A review of C.S. Lewis for the Third Millennium. By Peter Kreeft.
Ignatius Press, 1994.
This book is a treat. One of the great Christian apologists, writers and thinkers of the last century is discussed by one of the best of this century. Peter Kreeft, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, here gives us an introduction to the thought and influence of the great Oxford don.
Both authors are known for their clarity of mind, their prolific literary output, and their commitment to the truths of historic Christianity. And both authors have been known as fearless warriors against the prevailing secularism and relativism of our culture.
Indeed, a major target of Lewis’s pen was modernism and all that it entails. The rejection of the sacred and the elevation of the secular was a defining feature of modernism. It meant the exaltation of human reason and the rejection of non-human revelation. Autonomous man, guided only by intellect, could usher in a perfect world, accompanied by science and technology. Such a utopian quest was doomed to failure of course, and many of Lewis’s works were directed at this theme.
The Abolition of Man was a classic volume in this regard. So too was the third volume of his space trilogy, That Hideous Strength. The naïve and baseless belief of modernism that fallen reason, aided and abetted by science (really scientism), could create a new man and an earthly paradise has been the cause of more human misery and death than any other worldview.
The bulk of Lewis’s important work was produced in the 1940s, 50s and early 60s. He died in 1963 (on the same day as John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley), so he did not live to see the bitter fruits of modernism, especially in its bastard son, postmodernism. And this volume, written in 1994, appeared just as this newer, more destructive, worldview, was emerging.
But both this book and the works of Lewis anticipate the postmodern assault. Indeed, postmodernism, although often touted as a reaction to modernism, is in many ways its logical outworking. Modernism’s foundation was man and his reason, alone. Postmodernism revels in its anti-foundationalism. Both miss the only true foundation on which man and society can flourish, God and his revelation.
The Judeo-Christian worldview, which gave rise to Western civilisation, has been repudiated, resulting in a host of heresies that beguile modern man. Kreeft lists twenty “isms” that Lewis waged war against, all the products of the modernist rejection of its transcendent roots. These include subjectivism, cultural relativism, utilitarianism, pragmatism, cynicism, hedonism, and secularism.
These destructive isms plaguing the West today are part of a much bigger sweep of history. Lewis argued that the history of Western civilisation has been characterised by two monumental spiritual revolutions, the first from pre-Christian to Christian, the second from Christian to post-Christian.
He argued that the second revolution was more radical than the first, just “as divorce is more traumatic than marriage”. The second change is happening quicker and is more destabilising. As a result, the soul of Western civilisation is dying. The real question is how long and how deep this second revolution will run.
The first revolution however is the permanent one. It may appear to have been eclipsed for now, but our vantage point is limited. True, the new dark ages may continue for quite some time. Writing six years before the new millennium, Kreeft could argue that we have two options: “Either we will build Gothic cathedrals again, from a restored faith, or we will build the Tower of Babel again, from a restored apostasy”.
As a prophetic figure, Lewis could clearly see the stark choice facing the West. He knew that if we rejected the right choice, many more horrors would await us. But if we choose wisely, the new dawn will soon arise.
As the decadence of the West increases, there are glimmers of hope. One Christian’s work of fiction has been made into an Oscar winning film trilogy. Just as Tolkien has been given a new lease on life, perhaps too Lewis. The first of his 7-part book series, The Chronicles of Narnia, (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), is currently being made into a major motion picture. Our salvation does not lie in brilliant screen adaptations of works of Christian fiction. But our salvation does lie in the God who inspired these authors and their books.
Lewis, it will be remembered, once described himself as “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England”. That God could reach into this man’s life, and turn him around, influencing many millions along the way, is an indication of the ultimate optimism that should characterise those of us who bewail the present darkness.
The gloom of secularism is more than matched by the light of faith. The life of Lewis is an example. And his writings offer a perennial reminder that the light does indeed overcome the darkness. This work by Kreeft reminds us of these truths, and provides a ground for hope. Just as Kreeft has become an outstanding apologist for faith, largely inspired by the work of Lewis, so we can be encouraged and motivated to action as we read this cogent summary of the basis of Lewis’s beliefs.
Conservative journals do much to chronicle the ravages of secularism and humanism, highlighting and critiquing their shortcomings. The six meaty essays in this book offer the way out of the spiritual, cultural and intellectual morass we find ourselves in. The prophetic vision and insight of Lewis needs to be captured again by a new generation. And this book is an ideal means by which that can happen.