The Pilgrim’s Guide: C.S. Lewis And The Art Of Witness, edited by David Mills
It is always a somewhat ominous sign when a book seeks to defend the reason for its existence and acknowledges a cultlike atmosphere when it comes to the way that C.S. Lewis’ writings are viewed by many. Yet, fortunately for my enjoyment of this particular volume, this book seeks to provide a reason to read about C.S. Lewis’ writings from a particular perspective that has not gained as much interest from many writers, and that is his focus on witness. And rather than one view of this, the book consists of a variety of shorter treatises on the subject by people who each wish to focus on a different aspect of Lewis’ life and ministry of witness and its repercussions and implications. As one might expect in such an effort, many people find in C.S. Lewis what they bring to the table. An Orthodox writer seeks to examine what parallels Lewis’ thinking and writing shares with the perspective of Eastern Christianity, even if Lewis was not very familiar with it. The same is true of Catholics and others. As a reader who generally appreciates the phenomenon by which we see ourselves in others, this book was enjoyable and worthwhile.
This book of almost 300 pages is divided into two large sections with numerous smaller pieces. After an introduction and an annotated list of contributors, the first three pieces discuss the character of a witness by looking at how C.S. Lewis paid for his witness to Christianity, how he taught Christianity among intellectuals, and how he behaved in the public sphere. The rest of the pieces look at the work of the witness, including papers on ecumenical matters in Mere Christianity, Lewis’ relationship with Eastern Christianity, C.S. Lewis as a moral philosopher, the relationship between myth and “real life,” Lewis’ theology of fantasy, his relationship with Orwell when it came to the problem of the corruption of language, the end of gnosticism and the healing of schisms in That Hideous Strength, relativism, pre-apologetics in the Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis’ Anglican spiritual style, his conflict with H.G. Wells’ scientism, his thoughts about the great religions, and his view of hell. After this there are appendices that provide a reader’s guide to books about Lewis and his life and writings, a timeline of his life and its context, and the source of Lewis’ use of the phrase “Mere Christianity.”
I enjoyed this book a great deal, but as an intellectual I suppose this book and its papers was more or less made for someone like me. Not all readers will find this book to be as deeply fascinating, as the writers of this book are far more interested in scholarly games than Lewis was himself, who was interested in communicating to everyone, from children on up. For the most part, this is a book that has a Hellenistic perspective that has little interest in original Christianity and a great deal of interest in the institutions of contemporary Christendom. Only a few papers even look at the writers and thinkers of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages that Lewis was interested in, much less a look at early Christianity. That said, as someone who lives and moves with comfort in the air of dusty libraries and scholarly debates about the propriety of a literature don writing popular apologetics and turning the tools of scholarly debate into a call for repentance and obedience to even mainstream Christianity, this book was certainly enjoyable for me. Lewis may not need all that many books about him, but as long as people wish to convey the intellectual and spiritual value of his writings, there will be something worth discovering in his works.