C.S. Lewis: All Things To All Men
Clive Staples Lewis (C.S. Lewis) is a name that is familiar to almost everyone, both inside and outside of the church. Many people, regardless of religious creed, love The Chronicles of Narnia or The Space Trilogy. Many Christians love his well known volume Mere Christianity. The “lunatic, liar, or lord” argument has been used by countless people in conversations about apologetics. Many Christians from almost every Christian tradition have some affection for Lewis' works. Lewis is perhaps the one Christian who is embraced as a brother by Catholics and Protestants (of all flavors). No one seems willing to claim his work was always theologically sound, but everyone seems happy to embrace him.
I embrace him as a brother, but I must disclose something here at the beginning. I am not a big fan of Lewis. When I think of C.S. Lewis, I think of a Christian thinker that I don't really care for much of their work, but I know I have to deal with. I don't like The Chronicles of Narnia (tried to read the series multiple times; never got through it), Mere Christianity was unimpactful to me, I never finished The Space Trilogy, and most of the other books I've read were really hard to get through. The one exception is The Four Loves. I really enjoyed that book. The point of this caveat is that I am one of the few people I know who don't get excited about Lewis in some way. That being the case, I do think that the modern church can learn a lot by meditating on the man. That is what I intend to do. I can’t give some great exposition of his brilliance or his legacy, nor will I pretend to do this. I will let others do this. What follows will be some thoughts on two of my favorite Lewis quotes, a few considerations I think can help us today.
A Love Of Friends
“My happiest hours are spent with three or four old friends in old clothes tramping together and putting up in small pubs – or else sitting up till the small hours in someone’s college rooms talking nonsense, poetry, theology, metaphysics over beer, tea, and pipes. There’s no sound I like better than adult male laughter.”
Lewis is so beloved today in part, I think, because he was a social person. I don’t mean he was always the life of the party, rather I mean that he cared to invest in people. Many people might know about the Inklings. Lewis loved to be in the presence of his friends, to do life with them. Do we love to be in the company of close friends, to spend time with each other and grow together (in the laughter and the tears)?
Here I don’t mean to advocate that we surround ourselves with yes men, sounding boards that just reinforce what we believe. No. True friendship is not built upon complete ideological conformity. It is built off of the respect and love that we have for one another, even when we have very real, very profound, differences. Can we have heated discussions and still walk away as friends? I believe that we can. It requires that we treat each other (and different opinions) charitably and fairly. It requires that we genuinely love each other, that we are willing to listen to and learn from each other.
I have very real differences with almost all of my closest friends, but I covet their friendship. Hopefully I have invested myself in their lives as much as they have invested in mine. This is how real, substantial, friendships are built. I think we would be in a better state if we worked out the implications of Lewis’ life. Do we genuinely enjoy our friends, or do we just want to get something from them? There is a big difference.
A Love Of Thinking Deeply
“I believe that many who find that 'nothing happens' when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”
There are simple lessons here. We don’t have to be intellectual giants to profit from deep thought. We are consumed by bite-sized information. If I can’t get a summary of it in the news feed, we can move on. Social media bombards us with this. If it’s more than a few hundred words, skim it and go. More time is spent crafting the perfect tweet than it is reading a longform article or an engaging book. In our fast paced life, there is simply no time to engage with and wrestle a book or essay that requires deep thought. This is unfortunate.
We can see the ramifications of this in our theology, our politics, and even our relationships. Our churches have become consumer driven and shallow. Worship is considered good if it resonates with us at some “deeper” level (the feels). If the pastor gets too theological, we disconnect. How does it help me in “real life”? In our politics, the soundbite wins the day. Trying to fact-check claims, find context for quotes, and listening to our ideological opponents is too hard. We would rather circle the wagons and sound the alarm. The meme has become more popular a tool than reading broadly and thinking critically. Our relationships also tend to be more shallow. Small talk and surface-deep smiles surround us. Open-ended questions are avoided. Five minutes to reconnect, an occasional text, maybe a cup of coffee here and there and we’re done. It is not surprising that when most of our information is gathered in quick, bite-size, portions, our relationships are too.
What can we do here? Certainly we can’t read everything everyone posts online, we can’t read all of the books worth reading, and we can’t spend hours with every person we know (nor would we want to!). We must discriminate and prioritize what things we give ourselves to. There are little things we can do to improve the quality of the things we do, however. Intentionally carving out time to read a stimulating book, even an hour here and there would do us well. We can learn to read good non-fiction, theology, history, classic literature...things that have substance to them. We can teach ourselves to read opposing points of view and to engage them honestly and thoughtfully. Why do others disagree with me? Where are they coming from? Can they teach me anything? Intellectual honesty, about ourselves and others, is in great need today. We can also work on the depth of our relationships. How about carving out time to share a meal with friends. Ask open-ended questions, and listen to the responses. Be vulnerable and open up with them, let them feel safe doing the same with you.
These are just a few thoughts I have when I think about Lewis. We can learn lessons about how to be as lovable as he was. The church is horribly schismatic (not just among the Protestants, mind you) and we do not seem very quick to want to fix this (at least not in substantial ways). In my circles, Presbyterian and Reformed ones, there are many conversations going on. Unfortunately, these conversations often result in building up walls. Antinomian, Neonomian, Federal Vision, Republication, Two-Kingdoms, Theonomy...there are plenty of battles to fight and walls to build, if we want to. However, Christ’s church is one, and we disrespect the bridegroom when we flippantly tear apart the bride. I am not saying theology doesn’t matter, but I am suggesting that we find those who are closest to us, share a meal (and a pipe) together, listen to each other, and find ways to love each other and work toward unity. As we can unite, keep going with those a little further out. It will likely never happen, but organic unity (not just spiritual unity), is the goal of Christ’s High Priestly Prayer in John 17. Striving for this means thinking deeply and investing in people. It means seeking to understand and being charitable and gracious. It means work and sacrifice. What can Lewis teach us today? How about working toward being a person who loves Christ and his bride and behaving like a person everyone wants to love. It’s a lesson for me, and it’s a lesson for us all.
[Editor's Note: This blog is a participant in #LewisWeek]