I was prompted to read this enjoyable and useful book by Louis Markos’s good summary of it (250) in his Apologetics for the Twenty-First Century:
An accessible overview of Lewis’s apologetic arguments that is also a practical guide for modern apologists. Lindsley demonstrates that if we combine the many and diverse books written by C.S. Lewis, we can construct a multifaceted apologetic that can speak to a wide array of seekers. Lindsley cleverly bookends each of his chapters with a hypothetical class on the life and writings of C.S. Lewis — a class whose participants include a Christian, an atheist, a New Age universalist, and a woman for whom religion is mostly an emotional experience. We get to eavesdrop on their thoughts on such topics as miracles and morality, rationalism and relativism, the problem of pain, and the relationship between myth and Christianity before moving on to survey what Lewis had to say on these topics.
The author, by the way, thanks the editors for the idea of using a fictional book club to frame each chapter. There’s an index, and the notes and especially the recommended reading are useful.
Here’s the table of comments, including the full names of the three parts and the fourteen chapters:
Part I: Why Study Lewis’s Case for Christ? 1) Why Consider C.S. Lewis’s Arguments for Christ? 2) What Were Lewis’s Obstacles to Faith? [Among other things, this chapter provides an overview to part II.] Part II: Obstacles to Faith: 3) Chronological Snobbery: What Does a Two-Thousand-Year-Old Religion Have to Do with Me? 4) The Problem of Evil: How Can I Believe in God When There is So Much Evil, Pain and Suffering in the World? 3) Myth: Isn’t Christianity Just One Myth Among Many? 6) Rationalism: Who Needs Faith? 7) Imagination: Isn’t Faith Merely Imaginary? 8) Miracles: But Do You Believe in the Miracles of the Bible? Part III: Coherence: Does It All Fit Together? 9) Wish Fulfillment: Isn’t Belief in God Just a Crutch for Needy People? 10) Postmodernism: Is What Was True for C.S. Lewis Necessarily True For Me? 11) Relativism: Aren’t Morals Relative? 12) Other Religions: There Are So Many Religions, How Can You Say Which One Is Right? 13) Death and Immorality: Is Death Really the End of It All? 14) Christ: Isn’t Jesus Just Another Good, Moral Teacher?
There’s a becoming modesty in two quotes from the author that bookend his efforts. At the end of his first chapter, he writes (24):
At this point you may ask, Why should I read a book about C. S. Lewis? Why not read Lewis himself? Good question! If you have not read Mere Christianity and you are inclined to do so, put this book down immediately and begin. Mere Christianity is a great introduction to Lewis’s thought and is one of his most accessible and helpful books. I hope that this study will not be a substitute for reading Lewis but, rather, that it will encourage you to begin the journey.
And the book ends with this (199), when the leader of the discussion group is asked which of Lewis’s books he recommends: “I can give you a good reading list, but remember faith in Christ is more than just satisfying your intellect. C.S. Lewis would not want people to focus on his personality or even his books. He wanted to point beyond that to Jesus.”
I liked the author’s bullets for “what we can learn from Lewis’s approach to the problem of evil” (64, summarizing much of chapter 4):
- Evil is a clue to the cosmos — that this is a good world gone wrong.
- If evil is real, then those worldviews that deny the existence of real evil are false (atheism, Hinduism, Buddhism and neopaganism).
- Lewis’s possible explanations for evil include free will, natural law and soul making.
- Even when you come to an intellectual answer for a problem of evil, that answer may not suffice for your emotional suffering. Lewis reveals hows he worked through the emotional pain of grief and loss in A Grief Observed.
There were two paragraphs that I marked in the section of chapter 5 where the author discusses Lewis’s rejection of the claim that inaccurate and exaggerated “myths” about Jesus quickly spread and that these form the basis for the New Testament. First (76, footnotes omitted):
If the formal tradition of a teacher is passed on verbatim and the informal stories, especially about the founding of community life, are passed on with extreme care, how do we account for the invention of fictional stories about a person named Jesus being touted as true, with no attendant protest, shock, and outrage expressed? It might have happened in some other time and place, but not in Israel or in the Middle East. Jesus died around A.D. 30. The Gospel of Mark was written in the 60s if not in the early 50s. Paul received his tradition in the mid-30s and also wrote in the early 50s. Where is the time for the creation of legends and myths? The development of German folklore required centuries. Yet the message of the gospel exploded into life fully grown at birth. The evidence is that the people of the first century meticulously preserved the exact words and accurately passed on the stories about their founder Jesus.
And second (75):
Some youth leaders tried to bring the American game of “telephone” to the Middle East, but it did not work. In this game a short message is given to the first person, who then whispers that message into the ear of the next person, and so on around the circle. The results are often funny, because the message comes out garbled at the other end. In the Middle East, however, the message came back exactly the same. The kids could not see the fun in the game, because they were trained to hear carefully and repeat exactly.
I liked this bullet (79): “Myths are not outright lies. They contain truth. Given the structure of the human mind and the structure of God’s creation, we should not be surprised that there are similarities among myths.”
And this paragraph (98, in chapter 7):
“Moral imagination” (a term used by writers such as Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk) has crept back into our vocabulary. It refers to the concept that we learn more when we catch a vision of the beauty of the moral life through our imagination that when we learn through lists of rules. We may read the Ten Commandments, but our hearts may not be captured by the words. Only when we see the beauty of life lived as it ought to be lived are we captivated by it. A good biography may reveal the beauty of the moral life, but other times we see it best through the bold and adventurous lives of fictional characters, whether in Narnia or in Middle Earth.
And I liked this paragraph on the following page (99, discussing how our Creator God also delegates creativity to us):
For example, an artist takes clay or marble and makes it into a statue. When I was about fifteen years old, I saw Michelangelo’s statue of Moses. [Weird coincidence: This was just about the age I saw it on my one trip to Europe — and it immediately became by favorite statue, too.] I had never heard of it, but I stood there overwhelmed. To me, Moses looked as though he was ready to stand up and walk away to lead the people of God. I could never again read the book of Exodus without seeing that noble and vigorous figure in my mind.
I marked this passage (114, summarizing chapter 8) as “pretty good”:
To those who would deny the miraculous, C.S. Lewis would say:
- Naturalists (those who view nature as a closed box) cannot sustain their position because their own assumptions undermine the credibility of their thinking.
- Miracles are not impossible. There is no argument to prove that miracles cannot happen.
- Miracles are not improbable, unless you wrongly oppose natural law and supernatural events. You need to weigh the historical evidence for each unusual event before you exclude or accept it.
- Miracles are not inappropriate. In comparison with other religions, there is a unique “fitness” to miracles in Christianity.
Also pretty good is the summary of Lewis’s likely response to “wish-fulfillment theory” (132-33, at the end of chapter 9):
- Merely wishing something does not prove that the object of your wish is unreal or untrue.
- You are guilty of a logical fallacy if you assume that God does not exist and then try to explain God psychologically. …
- Many religious beliefs are the opposite of what we desire.
- An equal or better case can be made that disbelief in God is wish fulfillment.
- Above all, the theories of Marx and Freud are ultimately self-refuting.
There’s this good quote from Lewis (168) in chapter 12, “Other Religions”:
[Christ made] claims which, if not true, are those of a megalomaniac, compared with whom Hitler was the most sane and humble of men. There is no half-way house and there is no parallel in other religions. If you had gone to Buddha and asked him, “Are you the son of Brahma?” he would have said, “My son, you are still in the vale of illusion.” If you had gone to Socrates and asked, “Are you Zeus?” he would have laughed at you. If you had gone to Mohammed and asked, “Are you Allah?” he would first have rent his clothes and then cut your head off. If you had asked Confucius, “Are you Heaven?” I think he would have probably replied, “Remarks which are not in accordance with nature are in bad taste.” The idea of a great moral teacher saying what Christ said is out of the question. In my opinion, the only person who can say that sort of thing is either God or a complete lunatic suffering from that form of delusion which undermines the whole mind of [the?] man. If you think you are a poached egg, when you are looking for a piece of toast to suit you, you may be sane, but if you think you are God, there is no chance for you. We may note in passing that He was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met Him. He produced mainly three effects—Hatred—Terror—Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.
There were also three sections that I’d like to flag as particularly good, the first two in the chapter on “Other Religions” and the third in the chapter on “Death and Immortality.” The first (169-70) is titled, “Thick or Clear?”; it discusses Lewis’s distinction between “thick” religions (with plenty of blood and ritual) and “clear” religions (based on ethical and philosophical principles), and quotes Lewis’s conclusion that “‘a true religion … must be both.'” The second (170-71) is titled, “Christianity or Hinduism?”; it discusses Lewis’s argument that these are the only two religions that are both thick and clear, and why he rejected the latter. And the third (179-81) is titled, “No Mere Mortals,” which I enjoyed especially because of its vignettes of Lewis’s graceful humanity.
Two closing notes. In reading the book’s discussion of Lewis’s criticism of chronological snobbery, an excellent example occurred to me for the proposition that, indeed, newer is not always better and the novel is not always progress: Slavery, after all, was once new. And I was happy to see a cite (at 154, line 5) to an old law school professor of mine, the late Arthur Leff, regarding the “grand Sez Who?”