Now, I actually quite enjoy the Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve read them multiple times and found them enjoyable. In fact, I liked them before I was a Christian. But in the last few years, I’ve found a number of people who are starting to come out of the woodwork and saying something shocking: they don’t think these books are all that great. Today, Barnabas Piper and I reignite the controversy in part two of our conversation on Reading Writers as we discuss what he’s reading right now and whether or not Lewis is a really great storyteller.
Also in this episode, we discuss:
What Barnabas thinks of Shakespeare;
Whether C.S. Lewis is really that good of a storyteller; and
The thing that frustrates Barnabas most about being asked for a book or movie recommendation.
Be sure to check out Barnabas’ new book, The Curious Christian (reviewed here), as well as The Happy Rant, his podcast co-hosted by Ted Kluck and Ronnie Martin. And if you’re in the mood for a memoir, check out Russ Ramsey’s new one, Struck.
Thanks for listening to this episode of Reading Writers. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving a rating and review on iTunes. Your feedback really does help more people find the show. Tune in next time as I’m joined by Trevin Wax and we discuss cultural engagement and his man-crush on GK Chesterton.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less,” C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity… except he didn’t. This quote has been making the rounds for years, since the publication of Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life, where it appears as part of Day 19, “Cultivating Community.” And it is to Warren this quote belongs, for indeed, it is his.
Good Made Better
It’s a nice quote, and even a helpful one. But what Lewis actually wrote on this subject is far greater:
Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.
If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 8, “The Great Sin,” Kindle location 1665
Words to Knock Us Off Our High Horses
Here then is the unbridled C.S. Lewis, whose words carry with them the power to knock us off our high horses. For Lewis, the truly humble man “will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.” And the only way to begin to grasp this is by admitting first that you think of yourself more highly than you ought, for “if you think you are not conceited, you are very conceited indeed.”
Friends, let Warren’s quote be Warren’s, and enjoy it for what it is. But do not miss out on what Lewis actually wrote, for what he wrote is far more powerful than what he didn’t.
Sometimes I wonder why certain books and authors remain favorites over the course of decades or centuries. But the answer really isn’t that difficult to discern. Certain books are just as relevant today as they were when they were written because, though the trappings may change, the truth contained within hasn’t.
Truth is always timeless. It’s also timely.
This is especially true when we consider our ongoing debates about sexuality. Do conservative or traditional views of marriage, gender and sexuality hinder human flourishing and happiness? Is it repressive to believe that marriage is meant to be between one man and one woman? Is the way to be freed from this feeling of guilt and shame we feel to be more open and expressive?
…you and I, for the last twenty years, have been fed all day long on good solid lies about sex. We have been told, till one is sick of hearing it, that sexual desire is in the same state as any of our other natural desires and that if only we abandon the silly Victorian idea of hushing it up, everything in the garden will be lovely. It is not true. The moment you look at the facts, and away from the propaganda, you see that it is not.
They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still a mess. If hushing up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it has not…
Modern people are always saying “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of.” They may mean “There is nothing to be ashamed of in the fact that the human race reproduces itself in a certain way, nor in the fact that it gives pleasure.” If they mean that, they are right. Christianity says the same… But, of course, when people say, “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of,” they may mean “the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Lewis wrote about the hyper-sexualizing of society in his day with the same terms that are used today.
It’s funny, for all our talk of being sexually repressed as a society, anyone who has gone into a mall or turned on the TV or tried to eat a sandwich would likely say otherwise. Sex is inescapable in our culture. I can’t go to the mall without being exposed to 9 feet wide images of scantily clad ladies. Why?
Because there’s a sale on bras.
I can barely get through an entire movie aimed at my children without finding numerous suggestive jokes peppered into the dialogue. Why? Because we don’t want the adults to get bored.
But has our society gotten any better in the last twenty years of over-stimulation?
We are seeing more marriages and families than ever devastated by pornography, by adultery, by the idols of (temporary) personal happiness and immediate gratification. You can have bus signs advertising phone-sex lines, run billboards for adultery services, and create apps that facilitate it and one even blinks. We’re all well aware of the unprecedented transformation of western values regarding same-sex relationships, the redefinition of marriage, the irrelevancy of biological gender…
So Lewis’ words have never been more relevant. Their message is urgent. And the urgency grows the longer the message goes unheeded. Lewis’ point was that sexuality will continue to be confused the longer we attempt to define and redefine it to fit our current proclivities. We continue to feel ashamed because we are ashamed. This is the image of God within us at work against us.
And the solution is not to continue to lull our conscience into submission. That only leads to a greater sense of despair. Instead, the answer can be found only one way: by recognizing the truth. By heeding the message that Lewis wrote more than 60 years ago. By rediscovering the wisdom of generations past, and maybe even heeding their warnings. By embracing the truth—because truth is always timeless. And it is always timely.
A much earlier version of this post was published in 2009. But don’t read that one, because it’s terrible.
We Christians do love our quotes—and there are so many brilliant ones to choose from! But by golly, we sure do seem to be a repetitive bunch. Far too often, we’re using the same quotes, over and over.
So yesterday, inspired by a friend’s lament of the increased use of the Samwise “everything sad is coming untrue” quote from Lord of the Rings, I took to the Interwebs to get your feedback, asking what you believe are the most over-used quotes from Christian authors.
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
2. John Piper’s mission statement. From Desiring God (and pretty much everything else he’s ever written and/or preached since):
“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
6. The one which Martin Luther never actually said. But the ideas can definitely be gleaned from his work:
If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.
You can see why they’re quoted so often. They’re conceptually brilliant and (in most cases) captivating in their simplicity. But there are two dangers with quoting these so frequently:
We risk cheapening their meaning. And when that happens, powerful truths become pithy sentiments.
That’s the first danger. The second is it reveals we may not be diversifying our reading in a healthy fashion. When we all read the same books, by the same people, quoting the same things, we risk creating a homogeneous intellectualism. And when this happens, we risk losing our ability to think critically, as well as the joy of discovering ideas that come from outside our normal spheres of influence.