Thursday, February 28, 2013

Yes to God's Call

The one who calls you is faithful and he will do this.
God trying to get your attention?
1 Thessalonians 5:24
Finding the time for yes proceeds in a three-step progression, which we move through in order to live a beautiful, excellent, and successful life. These three steps are “key” in the sense that they unlock the doors that lead us to what is best. They represent what experts on happiness since the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle have called “human flourishing.”

As I’ve reflected personally and read a variety of ancient and contemporary psychologists, business gurus, theologians, philosophers and the like, and as I’ve interviewed acquaintances and people I’ve admired, here’s the progression of yes:
Listening, Testing, and Grooving
First of all, to discover the life just beyond our nos, we begin by listening for a deeper Voice, calling us. This involves becoming quiet and seeking to hear the God who calls. It’s what Naomi Wolf described well (and which I’ve already cited in Say Yes to No): one “listens to an inward voice one recognizes as wiser than one’s own, and transcribes without fear.” Or biblically (as the prophet Samuel said in 1 Samuel 3:10), “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

We begin by listening for God’s call, and I will offer several ways to do just that. Our yes implies that we hear the Voice of God calling us uniquely and specifically to do God’s mission of love and justice in the world. This listening may seem automatic with guaranteed results, but in fact, it requires that we learn and prepare ourselves, that we learn how to tune our ears.

The second step in the progression of yes is testing. This is a transitional and shorter section in this book, and I begin with a question: Are you hearing some yeses? It’s time to test them out. We often listen through our intuition, and the results can be profound, but they’re frequently inexact. (By the way, I could have used “noodling” or “jamming” for this section to keep with the musical motif, but I like the poetry of “testing the yes.”)

Among many examples, I think of the great physicist Albert Einstein, who first knew the answers to general and special relativity theory intuitively, but then he and others still had to work hard to prove these theories mathematically and experimentally. Testing is a process that verifies the validity of what we’ve heard.

This results in the third movement, grooving with a healthy rhythm of yeses and nos, where notes and silences, beats and spaces, produce beautiful music and where we move with the heartbeat of life. Here I’ve learned from the insights of researchers and writers who emphasize that our lives produce excellence when there is a rhythm of rest and work. As a percussionist would say, when we live this rhythm, then we groove. (Since I’m a percussionist, I guess I can say it.)

This progression of yes plays out in our personal life, our work, and our relationships. In our personal life, we say yes to what makes sense for the way we are created. In work, we seek to make the world a better place by using our particular gifts and passions for what God wants in the world. In our relationships, we learn how all this makes a lot more sense—and becomes a lot more fun—when we do it with others.

I call this the triangle of life, work, and love. To live a healthy life, this triangle needs some level of balance among the three sides. For example, we can’t seek our own personal and career success without good relationships. This makes a flat triangle where we feel flattened in the process because we are created to love.

Saying yes to God’s call is about all of life, not just our work (and for Christians, certainly not just what we do for the church). In the U.S. we are too focused on what we do in our jobs. Besides that, sometimes the best a job can do is provide for our, and perhaps our family’s, financial needs. And that’s a worthy goal. It is not yet, however, a calling.

Finally, when we live our yeses, we realize beauty in life (or the synonyms, excellence, true success, and happiness). I mean “realize” somewhat literally here—beauty becomes real for us.

Through listening for our calling we find the One who calls. I believe God is faithful in calling us. There, with God, will be creativity, beauty, excellence, happiness and true success.

These are the qualities that come together when we move through the progression of yes and thereby when we find the right time for yes.

From chapter 3 of The Time for Yes: Enjoying What's Best in Life, Work, and Love

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

C. Lewis Jesus Christ: Fulfillment, Other Myths, and the Trilemma

[This is a draft from my upcoming book on C. S. Lewis--which is way of way of saying you'll probably find a few typos. I hope you also find some insights on Lewis. In any event, let me know what you think.]

We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles
Paul, 1 Corinthians 1:20

Lewis, at the moment he was writing about Jesus
      Two realities lie at the center of Christian faith: Jesus Christ and the Bible. These are also two of the most problematic teachings for contemporary readers of C. S. Lewis and for Lewis himself. The second, believing that the Bible in some way is the Word of God, flies in the face of progress. What writing can still give insight today? Moreover, in a culture of video and Internet, why trust a written book of all things? That second topic I will take that up in another post. 
      The first, Jesus as “mere Christianity” presents him—that is, unique among other religious figures—offends our pluralistic sensibilities. Contrast this claim with the core Christian virtue of love—a virtue that few would argue against. “I’m not a Christian, but I agree with many of its teaching. Isn’t the core of Christianity Jesus’s call to love?” But quote John 14:6 that “No one comes to the Father except through me” and you will receive heaps of scorn. “How can you be so judgmental?” The common phrase “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious” can mean, among other things, “I accept a lot of what Jesus says, but not his unique place as the Son of God.”
      Lest this seems something unique to the twenty-first century, I quickly realized there is nothing new about pluralism as context for Christian faith. It came along with the emergence of the message of Christ. The New Testaments is written in a stunning array of religious pluralism. I think of the altar to the Unknown God in the Areopagus that Paul addressed in Acts 17 and the worship of the great Artemis in Ephesus in Acts 19, or the adoration of Aphrodite in Corinth that stands behind his letters to the Corinthians. And that’s just a start. New Testament Christians had a variety of religious options in addition to Jesus.
      C. S Lewis did not enjoy the thought of becoming a Christian, or even a theist. He knew he would be scorned by the Oxford intellectuals that surrounded him. Actually, at the time that this conversion to theism in 1929 and then to Christian faith in 1931, he didn’t realize the extent of these rebuffs: his Christian faith would prevent him from receiving a professorship at Oxford. He was always a don there. It was Cambridge that finally offered him a chair in 1954. Lewis certainly knew that orthodox Christian belief was not (as we would say) “politically correct.” Moreover, he carried his own doubts. As he phrased it in his 1955 autobiography, Surprised by Joy, accepting the existence of God made him “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”[1] As a lover of myths and their panoply of gods and goddesses, affirming the uniqueness of Christ seemed silly. How then did he resolve this crisis of Christian faith? And how do we believe in the uniqueness of Christ when there are so many religions? Put another way—the way Lewis so often encountered this crisis—since the myths of dying and rising gods share common characteristics with the story of Jesus, aren’t they are all the same and therefore there’s nothing unique about Jesus?[2]
      Nevertheless, we have arrived at Lewis’s fourth apologetic argument. Having reasoned that naturalism is self-defeating (argument one), he then contended that we desire something more than this world can offer, and that, by nature, we have a sense of right and wrong that leads us to believe in God who gives us this law. In this final apologetic Lewis poses the question, Who is Jesus Christ? He asserts that Jesus is either liar, lunatic, or Lord. This is his most famous argument, but probably the least elaborated of the four. I’ll look first at how this resolves one of Lewis’s central crises.
Lewis’s walk with Tolkien and Dyson
I can imagine the thirty-two year old Lewis walking that memorable September 1931 Saturday night in Oxford with his colleagues, Hugo Dyson and J. R. R. Tolkien. They were pondering the truth of myths and engaging in dialectic—we would say “arguing”—with one another until 4am. The conversation was decisive for Lewis. In a letter to his boyhood friend Arthur Greeves, he admitted that his struggle was between pagan “myths”—which, as a lover of classical literature, he cherished—and the uniqueness of the story of Jesus:

Now what Dyson and Tolkien showed was this: again, that if I met the idea sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn’t mind it at all: that if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself… I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels.[3]

But on this early morning walk in Oxford,, which lasted until 3am, these two fellow academics demonstrated something new. This was a turning point, or what I’ve termed a key “plot point” for Lewis:

Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working in us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one much be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where others are men’s myths: i.e., the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call “real things.”[4]

This is a rather extraordinary conclusion for Lewis. Notice that he was able to simultaneously sustain a deep appreciation for Pagan mythology—even describing them as a place where God is “expressing Himself”—while upholding the ultimate nature of the story of Christ. In Jesus, we see a “true myth,” but it is different in one significant way: it “really happened.”
      Admittedly, no crisis is resolved in an instant: there are always precedents. Lewis had been set up for this conclusion by a stunning conversation with a cynical atheist colleague at Oxford, T. D. (“Harry”) Weldon, who was a tutor and lecturer in greats (or classical philosophy) at Magdalen College with Lewis. Lewis wrote that Weldon, “believes he has seen through everything and lives at rock bottom.” That day in April 1926, Weldon grumbled about Jesus’s rising and dying in light of the other myths such as James Fraser analyzed in his famous book The Golden Bough, “Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once.”[5]
      Lewis’s conclusion about Jesus implies there are truly valuable elements in other religions and “myths.” It also implies the uniqueness and supremacy of Christ. Because these two emphases combine in Lewis, I will have to take them together. But first I would like to weave in my own experience with the crisis of uniqueness of Jesus Christ.

My struggle with the truth of other religions
To speak personally for a moment, as I read through journals from my late ‘teen years, one of the first things that struck me—besides the unbelievable emotional swings of a late adolescent—was my struggle with the uniqueness of Jesus. In a section from January 1981 named “My Belief in Religion: What Stops Me,” I have a very sparse but poignant entry: “So many religions.” And then a bit later this: “I’m having a lot of problems believing in Jesus Christ. It’s so narrowly defined.”
      These concerns are not in any way diminished today for people seeking to understand Jesus. In fact, as a pastor to college and university students, I know that these concerns are tantamount for people considering Christian faith and for those who are believers in Christ to keep believing.
      And in 1981, I needed to know about where Jesus fit. During that decisive, life-altering winter quarter of my freshman year, I took Religious Studies 90A, an introduction to the basic menu of “world religions”: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam with some animism and Chinese religion thrown in. One thing struck me: I discovered that there was a pervasive reverence for Jesus among world faiths. Buddhism describes him as an “enlightened” figure. Hinduism easily fits him into their rather expansive worship of numerous deities. Islam considers him one of the prophets. Judaism? That provided a fascinating exception: it bestowed the seeds of his teachings and yet simultaneously denied that Jesus fulfilled Jewish messianic hopes. Of course, Christianity—the largest and most globally universal faith—centers on him, even worships him.
      Here, on the subject of the uniqueness of Jesus, C.S. Lewis came as a mentor, or perhaps, in Lewis’s words, a “Teacher.” (In one of his later books, The Great Divorce, Lewis’s great Teacher, the pastor and fantasy writer, George MacDonald, accompanies him in the afterlife, revealing that he has been there throughout Lewis’s earthly life. Lewis, it seems, is my George MacDonald.) Lewis helped me understand the value of other religions and myths, but also see that Jesus Christ is unique and worthy of our worship.
“Fulfillment” model
Lewis’s view of the uniqueness of Christ was not that all other faiths were entirely false, but were brought to completion with the revelation of Christ. I call it a fulfillment model— “Christ, in transcending and abrogating, also fulfills, both Paganism and Judaism.”[6] Lewis, more generally, believes the Christian story fulfills the hopes and directions of other religions, but in stating this conviction, Lewis implies that the other religions, or myths, contain truth. He phrased the issue this way as he approached his own conversion to Christianity at age thirty-two:

The question was no longer to find the one simply true religion among a thousand religions simply false. It was rather, “Where has religion reached its true maturity? Where, if anywhere, have the hints of all Paganism been fulfilled?”[7]

This approach struck me then as reasonable and still does. For the purposes here, Lewis led me to resolve the problem of the uniqueness of Jesus in a secular and pluralistic world.
      Lewis’s “trilemma”—which he presents most famously in Mere Christianity, but appears two years earlier in The Problem of Pain—poses the question of whether Jesus is liar, lunatic, or lord: We do not have the luxury of calling him a “great moral teacher,” and the first two options are nonsensical. Therefore Jesus is who the Gospels present him to be: the Son of God, the Lord. Here’s how Lewis phrased it the first time:

There was a man born among these Jews who claimed to be, or to be the son of, or to be “one with,” the Something which is at once the awful haunter of nature [a form of Lewis’s second apologetic argument] and the giver of the moral law [third apologetic]. The claim is so shocking—a paradox, and even a horror, which we may easily be lulled into taking too lightly—that only two views of this man are possible. Either he was a raving lunatic of an unusually abominable type, or else He was, and is, precisely what He said. There is no middle way.[8]

      And then, later in the BBC Broadcast talks that eventually became published as Mere Christianity, it appears as follows:

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg –or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.[9]

      This argument appears in a rather lapidary form in Mere Christianity.[10] How can he expect to resolve Christ’s uniqueness in one paragraph? Thankfully, he doesn’t, but elaborates his thinking in an essay that appeared later in the collection assembled as God in the Dock, entitled, “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?”[11] Lewis presents several key points: First of all, that Jesus forgives sins, not simply offenses against him, but all sins. Jesus says, “before Abraham was, I am” and a host of other statements that would characterize him as a megalomaniac. Nonetheless, his moral teachings are sane and humble. Lewis asks, Would his first followers have exaggerated his claims? As Jews, they were the least likely because they believed in the One God. If the claims were exaggerated, they would have to come in the form of legend. But in the Gospels, there is realism, like Christ scribbling in the sand in John 8:6-8, does not correspond to the form of literature known as legend. It can only be compared to twentieth century novels: “the art of inventing little irrelevant details to make an imaginary scene more convincing is a purely modern art.”[12] Above all, there is the Resurrection, which is not simply the hope of survival, but something the New Testament writers present as something entirely new and earth-shattering.
      Lewis continues to return to this fulfillment paradigm in a variety of ways, one of which appears in the first and last installments of his famous The Chronicles of Narnia series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
      In Lion, where Lucy and Edmund have both discovered Narnia through the wardrobe door, but Edmund (who’s trying to hide the fact that he has met the White Witch, Jadis), denies the experience and asserts that Lucy is lying. The next morning, Peter and Susan approach the Professor. They are convinced that he will immediately contact their parents when Lucy tells her story. He invites the children into his study and listens to their story from beginning to end, without interrupting. When they are finished, the Professor, to their surprise, asks them why they are so certain that Lucy's story isn't true. He asks them to consider their own past experiences with Lucy and Edmund. Who, he asks, is more truthful? He then admonishes them to use logic, lamenting, "Why don't they teach logic at these schools?" Logically—and here’s the key—the Professor concludes that Lucy is either telling lies, going mad, or telling the truth. Since Lucy is not a liar, and is not going mad, she must therefore be telling the truth. The witnesses to Jesus’s unique status as the Son of God are credible witnesses to what they tell us, even if it seems absurd.[13]

Is view of Jesus too narrow?
This conclusion may sound exclusivist, narrow, parochial and frankly impossible in a world where so many call on other names of other gods or who have never heard the name Jesus. In that light, a few pages later, he offers this clarification: “We do know that no one can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”[14]
      In this fulfillment paradigm for Jesus, Lewis brings together the uniqueness of Jesus Christ with an appreciation for other myths, he sounds a great deal like the twentieth century Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, in this case as interpreted by Princeton Seminary’s George Hunsinger: Barth, like Lewis, presented “exclusivism without triumphalism or, alternatively, inclusivism without compromise.” In other words, they both believe in one theological scheme represents the Truth—I would offer instead, one Person—but other schemes (and for Lewis myths) are not entirely mistaken.[15] Similarly, there can be salvation for those who don’t necessary name Jesus.
      Similarly the character of Emeth in The Last Battle embodies this other side: that those who don’t hear about Jesus in life can be saved. Put another way, there is salvation “outside of the church.”  (This has been a famous theological question through the ages: “Is there salvation outside the walls of the church”? in other words, for those who haven’t heard.) Emeth (whose name means “truth” in Hebrew) has been a Calormene prince who has never served Aslan, but instead the god of his country, Tash. When he dies, he’s surprised to find that Aslan greets him in the life to come: “all the service thou has done to Tash, I account as service to me…. For all find what they truly seek.”[16]
So, my overall contention in this book is that Lewis has something to say, not simply to mid twentieth-century Christians, but to us as well. How then do I evaluate Lewis’s fulfillment model of Jesus in a world of pluralism? How well does the “liar, lunatic, Lord” argument work today?
      I’ll begin with some concerns.
      To take more particularly his “liar, Lord, or lunatic” argument: it needs further engagement with other putative “gospels,” especially those popularized by the best-selling book of all time, The Da Vinci Code. These non-canonical sources have only gained in acclaim since his death. Most of them are so late and tainted by gnostic thought that they are not historically useful, at least in understanding Jesus of Nazareth, although I, having learned from biblical scholars of many theological convictions, believe there is historical tradition, embedded within the Gospel of Thomas. Nevertheless, the most secure historical documents for finding who Jesus is are the biblical Gospels.[17]
      The contemporary reader probably also brings a higher degree of skepticism about the Christian Church. Lewis does not spend much time on the uniqueness of the Christian Church per se, which remains a key issue today for those outside the church. Or perhaps better formulated, Lewis sees a fairly direct line of continuity between believing in Jesus and the community of believers in Jesus as the church. As he famously wrote—or actually, intoned over the airwaves of the British Broadcasting Corporation—he promoted “mere Christianity,” not any particular denomination. So if I were to become a Christian, it would be based on belief in Jesus as the Son of God, not belief in the church.
      The last issue may be idiosyncratic, but I, like Lewis could grasp initially how Jesus’s death somehow substituted for the penalty for sin I needed to pay. This didn’t make a great deal of sense. It didn’t make sense to Lewis either, and he struggled with how the death of Jesus two thousand years ago could have an objective effect on our lives today. After becoming a convert and even a Christian, Lewis could not easily subscribe to the notion that Christ “substituted” himself for us. “What I couldn’t see was how the life and death of Someone Else (whoever he was) 2000 years ago could help us here and now—except in so far as his example helped us.”[18]
      Though I’ve come to appreciate the substitutionary death better over the subsequent years, I still would resonate with Lewis’s conclusion that he drew a little over a decade after his conversion. In effect, theories about Christ’s atonement are not the final issue. (Historically in fact, Lewis is in good company with the Church historically. Though it has defined who Christ is—or Christology—there has been no ecumenical statement on atonement.)

The footnotes aren't entirely elaborated, but I think they give sufficient information... until the final draft comes.

[1] Surprised by Joy, 228-29.
[2] See “Second Meanings” in Reflections on the Psalms, especially 106.
[3] 18 October 1931 Letter to Arthur Greeves.
[4] 18 October 1931 letter to Arthur Greeves.
[5] Jack: A Life of C. S. Lewis, 222, and Surprised by Joy, 223-24.
[6] Reflections on the Psalms, 129.
[7] Surprised by Joy, 235.
[8] The Problem of Pain (MacMillan, 1962), 24.
[9] Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillan, 1960), 56. It interests me that G. K. Chesterton used the “fried egg” image in Orthodoxy, and I have wondered if Lewis is making an allusion here.
[10] He also made this claim a few years earlier in The Problem of Pain, 62.
[11] “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?” God in the Dock, edited by Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 156-60.
[12] “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?” 159.
[13] The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
[14] Mere Christianity, 65.
[15] How to Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology (New York: Oxford University, 1991), 278-9.
[16] The Last Battle, 164-5.
[17] Though I have learned a great deal from several biblical “history of Jesus” scholars such as Jon Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, N. T. Wright has done the most significant work. Among his voluminous writings, one could begin with Jesus and Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2 (Fortress, 1997).
[18] 18 October 1931 letter.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

C. S. Lewis: A Biography through Five "Plot Points"

Lewis thinking about those plot points

In film and television, plot points are significant events within a plot where the action digs in and pivots toward another direction. These are moments of crisis around which the plot revolves. They can be anything from an event to an item to the discovery of a character or motive. A brief narrative of C. S. Lewis’s life can be written around five plot points in which the story of his life altered dramatically and he sought to resolve them. Please let me know how well this works as a way to understand Lewis. It is the nature of these critical plot points that they bring momentous changes. 
      First plot point: Lewis was born just before the turn of the 20th century, November 29, 1898, in Belfast, Ireland, in a family of four including his older brother and his best friend, Warren or “Warnie.” His early childhood appears to be happy until his beloved mother, Florence, dies of cancer. For the next few years, he attends various boarding schools—which he detests. Around 14, he abandons his faith. At ten, he was sent to school in England, at twelve not far from his home in Ireland (Campbell College), and from thirteen to fifteen back in England (Chartres). At fifteen he won the classical scholarship at Wyvern College in same English town as Chartres. From sixteen to eighteen, Lewis prepared for his university entrance—and more importantly his education is revived—when he moves to Surry and is privately tutored by W. T. Kirkpatrick, whom he named “The Great Knock.”
      In November 1908, C. S. Lewis, a nine year-old boy from Belfast Ireland, experiences the first major crisis of his life. His beloved mother “Flora” dies of cancer. His later reflections reveal the depth of this trauma. (By the way, the first thing to do, when writing about Lewis: to first read something he wrote—something as beautiful, as winsome, as wise, and as touching what follows.)

With my mother's death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.

Lewis never had a stable relationship with his father, and his mother provided him with tenderness and security. The closing paragraph from the first chapter of his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, both alludes to how he later described this tragic moment and thus how he resolved his crisis. The death of his mother also began gradually to separate him from his father, which was a relationship that—even with his later Christian faith—he never healed. Having knocked out this “settled happiness” he searched to respond and gradually found recourse in cynicism and atheism.
      This crisis was deepened as Lewis got sent to boarding schools less than a month after his mother’s death. Later in life, Lewis summarized his experience at three different schools in a letter to a child who wrote him about his Narnia tales, “I was a three schools (all boarding schools) of which two were very horrible. I never hated anything so much, not even the front line trenches in World War I. Indeed the story is far too horrid to tell anyone of your age.”
      The dialectic between reason—especially the empiricist Logical Positivism of the early twentieth century in which we can only reasonably talk about what we see and touch—and imagination or faith takes hold in his life. His staunch and rather prickly atheism does not ultimately satisfy him, but he tamps down its voices and finds focus and meaning in the dialectics of his beloved teacher Kirk and the glories of great literature.
      At the same time, his atheism deepens and becomes more poignant. Although he was later able to resolve faith with the suffering of the life, that resolution did not happen until after seventeen years of bitterness and cynicism and depression, marked by his potent atheism. “I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing.”
      Nonetheless, within this long period of atheism, the seeds of a metamorphosis are sown. At 18, he picks up George MacDonald’s Phantases, and his imagination, as he phrased it, is “baptized.”

Plot point 2: He experiences the horrors of the trenches of the “Great War,” including being wounded. In 1917, he begins studies in Oxford at University College, but soon volunteers for military service in WWI and comes home wounded in April 1918. After taking three exams, Honour Moderations (midway examinations), Greats (classics and philosophy), and English Language and Literature, he takes three “firsts” (which is an amazing feat). He begins tutoring in 1924 at University College, though his hope is to be a great poet. In 1925, he is elected fellow in English Language and Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford.
      Lewis does not write much directly about the war—aside from the stirring sections in Surprised by Joy and a few other allusions—but he saw suffering, the depth of which led to a depressive period that wasn’t really resolved until his conversion in 1931. The reality of evil in the world—and its companion, pain—work their way through almost everything he wrote. It’s partly the “problem of pain” as Lewis titled his first non-fictional apologetic work, but it’s even more the very fact that “pain hurts,” and we are perplexed about our response, let alone a solution.
      Reading various biographies of Lewis, I have been struck by his desire for fame, particularly to be recognized as one of the great poets of the twentieth century. This brilliant young scholar, with three “firsts,” could not find a teaching job, and for all his three decades at Oxford, never moved beyond being a “tutor.”

Plot point 3: His father, with whom he had a tumultuous relationship, dies in 1929. That same year he becomes a theist. Then in 1931, he believes in Jesus Christ and becomes a communicant in the Anglican Church. His first major breakthrough in religious writing comes after his broadcast talks for the BBC—later published as Mere Christianity—receive enthusiastic response in 1942.
      In some ways, this is the central chapter of Lewis’s life, which does occur midway in his span of years. He describes this famous stroll on Addison’s Way in Oxford in September 1931, at age 32, in a letter to his childhood friend, Arthur Greeves. After walking with fellow Oxford professors, J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, he admitted that his struggle was between pagan “myths”—which, as a lover of classical literature, he cherished—and the uniqueness of the story of Jesus and his discovery that “Christ is simply a true myth.”
      The Harvard Medical school psychiatrist, Armand Nicholi, when he compared the lives of Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, pointed to the profound resolution of Lewis’s depression that this conversion engendered. He fought against God, especially that God would take away his ability to command and determine his own life.

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.

      The way he resolves the crisis of his unbelief first, and then of believing in Jesus Christ as the Son God secondly, echoes through his apologetics and really through all his writing. The argument against naturalism, for the natural law as it points to the Lawgiver, the argument from desire (or Joy) all stem from this significant moment of resolution, his resolution of Jesus as Lord (and not liar or lunatic), as well as his conviction that Christianity doesn’t invalid, but instead fulfills, the best of Paganism, all derive from the intellectual breakthrough. It also allowed him to wed his great imagination with his searching reason in a powerful blend.
      For readers who cherish—or perhaps even idolize—Lewis’s specifically Christian writings, the 1940s are the period of great flowering, here, for example, one finds The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and Miracles. It is for me, and for those I’ve talked with, a time when a treasure-trove of Christian insight has been unleashed. Nonetheless, there are at least two crises in his later fame. For Lewis, fame represented a kind of crisis—becoming a spokesperson, a task, according to the Time article that accompanied his front-cover picture, he found a chore and blamed on the “unscrupulousness of God.” (Incidentally, When Lewis’s picture appeared on the September 8, 1947 of Time magazine. The heading read “OXFORD'S C.S. LEWIS His Heresy: Christianity.”) And then added: “I certainly never intended being a hot gospeler. If I had only known this when I became a Christian!” I once asked the well-known commentator on Lewis, and erstwhile President of the C. S. Lewis Society, why Lewis did this work—why this brilliant academic didn’t just stay in the safe cocoon of Oxford University. Jim Como replied quite simply (and I paraphrase): “Because no one else was doing it, and Lewis saw it as his Christian duty.”
      But Lewis wasn’t just a spokesperson, he was a popularizer, or better yet, a translator: “People praise me for being a translator. But where are the others? I wanted to start a school of translation.” Without others alongside, seeing this critical need, he takes up the task of translation and becomes the best-known Christian apologist of the twentieth century.

Plot point 4: After losing a debate in 1948 with the famous philosopher, Elizabeth Anscombe, at the Oxford Society, Lewis sets his mind to fiction and begins publishing The Chronicles of Narnia in 1950, which continue through 1956, and which represent his most famous books. Mrs. Moore, whom Lewis cared for right at the end of World War One, dies in 1951. He is voted down for a professorship at Oxford, but is subsequently offered one at Cambridge, where he starts teaching in 1954.
      This period marks a transition to another kind of religious writing. He confesses in a letter from 1950 that his well of creativity is dry and submits his craft to whatever God designs, he muse returns, and he moves into a period of focusing on fantasy writing and begins to write his most famous series of books, The Chronicles of Narnia. Although many, like Ian Wilson, have argued that Lewis’s defeat in the debate with Elizabeth Anscombe occasioned his retreat from apologetics, it seems more clear—as I’ll develop below—that through this crisis, he realized the weakness of direct apologetics and instead sought to show rather than tell his readers why they ought to take Christian faith seriously and joyfully.
      Another major transition is the death of Mrs. Moore. Although Lewis cared deeply for her, this represents a relief as well and simply more time to write. Similarly, though he was disappointed by his not receiving a professorship at Oxford, his move to Cambridge removed him from his tutoring duties and so we had more time to work. These two critical changes open a new time for imagination. He is also happier at Cambridge—since he finds the atmosphere more congenial to faith—and, because he does not have to tutor students, he has more time.
Plot point 5: He marries Joy Davidman, an American divorcĂ©e with two young sons, in 1956. She dies on July 13, 1960. In response, he writes A Grief Observed. After a brief, serious illness—including a coma the preceding summer—he dies on 22 November 1963.
      After meeting this brilliant writer from New York City, Lewis meets another crisis: a mother, dying of cancer, with two young sons. Undoubtedly, he saw his own life being replayed. He respected her mind and she devoured and cherished his writings. He felt the crisis imminent enough that he married her first in a civil ceremony (and told few of his friends) simply in order for her not to be deported. Gradually, they fell in love, and he was married by her hospital bed in a Christian ceremony. After a prayer for healing by an Anglican priest, Peter Bide, she recovered briefly, and they enjoyed a honeymoon, including a trip to Greece, but within eighteen months she succumbed to bone cancer.
      Joy’s death was tumultuous for Lewis, although it was not the destruction of his rational faith that many have argued. This becomes clear in reading the recently released letters from this period. It helped him to draw a full circle back to his first apologetic work, the Problem of Pain. Most significantly, Lewis’s own death give special poignancy to his reflections on afterlife. He did not begin with a robust faith a life to come, but he realized this was the only way to resolve the crisis of death—that our life on this earth comes to an end and presents a great question about the goodness of God.