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Jack in Retrospect: January 29th – February 4th

January 29, 2013

Retro Weekly 1-29As the month of January ends and February begins we find several landmark events which occurred in Lewis’s life. Three that stand out in my review of events are: a final sermon, an often misunderstood debate and one of his most well known sections from his writings.

When Lewis stood before the congregation at Evensong at Magdalene College it had been almost a decade since he had preached. This occasion on the 29th of January in 1956 also happened to be his very last. Years later, in January 1963, a condensed version of what he said was published in The Lion under the title of “Thoughts of a Cambridge Don.” The complete text is now found in The Weight of Glory with the title of “A Slip of the Tongue.” Lewis kicked off his message by commenting that he felt under less pressure as a layman when preaching because he was “comparing notes” and “not so much presuming to instruct.” He then shared an experience where he had recently prayed as if the temporal world was more important than the eternal. Having caught his own “slip of the tongue” he reflected on how easy it is to reverse one’s priorities and live as though the temporary aspects of life was of greater value.

Lewis’s trilemma is the name given to a view he initially presented on the BBC on the 1st of February in 1942. At the close of this radio broadcast he stated there were only three ways to view Jesus; He was either who He claimed to be (God), “a lunatic” or “the Devil of Hell.” These thoughts were first available in print in Broadcast Talks (The Case for Christianity in the U.S.) and later in Mere Christianity as part of the second book. In that classic book the chapter was entitled “The Shocking Alternative.” The talk actually begins with Lewis presenting what is often called the Free Will Defense in response to the problem of evil in the world. While not only making evil possible, Lewis notes it “is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” He asserts “God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself” but that Satan tries to “put into (our) heads” that we can.

Just after February started in 1948 something unusual occurred in Lewis’s life. It was on the 2nd that month after a debate when he basically admitted defeat. The Oxford Socratic Club was the setting for the landmark event. Elizabeth Anscombe, a Roman Catholic, who would later be elected Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University was his opponent. The evening began with Anscombe sharing her views in disagreement with Lewis on his previously established position that naturalism is self-refuting (as presented in the book Miracles). Lewis replied as he was scheduled to do and after some clarifying by each on their positions and differences an “open discussion followed” (as recorded in Socratic Digest) and Lewis admitted at the end that his use of the word “‘valid’ was an unfortunate one.” It is falsely believed by some that as a result of this challenge (which led him to revised chapter three of Miracles) that Lewis abandoned rational defenses of the faith altogether. The forthcoming biography by Dr. Alister McGrath (C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet) gives helpful insight to this false belief. One of the essential points is that Lewis chose to direct most of his writings in other realms. He still wrote some essays dealing with rational apologetics after this time. However, he found he had said most of what he wanted to in that area. Soon after this Lewis would, among other things, showcase his further ability to write imaginatively when he penned his Narnia stories.

There were actually two other events on the 2nd of February that happen during Lewis’s life that stand out. A few years earlier (in 1942) he talked before the Socratic Club. It was only their second meeting. Lewis wasn’t the schedule speaker, but he was present to offer a reply on the topic of “Is God a Wish Fulfillment.” Next, in 1945, the thirteenth installment of what later became better known as The Great Divorce was published. This was the third part of what is now the ninth chapter. Highlights include a question of when someone moves from becoming a grumbler to being a grumble and a short, but funny scene where one of the ghosts tries to present herself as still being attractive. Finally, on the 4th of February in 1933 Lewis wrote to his long-time friend Arthur Greeves and made comments about “reading a children’s story which Tolkien has just written.” Please note the year on that…it was four years before the publication of The Hobbit!

Next week is another fascinating period in Lewis’s life over the years. There was two appearances on the radio, two books published (including the one that was his first claim to fame) along with a lesser known debate among other events.

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