Monday, October 26, 2009

Books That Changed My Life

C.S. Lewis is one of those authors that Christians like to cling to with all tenacity and ferocity (as well they probably should. Heaven knows there's a great mass of awful Christian writing out there. Although any opponents who might wish to gloat on that point, I would hastily point out the even greater mass of awful non-Christian writers currently in print.) We know that he was a great author, a great intellectual, and a great historian by any standard. However, often for me he brings to mind the old Mark Twain observation that a "Classic" is a book which people praise and don't read. Sure, everyone reads the Narnia books and some read The Screwtape Letters, both of which are awesome in their own right. But who reads, say, The Great Divorce aside from theology nerds like Laurie and I.

And speaking of that, one of the beautiful things I find about Lewis is that he is very much a unifying force (and we can use all of those we can get in the church.) I've heard the half dozen people I've met who've read The Great Divorce from various theological standpoints themselves all come away with kind of a "hm. As a thought experiment, kind of cool. As theology, pretty weird." Lewis did have some pretty quirky theology, but in my experience none but those on the more divisive end actually ever attack Lewis. There's that famous story of a baffled Bob Jones who, upon having met C.S. Lewis, was asked what he thought and replied with much confusion “That man smokes a pipe, and that man drinks liquor—but I do believe he is a Christian.”

I had a very difficult time with Mere Christianity about a year ago specifically his suppositions about free will (which would be laughed right out of any biology, physics or philosophy department building of a modern university. He's very much into free will through the eyes of thinkers of 70 years past), but I still think Lewis was a great Christian author. And let me tell you why.

Till We Have Faces is, in my opinion, if not his finest work very nearly so. It is by far my favorite work of his. Till We Have Faces is a retelling of a Greek myth but it is so much more than that. The first half of the book reads like a historically type novel. I was able to find myself totally bathed in the story by Part 2, I've talked to others who found it a bit on the yawny side until Part 2 which I don't get, but fair enough.

The second part completely destroyed me.

Lewis expresses the greatness of God in such a staggering way. It captures the reaction of Isaiah, or pretty much anyone who experiences a theophany, when they feel they are undone, when they realize and experience. I won't give away much because one really needs to read this book. Everyone should read this book.
This is where Lewis shines. When it comes to specific doctrines, Lewis and I have differences. Clearly I have no problem with the smoking and liquor thing. I personally feel that Lewis and scripture have some differences of universe views. But I wholeheartedly, without a moment's hesitation affirm once again that Lewis was a wonderful Christian and a jewel of a man. And while his intellect in, say, The Screwtape Letters is an absolute delight to read, I think the intellect really only serves as a support for Lewis' true gift which was expressing God's greatness, holiness and love in tangible, visceral terms that reach out of the pages and grab the reader by the lapel.

If you have not read this book, read it. I've had different eyes ever since I first read this book. It's that good.


  1. I LOVE "Till We Have Faces." Its one of my favorite books.

  2. Me too! One of my favorites. Definately in my short list.

  3. Till We Have Faces is probably my favorite Lewis novel. I quite liked parts of his "space trilogy", too. But TWHF really is a classic and one of the few books I've read multiple times.

    I'm also maybe one of the select group of people out there today that gets why George MacDonald shows up in The Great Divorce and appreciates him specifically for his George MacDonaldness. :-P

    Posting with my Google Account because Blogger secretly hates OpenID.