The Don: Doctrinal Books are the Best Devotional Books

caleb-woods-i6pKVDldgVA-unsplash.jpg“Now the layman or amateur needs to be instructed as well as to be exhorted. In this age his need for knowledge is particularly pressing. Nor would I admit any sharp division between the two kinds of book. For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.” —C.S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), pp. 149

The Don: WARNING: “Second-hand” Books Often Impoverish Your Learning


“There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about ‘isms’ and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modem commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that first-hand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than second-hand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.” —C.S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), pp. 149

The Don: Humble Science


‘But he [Joseph] came to believe in the Virgin Birth afterwards, didn’t he?’

‘Quite. But he didn’t do so because he was under any illusion as to where babies came from in the ordinary course of nature. He believed in the Virgin Birth as something super-natural. He knew nature works in fixed, regular ways: but he also believed that there existed something beyond nature which could interfere with her workings—from outside, so to speak.’

‘But modern science has shown there’s no such thing. ‘

‘Really,’ said I. ‘Which of the sciences?’

‘Oh, well, that’s a matter of detail,’ said my friend. ‘I cant give you chapter and verse from memory.’

“But, don’t you see.’ said”I, ‘that science never could show anything of the sort?’

‘Why on earth not?’

Because science studies nature. And the question is whether anything besides nature exists—anything “outside”. How could you find that out by studying simply nature?’

——C.S. Lewis, “Religion and Science” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), pp. 143–144

The Don: There Are No Ordinary People


“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor he is holy in almost the same way, for in him Christ is vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself—is truly hidden.” —C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory” in C.S. Lewis Essay Collection & Other Short Pieces (HarperCollins Publishers, 2000), pp. 105–106

The Don: Waking from the Myth of Scientific Cosmology


I was taught at school, when I had done a sum, to “prove my answer”. The proof or verification of my Christian answer to the cosmic sum is this. When I accept Theology I may find difficulties, at this point or that, in harmonizing it with some particular truths which are imbedded in the mythical cosmology derived from science. But I can get in, or allow for, science as a whole. Granted that Reason is prior to matter and that the light of the primal Reason illuminates finite minds, I can understand how men should come by observation and inference, to know a lot about the universe they live in. If, on the other hand, I swallow the scientific cosmology as a whole, then not only can I not fit in Christianity, but I cannot even fit in science. If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on bio-chemistry, and bio-chemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees. And this is to me the final test. This is how I distinguish dreaming and waking. When I am awake I can, in some degree, account for and study my dream. The dragon that pursued me last night can be fitted into my waking world. I know that there are such things as dreams: I know that I had eaten an indigestible dinner: I know that a man of my reading might be expected to dream of dragons. But while in the nightmare I could not have fitted in my waking experience. The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world: the dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one. For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific point of view to the theological, I have passed from dream to waking. Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else. —C.S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry”

With Every Turn of a Page (Exodus 3:1–12)

Perhaps the most masterful thing C.S. Lewis does in his Narnia series is to create a longing in you for Aslan the lion. Aslan is the central figure in the books, yet, notice how sparse his appearances are. You turn each page hoping it to be the one in which he comes into the story, and yet, you know that he is on every page. Every story is his story.

And so it is with our Lord. Mistakingly we can think that theophanies were as thick as June-mosquitoes following heavy May-showers in Oklahoma. They were not. They were more rare than horny toads. The first chapters of Exodus give us a clearer picture. God gives the brave midwives families in chapter one, then He hears the cries of His people in chapter two, but these are things we only know because of the narrator. Israel was ignorant of these things as the events themselves unfolded. But, because of the subtle narration, because of the genealogy, because we’ve read the promises in Genesis, because we’ve recalled the covenant, we see that God has been on every page.

It was God who brought His people down to Egypt according to His word. There they were afflicted as He told Abraham. There God multiplied them and made them into a great nation as He promised Jacob. God’s covenant faithfulness hasn’t failed. Even so, longings have been stirred. Israel, by her bondage cried out for the manifest covenant love of her God. We, by the Spirit’s Lewis-surpassing craft, long for God to manifest Himself. We’ve seen glimpses, and they are glorious, but we hunger for more. So we come to chapter three. We turn the page. There He is! The Holy and Humble one, the great I AM come down to bring His people up. The transcendent God has come down in immanent covenant graciousness to redeem a people out of bondage to a land flowing with milk and honey. Our hearts leap, for this story isn’t limited to one book of the Bible. This is the story of the Bible. This is our story: the holy transcendent God come down in immanent covenant grace to save a people to Himself. May our expectation grow with every turn of a page.

Tolle Lege: Live Like a Narnian

NarnianReadability: 1

Length: 161 pp

Author: Joe Rigney

At the conclusion of Prince Caspian, Peter and Susan share with their younger siblings that they won’t be returning to Narnia because they “were getting too old.” Lucy exclaims, “Oh Peter. What awful bad luck. Can you bear it?” “Well I think I can,” said Peter. “It’s all rather different from what I thought. You’ll understand when it comes to your last time.” For the Pevensies, being in Narnia made them better for their world, not the worse. Though I’ve enjoyed the film adaptations, I have to agree with Rigney,  the filmmakers largely don’t get Narnia or Lewis. They need to go back and learn. Rigney, like the Pevensies, hasn’t missed the point. He has been well discipled by Narnia. He is the better for it in this world. You would be the better too for breathing deep of Narnian air. For those who have breathed, and love Narnia, Live Like a Narnian is a superb relishing of those breaths.

But it’s not enough to simply feel something in response to the objective reality of the world. You must also feel rightly and proportionately to the way the world is. …

Following Plato, Lewis believed that we ought to initiate the young into these right responses, even before they are able to rationally understand or explain what they are feeling. The goal of such inculcation of right responses is that, when a child raised in this way grows up and encounters Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, he will welcome them with open arms, because he has been prepared for, and indeed, resembles them already.

Which brings us, finally, to the function of the Narnian stories in Lewis’s vision of education. The Narnian stories display through imaginative fiction and fairy tale the way that the world really is. Here is courage and bravery in its shining glory. Here is honesty and truth-telling in its simplicity and profundity. Here is treachery in all its ugliness. Here is the face of Evil. Here also is the face of Good. A child (or adult) who lives in such stories will have developed the patterns of thought and affection that will be well-prepared to embrace the True, the Good, and the Beautiful (that is, to embrace Jesus Christ) when he finally encounters them (Him!). Like John the Baptist, Lewis and his cast of Narnians will have prepared the way.