Tag Archives: C.S. Lewis

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.

 

 

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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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The Eagle and Child in All of Us

And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25, NET)

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Outside Christ Church College, Oxford. One of the most beautiful and profoundly ‘magical’ places we have ever been. Scenes from Harry Potter movies were shot here. Albert Einstein, John Locke, John Wesley, Lewis Carroll, and 13 of the 26 Prime Ministers from Oxford studied here. Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland was inspired here, and Alice was the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church.

Yesterday, Marion and I travelled to Oxford and had a late lunch in the renowned Eagle and Child pub, where a group of famous Christians met regularly to encourage one another. We sat in the same nook where J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and others discussed ideas that shaped some of the most significant English literature to come out of the twentieth century. I couldn’t help feeling a little exuberant, so I took a few snaps with my cell phone and sent them off to friends and family.

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I really didn’t want to write this post. I’ve never read any Tolkien. I’m no C.S. Lewis scholar. I find it difficult to read Lewis’ philosophical theology, preferring instead to listen to his books using Audible. His writing is undeniably brilliant and packed with words that connect the intellect to our faith. But as Dick Woodward once told me, “C.S. Lewis made things complicated, but I spent my entire ministry trying to make them simple—so people would understand.” One of the great wonders of the Christian Faith is that it works on both very simple and very complex levels.

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Tuesday mornings at the Eagle and Child pub. This is where Tolkien, Lewis and others sat. The Gloucester sausages and steak and ale pie were quite good. We were late for lunch, so it wasn’t too crowded.

When Clarke received our photos from the Eagle and Child, he prodded me, reluctantly, into writing this post. But it occurred to me while sitting in the Eagle and Child that I have experienced and benefitted from the encouragement of some wonderful brothers and sisters. Brothers like Dave Thompson who will send long, deep, profound emails of encouragement at all hours of the night. And Dave Rudy, who always can add to any topic I may bring up (it’s amazing how much Dave has studied and absorbed). And Rob Campbell, who is the most devotionally devoted person I have ever met (and a finer friend you could not have). And Clarke Morledge himself, with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things theological and hermeneutical (his zeal is as contagious as his heart). And Ken Petzinger, a Princeton-educated physicist who is living proof that Christians also come with extreme intellectual capacity (and who always has something current to share from his personal studies). And Dick Woodward, who was such an encourager and gifted teacher. And Iris Rudy, who is such a good listener (and who commands respect when she speaks). And Tina Campbell, who works at being the most compassionate and hospitable person I know (and succeeds magnificently). And Marion, whom I could never thank appropriately for being such a wonderful, selfless person (and in whom I continually see the Gospel lived out).

So when the writer of Hebrews states, “And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near,” l get it. I am thankful for the Eagle and Child that all of us have experienced.

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The University of Oxford has 38 Colleges and 6 Permanent Private Halls (PPHs) of religious foundation. There are cathedrals, churches and scenes like this everywhere you turn. I hope that you can visit Oxford soon!


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