Thursday, July 05, 2007

Walking with St. Clive, Part One

I surprised myself by pursuing one odd habit recently—reading the entire collected corpus of C. S. Lewis’s letters from 1950-1963. Besides noting my own idiosyncrasy, I also realized something in the process of reading these 1500 pages of epistles: I have walked with a mentor through significant events in his life and even with him to his death.

Through these words, I’ve seen him in a remarkable array of situations. To note just a few examples: he became increasingly well-known, perhaps even “famous” (although that definitely happened after he died) as The Chronicles of Narnia saw the light in the early ‘50s. I traveled with him through meeting, then marrying, and then experiencing the death of Joy Davidman. (And, by the way, his famous “crisis of faith” after Joy’s death seems overwrought—he wrote letters replying to various theological and philosophical queries within a couple of days.) And I read his final letter, written the day before he died—a reply to a young reader who had enjoyed Narnia.

Since there’s a fair amount of Lewis worship going on in Christian circles, I probably should add that what becomes clear from these letters the imperfections of Clive Staples Lewis—and that he clearly recognized his flaws. That fact has made the journey with him all the more remarkable. More on that in future posts…


John said...

i have actually fallen out of love with c.s. lewis in recent years.

from the standpoint of fantasy and imagination, he is fantastic from The Screwtape Letters to Out of the Silent Planet, and from The Great Divorce to The Chronicles of Narnia, he is just amazing.

but a quick re-read of Mere Christianity left me feeling empty. many of his analogies seemed simplistic, sophmoric, often making giant leaps of logic that i don't necessarily see. are we like a fleet of ships? or a violin? or is an exotic dancer a "steak?" sometimes, it is more complicated than that.

in years past, i would have heartily recommended this book to seekers, but i don't think i would anymore. maybe it's the times, but many people i know are smart rational people who could weave around lewis' analogies deftly.

perhaps that is why i prefer the fiction. it has a deeper hold that captures a truth that seems so right.

anyway, still interested in your future posts on old clivey boy!

GCootsona said...

I think you're right about Lewis's imagination, which he always said came first for him. So sometimes that's what affects me most poignantly. Nevertheless, I still haven't found a better presentation of the Christian faith for those outside it than "Mere Christianity." Although his logic isn't flawless, does that make it worthless? I guess what I'm saying is give me the alternative.

John said...

i like Basic Christianity, but i don't even know that i would use that for presentation. i also like the gospel of john.

but i am wondering if approaching christianity is really an intellectual exercise as much as it is a relationship. i am more inclined now to believe that the journey to the kingdom is more experiential.

i know it would get me kicked out of the pca, but i don't find jesus through doctrine. or even through simple formulas of sin, belief and salvation. i'm not saying their not important. i just think they're bigger than words.

i also think that a "dogmatic outline" (thanks karl) is necessarily the right starting point. i might be more inclined to start someone off with Hunting the Divine Fox or Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale. i think these are more engaging, and more importantly, more respectable titles.

GCootsona said...

Sorry to be slow, but I've been on vacation...

Interestingly, I don't think that Lewis would disagree that the Gospel is more about relationship than intellectual arguments. (As for experiential, he--and I--might quibble with that particular foundation, which continues to demonstrate its instability.)

You're probably focusing too much on Mere Christianity to the detriment of what he does in Narnia or even in his letters, where he demonstrates a much more multi-faceted approach to faith. A professor of literature could hardly be hard-hearted to story!

But let's leave Lewis aside for a moment... Something narrative is probably more necessary today than a systematic outline. (If McClaren could have pulled it off more effectively, something like his The Story We Find Ourselves In would do the trick.) Nonetheless, the need for narrative doesn't obviate the need for dogmatics!

As for your authors, I think Capon the stronger of the two, which only means we need more. And why not try yourself or find a young author to do the same? When Lewis had finished Narnia, young readers continued to ask for additional volumes. He repled by invitig them to carry on the tradition. He didn't think he was the final word. Neither should we.

John said...

i'd love to try myself, but without the proper papers, ivp would never publish me!