Read This Book: Awakening Wonder by @DrTurleyTalks (@ClassicalAcadPr)

“There is no argument against beauty.” -Peter Kreeft

It has become increasingly clear to me in recent years that North American evangelical Christianity suffers from a lack of confidence in and appreciation for Beauty. We pursue and call for the Good and the True, yet our strategy has centered primarily on syllogistic rationalism. We’re not all that apt at aesthetics. We love Truth, but we’ve forgotten that whatever is true is also beautiful, and we’ve forgotten that Beauty itself is deeply persuasive. There is no argument against beauty. 
Given my growing interest in the role of theological aesthetics in pedagogy and apologetics, I was very excited to see Stephen Turley’s new book from Classical Academic Press (CA), Awakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty (2015). I’ve been following the work of CAP for several years now and have found their resources invaluable. This book is no different. 
Turley’s book introduces the reader to the role of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in shaping human life through a distinctly Christian education. The book opens in dialogue with C.S. Lewis to survey the way contemporary Western culture has redefined what it means to be human by removing objective value from our common life (chapter 1). This is followed by a look at the birth and development of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty as objective values in the classical world, and Plato’s role in that development receives focused attention. (chapter 2). Turley then traces the development of these values by the Christian Church in the Greek East (chapter 3) and the Latin West (chapter 4). All of that then serves as the foundation for his argument that the recovery of objective aesthetics by classical Christian educators provides the necessary tools to redeem the senses (chapter 5), sanctify the imagination (chapter 6), and reform education (chapter 7) in order to provide an environment in which our children grow up to embody the objective values of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. The strength of the book is the author’s ability to synthesize and communicate a significant amount of material across a variety of disciplines and apply it to the contemporary classical Christian education project. The coherence of the argument embodies the values it promotes.
The God who raised Jesus from the dead is perfectly beautiful, and his beauty beckons us. Turley has provided a framework for developing our ability to perceive the divine beauty which calls us with joy to himself. The result is the recovery of that which we have neglected in the modern period, and the rediscovery of full human life that faithfully incarnates the sacred vocation to shine forth the beauty of the glory of the triune God in whose image we are made. Take and read. 

What Mr. Tumnus Can Teach Us About Advent

After stumbling into the snowy wood of Narnia through the doors of a magical wardrobe, the first person Lucy met in that mysterious new country was a faun named Mr. Tumnus. Her presence startled him as much as his did her, so much so that he dropped the brown-paper parcels he was carrying. Knowing nothing of this strange new land, Lucy observed that, “What with the parcels and the snow it looked just as if he had been doing his Christmas shopping.” Lucy would soon learn, however, what all who love the story already know, that Narnia is under the spell of a cruel witch, who makes it always winter and never Christmas. These parcels, therefore, could not have been Christmas gifts as Lucy had assumed. She was mistaken. Or was she? Could it be that her assumption, no less than her very presence in Narnia, foreshadows the coming reality, a reality for which all Narnia waited with eager longing? Perhaps her presence and her perception of the faun’s parcels are designed to reveal that winter would soon end and Christmas soon come.

That Tumnus is the one carrying these would-be Christmas presents is no small detail. For he carries in his arms that which portends the liberation of Narnia, yet he himself is in the employ of the one who keeps Narnia in bondage to decay. He intends to hand the innocent Lucy over to the one who would destroy her, the false queen who will stop at nothing to keep her power and exploit the land and its people. As the story begins Tumnus is a coward and treacherous. And he knows it. And so the fact that this two-faced faun is carrying in his arms the packages which not only introduce the tension that carries the story but also the potential for its resolution is even more pronounced. He carries with him the sign of hope and freedom, even though he is himself part of the problem. 
He is part of the problem because he has not yet learned to wait. To be sure, he dreams of the day when the snow will melt and spring arrive, but in the meantime he has hedged his bets as he colludes with the Witch to save his hide. Like her, he has chosen to do what is necessary to preserve himself without regard to who might be hurt along the way. He is not waiting. He has capitulated.  
What then can Mr. Tumnus teach us of Advent? He teaches us first that waiting for the King born on Christmas morn is no passive thing. To the contrary, the waiting we do in the season of Advent is active resistance to the powers that rage against the Christ child, as we proclaim the gospel truth that there is another king, namely Jesus. For Tumnus, waiting for Aslan in holiness would have meant suffering, which is precisely what he feared. You only have to read his account to Lucy of what will happen if he releases her. His horns cut off; his beard plucked out; he will be turned to stone. You see, Mr. Tumnus understands that sometimes waiting means dying. 
Second, Tumnus reveals that no one is ever without hope, if, of course, they are willing to repent. In the end the faun chooses to release Lucy, to turn from evil in service to the Witch and face the grim reality that he will suffer for doing right. In this way Tumnus is being conformed to the image of the one who will soon suffer on the cold hard slab of a stone table. And because Tumnus is repentant, the Lion who overcomes even death, will soon breath on him and give him back the life that he gave up for Lucy’s sake. He has learned the meaning of Advent. He has learned to wait. 

Here’s my favorite moment in Narnia. What’s yours?

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis are full of remarkable passages. In fact, there are so many amazing moments that it can be difficult to narrow it down to a single favorite. But if I had to choose today, I would go with a scene near the end of The Magician’s Nephew. The scene comes just after Aslan has sung Narnia into existence and after the boy Digory has managed to allow the evil Queen Jadis into the newly created world. As Digory is preparing for a task that will protect Narnia from the wicked Queen, he gathers the courage to ask Aslan to cure his deathly ill mother. Here’s the passage as Lewis tells it:

“But please, please – won’t you – can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?” Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his mother than he was himself. 

“My son, my son,” said Aslan. “I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.” 

I reserve the right to change my mind later, but for now that’s my favorite moment in Narnia. What’s yours?

The Jovial Sabbath: C.S. Lewis on Rest and Joy

My understanding of the Sabbath was transformed last year when I read John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One. He argues that the creation account in the opening chapters of scripture is intended to be read as an ancient Near Eastern description of a deity constructing his temple and setting up its functions. This temple focus then shapes Walton’s interpretation of God’s rest on the seventh day. He says that we need to know

the piece of information that everyone knew in the ancient world and to which most moderns are mostly oblivious. Deity rests in a temple, and only in a temple. This is what temples were built for. We might even say this is what a temple is – a place for divine rest (71).

What does divine rest entail? Most of us think of rest as disengagement from the cares, worries and tasks of life. What comes to mind is sleeping in or taking an afternoon nap. But in the ancient world rest is what results when a crisis has been resolved or when stability has been achieved, when things have “settled down.” Consequently normal routines can be established and enjoyed. For deity this means that the normal operations of the cosmos can be undertaken. This is more a matter of engagement without obstacles than disengagement without responsibilities (71-72).

So, rather than giving us an image of God kicking back in a Lazy Boy for his day off after a long week at work, Genesis provides an image of God as king dwelling in his temple as the place from which he rules the cosmos. Thus, the Psalmist:
Let us go to his dwelling place;
let us worship at his footstool-
arise, O Lord, and come to your resting place,
you and the ark of your might.
For the Lord has chosen Zion,
he has desired it for his dwelling:
“This is my resting place for ever and ever;
here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it (132:7-8, 13-14).
God rests in his temple and from their he reigns over and governs all that he has made. Indeed, God’s rest is his unhindered and uninterrupted rule over the cosmos. Thus, according to Walton, human beings properly observe the Sabbath when we recognize that God is on his throne. It is God whose reign sustains us and provides for us. So, the Sabbath is a time to “Do whatever will reflect your love, appreciation, respect and awe of the God of all the cosmos” (146). While Sabbath is not a call to think ourselves sovereign over the cosmic order, it is our participation in God’s rightful reign. 
These reflections came rushing back over the weekend as I read Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis, a fascinating study in which he argues that Lewis deployed the medieval characters of the planets as the unifying element in the overall structure of The Chronicles of Narnia. In chapter three on Lewis’ use of Jupiter, or Jove, the king of the planets. Ward cites this excerpt from Lewis’ The Discarded Image:

The character [Jupiter] produces in men would now be imperfectly expressed by the word ‘jovial,’ and is not very easy to grasp; it is no longer, like the saturnine character, one of our archetypes. We may say it is Kingly; but we must think of a King at peace, enthroned, taking his leisure, serene. The Jovial character is cheerful, festive, yet temperate, tranquil, magnanimous. When this planet dominates we may expect halcyon days and prosperity.

Lewis himself stood in a long line of Christian authors and poets who employed Jupiter’s place in the Medieval cosmology to image the joy and beauty of the reign of God in their literary works. Lewis does this best in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which leads Ward to remark, 

Aslan’s bodily presence is the concentration of the Jovial supra-personality in one place, one character. That kingship which cannot be seen in the transcendent Emperor (Aslan’s Father)…or in the broader Narnian cosmos…becomes focused in the King of the Wood. Peter and his siblings can hear the name of this manifestation of Jupiter. Better, they can actually observe him: ‘they saw what they had come to see.’ Better still, they can touch him and even stroke him…As the children come to know Aslan they find themselves living increasingly in his spirit (72).

Walton’s interpretation of Sabbath and Lewis’ comments on the character of Jove clearly have much in common. Three reflections come to mind with this intersection of the Hebrew Sabbath and pre-Copernican cosmology. First, when the Jovial Aslan comes to liberate Narnia from the wintry spell of the White Witch, Narnia comes into the Lion’s rest. This does not mean that the Narnians disengage from life and work and play. To the contrary, only in the leonine liberty are they able to rightly engage life and work and play in a realm that is, at last, rightly ordered. As Walton put it, crisis is resolved and stability is achieved. In this way, Lewis’ depiction of the Golden Age of Narnia gives us a powerful image of the biblical Sabbath, an image in which the people of God are fully engaged in the rightly ordered work of God as image-bearers and vice-regents of the Jovial King himself.
Second, the convergence of Sabbath with the character of Jupiter fills the concept of rest with maturation in joy. Ward observes that when Aslan puts things to rights, “All four children grow up in the same spirit and mystically participate in its kingly life: ‘So they lived in great joy and if ever they remembered their life in this world it was only as one remembers a dream.’ They become saturated with Joviality: ‘nothing is left over or outside the act’ (72). Thus, the Jovial Sabbath is not about a legalistic and burdensome obsession with keeping all the right rules. It is about the enjoyment of the beauty of the reign of God in magnanimous glory. Such enjoyment will, of course, be accompanied by God-honoring behavior, but the behavior grows out of the enjoyment, not out of the burden. In scripture and in Lewis, the Sabbath rest is meant for enjoying God.
Third, to thoroughly orient our understanding of Sabbath around the Jovial influence of the reign of God would, I imagine, have good effect on the mission and ministry of the church. The shift in focus to God’s reign from our own self-oriented disengagement will orient us to a life of embodying and extending that reign, a life of joy in self-giving love, a Sabbath life. Further, there is something about Joviality that is contagious. God will draw the nations to the jovial proclamation and embodiment of his reign of peace. 
We would do well to listen with care to the music of the spheres as we contemplate and enjoy God’s jocund design for his rest and ours. 
_____
Image: Paula Baynes’ original cover art for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)

Mere Lewis: A Review of McGrath’s C.S. Lewis – a Life (@TyndaleHouse)

If you’ve been following the blog of late, you’ve probably noticed that I’m on something of a C.S. Lewis kick. A major part of that kick has been my reading of Alister McGrath’s new biography C.S. Lewis – a Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet. And let me say, the book is outstanding! I really can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a page-turner. Couldn’t put it down.
Alister McGrath wrote this book for the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Lewis’ 1963 death, and McGrath is just the right man for the job. He makes excellent use of his well-honed skills as an historian to master the primary and secondary literature and produce a thorough account of Lewis’ life and work. McGrath is no second-rate wordsmith himself; I was constantly impressed by his literary ability and engaging style. 
Originality
When the subject is a man like Lewis, you may wonder whether a new biography is warranted. What could be said to advance the discussion by making an original contribution to our knowledge of Lewis’ life. His life and his work have been scrutinized. Nevertheless, McGrath makes a fresh and compelling argument for why he thinks Lewis got the date of his own conversion to Christianity wrong in Surprised by Joy. McGrath suggests that Lewis was converted in 1930 rather than the 1929 date Lewis gives in his autobiography. What? You are shocked and amazed at the gall of a biographer who thinks he knows better than Lewis the date of such a major turning point in Lewis’ own life? Well, you won’t be surprised to find that not everyone agrees. I do find McGrath’s argument very sensible and persuasive, though I won’t repeat here. You’ll just have to read the book (or this summary). 

Life and Literature

Alister McGrath
One feature of the book that I like very much is that is not only organized into key periods of Lewis’ life, it is also organized around his key works of literature. Lewis was a major author; it only makes sense that his biography should be organized with a view to important writings. This is a real strength of the book. There are sections devoted to many of Lewis’ numerous well-known works like Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and The Screwtape Letters, to name only a few. So, if there’s a particular work or works of Lewis in which you are especially interested, you can flip over to those sections and read them in whatever order you please. I read the first chapter and then, since I’ve also been reading the Chronicles or Narnia, skipped forward and read chapters 11 and 12, which are all about Lewis and Narnia, before going back to read the remaineder of the book straight through. This is a great feature of the book that means I will be consulting it in the future as a reference work on various of Lewis’ writings. I anticipate turning to it again and again. 
A Real Man
It is very easy to idolize great writers. When you read only the sublime ideas of brilliant thinkers that have been revised, reworked, refined, and rewritten many times before publication, you may begin to think more highly of them than you ought. Lewis is one of those writers. You can read his work and come away wanting to think he can write no wrong, that he is perhaps more than a man. McGrath’s biography is an excellent corrective to such idolizing tendencies. Lewis was a genius; there’s no doubt. But he was also a real person. He had his struggles and his weaknesses. He was a sinner. He knew it. We should, too. When you read this biography, you will not find the mere Lewis that you encounter in the final published editions of his works. You will find instead a complex Lewis, one who sometimes devised elaborate deceptions of family members; you will find a Lewis who was sometimes treated unfairly; who was occasionally frustrated by his students; and who fled from God only to be finally overtaken. You will find a man who was not only exceptionally gifted but rigorously disciplined. You will find one whose gifts and discipline led him to see the big mystery that most of us miss. You will discover how his writings were shaped both by success and failure. You will find a real man, and you will find someone whose life is, for that very reason, inspiring.
As I said, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you are interested in Lewis, you must read this book. If you don’t normally read biographies, give this one a try. I’m not a big reader of biographies myself. This book made me want to read  more in the genre. It’s that good. When you read the book, leave a comment and let me know what you thought of it.

C.S. Lewis on the Ground of Democracy

According to Lewis, there are two possible reasons for believing in democracy:

“You may think all men so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice. That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democracy. On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power of his fellows.”* 

I wonder whether our democracy has not, by and large, fallen prey to the first and false of these options. We take it as a supreme value that everyone should get their say. Your vote is your voice, your power. What we need instead is a good dose of humility. We need to acknowledge that, as fallen and sinful people, none of us can handle unchecked power, and the vote of all the others is accountability for the one. I suppose that the making of such a confession would, however, run contrary to nature for such fallen ones
—–
* “Membership” in The Weight of Glory (HarperCollins, 2001), 168.

C.S. Lewis on "Real Forgiveness"

He writes:

“Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who had done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.”

I’m not sure we often think of forgiveness like this; it would mean conceding that we are indeed dirty, mean, and malicious. We prefer excuses. But Lewis’ definition of real forgiveness is worth extended reflection. We see most clearly the surprising beauty of the cross in those moments when we are most honest about the darkness of the filth of our rebel hearts. God will never excuse our offense against him; he will however forgive it. He doesn’t look the other way. He takes it head on. In the cross he takes upon himself (himself!) the horror and pain of our transgression against him. The Holy One looks steadily at our sin and chooses not to hold it against us. Stunning. Absolutely stunning. 
This is what God has done for us in Christ, it is likewise what he calls upon us to do. Imitate him. So, Lewis: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” He continues:

“This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life – to keep forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son – how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms.”

It is nearly impossible to become a forgiving person until one finds himself a forgiven person. One cannot be like God without first being reconciled to God.