Archives For C.S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis is often considered one of the foremost apologists of the Christian faith of last century. Lewis’ approach to articulating and defending the Christian faith has been influential to many Evangelicals. What was it that made him fruitful and inimitable?

Ben Witherington interviews Alister McGrath about his biography C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet. In this installment Witherington asks McGrath about Lewis’ approach to apologetics, particularly now that we have passed from a modern to a postmodern day.

The gist of McGrath’s response, which I include below, is that Lewis combines reason and the imagination to present a new view of the world which is centered in truth.

Lewis is probably the best apologist of the twentieth century. Nobody has arisen to rival him, although he has many imitators. Why was Lewis so successful? I think the answer lies in his unique combination of reason and imagination, which I find in very few other apologists. His Oxford colleague and fellow-apologist Austin Farrer, Warden of Keble College, once suggested that Lewis’s apologetic approach might initially look like a modernist rational argument; but when you look more closely, you realize that it is actually an encouragement to see things in a new way, and thus grasp the rationality of faith through the imagination. Lewis, Farrer suggested, makes us “think we are listening to an argument”, when in reality “we are presented with a vision, and it is the vision that carries conviction.”

Lewis helps us to see that apologetics doesn’t have to take the form of a rather dull modernist argument, but can be understood and presented as an invitation to step into the Christian way of seeing things. If worldviews or metanarratives can be compared to lenses, which of them brings things into sharpest focus? Lewis’s explicit appeal to reason involves an implicit appeal to the imagination. Perhaps this helps us understand why Lewis appeals to both modern and postmodern people. Yes, Lewis affirms the rationality of the universe, in a way that would please a modern thinker. Yet he does so without lapsing into the cold logic and dreary argumentation that so often accompany modernist apologetics. Yes, Lewis affirms the power of images and narratives to captivate our imagination. Yet he does this without giving up on the primacy of truth, which is one of my major concerns about some postmodern approaches. I think we can all learn from this.

What do you think? How do you approach the articulation and defense of gospel truth today? What can we learn from Lewis?

November 22, 1963

Greg Strand – November 22, 2013 Leave a comment

Fifty years ago today three prominent people died (I do not use the term “important” because all are created in the imago Dei, which makes all individuals important.): John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Aldous Leonard Huxley, and Clive Staples (C. S.) Lewis.

Kennedy served as President of the Unites States of America. His assassination shocked our nation which had international ripples. It overshadowed virtually everything else that was happening at the time.

Huxley was born in England and moved to California at about 40 years of age. He was a writer best known for his fictional work, Brave New World.

Lewis was an academic, writer of fiction and non-fiction and a Christian apologist. His lasting influence has been as a Christian apologist. Though he wrote many works covering many topics, he is probably known best for the beloved The Chronicles of Narnia.

In an interesting fictional conversation between these three, Peter Kreeft wrote Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley. Kreeft casts Kennedy as a modern humanist, Huxley as an Eastern pantheist and Lewis as a Christian theist. It is an insightful look at the beliefs and worldviews of these three persons.

Another interesting but little known fact is the numbers of people Lewis influenced, and the manner in which he did so. Kathy Keller, Tim Keller’s wife, was one of those who wrote letters to Lewis as a young 12 year old girl, to which Lewis responded. She was one of his “pen pals.” In the providence of God, it was one of the means God used in Keller’s life to awaken her spiritually as He drew her to Himself.

As is well-document in Chuck Colson’s conversion in Born Again, it was Lewis’ Mere Christianity that the Lord used in his spiritual awakening, his being born again.

There are a number of conferences remembering Lewis this year. The Desiring God Conference was one of them. John Piper’s message on this theme was outstanding, “What God Made Is Good — And Must Be Sanctified: C.S. Lewis and St. Paul on the Use of Creation

As we remember these three this day, and especially how the Lord used and continues to use Lewis, I allow him to have the final words from his final and most famous work, The Last Battle (Book 7 of The Chronicles of Narnia). These are words all of us ought to remember. They were written seven years before Lewis died, but they explain a great deal about his beliefs, his life, his understanding of worldview, and his notion of how we live now for then.

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 for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

Thoughts on Halloween

Greg Strand – October 31, 2013 Leave a comment

Every year Halloween comes on the calendar, Christians are faced once again with the decision of how they will respond. Will they celebrate the day or will they not? If they do, will they do so in an alternative way, e.g. harvest festival or Reformation day, or will they do so evangelistically?

Timothy George, in The Gospel of Ghoul, notes how Christians have used the day evangelistically. Prior to addressing this he states what he believes about hell.

I believe in hell. Not only the hell within, for there are those “private devils that hang like vampires on the soul,” to use the language of Thomas Merton—and not only the metaphorical hell around evident in war, violence, and destructive evil on a global scale—but also the hell to come. This orthodox Christian belief is firmly grounded in the teaching of Jesus, as well as in the inspired writings of the apostles. As Joseph Ratzinger said in a book on eschatology: “Dogma takes its stand on solid ground when it speaks of the existence of hell and of the eternity of its punishments.”

Using Lewis, George writes of two inappropriate responses to the doctrine of hell: disbelief and denial; an excessive and unhealthy interest.

C. S. Lewis famously described two equal and opposite errors into which people fall when thinking about things infernal. The first is disbelief and denial, a familiar pattern in forms of rationalist religion. The other is to cultivate “an excessive and unhealthy interest” in Satan and his pomp. The latter is on full display in what has become a thriving phenomenon within the subculture of American fundamentalist and evangelical churches: the seasonal appearance of a Halloween alternative known as Hell House or Judgment House.

Hell Houses, notes George, come in many variations. Primarily they follow the pattern of showing gruesome events and experiences of a person’s life revealing that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Following these events is a visit to hell. Finally, there is an opportunity to receive Jesus to save one from hell. This sort of outreach has become so large and popular there is a how-to kit for those who desire to use this evangelistic approach for Halloween.

As real as hell is, and as essential as it is to evangelize, for people to hear the gospel, being confronted with sin and implored to repent and place one’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for He is the exclusive way of and to salvation (Acts 4:12; Jn. 3:36; 5:12; 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5), is this particular method appropriate? Is it reflective of the Bible’s teaching? Do the means matter as long as the gospel is presented and people are given an opportunity to repent, respond and receive Jesus? Is it truly reflective of the gospel?

George answers:

The problem with this kind of approach to the afterlife is not that it says too much, but that it offers too little. It says what it does not know and thus falls prey to that most damning of theological temptations, what medieval scholars called vana curiositas. Theology should be done within the limits of revelation alone but what is shown in most modern-day Hell Houses is 90 percent speculation.

It may be that some young people will find their way to genuine faith through such ghoulish shenanigans, but their overall import is a distortion of the Gospel. Those who indulge in such displays are taking something serious, eternal, and consequential and treating it with a finesse of a butcher doing brain surgery. In the process, they trivialize evil and domesticate grace. I seriously doubt that the Old Fiend himself is much upset about how his wiles are portrayed in such faux-dramas. He knows that conversion without discipleship is not likely to be lasting or deep. He is well aware that evangelism as entertainment seldom, if ever, results in genuine repentance or transformation.

Thankfully, George concludes,

in the sending and self-sacrifice of his Son, God himself has absorbed not only the penalty of sin but also its eternal consequences, the “wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus Christ has visited the original House of Hell, and this has rendered redundant all cheap imitations. As John Calvin said, “By his wrestling hand to hand with the devil’s power, with the dread of death, and with the pains of hell, Jesus Christ emerged victorious and triumphed over them, that in death we may not now fear those things which our Prince has swallowed up.

Paul reminds us of this incredible truth in 1 Corinthians 15:54b-58:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

On this day, celebrate Christ, His perfect fulfillment of the law, His triumph over death, and our victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. And grounded in these truths, abound in the work of the Lord!

The Biblically Sanctified Imagination

Greg Strand – October 16, 2013 Leave a comment

In Kevin Vanhoozer’s conclusion to his lecture, “In bright shadow: C. S. Lewis on the Imagination for Theology and Discipleship,” he refers to an illustration that highlights how a biblically sanctified imagination enables us to see truths we would not normally see or understand. (For this illustration Vanhoozer acknowledges his indebtedness to Etienne Wenger, Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999) p. 176.)

Vanhoozer writes,

Two stonemasons were hard at work. When asked what they are doing, the first said: “I am cutting this stone in a perfectly square shape.” The other answered: “I am building a cathedral.” Both answers are correct, but it takes imagination to see that you are building a cathedral, not simply making blocks of granite. Two pastors were hard at work. When asked what they are doing, the first said: “I am planning programs, preparing sermons, and managing conflict.” The other answered: “I am building a temple.” It takes a biblically trained imagination to see one’s congregation as a living temple, with each member a living stone (1 Pet. 2:5) being worked – chiseled, fitted, and polished – in order to be joined together with Christ, the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). It takes the eschatological imagination to look at a sinner and see a saint.

Is the Scripture foundational to your life? Do the truths of Scripture form and shape your life? Do they form and shape your imagination such that what you do, how you do it and for whom you do it are all transformed? This is a life marked by the indwelling Holy Spirit enabling one to live by God’s grace and for God’s glory.

So, are you planning programs, preparing sermons and managing conflict? Or are you building a temple?

The Screwtape Letters

Greg Strand – July 30, 2013 Leave a comment

C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters have been very helpful for Christians to think through how the Enemy tempts them and others. Though these letters and conversations are not true, there is much truth that is communicated through them. The sub-title of this book describes the nature of these letters: “How a senior devil instructs a junior devil in the art of temptation.”

Thank you to Andy Naselli who has provided a one-sentence summary of each of the letters Screwtape sends to Wormwood.