—all seemed a little thin; what as boys we called “tinny.” . . . There seemed to be no depth in them. They were too simple. The roughness and density of life did not appear in their books.

It was at this point in his life that Lewis became so uncomfortable with God’s infringement on his proud self that he began to refer to the Deity as “My Adversary.” Lewis famously noted that “a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side.”

A self-examination led him to a most depressing realization. What he found inside himself was appalling: “a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion.”

Out of all of Lewis’s poignant comments in Surprised by Joy, this one stands out to me:

People who are naturally religious find difficulty in understanding the horror of such a revelation. Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about “man’s search for God.” To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat [emphasis mine].

All his life, Lewis had been on this relentless search for an undefined sense of “joy.” He thought if only he could recapture those fleeting moments of joy he had experienced off and on, he could find the meaning in life. Yet he finally came to the understanding that those experiences were not the reality, “for all the images and sensations, if idolatrously mistaken for Joy itself, soon honestly confessed themselves inadequate.”

All said, in the last resort, “It is not I. I am only a reminder. Look! Look! What do I remind you of?”

Lewis concludes his autobiography with the perspective that those moments of Joy are merely signposts telling us where the right road lies. They are not the destination; rather, they point us to the destination: “We would be at Jerusalem.”

I’m thankful that God is the Great Interferer in our lives. I’m grateful that He continues to beat down our defenses and make the proud humble. For only the humble will see Him.

But He gives us more grace. This is why it says: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

When Society Becomes Unhinged

Reason goes astray when it separates from God and His ways. Emotions then rule and give rise to the most insensible, upside-down comments. Some events, such as the recent Kavanaugh hearings, bring out the worst in those who have given themselves over to a depraved mind and a seared conscience.

Even though there was no real evidence brought against Kavanaugh, but only the uncorroborated words of one woman (accusations from two other women were so bizarre they don’t deserve mentioning), we were told we must always believe whatever a woman says.

As if women never lie? As if women can’t have ulterior motives inspired by their worldview and what they want to see in politics? Women are human, too, you know. And sin abounds.

We also saw in this latest episode that bullying has become a cornerstone of their tactics. Disagree with them, and you will pay the price.

I’m 67. I’ve witnessed a lot of cultural change over the years. In my view, most of it has been negative and fueled by a rejection of the basic Biblical framework of thinking that used to guide our society.

Can you imagine how something as magnificent as the first moon landing would go over today?

If you really want to know how unhinged so many have become, think about how the next Supreme Court nomination will go. What if it’s a woman being nominated the next time? Will she be believed if she is a conservative? What about if she’s not only a conservative but a bold proponent of the Christian faith? What will see then?

At all times, God calls His people to be strong, courageous, and faithful, but especially in times like these. That strength, though, doesn’t lie in acting like those who oppose us; it rests instead on humility and dependence on Him. We must be genuine witnesses of His truth by the character we display.

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.