Skip to main content


Showing posts from February, 2007

Advice for Preachers

In a letter to a priest written on 7th March 1960, C. S. Lewis gave this advice: "As an old lecturer may I give a bit of advice about preaching? The joints (we have finished point A: now for B or Here the digression ends) cannot be made too clear. Unless you seem to yourself to be exaggerating them almost absurdly they will escape 9/10 of your hearers. Also, slow, slow. If you want people to weep by the end, make them laugh in the beginning." The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis , Volume III, p. 1138 "The preaching of the Cross is, I know, nonsense to those who are involved in this dying world, but to us who are being saved from that death it is nothing less than the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18 (J. B. Phillips translation)

N. T. Wright on C. S. Lewis

For those who are not aware, N. T. "Tom" Wright is the Bishop of Durham, England and the author of more than thirty books, including The Last Word and The Meaning of Jesus with Marcus Borg. Wright taught New Testament studies for twenty years at Cambridge, McGill, and Oxford universities. Some have compared Wright's book Simply Christian to C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. I had the blessing of hearing and meeting Tom Wright in person last November in Washington, D. C., at a coffee and dessert reception for InterVarsity Press authors. Wright spoke about his new book published by IVP entitled Evil and the Justice of God . The first book I ever read by Tom Wright was The Meaning of Jesus . And I certainly take the Wright side in the "debate" with Marcus Borg. Over the past two years I have been reading anything by N. T. Wright I can get my hands on. So how thrilled do you think I was when I heard that Wright (my new favorite author) delivered a paper ab

Amazing Grace

Last night our family went to see the movie, Amazing Grace . Usually we go to see movies in Harrisonburg, Virginia because that is the location of the best movie theater closest to us. However, the closest theater showing Amazing Grace was in Charlottesville, a two hour drive from our home in the mountains of Virginia. Seeing this movie was worth every mile we drove, every penny we spent on gas, and the thirty plus dollars it cost for all five of us to see the film. Amazing Grace is, perhaps, the greatest movie I have ever seen. It is the story of William Wilberforce who lived from 1759-1833 in England. Wilberforce, or Wilber as he was known to friends, was the son of a rich merchant. However, he lost his father at the age of eight and went to live with his uncle and aunt who had been influenced by George Whitefield and the Evangelical Revival in England. Wilber's uncle and aunt were also friends of John Newton, the former slave trader and sailor turned Christian convert, preac

Advice for Writers

On 14 December 1959 C. S. Lewis offered to a correspondent this advice about writing: "It is very hard to give any general advice about writing. Here's my attempt. Turn off the Radio. Read all the good books you can, and avoid nearly all magazines. Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye. You shd. hear every sentence you write as if it was being read aloud or spoken. If it does not sound nice, try again. Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else. (Notice this means that if you are interested only in writing you will never be a writer, because you will have nothing to write about . . .) Take great pains to be clear . Remember that though you start by knowing what you mean, the reader doesn't, and a single ill-chosen word may lead him to a total misunderstanding. In a story it is terribly easy just to forget that you have not told the reader something that he needs to know -- the whole picture i

Seeing Life as Story

Writing to his friend and fellow writer, Roger Lancelyn Green, about the return of his wife Joy's cancer, C. S. Lewis said, "It is like being recaptured by the giant when you have passed every gate and are almost out of sight of his castle." Collected Letters , Volume III, p. 1101 C. S. Lewis saw life in epic proportions. And I imagine that seeing his own suffering as part of a larger story helped Lewis to cope. The return of Joy's cancer and her eventual death was a dreadful part of Jack's own life narrative. However, he also realized, in the midst of his very honest wrestling with grief, that this was not the end of the story. Significantly Lewis ended his chronicle of loss, A Grief Observed , with a quote from Dante: "And she turned to the eternal fountain." Lewis realized that the end of every tale was only the beginning of a new one. As he wrote at the end of The Last Battle : "And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can

Imagining Glory

"No one, I presume, can imagine life in the Glorified Body. On this, and on the distinction (in general) between belief and imagination, I have said all I can in Miracles . Lor' bless me, I can picture v. few of the things I believe in -- I can't picture will, thought, time, atoms, astronomical distances, New York, nor even (at the moment) my mother's face." The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis , Volume III, p. 1086. This is quite an admission from the pen of one like C. S. Lewis, a writer and amateur theologian with such a great imagination. How many of Lewis's books are filled with pictures of what the glorified life may be like? The Great Divorce and The Last Battle are but two that come to mind. This admission of humility and ignorance should come as great encouragement to lesser minds like our own. And after all, even Scripture tells us that no one has imagined what the glorified life will be like: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard,

Comfort in Suffering

On April 10, 1959 C. S. Lewis wrote to a woman correspondent in order to comfort her in the midst of a trial she was undergoing. Lewis wrote poignantly out of his own experience of suffering. . . . "My heart goes out to you. You are now just where I was a little over two years ago -- they wrongly diagnosed Joy's condition as Uremia before they discovered cancer of the bone. "I know all the different ways in which it gets one: wild hopes, bitter nostalgia for lost happiness, mere physical terror turning one sick, agonised pity and self-pity. In fact, Gethsemane. I had one (paradoxical) support which you lack -- that of being in severe pain myself. Apart from that what helped Joy and me through it was That she was always told the whole truth about her own state. There was no miserable pretence. That means that both can face it side-by-side, instead of becoming something like adversaries in a battle-of-wits. Take it day by day and hour by hour (as we took the front

Making Him Real

"It makes me, I think, more humble than proud to know that Aslan has allowed me to be the means of making Him more real to you. Because He could have used anyone -- as He made a donkey preach a good sermon to Balaam. Perhaps, in return, you will sometimes say a prayer for me?" Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis , Volume III, pp. 882-883 Perhaps the greatest compliment I have ever received about a sermon I have preached was given to me during this past Advent season. An elderly man in the congregation, who grew up on the mission field, said to me in reference to the Christmas story: "You made it all so real." The amazing thing is that we all have the privilege of "making him real" to each other every day. That is part of why God made you "you" and me "me"--so that we can each pass on to each other our unique vision of him who cannot be summed up in any one person's vision. "And we, who with unveiled

Heaven is Leisure

"Heaven is leisure ('there remaineth a rest for the people of God'): but I picture it pretty vigorous too as our best leisure really is. Man was created 'to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.' Whether that is best pictured as being in love, or like being one of an orchestra who are playing a great work with perfect success, or like surf bathing, or like endlessly exploring a wonderful country or endlessly reading a glorious story -- who knows?" Collected Letters, Volume III , p. 856. C. S. Lewis once said that for him Heaven would be like Oxford set in the middle of County Down. Looking at the photo above one can guess why he would say that. I love travel and exploration so I can relate to Heaven being like endlessly exploring a wonderful country. And like Lewis I could spend a lifetime endlessly exploring Oxford (the bookstores, the pubs, the architecture, the history, the secret gardens, the rivers, the variety of people, the colleges and the int


After months of working my way through the Mere Christianity Journal that project is finally complete. I am now reading The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume III . So as I continue reading this massive volume of correspondence over the next couple of months I will share here my favorite quotes. "Do you think one's vocation wh. looks so cryptic as a whole, is usually fairly clear from day to day and moment to moment? One usually has an idea what to do next . Need one know any more? It wd. be a pity if when He came He found me thinking about my vocation at a moment when I wd. have been better employed writing a letter, making a bed, entertaining a bore -- or something quite dull and obvious." Collected Letters, Volume III, p. 781. Lewis is so good, and helpful and practical at certain points, and this is one of those points. We are asked so many times when we are young: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" It is, perhaps, a helpful question at

Reaching Perfection

"Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him evrything else thrown in." Mere Christianity It seems that God must shatter every image we have of perfection so that we might surrender to him all those things of which we make idols. As C. S. Lewis says elsewhere: God is the great iconoclast. If we are truly to have the one thing of most value, God himself, and if God is to have all of us, then ultimately all that which is most de

Nice People or New Men

"If you are a nice person--if virtue comes easily to you--beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake for your own merits what are really God's gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous. The Devil was an archangel once; his natural gifts were as far above yours as yours are above those of a chimpanzee. "But if you are a poor creature--poisoned by a wretched upbringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels--saddled, by no choice of your own, with some loathsome sexual perversion--nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends--do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do w

A Living House

"Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of--throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself." Mere Christianity "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me." (Revelation 3:20) If you think of your life like a house, the


"'Make no mistake,' He says, 'if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, not let you rest, until you are literally perfect--until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.'" Mere Christianity Jesus said, "Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48) Immediately prior to this Jesus said that we should love our enemies. Therefore, loving one's enemies, doing what is best for them, is Jes

Morning Has Broken

"What we have been told is how we men can be drawn into Christ--can become part of that wonderful present which the young Prince of the universe wants to offer to His Father--that present which is Himself and therefore us in Him. It is the only thing we were made for. And there are strange, exciting hints in the Bible that when we are drawn in, a great many other things in Nature will begin to come right. The bad dream will be over: it will be morning." Mere Christianity "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the