Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis

Alister E. McGrath, The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis. Wiley-Blackwell, 2014. 191 pages. ISBN 978-0-470-67279-2

The reader might wonder if we really need another book on Lewis. The books on Lewis is a publishing industry in itself. Alister McGrath and others believe that there are areas of Lewis's thought that have not been probed. The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis is a companion to McGrath's biography on Lewis. McGrath thinks that "Fifty years after Lewis's death, it is clearly appropriate to reflect further on his intellectual achievements and heritage" (2). The author notes that in his research for writing the Lewis biography he discovered that "many aspects of Lewis's thought needed detailed and careful reconsideration, especially in the light of their intellectual context" (2).

The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis is divided into eight chapters. The author states that these chapters have not been published before.  These chapters "aim to set Lewis in the greater context of the western literary and theological tradition, exploring how he appropriated and modified its narratives, ideas, and images. Lewis himself was nourished by this great tradition . . . (2-3). One can see clearly from the writings of Lewis that he was well read in the western tradition. He says of himself that he never set out to write any original thought. Some of the themes addressed in these chapters are myth, philosophy, metaphors used by Lewis, joy, reason, imagination, and Lewis as a theologian.

I have read many of Lewis's works repeatedly over the years and have read much of the secondary literature on him. The Intellectual World of C. S. Lewis does a good job in placing him in the intellectual context of his time. In these essays he explains much about how many of the writings of Lewis came about and how to interpret them. For example, he shows how everything in Surprised by Joy should not be taken literally. He even shows the traditional dating of Lewis's conversion is incorrect. One might ask why this is important. It shows that it was a longer process where Lewis spent an extended time thinking things over before converting to the Christian faith.

In the chapter on "Lewis as a theologian" shows how there has been much bias against Lewis. McGrath notes, "As a young theologian, I was taught to despise Lewis; as a thinking person, I found him refreshing and energizing. As I listened to then-fashionable but now-forgotten voices faulting and dismissing him, I heard a deeper dissenting voice within me. All this may be true, I thought, but Lewis seems to have seen and grasped something that you have missed. That's why people still read him. Of course, they need to go beyond him. But as I have discovered in countless conversations since then, Lewis is the point of access for a large number of people to the serious study of theology" (164). My life resonate with these words. I first discovered Lewis one Christmas break when I was an undergraduate. I checked out the Chronicles of Narnia to read during Christmas. My life was changed forever. I went on to read other works by Lewis. I learned that it was okay for a Christian to pursue the life of the mind. I learned there was no conflict between faith and reason or reason and the imagination. I have read Lewis on and off for over twenty years and I agree with McGrath that he has something important to say.

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