In the eleventh century, Anselm and theologians like him began to interact with a larger world of ideas, specifically the Muslim theologians who were challenging some of the central tenets of the Christian faith. In the centuries previous, theology had largely been an increasingly ad intraÂ discussion among the theologians of Christendom. As Muslim writings (and even the occasional Muslim thinker) began their movement into Europe, they began to challenge theological positions which had been taken for granted. It is in this context which Anselm developed his most famous contribution to the world of ideas: the Ontological argument for the existence of God. This argument was Anselmâ€™s attempt to argue for the existence of God from the basis of reason alone, not from the preconceived assumptions of Christian understanding of God. While the argument was challenged almost immediately as flawed, Anselm believed he had demonstrated reasonably the fact of Godâ€™s existence. Although the argument has never been that popular, it still has had its advocates: Descartesâ€™ famous cogito is a form of the ontological argument, Alvin Plantinga also advocated a modified form of the argument, and C.S.Â Lewis uses it in The Silver Chair in the Narnia series (the latest issue of Touchstone has an article on Lewisâ€™ use of the ontological argument). [Read more…] about Cur Deus Homo. An Advent Devotional
In the world of apologetics, there are few arguments more famous than C.S. Lewis‘ trilemma, which is found in his most popular apologetic work, Mere Christianity. Even classic arguments like Anselm’s famous ontological argument for the â€œbeing greater than which nothing can be conceivedâ€ and Pascal’s wager, while still part of the discussion of apologetics, have not in recent years been as popular, or reviled, as Lewis’ trilemma. It even spawned a book (Josh McDowell’s More Than a Carpenter) and a song (Dana Key’s â€œLiar, Lunatic or Lordâ€ from the album, Part of the Mystery). [On a side note, both of these are guilty in my mind of the problems which Alister McGrath points to when you make the trilemma try to function as a proof of divinity. I think McDowell in particular creates misunderstanding regarding the trilemma, which should be critiqued. However, since this piece is about Lewisâ€™ trilemma, and not McDowellâ€™s misapplication, I will only state here that I do not think McDowell is an example of how to understand Lewis.] However, just because an argument is famous, does not mean that is valid as an argument or even that it provides some kind of compelling existential draw. As an example of what I mean, I would look to Anselm’s ontological argument. While I recognize it has flaws as an argument, it continues to fascinate me. I find something existentially compelling to it, and how it has been used (and abused) through history. Conversely, I have never found Pascalâ€™s wager that interesting, though many do. Lewis’ trilemma is one of those arguments which seems to have flaws built into it, but still many people are drawn to it. But do those who critique the argument really land on what Lewis is doing in the trilemma? I do not believe that they do. To demonstrate this, we will consider the argument itself, look at the problems which people have with it and see if these problems really fit with what Lewis wants to do in the trilemma. [Read more…] about Re-Examining Lewis’ Trilemma
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 II. Click here for Part I.
Things which I felt did not work:
Moving on to things that I found difficult about the work, I think the biggest thing was that the writing style was confusing to me. At times, McGrath seemed to fall into the awkward habit in his writing style of announcing his transitions in a way that seemed unnecessary. For instance, he ends the section on the Inklings with the following, â€œYet this is to run ahead of our narrative. We must now consider the work which established Lewis’s reputation as a serious literary scholar â€“ and which remains widely read to this day â€“ the 1936 classicÂ The Allegory of Loveâ€Â (181-2). This leads to his next heading: â€œThe Allegory of LoveÂ (1936)â€ (182). At least once, he set up the next section or transition with an entire paragraph that was an explanation of what he was going to say next. At some point, it became very noticeable in the narrative, similar to the way that someoneâ€™s verbal tick in a speech becomes noticeable if it is repeated enough times. While this is not a substantive complaint, books are narratives which are meant to be read and it made the flow very awkward and these explicit transitions seemed very unnecessary to the writing and should have been caught by an editor. It is possible this is more of an English (as opposed to American) writing style (he does favor English spellings over American spellings), but compared to several other biographies that I have read recently, this stylistically did not work and became distracting.
The big issue that McGrath takes up in this work, which he acknowledges places him alone among Lewis scholars, is the dating of Lewis’ conversion (135-146). While it is certainly true that autobiographical memory is open to critical evaluation by later generations of scholars and this may in fact become the standard view with further consideration, I was left wondering why the issue seemed to be such a big deal for McGrath. McGrath set up the issue around one of his central themes for the biography, connecting Lewis’ inner and external worlds by looking at Lewis’ own account inÂ Surprised by JoyÂ and comparing that with Lewis’ correspondence and known behavioral changes. This led him to the conclusion that Lewis converted to theism in 1930 and not 1929 as Lewis states in his autobiography. Of more interest to me, and an issue which is largely lacking in this biography, is the transformation of Lewis from the person that we meet in the early pages of the biography, one who is willing to experiment with sexual pain and S&M to the admittedly conservative Lewis who we encounter later in life (cf. 236). McGrath does not really take up that issue other than a couple of oblique references to issues like Lewis’ transition from a more low church expression to a high church Anglican. Considering the veiled implications (or not so veiled depending on how you read McGrath) which McGrath makes about Lewis’ relationship with Mrs. Moore â€“ an admittedly thorny issue for Lewis scholars â€“ it would seem that some more of these transitional blanks could have been addressed (or at least explored). One gets the impression that Lewis converted and was simply and immediately transformed, but it would seem that it is unlikely.
Finally, I have two issues with the way that McGrath took up Lewis’ corpus. [Read more…] about Review of Alister McGrath, C.S. Lewis — A Life. Part II
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
Last week I began to introduce myself and my understanding of the Christian scholarâ€™s vocation by briefly outlining the controversy which marked my time as a student at Westminster Theological Seminary.Â (You can read last weekâ€™s post here.)Â This week I would like to share what I think were some of things I learned about the challenge of Christian scholarship from my time at Westminster.Â I should make it clear that my interest is not specifically in the challenge of doing serious scholarship within a confessional institution like a Westminster or a Wheaton.Â Nor is my interest (in this post, at least) in the peculiar challenge of doing serious, faithful Biblical scholarship.Â While confessional institutions and the field(s) of Biblical studies both present unique challenges for Christian scholars who venture into them, my purpose here is to share some of what I have learned from my experience at Westminster about being a Christian scholar in general:
1.Â Now we see through a glass, darkly.Â Christian scholars in any field must be prepared for their studies to transform not only their conceptions of the world, but of God.Â When I arrived at Westminster I thought I more or less already had all the answers and that I was there to learn how to better articulate and defend what I already â€œknew.â€Â I thought Christian scholarship was simply a matter of bringing my theological assumptions to bear upon the study of a particular field.Â I did not expect to have those assumptions challenged by my studies, much less for me to undergo the theological equivalent of what Thomas S. Kuhn calls a paradigm shift. Nevertheless, shortly after my arrival at Westminster I began encountering information and evidence for which my working theological theory simply could not accountâ€”I encountered â€œanomalous data,â€ to again put it in a Kuhnian idiom.Â [Read more…] about Why You Must Be Dying to be a Christian Scholar (2/2)