June 16, 2004
“C. S. Lewis”
The Reverend Brad Mercer
First Peter three, beginning in verse thirteen. This is a
challenge to us.
“Who is going to harm you for doing good? But even if you should suffer for
the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation,
and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being
ready to make a defense to anyone who asks you to give an account for the hope
that is in you, yet with gentleness. And keep a good conscience, so that in the
thing in which you are slandered those who revile your good behavior in Christ
may be put to shame.”
Might we all keep that in mind and consider it, even
as we consider C. S. Lewis.
As you know, we are working through worldviews this
summer, and from time to time, we’ll do what we’re doing tonight. We’ll take a
“think break.” And you’ll remember that we said a worldview is a set of
presuppositions or assumptions that we hold about the basic makeup of the world.
And we took from James Sire’s book, The Universe Next Door, seven
questions: “What is reality? What is really real? “What is the nature of
external reality?” The world around us; number three, “What is a human being?”
These are questions that we should be asking about any worldview. “What happens
to a person at death? “ Number five, “Why is it possible to know anything at
all?” Number six, “How do we know what is right and wrong?” and “What is the
meaning of human history?” These are the kinds of questions we should
constantly be asking ourselves as we evaluate any worldview.
Now the design of these “think breaks” every once in
a while throughout the course of the summer is to take an orthodox Christian
worldview and apply it to some particular issue, or to look to a particular
person who can show us how to apply a Christian worldview. For instance, later
in the summer we’ll be looking at same-sex marriage. How do we apply a
Christian worldview to the hot topic of same-sex marriage. And we’ll also be
looking at J. Gresham Machen later in the summer as he offers a devastating
critique–don’t miss this!–a devastating critique of liberalism, in his little
book Christianity and Liberalism. As you’re wrestling with ‘what’s the
difference between orthodox Christianity and liberalism, and Machen is very
Tonight, we’re looking at C. S.
Lewis. In 1965, Chad Walsh wrote that “C. S. Lewis had an impact on American
religious thinking, and indeed, on American religious imagination which has been
rarely, if ever, equaled by any other modern writer.” Love him or hate him, C.
S. Lewis is ubiquitous. He’s everywhere. You will find him in secular
bookstores, you’ll find people in universities discussing C. S. Lewis–he is a
presence, and it is amazing. You will find his image depicted in stained-glass
windows. There’s even been a Broadway musical, calendars, internet sites,
television documentaries, an estimated two million Lewis-authored books are sold
every year in the United Kingdom and the United States. C. S. Lewis societies,
reading groups, journals, magazines, dissertations…you might not know this, but
a film–if it stays on schedule, there’s going to be a film made about The
Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Peter Jackson, who did The Lord of
the Rings series, his workshop has been hired to do the special effects.
And they’re supposed to start filming that this summer in New Zealand, and it’s
designated to be released in December 2005. So it should be interesting to see
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe come out.
Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen. Not
only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” I believe in
Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, because
by it I see everything else…now that’s a wonderful way to speak of a Christian
What comes to mind when you
think of C. S. Lewis? Don’t answer out loud, just think. Cock your head and
think. What comes to mind when you think of C. S. Lewis? Defender of the
faith? A writer of imaginative fiction books from a Christian perspective? A
writer of children’s stories? A man who had a movie made about him and his wife
came out recently? I want you to think of Lewis in a way–maybe you haven’t ever
thought about him before–and that is, C. S. Lewis as evangelist. Now, I’m going
to flesh this out for you in just a minute, but C. S. Lewis as evangelist.
I. First, Lewis the layman.
This manifests itself in
his life and in his writings in three ways that I will emphasize tonight. Over
and over and over, C. S. Lewis emphasizes in his writings–short writings, long
writings–I’m just a layman. I’m just a simple layman. Now, we wonder sometimes
if he’s being completely honest or if there’s some false humility there, but he
says it all the time: I’m just a layman. I want to learn. And he’s genuinely
speaking honestly when he says I want to learn, I am just a sheep needing a
shepherd. Lewis, remember, was not an officer in any church, and he was never
ordained. And he was far from perfect.
Let me say this: as you
consider reading C. S. Lewis and studying C. S. Lewis, I’ll say it right up
front. Don’t go to C. S. Lewis for getting your theological categories
straight. Don’t do that. Go to The Westminster Confession of Faith. Go
to any number of creeds and confessions and theological books, systematic
theologies, to get your theology straight.
Lewis was not a systematic
theologian, he was not a theologian at all, although he certainly thought and
communicated in theological categories, but the strength—the strength, in
my view, of C. S. Lewis is ethics, and the application of ethics to a Christian
worldview. Lewis will show us, he will teach us and show us, how to live
and to think as Christians. He recognized the importance of theology and
systematic theology and expository preaching–all of those things–but he never
claimed to be a theologian. One reviewer of The Screwtape Letters said,
“Mr. Lewis possesses the rare gift of making righteousness readable.” And
you’ve probably experienced that to some extent yourself. There’s a connection
with C. S. Lewis when you read him.
Now the other thing I want to
emphasize–Lewis as a layman and having an evangelistic thrust to his work–is
Lewis was no ivory-tower recluse, as he sometimes comes off in the movie–by
the way, I’ll say this briefly. Shadowlands is an excellent movie, the
music is great, it has excellent acting, beautiful story–it’s just not about C.
S. Lewis! There are many things left out, but again, an excellent movie, great
themes, warm-hearted, all those things, but there are some key aspects that are
left out of the film.
Lewis’s mother died of cancer
when he was nine years old; he was estranged from his father for many years; his
brother was an alcoholic. He fought in the trenches in France and was left for
dead in World War I. Throughout the Second World War, he had many young
children come from London and live in his home with him in Oxford, because of
the bombing. Also during World War II, he joined the Home Guard. He
volunteered for the Home Guard, and picture this: C. S. Lewis walking around in
the middle of the night from one-thirty to four-thirty in the morning with a
gun, guarding Oxford, when he’s a professor there. But he volunteered.
He was invited by the BBC,
during World War II, to give a series of very evangelistic, outreach oriented,
radio addresses gave that would become Mere Christianity, and C. S.
Lewis’s voice became the second most recognized voice in England, behind only
that of Winston Churchill.
And I wonder, I do wonder
sometimes…there were troops stationed in England, obviously before D-Day, and
Lewis was giving these radio addresses, and many troops from all over the world
heard Lewis give radio addresses. I wonder, I do wonder…if that could have
eventually contributed to Lewis’s worldwide popularity.
He traveled and spoke at Royal
Air Force stations and churches throughout the country during World War II. He
gave a high percentage of the royalties of his books to charity, consistently,
after his conversion. One of his best friends died unexpectedly at a young age,
and of course his wife died of cancer. Lewis lived a full, active life with
great joy and great pain.
After his conversion in 1931, he
was addressing a group of clergymen in the Church of England, his church, and he
said, “Woe to you if you do not evangelize.” And then he goes on to say
this: “My feeling about the people in whose conversion I’ve been allowed to play
a part is always mixed with awe and fear.”
Again, Lewis was not a
theologian by vocation, he was a college tutor, a lecturer, a literary
historian. He lectured in Medieval and Renaissance Literature and English
Language and Literature. But he found himself, after his conversion, in a
church filled with modernism and liberalism, and he didn’t hesitate to criticize
it. In a paper he read at Cambridge in 1959, he admits that many of the
current, modern theological issues are confusing, and he is just a sheep, but he
says, “I am a bleating…” as in a sheep bleating “…layman to modern
theology, and I’m going to tell the church what only a sheep can tell them.”
In Pilgrim’s Regress he
criticizes the drift of his own church, the Church of England, for its
anti-supernaturalism and dry, arid intellectualism, and he has a character who
he uses to portray modernism or liberalism in the Church of England named “Mr.
Broad.” And Mr. Broad says this: “Ah, Mother Kirk! I love and honor her
from the bottom of my heart. I trust that loving her does not mean being blind
to her faults. For the moment there is no denying that she has let herself get
a little out of date.” This is a liberal speaking. “She has let herself get a
little out of date. Surely for our generation there is a truer, more acceptable
message in all this beautiful world around us. The church…” And we can
almost today hear Bishop John Shelby
Spong in Newark, saying
something exactly like that, practically coming to the point and proclaiming
that he is an atheist. Lewis says this, again as a layman: “Missionary
to priest in one’s own church is an embarrassing role. Though I have a horrid
feeling if such mission work is not soon undertaken, the future history of the
Church of England is likely to be short.” Very prophetic.
II. Second, Lewis as what I would
call a smuggler and translator.
Lewis lived in the literary world. He was constantly
considering the claims of literary culture, and yet, and yet, he says this:
“The glory of God, and, as our only means of glorifying Him, the salvation of
human souls is the real business of life. It is unlikely that in the next forty
years England will have a government which would encourage or even tolerate any
radical Christian elements in its state system of education.” So Lewis goes
after adults, and his primary thrust or goal consistently is to convince people
in this culture that is rapidly becoming engulfed, entrenched, soaked in
modernism and in liberalism, is that there is a universal moral law. If we
disobey it, we sin. There is a Lawgiver, and this should impart despair rather
than comfort. We are fallen sinners, and we need Jesus Christ.
Interestingly when he wrote Out of the Silent
Planet, which is the first of the space science fiction trilogy, and he
realized that the reviewers of this book did not recognize the subtle imagery in
this book, he got an idea. He said, “if only there were someone with richer
talent and more leisure, I believe this great ignorance might be a help in the
evangelization of England. Any amount of theology can now be smuggled into
people’s minds under the cover of romantic or imaginative literature, without
their knowing it.”
We see that in Narnia. We see the Narnia
books in secular bookstores and kids reading them all the time. Then one day
when they hear the Gospel–“where have I heard that story before?” Then one day
when they come face to face with Jesus Christ, “where have I met Him before?
Yes! I remember Him in The Chronicles of Narnia.”
But again, he is realizing that maybe, as a layman,
as a literature professor, I can use my uniqueness and talents to smuggle
Christian theology. And he says this: “I thought I saw how stories, fairy
stories, could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralyzed much of my
own religion in my childhood. Could one not thus steal past these watchful
dragons? I thought I could.” We see this in Out of the Silent Planet,
Perelandra, The Chronicles of Narnia, Till We Have Faces – a
number of Lewis books, where the Christianity is latent. It’s subtle. And
people are getting some pretty sound Christian theology and ethics, but it’s
subtle and they may not even realize it.
Secondly, as a translator.
Lewis firmly believed, particularly in this culture which was advancing
toward modernism faster than American culture, we’ve got to translate our faith
into terms that people can understand. And you see this all through C. S.
Lewis. Lewis was brilliant. He had a photographic memory. Students would come
in to be tutored by him, he’d “Pick out a book and read the first line.” They’d
pick out a book and read the first line, and he’d quote the rest from memory.
He was brilliant, he had a photographic memory, and he believed that “We must
translate every bit of our theology into the vernacular, and this theology must
be taught, not because it helps marriages or families or cultures or any other
pragmatic purpose, but because it’s true. It is objectively, unchangeably
true.” Not just because it might help in some pragmatic fashion. It is a truth
that does not change, and we must teach this in a way that people understand in
this culture that is rapidly becoming post-Christian. He said “We serve One who
said “Heaven and earth shall move with the times, but My word shall not move
with the times.”
Lewis strongly believed that
every person, every layperson, especially, in his or her calling can be
characterized by an excellence. He gives this example from the publishing
industry. And hear this: “What we want is not more little books about
Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects.” He goes
on to say, “If every time someone wants quality, he or she finds that a
Christian is the one that provides the most quality, what a witness! What a
witness! Whether you’re building cars or publishing books, Christians should
shine.” He says, “Our business today is to present that which is timeless in
the particular language of our own age. The bad preacher does exactly the
opposite. He takes the ideas of our own age and tricks them out in the
traditional language of Christianity. A liberal gives traditional terminology a
new meaning; a conservative falls into clichйs and platitudes. We must
communicate in basic, clear, understandable language.” He says, “Any fool can
write learned language. The vernacular is the real test. If you can’t turn
your faith into it, either you don’t understand it or you don’t believe it. You
must be able to communicate your faith so a child can understand.” Then he goes
on to say “any fool can write learned language.” To communicate clearly and
simply is the test.
Christopher Mitchell, who is the
director of the Marion Wade Center at Wheaton College, where much of Lewis’s
personal library is located, says this: “Lewis was seeking to translate the
thinking and teaching of the church, its basic theology, and serve it up in a
way in which the common person could understand and appreciate, and make an
intelligent decision as to whether to embrace it or not.”
Now certainly Mitchell or C. S.
Lewis would not deny the initiating work of the Holy Spirit in someone coming to
Christ, but Lewis wanted to be used in this particular way of translating and
speaking clearly. He says, “I’m preaching and teaching to storekeepers,
lawyers, realtors, morticians, policemen and artisans. Most of my books,” he
says, “are evangelistic, addressed to tus exo, those outside. And if
real theologians in my church,” he was saying, “ had done this years ago, there
would be no need for me.”
So that’s how he sees himself
communicating. He recognized that with his own particular gifts he can smuggle
and translate as a layman.
III. Third, Lewis as an evangelist to modernists and
S. Lewis was educated in the mid-twentieth century in Oxford when you had the
reign of the men I call the Four Musketeers of Modernism: Darwin, Freud, Marx
and Nietzsche This is what he was hearing all the time: Darwin in biology,
Freud in psychology, Marx in economics and Nietzsche in philosophy. A personal
absolute God is absolutely absent from this venue. There is no God, there are
no absolutes, the emphasis being natural, impersonal mechanistic forces. This is
a world that champions the inductive method. Just as a doctor evaluates
empirical data and arrives at a diagnosis, or a jury gathers evidence and
declares a verdict. Lewis had a name for it: scientism. Science is the
absolute. It is science deified. Science is the ultimate authority.
So how did he answer modernism?
In a number of ways. Listen to this quote from one of his poems, an
evolutionary hymn. Now, Lewis was open early in his career to evolution, and he
became less and less open to it and even hostile to it as he got older. “Lead
us, evolution, lead us up the future’s endless stair./ Chop us, change us, prod
us, weed us,/ for stagnation is despair. / Groping, guessing, yet progressing/
lead us–nobody knows where./ Wrong or justice in the present, joy or sorrow,
what are they?/ Well, there’s always jam tomorrow while we tread our onward way/
never knowing where we’re going we can never go astray.” In his own creative
way, ‘don’t look to evolution–progressive, creative evolution, for your
At the beginning of The
Problem of Pain he says, “Before I became a Christian, I would shake my fist
at God,” how can there be a God with all this pain and suffering in the world,
and then he realized, “wait a minute–I’m an atheist. For an atheist, there is
no problem of pain. There is only a problem of pain for a Christian.”
So where do people get the idea
that they will attribute pain and suffering and difficulty and trial to God?
Where does that idea even come from? Lewis argues, in The Abolition of Man,
an excellent little book and he says that’s one of the reasons he came to
Christ, he argues for a universal, moral law, and he points to cultures all over
the world that affirm some form of universal moral law woven into the fabric of
And then, what one writer calls the ‘joy
apologetic’ in the midst of this dry, arid modernism, Lewis says that “we are
half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition, when
infinite joy is offered to us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making
mud pies in a slum, because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a
holiday at the sea, we are far too easily pleased.” All he is doing is echoing
Augustine: “Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they find their rest in
Thee.” Don’t you see, modernists, that we all have a deep desire for something
other and outer, for peace and rest and contentment, and hope and fulfillment?
That desire is not there by accident. And yet, he goes on to say, “Almost our
whole education has been directed toward silencing this shy, persistent, inner
voice. Almost all of our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us
that the good of man is to be found here on Earth, and yet it is remarkable
that such philosophies of progress or creative evolution themselves, bear
reluctant witness to the truth that our real goal is elsewhere.”
And then, his devastating
critique of naturalists. Naturalists who argue that all of life is irrational,
it’s mechanistic, it’s all linked, and then they go on to say that we can stand
back and interpret it. If everything that exists is interlocked into a chain
that is mindless, how do irrational, impersonal forces give rise to minds and
thinking, and reasoning and moral principles? Naturalism itself is
My point here, in a number of
works–in Problem of Pain, in Abolition of Man, The Weight of
Glory, Surprised by Joy–Lewis offers some very devastating critiques
and shows the inconsistencies of a naturalistic, materialistic, modernist
mindset. And we can only just skim over that. But his critiques are
Post-modernism. What does Lewis
tell us in this age of New Agers and New Paganism? Lewis died in 1963, the same
day as President John F. Kennedy. What can he tell us during this time in which
we are witnessing–is fascinating! We’ve got this highly specialized
technological culture based upon observable, objective facts and bottom lines,
and in the midst of all of this, we have a bona fide resurgence of paganism.
And interestingly, this arises from a number of places.
But what can C. S. Lewis do to
help us as we face this? I had a professor at the University of Texas who
taught philosophy, and I wrote a paper arguing for the existence of God, and he
wrote a paper back arguing that God doesn’t exist, and that’s not rational, and
you can’t defend that, it makes no sense. And then he goes home and practices
using crystals with his wife, and channeling. That’s the kind of world we live
in, the world of Tibetan monks and Zen masters and martial arts gurus and
Shirley McLaine, all offering to help us fan into flame this spark we have. Many
of these people are reacting to the dry, arid materialistic, naturalistic period
that came before us, and they want something other and outer. They want
something that is spiritual, they want something that is invisible. They’re
And Thomas Howard says this
about Lewis’s imaginative literature: “One way of putting what Lewis saw as his
literary task would be to say that he wanted to lead his readers to a window,
looking out from the dark, stuffy room of modernity, and to burst open the
shutters and point us all to an enormous vista, stretching away from the room in
which we were shut. He despaired of finding any furniture or pictures or
objects in that small room which would suggest what he wanted to say to us, so
he must come to the window and look out.”
In other words, Lewis takes us
into other worlds. He takes us to Narnia. He takes us to Perelandra.
He takes us back to an ancient Greek myth, and he retells it–the myth of Cupid
and Psyche in Till We Have Faces. And he smuggles Christian themes into
this work so people are getting healthy doses of Christianity, and not
necessarily even knowing it.
For instance, it’s the professor
who says to your student, “Look. All over the world we have myths and fairy
tales that bubble up in cultures all over the world. Who knows where they come
from, but they bubble up in cultures all over the world. And they have the same
theme. You see these common themes everywhere, all over the world. The same
thing. You have dying and rising corn gods, the cyclical nature of the
seasons. You have these stories everywhere of some kind of damsel in distress,
who is taken away by some kind of evil person, and a prince or a king comes back
to rescue her. We have these imaginative stories that emerge and bubble up in
all kinds of different cultures. Don’t you see that Jesus Christ is just
another dying and rising corn god?” And Lewis says, “No! Don’t you see the
common thread and common theme? Don’t you see that if this emerges everywhere”
—your student needs to tell the professor–“if this theme emerges everywhere and
if it’s common and if you see it everywhere, maybe it really happened.”
Lewis calls these ‘good
dreams.’ He would never say the only way of salvation is faith alone in Jesus
Christ, but he is able to look at other religions and say there’s some truth
there. Come with me and I’ll show you more. You see that perspective: rather
than say, “You’re a pagan, you’re lost, I’m having nothing to do with you” but
“Now, there’s some truth there, and I can understand why you’re looking in that
direction. Come with me, I’ll show you more.” It’s a faint echo of the True
Prince, the True King. Tolkein’s last book, The Return of the King – the
King will return.
So you see, Lewis speaks to this
age in a way that is quite unique. In The Chronicles of Narnia he
touches on Freudian psychology and testing truth claims, and God’s sovereignty
and human responsibility. In The Screwtape Letters you see how Lewis
understands the psychology of sin and temptation. Perelandra — I know a
girl recently who’s been struggling with Christianity for years, and she read
Perelandra and she thought ‘I’ve got to know more about this Jesus Christ!’
He takes us to another world, puts us in Perelandra, and shows us a new Eve
being tempted by a new Satan, or Unman. And it’s fascinating, because we see
Eve being tempted and fascinated by the idea of sin and evil. “Look, he’s
telling me how good sin and evil is. It’s fascinating.”
But he takes us into another
world, an imaginative world, and he teaches again–and this is not for
everybody. Some of you are saying, “I don’t want to study all that!” And this
is not for everybody. Give me Mere Christianity, that’s great. But for
other people, for left-brains and right-brains, for those folk who like
imaginative literature, Perelandra and Till We Have Faces will
grab them and make them think, and challenge them in a way that Mere
Christianity, Abolition of Man, Problem of Pain, and
Miracles might not.
Let me close with
this. And this really gets to the heart of C. S. Lewis. It’s called An
Apologist’s Evening Prayer.
“From all my lame
defeats, and oh! much more/ From all the victories I seem to score,/ From
cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf, at which, while angels wept, the audience
laugh;/ From all my proofs of Thy divinity, Thou who wouldst give no sign,
deliver me./ Thoughts are but poems./ Let me not trust instead of Thee their
thin-worn image of Thy head./ From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of
Thee,/ Oh, Thou fair silence, fall and set me free./ Lord of the narrow gate,
and the needle’s eye,/ take me from all my trumpery, lest I die.”
Let us pray.
Lord, we thank You again for
the life of C. S. Lewis. We pray that we might glean from him how to apply what
we so dearly love. Whether we are faced with folk who can’t understand how a
miracle could happen, or someone who believes in nothing but miracles and
spiritual things that seem to have no purpose and no design. We pray that we
would recognize again Lewis as a layman, as a man dedicated to evangelism in his
own particular calling as a smuggler, as a translator, and as one who spoke to
modernists and post-modernists. We pray that we might learn from him, and we
pray again that You would continue as we next week touch on naturalism, and
throughout the course of the summer, we pray that we might all grow and continue
to be challenged to apply again what we so dearly love and what we believe about
our Lord and Savior, in whose name we pray, Jesus Christ. Amen.
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
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