Alister McGrath on C.S. Lewis & the Postmodern Generation 50 years later (Christian Biography)

lewis

Biography snippets of Clive Staples Lewis, born in Belfast, Ireland 29th of November 1898 and died 22 November 1963.

A very interesting lecture, in which Dr. Alister McGrath gives some previously unknown details from C S Lewis’s life. Dr. McGrath (a former atheist, similar to C S Lewis himself) has written a biography for C. S. Lewis, for which he has done extensive research. I have met a few people who have been greatly assisted by Lewis in their search for God, while they were atheist. I have also seen college students greatly assisted by Lewis’s apologetics, especially Lewis’s book ‘Mere Christianity’,  so it a worthwhile biography to read up on and Dr. McGrath gives some detailed and personal insights into the man we now know as C S Lewis in the first video, following with a question and answer session in the second video.

Dr. McGrath explores some of the issues that Lewis engages, which remain important to us today. The theme of Dr. McGrath’s lecture is:

What does Lewis say to us today?

Dr. McGrath addresses 3 questions:

  1. So why does Lewis matter so much?
  2. What does he have to say to us today?
  3. Why does Dr. McGrath refer to Lewis as reluctant prophet?

The 4 themes of C S Lewis

(1) Christianity gives us a big picture

C S Lewis writes: „I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen; not only do I see it but by it I see everything else.” His point is that Christianity gives us this way of looking at things which helps them to come into focus. It gives us a panorama of reality  and it enables us to see what things are really like, and where we fit into things as well. And for Lewis, the ability of the Christian faith to make sense of things is a very important reason for thinking that it is true.

(2) The argument from desire

This is a quote from Lewis’s book ‘Mere Christianity’: „If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Well, what does he mean by that? Let me try and explain. He’s saying that most of us have this experience of longing for something that really satisfies, or the sense that there has to be more than what we know, there’s something beyond us. And Lewis starts to argue like this. He argues that there’s:

  • Spiritual longing
  • A sense of emptiness
  • Something that nothing created or finite can satisfy
  • A longing for God

So we begin to ask questions like: If there’s something, and we found it and we began to make sense of things, it will bring satisfaction and fulfillment to our lives. And then Lewis argues that, really, nothing in this world, nothing that is created or finite seems able to satisfy the deepest longings of humanity, because in reality, these are longings for God. And Lewis’s argument is that this experience of longing, which is so difficult to satisfy, is really a longing for God, which we get muddled about and attach to something else.

This a quote from Pilgrim’s Regress: „The human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given- nay, cannot even be imagined as given- in our present mode of subjective and spatio-temporal experience.” There is something we are meant to possess, to enjoy, and it’s not something in this world. But, our desires and longings help us realize that we are looking for something and that it is not to be found in this world. It lies beyond it.

This is brought up clearly, in what I think is some of Lewis’s best writing, preached in the University Church, Oxford, on 8 June 1941. Sermon: Weight of glory- Title comes from John Donne, who spoke of the ‘exceeding weight of divine glory’. In this sermon Lewis explores this idea of desire. What he is saying is this: We think that this- for example, the quest for beauty- or a really important relationship, that this is going to satisfy us, that somehow this is our destination of our quest for meaning and truth. But in reality it’s a signpost, pointing beyond itself. It’s not the signpost we’re looking for, it’s what it points to. And he argues like this:

„The books or the music which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.”

And so Lewis suggests that the things that create desire and longing- „like beauty, or the memory of past, these are good images of what we desire. In other words, not what we desire, but echoes of it or hints of it. But if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn them into dumb idols and they break the hearts of their worshippers.” So Lewis suggests that „they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have not visited.” Lewis is saying that one of the things you and I can help people to do is to realize that Christianity makes sense of this longing and points towards the One who is able to satisfy, to fulfill these deepest yearnings and transform us. So, Lewis ends this sermon by talking about his hope for transformation:

At present, we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door… We cannot mingle with the splendors that we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”

(3) Lewis on Imagination and Stories

I think Lewis’s greatest contribution lies in his imagination, in his importance of stories. Even as a teenager Lewis realized the powerful appeal that stories made to the imagination. His conversion to Christianity was partly about discovering that Christianity told a „grand story’ that both made sense of things, and appealed deeply to his imagination.

(4) Translation

We need to translate the Gospel message into terms an audience can understand. Lewis is good on this. We’re coming up on Easter Day and we’re going to be using words like Atonement, Redemption, Salvation, and we all know that these are very rich and important words, but they’re words our culture does not necessarily understand. And so, we have to explain, unpack, translate these ideas for the benefit of our audience. For example, Paul talks with great excitement in Romans 5 about being justified by faith, but if you talk to your friends about justification, they will mean something like this: Justification is giving an excuse for being late at work, or it’s about things you do to the right hand margin on your word processor. So the important thing is how do we translate?

During World War II, Lewis began to speak to ground crews at Royal AIr Force bases. He had to learn how to express himself in terms that this audience could understand and appreciate. And he did it. That’s one of the reason his broadcast talks over the BBC in the 1940’s were so successful. They connected up with where people were.

C S Lewis's church Holy Trinity Headington

Photo from video – C S Lewis’s church Holy Trinity, Headington

This lecture was given at Lanier Theological Library. VIDEO by fleetwd1
This lecture by Dr Alister McGrath was sponsored by The Lanier Theological Library in Houston, TX and presented at Champion Forest Baptist Church in Houston, TX, Saturday, March 23, 2012 titled: „C.S. Lewis and the Post Modern Generation: His Message 50 Years Later”.

Dr. Alister McGrath is a Professor of Theology, Ministry and Education at Kingʼs College London, and Head of its Centre for Theology, Religion, and Culture. He is also Senior Research Fellow at Harris Manchester College, Oxford, and President of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. Until 2008, he was Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University.

Dr. McGrath was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1953. He attended Methodist College, Belfast, in 1966 studying pure and applied mathematics, physics and chemistry. McGrath continued his education and eventually earned both a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics and a Doctorate of Divinity from Oxford University. The interactions between these two areas of study—Christian theology and the natural sciences—have been a major theme of his research work.

Dr. Alister McGrath poses for a picture while ...

As a former atheist, McGrath is respectful, yet critical of scientific atheism. He has frequently engaged in debate and dialogue with leading atheists, including Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins. McGrath has explored Charles Darwinʼs role in atheist apologetics and other controversial concepts of atheism, such as the „meme” in recent atheist accounts of the origins of belief in God.

McGrath is working on many projects, including his research on the late C. S. Lewis and a major intellectual history of the Swiss Protestant theologian Emil Brunner. His new book to be published in March is entitled C. S. Lewis – A Life. Reluctant Prophet, Eccentric Genius. This biography will be supplemented by a collection of eight major academic essays on Lewis, to be published in May 2013. Other forthcoming books are the first in a five-volume series entitled „Christian Belief for Everyone” and a new textbook on Christian History.

For more infomation on the Lanier Theological Library:http://www.laniertheologicallibrary.org/ VIDEO by fleetwd1

Alister McGrath Q & A

  • Did C S Lewis doubt God when his wife died?
  • What would C S Lewis think about our current culture?
  • Do you have any idea why Lewis made the ruler of Narnia a woman?
  • Is there any author today that could carry on Lewis’s legacy of writing compelling fiction, non-fiction, and children’s literature?
  • Has C S Lewis’s intellectual legacy done us any notable disservice?
  • How did Lewis’s Platonism influence his christianity?
  • Did Lewis continue his studies of Nordic Myth after his conversion?
  • Do any of his writings reveal any hesitations or change in his viewpoint?
  • What do you think of Lewis’s view of Scripture? (13:50)
  • Is it true that C S Lewis’s reputation is more admired in the US, while the British are more skeptical of him?
  • If someone has never read C S Lewis, where do you recommend they start?
  • Was Lewis willing to suspend some of his more orthodox views for the good of the story?
  • What story would you or Lewis use to explain justification in the 21st century?
  • C S Lewis operated from the margins of religious life. Why is he a central  figure now?
  • What would you say in regards to C S Lewis’ apologetics?
  • Could you speak to the correct order of Narnia books?

Related articles from this blog

From the C S Lewis Institute 6 videos- very, very interesting and from an extremely enjoyable lecturer:

More C. S. Lewis

  1. C.S. Lewis The Abolition of Man Chapter 1 – Men without chests
  2. C.S. Lewis The Abolition of Man Chapter 2 The Way
  3. C.S. Lewis The Abolition of Man Chapter 3

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