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Why We Need a New C.S. Lewis

The beloved works of C.S. Lewis are certainly classic, but who will fill his shoes for a new generation?

C.S. Lewis was a deft writer, a gifted storyteller and blessed with a keen mind. But I'm annoyed with the public perception and exultation that has long outlasted him.

He was a fantastic literature critic, who gracefully guided generations of graduate students to a better understanding of Paradise Lost and a rich collection of other medieval works.

Then, of course, there’s his fiction. The Chronicles of Narnia left its indelible mark on the Christian imagination forever. Few books have so powerfully captured the Christian imagination as that series has, with its impressive storytelling, lovable characters and rich spiritual themes.

But Lewis could just as easily apply his talents to theological musings as much as children’s literature. Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, Surprised by Joy and more have all worked their way into the hall of Christian favorites. These are all good books and admirable reading, if you’re so inclined. So are works by Augustine, Dante, G.K. Chesterton and Herman Melville. These men all wrote good, true things.

Lewis was an exceptional leader in Christian thought. But he was born in 1898. That’s the decade after the setting of Back to the Future III. Annie Oakley was still the most popular woman in America. In 1898, the ink was hardly dry on the patent for the radio and the Wright Brothers had never been to Kitty Hawk.

It is 2013. This November, Lewis will have been dead for 50 years. Culturally speaking, that’s a long time. It's time for someone to rise up and fill his shoes.

I can hear dissenters now: Just because it's old doesn't mean it's bad!

Old books certainly have much to say to us today. Truth doesn’t change from generation to generation, and we are always in need of thoughtful, articulate treatises on those truths. But context, culture and the structure of argument certainly do change. And the systematic, end-of-the-Enlightenment world that Lewis knew has, like him, moved on.

C.S. Lewis was an exceptional leader in Christian thought. But he was born in 1898.

When we try to insert Lewis' cultural observations into our culture today, we become like Indiana Jones—still fighting the Nazis through the 1980s. The Modernist war between reason and theology is over. In England, Christianity got put up on the same shelf as Zeus and witch hunts. In America, the debate morphed into the culture wars. At this point, we’re pretty well over those, too, now working through our own unique relationship between our faith and our call to love the ever-flattening world around us.

Pastors, bloggers, Narnia fans and meme-generators all co-opt Lewis to be their ambassador to the cultural climate for which he never wrote. It’s like sending the Lone Ranger to fight space aliens. We live in a postmodern, post-secular age that doesn’t respond well to the intellectual arm-twisting and large-scale historical criticism that Lewis excelled at.

Our lives can, and should, be informed by Lewis' writings. Future generations can, and should, read what he and others like him wrote. But to use him as the sole foundation for our cultural criticism is a shaky prospect. We can love and admire Abraham Lincoln, but we wouldn't consider his foreign policy to be a blueprint for today. We can fawn over Citizen Kane, but nobody would consider its stylistic cinematography to be a blueprint for today's films. In the same way, we can be informed and entertained by Lewis' writings while still looking for a fresh, timely take on theological issues facing this day and age.

This generation needs Christians who are willing to have their eyes open for what God is doing around them every day, to honestly engage their stories with the story that God is writing in a way that is relational, experiential and empowering. Christians should not only look back to our heroes of old, but also look to the present, where God is alive and active. Lewis did this for the era he lived in, and it’s up to us now to follow and even become the same for this new era. We need to create a social set that is open and willing to engage people at any point in their journey. We need to embrace doubt and be the first to quick-draw love.

Our generation needs to find our own sages who were born in the same century we were, who can engage the same issues we face in our communities and our political and social landscape.

Would Lewis agree? Probably. Did he say it in a way that is relevant in 2013? Not always.

We need to find new voices for our status updates and sermon illustrations. Our generation needs to add to the mix our own sages who were born in the same century we were, who can engage the same issues we face in our communities and our political and social landscape. Who do we look to for a faithful perspective on the world today? Who guides us in thought and example to be more like Christ in the 21st century? Who is able to critically engage the cultural climate we now live in and show us how to live in it better?

Let’s uphold the truths taught to us by past generations and honestly and creatively work to honor their memory by creating positive change in our own.

104 Comments

Marcos Gomes

2

Marcos Gomes commented…

My friends, doesn't God knows all things? If there is a need of a new CS Lewis, He will make His move and put it in someone's heart.

At least He put into my heart to write many books, and I do not even dare to think I am the only one. Still, I am not CS Lewis, I am Marcos Gomes, and that is myself. There is no need for me to be someone else but myself, God made us unique!

Do not think that there will never be someone as Lewis, there will be not, because he was himself, and that made him special too. I bet there were many people saying that he wouldn't do anything special as a writer when he started. Moreover, if you have writing books in your heart, do not be afraid, do it! Because God might have put it into your heart!

I know I said that God can make one other CS Lewis if He wants, and then I said there will never be another Lewis. God can make another writer as Lewis, but as each person is unique, there won't be a person just as him. However, I am not here to judge God's will, I'm just saying what I believe in my heart.

Regards,
Marcos Gomes

glesner

9

glesner replied to Marcos Gomes's comment

Your point is well taken Marcos. Nevertheless, I don't think Mr. Harrell was saying that a "new C.S. Lewis" wouldn't be unique. By saying we need a new Lewis, I think he is saying we are called, as the people of God, to engage our world with creativity and clarity and imagination and grounded depth in what we proclaim and in how we tell the story. Harrell says, "This generation needs Christians who are willing to have their eyes open for what God is doing around them every day, to honestly engage their stories with the story that God is writing in a way that is relational, experiential and empowering." Harrell's call doesn't just apply, I think, to one or two or a small group of individuals. But, it is our great life to live, as you said, by offering ouR unique hand print on the world, much in the same way Lewis did, and yet, of course, in ways much different too. So, it isn't so much that someone needs to be exactly like CS Lewis, but, don't be shy from being inspired by him following in his footsteps, as we do with anybody who inspires us well.

andy ladwig

1

andy ladwig commented…

I have found David McDonald's writing akin to Lewis. Check out www.therevelationofjunepaul.com his most recent.

Michael Snow

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Michael Snow commented…

Lewis exhorted readers to not read another new book until they had read an old one and if they had not time for both, to read the old. (Today, that would include his books.) "Keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds." Lewis has passed the test of time. Most contemporary stuff will soon be irrelevant.

Jesus Morales

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Jesus Morales commented…

Um, I love C.S. Lewis but am no expert on his history, so maybe I'm wrong. However it seems that many, if not most, "great" and/or "classic" authors are decided somewhat after the fact and are not fully appreciated in their lifetime.

Basically, this article is a little insulting to anyone who is a fan of Lewis. It seems a little silly in the implication that someone from 50 years ago can no longer speak to us when human sin is the same as it ever has been. It also is a little strange in that I can't imagine there are many people who read Lewis and Lewis only. I've definitely read other modern authors who have had all sorts of good things to say.

Ultimately, if there is a "21st century C.S. Lewis", I don't think we'll know who that is until after he has come and gone. The best takeaway I can take from this article is an encouragement to modern day Christians to write, which is good, although it seems something many are already doing and I'm not sure Lewis needed to be put down to do so. Besides, I don't think anyone who sets out saying "I'm going to be the next C.S. Lewis" is likely to succeed. I can't remember the book, but I agree with something Lewis said along the lines of the man who purposely tries to be original usually isn't.

Alex Dieatrick

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Alex Dieatrick commented…

This article is deeply mistaken. The reason C.S. Lewis is so popular is because his truths are timeless. Most of what he said doesn't need an update. Take for instance the authors bizarre statement: "The Modernist war between reason and theology is over." People today are not reletavistic about matters of science, they are relativistic about religion and ethics. But that's not postmodernism, that's modernism! That's verificationism that says if it cant be proven with the five sense, it's relative. Our culture remains deeply modernist. If you have a headache and you're looking at a bottle of rat poison and a bottle of aspirin, you better believe texts have objective meaning! No one really lives as a postmodernist, it is unlivable and so easy to counter. The popularity of the New Atheism shows how deeply modernist we remain. Finally the author seems to think people only look to Lewis. Anyone intelligent enough to read Lewis is reading many others as well. That is just a straw man; I would love to see more people like Lewis but he cannot be replaced and we shouldn't try to limit his influence. He is still one of the most important authors a Christian should read.

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