Thursday, December 9, 2010

Through the Wardrobe with C. S. Lewis

A lot of people got their first introduction to C. S. Lewis in December of 2005, when their kids dragged them to see the movie The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Today, the third installment in the series is released - The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (I paid a whole $1.95 for the book when I bought it!). The films are based on the children’s series Lewis penned called The Chronicles of Narnia. In the story four children travel through a magical wardrobe to emerge in the strange and mystical land of Narnia where animals speak and the world is locked in a perpetual Christmas-less winter while awaiting Spring that seems destined never to dawn.

My own introduction to Lewis, however, goes back to my college days in the 70’s when I studied English. A professor, knowing I was headed for seminary, suggested that I read Lewis as a model for the minister’s primary task of helping people to make sense of faith in their day-to-day lives. I devoured his writings voraciously, and he became for me a conversation partner with whom to discuss the “big issues.” Lewis’ writings have not only stood the test of time, but he himself has become for me, save Jesus of Nazareth, the single most important intellectual influence on my life.

And I’m not alone in this. This Oxford and Cambridge professor, though he died in 1963, continues to be for many a significant voice well into the 21st century. His writings are more popular now than they were when he was alive. His non-fiction writings are for the most part all apologetic in character; that is, they are aimed at making Christianity credible to a thinking public. The most popular among them, Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, and The Four Loves, continue to draw countless readers into a conversation about life, faith, what it means to believe in God, and what it means to be a “mere Christian.”

Why is Lewis so popular among serious persons who want to think deeply about the “big issues” of life? Well, those who have found Lewis to be a reliable guide into these subjects will have to answer for themselves, but my own experience with Lewis points up three things that he just does better than anyone else.

First, he may have the finest mind I’ve ever encountered. His commitment to careful and correct thinking (logic) is relentless and unremitting. He will not abide sloppy thinking, and he will anticipate and expose it wherever he finds it. That is to say, if you’re not “into thinking,” don’t read Lewis. If, on the other hand, you want carefully argued reasons for believing what you believe, Lewis will gladly guide you.
Second, Lewis has an uncanny knack for knowing just the right example, model, or illustration to help you understand what appears at first sight to be a hopelessly complex idea. For example, in explaining how salvation is both God’s gift to us and our work to do, Lewis quips, “God is easy to please but hard to satisfy.” Then, he goes on to say that every parent joyously celebrates their baby’s first stumbling efforts in learning to walk. But that same parent will never be satisfied until their child can stride confidently across the room. In the same way, he says, God welcomes our most meager stumbling efforts to be the persons he created us to be, but will never be satisfied until we in fact become the persons he created us to be.

Finally, Lewis is a passionate writer. He believes what he’s saying, and it comes through. Agree with him, or disagree with him, but you will not read Lewis with indifference. He draws you in with careful reasoning and homey illustrations, and then, before you realize what’s happened, you’re hooked. That passion is in the service of his belief that God has really broken in and broken through to our world and revealed himself to us. That not everyone is aware of it is more a function of our closed-off, two-dimensional thinking than the credibility of God’s self-revelation. But for those who have the courage to “part the wardrobe,” a mystical and magical world awaits through which Lewis is all too happy to act as guide.

1 comment:

Gabe Clevenger said...

We are eagerly awaiting the opening of "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" as well. I have read most of the Narnia series to my 7 year old daughter, and she is almost as excited as I am about seeing the movie.

"The Great Divorce" and "Until We Have Faces" remain some of the most thought provoking and captivating works I have read to date.

I agree wholeheartedly with your post here.

Have a blessed Advent,
Gabe Clevenger