John Piper on C.S. Lewis: “I shall never cease to thank God for this remarkable man…”

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Here is a small excerpt from John Piper’s excellent book Don’t Waste Your Life (which you can read here for free, or buy here for a pittance) wherein he expresses thankfulness for Clive Staples Lewis and details some of the ways he has cleared a path for us all. I’ll only add that I vigorously concur, and that JP is among the very few men who rank with CSL for impact in my own life. -sam

Someone introduced me to Lewis my freshman year with the book, Mere Christianity. For the next five or six years I was almost never without a Lewis book near at hand. I think that without his influence I would not have lived my lfe with as much joy or usefulness as I have. There are reasons for this.

He has made me wary of chronological snobbery. That is, he showed me that newness is no virtue and oldness is no vice. Truth and beauty and goodness are not determined by when they exist. Nothing is inferior for being old, and nothing is valu¬able for being modern. This has freed me from the tyranny of novelty and opened for me the wisdom of the ages. To this day I get most of my soul-food from centuries ago. I thank God for Lewis’s compelling demonstration of the obvious.

He demonstrated for me and convinced me that rigorous, precise, penetrating logic is not opposed to deep, soul-stirring feeling and vivid, lively—even playful—imagination. He was a “romantic rationalist.” He combined things that almost every¬body today assumes are mutually exclusive: rationalism and poetry, cool logic and warm feeling, disciplined prose and free imagination. In shattering these old stereotypes, he freed me to think hard and to write poetry, to argue for the resurrection and compose hymns to Christ, to smash an argument and hug a friend, to demand a definition and use a metaphor.

Lewis gave me an intense sense of the “realness” of things. The preciousness of this is hard to communicate. To wake up in the morning and be aware of the firmness of the mattress, the warmth of the sun’s rays, the sound of the clock ticking, the sheer being of things (“quiddity” as he calls it). He helped me become alive to life. He helped me see what is there in the world—things that, if we didn’t have, we would pay a million dollars to have, but having them, ignore. He made me more alive to beauty. He put my soul on notice that there are daily wonders that will waken worship if I open my eyes. He shook my dozing soul and threw the cold water of reality in my face, so that life and God and heaven and hell broke into my world with glory and horror.

He exposed the sophisticated intellectual opposition to objective being and objective value for the naked folly that it was. The philosophical king of my generation had no clothes on, and the writer of children’s books from Oxford had the courage to say so.

You can’t go on “seeing through” things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transpar¬ent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to “see through” first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see. (CSL)

Oh, how much more could be said about the world as C. S. Lewis saw it and the way he spoke. He has his flaws, some of them serious. But I will never cease to thank God for this remark¬able man who came onto my path at the perfect moment.

 


27 Comments

  1. brent g

    It’s true he was a gift. Lewis has left his footprints in my journey. He remains my favorite author, and I find myself wishing I thought so well. He did have some major theological flaws, but proves that Jesus uses us where we are.

  2. Ruben

    Lewis is also my favourite writer and one of the strongest inlfuences on my life, I do not know where I would be now if I had not read “Out of the Silent Planet”. Everytime I get confused about theology and have doubts about the faith, I always go back to the basics he established in “Mere Christianity” and it calms my soul. I guess the serious deficiencies in Lewis are attributed to the fact that he was an Anglican and not evangelical, his view of Scripture and justification by faith is far different from the evangelical norm. It’s funny that his influence seems to be strongest among evangelicals though.

  3. E

    “Til We Have Faces” is the one I keep coming back to.

    I read it when I was 19 and thought, “This seems true to me. But I don’t understand it. I need to read this again in ten years.”

    Just have never had any book of fiction or philosophy (even ones I’ve loved and grown with and from) hit me in such a sublime sort of way.

  4. Peter B

    E, that’s a much more mature response than I would have had at that age 🙂

    Not sure why, but Lewis’ fiction has always caught me and moved me in a way that his essays never did. Perhaps I need a more dedicated attention span.

  5. Tony Heringer

    Peter,

    No, I think with fiction Lewis is able to slip past our theological dragons. He articulates his philosophical positions in his fiction, but in a more subtle way. So much so that as I read the Narnia stories to the kids I would sometimes choke up at the beauty of it. –which the kids probably thought “Dad’s losing it!” (Little did they know I never had it to lose.)

    Another cool thing about the Narnia stories, he anticipated my kids questions. That always tickled me. They would ask something and a paragraph or two later he’d answer.

    Sam,

    Nice post. Lewis is a gem. I remember being a wee lad sitting with the adults on Sunday night as one of the local doctors opined on Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, A Grief Observed and Problem of Pain. I didn’t catch much during those lessons other than the awe the adults had for these works.

    Like you, it was “Mere Christianity” that gripped me next. In college and beyond I played the prodigal to the hilt. Lewis was one the writers calling me back home. I’m with you on the chronological snobbery. That has always been a favorite ”Lewis-ism.”

    Have you read Sayer’s bio on Lewis yet (“Jack”)? His reflections on Lewis are very moving. As for his flaws, after reading this book I found Lewis to be more orthodox or conservative than he sometimes is portrayed. Perfect? By no means. He was just another sinner like the rest of us. Real? Absolutely. Truly a beautiful mind.

  6. Profile photo of S. D. Smith

    S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    I agree with you guys about the impact CSL has had. And Till We Have Faces is my favorite CSL book, I think. Definitely my favorite of his fiction.

    Tony,
    I think you’re answering JP’s comments, but I have similar feelings for sure. Mere Christianity has lost a little of its power on me, but it was huge in my life the first time I read it.

    I have read Jack and I thought it was outstanding. I came to the same conclusion you did, that Lewis was more “on target” than I had previously thought. He was a normal man and grew and changed his mind, so many of his quotes may have been early opinions that matured.

    He was no flake, that’s for certain. He was kind, and considerate, but was revealed in that book as a man with clarity, in contrast to the nebulous pseudo-moralism that was popular (and still is).

    Thanks, Tony.

    I remember with great fondness sitting in my room in South Africa reading Surprised by Joy and just feeling this sense of connection (even though so much was over my head) that was transcendent. This was my sort of man. I would grow up loving these words and loving the God who overwhelmed this man’s mind and soul.

  7. JJ

    Piper and Lewis are in my top 5 favorite authors. Every Christian should devote their lives to reading everything these men have written (and in the case of Piper, everything he will write in years to come). 🙂 I thank God for these men.

  8. Benjamin Wolaver

    C.S. Lewis, as much as any author, defined Christianity for me. If Lewis says it, I sit down and grapple hard with his viewpoint. For instance, Lewis’ view of Scripture forced me to sit down and really flesh out my own and not just parrot cliches. Lewis’ mind is the clearest I have ever encountered, and it was remarkably free from arrogance and presumption. Of course, he learned from the best. That “quiddity” is the very essence of George MacDonald that Lewis extols in his introduction to his Anthology. Theologically speaking MacDonald would pose the question (as he often did), “Is it the man who is permeated with the Spirit of God who is more likely to be correct in his thinking, or the man who is not?” MacDonald himself is perhaps the greatest example of this. How can anyone say they have the right opinion unless they have first experienced the right kind of Life?

  9. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Sam,

    I’ve probably read Lewis more than any other author. Not even probably – without question. I’ve read a little of John Piper. I do love how Lewis combined logical thought and poetry, hard-nosed realism and a sense of romance about the universe.

  10. Adam

    Lewis is breathtakingly logical and very emotive at the same time. I would go as far as to call him the greatest Christian author. It is odd, though, that Piper is such a fan, since Lewis strongly and logically refutes Calvinism in Mere Christianity.

  11. limpdance

    There are nuances in C S Lewis’ theological flaws.

    For instance, he shouldn’t have said that the Bible has errors in it, but it’s not enough for us to just say that. There are details. He came to that conclusion by trying to reconcile the imprecatory Psalms with Jesus’ commands to love and pray for our enemies (see ‘Reflections on the Psalms’). He used Scripture to judge Scripture, however wrong his conclusion.

    Many of us have orthodox views about Scriptures, but we haven’t fought for them (unlike @Benjamin Wolaver or the weeping prophet). If prophet Jeremiah had orthodox views he fought for them, first through unorthodoxy – accusing God of deceiving him (Jeremiah 20:7)

  12. B.

    Throughout high school I could be depended on to begin my sentences with “C.S. Lewis once wrote/said.” To my taste, his poetry is lackluster, but his prose, both scholarly and narrative, is fantastic.

    Piper seems dry in comparison, but my experience of him is rather limited. I did enjoy A Hunger for God.

  13. Pete

    Lewis (particularly his Mere Christianity and God in the Dock) was also a major part of my early Christian walk – I became a believer my senior year of high school, and was fortunate enough to be among a group of Lewis fans.

    I still remember the actual chills that went through me when I first read the scene in Perelandra where Ransom finally realized “that there was a proper object for hate”, and that he’d have to contend physically with Weston/Satan as well as rhetorically. It was one of the first times I recall a piece of literature affecting me that way.

    I still find myself quoting him (or at least referring to him) every couple of weeks.

  14. Benjamin Wolaver

    I will say that I think it is a curious irony that those of Piper’s religious persuasion continually laud people like Lewis, Chesterton, Tolkien, and even Buechner, and yet draw a line at their theology.

    Now, by any standard, the way a man thinks about God (theology) is a core tenet of his mind and belief. When C.S. Lewis describes the “good infection” in Mere Christianity, or Chesterton defends Catholicism, or MacDonald goes after penal substitution, they are not have “a moment of insanity” and jumping off the reservation. They are expressing a pillar of their worldview.

    What strikes me about all these thinkers is that they have a spirit about them, an excellence of mind and soul that many Christian writers today would give their left arm to have. I went to a class once named after Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy. The class instructor lauded Chesterton and hearkened to his spirit as the guiding light of the class. He then proceeded to introduce us to a variety of “correct” authors who totally disagreed with everything Chesterton stood for.

    So, whether or not these men are 100% right, I find generally speaking that they hold far more wit, clarity, reason, grace, insight, and dare I say it, spiritual weight than those who have dotted all their theological i’s and crossed all their t’s. Which begs the question: just who should guide our thinking about Christianity anyway? The ones who are “always correct” or the ones who, by their own admission, sometimes got it wrong?

  15. Tony Heringer

    Benjamin,

    Great points! I love this part…

    So, whether or not these men are 100% right, I find generally speaking that they hold far more wit, clarity, reason, grace, insight, and dare I say it, spiritual weight than those who have dotted all their theological i’s and crossed all their t’s. Which begs the question: just who should guide our thinking about Christianity anyway? The ones who are “always correct” or the ones who, by their own admission, sometimes got it wrong?

    I’d say both filtered through the lens of Scripture empowered by the Spirit. He leads us into all truth and because of that I can listen to many different voices and yet still hear Jesus speaking. As Rich Mullins used to say “God spoke through Balaam’s ass and He’s been speaking through asses ever since.”

    Love,

    Eeyore

  16. Chuck Beem

    My favorite Lewis is Perelandra, with A Grief Observed making a close second. Piper is fantastic at times and less so at others. His preaching is probably better than his writing.

  17. Thistlefur

    Tony Herringer/Eeyore: I could not have said it better myself! (I have repeated that Mullins’ quote daily for years!) 😉

    In the same way we are describing Lewis and his strengths/failings, Rich Mullins led me in the development of my theology—opening doors I never would have thought to walk through, explaining concepts I would later find elaborated on but not necessarily improved in my textbooks, and challenging me to fuse an awareness of God’s mystery/transcendence and nearness/immanence in everything that I do, no matter where I find it or what age it comes from. All impossible without the work of the Spirit, guided by the Word. We humans need both—fallible human working with infallible God—what a mystery and a gift!

    Which IS funny, because Rich himself was appalled that we should consider a musician to have authority on faith and practice (“I know a lot of us, and we don’t know jack about anything”) but that didn’t stop him from using the gifts God gave him to educate us. I think it’s the same whether one is an author, teacher, artist, accountant, professor, or shoe-shiner. We give it our best go wherever we are at…and God, as He sees fit, takes care of the rest. Lewis just had a lot more of it down than most of us! The important part was he was faithful in sharing what he had learned. We’re all learning.

    Thank you, God, for MacDonald, Chesterton, Tolkien, Lewis, Mullins, Piper, Balaam’s ass…and the rest of us that don’t have it down but are still trying…

    ____________
    Rich Mullins—”It always scares me when I talk to you guys and you think so highly of Christian music, contemporary Christian music especially. Because I kinda go, I know a lot of us, and we don’t know jack about anything. Not that I don’t want you to buy our records and come to our concerts. I sure do. But you should come for entertainment. If you really want spiritual nourishment, you should go to church. Those people care about you, and you don’t have to buy a ticket. If you really want spiritual nourishment, you should read the Scriptures. It’ll confuse you to death practically, but you’re gonna die anyway, so why not go out doing something good?”

  18. Tony Heringer

    Thistlefur,

    Great name! Thanks. That last Mullins quote was partially quoted by my wife the other day. He is another person that has had a big influence on my life.

    I love how our conversations on some of these topics continue to linger. I’ve not had as much time to visit of late, but this is still my favorite Internet destination.

  19. Delgurl

    I have enjoyed reading the comments, and am glad to have stumbled upon this site today. On any other subject I might have been content to just read what others have written, but I must add my voice to this subject. Having come to Christ at a very lonely time of my life over 30 years ago, when I had just moved and made a major life transition, C.S. Lewis truly discipled me in the faith through his writings. I find the allusions herein to his not being theologically up to the mark amusing. In the decades of my faith journey, it is my personal (and admittedly subjective) experience that those who put the most emphasis on ‘correct’ doctrine or theology have a shaky grasp of grace – at least in a practical sense (or towards those with whom they disagree). Upon the publication of the edition of Mere Christianity that I read those many years ago, CSL addressed critics who were upset with him for not endorsing or condemning various denominational doctrines. His response gave me the image that has sustained my willingness to keep trying to play my part in the Body of Christ despite some of the just plain nonsense I have heard or seen folks engage in over their doctrinal differences (don’t even get me started on political differences!). Speaking of the church, Lewis wrote:

    “It is at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to every other in spirit, if not in doctrine. And this suggests that at the centre of each there is something, or a Someone, who against all divergences of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.”

    In my mind’s eye, it portrays the Body of Christ like a wheel (an image I think I got from Lewis as well – not sure where). Christ is the hub, the center, and various denominations, etc. are like spokes. On each spoke, those closest to the center are divided from other spokes by a very small distance. It is only as individuals on the different spokes get further from the center – and less focused on Christ – that their differences become worth noting. And unfortunately, more visible to those outside. You see where this is going….

    BTW – If you haven’t yet read Lewis’s various books of letters, they are well worth your time. In fact, I plan to start on a long overdue re-reading of some of my favorites. Thanks for stirring the pot!

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