Monday, January 16, 2012

C.S. Lewis: Nearing the Journey’s End – VII


On August 6 Lewis returned to the Kilns from The Acland Nursing Home. Warnie was still away, a male nurse was hired, and Jack’s bedroom was moved downstairs since the doctors forbade him from climbing stairs. Walter Hooper continued to assist Lewis in his correspondence and other affairs. Lewis resigned his professorship at Cambridge.

On August 8, 1963 Lewis writes to Miss Harlan:

“The other passage (‘He who has not the Son’) [1 John 5:12] must mean, I think, he who wholly lacks the Spirit of the Son. Those who do not recognize Him as the Son of God may nevertheless ‘have’ Him in a saving sense – as the ‘Sheep’ had in the parable of the sheep and goats. [Matthew 25:31-46].

“I could write you a better letter if I were not ill.” [This letter was apparently dictated by Lewis to Hooper and signed by Lewis.]

On August 10, 1963 Hooper writes to Mary Willis Shelburne:

“I am Professor C.S. Lewis’s secretary writing to tell you some of the facts of Professor Lewis’s present state of health…

“Professor Lewis regrets that he is unable at this time (and probably for a long time) to answer your letters. He is much concerned for you and prays that you may have courage for whatever may be yours both in the present and future.”

I include the letter to Shelburne in this post because it reflects Lewis’s concern and faithfulness to his long-time correspondent. The letter to Harlan is included because it shows Lewis picking up the pen (via dictation) two days after returning home to answer questions regarding Scripture and Christ, as well as giving insight into Lewis’s approach to Scripture.

My sense of Lewis is that where Mere Christianity is concerned (the essentials of the Christian faith that Christians of all times and in all places generally agree upon) that his approach is tight and clearly defined. Where matters beyond Mere Christianity are concerned Lewis, as it seems to me, gives room to various approaches, thoughts, interpretations, and applications. Hence he writes, “The other passage…must mean, I think…” Earlier in his letter to Harlan Lewis writes:

“But whether confession here means auricular confession to a priest or pastor or confession to the human parties whom one has offended or simply confession before God in the heart is, I suppose, one of those points on which Christian authority has given different answers in different times and places.” [Italics mine].

This is, in my thinking, a fair representation of Lewis’s approach to many questions of doctrine and practice – an acknowledgement that historically and presently we live in a large Kingdom with a rich (and sometimes not so rich) tapestry of thought. Lewis tends to honor various Christian traditions, indeed, as he tends to respect all traditions, and it appears that Lewis allowed plenty of room for mystery, for questions, for possibilities – the one thing he was not likely to do was to say, “The interpretation and application of this passage must be this way; it is my way or the highway.” Again, I’m writing about his approach to things beyond Mere Christianity.

On the other hand, Lewis could be polemic and tightly weave arguments on philosophical and literary questions, which by extension were Christian questions (informed by Christianity) – the body of his published work does exactly this. And of course, his writings about Mere Christianity, which range from the Space Trilogy to Narnia to Miracles to the Problem of Pain are anything but nebulous – though again mystery is present is many of his works; he acknowledges (I think) whether overtly or by implication that we just don’t know everything, that we simply don’t know how all the pieces of God’s plan for the ages fit together.

Lewis’s approach disturbs some people, and many who use Lewis’s work apologetically don’t know him well enough to know that their rigid attitudes toward other Christians are the antithesis of Lewis’s approach; nor do they often know that their attitudes toward other religions and philosophies and histories lack the grace and thoughtfulness that Lewis bore toward others. Then there are those who hijack Lewis to promote political agendas, while Lewis did have political thoughts, my sense is that he knew that politics was not the “main thing” in life.

The pastoral Lewis (if you will), the Lewis who answered the questions of his many correspondents, both high and low, was (to me) a Lewis who gave people room to grow, to think, to explore – he was a man of grace. And why not? For I think that he was a man who knew about grace and forgiveness – who knew about pain and joy – who knew that one could be oh so wrong – but who also knew of Christ’s amazing love and mercy. And remember, Lewis did not come to Christ via argument per se, he came to Christ by responding to beauty, to desire, to the transcendent; he was not convinced by argument, he was surprised by joy.

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