Archive for the ‘Literature’ category

An Inkling of Transcendence: Lewis and Tolkien

October 8, 2017

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“[His] father had taught him to absorb doubt and disbelief into his beliefs.”

This statement from the book, Inklings, by Humphrey Carpenter, is spoken of Charles Williams, who was a regular participant in the informal discussion group, the Inklings, formed by CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien at the University of Oxford, England. The group met at various time in Lewis’s classroom and a local pub from the late 1930’s to late 1949. Charles Williams was an early member of the group and continued as a regular until his death in 1945. Williams grew up “a devout churchman” but was encouraged by his father “to appreciate the force of atheistic rationalism and to admire such men as Voltaire and Tom Paine”.

Lewis, of course, was an atheist when he began teaching at Oxford. His journey from a naturalistic worldview to agnosticism to Christian theism is chronicled in his autobiographical work, Surprised by Joy. Tolkien was already a Christian when Lewis joined him as a professor at Oxford, and Tolkien influenced Lewis in his transition to Christianity. Williams came along later. These men were attracted to each other as much by their love of language, literature and poetry as their faith, and their views on literature and faith often diverged sharply.

These three men, and others who joined them, were a powerhouse of thought and creativity. CS Lewis, of course, wrote many books from fiction to philosophy. JRR Tolkien wrote, perhaps, the greatest mythological series of the 20th century in the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Charles Williams, though lesser known, was a prolific writer, literary critic, publisher and student of English literature who could recite hundreds of passages from sheer memory.

They influenced each other, despite their very distinct differences, and their collective influence has been felt by generations from their day to ours. They were Christian men, believing very authentically in the Bible as scripture, but they were also fierce academics who held their faith up to the rigors of intellectual exercise.

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Living with the End in Mind

January 19, 2016


“Terminal” is the beginning and the end of a new project by Jon Foreman, one of my favorite musical artists. (See “The Wonderlands”,  (http://www.jonforeman.com) and the video posted online by Relevant Magazine produced at the Guitar Center.)

Jon Foreman, like Bono, repeats the theme in his music that these lives that we live are short compared to the expanse of time. We “die a little every day”. Our lives are terminal.

We all think about it from time to time, though most of us would rather not dwell on it. Yet, there it is: in the back of our minds, nagging. It never quite goes away. Though we try to drown out the beating drum of time marching on, the incessant cadence continues on, always under the surface of our consciousness.

Like many ancients, Jon Foreman does not shrink back from the reality. Unlike most, he embraces it. (more…)

Exploring the Gospels from Different Angles: Location, Names and Nuance

August 16, 2015

Kinnereth (Sea of Galilee), Israel - panorama of the southern end, February 5th, 2014I am continually interested in the latest evidence for God and the authenticity of the Bible. Not that I am doubting and looking for evidence to bolster my faith. Rather, it is like opening presents on Christmas.

I searched, and I found the path that I am on long ago. Not that I was a great discoverer; far from it. God saw me coming. Not that I have arrived, but there is no other path for me. I was meant to be on this one. When Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through me”, I believed.

I still believe. Not that this belief is unsubstantiated faith. Far from it! God made Himself known to me years ago. He met me where I was years ago, and he continues to be true, trustworthy, faithful and present today. The older I get and more I learn, the more true it rings.  (more…)

Theology, Science, Dreaming and Waking

July 20, 2015

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I am a great fan of C.S. Lewis. Not that I agree with everything he has written, I love his genius and insight that is marked by a truly Renaissance journey through all of the great classical literature, philosophy and rational, scientific discourse. He approaches Christianity from the opposite shore and provides a view that most churchgoers would never otherwise get.

I recently read his short essay (Is Theology Poetry?) that is published with the Weight of Glory and other addresses by Harper One. In classic Lewis style, he starts off with a very obscure, nuanced question (that few, if anyone, would even think to explore) and, from the seeming pedantry and narrow beginning, he opens up the discourse about half way through into a sweeping view of an eternal truth that is absolutely breathtaking. (more…)

The Joy of C.S. Lewis

November 25, 2013

cslewisThe death of C.S. Lewis was eclipsed by the death of John F. Kennedy on the same date in history. Ironically, Aldous Huxley also died on that date in 1963. Unlike the overshadowing at his death, the life of C.S. (Jack) Lewis and the legacy of his writing and thinking endures. He is perhaps better known today than even during his life.

I have always been enamored of C.S. Lewis. He became a Christian in the secular environment of academic pursuit at Oxford. I became a believer in college in the same type of environment, though hardly of the same high academic and intellectual standard. His autobiographical book, “Surprised by Joy,” stands as a favorite book for me, and one which has become a waypost in my own life. It can be a tough read, not only for the enormous detail of classic and philosophical references, but for the somewhat self-indulgent inward looking preoccupation of the author – but, after all, it is an autobiography.

For me, the importance is not in what he did, but in his journey of thought. Lewis was an uncompromising thinker who diligently, methodically, and with integrity and brutal honesty, journeyed from childish religiosity, past the death of his mother, where the emptiness of religion without connection to the Living God is found to be wholly wanting. From there he careened to the opposite shore, finding comfort in the grim, cold world of materialism, exactly for the reason that no Cosmic Interferer dwells there to bother a fiercely independent soul.

Lewis was nothing if not driven to seek ultimate truth through the enormous volume of reading material that he devoured with relish. He traveled the path of logic and truth, tested by personal experience, through the various stages of his journey, which he described as a search for “Joy”. Lewis read the classics in the actual Latin and Greek and went from genre to genre and era to era tracing the breadcrumbs of literary history left by the greatest of the great writers. Through the cold air of atheistic materialism in his early twenties broke the warm sunlight of Christian thought from writers like G.K. Chesterton along with the fluorescence of the occult. From the unlikely combination of these sources, the possibility of the miraculous and magic pierced the hard shell of purely rational and materialistic thought. It was not long thereafter that Lewis abandoned the barren ground of atheism for the swampy soil of agnosticism.

Lewis says that he was tempted by the occult, but he was also fearful of it, like a person who does illicit drugs but has enough sense to know the line not to cross. He rejected that path even before finding his Destination in the same way he rejected physical lusts and other temptations. He found them ultimately to be counterfeit, substitutes for the real Joy of which he had gotten glimpses at different points in his life. This Joy became his measure for what he sought. He described it variously, but perhaps best, as a longing that in the longing was the most fulfilling of experiences one could know. It was for Lewis an inner compass pointing true North.

The new atheist has no prior claim to the ground Lewis Lewis already traversed with his academic mentors who were firmly and rigorously entrenched in rationalistic, materialistic thought. Peering through the prism of the greatest thinkers from every age, he found it ultimately one dimensional. Lewis trusted the “inner man”, the individual conscience and personal experience, guided as it were through the various veins of thought, testing each one in turn for dependability, harmony with the amalgam of ideas sifted through many ages and many thinkers and, not the least, as reflected through the natural world itself. Of this last strainer of thought, Lewis would echo the writer of Romans (1:20):

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made….”

From the abandonment of atheism for the more plausible, but uncertain, reality that there lies behind the veneer of this material world a Source of that Joy that became his fixed pursuit, Lewis journeyed into the realm of belief again, much the wiser and.

He does not spend a great deal of time describing his examination of the gamut of religions before landing on the steps to the House of the God of Abraham, leaving the impression that his pace from atheist to agnostic to Christian accelerated along the way, as if he found the guideposts clearly marked and the compass firmly fixed as he emerged.

Lewis does not spare himself in the chronicle of this journey. In fact, he is almost surgical, in the most intimate way, in his analysis of the various stages of his thought life, not holding back any information, however self-deprecating. In this way, Lewis demonstrates well the wisdom he gained along path: that the worst of the attitudes, and the furthest from God – the Source of Joy – is human pride.

His conversion is almost anticlimactic. He simply gives in one day to the only proposition left at the end of this long journey. Like the Psalmist who said, “Where can I go from your presence? Where can I flee from your spirit?” (Psalm 139:7), Lewis had nowhere else to go; the trail led to one Place only and only one: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Though some claim that Lewis never had a true conversion (and how would they know?), the rest of his life from this submission to God at the age of 31 bespeaks a man who came to rest solidly and squarely on the foundation of the Bible, the cornerstone of which is Jesus Christ. It became his defining Truth, the Compass for all future thought, and the filter through which the body of his written work clearly flows. That he wrote of fantastical creatures and magic and used imagery that is often accused of being occultist is a product of his enormous memory bank of all the great writings in history. He conjured up these things, like the classic and romantic writers – Milton and others, Christian or not – who borrowed from the same historic library of great writings.

These images are allegories, and Lewis was a master of allegory. For Lewis, the myths of all ages reflected truth, like shadows dancing on walls from the bright sunlight through prison bars, but the sunlight is Christ. 

Of the fact that he brought all these images into submission to God, I have no doubt. This was the world Lewis knew, and this world of knowledge he used as a prism to show in radiant color the truth and the light of the Gospel – Jesus Christ, and him crucified, dead, buried and resurrected, the hope and salvation of all mankind to as many as will believe, offering grace for sin, life for death, having made the way for men to be made right and to have fellowship as sons and daughters with God the Father – the Source all Joy.

What Lewis learned early, and what led him on his journey, was not to settle for a false joy, which is merely a shadow of the real Thing. What he discovered is that the real Thing is not the joy, itself. The Joy he experienced resulted from close encounters with the Living God – catching glimpses of the Creator of heaven and earth – who reveals himself to the man who searches, who opens the door to the man who knocks, and who is found by the humble and submitted heart. The real Joy is found in God Himself. Joy, the experience, is only the shadow; God is the Source.

I recommend Surprised by Joy to anyone who likes C.S. Lewis or would like to follow his journey. Here is another take on this underrated classic by Dr. Bruce L. Edwards, English professor at Bowling Green: http://personal.bgsu.edu/~edwards/surprised.html; and for a collection of thoughts and essays on C.S. Lewis: http://personal.bgsu.edu/~edwards/lewisr.html.

Lighting Out for the Wild West

August 23, 2013

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A number of personal “revelations” mark my way in life. Among them is one that occurred in college during a combined history/literature class. Among the books we read were the Pioneers by James Fenimoore Cooper and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. The books we read explored the line between wilderness and civilization, the tension between man’s indomitable quest to conquer nature and the longing to be free of modern complexities and problems.

Cooper wrote the Pioneers in 1823. It was fiction but likely described life at the “western frontier” of the time in the upstate New York Cooperstown area. The main character, the Leatherstocking, Natty Bumpo, was a grizzled old man who was more comfortable with the Indians on the other side of the lake than “his” people. His people were recklessly intent on taming the wilderness. He had more of a kinship with the Indians who respected nature and did not have an itching need to tame it.

Cooper was among the earliest environmentalists, concerned about preserving the wilderness, though he would not have been called an environmentalist at the time. In one of the most memorable segments of the book, he described the wanton abandon with which the pioneers heartily shot the flocks of slow Passenger Pigeons, leaving the entire flock dead on the ground at the end. The Passenger Pigeon has since gone extinct due to that kind of behavior.

Bumpo was not comfortable with his own crowd, and the book ends with him heading west to find less populated and untamed land.

Huckleberry Finn, of course, is a story of a young man cut out of a similar cloth, but set at a slightly later time, around 1845. We barely left Natty Bumpo heading west, and just twenty something years after the Leatherstocking left upstate New York to find less civilized country, Huckleberry Finn was struggling to conform with the “civilized” society of Hannibal, Missouri.

Huck had no more affection for the polite society of Hannibal than the Leatherstocking had for his kind. At the end of the book we find Huck lighting out for the west as he found the wilderness of the Mississippi becoming too civilized for his tastes. These books stirred a similar longing in me.  (more…)

Who Wrote the Gospels?

July 27, 2013
Dr. Peter Williams 2

From a Lecture – Dr Peter Williams – New Evidences the Gospels were Based on Eyewitness Accounts

The Bible is ubiquitous in our society. More people have an opinion on the Bible than people who have read it, or at least much of it. The text was written over a period of 1500 years by about 40 some different people. As a literary text, I was struck when I first read it (for a class in college) by how complex, yet harmonious the Bible is. There was an internal authenticity that spoke to me.

While our society tends to view the Bible as just another book, a piece of our history and common culture, something that people tend to like (the most read book), but nothing to be taken terribly seriously, people of faith view it as the Word of God, sent from heaven, a revelation of God’s purpose and design for mankind. Few people really study the Bible in-depth and detail from an “objective” view. Maybe no one does. We come to it with our preconceived notions, and we look for support for what we already believe is true.

I have a great deal of doubt in the human ability to be objective. Scientists who live by the scientific method, in my opinion, can be as guilty of bias as the common man, and are all the more culpable for claiming it is science. But that is the subject of another discussion.

At the same time, there are stories of people who set out to disprove the Bible who come to believe it is true. Many of them in fact.

I did not approach the Bible initially like that; rather I approached it as I approached everything in my life during my search-for-truth-phase: I assumed there was truth in the Bible like there was truth in the Bhagavad gita, the Quran, Khalil Gibran, Aristotle, Plato and all of the philosophers, and Emerson, Shakespeare and all of the great writers. I still believe there is truth to that assumption. Truth is truth no matter where it is found. If truth is attainable and knowable, people from all over the world should have some grasp of it.

As a much older person, I have also come to believe firmly in the human capacity to ignore, overlook and dismiss the truth. There is so much at stake, chiefly our own pride and self-esteem. We commit to principles quickly sometimes, and we hold fast in the face of contrary evidence because we do not want to be wrong, especially once we have invested ourselves in those principles. We have fears and insecurities that we try to cover, and we try to protect ourselves from being exposed. There are probably hundreds of reasons, big and small, that we miss the truth – big truths and little truths. It takes a lot of energy to be on the lookout for truth, and many of us do not have that energy or the time in our fast-paced, busy lives to be that vigilant.

Much has been made about inconsistencies and contradictions in the Bible and lack of archaeological and historical evidence. The inconsistencies and contradictions that I have checked out are largely due to to lack of knowledge, misunderstanding or purposeful attempts to miscast the text. Archaeological and historical claims are based more on lack of evidence than contradictory evidence. Modern discoveries do more to substantiate the Biblical text than to disprove it. Still, there may be no absolute proof of the veracity of the Biblical text this side of heaven.

As intelligent, or capable of intelligence, we are as human beings, none of us can claim to be all-knowing, all-seeing or to have a corner on ultimate truth – at least none of us can claim it with a straight face or a sound mind.

With that said, I have found no reasons not to discount the Bible as the authentic revelation of God in the 30 years since I came to be a believer. In that time, I have found even more reasons to accept it.

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