Tag Archives: C.S. Lewis

A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War: a Reflection

Machine gunners in the Battle of the Somme. A young British soldier, J.R.R. Tolkien, served in this most grueling battle of the “Great War.”

Veterans Day, in 2018, marks a special day in world history, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One. This war is often overshadowed, for Americans, by WWII, despite the fact that the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, in the closing weeks of the “Great War,” killed more Americans than either the Battle of the Bulge or the D-Day Normandy Invasion.

In July, 1914, European powers acted upon long-held treaty agreements, to create military alignments, following an assassin’s bullet that killed the Archduke Ferdinand. The nations of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russian, Britain, and France, among others, were fully mobilized for war. Yet as Barbara Tuchman tells it, in her gripping The Guns of August, this was an age of optimistic progressivism. Despite the growing conflict in 1914, people thought that the war would be decided quickly. Everyone would be home by Christmas.

Recent technological advancements, like the inventions of the electric light bulb, radio, and the airplane, gave people the impression that humans have unlimited potential to solve real world problems. The benefits of science could be employed to make life better.  But the war demonstrated that the same technological power to improve things also gave us the horrors of the machine gun, trench warfare, and mustard gas. By the time the war ended in November, 1918, millions lay dead. Most soldiers survived the war, but even afterwards, many succumbed to the Spanish Flu epidemic.

As I have listened  to episodes of the Imperial War Museums, First World War Centenary podcasts, (a great website, if you like history), chronicling the progress of the war over those four years, it is apparent that life for millions during the Great War proved the progressive optimism of a swift, positive solution to the war to be misguidedly wrong. This is where Joseph Loconte’s book, A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918, comes in.

C.S Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were young soldiers in the British army, serving on the Western front in France. Both men endured the stench and horror of this most terrible slaughter. Lewis was injured by an artillery blast, that eventually took him out of the war. Tolkien suffered from trench fever, spread by lice, which finally rendered him unfit to continue in frontline duty. Tolkien himself recollected that by the end of the war, nearly all of his army friends were dead.

Armistice Day arrived November 11, 1918, what Americans remember now as Veterans Day. Many celebrated the end of the war, but for weary soldiers like Tolkien and Lewis, it was probably more a sense of relief, and an opportunity to mourn the loss of good friends.

Tolkien and Lewis finally met several years later, as professors at Oxford. They had both taken up the scholarly calling to study English literature and the great stories of the medieval period. Both men were extremely gifted with their imaginations, and used their talents to provide the world some of the best fantasy literature of the 20th century.

These men formed a remarkable friendship. Tolkien was instrumental in persuading Lewis to give up his atheism and embrace the Christian faith. Lewis, in turn, encouraged Tolkien to continue in completing his magnificent The Lord of the Rings trilogy, when the author became weary of the endeavor over the years.

For both men, the experience of the Great War proved to be the crucible that fired up their imagination to produce their separate works, which uniquely gave complementary visions of the world, grounded in a Christian theological framework. The aftermath of the Great War inspired others to embrace, either a reactionary, nihilistic response to humanity’s plight, rejecting Christianity in the process, or a liberal  wishful dream, that the “War to End All Wars” would usher in a new age of peace, making the truth claims of orthodox Christianity unnecessary.

Joseph Loconte makes the case that Lewis and Tolkien took a different path, striving to revive a vision of classic Christian thought, as an alternative to the more popular outlooks, that sought to embrace together both the valor and dignity of humanity, with a sober appreciation of the depths of human depravity and evil. This thoroughly Christian perspective, combining the biblical themes of creation and fall, that so saturated the medieval Christian mindset, were given a fresh, new imaginative expression through the worlds of Narnia and Middle Earth. Many have appreciated the literary contributions of Lewis and Tolkien, while missing the profound theological and spiritual realities, which both writers point towards.

The Great War technically ended on that Armistice Day, in 1918. But one hundred years later, the same intellectual and imaginative challenges that Lewis and Tolkien experienced in their era, continue to plague the postmodern world of the 21st century. Loconte makes a compelling case that Lewis’ and Tolkien’s work remain just as relevant and necessary as ever.

The Great War finally did come to an end. Life continued on.

But for what purpose?

Lewis and Tolkien did much of the hard work in their generation, to rethink such a profound question. Today, we need a new generation of Lewis’ and Tolkien’s to carry on the task of reimagining the world, within the context of a robust Christian perspective.

Loconte is currently working on a documentary film project, that explores the themes of his book, that fans of Lewis and Tolkien should consider supporting. A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War has encouraged me to revisit the great work of both Lewis and Tolkien, as companions to rethink the cultural challenges of our day and age. The trailer for the film in progress is below:

BONUS: Peter Jackson, the film director behind the movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, has restored and colorized hours of Imperial War Museums archive film to produce a new documentary on the Great War:


C. S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms Redux

We are wrapping up our study of the Book of Psalms this week, as part of a “Summer Reflection Challenge.” As I mentioned at the beginning of the summer, I promised to re-read C.S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms (as an audiobook), and I found a few more gems in Lewis’ wonderful little book that I missed the first time.

This “Summer Reflection Challenge” was indeed a “challenge,” as our church leadership urged us to read 15 psalms a week, thus covering all 150 psalms in 10 weeks. The idea was to read a psalm in the morning, by yourself, then read a psalm at noon, with someone else, and then read a psalm at the end of the day, with your family. Because of attention to my job, I never quite got the rhythm of the noon-time reading, and I missed a number of readings, requiring me to lean on the weekend for catch-up. But it really was a good spiritual discipline, to try to incorporate into my life.

Running back through Lewis’ short book of the Psalms (184 pages), at the end of the challenge, was a great way to top it all off. Most of these lessons may seem a bit random. But they give me a greater love for Scripture, encouraging me to dig deeper into the text in the future:

  • Lewis observes that what makes the Psalms work so well as poetry, is that they employ the literary technique of Hebrew parallelism, taking a particular thought, and then either repeating that same thought, in a slightly different way, or bringing out the first thought’s antithesis, in order to make a point. Too often, some students of Scripture will overwork such parallelism, looking for particular meanings, in each parallel phrase, when the author’s primary concern is simply to repeat something for emphasis, in a slightly different manner.  See Psalm 2:4 and 37:6, for some good examples. The Bible Project has a great video series on biblical interpretation that covers Hebrew parallelism (in poetry), for more information.
  • Lewis also observes that this Hebrew parallelism works well for translators. I would not say that this is a wonderful stroke of “luck,” but it is “a wise provision of God’s, that poetry which was to be turned into all languages should have as its chief formal characteristic one that does not disappear (as mere metre does) in translation” (p. 12). That is a good argument for why we should make every effort to translate the Bible into all known languages and dialects.
  • There is a big difference between “being in the right” on a particular matter and “being righteous.” The Psalmist cry for justice, “being in the right,” works a bit differently than the New Testament emphasis on the importance of justification, so that we might be made righteous. Both are important, and yet both can be easily confused, to our detriment.
  • We often read a Christian understanding into the Psalms that was not there when the authors wrote them. The New Testament writers make good use of the Psalms, particularly with respect to understanding prophecy about Christ. But we miss out a lot on what the Old Testament is saying when we ignore the Old Testament context. Lewis gives Psalm 17:13-14 (on pages 29-30) as a good example, but I defer to Professor Claude Mariottini’s excellent analysis of that text, for all of the details.
  • The Psalms make a big deal about being careful about the company we keep. Yes, as Christians, we are to reach out to our neighbor, and bear witness for the Gospel. However, often it is the case that hanging out with wicked people can cause even the Christian to lower their standards over time, for fear of coming across to one’s neighbor as being a “prig,” as Lewis puts it. For example, Psalm 50:18 has a stern warning against those who compromise their faith principles,  “When you see a thief, you join with him; you throw in your lot with adulterers.” It is always a lot easier to go along with the flow. The Psalmist, in contrast, encourages us to pray that we might have firm boundaries, when dealing with those who might lead the believer astray. Lewis’ advice is sound, “Silence is a good refuge. People will not notice it nearly so easily as we tend to suppose… Disagreement can, I think, sometimes be expressed without the appearance of priggery, if it is done argumentatively not dictatorially; support will often come from some most unlikely member of the party, or from more than one, till we discover that those who were silently dissentient were actually a majority. A discussion of real interest may follow. Of course the right side may be defeated in it. That matters very much less that I use to think. The very man who has argued you down will sometimes be found, years later, to have been influenced by what you said” (p. 62).
  • Lewis’ warning about his fellow Anglicans, and their tendency to be the “Frozen Chosen,” has good application for all sorts of Christians, who miss out on the importance of expressive praise when it comes to worship. It is difficult to read Psalm 97:1, without a sense that exuberance in worship should easily exceed even the most exciting sports match! “We have a terrible concern about good taste. Yet even we can still exult” (p. 52)

So, with that, I conclude this meditation with something that Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann notes in his The Message of the Psalms, about Psalm 150, the closing psalm of this marvelous book of Scripture: “The expectation of the Old Testament is not finally obedience, but adoration… such a life arrives at unencumbered praise” (p. 167). I do not chime in Professor Brueggemann on every element of his theology, but what he says here is well put, summing up much of what Lewis finds so welcoming about the Psalms. Naysayers who might grumble about some things Lewis says here and there would do well to consider Lewis’ thoughtful meditation.

If you ever spend much time reading the Psalms, and need a good companion, I highly recommend C.S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms.




C.S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms

C.S. Lewis.

The Psalms remain a difficult book for many Christians today. C. S. Lewis’ Reflections on the Psalms might help many of us to find our way through this great book of poetry, in the Hebrew Scriptures.

I have come to the conclusion that C. S. Lewis is probably one of greatest Christian writers that actually few Christians hardly ever read. As I have written about before, back when I was in college, C. S. Lewis was all the rage. But aside from his children’s books (the Narnia series) and a handful of other titles, I think that many evangelical Christians, like myself, probably have bought C. S. Lewis books before, thinking that we really should read more of Lewis, but that if we are honest, we often leave those Lewis volumes gathering dust upon our shelves.

I bought Mere Christianity a good 35 years ago. There it still sits on my shelf, beckoning me.  Even my co-blogging colleague, John Paine, has confessed here on Veracity that he found C. S. Lewis very hard to read.

Many evangelicals know that C. S. Lewis has been probably one of the greatest apologists for the Christian faith, of all time. Therefore, we feel we ought to know at least something about him, aside from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. As my church begins to preach on the Psalms this summer, I thought it might be good to step up to the challenge myself and listen to Reflections on the Psalms, as an audio book, and hear what I can learn from the Oxford don, whose voice once resonated across the BBC airwaves, during the horrors of Hitler’s bombings of London, during World War 2 (That is how we got the essays that make up Mere Christianity, by the way).

Evangelical unease over Lewis can be put no better than in Douglas Wilson’s brief review, when he read Reflections on the Psalms: “Glorious, but awful in parts….Lewis has an uncanny ability to edify me and appall me simultaneously.” Continue reading

Lewis, Kennedy, Huxley… and the End of the Age of Innocence

lkhThree deaths on one day, November 22, 1963, that marked the passing of an era. Justin Taylor, at the Gospel Coalition, chronicles the timeline of the events on that momentous day, with a blog post entitled “The Death of Narnia, Camelot, and the Brave New World: A Timeline of 11.22.63.”  Three iconic figures. Three different views of death. Three different visions of reality. Which vision of reality, Narnia, Camelot, or a Brave New World, best lives on, captivating your imagination today?

(As for me, Narnia is what draws me in)


C.S. Lewis, the Scandal of Particularity, Science & Revelation

Reading about my Veracity co-blogger John Paine’s adventures in England, and seeing the photos of the Eagle and Child, it made me think of C. S. Lewis. Until recently, I have never been a very avid C. S. Lewis reader. My problem is a bit different from John’s. Sure, Lewis can at times be hard to get through, but my primary difficulty is that I have a rebellious streak against reading popular Christian authors.

Back when I was in college in the mid-80’s, it seemed like EVERY Christian I knew was reading C. S. Lewis. Or at least, they planned to read Lewis. Lewis just seemed a bit too trendy to me, and Lewis himself thought that his work would be long forgotten within years of his death. At that time, Lewis had been dead for twenty years, and it just seemed like there was a desperate need for new voices, and aside from exceptions like Francis Schaeffer, evangelical Christianity was not producing many with the kind of substance Lewis possessed. I respected Lewis, but I had little desire to fall into the “Lewis crowd.” So I bought a small stack of MacMillan published titles from the college bookstore, and there they sat on my shelf, unread, for years.

The situation is different today. C. S. Lewis is still popular, but mostly through his children’s works, and not so much through his apologetics writings. Among evangelicals now, I find that C. S Lewis is someone everyone has heard of, but few have really read. Like me, those books just sit up on the shelf, and many Christians say, “Maybe someday I will try to crack open some of Lewis’ more challenging writings.”

A few years ago, my rebellious spirit prompted me to go against this evangelical malaise and actually read Lewis. I read The Great Divorce, and it gave me a whole new way of thinking about the doctrine of hell. Lewis’ Space Triology was up next, and it made me wish I had read through the whole series thirty years earlier! Sure, there are some peculiar constructions in Lewis’ style that seem outdated, but the man had a grasp for ideas that in many ways was years ahead of his time. It would probably help us if we were to dust off those Lewis books on our bookshelf, and engage what Lewis had to say. This video by pastor John Piper, tells us why Lewis is still important:

Here is one of those ideas in Lewis that has had me thinking a lot recently….
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