Review of Alister McGrath, C.S. Lewis — A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant ProphetÂ (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2013) for the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). Part I. Click here for Part II.
Alister McGrath is, like many of us, a fan of C.S. Lewis who never had the opportunity to study under or even met him. Although McGrath probably shares more similarities with Lewis than you or I, as someone raised in the same part of Ireland as Lewis and educated in Oxford, he thinks this distance will allow him the opportunity to do what previous biographers have not been able to do, objectively write about Lewis as someone who lacks personal connection. With this as his goal, he sets out to write a definitive biography of Lewis. As with any piece of academic writing, there are going to be good and not-so-good aspects of the work. There is no work which will meet with full approval of the entire academic community and McGrath’s biography of Lewis is no different. There are aspects of this biography that will undoubtedly please many and there are some issues which have the potential to change the nature of the discussion about Lewis for a long time. Ultimately however, I believe that McGrathâ€™s biography, while certainly important, has several aspects to it which make it still lacking. There are many ways to come at a review of a new book, but since I am writing for ESN, I decided to group things under two broad categories which I think will be helpful for grad student readers considering how to spend their meager time and resources.
Why you should buy/read this book
As I read the book for the first time (full disclosure â€“ the first time I â€œreadâ€ it was listening to the book as I drove back and forth to Washington D.C.) there were several things that stood out to me as especially helpful, particularly as an evangelical in America who is also working toward a life in academia. The first was the final chapter of the book which recounts the re-introduction and reception of Lewis in America after his death and the fallow years where Lewis was nearly forgotten in his homeland. McGrath gives several reasons for this shift in interest to Lewis, but two stand out to me. First, he says, â€œEngaging both heart and mind, Lewis opened up the intellectual and imaginative depths of the Christian faith like nobody elseâ€ (369). Second, he points to Lewis’ emphasis on ‘mere Christianity’ as fitting into a particularly American ecclesial concept which was devoid of the denominational loyalties compared to the British context with its connection between State and Church. McGrath makes a connection between Lewis’ rise to fame in the early 1960’s as coinciding with an American cultural and church context which was dropping traditional denominational connections (cf. 370). He also looks at the reception Lewis had among American Catholics, particularly through the work of Peter Kreeft and Avery Cardinal Dulles, in connection to Lewis’ status as an outsider to the American religious scene and his mere Christian emphasis. It is worth noting that Kreeft is a Catholic convert, and a Lewis scholar, who has published several books on Lewis’ thought. Among his published works is a book that ESN readers might find interesting, Between Heaven and HellÂ (InterVarsity Press, 2008)Â which is a fictionalized account of a meeting between Lewis, John Kennedy and Aldous Huxley after they all died on the same day in 1963. [Read more…] about Review of Alister McGrath, C.S. Lewis — A Life. Part I