Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Lewis Letters

Time Magazine Cover, September 8, 1947

I’ve waited for years. Finally, Volume III of the Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis has been published. Volume I (1057 pages) and Volume II (1132 pages) are treasures. Volume III (1810 pages) doesn’t disappoint. For all of his popularity, C.S. Lewis must be read carefully. Reformed folk will, and should, disagree with Lewis on some basic doctrinal points. But, Lewis has much to teach us. In this book Lewis interacts with Cornelius Van Vil's statements regarding his orthodoxy, responds to an invitation from Winston Churchill, corresponds with a Belhaven College graduate, and expresses his desire to visit New England, the Rockies, and Yellowstone Park.

Below are a few selections from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963, ed. Walter Hooper (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2007).

The Church

“For the church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities but the Body of Christ in which all members however different (and He rejoices in their differences & by no means wishes to iron them out) must share a common life, complementing and helping and receiving one another precisely in their differences. . . .If people like you and me find much that we don’t naturally like in the public & corporate side of Christianity all the better for us: it will teach us humility and charity.” 12 July 1950, p. 68-69.

God’s Sovereignty

“Unless He wanted you, you would not be wanting Him.” 13 June 1951, p. 127.

“But I think you are already in the meshes of the net! The Holy Spirit is after you. I doubt if you’ll get away!” 23 Dec. 1950, p. 76.

Theological Liberals

“I really think that in our days it is the ‘undogmatic’ & ‘liberal’ people who call themselves Christians that are the most arrogant & intolerant.” 23 May 1951, p. 112.


“I do not think there is demonstrative proof (like Euclid) of Christianity, nor of the existence of matter, nor of the good will & honesty of my best & oldest friends. . . . As to why God doesn’t make it demonstratively clear: are we sure that He is even interested in the kind of Theism which would be a compelled logical assent to conclusive argument?” 23 Dec. 1950, p. 75.


“You say the materialist universe is ‘ugly.’ I wonder how you discerned that? If you are really a product of a materialist universe, how is it that you don’t feel at home there? Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? . . . Notice how we are perpetually surprised by time. (‘How times flies! Fancy John being grown up and married? I can hardly believe it!’) In heaven’s name, why? Unless, indeed, there is something in us which is not temporal.” 23 Dec. 1950, p. 76.

Roman Catholicism

“The question for me (naturally) is not ‘Why should I not be a Roman Catholic?’ but ‘Why should I?’ . . . By the time I had really explained my objection to certain doctrines which differentiate you from us (and also in my opinion from the Apostolic and even the Medieval Church), you would like me less.” March 1951, p. 106.


“It becomes more and more evident every day that we are certain to have a Labour government in a few months time, which I suppose means back to the old scheme of austerity for everyone and extravagance for the government. Worse still, we expect them to get in with a majority which will take at least ten years to break down. So it looks like Warren and I had seen our last Conservative government.” 16 Nov. 1963, p. 1480.

“My brother tells me gloomily that it is an absolute certainty that we shall have a Labour government within a few months, with all the regimentation, austerity, and meddling which they so enjoy.” 16 Nov. 1963, p. 1481.


“Can it be good, from the age of 10 to the age of 23, to be always preparing for an exam, and always knowing that your whole worldly future depends on it: and not only knowing it, but perpetually reminded of it by your parents and masters? Is this the way to breed a nation of people in psychological, moral, and spiritual health?” 12 March 1950, p. 17.

“My idea is that unless one has to qualify oneself for a job (which you haven’t) the only sensible reason for studying anything is that one has a strong curiosity about it. And if one can’t help studying it. I don’t see any point in attending lectures etc. with some general notion of ‘self-improvement.’ . . . I never see why we should do anything unless it is either a duty of a pleasure! . . . I think one usually learns more from a book than from a lecture.” 7 March 1951, p. 96


“St. Augustine’s Confessions will give you the record of an earlier adult convert, with many very great devotional passages intermixed. Do you like poetry? George Herbert at his best is extremely nutritious. I don’t mention the Bible because I take that for granted. A modern translation is for the most purposes far more useful than the Authorized Version.” 9 May 1961, p. 1265.


“Don’t bother much about your feelings. When they are humble, loving, brave, give thanks for them: when they are conceited, selfish, cowardly, ask for them to be altered.” 13 June 1951, p. 127.

Men and Women

“I had not thought of it before but it might be, as you say, that the decay of serious male friendship has results unfavorable to male religion. One can’t be sure, though, because, if more women than men respond to religion, after all more women than men seem to respond to everything. Aren’t they much more easily stirred up than we in all directions? Isn’t it always easier to get female members for anything you are getting up?” 6 May 1950, p. 20.


“I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than him.” 19 April 1951, p. 109.


“Here is one of the fruits of unhappiness: that it forces us to think of life as something to go through. And out at the other end. If only we could steadfastly do that while we are happy, I suppose we should need no misfortunes.” 5 March 1951, p. 93.


“What inclines me now to think that you are right in regarding it [evolution] the central and radical lie in the whole web of falsehood that now governs our lives, is not so much your arguments against it as the fanatical and twisted attitudes of its defenders.” 13 September 1951, p. 138.

American Poet Robert Frost

“He is one of the few living poets for whom I feel something like reverence.” 23 May 1957, p. 855.

Letter to a Young Girl

“Many thanks for your kind letter, and it was very good of you to write and tell me that you like my books; and what a very good letter you write for your age! If you continue to love Jesus, nothing much can go wrong with you, and I hope you may always do so. I’m so thankful that you realized to [the] ‘hidden story’ in the Narnian books. It is odd, children nearly always do, grown ups hardly ever. I’m afraid the Narnian series has come to an end, and am sorry to tell you that you can expect no more.” 26 Oct. 1963, p. 1474.


Josh Manley said...

Rev. Mercer,

Thanks for this post. This is not only a great insight into a great mind but an encouragement as well. I never cease to be amazed at the way Lewis cuts to the heart of an argument and makes that which is complex, seem simple. Thanks again. I am grateful for this blog.

Josh Manley
Washington, D.C.

Bradford Mercer said...

Thank you Josh. You will see more in the coming days. 1810 new pages of Lewis!



Anonymous said...

I had begun to wonder if you guys had abandoned your blog. Thanks for returning with a great entry. My favorite Lewis quote is this one: “We do not truly see light, we only see slower things lit by it, so that for us light is on the edge – the last thing we know before things become too swift for us… I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”



Bradford Mercer said...


One of my favorites also.

My father has cancer, so I have been "out of pocket" for several weeks. But "I'm back." Pray for us.

Thanks for the feedback.


Anonymous said...


I'd really be interested in Lewis' correspondence with Van Til. I wonder if any discussions of apologetic methodology came up. After reading "Miracles" last year, I blogged about some similarities in Lewis' apologetic and Bahnsen's presuppositionalism. They are here, here, and here.

I'll gladly stand corrected if my analysis is wrong.

Anonymous said...

I emphasized that Lewis “interacts with Cornelius Van Vil's statements regarding his orthodoxy.” Clyde Kilby wrote to Lewis to request a response to Van Til’s charge that Lewis thinks “man must seek to ascend in the scale of being from animal life to participation in the life of the Triune God.” Lewis tells Kilby that “Van Til’s wording . . . is wholly foreign to my thought.” As far as I know, Lewis never corresponded directly with Van Til. Regarding your "Miracles" observation, Lewis simply does not fit into any consistent “presuppositionalist” or “evidentialist” mold. Many people discover his best “apologetic” for Christianity as they follow him through Narnia, Perelandra, and Glome (see "Till We Have Faces").