There are in fact not many such writers for me. Outside of the writers of the Bible, I can count on one hand the writers to which I have returned more than twice or thrice. So many books are self-consuming--once they are read and digested, there is lit tle value in retracing one's steps in recovering what there was of merit in them. But as I look back on my adult life, my seeking of wisdom, my hope of uncovering a literary companion with unique insights into the world I inhabit and the faith I hold, the re is one name that stands out--C. S. "Jack" Lewis. Had he lived to this day, he would 96.
As provincial as this would have been to Jack himself, and as confining as this tribute may appear, I cannot deny the impact Lewis has had on my sense of calling and purpose as an academic-- knowing full well his shortcomings, oversights, and foibles...
There is, of course, something odd about having a relationship with someone only through their books. Authors live and yet don't; you hear a voice, sense their presence, but they are not in the room. Such is the power of the word, even the written word.
I was eleven years old when C.S. Lewis died (11-22-63). I certainly had not heard of Narnia or Perelandra until I was a young Christian at the age of nineteen. But I have made up for lost time. And then some.
For some of you, Lewis is a commonplace, someone whom it is fashionable to dismiss (see the latest FIRST THINGS); for others, he is yet a new, compelling voice and you are wondering, anticipating what he may have to share with you. For still others, you may be well acquainted with one aspect of Lewis's work and have begun to gain some perceptions of his life and work heretofore unexplored. In any case, it seems we should not let this occasion pass without acknowledgement.
Owen Barfield, longtime friend of Lewis, once wrote, in the preface to a volume of essays about Lewis that I had the privilege of editing, that "Somehow what Lewis thought about everything was secretly present in what he said about anything." Lewis's li fe was, in other words, thoroughly integrated, a man whose presuppositions about life, faith, and reality, were given to God and manifested themselves in all that he attempted.
What Lewis cared about most was what he called "mere Christianity," that is, that faith that has been the center of the gospel and the creeds of the church since the apostles announced it. It was the gospel freed of denominational idiosyncrasies, the de bris of history, and focuse on the essential truth of the identity and mission of Jesus of Nazareth.
If I were to describe Lewis in a phrase, it would be this: Lewis is a man who lived his life before Pilate. That is to say, I believe Lewis carried out his daily tasks as teacher, citizen, believer as one who knew he was before a skeptical inquistor, on e too often who hides from the truth and masks his fear of knowing the truth behind indifference and the pretense of being on the search (John 18:37). Who was Lewis--and why should we pay any attention to him?
C. S. Lewis, distinguished Oxbridge don and literary critic, esteemed writer of science-fiction and fantasy literature, and popular Christian apologist, wrote more than thirty books in his lifetime. Since his death in 1963, more than twenty anthologies and compendia of his scattered essays and talks have been published. Almost as many books about Lewis's works have appeared, and amazingly all of Lewis's own works--criticism, fiction, and apologetics--are still in print and in no danger of disappearing f rom bookshelves across America and the English speaking world.
The generous, self-effacing, populist Lewis who gave so tirelessly of his time and money to the needy and to the spiritually wayward is sometimes shadowed by his remarkable popularity. By all accounts, Lewis was an indefatigueable correspondent, and a m an devoted to a fault to his students and even casual friends. (What other books might Lewis have written had he not been committed to personally responding to the literally hundreds of letters from transatlantic truth-seekers, aspiring writers, and sheer adulators he received month by month over the twenty years before his death in 1963?) Whatever else Lewis was, he was a man of faith willing to pay the price for his public confession that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh.
Deplored and despised by colleagues jealous of his scholarly prowess and shamed by his open association with popular literature and "mere" Christianity, Lewis was denied a professorship at Oxford at the peak of his literary scholarship. As Christopher D errick, a former pupil and longtime friend of Lewis, has judiciously observed, Lewis was a man willing to "challenge the entrenched priesthood of the intelligentsia." In short, one finds in Lewis an uncommonly courageous and articulate skeptic of the modern era, one forthrightly opposed to the "chronological snobbery" of our times that assumes trut h is a function of the calendar and that the latest word is the truest one.
Those who try to read through the entire Lewis corpus confess that they receive an education in history, philology, sociology, philosophy, and theology so extensive and exhilarating that others seem thin and frivolous in comparison. While Lewis caricatu red himself as a dinosaur, the last of the Old Western Men, many today see him as a forerunner of what may still be the triumph of men and women of Biblical faith in an age that derides the pursuit of truth and righteousness.
I close by meditating on what Lewis more than any other 20th Century writer has taught me:
These indeed constitute a worthy legacy I will always prize and endeavor to pass on to others.
|© copyright by Dr. Bruce Edwards |firstname.lastname@example.org |English Dept. |419-372-7541 |BGSU |"Whatever is not eternal is eternally out of date." |Bowling Green, OH 43403|-- C. S. Lewis
Lewis's spiritual pilgrimage followed two tracks, both intellectual and emotional-intuitive. Since childhood he had experienced prolonged moments of longing, the bittersweet stab of desire." He perceived that these longings, which he came to identify as j oy, actually pointed away from themselves, to another world of permanence and fulfillment, to God.
A talented debator and writer, C. S. Lewis wrote prolifically in many genres: novels, poetry, children's literature, fantasy, science fiction, literary criticism, and apologetics. In addition, he wrote essays, sermons, and hundred's of letters, rich for t heir insight and human concern.
Lewis's many published works cover a wide spectrum of topics, both contemporary issues and the enduring questions of human meaning in the world as creatures of God. How do we live in a world with nuclear weapons? How should animals be treated in scientifi
c research? How does a person deal with homosexual tendencies? How to Christians confront suffering and evil in the world? Does prayer really work? Lewis addresses these and hundreds of other topics from the bedrock of biblical truth. Indeed, C. S. Lewis
is hailed as one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the twentieth century.
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