From the Bible to 21st-century evangelists, there is no dearth of resources for understanding Christianity. There are, however, few people who have explored the enormous depth and breadth of the faith as intimately and critically as C.S. Lewis, the noted British novelist, literary critic, Oxford professor and popular defender of Christian orthodoxy who died at 64 in 1963.
Lewis is best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven children’s books that are classics of fantasy literature. His books about Christianity have also sold millions of copies—and his views, grounded in his belief that the faith is not just plausible but just and good, are the subject of an outstanding seven-lecture course offered free of cost online by Hillsdale College, a private liberal arts institution in Michigan.
The course, titled “C.S. Lewis on Christianity,” is taught by Father Michael Ward, a visiting fellow at Hillsdale College and member of the faculty of theology and religion at Oxford University. He is author of several books on C.S. Lewis and a leading expert on Lewis’s thoughts about Christianity.
The videoed course, which comes with a study guide, discussion and quiz at the end, describes Lewis as “the best modern writer at explaining the truth and goodness of the Christian faith.” In his typically insightful and stimulating style, Lewis grapples with “the eternal questions of theology in a manner that attracts those outside Christianity and strengthens those within the faith,” says the course overview, adding that the wide-ranging lectures examine his writings about such issues as morality, prayer, suffering and afterlife.
In a roughly 15-minute introduction to the course, titled “Faith and Reason,” Larry P. Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, starts out with a reference to Mere Christianity, one of Lewis’ best-known books. “He wrote this sentence, which is very important to me and my attempts to figure out life and God,” says Arnn.“‘Obviously, I used to say, a sane man accepts or rejects any statement, not because he wants to or does not want to, but because the evidence seems to him good or bad.’”
“And he’s speaking of Christianity when he says that—he’s claiming it makes sense,” adds Arnn. “But you know, Christianity, crucial events in it are a virgin birth and resurrection from the dead. And those things don’t happen. How can that make sense?”
Lewis turned to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle for an answer. “Aristotle’s point is that when you make a choice, there’s always one thing going on,” Arnn explains, pointing to a dynamic wherein what we want goes hand in hand with what we think is right. “And where do you get those thoughts about right? Aristotle doesn’t make that explicit, but it’s plain that he thinks you have a sense of the right.”
In Pagan philosophy and the Bible alike, it’s clear that “human beings can’t really be the greatest thing in the universe,” Arnn says. For one, they have relatively short lives, and despite their “gift of reason … there’s only so much they can learn.” Now imagine a being who is all-knowing and immune to decay, Arnn proposes, adding that the idea is present in Aristotle’s philosophy, the Christian Bible—and in Mere Christianity.
“When Lewis says that I can’t believe a thing unless it makes sense—and you know, he knew lots of people who were Christians, and many had tried to convert him, and he’s been tempted but he couldn’t go the next step, the final step, until he thought, this is not self-contradictory,” Arnn says. “And so, the story in Christianity is wild in one way, but on the other hand, it reconciles the universe with the claims of justice.”
In a course titled “Good and Evil,” Lewis is quoted as arguing that moral value is objective—that is, it is based on facts, not on personal interpretation—and that this principle is universally recognized. He referred to this truth as the “Tao,” the Chinese word for “way.” In his 1943 nonfiction book, The Abolition of Man, Lewis wrote that a “dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.”
In fact, Lewis proposed, “moral value is something to be practiced, to be lived into, to be participated in,” says Ward. “One of the most important lines in The Abolition of Man comes when Lewis describes the Tao as ‘a concrete reality in which to participate is to be truly human.’”
“Lewis says this because of his belief that the Tao is not an inert system of thought but rather a vital matrix of goodness, a way of life,” says Ward. “Indeed, the way of all moral life.”
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