Duty or Love?

What do you really believe? I’m not talking about to what you give your intellectual assent, but what you really believe. “In ordinary times,” mused Dorothy Sayers, “we get along surprisingly well, on the whole, without ever discovering what our faith really is.” We tend to shove that question to the background and give ourselves over to activities that help us put off the answer.

The question, “What do we believe?” is the title of one of Sayers’s insightful essays. She challenges us to look beyond the superficial answer and understand that “what we believe is not necessarily the theory we most desire or admire. It is the thing that, consciously or unconsciously, we take for granted and act on.”

You can say you believe in something, yet what you actually do in life tells others what you really believe in. The two may not be the same.

Being a Christian is not merely a duty; in fact, if that is how we view it, we are missing the very heart of the faith. Do we obey God because it is our duty or because we love to do so? There is a profound difference. Sayers points out that difference by dissecting the concept of “sacrifice” in our actions:

Sacrifice is what it looks like to other people, but to that-which-loves I think it does not appear so. When one really cares, the self is forgotten, and the sacrifice becomes only a part of the activity.

Ask yourself: if there is something you supremely want to do, do you count as self-sacrifice the difficulties encountered or the other possible activities cast aside? You do not.

The time when you deliberately say, “I must sacrifice this, that, or the other” is when you do not supremely desire the end in view. At such times you are doing your duty, and that is admirable, but it is not love.

But as soon as your duty becomes your love the self-sacrifice is taken for granted, and, whatever the world calls it, you call it so no longer.

As we examine our Christian walk, we need to clearly grasp this truth: duty is one thing; loving to do your duty is something else entirely.

Our goal is not simply to obey God, but to do so with an active desire to please Him, no longer counting it as some kind of sacrifice, but as a wonderful opportunity to show His love.

If that’s not where we are currently, we are to continue to do our duty. Yet wouldn’t it be much better to do whatever we do out of that heart of love? That is Christian maturity.

The Greatest Drama Ever Staged

Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as a bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine—dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite.

It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama.

Those bold words come from Dorothy Sayers, contemporary and friend of C. S. Lewis, fiction writer in her early years, turning to specifically Christian apologetics and imaginative plays afterward. She also made a name for herself near the end of her life doing a new translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

Although raised in a clergyman’s home, Sayers’s early life didn’t reflect a serious commitment to the faith. Maturity, though, seemed to draw her back and turned her into one of the most stalwart Anglicans of her time.

The above quote comes from an essay called “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged,” which posits that Christianity is exciting, not in the least boring. Take the drama of Christ’s life, for instance:

He [God] had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself.

What does she mean?

He has himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When he was a man, he played the man.

The Christian story, and the “dogma” attached to it is “the tale of the time when God was the underdog and got beaten.” He came to men—those he had made—as a man, “and the men he had made broke him and killed him.” This is not dull, Sayers cries; rather, it is a “terrifying drama of which God is the victim and hero.”

She continues,

If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore—on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium.

We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him “meek and mild,” and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.

And then there was that Resurrection. How does one top that for drama?

One is free to disbelieve the entire story and the dogma attached to it, Sayers admits, but “if we are going to disbelieve a thing, it seems on the whole to be desirable that we should first find out what, exactly, we are disbelieving.”

As you can tell, Sayers is not one to mince words. Near the end of the essay, she summarizes succinctly:

Now, we may call that doctrine exhilarating, or we may call it devastating; we may call it revelation, or we may call it rubbish; but if we call it dull, then words have no meaning at all.

That God should play the tyrant over man is a dismal story of unrelieved oppression; that man should play the tyrant over man is the usual dreary record of human futility; but that man should play the tyrant over God and find him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed.

Any journalist, hearing of it for the first time, would recognize it as news; those who did hear it for the first time actually called it news, and good news at that; though we are likely to forget that the word Gospel ever meant anything so sensational.

If your concept of Christian faith is that it is dull, boring, and static, you need to investigate further. This is the greatest drama of all ages, and it has eternal consequences. That is pure dynamism.

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.

Lewis Conference Nuggets

The C. S. Lewis conference I attended last week, sponsored by the C. S. Lewis Institute (CSLI) and held at Wheaton College’s Marion E. Wade Center, was a thoughtful, challenging event. The theme was how to communicate the Gospel with guidance from the writings of Lewis that show how he did it.

I hadn’t been back to the Wade Center since 2014, when I first investigated whether anyone had written extensively on Lewis’s contacts with Americans and why America was more receptive to his works than his native Britain. I did come up with a book about that, as many of you know (I’ll come back to that later in this post).

Since 2014, the Center has added this very nice auditorium, which now allows conferences such as this one to be held at the very place where all of Lewis’s (and the six other British authors highlighted there) papers and books by and about him are housed.

As I noted in a post last week, in the middle of the conference, the main speaker was Dr. Jerry Root of Wheaton College. I offered in my previous post some of the key points he made in his first two sessions. Four sessions followed those.

What I’d like to do is pull out what I consider to be some of the “nuggets” he gave us in those final sessions. I’ll bullet-point them.

  • Christians need to be clear in the words they speak, sound in the reasoning they use, and convincing in the way they communicate the truth.
  • If you’re not awkward in some places in life, you’re probably not growing. God uses those awkward times to move us forward.
  • Neither is there real growth in spiritual understanding without employing the imagination.
  • Using stories is a method of communicating truth that is as old as language itself. Christians should never shy away from using imagination to tell the Gospel story.
  • Reality is always iconoclastic, meaning we need to regularly examine whether we are setting up false idols in our life. If we discover any, they need to be torn down.
  • We need God Himself, not our idea of God. We have to continually check to see if we have replaced the real God with a phony version in our minds.
  • When dealing with people who claim to be atheists, we need to show them that since they can’t know everything, they can’t really be so certain of their atheism.
  • When dealing with people who say they are agnostic, we should help them see that it is inconsistent to say one is dogmatic about one’s agnosticism—you can’t be dogmatic about things you are unsure of.
  • There is a type of agnostic who is of the hopeful variety: “I don’t know, but I would like to know”—we should reach out to them.
  • Evil isn’t the opposite of good; rather, it’s a perversion of good.

My time there was well spent, not only in those excellent sessions, but also with respect to the new friends I made and contacts with others who are serious about their personal spiritual growth. Some of us who are authors were even given a time to autograph our books.

I also was able to take advantage of free time to do more research in the Reading Room. Lately, my interest has been directed to connecting the dots between Lewis and Dorothy Sayers, another writer whose personal papers and books are a Wade feature.

I’m going back in October. I’ve been invited to share about my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact. This time I’ll be the one standing at the lectern in the Bakke Auditorium. The goal is to expound on the rationale for the book, what I found in my research, and how it has been received thus far in what I might call “Lewis World.”

For those who might be interested, the date for that presentation is Thursday, October 18, at 7:00 p.m. I hope to see some of you there, especially those within driving distance of Wheaton.

I thank God for the opportunity to attend last week’s conference, and I’m humbled and gratified that I will get to speak this coming October. His grace is more than abundant. We should never question His love for us and His desire to help us become more like Him.

Back at the Wade Center: Focusing on God’s Love

It’s nice to be back at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College for a C. S. Lewis conference this week. Because of that, I didn’t intend to write any blogs for the week, but the instruction has been so invigorating that I would like to share a little bit of what we’re receiving here.

It’s been four years since I came here to investigate Lewis’s connection to Americans, an investigation that led to my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact. Since then, the Center has added an auditorium where it can more easily make presentations. Those presentations thus far this week have been both thoughtful and moving.

Dr. Jerry Root, a superb Lewis scholar and engaging teacher, has been the primary speaker. I heard him at a C. S. Lewis Foundation conference a few years ago and was duly impressed then. I’m doubly impressed now.

The focus has been on being an authentic Christian who can speak to the world about Truth. All too often, we come across as inauthentic; that type of person pushes people away from the very truths we are trying to communicate.

The challenge is to continue to examine ourselves before God. Dr. Root commented, “If you don’t examine your life, others will do it for you.”

How very accurate.

We need to cultivate virtue in our lives, a virtue that consists of four characteristics:

  • Courage: endurance; fortitude; staying power
  • Temperance: the ability to resist immediate pleasure for long-term gain
  • Justice: fairness; law-abiding; having a bedrock of honesty in one’s life
  • Wisdom: being careful about the decisions we make

Interestingly, Dr. Root said he disagrees with Lewis’s position in Mere Christianity where he calls pride the worst of all sins. Instead, he offers the following thought: pride emanates from fear (of not being accepted, etc.); fear comes from not loving God perfectly. Therefore, not loving God is the primary sin. As I John 4:18 tells us,

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.

I grasp what he’s saying about that. I’ll have to consider it more fully.

How do we discover God’s love? By obeying Him. As we do so, His love is revealed. So one doesn’t wait to “feel” God’s love; rather, one does what He says and insight into His love will follow.

Another concept he presented that should help us understand just how much God loves is this: if God made it, He sustains it, so that means He loves it. God made us, He sustains us, therefore we can be assured He loves us.

Coming back to that first point about authenticity, here is the challenge: If we don’t come to the place where God is enough for us (we don’t want or need anything else but Him), we will never communicate with authenticity because we won’t be truly authentic.

I want authenticity to permeate my life. I deeply appreciate what I’m receiving here this week.

While I’m here, I’m doing more research into the connection between Lewis and Dorothy Sayers. It’s nice to be back at my “old station” in the Wade Reading Room.

I just keep thinking, “Thank you, Lord, for this opportunity.”

Lewis & Sayers Wordsmithing: The Mind of the Maker (Part 3)

Dorothy Sayers’s The Mind of the Maker, as I’ve pointed out in two previous posts, has a lot in common with how C. S. Lewis thought. Here are two more examples of why Lewis liked what Sayers had to say.

Sayers focused on the power of words to move men. Lewis was a dedicated wordsmith who knew that the right words used at the right time in just the right way, could spark the imagination and jumpstart the mind. Sayers shares that same mindset and worries that people don’t really grasp the power of words for both good and evil.

She warns, “The habit, very prevalent today, of dismissing words as ‘just words’ takes no account of their power.” Sadly, men are often moved by the wrong kinds of words. Words—mere words—can often lead to unforeseen and devastating actions.

Reflecting on the reality of 1941, in the midst of WWII, Sayers remarks, “At the time when these words are being written, we are witnessing a fearful judgment of blood, resulting from the incarnation in deeds of an Idea to which, when it was content with a verbal revelation, we paid singularly little heed.”

She then offers a critique of modern education—something Lewis undoubtedly affirmed when he read her words—noting that it seems to short-circuit the power of words too often. However, she cautions, “Pentecost will happen, whether from within or without official education. From some quarter of other, the Power will descend, to flame or to smolder until it is ready to issue in a new revelation. We need not suppose that, because the mind of the reader is inert to Plato, it will therefore be inert to Nietzsche or Karl Marx. Failing those, it may respond to Wilhelmina Stitch [a well-known newspaper columnist of the day] or to Hollywood.”

Lewis often touched on what he considered the wrong emphasis on the concept of originality in writing. “Of all literary virtues ‘originality,’ in the vulgar sense, has . . . the shortest life,” he opined. Lewis’s essay, “Membership,” includes this comment:

No man who values originality will ever be original. But try to tell the truth as you see it, try to do any bit of work as well as it can be done for the work’s sake, and what men call originality will come unsought.

In the same spirit, Sayers instructs her readers,

The demand for “originality”—with the implication that the reminiscence of other writers is a sin against originality and a defect in the work—is a recent one and would have seemed quite ludicrous to poets of the Augustan Age, or of Shakespeare’s time. The traditional view is that each new work should be a fresh focus of power through which former streams of beauty, emotion, and reflection are directed.

Although Lewis, in his correspondence, didn’t elaborate on precisely why he liked The Mind of the Maker, it’s not difficult to see the congruence of thought with Sayers on a multitude of subjects.

Great Minds Think Alike: The Mind of the Maker (Part 2)

In my previous C. S. Lewis-centered post, I lauded Dorothy Sayers’s book The Mind of the Maker, which I had intended only to peruse for overarching themes but wound up instead reading every word (even to the point of using it as part of my morning devotions) because I loved the writing so much.

It was a Lewis-centered post due to my emphasis on why Lewis appreciated her writing style and substance. I’d like to continue that analysis today.

Sayers’s third chapter, “Idea, Energy, and Power,” develops her thesis by showing how any completed work in life starts with an idea in the mind. This correlates nicely with what Lewis said to his brother, Warnie, when the idea of a senior devil instructing a junior devil popped into his mind while sitting in church.

He later explained that the genesis of Narnia was “a picture” in his mind “of a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood.” He also remarked that when he decided to write the tales, “Aslan came bounding into it.” How? “I think I had been having a good many dreams of lions about that time.” Sayers is making the same point in this chapter. As she notes,

The ordinary man is apt to say: “I thought you began by collecting material and working out the plot.” The confusion here is not merely over the words “first” and “begin.” In fact the “Idea”—or rather the writer’s realization of his own idea—does precede any mental or physical work upon the materials or on the course of the story within a time-series.

In chapter four, “The Energy Revealed in Creation,” she stresses that a truly imaginative work demands some diversity within it to properly emphasize the unity. The other side of an argument, so to speak, must be given voice in order to give the work its “vital power.” Literature that is merely “edifying” or “propaganda” will lose that vital power. “The Energy is active only in one part of the whole, and in consequence the wholeness is destroyed and the Power diminished. You cannot, in fact, give God His due without giving the devil his due also.”

This is essentially what Lewis does in Perelandra when he allows the ongoing dialogue/argument between Ransom and Weston (the Un-man). If there were no counterpoint to the truths Ransom is offering the Green Lady of that planet, the drama would be sapped from the narrative. It’s the dynamic of the diversity of views that ultimately reveals the soundness of what Ransom is saying. The story would be lifeless—except for the descriptions of the beauty of the unfallen environment—and there would be little reason to invest time in it because it would only be a work of propaganda.

Lewis also guided his readers into an appreciation for a written work itself, and downplayed the desire to delve more into the author than the work the author has given us. Sayers says virtually the same thing when she asserts, “To put it crudely, we may, and do, know the Iliad without knowing Homer.” She bemoans the many foolish speculations about Shakespeare and admonishes,

The itch for personally knowing authors torments most of us; we feel that if we could somehow get at the man himself, we should obtain more help and satisfaction from him than from his chosen self-revelation. . . .

And it is desirable to bear in mind—when dealing with the human maker at any rate—that his chosen way of revelation is through his works. To persist in asking, as so many of us do, “What did you mean by this book?” is to invite bafflement: the book itself is what the writer means.

All creative work, whether written, painted, sculpted, or whatever, begins with an idea. All creative work must transcend mere propaganda. All creative work stands on its own merits without needing an intimate knowledge of its creator.

In all these ways, Lewis and Sayers are in agreement. The old cliché, “Great minds think alike,” is illustrated in the minds of these two Christian authors/creators.