Announcement: “Getting Medieval With C.S. Lewis” A Theology on Tap with Chris Armstrong

Armstrong, Medieval Wisdom for Modern ChristiansOne of my favourite speaking events ever was my “Hobbit’s Theology” talk at a Theology on Tap last winter. This is a local tradition where professors and wordsmiths share their leading discoveries at a “Research on Tap,” or where they talk about the intersection between faith and critical thought at a “Theology on Tap.” It is hosted by the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture at UPEI, and part of a great week of events around the Centre this week–including a lecture on John Henry Newman on Friday a Theology on Tap Tuesday night, and an “open class” on medieval Christianity.

We are very excited to have Wheaton historian Dr. Chris R. Armstrong in Charlottetown for a Theology on Tap on Tuesday, Oct 18th. Dr. Armstrong’s lecture title is “Getting Medieval With C.S. Lewis.” He will speak for 45 minutes or so, and then there is an open discussion. As everyone is gathered in a pub for the general public, the questions are often broad and interesting. I once had a 10-year-old who snuck in to push me on my thoughts about Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle. It is a great atmosphere for the exchange of ideas, and we know that there is a recovery of interest in medieval thought and life these days.

For those who are within striking distance of Charlottetown, come on down to the Pourhouse tomorrow night at 7:00 (doors open at 6:30). It’s right above the Olde Triangle. Dr. Armstrong just published a book that will be available to purchase, so I’ve included a review below. I’ve also attached a couple of videos he has done where he talks about the ideas in the book. Here is the schedule for this amazing week of events host by UPEI:

Tues, Oct 18, 7:00pm, “Getting Medieval with C.S. LewisTheology on Tap, The Pourhouse, Charlottetown (free event, but do enjoy some excellent food or drink)

Wed, Oct 19, 9:30-10:30am,  Open Class at UPEI. Dr. Armstrong will offer a lecture entitled “Medieval Wisdom: Holding the Spiritual and Material Together” to the RS 101 class. Everyone is welcome to join in for free. The lecture is in the Don and Marion McDougall Hall 246 in the Hennessey MacDonald Lecture Theatre. If you have questions, send me an email (bdickieson@upei.ca) or a tweet (@BrentonDana).

Fri, Oct 21, 6:00-9:00pm, The Second Annual John Henry Newman Dinner at the new School of Sustainable Design Engineering, UPEI. The fundraiser begins with a reception at 6:00 PM, followed by dinner at 7:00 PM. Tickets are $80 each, with a table of ten costing $750. The tickets are available in SDU Main Building Room 203 on UPEI Campus, with information on the website http://www.newmandinner.com.

Chris R. Armstrong, Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians: Finding Authentic Faith in a Forgotten Age with C. S. Lewis (2016)

You might say that old is the new new. As culture commits itself further to its pathological aversion to stillness, and as the American evangelical church betrays its artistic, intellectual, and communal thinness, we should not be surprised that many people are searching for something more. Plastic church and two-dimensional relationships are not enough for those who are desperately seeking a deeper life. There is, I think, a remnant of rooted Christians. It is not a visible revolution, but an invisible fellowship of artists, writers, bloggers, academics, servants, and worshippers.

Chris Armstrong is one of these secret seekers. His Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians (2016)—much like his Patron Saints for Postmoderns (2009)—tries to give a resource to root contemporary seekers into the rich soils of the past. As the subtitle suggests, Armstrong uses C.S. Lewis as a primary link to medieval faith and practice.

Armstrong patron saints for postmodernsIn the first chapter, Armstrong offers a critique of what he calls a culture of “Immediatism”—a spiritual habit in contemporary evangelicalism that leaves it culturally irrelevant and spiritually anemic. His second chapter will be of great interest to many readers. In “C.S. Lewis—A Medieval Modern Man,” Armstrong shows how Lewis acts as a bridge for us to the very strange land of the middle ages. Lewis remains a guide to that land throughout the rest of the book.

After a defense of tradition as a source of meaning and truth, Armstrong takes a chapter each to discuss Christian thought, morality, acts of service, the human connection to the natural world, the development of heart-felt faith, and the importance of humanness. In each of these chapters Armstrong surveys medieval figures in conversation with biblical texts and modern thinkers. Using C.S. Lewis as that primary contact point, Armstrong uses the medieval habits that we have regretfully lost to touch on points of weakness in the church and world today.

Chris Armstrong finishes with a call to a new kind of monasticism meant to resist twin challenges: on one side, a world adrift in its own cultural myth; on the other side, a church corrupted by the subtle prejudices of the rootless culture. I don’t know who will answer this call, and whether we can integrate the best of monastic life in our urban-embedded lives, but I found this one of the more inspiring chapters. I gained the most from the chapter, “God’s Second Book—The Natural World,” but was pleased that throughout I was being educated in a way that I know mostly second hand.

Chris Armstrong,For me, the particular strength of Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians is how we are drawn back to the middle ages—a period foreign to most of us. Working as a professional historian and Christian leader, and using C.S. Lewis as a guide, this book is filled with meaningful ways to deepen life in church, family, and neighbourhood today.

Who is this book for?

  1. Readers of C.S. Lewis who would like to go deeper into his world. This book can be a warm up to Robert Boenig’s S. Lewis and the Middle Ages (2012) or Lewis’ own The Discarded Image (1964).
  2. Students of C.S. Lewis at the beginning of a survey of secondary literature. Following the footnotes will allow you to capture some of that conversation (see the Conversational Group Clusters below).
  3. Evangelical and charismatic Christians looking to root their faith in richer soil. This is really the reason Armstrong wrote the book. A reader in this stream committed to following the trail-markers that Armstrong has left behind can find in it a decade of rich devotional reading, spiritual habits, and acts of service.
  4. Evangelical and charismatic Christians offering a critique of their own community. This is Armstrong himself, and I am in this camp. Leaders, teachers, pastors, journalists, bloggers, and professors can use this text to help form a substantial new posture before their community of faith.
  5. Students of American faith movements struggling to understand the great shifts taking place in those communities. I don’t know if there is a lot of these, but future historians will see this period as a definitive shift in American religious life.
  6. Christians who have always been attracted to art, activism, contemplative practices, and the life of the mind, but have never had a community that supports that kind of expression. There are others like you. You are not alone. The footnotes in this text will help you find the books you will love.

Conversational Group Clusters: Besides historians—the bulk of Armstrong’s dialogue partners—there are certain clusters of people he is reading that you might find helpful in the next stages of your reading.

  1. Christian writers drawing contemporary readers into the past: Phyllis Tickle, Kathleen Norris, Eugene Peterson, Frederick Buechner, Dallas Willard, Bruce Hindmarsh, and Richard Foster
  2. Experts on Evangelical self-critique: James K.A. Smith, Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard, Christian Smith, Hans Boersma, Mark Noll, and Ron Sider.
  3. The Inklings, Friends, and Influences: J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Dorothy L. Sayers, George MacDonald, and (especially) G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis.
  4. Creative Christians: T.S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dorothy L. Sayers, and the Inklings.
  5. Critical writers on C.S. Lewis: David C. Downing, Michael Ward, Paul F. Ford, Andy Barkman, Marsha Daigle-Williamson, and Will Vaus.

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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28 Responses to Announcement: “Getting Medieval With C.S. Lewis” A Theology on Tap with Chris Armstrong

  1. Pingback: Annoucement: “Getting Medieval With C.S. Lewis” A Theology on Tap with Chris Armstrong — A Pilgrim in Narnia – Petra Faith Ministries

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Hope (confidently!) that the one is going, and the next two will go, as enjoyably and rewardingly as they sound likely to! (How jolly it would be to be there for them!)

    One aspect of the ‘mediaeval’ in Lewis – his discussion of ideas of ‘sovereignty’ in the introduction to his OHEL volume – has been accented for me lately by Johan Huizinga and Pieter Geyl’s discussions of ‘mediaeval’ ideas of liberty opposed to more ‘modern’ centralist, absolutist ideas in the (initially ‘ecumenical’) Dutch resistance to Spanish royal pretensions – and (I think) how those ‘mediaeval’ ideas are related to another, different, indeed, more ‘modern’ way of seeing things!

    Like

  3. Hannah says:

    Thanks for the announcement and introduction to the very interesting book by Chris Armstrong.
    I would certainly have attended if I were living on Prince Edward Island, as this is very close to my heart, the Medieval and Reformation worldviews and how far our culture has moved far away from that rich and deep understanding of reality. Might a key to understanding a main cause of that deep split in our society be found in these passages by Lewis in “Abolition of man” (ch 3, p 46?
    “There was very little magic in the Middle Ages: the 16th and 17th century are the high noon of magic. The serious magical and scientific endeavours are twins …. they were borne of the same impulse ….. There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise man of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline and virtue. ……. For magic and applied science alike the solution to that problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of man through the practice of techniques ….”

    Liked by 1 person

    • What is that “something” that unites magic and applied science? Is it not power?

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      • Hannah says:

        Do you mean the power to subdue reality (and men) to one’s own wishes instead of serving it (and them)?
        For science and techniques in themselves are not wrong and if used in the right way, part of our calling to stewardship over creation, developing its possibilities and man’s talents, and realising its potentials for the glory of God (and better living conditions for men) with safeguard of the sacramental and holism in life (“the medieval speaking in one breath of the great universals …. and earthy particulars …. with interwovenness and interpenetration between them …”} seeing everything as a word of God. But now you see this deep rift in society between the spiritual and material with great shallowness and immediatism as some of the results.

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        • Yes, I kind of think that might be it. In Lewis, I think the framework was (in Sunday School terms) to either submit to God’s will or assert your will upon the universe. His trouble with science wasn’t the discovery, or even the technology (some of which he loved, and some he hated). His problem was either 1) the moral lesson that people drew from science, like H.G. Well’s argument that humans have evolved to a new state of consciousness (then WWII happened); or 2) the control that people (men in that culture) try to assert over nature through social scientific control, political theory, the use of science to rearrange the natural world, etc. The latter is indistinguishable from magic: only the tools are different.
          Yes, we are a “rifted” people.

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          • Hannah says:

            yes, and the resulting inability to understand and value the true meaning of everything – his “man without a chest” (chs 1 & 2 of Abolition of man).
            Does this link to your next post on trumpery: Trump’s Reality-Show-way of creating his own reality by endlessly repeating the same falsehoods … and people believing them?

            Like

            • Hannah says:

              so, the devaluation of words from very powerful and life giving (the sacramental medieval) to subjective and twisting smokescreens … ?

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              • Well, I hadn’t made the link, but that reality is there. Politicians massage, twist, and break truth all the time. Trump is something new, however, I don’t know if he is clever or just instinctively good at connecting with certain people. For example, he confuses “election rigging” with media bias. These are two completely different things, and anyone who thinks about it will know that a liberal media does not mean there is voter fraud or a system problem. Yet, when asked about the election being rigged, people again and again say “the media is against Trump.”
                So, what’s going on? Is this intentional deception of the mad genius variety, or do people really have no clue?
                I have always distrusted politicians. But there is a new thing happening with Trump where it doesn’t seem to be any connection to evidence. Is this where America has gone as a culture?

                Like

              • Hannah says:

                Maybe both? People not listening to all the fact checking going on (e.g. the entirely insignificant small numbers of voter frauds known from the past), and Trump’s claims that e.g. also the Emmy awards were rigged, just because he was not awarded any?

                Liked by 1 person

              • Hannah says:

                I just saw an interesting comment: Trump cannot complain about the media because ‘up to September the media attention built him up, and he rather relied on that, saving that way on advertising, but because of all his lies they now turned against him ,,,’

                Liked by 1 person

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                You guys get me suddenly thinking that Mr. Trump’s surprising emergence to the centre of things (in some senses) has its resemblances to Merlin’s appearance in That Hideous Strength – ! (Maybe if this turns out to seem somehow a substantial ‘brainwave’ I’ll try to say more about it…)

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              • Is Trump America’s Deus ex Machina?

                Like

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                For what it’s worth, I’m going to pop down to ‘full breadth’ to follow the ‘voter fraud’/’rigged’ tangent or exemplum or whatever, a bit.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Hannah says:

                Trump as America’s Deus ex Machina?
                A good comment mentioned a striking characteristic of current populism movements, the belief in and demand for quick immediate fixes instead of the often delicate, slow moving process of diplomacy – e.g. as if building a wall would solve the immigration issues, with Trump combining that rhetoric with his huge lie that Clinton would favour ‘open borders’, taking her comment on free moving energy/gas trading completely out of that context.
                Another good comment was on the often biased media attention,the endless attention to one mistake by Clinton about which she hasn’t lied, against at least 35 mistakes and lies by Trump …. (‘all politicians lie but some lie much more than others’ … Trump 85%)

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              • Hannah says:

                With Trump they are not mistakes but very deliberate ‘rigging’ practices:
                http://europe.newsweek.com/donald-trump-companies-destroyed-emails-documents-515120?rm=eu

                Like

              • Mr. Trump seems to be increasing as a real possibility–regardless of his attachment to reality.

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              • Hannah says:

                Would that be it? So many of the USA population choosing for a virtual (Trumps) reality with 90% lies instead of the real one?
                And I just found out why so many white evangelicals vote for him, because ‘a woman should not be in charge … & God will forgive Trump’s sins …’. The CNN reporters then wondered about God also forgiving those of the Clintons …

                Like

              • CNN fundamentally misunderstands evangelical Christians. For example, they don’t differentiate church-goers and non-church goers plus they don’t allow Black evangelicals to overlap with Whites, Asians, and Hispanics. They don’t have a clue, so ignore them on this point. An example is this: an Evangelical or Catholic will say, “I believe a foetus is a human and should have the basic human right to life.” CNN, CBC, MSNBC, BBC will put that as “Women should not have a right to choose.” Functionally, that’s true of course. But it is a perspective that does not honour the evidence (in this case, the belief of the subject of the exploration). Fox, The National Post, and Al Jazeera do this in other ways. So don’t believe CNN when it comes to religious people. The fact that they don’t know the difference between evangelicals, fundamentalists, and charismatics is crazy for the biggest News Network in the known universe.
                (note: I quite like CNN, they just don’t get it)
                Evangelicals are in great turmoil in this election. They felt betrayed by Bill Clinton who pitched himself as a Christian candidate then showed profound misunderstanding of committed Christians, then lied about a moral matter.I remember talking to Tony Campolo about this, who was one of Clinton’s spiritual advisors. Clinton couldn’t understand why evangelicals rejected him. Mrs. Clinton still hasn’t bothered to discover who the heck she is ignoring.
                Evangelicals as a whole don’t know what to do. Most will vote Republican–some voting for Trump, who they find morally horrifying and refreshing in a cruddy political scene. Some will vote Republican for the long game or against Hillary Clinton. Some will vote for Gary Johnson, libertarian. Some will vote for Hillary Clinton. Some will destroy their ballot or write in Ann Coulter.
                It is a hard time for evangelicals, which I’m thrilled about. These shocks are good to help Christians think through their relationships with larger culture.
                Just some thoughts. I know that Trump creates a bad taste in your mouth, and I hope I have sufficiently mocked him elsewhere. But the situations is more complex than either the media or a particular locale can demonstrate.

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              • Hannah says:

                Thanks for your lengthy comments, putting the various media into perspective. In the past days there have been some good documentaries, on the BBC and Dutch TV, showing more of that complexity!
                And I do hope that a shock out of evangelical complacency will trigger them to think about their relationship to the larger culture.

                Liked by 1 person

  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    This might be the best recent post to pass this on in connection with: I just read a post by the academic political philosopher, Professor Steven Hayward, passing along an interesting paragraph to which his friend Clifford Angel Bates, at the University of Warsaw, drew his attention it is taken from page 143 of the transcript of Leo Strauss’s 1962 class on Rousseau at the University of Chicago:

    “May I mention one point? We don’t have time to read it here: there is a book, or rather a series of lectures by C.S. Lewis, the English author, The Abolition of Man, which is worth reading from every point of view. It is his criticism of social science positivism or [right]. And he calls these men here, in the first lecture, ‘men without chests,’ meaning they admit bodily desires, and they admit reasoning, in a way: namely, how to get the objects of bodily desires. The other things, the values, as they are called, are merely subjective. In other words, there is a lower part of the body, stomach and below, and there is a brain; but there is nothing in between. There is no heart. This is not a bad description of this view of man. I recommend it to your reading. C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, New York, 1959.”

    He links the source and discusses it in the context of Justin Buckley Dyer and Micah J. Watson’s new book, C.S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law (which I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere, recently):

    http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2016/10/c-s-lewis-on-politics.php

    Tangentially, that admirer of The Abolition of Man, George Grant, was also a great reader of Strauss. (I have not really begun to catch up properly on Strauss or various ‘Straussians’, but it seems, shall we say, ‘a complicated business’ where extra wariness is called for to reap real rewards (he said mysteriously)…)

    Like

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    With respect to “voter frauds known from the past”, I ran into an interesting article by Fred Lucas, author of Tainted by Suspicion: The Secret Deals and Electoral Chaos of Disputed Presidential Elections (Stairway Press, 2016), the other week:

    http://dailysignal.com/2016/10/18/rigged-election-past-presidential-contests-sowed-doubt-and-nearly-led-to-violence/

    Perhaps particularly interesting is the 1960 election, among other reasons because Scott Foval, of the advocacy group, Americans United for Change, was recently recorded saying both “We are contracted directly with the DNC [Democratic National Committee] and the campaign [for Mrs. Clinton’]” and “It’s a pretty easy thing for Republicans to say, ‘Well, they’re bussing people in!’ Well, you know what? We’ve been bussing people in to deal with you f***in’ ***holes for fifty years, and we’re not going to stop now. We’re just going to find a different way to do it. So, I mean I grew up with that idea. They used to bus people out to Iowa. If they needed people there we’d bus people out to Iowa.” That boasted “fifty years” of bussing in people to vote illegally would strictly take us back to 1966, but I suppose may be broadly meant for 1960 and/or 1964.

    Generally interesting is J. Christian Adams, who is “an election lawyer who served in the Voting Rights Section at the U.S. Department of Justice”, who recently noted, “When I was at the Justice Department Voting Section, the incoming Obama administration shut down enforcement of Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act. That’s the part that requires election officials to keep clean rolls free of ineligible voters. That’s why the voter rolls are now infested with millions of dead and ineligible voters”, and further said, “On the question of vulnerabilities on our election system, Trump is bringing much needed attention to the issue”:

    https://pjmedia.com/jchristianadams/2016/10/23/trump-is-right-john-ellis-is-wrong-elections-are-vulnerable-to-criminal-fraud/?singlepage=true

    This is certainly no ‘one party’ topic, if the Baltimore mayoral election is anything to go by:

    http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/politics/bs-md-ci-wypr-debate-20161025-story.html

    But as to whether Mr. Trump (and Mr. Pence, et al.) “confuses ‘election rigging’ with media bias”, it may be that (as well as bringing attention to “the question of vulnerabilities on our election system”) he is just using ‘rigged’ in a broader sense. My 1972 COD has the same definition for ‘rig’ as my ed. 2 copy from when Lewis was working on The Allegory of Love: “Manage or conduct fraudulently” (the example it gives is ‘rig the market’). So, media bias, collusion between various reporters and Mrs. Clinton’s campaign (for which there seems to be considerable and varied e-mail evidence), and so on, may just be being thought of in that general sense of ‘rigged’.

    Like

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    With respect to “voter frauds known from the past”, I ran into an interesting article by Fred Lucas, author of Tainted by Suspicion: The Secret Deals and Electoral Chaos of Disputed Presidential Elections (Stairway Press, 2016), the other week.

    Perhaps particularly interesting is the 1960 election, among other reasons because Scott Foval, of the advocacy group, Americans United for Change, was recently recorded saying both “We are contracted directly with the DNC [Democratic National Committee] and the campaign [for Mrs. Clinton’]” and “It’s a pretty easy thing for Republicans to say, ‘Well, they’re bussing people in!’ Well, you know what? We’ve been bussing people in to deal with you f***in’ ***holes for fifty years, and we’re not going to stop now. We’re just going to find a different way to do it. So, I mean I grew up with that idea. They used to bus people out to Iowa. If they needed people there we’d bus people out to Iowa.” That boasted “fifty years” of bussing in people to vote illegally would strictly take us back to 1966, but I suppose may be broadly meant for 1960 and/or 1964.

    Generally interesting is J. Christian Adams, who is “an election lawyer who served in the Voting Rights Section at the U.S. Department of Justice”, who recently noted, “When I was at the Justice Department Voting Section, the incoming Obama administration shut down enforcement of Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act. That’s the part that requires election officials to keep clean rolls free of ineligible voters. That’s why the voter rolls are now infested with millions of dead and ineligible voters”, and further said, “On the question of vulnerabilities on our election system, Trump is bringing much needed attention to the issue”.

    This is certainly no ‘one party’ topic, if the Baltimore mayoral election is anything to go by.

    But as to whether Mr. Trump (and Mr. Pence, et al.) “confuses ‘election rigging’ with media bias”, it may be that (as well as bringing attention to “the question of vulnerabilities on our election system”) he is just using ‘rigged’ in a broader sense. My 1972 COD has the same definition for ‘rig’ as my ed. 2 copy from when Lewis was working on The Allegory of Love: “Manage or conduct fraudulently” (the example it gives is ‘rig the market’). So, media bias, collusion between various reporters and Mrs. Clinton’s campaign (for which there seems to be considerable and varied e-mail evidence), and so on, may just be being thought of in that general sense of ‘rigged’.

    Like

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