Lessons from C.S. Lewis: Becoming Fully Human, Joe Rigney, Biography

Lessons from C.S.Lewis: Becoming Fully Human

In my senior year of college, I took an English elective on the writings of C.S.Lewis. The professor, Dr. Kaye, was ebullient, effervescent, and contagious in her love for the Oxford don who spun words into gold. Her instructions for the final exam were simple but ominous: simply bring a pen and plenty of paper. We all eyed one another with apprehension, and it turns out with good reason, because the exam consisted of one question: Describe the theology of C.S. Lewis and support your statements from his writing.

Joe Rigney has taken this assignment one step further, for in  Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God (Theologians on the Christian Life), he presses beyond Lewis’s theology and considers its outworking in life on this planet. While it is true that C.S. Lewis was careful to remind his readers at every opportunity that he was not a biblical scholar nor a theologian, nonetheless, his writing has had an almost unparalleled impact on the way we think and talk about the Christian life. It is at this intersection of theology and practice that Rigney engages with Lewis’s words.

 

One of my favorite characteristics of Lewis’s thinking and writing is his ability to turn ideas on their heads until they suddenly–and unexpectedly–become very clear. Rigney’s goal in writing is not to explain Lewis so we don’t need to read him, but instead to create an appetite for his work, which he has definitely done in my case by quoting from The Weight of Glory, reminding me of the brand new copy that’s waiting for me on my bookcase.

On the Choice

Lewis is clear throughout his writing that Christianity boils down to a Choice:

“Both God and self are good and should be embraced. But the Choice in question is which of these will be at the center?

Furthermore, this Choice is expressed in any number of specific decisions throughout life, but the goal of the Christian life, according to Lewis, is to “so encounter the living God that we become our true selves. Becoming fully human in the presence of God–that is what Lewis thought the Christian life is all about.”

On the Person of God

In Letters to Malcolm, Lewis writes sage advice in four words:  “Begin where you are.” Of course, he’s thinking “chiefly on prayer” in that book, but the conflict lies in the truth that humanity is limited to here and now, while God, both omnipresent and transcendent, has chosen to join us in the here and now. “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him.”

In Lewis’s spiritual autobiography, Surprised By Joy, God is portrayed as a Pursuer. In Mere Christianity, he explains his favorite analogy of God as Author. “The world is His story or play, and we are His characters.” In Perelandra, we are reminded that Lewis viewed God’s creative work as a harmonious union, a Great Dance, and humanity’s sin came about because God’s Choice was to grant freedom in the dance, allowing for the possibility of sin.

On the Gospel

While Lewis decried the term “total depravity” on the grounds that a totally depraved individual would be unable to recognize sin in himself, his understanding of humanity’s sinful condition is certainly clear and orthodox. He also dismissed the doctrine of penal substitution on the basis that the reason why Christ’s death “has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start” is less important than the reality that He did it. However, it is ironic that Aslan’s sacrificial death on behalf of Edmund (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) is a lovely picture of the very doctrine Lewis protests about.

In applying the Gospel, Lewis describes the benefits of Christ’s work in the life of the believer through two images from Mere Christianity:

(1) Good Infection:  “We catch the Christ-life by being close to him, by drawing near to him, in truth, by being ‘in him.'”

(2) Good Pretending: This is the furthest thing from hypocrisy or moralism, but is rather a living out of our righteous standing in Christ, whether we feel like it or not. “The pretense leads to the real thing.”

On “Nothing-Buttery”

The Christian life, according to C.S. Lewis, is lived against a vigorous background of spiritual warfare. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis highlighted the elder devil’s urgency in communicating to “the patient” a reductionist view of the world in which “everything we can see and know is nothing but a mixture of matter in motion.” If humans are nothing but sacks of protoplasm, emotions are nothing but a confluence of digestion and hormones, and stars are nothing but burning gas, life is reduced to its lowest common denominator.

For Lewis, the incarnation was an extremely practical matter in that it gave dignity to our physical existence and tore down the artificial barrier between “the scientific and the supernatural.” In fact, this is my favorite aspect of Lewis’s brilliance: he always left room for God.  As a spinner of tales himself, he knew the importance of giving the Author free reign, and maintained that “reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed.”

On Relationships

The way we treat other people is the test of our commitment to the Christian life, and Rigney chose Lewis’s final work of fiction, Till We Have Faces, to dissect the impact of divine love on selfish love. Juxtaposing Orual’s corrupt love with Lewis’s thoughts in The Four Loves, Rigney offered parallels that were revelatory for understanding Orual’s and our own twisted neediness. Even her relationship with the gods is marked by her demand that they reveal themselves on her terms.

Throwing away joy with both hands, Orual brings us full circle, back around to Lewis’s point that the Christian life teeters at the tipping point of choice from beginning to end. Whether it’s a matter of initial surrender of your life or a wide place in the road where you are holding out on a seemingly smaller decision, here’s the Truth from Lewis’s pen:

“If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.”


Many thanks to Crossway for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God (Theologians on the Christian Life), simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

83 thoughts on “Lessons from C.S.Lewis: Becoming Fully Human”

  1. “If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.”
    Reminds me of a bumper sticker I saw once – ‘Those who do not believe in God had better be right’. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Michele, thank you for the thoughtful review of Rigney’s book. I have read many of Lewis’ works, and I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about his writing and his theology. My children, of course, loved the Narnia Chronicles. When I read Surprised by Joy, I was surprised to find out that Joy was Lewis’ wife. I think his relationship with her changed his views on many topics (for the better). I would have loved to have taken the course you did in college. It may have helped me to better understand Lewis and appreciate him more fully.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That class really made me wish I had majored in English because the process of digging through literature for all its revelation of truth was so lovely. And Lewis really does have a way of opening up a topic that does more for me than just an explanation.

      Like

  3. The many Lewis books on my shelves were read at least 10 years ago. I remember them as interesting and thought provoking, but what those thoughts were, exactly, escapes me. I think it’s time to re-read some of them. Thank you for the inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve come to the conclusion I have not read nearly enough C.S. Lewis!

    Thanks so much for sharing about good pretending, “a living out of our righteous standing in Christ, whether we feel like it or not. “The pretense leads to the real thing.” I consider that a variation of “we walk by faith, not by sight.” The enemy spends his time trying to convince us we’ve lost our righteous standing. But he is a liar and a father of lies!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like a good application, Jerralea! I haven’t read The Weight of Glory or God in the Dock, both collections of essays and lectures. TWoG is on my shelf, and I hope to get to it before the year is out!

      Like

  5. I haven’t read any of C.S. Lewis’ nonfiction books (I’m newly Christian.) I’m scared it will be hard to understand or follow but at the same time, I want to know what they say since I hear so much about them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do you mind if I make a recommendation — or two?
      Mere Christianity is a great place to begin because Lewis moves topically through issues of theology and the church. A Grief Observed is his heartbreakingly beautiful record of his feelings and observations following his wife’s death.
      It’s not non-fiction, but if you like humor, you should definitely read The Screwtape Letters. It comes from the perspective of a Senior Tempter training a Junior Demon in the art of leading his “patient” astray. Lots of “our father below” referring to Satan and “the enemy” referring to God make it kind of a fun challenge to catch all the references. Also so really excellent insights about how easily we are tempted and distracted.
      Don’t be intimidated. Just read slowly. (That’s what I have to do with Lewis!)
      You can do this!!

      Like

  6. Living with expectancy of finding God in the details of the here and now.. is an encouragement to my soul this morning as I dig into necessary business that feels so beyond my capabilities. Thank you, Michele for sharing these good words.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, the necessary business . . .
      Amazing how often God meets us in the middle of the most mundane tasks.
      Thanks for reading and taking time to comment. Blessings to you!

      Like

  7. I would have loved to have taken a class on Lewis! I didn’t “discover” him until well into adulthood. I don’t think it was until I read The Problem of Pain that I began to have some serious problems with some of his theology. Yet, as you say, he portrays penal substitution so beautifully in Narnia.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do wonder if some of his surliness is centered around a dislike for the usual and customary labels we have assigned to things. I’m afraid that I take his theological shortcomings with a grain of salt (except for inerrancy . . . he’s troubling there) because so much of the Gospel is so beautifully portrayed in all his writing, both fiction and nonfiction.

      Like

  8. Dear Michele,
    As my blogging break is coming to an end, you remind me so beautifully of the joys that were shared with our friend Orual. Thank you for this confirmation from the Lord that it is time to join in with the blogging community again. There are just too many beautiful moments that would be missed otherwise! And thank you so much for the ways that you give your writing and heart over to God, and then let us all share in the overabundance! Blessings to you today!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I included that section on our friend Orual just for our group of readers from the Till We Have Faces project! Actually, I’m wishing that I’d had Rigney’s book and his insights back when we were studying Orual together. Thanks for reminding me of that lovely time with our weekly meet ups!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Blackflies are wicked and can’t wait ’til they disappear; then we’ll have the mosquitoes to deal with…oh the glories of contending with those critters. Other than that all is well–apple blossoms and lilacs should be appearing in a few days. Oh the glories of living in God’s Country! ❤ Blessings and love to you, Michele. xo

        Like

  9. Hi Michele,
    I think the last quote is such a sobering one! As I observe the global events & in the decrying of all things of God across modern society….& the lies of the enemy that are being believed…. I cling to the words of Jesus.. these things must come to pass before the coming of the King!

    Thank you for the reviews ~ I enjoy his writings & love the new movies, I watch them with my grandchildren! 😉
    Jennifer

    Like

  10. Mere Christianity was the first C.S. Lewis book I read and it changed my life. I’ve gone on to read several more of his work, but am by no means a Lewis scholar. Reading this book review makes me want to read Rigney’s book and I know it would lead to delving into more of C.S. Lewis. Your college course sounds divine!

    Like

      1. Wow, I wish I could rewind history, because last year I led a book discussion group on Till We Have Faces, and it was so much fun. You’d have been a riot to have as part of the group.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It was here on the blog. We had a schedule of reading, and I posted weekly (unlike with Orthodoxy where I’ve gone soft and am only posting monthly). Several others also wrote weekly-ish posts and shared the URL in the comments, and we just geek-partied around Till We Have Faces for at least a couple of months. It was great.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Love this, Michele: “the goal of the Christian life, according to Lewis, is to “so encounter the living God that we become our true selves.” I have found this to be true in my own life. Thank you for this great review.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Dear Michele, I have to hang on with mind and heart to your posts that soar so far beyond much of my understanding, and I’m always glad I do. “Good Pretending”, love that! John Maxwell calls it the “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy. Thank you for welcoming even this lowly learner to the feast at your table!

    Like

  13. Interesting article. I have always greatly enjoyed Lewis’s writing. That Hideous Strength is one of my favorite novels and I have read it numerous times. And, of course, the Chronicles are a great collection of stories as well. But his non-fiction, or overtly religious, writing is interesting as well. His theology was not mainstream. It is challenging and complex. I find that I disagree with a lot of Christian theologians who tend to dismiss the importance of free will or choice and, in my opinion, attempt to evade responsibility for our actions. Even though I don’t call myself a Christian, he is one of my greatest influences. His work inspires me to be a better person. Thanks for the great read and for spreading the message of such a wonderful man.

    Like

  14. Loved reading this! I’m a fan of anything CSL! When I taught high school, I taught an elective on CSL, and it was one of my favorite classes to teach. Screwtape Letters is one of my favorites. So genius! Thanks for the write-up! #sundaythoughtslinkup

    Like

    1. Yes, and I think I remember reading somewhere that Lewis came up with the idea of Screwtape during a boring sermon in church. It’s so good for our brains to read Lewis’s gorgeous writing. So glad we could connect over this post!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I love your bookshelf! I think…I thiiiinnnnkkkk I might have one that looks similar : )

    This is also my favorite thing bout Lewis: “One of my favorite characteristics of Lewis’s thinking and writing is his ability to turn ideas on their heads until they suddenly–and unexpectedly–become very clear.”

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thanks for sharing this review, Michele! I really haven’t read much of CS Lewis’s writing and this is not the first thing lately that makes me think I should! I think the Screwtape Letters sounds particularly interesting.

    Like

  17. I confess, except for knowing that C.S. Lewis wrote great literary works like the Screwtape Letters, I didn’t really know much about him.

    In this post alone, I’ve learned so much about C. S. Lewis. I love this about him that you shared, “One of my favorite characteristics of Lewis’s thinking and writing is his ability to turn ideas on their heads until they suddenly–and unexpectedly–become very clear.”

    Thanks so much for sharing!

    Like

  18. I loved the Chronicles of Narnia. They broke my heart and put it back together at least twice. (I won’t give away the ending of the series, for those who haven’t read it, but..sometimes you can go back to where you’re meant to be. Left me with the notion there’s much to look forward to.)

    Like

    1. Such a great way to describe the beautiful way Lewis’s fiction impacts the reader! If you love his fiction, you’d probably also enjoy Till We Have Faces. At the end of his life, he claimed that this was his best book! (I agree!)

      Like

  19. LOVED your insights into the writings of Lewis. Thank you! Especially love this quote: “Both God and self are good and should be embraced. But the Choice in question is which of these will be at the center?”

    Like

  20. What a wonderful review of CS Lewis and his books. I love your picture of all his books! It looks like my son’s bookshelf/collection of CS Lewis books. I’m forwarding this to him! He will love your analysis and writing!

    Like

    1. Oh, the fellowship of those whose hearts live in Narnia! And if your son doesn’t already have Rigney’s book, it would make a great gift! I actually read some thoughts and analysis about Till We Have Faces that I had not read elsewhere, and I did a pretty thorough discussion group and series of posts on that favorite Lewis book last year. I was impressed.

      Like

  21. Wow, I would have been at a loss on that exam! Everything that I knew about Lewis would have fled from my brain!
    I love that the author has the goal to make you want to read work that he knows will impact your life! So awesome.
    I love the “good pretending.” We do not walk around filled with the Holy Spirit 24/7 and there are sometimes when we are not “feeling” God. But we should never think that He is gone and in these moments we need to still “act” even if we don’t “feel.” Faith is about trust, not feelings.

    Thank you so much for this post, it was wonderful.
    Visiting from Tuesday’s with a Twist

    Blessings,

    Amy

    Like

    1. Yes, this book is definitely “salt in the oats.”
      And I always find Lewis’s thoughts to be very motivating. I’ve never read his collections of essays, so that’s first on the list, but I also want to be continually re-reading some of my favorites.

      Like

  22. I reread his Michele, as there is so much interesting information in this review! Thank you!! There is a C.S. Lewis center where I work, so I’ll be borrowing some of these tidbits for conversation there I’m sure! Happy reading!

    Like

  23. This is the reason I so appreciate the work of C.S. Lewis…One of my favorite characteristics of Lewis’s thinking and writing is his ability to turn ideas on their heads until they suddenly–and unexpectedly–become very clear. Michele, your book reviews are second to none!

    Like

    1. Thank you, Crystal. That’s so encouraging.
      And I’m sure my understanding and appreciation for the ways of God would be less if it were not for my reading of Lewis.

      Like

  24. I’ll have to check out Rigney’s book! And you’ve reminded me of all the other Lewis books on my reading list I’ve been meaning to get to. I love the Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity!

    Like

    1. Rigney is a gifted author. Things of Earth is another of his really good offerings.
      And yes, I have a list of Wanna Reads and Wanna Re-reads by Lewis, too. He was such a great thinker and writer.

      Like

  25. ‘One of my favorite characteristics of Lewis’s thinking and writing is his ability to turn ideas on their heads until they suddenly–and unexpectedly–become very clear.’ Yes! This is what I love about Lewis. I read Weight of Glory last year – a great read.

    Like

    1. I’m so looking forward to diving into more of Lewis’s essays. That book is on my shelf right now, and I’ve got to finish a few more reviews before I can dive into it, and I can just barely wait!

      Like

  26. I might want to get back to reading more of Lewis’s books after reading your review. Some you mentioned I haven’t read yet. Not sure I’m ready for Rigney’s book yet. 🙂 Blessings to you, Michele. Thanks for linking up with us at the #LMMLinkup. There will not be a linkup tomorrow because of the holiday.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.