Thursday, March 13, 2008
At the Kilns: Learning from C.S. Lewis (I)
As I mentioned earlier this week, I am investing time to learn from the teaching of C.S. Lewis for the course of this year. Over the next few months, I hope to post what I am gleaning from this intellectual and spiritual giant.
At the Kilns: Learning from C.S. Lewis
I recently read “Learning in War-Time” which was a message C.S. Lewis preached at Oxford on October 22 1939. He had been asked to speak on the question whether students should continue with their studies while Great Britain was engaged in an all-encompassing war. He argues, simply, "yes." In the process of his argument on that subject, he makes a comparison to Christians studying, or doing anything, during the ongoing spiritual war.
When thinking about the secular and sacred aspects of life, Christians always end up wrestling with the question C.S. Lewis poses: “How can you be so frivolous and selfish as to think about anything but the salvation of human souls?” There are Christians who ask this question of themselves and others. I wrestle with this question sometimes when I invest energy and time into teaching students about the writings of Shakespeare rather than the writings of the Apostle Paul. It is a worthy question to consider, given the fact that everything this side of glory will pass away. However, this sort of question, adds Lewis, “implies that our life can, and ought, to become exclusively and explicitly religious.” In one sense, our lives do become transformed and all-consumed by Christ. But Lewis distinguishes an exclusive divide between sacred and secular. He writes, “Before I became a Christian I do not think I fully realised hat one’s life, after conversion, would inevitably consist in doing most of the same things one had been doing before, one hopes, in a new spirit, but still the same things.” The reality, Lewis points out, is that we spend most of our time doing the mundane, secular things in life. The solution to this question, then, that Lewis presents is this: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Co 10:31) Lewis goes on to say, “All our merely natural activities will be accepted, if they are offered to God, even the humblest, and all of them, even the noblest, will be sinful if they are not.” This truth can be an encouragement or a sobering rebuke.
Below are some particularly meritous excerpts from the same sermon:
We must do what we were created to do
“The work of Beethoven and the work of a charwoman become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly ‘as the Lord.’ This does not, of course, mean that it is a mere toss-up whether he should sweep rooms or compose symphonies. A mole must dig to the glory of God and a cock must crow.”
Why we need educated Christians
“A cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now---not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground---would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen.”
“Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”
“Most of all, perhaps, we need an intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has anything magical about it, but we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion.”
“A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times, and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pouts from the press and the microphone of his own age.”
The quotes from C.S. Lewis are taken from “Learning in War-Time” in The Weight of Glory, edited by Walter Hooper (HarperCollins, 2001)