I Passed my Viva!

I am very pleased to announce that I have successfully defended my PhD at the University of Chester! The viva voce was strong, with critical feedback and some verbal sparring. Overall, though, it was a great experience, with some levity and a little fun! I have minor corrections, but I am feeling good about finishing those up well within the time frame this fall.

I want to say “thank you” to so many people, near and far, digital and in real life, friend and foe, teacher and student–so many who have encouraged me, challenged me, and believed that this was a worthwhile cause. Thank you all.

I said the other day that a PhD is a “ten-year ageing app.” Too true. I am weary and remained pressed as the school term is beginning and I have both a publication deadline and a grant deadline this month. I told my son that I was experiencing what Bilbo experienced in the title of ch. 6 of The Hobbit. “Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire!” he cried. And then, “oh, right.” In my case, it is not really moving from trouble to trouble, but from life-defining pressure to life-defining pressure–good things, no less as transformative than adventures, and exchanging swords for deadlines. So I may take a few weeks to find my blogging pattern again. As I have said, I am doing some occasional pieces on immigration, and planning a Narnia series in the winter and another L.M. Montgomery series in the spring.

However, until then, many minor deadlines will be missed, many thank you notes will remain unwritten, and many great ideas will remain secreted in locked files. But I do hope to emerge. Meanwhile, here is some information about the thesis, which is titled:

“The Great Story on Which the Plot Turns”:
Cruciformity in C.S. Lewis’ Narrative Spiritual Theology

I include the abstract below. I argue that there is an image that was central to C.S. Lewis’ conversion, and that image orients his entire thought process about life. The image is death and resurrection, patterned in the cross as a way that we are to live. When we refocus our lens of reading Lewis upon his vision of spiritual life–rather than, specifically, Lewis as apologist or critic or whatever party people want to align him with–we can see this image not just in his Christian teaching, but in the heart of his fiction and even his approach to literary theory and cultural criticism. It is this idea, I believe, that integrates all of Lewis’ thought.

I have some clarifying and precision work to do, but at some point, this will be a book–either in a dissertation series or rewritten for more popular audiences. We will see!

The Deets

  • 73 months since I first registered to the time I submitted in May, though I began “pretending” I was in a PhD in August 2011, which was 2,884 days ago; that means I will have been at this for 8 years to the point of my defence date
  • 110,269 words including bibliography and front matter; 99,969 words of body text
  • 279 pages at A4/1.5 space; 348 pages at 8.5×11/2 space
  • 1,334 footnotes; 445 bibliographic entries–92 of which are C.S. Lewis’ materials
  • 6 chapters (I didn’t count the sections) made up of 2,579 paragraphs

The Dedication and the Blog

I will wait until I have finally finished all the detail work and paperwork before I share the full dedication, but I wanted to say that I included you readers in my brief dedication. I really have used this blog to test out my ideas, knowing that if I haven’t clarified my ideas in writing them, the audience of book fans, scholars, and students who read this blog would work on my blunt edges. I mention some of the senior scholars in Inklings studies who have reached out to me personally for support, but also this “strange” blog that I write. Some of my colleagues have looked at part or all of the thesis, and I thank them, but then I note some people–some of you–who have read parts or all the thesis:

“the online forum at A Pilgrim in Narnia, which I have used as a thesis sandbox over the years. Others in that community have also read portions or all of this thesis, including David, Yvonne, and Dana—who revealed all of my typographical oddities.”

Thanks so much, folks, for your strong reading and thinking.

The Outline

The thesis has six chapters. I’ve included the Table of Contents below, and I probably should have split the conclusion, but here’s the outline:

  1. Introduction: Cruciform Spirituality in the Works of C.S. Lewis
  2. Where the Secret of Secrets Lies Hid: C.S. Lewis as Spiritual Theologian
  3. “Die Before You Die”: C.S. Lewis’ Logic of Cruciformity
  4. The Shape of Cruciformity: Narrative Patterns of the Cross in Lewis’ Fiction and Nonfiction
  5. The Long Shadow of the Cross and the Cruciform Heroic in C.S. Lewis
  6. Conclusion: The Inversive Shape of C.S. Lewis’ Theology of the Cross

Abstract

This thesis presses in on C.S. Lewis’ extremely diverse corpus to explore his integrative narrative spirituality of the cross. Chapter one argues that attention to the concept of spiritual self-death and resurrection in Lewis is lacking critical treatment despite the spirituality of the cross that I argue is deeply woven into the fabric of Lewis’ poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and letters. This cross-shaped spirituality, what Michael Gorman calls “cruciformity,” is central to Lewis’ understanding of Christian life. Though neglected because of reductive readings of Lewis as an apologist, chapter one surveys occasional notes about this death-and-resurrection motif in Lewis scholarship and provides definitions for methodological approaches to the study. Following definitions of spiritual theology by Eugene Peterson, chapter two turns from systematic theological explorations of Lewis to consider him as a spiritual theologian, a move that is organic to his theological enterprise, his epistemology, and his fiction. Chapter three explores Gorman’s biblical-theological approach to Pauline cruciformity, arguing that there is a six-point Logic of Cruciformity in Lewis’ so-called apologetics writings that moves past and refocuses Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ. As Lewis’ spirituality is embedded in narrative form within poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, chapter four explores “The Shape of Cruciformity” in Lewis’ œuvre, using Northrop Frye’s narratology and J.R.R. Tolkien’s theory of eucatastrophe to argue that there is a comedic, U-shaped pattern of cruciform imagery in Lewis’ fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Chapter five interrogates Lewis’ integrative, normative narrative cruciformity with feminist theological critique, provoked by Anna Fisk’s concerns about cross-shaped spiritualities in women’s experiences. A response to this problematisation reveals an inversive quality inherent to Lewis’ thought that is itself U-shaped, comedic, and eucatastrophic. This thesis concludes by exploring this inversive U-shaped thinking central to Lewis’ theological project, arguing that the shape of cruciformity in Lewis is the shape of his spiritual theology. I conclude with “sacred paradoxes” in Lewis’ thought that invite further work and deepen our understanding of Lewis’ concept of spiritual life, thus inviting a prophetic self-critique for Christian believers.

Table of Contents

Abstract          i
Declaration     ii
Table of Contents       iii
Abbreviations vi
Acknowledgements    vii

Ch. 1: Introduction: Cruciform Spirituality in the Works of C.S. Lewis        1

Introduction: Accounting for the Integrative Nature of C.S. Lewis’ Thought 1
Definitions as Methodological Approaches   7
Death is at the Root of the Whole Matter     16
“The Macdonald Conception of Death”         20
A Brief Survey of Lewis’ Theology of the Cross          27

Ch. 2: Where the Secret of Secrets Lies Hid: C.S. Lewis as Spiritual Theologian    34

Introduction   34
An Approach to Spiritual Theology: Eugene Peterson and “Living, living fully and well”            34
C.S. Lewis as Spiritual Theologian      38

Secondary Literature on Lewis and Spirituality         39
Social Thought and a Spirituality of the Cross in Conversation         42
A Tilt of the Head: From Systematic to Spiritual Theology    51
The Great Divorce: Eschatology to Spirituality          53
Lewis’ “Meditation in a Toolshed” as Epistemology 56
Mere Christianity: Lewis’ Emphasis on the Spiritual Life       57

An Experiment in Narnia: From Atonement Theory to Spiritual Theology   64

C.S. Lewis and The Cross Event          64
Aslanic Sacrifice as Imitation Motif    69

Conclusion      75

Ch. 3: “Die Before You Die”: C.S. Lewis’ Logic of Cruciformity        77

Introduction   77
Michael Gorman as Conversation Partner for C.S. Lewis       77
C.S. Lewis’ Logic of Cruciformity        80

Mere Christianity: Incarnational Necessity and the Echo of God      80
The Problem of Pain: Lewis’ Six Point Logic of Cruciformity 82

Cruciformity in Lewis’ Fiction 89

The Great Divorce (1944-45)  90
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)       93
Till We Have Faces (1956)       98

Conclusion: Clarifying and Moving Past Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ        104

Ch. 4: The Shape of Cruciformity: Narrative Patterns of the Cross in Lewis’ Fiction and Nonfiction           107

Introduction: Recognisable Narrative Patterns of Spirituality          107
Lewis as Imagistic Mythmaker: “It All Began with a Picture” 108
Lewis’ Imagistic Story-making and Frye’s U-Shaped Pattern 111
Dive: U-Shaped Cruciform Imagery in Lewis’ Life and Writing          114
The Fairy Tale Form in Lewis’ Fiction 121

Eucatastrophe and Fairy Tale 121
The Pilgrim’s Regress  124
Narnia 126
That Hideous Strength           128
Descent and Ascent in Planetary Journeys    136

Death Restored to the Baptised Imagination 141
Conclusion: The Zenith of the Cosmic Story  150

Ch. 5: The Long Shadow of the Cross and the Cruciform Heroic in C.S. Lewis        155

Introduction: A Black and Scarlet Cord: Violence and Death in the Shadowlands   155
The Long Shadow of the Cross: A Feminist Critique of Crucicentric Spirituality       160

Approaches to Feminist Christologies           160
Anna Fisk and Images of the Cross     164

Kath Filmer and the First Generation of Critics on Lewis and Women          170
Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen and the Second Generation of Lewis Gender Critics    178
Integrative Cruciformity and Inversive Qualities in Lewis’ Life and Work     183

Ann Loades and Lewis’ Christological Inversion        183
Inversive Cruciform Elements in The Four Loves and A Grief Observed       184
The Cruciform Principle and A Severe Mercy 187
Lewis’ Deepening Cruciform Inversion of Hierarchy in Love 192

Monika Hilder and the Lewisian Spiritual “Feminine” Heroic           194
Lewis as Conversation Partner in a Cruciform Spirituality of Sex and Gender          199

Ch. 6: Conclusion: The Inversive Shape of C.S. Lewis’ Theology of the Cross         202

Introduction: The Shape of Lewis’ Spiritual Theology           202
Comedy, Satire, and Ironic Inversion in Lewis’ Work 204
The Screwtape Letters as Moral Inversion    208
Comedy and Inversive Thinking         213
“As High as My Spirit, As Small as My Stature”: C.S. Lewis’ Theology of the Small   214
Criticism as Conversion: Active Surrender in C.S. Lewis’ Spiritual Theology 224

C.S. Lewis’ Experiment in Criticism    226
On A Grief Observed  229

Sacred Paradoxes: Limitations and Invitations to Further Work       232

Bibliography   243

C.S. Lewis Bibliography          243
Secondary Source Bibliography         247
Primary Sources and Archival Material          271

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Joy Davidman’s Conversion Story “The Longest Way Round”: Audio Narration and Doodle

In this Friday Feature I want to share a creative way to read Joy Davidman’s conversion story, “The Longest Way Round,” which you can find in various places online and in Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman, edited by Don W. King. Joy Davidman is an attractive and intriguing figure to study, and I have enjoyed books such as Lyle Dorsett‘s popular biography, And God Came In, Abigail Santamaria‘s critical biography, Joy, and Patti Callahan’s novel, Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis. While some of Davidman’s writings are hard to find and many of her papers are available only at archives like the Marion E. Wade Center in Wheaton, with online bookstores, digital sharing, and scholars like King (editor), Dorsett (oral historian), and Santamaria (biography), much of her life and work is available to us.

I have long admired the work of C.S. Lewis Doodle, and was pleased to see that the artist has taken up Joy Davidman’s conversion story. “The Longest Way Round” was first published in These Found the Way: Thirteen Converts to Protestant Christianity, edited by David Wesley Soper (1951). It is an unusual narrative. It is lively and incisive like Davidman’s Smoke on the Mountain (1954), but far less focussed and containing within it hints of sarcasm and whimsy. Davidman’s conversion story is influenced by C.S. Lewis, but reading this narrative will make you suspect that Lewis’ own conversion story, Surprised by Joy, is influenced by Joy’s story. And here it is in a visual form by this Lewis Doodler; I am unable to discern who has read the audio. I hope you enjoy!

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Rather than Marching to Doom I Walked the Cheshire Countryside

As I posted about earlier today, tomorrow I march to my doom, my PhD defence at the University of Chester. This is where all those years of preparation, research, testing ideas, and writing will come to a point of decision. It would have made perfect sense to sit at the desk in my room at the hostel and study my material. Or even to work on getting my classes ready for the fall term and checking off some of my to-do list in publishing. Instead, I decided to walk all day, first along the silty but nonetheless romantic canals of Chester and environs, and then into the footpaths of Chesire.

So after tidying up email and packing a lunch,  I loaded thesis prep materials on my iPod and downloaded some related books on Audible. I left my desk behind and headed into the wilderness. It was not a long journey, in the end. I think I walked about 7.5 miles, 12 kms. After leaving the canals, I only met one party–one group of three people in a half-day of walking, and this only when I came close to Tarvin. It was beautiful land, with quaint lock houses, old Roman roads, medieval bridges, churches and communities cobbled together from the past, farmland and riverbeds and homesteads.

Perhaps my favourite moment was having my lunch beneath an old bridge–what was once a “platt” they say, a reed-woven bridge–and soaking my feet in bone-chilling cold. Though that moment competes with the end of the foot journey. I landed in Tarvin, at a pub called “George and the Dragon”–how many pubs are named that?!–and met a highly intelligent barman and was able to shelter from the rain. The rain didn’t amount to much, but it was enough to get me on a bus back to Chester–after a pint or two in this historic pub.

It was the perfect day, weather-wise: cool, sunny, and almost completely dry from the day before’s rain. The trail was pretty poorly marked and I made some wrong turns. The biggest challenge was deciding, when the paths diverged, which was the most likely one to follow. It turns out my instinct was almost always correct. I wish I hadn’t watched Stephen King’s Children of the Corn last week, especially as I guessed my way through large fields some miles after the last available mobile data point. And running shoes are not the perfect instrument of support for a journey like this. But, otherwise, it was almost idyllic.

Alas, my future still awaits tomorrow. But if you can excuse the indiscriminate nature of my joyful picture-taking, you can walk through my journey below.

https://www.ldwa.org.uk/ldp/members/show_path.php…

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Thoughts on the Eve of my PhD Viva  

As I announced at the end of May, I have completed my PhD thesis at the University of Chester and I have been awaiting my defence date. The viva voce, or just Viva, is this terrifying affair where two scholars who have no specific connection to my work take time from their impossibly busy schedules to read my 100,000-word monstrosity and judge it to see if it makes a significant contribution to research and meets the standard of academic work expected by scholars. The Viva will last anywhere from one to four hours, and is the chance for me to show that it was, indeed, I who wrote the thesis, and that I have carried my argument and distinguished myself in the field.

I have heard some Viva horror stories, where leading scholars brought to examine the thesis simply rejected the project as viable or tried to convert the PhD student to their point of view. There are reports of physical violence, mental breakdowns, various kinds of tears, and entire careers wastebasketed by careless or cruel examiners. I have also heard of PhD students who have arrived at the Viva with a thesis that is not up to the standards of a research PhD and nobody had warned them. Completely unaware, they faced a jury of their superiors, only to discover that, at best, they had months or even a year of work ahead, or, at worst, they had failed. And then there are those who arrive for examination having chosen not to heed the warnings of supervisors and peers. You can imagine how that goes.

Perhaps these stories were going through my head as I stared at the ceiling the night before I left, waiting for the 2:45am alarm to ring. At the surface of my mind, I know that these stories are pretty rare—maybe even apocryphal in some cases. Moreover, having read a large number of dissertations in my field, I know that my work is at the highest level. Though there are flaws, including a kind of forced feeling that you get in most dissertations and a self-consciousness you don’t want to see in books, my work is good and I know it well. Moreover, I think it addresses a critical gap in C.S. Lewis scholarship and sets the stage for a Christian critique of the ways many Lewis readers live out their faith.

And then there is always the prospect of planes falling from the sky and bursting into a fireball of death, agony, broken dreams, and local environmental chaos before I get to finish this torturous degree.

But that has never really worried me, honestly. And I’ve left instructions of what to do with my books, so I’m ready for whatever the skies hold for me.

No. I think this weird restlessness is just energy—yes, the pressure of facing the Viva, but also the fact that all this work is coming to fulfillment and I am at a watershed moment in my life. I have blogged about how I began by pretending I was a PhD student (see here and here), which ultimately led to a spot in a program in Chester. This has been eight years of my life, where my jobs have been constantly in flux, we endured a family health scare, the reach of higher education has spun out and is reinventing itself, my little boy has grown into a teenager, and I buried my mother after a walk with cancer. Add the long-term stress and poverty—and to quote Paul, “besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches”—and I am exhausted.

Plus, I have grown old! I put a selfie on Facebook recently and people thought I was using that 10-year ageing app. That’s what a PhD is: A ten-year ageing app. But not just in that bone-weary, bodily decrepitude—or even in the entropy of soul that often exceeds the entropy of a body under pressure. I have also grown in skill, experience, knowledge, connection, and (some) wisdom.

All this is to say that a PhD is not one thing or another, but all things, all together. It is not the exception or addendum to life, but is played out in the midst of life. I suspect that in any 8-year span of an adult’s life there will be a major job change or a family illness or a death. That I experienced all of them isn’t exceptional but speaks to the hidden costs of postgraduate education—a cost far beyond the huge fees and loss of wages. Though the cost of this degree was higher than I thought it would be, I chose my future regrets long ago and am prepared to be open to the future as it comes.

So Friday is the day, 2pm in Chester, mid-morning back home. Then I face my doom. I’m actually looking forward to it, honestly. I have spent a number of years shaping my work for this moment and I am ready to have it tested. I may falter, or I may be deluded, but here’s my moment. Wish me luck!

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On the Critical Missing Piece from the Best Part of Gary Selby’s Earthy Spirituality: C. S. Lewis and Incarnational Faith

I am about to defend my Ph.D. thesis on the “spiritual theology” of C.S. Lewis as part of a larger research project on Lewis and the spiritual life. I am on the lookout, then, for books and articles about Lewis and spirituality, discipleship, and theology. One book that dropped the day I submitted my thesis is Gary Selby’s Earthy Spirituality: C. S. Lewis and Incarnational Faith. I gave the book a four-star rating on Goodreads, and it is pretty well done overall. Nicely written, thoughtful, balanced, personal, and brief, Earthy Spirituality is accessible for readers with a basic knowledge of Lewis and a desire for a healthy Christian life. It is less systematic than Joe Rigney’s Lewis on Christian Life and less biographical than Devin Brown’s A Life Observed, but it is a fuller treatment than more focussed treatments like John Bowen’s The Spirituality of Narnia or Will Vaus’ The Hidden Story of Narnia.

There are weaknesses in the book. Like many other books about Lewis, meaningful dialogue with what others have written is pretty rare. While this kind of book is meant to have pretty thin endnotes and his primary reading is pretty good, Selby walks over ground that others have covered. I would also like to see Selby press in on Lewis a little, offering correction and enhancement of his ideas (as Rigney does), rather than this excellent re-presentation. And, personally, I am yearning for more detailed academic books on Lewis. I do understand, though, the need for this popular-level one and am pleased that he wrote it.

On a deeper level, there are two related things missing in Selby’s argument. Selby is arguing that there are two features to a healthy spirituality that we see in Lewis: consciousness and choice. Both of these are about our activity, our awakening to self and other and then our action based on that choice. I am part of the same Christian movement as Selby (the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement), and what he misses is the critical gap in our community’s teaching: “Our highest activity must be response, not initiative,” to quote Lewis in The Problem of Pain. The emphasis on God’s action, grace, the model of the cross, and the initiative of God in our response is far too understated in Earthy Spirituality (as it is in our church). In missing this element, we have once again an evangelical book on spiritual life weighted on the things we do.

Personally, I wish American Christian teachers today followed St. Paul’s pattern, where the first part of the letter is about Christ and the cross, grace and relationship, while the latter bit is about how we respond—really, for Paul, how the Spirit energizes and equips us to live in community and before the world. In focussing on the last bit, Selby is also missing what I think is critical in Lewis’ understanding of spirituality—a topic I have to come back to another time.[1] There are moments when the Methodism in our movement and within evangelicalism needs to be filled out by fuller understanding of Providence, grace, and the Holy Spirit.[2]

While I don’t want to downplay the problem evangelicalism has with what I just talked about—and how it disturbs me to my core—I want to emphasize how much I like about this book. Before I was more than a couple of pages into Earthy Spirituality I knew what Dr. Selby was doing. He is offering a critique of evangelical thinking about faith, working to supplant a “bleak fantasy” or “negative spirituality” of evangelicalism with a holistic, vibrant, joyful, sensual, incarnational spiritual life suggested to us by Lewis. Selby wants his fellow believers to enjoy a “spirituality of red beef and strong beer,” where pleasures, when practiced consistently can help us “cultivate a virtue of hope.” Selby argues that Lewis

“presents a way of living well, a way of living that embodies the Christian message as truly good news. And whatever else is true of our lives, we who claim to follow God, the glad Creator, ought to be known as people who live well” (end of Introduction).

Part of the problem is that American evangelicals are not known in their society or in the rest of the Western world for being people of pleasurable joy who live well. This is, I believe, at least partly because of the upsidedownness of our approach to Christian discipleship I mention above, i.e., our focus on our action, our cultivation of virtue. But Selby quite rightly challenges a negative approach to Christian life among evangelicals, where pleasure is suspect and lives are lived in dislocation, in fear, and in a dreamless slumbering. His focus on an “earthy spirituality” is a smart way to build a bridge between readers of C.S. Lewis and the spiritual principles that these readers haven’t brought into their lives.[3]

So “well done!” to Selby. The twin rails of consciousness and choice upon which the book travels makes for a pretty effective presentation of Lewis’ invitation to a healthier, more rewarding spiritual life.

My absolute favourite chapter is “Ch. 7: Those We Have Hitherto Avoided: Spirituality and the Other.” Selby argues convincingly that encounter with the “other”—people who are different than us—is not merely a healthy aspect of Christian discipleship. More than that, in developing the traits of curiosity, empathy, and humility in a strong reading of Out of the Silent Planet, Selby wants us to

“see how deeply Lewis believed that crossing boundaries is the secret to our growth as persons. As “obedience is the road to freedom” and “humility the road to pleasure,” unity within diversity is “the road to personality.” It is only as we embrace the Other, as we learn to savor the “almost fantastic variety of the saints,” that we become fully the persons we were meant to be” (end of ch. 7, quoting Lewis’ essay “Membership”).

Although Gilbert Meilaender made this same argument in The Taste For The Other in 1978, Selby clearly and compellingly presents this argument for diversity to American evangelicals—a community that needs immediate repentance and deep transformation in how it has lived as neighbours with people that are different in ideology, belief, religion, race, culture, and expression. I was so excited as I read this chapter, all the while seeing how Selby’s notes on Out of the Silent Planet and Lewis’ essays overlapped with my annotations. And as I knew that Prof. Gary Selby had written a book on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—himself a Christian theologian who understood how essential diversity is to spirituality and Christian social life—I was excited to see Selby turn to the practical application at the end of the chapter.

And there I was crushed with disappointment. After a challenging and hopeful argument about diversity, Selby provides a short section about how there are many different kinds of people at church, people that we sing with and with whom give and receive encouragement. His metaphor of the church as a rock tumbler is creative, where grit and water combined with movement and time turn ugly pebbles into beautiful stones. But what a missed opportunity! As a married, white, well-educated male evangelical professor, with C.S. Lewis’ argument for diversity complete, Selby had the opportunity to address Christian attitudes toward race, culture, gender, class, and family. The church bit is fine, but it is a terribly weak finish to a strong chapter.

It’s true, others are doing this well. Scot McKnight’s A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together has made some impact, but it is just a small pebble of resistance again the mainstream of evangelical fear of others—which is, of course, disobedience. And, if St. John is right, this fear or “other” is evidence that Christ’s love has not infiltrated into our community (1 John 4:18).

Moreover, returning to the reason for Selby’s book—to challenge Christians who have false views of spirituality to see the hopeful possibility of lives lived well before the watching world—I must ask these critical questions: Will American evangelicals ever be known for “living well” until people who are different are safe within church walls? Will Anglo-American evangelicals be admired without racial reconciliation? Will evangelicals show goodness to the world as long as our lives echo the consumeristic greed of the world—a greed that ignores the needs of the world and ways God’s creation needs to be cared for? Can American evangelicals ever be a witness as long as they enthusiastically and uncritically support a President who equivocates in the face of white supremacy, who revels in separating children from their families at the border, who consistently insults opponents and makes up facts when he wants, and who has said such terrible things to and about women that I can’t in good conscious repeat them here? At the heart of all of this is Selby’s challenge to Christians that they should embrace the “other,” but in the end he pulls the punch that is so very needed in this round.[4]

Note that I am not saying that my individual brothers and sisters in Christ are unloving, or that political and social choices in America are easy. I am saying that as a community we are in an altar-call movement of evangelical history, where we must repent of our unneighbourliness, fear, hostility, and world-allegiance and embrace an incarnational, creational, cross-shaped biblical path of discipleship—what Selby calls an “earthy spirituality” as we see it in Lewis’ works. So this is the glaring hole in a great chapter within a good book. It is the gap, however, that tempts me to despair.

[1] I.e., it’s my PhD thesis I have spent six years working on!

[2] The tension is all throughout Earthy Spirituality, but an example is this statement: “In a sense, Ransom’s entire journey [on Malacandra]—and the secret of all that came to him as a result—was simply a succession of choices to open himself up to each new encounter, each new experience” (ch. 7). Not, it was not “simply” a series of choices, but something much more complex, problematic, and divine. Ransom is summoned, after all—and his critical and disastrous disobedience is that he did not answer the summons. The complete transformation of Ransom by the end of Perelandra is certainly not just “a succession of choices,” but his apotheosis and divinization is the process of being transformed by Maleldil while doing the task that is before him. Choice and Consciousness are critical, but there is Cross-Transformation behind these that’s missing.

[3] Why readers miss that is a topic that I address in my thesis and something I will talk about another time. Basically, though, it’s because when people read Lewis’ theological books, his apologetics, and his fiction, they aren’t looking for the “tang” of what spiritual life is about. Selby is trying to turn our heads to “spirituality,” but American evangelicals resist this language, despite the work of people like Eugene Peterson. Devin Brown uses “spirituality” only once, and Joe Rigney doesn’t use the term at all—even though his book is a systematic work of spirituality. Presumably, his (conservative Reformed, evangelical, or fundamentalist) readers simply won’t connect with the term. This gap is pretty intriguing.

[4] More pointedly, given his skill and experience, I don not know why Selby did not choose to talk about the problems with gender equality in America, or the whole issue of immigration, which is super complex, or racism which is something that continues to haunt the American Story from beginning to now, or even the threat of intellectual diversity which is coming not from the right, but from leading left thinkers who wish to extinguish anyone who disagrees. Why is that not there?

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“The Places of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis” with Patti Callahan, plus a Wade Podcast, Timeline, and Other Resources (Friday Feature)

I recently featured New York Times Bestselling author Patti Callahan’s novelized biography of Joy Davidman, Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis. I found it a helpful book with fine writing, but I simply have a different mental conception of Joy from reading her work and from biographies like those of Lyle Dorsett and, especially, Abigail Santamaria. I have no factual concerns with Callahan’s novel, and I am hardly a judge of that genre of writing. Joy just strikes me with a different rhythm and pattern of life than the character that emerges in a lovely and coherent way in Becoming Mrs. Lewis.

Still, it is a compelling story–both in Callahan’s retelling and in the core story that makes for Joy Davidman’s life. And Patti Callahan is a compelling figure. I listened to her Wade Center podcast with Crystal Downing and David Downing, and was won over by her lively spirit, her eagerness for research, and her keen sense of the story. If you are interested in Callahan’s book, I would encourage you to check out the podcast.

In the eventual algorithm of the internet, this Wade podcast led on to a minidoc/book trailer by Patti Callahan. Rather than simply give a book trailer, Callahan and her team produced a short visual tour of Oxford. We are invited to walk with Callahan as she wandered around Oxford, trying to imaginatively rediscover the meeting between C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman and the places where they slowly fell in love. This was the kind of imaginative project I was attempting in my own Oxford Inklings wanderings (here and here). This is better, though, and the flavour of Callahan’s video is also the flavour of her Becoming Mrs. Lewis.

And if you enjoyed “The Places of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis,” perhaps you will enjoy Callahan’s “Book Talk” at the Wade from December 2018, including a reading by the author.

“The Places of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis” works really nicely with the Becoming Mrs. Lewis book club kit, including a really nice map of Oxford and a beautiful timeline of “Joy and Jack” briefly showing their individual and shared lives.

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Brenton’s Top 5 Forbidden Love Films, from “C.S. Lewis and Mythologies of Sex and Love” (Signum University)

As I announced a month ago, I am once again teaching the great Signum University class, “C.S. Lewis and Mythologies of Sex and Love.” I love this course, which uses C.S. Lewis’ book and lecture series, The Four Loves, to structure a survey of different kinds of love stories in history. While some students will take the course to simply enjoy a great books class–and there really are some great books in the reading list–what I am doing is also setting up a way of thinking about how culture frames the way we think about different kinds of love.

Doing such a course makes some mocking of cultural irresistible to me. So woven into the very serious lectures are these little moments of humour. After a fairly serious hour on medieval courtly love and the affair between theologian Peter Abelard and literary scholar/abbess Heloïse, I insert a short spoofy and goofy segment as I pivot to Romeo and Juliet and other Western forbidden love tales. This is my light and flaky take on some great and terrible forbidden love films. It’s lofi, chatty, and filled up with comments from the class. I hope you enjoy–and do nothing more than enjoy! But if you like the syllabus and would like to join us, do let me know (you can contact me here).

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