The C. S. Lewis Bible: An Interview & Preview with Bruce Edwards

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We are on the cusp of VDT Madness. In just a few months, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as imagined by Michael Apted and, uh: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Michael Petroni, Andrew Adamson, Douglas Gresham and C. S. Lewis, will hit our holiday movie screens. Book publishers, anticipating their cue, are rolling out their movie tie-in wares for either our enjoyment, engorgement or exasperation.

HarperOne will release fresh editions of VDT for you to read and hear (an audio tie-in features Derek Jacobi) along with A Year With Aslan: Daily Reflections from The Chronicles of Narnia (available October 5). Other publishers will help you get “inside” the story, crack “codes” and learn “secrets.”

the-c-s-lewis-bibleBut of all the forthcoming books by or about C. S. Lewis, I am most looking forward to The C. S. Lewis Bible, because if you know Jack, you know it’s no secret that Lewis was a student of Scripture. In the Introduction to The C. S. Lewis Bible, Jerry Root writes:

Once Lewis became a theist, even before he became a Christian, he began his lifelong practice of daily Bible reading. For Lewis, Bible reading was as natural to his daily routine as eating or sleeping. From the time of his conversion, the atheist turned Christian most often read passages prescribed in the Anglican prayer book, but his method of reading, study, and meditation varied. Sometimes he simply read from cover to cover the King James Version (also known as the Authorized Standard Version) or the Moffat translation; and as a medievalist he was also familiar with the Coverdale Bible. Sometimes, as his published letters indicate, he would focus for a time on a particular book of the Bible such as Romans or the Psalms. Often, as a trained classical scholar he would read frequently from the Greek text of the New Testament. No matter what section of the Bible captured his attention at any given time, this one thing must be said about Lewis: he was a man of the Book.

Being a man of the book took him further than being a mere student: he was a practitioner to the extent God’s grace allowed and, to the extent his talent, imagination and friendships allowed, he re-imagined the Gospel and the life of a Christ-follower afresh through the power of Story. Scripture + Lewis’s understanding of Scripture must surely be one of the better ways of getting inside Lewis and his love for the Lord, and thus by extension getting inside all that Lewis wrote. While other influences abounded in his life, it was Scripture which he deeply desired as his “grammar.” The Grammar of Christ unlocks whatever secrets and cracks any codes there may be for increasing our understanding of Lewis, and I think The C. S. Lewis Bible will show us how deep his grammar went.

It was pleasure to speak with Lewis scholar Bruce Edwards, Professor of English and Africana Studies at Bowling Green State University, who contributed to The C. S. Lewis Bible and helped bring it to print as a member of the advisory board. Professor Edwards shares here with Rabbit Room readers a preview of what’s in store when the book releases on November 12.

What is The C. S. Lewis Bible?

Harper One is publishing a NRSV edition that features approximately 600 comments, asides, and meditations drawn from more than 40 works by C. S. Lewis that link his theological reflections to specific Biblical passages.

Is it a “Study Bible”?

If you mean, “Will I get targeted, sustained Lewisian commentary on a majority of Biblical passages?” then my answer is no. It is more of a “Lewis-flavored” edition of the Bible. Lewisian passages are scattered throughout that are related to key themes. For instance, you won’t find an explicit comment from Lewis on what the Apostle Paul meant by “baptism of the dead,” but you will find his wit, cunning, and insight into the nature of the Bible as his Lord’s storybook, one that is coherent, reliable, historical, and trustworthy.

 

Do we need a C. S. Lewis Bible?

Do we “need” a Max Lucado Bible or a Joel Osteen Bible? Basically, those kinds of Bibles provide a convenient gathering point for one teacher or preacher’s point of view and give the reader a further extension of their ministry or worldview.

This edition can be treated as a devotional guide to Scripture with Lewis’s life of faith and purpose as the primary backdrop; it’s unique, perhaps, in that it provides a new window on Lewis’s personal reverence for and commitment to Scripture.

How did you get involved in the project?

Harper contacted me as somebody who’s been publishing on Lewis for a while and maintains a fairly popular website on him. And they were aware of the four-volume encyclopedia on Lewis I recently edited, C. S. Lewis: Life, Works and Legacy.

What was the process used in creating the text?

Harper asked us (approximately 12-15 Lewis scholars from around the world) to identify passages in Lewis’s works that were apropos for linking to specific Scripture passages, or which could provide commentary relevant to a given book or chapter’s overall theme. We then excerpted the passages in Lewis’s works and indexed them to passages in the Bible that we thought Lewis’s comments illuminated.

For example?

I linked a comment from Lewis’s work Miracles to Matthew 10:37-39, which says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Lewis’s commentary on this passage is:

Some people when they say that a thing is meant ‘metaphorically’ conclude from this that it is hardly meant at all. They rightly think that Christ spoke metaphorically when he told us to carry the cross: they wrongly conclude that carrying the cross means nothing more than leading a respectable life and subscribing moderately to charities. [Miracles, Ch. 10]

Were there any surprises for you as you worked on this project?

I went into this project not just only to hunt down and contextualize passages from Lewis’s canon that happened to contain explicit reference to Scripture texts, but also to afford me an opportunity to reflect upon Lewis’s debt to Scripture itself, and what that debt may mean for us in the 21st Century.  This returned me to many Lewis works I had not read in their entirety in years. I wasn’t so much surprised as I was in awe of Lewis’s command of Scripture. We hear much about and make much of Lewis’s perspicacious grasp of myth and legend, but let me testify to the fact that Lewis’s immersion and comprehension of Scripture is astonishing and humbling. The one and the many, the particular and the universal, here they are in abundance; Lewis’s life and legacy are sanctified by and saturated in Scripture.

I came to the conclusion (again and afresh) that Lewis’s commitment to Scripture is neither subtle nor elusive; rather, it is quite pronounced, and often the trump card in any significant theological argument he wishes to make, especially among believers themselves. He is openly contemptuous of any attempt to explain away the demands of Scripture through “spiritualizing them.”

From your point of view, what do we need to know about Lewis and the Bible?

I discovered once again the decisive effect the Bible had not only on anchoring his faith to apostolic orthodoxy, but also in providing him the foundational symbol-system, the parabolic building blocks, and the overarching narrative themes that inspired his apologetics and his fiction, and, indeed, energized and sharpened his literary criticism.

Despite recent criticism from pastors such as John Piper, there is no one I know in Protestant, or specifically Evangelical, circles who has a more profound respect for the authority of Scripture than Lewis had. Simply put, he thought our obligation was to obey it, and this is thoroughly embedded in every letter he wrote to fledgling Christians.

Lewis’s allusions to and citations of Scripture are distributed throughout his works, scholarly, apologetic, poetic, fantastic, or memoirist. He is never not in the presence of, nor never not informed by, a deep submersion in Scripture.

Is there a statement by Lewis himself that you think epitomizes the project of The C. S. Lewis Bible?

Lewis himself wrote in a letter, “It is Christ himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him.” [Letters of C. S. Lewis (8 November 1952), p. 247]. I think Lewis is surely one of our “good teachers.”

* Here are some sample pages from The C. S. Lewis Bible.

* More information is available from HarperCollins.


10 Comments

  1. David

    Thank you to Dr. Calhoun and Dr. Edwards for this post. I like the idea of immediately linking scripture with this “good teachers” thoughts and commentary. The example you gave from Matthew sold the relevance of the project for and to me.
    Additionally, can your next post please be on the question Bruce raised re: J.O. Bible (note: I did not say the J. Lo Bible)

  2. Dan Kulp

    Being honest here, I’m iffy on this. My initial gut is “oh no. are they just cashing in on his name?”.
    I looked at the examples and had the opposite feel. This is a well put together selection of appropriate thoughts and commentaries from the large volume of Lewis’s work. Not an easy task and a beneficial product.
    Then I saw the marketing plan tab linking the push to the movie release and had a down feel again. (But of course they aren’t going to make a book they don’t plan to sell)

    It is a good thing that format is the Truth (Bible) peppered with good & reverent thought nuggets (Lewis) rather than a philosophy peppered with truth nuggets.

    So I’m still iffy.
    I hope I don’t see it followed with the official CS Lewis Bible Bookmark or trading card game.

  3. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    In publishing you have to separate your “they” into the publisher whose job it is to sell books, and those who write or create the book (who in this case seem to be putting together a solid, scholarly piece of work.) Bruce Edwards and the other Lewis scholars don’t have anything to do with Harper’s marketing plan. I think it’s kind of unfair to call their work iffy simply because of the time frame in which the publisher plans to release it.

  4. Dan Kulp

    I agree it is a scholarly work. It seems very well researched and assembled.

    I guess I’m iffy more with Harper: (and not that an iffy opinion from a guy staring at a screen is worth much)
    Do we need a CS Lewis Bible? (as David asked, do we need JO Bible? Remove JO, do we need a Max Lucado Bible?)
    Could it have been a devotional rather than coupled with the Bible?

    Mostly, I’m weary from the “Christian” marketplace and fad chasing rather than leading with truth and power.

    I’m not an outright consumer/patron of that marketplace anymore. I try to avoid it. I’m iffy if the work will be a purchase for me.

  5. Bruce Edwards

    Dan,

    Fortunately, the purchase of this Bible is neither compulsory nor required for salvation. 😉

    Seriously, this was a labor of love for the advisory board since we were unpaid volunteers. Part of the project’s charm for me is its gratuitousness.

    Here, assembled in one place but distributed judiciously throughout the Scripture text, are core Lewisian comments (including those drawn from many works most Lewis admirers have not read) about the nature of God, the necessity of obedience, the authority of Scripture, and, most of all, the wonder of our undeserved heavenly favor we receive at the feet of Jesus.

    Anyone of us could’ve taken about 37 Saturdays and collated these excerpts and meditations without Harper’s help, of course.

    For efficiency’s sake, I am glad they did it for me. It’s true, I got a free copy for my efforts. But I would have done it even without my promised edition. Selah.

  6. Jaclyn

    Thank you for your labor of love, Bruce.

    I like the idea of laying C.S. Lewis’ thoughts alongside the Bible, not for the purpose of exaulting his thoughts, but to lead C.S. Lewis readers to the source of the stream.

    I can see a reader who appreciates C.S. Lewis’ writing from a secular perspective picking this up out of curiosity and getting more than he bargained for. My heart can’t help feel excited to imagine such a reader tracing the lines back to the source Author. It made me think of Isaiah 55:9-11 (in KJV =] )–

    “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

    For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:

    So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”

    I know how discouraging it can be to consider the dark underbelly of marketing (and anything, really). It’s just not in me to object to the loving, respectful, and accurately handled publishing of God’s Word, His Book.

    This will be on my Christmas list =)

  7. Tony Heringer

    To be “a man of the Book” is a lifelong pursuit. I first heard the phrase applied to Saint Patrick (read a little about him here: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles4/MooreStPatrick.php ). I love that it would be applied to Lewis. C.S. Lewis is a man much more orthodox than I imagined or had heard prior to reading “Jack” – the wonderful George Sayer biography of Lewis.

    I enjoyed the first excerpt, but had to go searching to find the rest of 1 Chronicles 16 in the NRSV. This translation was not in my usual Bible search engine. I found it here: http://bible.oremus.org/ if you are “geeking out” like me this morning and want to read the whole passage associated with that first Lewis reference.

    After reading 1 Chronicles 16, this first line jumped off the page:

    “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.”

    That was right after reading the end of the Psalm (brilliant, by the way, to start off an excerpt from this work with a reference to a song writer, David, who has influenced so many song writers especially those who inhabit this place):

    “Worship the Lord in holy splendour;
    30 tremble before him, all the earth.
    The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
    31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
    and let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord is king!’
    32 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    let the field exult, and everything in it.
    33 Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy
    before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.
    34 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures for ever.

    35Say also:
    ‘Save us, O God of our salvation,
    and gather and rescue us

    The word consummation is what got me as it automatically propels me to the return of Christ. You see creation groaning and then that last bit which shows up again on the original Palm Sunday. That took me to Christ’s rebuke of the Pharisee’s rebuke for His disciples’ shouts of “Save us! (Hosanna!)”: “I tell you,” He replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

    I don’t know if I’d purchase this work (no offense Bruce — love it when folks use Selah) as I do have too many Bibles already but I would see recommending it to others and giving it as a gift. Thanks for sharing yet another wonderful work. I love coming here to see how many ways that art is being born and extolled.

    Cheers!

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