Friday, 9 September 2016

CS Lewis

I had opportunity to read two books last week, with the first leading me to look at the second. The first book was Ravi Zacharias' "The real face of atheism" which I found very good and helpful. On a number of occasions, he quoted (as many modern Evangelical writers are wont to do) from CS Lewis and particularly from Lewis's autobiography "Surprised by Joy." Lewis was a hard boiled atheist before coming to embrace the Theist position. As providence would have it, I discovered the second book in a charity shop where the bargain was 3 books for £1, so the costs was negligible. I read the book last Friday evening, finishing it off on Saturday morning. Here are a few thoughts.

The only other books which I read by Lewis were "Mere Christianity" and a few chapters of his Screwtape letters, where the bookmark still lies half way through the unfinished book. Maybe that tells you something about the latter, or something about me. 

CS Lewis was not an Evangelical Christian. David Cloud characteristically digs the dirt on Lewis here, drawing partly from an article about him in Christianity Today which effectively does the same thing, even if only with less conviction. 

To be positive, CS Lewis (who taught at Oxford) is a powerful writer. He has a way with words that engages you and even, at times, leaves you filled with admiration. All is good, but only as far as it goes. It makes his books a joy to read - see above for my diminished list of books I have actually read - but the experienced reader knows that this is not enough.  To keep myself right, I certainly would not recommend the reading of CS Lewis' books to any one, but articles like this can still draw out the enjoyable parts and share them. If you feel you should read Lewis for more, then go ahead. (It is still a free country.) But do read with care, and remember that the shortcomings are not easily dismissed.  

In the first 14 chapters of Surprised by Joy, Lewis tells us how he came to embrace atheism and then reason himself out of it and into Theism. He commences chapter 15 with the words: "It must be understood that the conversion recorded in the last chapter was only to Theism , pure and simple, not to Christianity."  He had found atheistic books generally entertaining but shallow and came slowly to see how philosophy demanded the existence of a Deity. He uses some powerful word pictures to describe the journey. Near the end of his atheism, he makes powerful allusion to the "Great Angler" who he said "played his fish and I never thought the hook was in my tongue." (p.163) I assume that the Great Angler was God Himself. He uses the countryside allusion once more when, again near the end of his atheism, he likened himself to a fox being chased by hounds. The moment of the kill was surely near because the fox was out of "Hegelian Wood" (Hegel being the atheistic philosopher) and "was now running in the open" with the "hounds barely a field behind." (p175) More powerful imagery changes the metaphor to a chess game where, as he surveyed his atheistic reasons for not believing in a Supreme Deity, he observed: "All over the board my pieces were in the most disadvantageous positions. Soon I could no longer cherish even the allusion that the initiative lay with me. My Adversary began to make His final moves." (p168) (He calls the chapter describing his limited conversion "Checkmate"

What tends to be worrying is that he describes his limited conversion as a response to the "absolute  leap in the dark" that was "demanded." Certainly no recognition here of the word of God shining its light etc (Psalm 119:105/130) That said, he does talk about his struggle with the Almighty. He had been using, in his last days of atheistic struggle, language that avoided giving the impression that he was now starting to believe in God's existence. He spoke about the "Spirit" (which, I suppose, could mean whatever you want it to be mean) and any actual references to God were qualified with the snide "the God of popular religion." However, God wasn't having it. I must admit I like the way that Lewis puts it: "My Adversary waived the point. It sank into utter unimportance. he would not argue about it. he only said, 'I am the Lord'; 'i am that I am'; I am.'"(P177) His actual (limited) conversion is described in these words: 

"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." 

After this conversion to Theism, Lewis toyed with what God/god he was going to believe in.  This is hardly the language of one who has been convicted and led into truth by the power of the Holy Spirit. He tells us that he was left with a virtual choice between Hinduism and Christianity and opted for Christianity. But, as we have referred to already, a Christianity that was sadly very defective with a chronic denial of the inspiration of Scripture and even the penal atonement of Christ. 

So that's that. Who knows, but I might restart or reread the Screwtape Letters again and see some flashes of literary genius there with some spiritual lessons? 


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