Ryan Harper, a graduate student in religion at Princeton, thinks evangelicals are too enamored with C.S. Lewis. Here is a taste of his piece in the Huffington Post:
It is no wonder that Lewis is the Alpha and Omega of popular evangelical apologetics. But however much Lewis has to offer contemporary theological discussions, evangelicals have developed an unhealthy addiction to Lewis’s arguments. As is the tendency with all powerful ideas, Lewis’s arguments have become a rhetorical talisman, an epistemological panacea. Because they offer a number of compelling insights that strike at the root of important questions, they are taken to resolve all root matters. Therefore, however new the wineskins, readers of popular evangelical apologetics end up drinking some version of that sound old Oxford vintage.
The result of this Lewis-worship is a two-fold narrowing of evangelical intellectual life. First, as Lewisian thought becomes the discursive structure of critical inquiry, it ceases to be the object of critical inquiry. Lewis is never put in the dock for inspection, revision, abandonment or refinement. Lewis is the dock.
Second, an evangelical milieu that so prides itself on its “engagement” with secular thought and culture begins to count reading and rehearsing Lewisian argument as such engagement. “Engagement” thus becomes a second-hand affair — synonymous with finding out what C.S. Lewis has said on a given topic. But the 21st century has some new topics; and while it is unwise to execute some great divorce with the past and its great thinkers, each generation must write its own books.
Historian Mark Noll wrote in the mid-1990s, “the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” I am unsure how true this remains among evangelical academics; my hunch is that there is work afoot in some evangelical circles, in part spurred by Noll’s writing, that has corrected this non-intellectualism. If (or when) such work makes its way into evangelical mainstream literature, we may see some exciting things from an evangelical population that at its best seeks a robust synthesis between its inner and outer lives. We could use such a population as fellow citizens.
But if there is a scandal of the evangelical mind, it is that there is an evangelical mind — and it belongs to C.S. Lewis. It is high time for evangelicals to step out of Lewis’s wardrobe. They must acknowledge that no man has ever lived that can feed them ever. Or, if such a man has lived, his name is not C.S. Lewis. Evangelicals should know that better than anyone.
I think this divinity student is right on the money, and I think he's one heck of a writer too. The allusive wit of this piece is delightful.
John Fea says
LD: Actually, I think it is a Ph.D candidate in Religion, not a divinity school student.
I like CS Lewis, but it puzzles me how some evangelicals who believe very strongly in the importance of exact doctrinal precision (particularly the reformed types) love him so much when he differs from them on a number of issues. I wouldn't call him a liberal, but he's not really a conservative evangelical either. People who will jump on, say, NT Wright will heap praise on Lewis.