Thinking Out Loud

September 24, 2015

Tolkien and Lewis Unlikely Choices for Sci-Fi and Fantasy

by guest book reviewer: Ruth Wilkinson

A common piece of advice given to young writers is, “Write what you know.”

So how did a couple of turn of the century, word-geek, English academics become the preeminent fantasy and science fiction writers of the modern era?

Joseph Laconte - A Hobbit A Wardrobe and a Great War - Thomas Nelson In A Hobbit, A Wardrobe and A Great War (Thomas Nelson) History professor Joseph Loconte traces the parallel stories of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien through the cataclysm that was World War 1 and beyond to their shared discovery and exploration of epic fiction and alternate history.  Drawing from many sources – including historians, biographers and original writings – he connects the two young men’s experiences in the trenches, mud, fire and disease of The Great War with themes, characters and landscapes found in the Narnia series, Lord of the Rings and their other writings.

We come to understand what the fierce friendships, values and personal strength of the characters they created have to teach us about being human and at war.  Quoting Lewis, “For let us make no mistake.  All that we fear from all the kinds of adversity, severally, is collected together in the life of a soldier on active service.  Like sickness, it threatens pain and death.  Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst and hunger.  Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice and arbitrary rule.  Like exile, it separates you from all you love.”  And when Tolkien writes,”I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory.  I love only that which they protect,” is he writing about England or Middle Earth?

And we see the world through the eyes of Lewis, a teenager who had written off Christianity as “ugly architecture, ugly music and bad poetry”, and Tolkien, a young man of faith whose Catholicism survived the war intact, when his peers and culture had found God to be uninterested and absent, and therefore nonexistent.

Loconte examines the spirit of an age that worshiped science, eugenics, industrialization, technology and related forms of ‘progress’.  He lays out how those forces were put to use in a war that was more destructive and devastating than any in the past, and the profound disillusionment and cynicism that were born out of it. And, yet, Lewis is able, through his friendship with Tolkien, to rediscover “…the myth that has really happened” – the story of Jesus Christ – to turn from his skepticism and to write stories that “offer the only possible escape from a world divided between wolves who do not understand, and sheep who cannot defend, the things which make life desirable.”  Loconte writes, “Against the temper of their times, these authors dared to reclaim some of the older beliefs and virtues.  Their common Christian faith had much to do with this…”

This book challenges:  both to look back at the horror that humanity is capable of, and to look forward to the hope that Christ brings – when “everything sad will come untrue.”

April 25, 2015

C. S. Lewis on Modern Bible Translations

It’s hard to believe this wasn’t penned yesterday. I don’t know the original date it was written, but it first appeared in the collection titled God in the Dock, and we found this excerpt in another anthology tiled The Joyful Christian. Since Lewis died in 1963, we know the material is, at minimum, around 60 years old. I’ve changed the paragraphing and (horrors!) Americanized some spelling.

It is possible that the reader … may ask himself why we need a new translation of any part of the Bible… “Do we not already possess,” it may be said, “in the Authorized Version the most beautiful rendering which any language can boast?” Some people whom I have met go even further and feel that a modern translation is not only unnecessary but even offensive. They cannot bear to see the time-honored words altered; it seems to them irreverent.

C. S. LewisIn the first place the kind of objection which they feel to a new translation is very like the objection which was once felt to any English translation at all. Dozens of sincerely pious people in the sixteenth century shuddered at the idea of turning the time-honored Latin of the Vulgate into our common and (as they thought) ‘barbarous’ English. A sacred truth seemed to them to have lost its sanctity when it was stripped of the polysyllabic Latin, long heard at Mass and at Hours, and put into ‘language such as men do use’—language steeped in all the commonplace associations of the nursery, the inn, the stable, and the street.

The answer then was the same as the answer now. The only kind of sanctity which Scripture can lose (or, at least, New Testament scripture) by being modernized is an accidental kind which it never had for its writers or its earliest readers. The New Testament in the original Greek is not a work of literary art: it is not written in a solemn, ecclesiastical language, it is written in the sort of Greek which was spoken over the Eastern Mediterranean after Greek had become an international language and therefore lost its real beauty and subtlety.

In it we see Greek used by people who have no real feeling for Greek words because Greek words are not the words they spoke when they were children. It is a sort of “basic” Greek; a language without roots in the soil, a utilitarian, commercial and administrative language. Does this shock us? It ought not to, except as the Incarnation itself ought to shock us. The same divine humility which decreed that God should become a baby at a peasant woman’s breast, and later an arrested field preacher in the hands of the Roman police, decreed also that He should be preached in a vulgar, prosaic and unliterary language. If you can stomach the one, you can stomach the other. The Incarnation is in that sense an irreverent doctrine….

When we expect that [the Bible] should have come before the World in all the beauty that we now feel in the Authorized Version we are as wide of the mark as the Jews were in expecting that the Messiah would come as a great earthly King.

The real sanctity, the real beauty and sublimity of the new Testament (as of Christ’s life) are of a different sort: miles deeper and further in.

In the second place, the Authorized Version has ceased to be a good (that is, a clear) translation. It is no longer modern English: the meanings of words have changed. The same antique glamor which has made it (in the superficial sense) so ‘beautiful’, so ‘sacred’, so ‘comforting’, and so ‘inspiring’, has also made it in many places unintelligible…

[He then gives some examples.]

…The truth is that if we are to have translation at all we must have periodical re-translation. There is no such thing as translating a book into another language once and for all, for a language is a changing thing. If your son is to have clothes it is no good buying him a suit once and for all: he will grow out of it and have to be re-clothed.

And finally – though it may seem a sour paradox – we must sometimes get away from the Authorized Version if for no other reason, simply because it is so beautiful and so solemn. Beauty exalts, but beauty also lulls. Early associations endear but they also confuse. Through that beautiful solemnity the transporting or horrifying realities of which the Book tells may come to us blunted and disarmed and we may only sigh with tranquil veneration when we ought to be burning with shame, or struck dumb with terror, or carried out of ourselves by ravishing hopes and adorations.

September 29, 2014

Currently Reading: Apologetics Beyond Reason

James W. Sire is the author of the landmark apologetics book The Universe Next Door (1976) and the more recent A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics (2006) and has been an editor at InterVarsity Press (IVP) for several decades. In the first chapter of Apologetics Beyond Reason: Why Seeing Really is Believing he explains that it might be time to chart a different direction.

Apologetics Beyond Reason - James SireFor those in our culture who put their trust in human reason, these apologetic approaches have worked well. Many Christians today read and benefit from them. Without the, thoughtful Christians would have too few resources to analyze the clever arguments and glossy lifestyles presented by our culture’s media, its pundits, its fraudulent experts and its passionate prophets of health and wealth.

But many in our postmodern world have come willy-nilly to distrust reason, and the arguments of the modern Christian rationalists now seem irrelevant, doubtful, lifeless. The approaches of C. S. Lewis and G. K Chesteron avoided this fate by clever and imaginative grasps of the paradoxes of the human condition. The value of human reason for them was to permit a conclusion to be wrested from within a framework of paradoxes. It took account of the human desire for simplicity, tied the reader in knots and then showed how Christian faith both accounted for the knots and then untangled them. Their work has attracted readers from across the intellectual spectrum from the simple to the sophisticated.

But highly sophisticated rational apologetics itself is limited to those who can understand it…

…There is another limitation in many arguments Christians use to prove the rationality of belief in God. The God who is “proved” is only a transcendent, impersonal God, maybe a Creator, but not necessarily personal. Only a God whose existence is important to human understanding or human flourishing is worth troubling about. The arguments may support deism as a worldview but be silent about the existence of a fully Biblical God. Of course, such arguments can be stepping stones to a fuller argument for the God of the Bible. And that’s no small matter…

Apologetics Beyond Reason pp. 16-17

He then continues along this line mixing the writings of classical literature and philosophy with his own story.  I’m only part of the way in, but it’s a type of subjective apologetics, or intellectual testimony. My words, not his; or at least not so far.

December 11, 2013

Wednesday Link List


Once again, it’s time to hit the links: You can catch this week’s list at its home at Out of Ur, a blog of Leadership Today magazine.  Click anything below:

 Story of Jesus SUV

November 22, 2013

November 22, 1963: A Day to Remember

Filed under: current events — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:17 am

As I look out over this day, and also the people I’ve met online through years of having this blog, it is occurring to me that an increasing number of people weren’t alive on the day that changed history in the United States, and affected the entire world, the death of President John F. Kennedy.

Clive Staples Lewis, after whom the Staples office supply store is named

Clive Staples Lewis

But as regular readers know, I’ve always used the opportunity to remind people of faith that this was also the day that author and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis died at age 64. Often overlooked also is that on the same day Aldous Huxley, the man sometimes called (Charles) “Darwin’s bulldog” died at age 69.

As I covered this earlier this month, I simply want to point out an interesting contrast between Lewis and Kennedy. At the time of his death, JFK was the President of the most powerful nation on earth in terms of economics and military might. You could say that his popularity was at a high that cannot be matched. But Lewis was still relatively unknown in either Christian circles, or the world of children’s literature. His popularity continued to climb after his death, and he continues to gain new readers even now.

Because his death (and Huxley’s) was pushed off the newspaper pages by what happened to Kennedy in Dallas, Texas; there is a sense in which Lewis is still very much alive, that his influence is still growing. Because I work in and around the area of publishing, I often meet people to whom C. S. is a “new” author; even a few longtime readers are surprised to learn he is no longer with us. “Did that happen recently?” one asked..

All in all, not a bad legacy to have; to have one’s words and thoughts and ideas continuing to gain traction long after you are gone. Just because you don’t live to see it doesn’t mean your efforts are not going to bring results.

It is, very literally, what Jesus had in mind when he talked in agricultural terms about the planting of seeds; the seeds of the Kingdom being planted in hearts and lives.

November 13, 2013

Wednesday Link List

How to Make Thomas Kinkade Paintings Totally Awesome Very few people know this, but the Wednesday Link List is named after Art Linkletter.  The links below will all take you to Out of Ur, where the list officially resides.

The Wednesday Link Letter (see introduction) was written by Paul Wilkinson and recorded before a live audience (Paul’s wife). Read more of his work at his Anglican baptism website, Sprinkling Out Loud, or at Devotional Plagiarism 201, where only the best get borrowed.

November 1, 2013

C.S. Lewis: Still Very Much Alive

Filed under: apologetics, books, children — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:16 am

If you die on the same day as someone more famous, you probably don’t make the evening news. Your newspaper obituary will probably be hidden away on a back page, if space allows it to run at all. So it was with C. S. Lewis.

Clive Staples Lewis, after whom the Staples office supply store is named

Clive Staples Lewis, after whom the Staples office supply store chain is named

Much will be made with month about the 50 year anniversary of the passing of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, but only on Christian websites and blogs will you read about Lewis. In some respects, I like to think it keeps him very much alive; that Lewis is at the same time one of our best classic writers and one of our best contemporary writers.

But a blog post a few days ago at Faith Village suggests that Lewis’ appeal is more focused in the United States (and Canada) and less so in his native Britain:

Lewis may be the most popular Christian writer in history, with millions of copies of his books sold, the vast majority in the United States where his influence is far greater than in his native country.

Many readers of the Narnia series have no knowledge of Lewis the Christian apologist, while others who enjoy books like Mere Christianity often forget the connection to the children’s fantasy series.

It’s not uncommon to read other authors where his approach to the claims of Christ are reiterated, or hear them interviews such as this one with U2 frontman Bono:

…Bono imitated C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, where Lewis argued that Jesus had to be a lunatic, liar or Lord.

“When people say ‘Good teacher,’ ‘Prophet,’ ‘Really nice guy,’ … this is not how Jesus thought of Himself,” Bono said. “So, you’re left with a challenge in that, which is either Jesus was who He said He was or a complete and utter nut case.”

“And I believe that Jesus was, you know, the Son of God…”

The 50th anniversary of his death has already been remembered in Oxford, England with a September festival,  with guest speakers such as Alister McGrath:

“Lewis is now read by more people today than during his lifetime. What makes people keep reading him?” said McGrath.

Answering his own question, McGrath ranged over the ‘three Lewises’ – Lewis the Oxford don, Lewis the Christian writer, and Lewis the creator of Narnia.

“The latter two are why he is remembered,” said McGrath, a professor of theology at King’s College London.

In addition to The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis’s best known writings include The Problem of Pain, A Grief Observed and Mere Christianity.

McGrath praised Lewis for his skill in explaining the Christian faith in a way that “made sense” while still managing to “engage the imagination”.

“Lewis does need to be heard,” he said.

On Narnia, McGrath said academics were still unsure as to what motivated Lewis to write a series of children’s books seeing as he did not have children of his own and there was, he asserted, some evidence to suggest he did not particularly like children.

“Maybe Lewis is saying: I wish I had this kind of thing when I was younger, I might not have lost my faith,” he speculated.

We’ll have more on the Jubilee celebration of C. S. Lewis’ life and death later this month.

August 14, 2013

Wednesday Link List

I thought we’d kick off with something timely for back-to-school from

Classroom rules poster from Zazzle dot com.gif

Here are this week’s links, and one or two I accidentally left off last week’s list.  As usual you need to scoot over to Out of Ur for the actual linking.

  • Yeah, I know. Three links to Dictionary of Christianese in six weeks.  But how I could pass when the word was narthex? Meet you in the narthex when you’re done reading the rest of the list.
  • A trailer is out for a movie celebrating 40 years of England’s Greenbelt Music & Arts Festival.
  • Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love is an all-time Christian fiction bestseller. Now, word that after many years, Bridge to Haven, a new title, will release in spring 2014.
  • Essay of the Week: A Facebook fast isn’t fasting. Actress and writer Hannah Rivard guest posts at The Rebelution, the blog of Alex and Brett Harris.
  • A Tennessee judge rules you can’t call a child Messiah.
  • The above item reminds us of a story we did a few months ago: In New Zealand you can name a kid Faith, Hope or Charity, but not Justice.  (They turned down two Messiah’s there also.)
  • Because your kids’ picture Bible storybooks tend to be family friendly, odds are that these five stories didn’t make the final edit.
  • Related: A serious management feasibility study on how Noah got all the animals to fit inside.
  • At Stuff Christians Like, a few lines of dialog that even your adult Bible is missing.
  • The best articles on Bible translation are always written by people who actually do Bible translation.
  • Despite being on record as not wanting to speak to certain topics, it turns out that C. S. Lewis actually did address homosexuality.
  • You’ve heard him on radio, now meet the face behind the voice: Christian financial planning expert Dave Ramsey takes to video.
  • If we believe in the priesthood of all believers, does that by definition diminish the need for structured leadership?
  • Another outdoor concert stage collapse, this time involving Christian bands MercyMe and The Afters at the Cleveland County fairgrounds.
  • The names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty: A tale of two pastoral transitions.
  • We may be on a journey to eternal life, but a Pew Research survey claims that only one in three of us want this life to last eternally.
  • David Hayward aka The Naked Pastor is the latest Christian blogger to try the podcast thing.
  • Confession isn’t just good for the soul, it’s necessary for taking steps toward a holy God.
  • In the Assemblies of God denomination, growth is taking place, but their trademark distinctive, speaking in tongues, is on the decline.
  • Is it blasphemous or just plain vulgar? A UK vicar claims the former Archbishop of Canterbury rode in her car and wasn’t disturbed by her edgy and controversial bumper sticker.  [Content advisory]
  • Related: Describing her book as “a messy profanity- and prayer-laden theological memoir,” the Sarcastic Lutheran aka Nadia Bolz-Weber introduces Pastrix. No wonder reviewers like myself aren’t being given advance copies. Here’s a video trailer. [Much stronger content advisory: NSFCO (Not safe for church offices)]
  • In your local church, do you have the gift of diapers or the gift of chairs?
  • Hoping to flee what they consider U.S. government interference in religion; a family ends up lost at sea.
  • I never know how to end the list each week, but the Canadian in me is drawn to this.

The graphic below was located at The Master’s Table, where similar things can be found each Monday. (You’ll have to look up the verses.)


One thing I really miss with the new arrangement is the feedback from readers on particular links. So feel free to comment either here or at Out of Ur.

January 24, 2013

30 Things You Never Knew About C.S. Lewis

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:09 am

I love hyperbole in post titles, but truth be told, you probably knew several of these. This was sourced at the blog Yearn for God, with a tip of the hat to Treading Grain.  Here’s some I had possibly heard but forgotten:

C. S. Lewis3. He never learned to drive.

8. He had dreams of lions. Prior to writing The Chronicles of Narnia he had strange dreams of lions and pictures in his head of a faun carrying parcels.

11. He often addressed Jesus as Aslan in prayer.

13. His conversion to Christianity was not when he wrote in Surprised By Joy: …This was simply his conversion to theism from atheism in 1929. It wasn’t until 1931 that he and his brother went to Whipsnade Zoo. Warren drove the motorcycle while Jack sat in the sidecar! He wrote, “When we set out, I did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and when we  reached the zoo, I did.” The evening before this trip, Lewis had a long discussion with Hugo Dyson and J.R.R. Tolkien about Christianity.

14. He did not affirm the inerrancy of Scripture. To be clear, he highly regarded the Bible and its authority. He read the Bible constantly (Authorized Version). But he would not have used the same language about the Bible as evangelicals do today.

21. A Grief Observed was originally published under the pseudonym N. W. Clerk. Lewis wrote this work after Joy died in 1960. Many who read the book sent Lewis copies hoping it would help him in his plight!

Anyway, you can click the link for all 30, but this is the one that intrigued me:

25. He wrote to Kathy Keller. Kathy Keller is Tim Keller’s wife [author of The Reason for God and Prodigal God and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City]. She wrote to Lewis when she was 12. There are four letters from him to her in Letters To Children and volume three of Letters of C.S. Lewis.

December 28, 2012

Why Mere Christianity Still Works: An Analysis

Mere Christianity C. S. LewisYou’re expected to review current books online, and this review is therefore 60 years too late. However, John Stackhouse has saved the best wine (so to speak) for the last (of the year) with a landmark analysis of the continuing popularity of the C. S. Lewis bestseller Mere Christianity.

I know not everybody clicks through, so I’ll include a few highlights here, but if you treasure good writing, you need to read the article now, because it is every bit as delightful as the book itself. 

john_stackhouseStill here? Okay, those highlights include:

  • A somewhat disjointed set of C. S. Lewis’s views on a wide range of theological, philosophical, and ethical matters, the book became the most important and effective defense of the Christian faith in its century.
  • The first reason why MC should not have worked is rather basic: It doesn’t deliver what its title promises. It does not do even what John Stott’s classic Basic Christianity does—namely, outline at least the basics of evangelicalism’s understanding of the gospel.
  • A second reason why… it is, after all, an extended set of philosophical and theological arguments. Even worse, it is front-loaded with its densest material, a reworking of the moral argument for the existence of God…
  • MC works because Lewis was a master at two rhetorical arts, which he combined fluently: argument and depiction.
  • Lewis can both show and tell. He can tell us what he thinks we should think, and then make it appear for us in an image that usually lasts long after the middle steps of the argument have vanished from memory.
  • What seems effortless for Lewis is actually extraordinarily difficult to emulate. The market is now flooded with books by Ph.D.s who cannot write an interesting and intelligible paragraph, and by wannabe pop apologists who just aren’t very smart.
  • People today do want arguments, but they want them the way Lewis delivered them: in plain language, about issues that matter, in a methodical step-by-step fashion, and with illustrations that literally illustrate and commend the point being made. For scholars to write this way today is at least as much of a challenge as it was in Lewis’s day.

Okay, that’s enough bullet points (aka spoon-feeding!) You really do need to read the article.

C. S. LewisBut then, if you haven’t already had the pleasure, you need to read Mere Christianity. I would suggest taking a chapter at a time; no more than one per day and don’t try to rush through it. Even better, if you can find an interested friend or relative, read it out loud to them daily for several days. (It was, after all, originally a radio broadcast.)

It may also whet your appetite for apologetics, a subject frequently discussed here, that is simply too foreign to too many Christ-followers. I encourage you to develop a taste for it.

If you make it through MC and do indeed find yourself wanting more, I would suggest your next stop be Classic Christianity by Bob George, a man who also knows the power of a good illustration.  Review here.  Excerpt here.

Images: I figured it rather obvious which one is John Stackhouse, Jr. and which one is C. S. Lewis, but, for the record, they appear in that order.  (Actually, the first image is the book in its most recent North American paperback edition from HarperCollins.)

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