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The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C. S. Lewis Paperback – September 30, 2014
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“A book that displays the impressive breadth of Lewis’s appeal across denominational boundaries and that helpfully highlights the continuing importance of his example as a Christian who could think both rationally and imaginatively. Altogether an interesting, lively, and thought-provoking read.”
—Michael Ward, Fellow of Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford; author, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis
“For many of us, the writings of C. S. Lewis have been a helpful guide to the nooks and crannies of the Christian life. As noted by a number of the authors of this extremely helpful collection of essays, the rich coloring of all of Lewis’s work has been a tonic in the gray drabness of contemporary life. Although none of the authors would endorse every element of Lewis’s thinking, each is well aware that to neglect Lewis is to miss out on one of God’s surprising gifts in the twentieth century. A great introduction to and reflection on a remarkable Christian!”
—Michael A. G. Haykin, professor of church history and biblical spirituality, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Paints a well-rounded, sharply observed portrait that balances criticism with a deep love and appreciation for the works and witness of Lewis. The writers have all absorbed Lewis into their bones, and they invite us to do the same.”
—Louis Markos, Professor of English, Scholar in Residence, and Robert H. Ray Chair of Humanities, Houston Baptist University; author, Restoring Beauty: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the Writings of C. S. Lewis
“A warm-hearted, engaging and thoroughly thought-out appreciation of evangelicalism’s enormous debt to C. S. Lewis that also looks squarely at differences, real and imagined. With well-chosen and varied contributors, it presents a deep understanding and wide reading of Lewis and also reaches toward the secret of Lewis’s profound and health-giving influence on Christianity throughout the world.”
—Colin Duriez, author, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship, A-Z of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend
“In order to explore the world that is Lewis, we need faithful guides, explorers who have charted his terrain, both the familiar and the back roads where few have dared to tread. The authors have not just looked at Lewis, as though he were some theological or literary curiosity. Instead, they’ve looked along Lewis, laboring to see with the freshness of his vision, and then draw us further up and further in so that we too come to see the real world, and God, and Christ, with new eyes.”
—Joe Rigney, Assistant Professor of Theology and Christian Worldview, Bethlehem College and Seminary; author, The Things of Earth and Live Like a Narnian
“Lewis fans of all persuasions will enjoy this collection of essays. More than just a celebration of Lewis, the authors celebrate what Lewis celebrated and point to the one he pointed to. The authors don’t always agree with Lewis (itself a good and healthy thing), but they always understand and appreciate him and help us to do so as well. Most of all, in these essays they share Lewis’s ultimate goal—that of kindling and nurturing a desire for God.”
—Devin Brown, author, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis
About the Author
John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for 33 years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God, Don’t Waste Your Life, This Momentary Marriage, Bloodlines, and Does God Desire All to Be Saved?
David Mathis serves as the executive editor at desiringGod.org, a pastor at Cities Church, and an adjunct professor at Bethlehem College & Seminary. His articles regularly appear at desiringGod.org/mathis. David and his wife, Megan, have three children.
Randy Alcorn (MA, Multnomah University) is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries and a New York Times best-selling author of over fifty books. His books have sold over nine million copies and been translated into nearly seventy languages. Alcorn resides in Gresham, Oregon, with his wife, Nanci. They have two married daughters and five grandsons.
Philip Graham Ryken (DPhil, University of Oxford) is the eighth president of Wheaton College. Formerly, he served as senior minister of Philadelphia’s historic Tenth Presbyterian Church. He has written or edited more than 40 books, including the popular title Loving the Way Jesus Loves, and has lectured and preached at universities and seminaries worldwide.
Douglas Wilson (MA, University of Idaho) is a pastor, a popular speaker, and the author of numerous books. He helped to found Logos School in Moscow, Idaho, and is currently a senior fellow of theology at New St. Andrews College. He blogs regularly at DougWils.com.
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Top Customer Reviews
I am a huge C.S. Lewis fan. I first read his books as a teenager and loved his profound, but simple approach to understanding some very difficult Christian teachings.
The Romantic Rationalist is a series of, what I will call essays, on beliefs held by C. S. Lewis on a few Biblical matters. These essays aim to give the reader a glimpse into what Lewis believed, how he thought, and how to gain from Lewis' approach to Scripture.
For example, Lewis liked to read Scripture as a literary work and less as theology. While he understood it as a work of theology he saw the literary masterpiece that it is. Couple this with his hesitation to enter the realm of the theologian. He was, after all, a literature professor and a fine one at that.
I also appreciate where the essayist makes note(s) of where he/she differs in beliefs from Lewis. This gives credence to the understanding that Lewis viewed himself as a storyteller and imagination builder. Lewis was not out to debate theological differences so much as he wanted the common man to understand the wonders that are God. As such his theology was not completely worked out in some areas; something he admitted.
Yet, this does not mean that we cannot learn from his viewpoints; the goal of this book. As each section unfolds, the reader sees more and more just how rational, but idealist, Lewis was. In this respect the book is marvelous and is a great resource for those who a deeper appreciation for Lewis' views on God, the Bible, and how things ought to be.
In the past 60-70 years there is one author/scholar/Christian who has become the most quoted and often referenced person for just about any denomination in the western church. No person seemingly is more beloved by many groups of people, whether Christian or non-Christian, for their wide array of writing styles and topics. Clive Staples Lewis had a way with words that he was a once in a generation or even in a life time type person. So what made him unique? What made him rare? Why is it that whether Lutheran, Baptist, Reformed, Catholic, Calvinist, Arminian, etc. all read and quote this Anglican lay theologian?
In The Romantic Rationalist, a collection of authors show the answer to that question. CS Lewis was a brilliant thinker and wonderful writer but above all else, he was a passionate Christ-follower. He was a man after God's heart. But what was so different about Lewis was the way that he thought and wrote, and the way that he brought people to see God's glory. "What catches the eye about Lewis's star in the constellation of Christian thinkers and writers is his utter commitment to both the life of the mind and the life of the heart" (Loc 140). While many scholars and thinkers throughout the past centuries sought to distance thinking and emotion/affection, Lewis had a way that intentionally brought the two together. "Lewis insisted that rigorous thought and deep affection were not at odds but mutually supportive" (Loc 141). This was contrary to the direction of the academy and scholarly thinking, but throughout The Romantic Rationalist, the authors show just what this looked like for CS Lewis and how it is/was seen in his vast collection of writings and books.
What brought Lewis to Christ is what shaped his writing and thinking throughout his career that we are all longing for something more. We are all romantics searching for something that cannot satisfy us here on earth. Lewis saw our desire for more romanticism directly connected with the ability to be rational and absolute Reason. The authors with this way of thinking and trying to understand Lewis' mind dive into different theological areas and how Lewis wrote, thought and spoke about them. Here are a few of the notable chapters and areas.
Philip Ryken looks at Lewis and Scripture, mainly his understanding and approach to inerrancy. Lewis had a deep appreciation and respect for the Holy Scripture as the supreme authority for faith and practice (Loc 585). However, Lewis believed that other types of literary writing could be and were inspired by God. Ryken points out that Lewis was not a theologian but a literary scholar and lay theologian. "CS Lewis placed the inspiration of Scripture on a continuum with other forms of literary inspiration, thus downplaying to some degree the uniqueness of the Bible" (Loc 600). Above all else, Lewis was a literary scholar who saw the authority of Scripture, but still saw it as a literary work. Ryken brings it all around to show why evangelicals value and seek after Lewis in regards to his understanding of Scripture. Lewis read Scripture through his literary lens, but he still submitted to its full authority and sought God's will for his life from it (Loc 975).
Possibly the best chapter in this work that helps the reader understand Lewis' brilliance and ability in writing is Kevin VanHoozer's chapter on Lewis and the imagination for theology and discipleship. If you have read even 2 or 3 of Lewis' works you have seen the diversity and brilliance in his literary ability. The styles, the themes, the stories (fiction and nonfiction) that he told show the magnitude of his imagination. Lewis described the Christian conversion to being similar to waking and a Christian is always striving after complete wakefulness. "Theology describes what we see when we are awake, in faith to the reality of God, and discipleship is the project of becoming fully awake to this reality and staying awake" (Loc 1392). Lewis saw understanding theology being important to the Christian discipleship process of awakening."The imagination helps disciples act out what is in Christ. Theology exchanges the false pictures that hold us captive with biblical truth, disciplining our imaginations with sound doctrine. Discipleship is a matter of this 'indoctrinated' imagination' (Loc 1629). VanHoozer points out that through this section on imagination and it's use in helping in discipleship, "Lewis had the unique gift of writing about what if in order to give us a taste of what was, is, and will be 'in Christ'" (Loc 1669). From his classic tales in Narnia to the Screwtape Letters to Mere Christianity, readers were able to see elements of Christ and understand theology and doctrine better from the way he wrote. Lewis helped people, not just disciples, but people who were outside the Kingdom to see Christ and ask questions about Him through his writings. Lewis understood the importance of the mind and imagination to a disciple in pursuit of Christ.
One last significant chapter deals with Lewis' understanding of Heaven and God's eternal remedy to the problem of evil and suffering. Many Christians today do not understand how to walk through suffering or why pain even exists in the world. One person that suffered and attempted to understand it was CS Lewis. Lewis knew that in terms of pain and suffering on earth, God's answer is heaven. "Lewis says that 'a book on suffering which says nothing of heaven, is leaving out almost the whole of one side of the account. Scripture and tradition habitually put the joys of heaven into the scale against the suffering of earth, and no solution of the problem of pain which does not do so can be called a Christian one'" (Loc 1898).
Lewis says wonderfully in Mere Christianity something that can sum up this entire book. "If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world" (Loc. 2031). We are all made for something more. More than this earth can ever deliver to us. After reading these positions on Lewis and different theological areas, I want to dive more into his texts and writings to see his perspective of God more. Lewis was a once in a lifetime person and mind, and God created him to us his mind and heart to show His uniqueness and different facets through many writing types. Lewis was a romantic rationalist to the fullest extent. Consider reading The Romantic Rationalist if you want to know Lewis better and have a greater desire to read his writings.
Piper advises that "enjoying the pleasures of this world," particularly sex and food, should be viewed as worship. (p. 137.) His proof-text is 1 Timothy 4:1-5 which is a response to certain apostates "who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods." The entire passage contains only this one mention of marriage with no explicit references to "sex" or "sexual relations" or "sexual pleasures." Piper's repeated use of the latter terms is entirely gratuitous.
What does all this have to do with C. S. Lewis? According to Piper, we learn from Lewis that to enjoy the world's pleasures is to enjoy God, and that experiencing these earthly delights "is the best way God can communicate his sweetness to us." (144.) I can think of better ways, and Piper probably could too, but Piper likes to play the provocateur and he has certainly done so here.
The other contributors to this volume, while less hedonistic than Piper, leave little for their Reformed brethren to cheer about:
Philip Ryken essentially gives Lewis a pass on not endorsing the divine inspiration of Scripture while concluding that Lewis's view of the Bible "can nourish our own confidence in the Word of God." (42.) Yet, if the Scriptures are not divinely inspired, there is no rational basis for having any confidence in them at all, notwithstanding Lewis's personal views.
Doug Wilson mixes some astrology in with his Christianity when he claims that Calvinism was "born under Jove" but has since "come under the baneful influences of Saturn." (79.) The astrological Saturn is the conservative, tight-fisted, narrow-minded, rules oriented disciplinarian, while Jove is the adventurous, generous, spontaneous, broad-minded free spirit. Sound familiar? It was essentially the pitch of Brian McLaren and the emergent church, that devotion to doctrine impedes authentic "lived" Christianity. Rick Warren employed a similar false dichotomy with his cry for a second Reformation of "deeds, not creeds" and "behavior, not beliefs." Wilson walks the same broad way that eventually leads to postmodernism's dead end.
Kevin Vanhoozer wants to awaken Christians from their "spiritual narcolepsy" with a heavy dose of creative imagination. Vanhoozer views Paul's prayer that "the eyes of your heart may be enlightened" as merely a metaphor for the stimulation of the imagination. But Paul is speaking about direct knowledge of spiritual reality, not some fanciful product of man's imagination. In distinguishing between the two, Jonathan Edwards wrote: "[One] may be affected with a lively and eloquent description of many pleasant things that attend the state of the blessed in heaven, as well as his imagination be entertained by a romantic description of the pleasantness of fairy land, or the like. ... A person therefore may have affecting views of the things of religion, and yet be very destitute of spiritual light."
Randy Alcorn's essay, entitled C.S. Lewis on Heaven and the New Earth, reads a premillennial eschatology into The Chronicles of Narnia. That's not something most Reformed commentators would go along with, but the essay is well done and worthwhile, and it is freely available on Piper's DesiringGod website.
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