Ed. by John Piper & David Mathis, The Romantic Rationalist. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 192pp. $17.99
In the past 60-70 years there is one author/scholar/Christian who has become the most quoted and often referenced person for just about any denomination in the western church. No person seemingly is more beloved by many groups of people, whether Christian or non-Christian, for their wide array of writing styles and topics. Clive Staples Lewis had a way with words that he was a once in a generation or even in a life time type person. So what made him unique? What made him rare? Why is it that whether Lutheran, Baptist, Reformed, Catholic, Calvinist, Arminian, etc. all read and quote this Anglican lay theologian?
In The Romantic Rationalist, a collection of authors show the answer to that question. CS Lewis was a brilliant thinker and wonderful writer but above all else, he was a passionate Christ-follower. He was a man after God’s heart. But what was so different about Lewis was the way that he thought and wrote, and the way that he brought people to see God’s glory. “What catches the eye about Lewis’s star in the constellation of Christian thinkers and writers is his utter commitment to both the life of the mind and the life of the heart” (Loc 140). While many scholars and thinkers throughout the past centuries sought to distance thinking and emotion/affection, Lewis had a way that intentionally brought the two together. “Lewis insisted that rigorous thought and deep affection were not at odds but mutually supportive” (Loc 141). This was contrary to the direction of the academy and scholarly thinking, but throughout The Romantic Rationalist, the authors show just what this looked like for CS Lewis and how it is/was seen in his vast collection of writings and books.
What brought Lewis to Christ is what shaped his writing and thinking throughout his career that we are all longing for something more. We are all romantics searching for something that cannot satisfy us here on earth. Lewis saw our desire for more romanticism directly connected with the ability to be rational and absolute Reason. The authors with this way of thinking and trying to understand Lewis’ mind dive into different theological areas and how Lewis wrote, thought and spoke about them. Here are a few of the notable chapters and areas.
Philip Ryken looks at Lewis and Scripture, mainly his understanding and approach to inerrancy. Lewis had a deep appreciation and respect for the Holy Scripture as the supreme authority for faith and practice (Loc 585). However, Lewis believed that other types of literary writing could be and were inspired by God. Ryken points out that Lewis was not a theologian but a literary scholar and lay theologian. “CS Lewis placed the inspiration of Scripture on a continuum with other forms of literary inspiration, thus downplaying to some degree the uniqueness of the Bible” (Loc 600). Above all else, Lewis was a literary scholar who saw the authority of Scripture, but still saw it as a literary work. Ryken brings it all around to show why evangelicals value and seek after Lewis in regards to his understanding of Scripture. Lewis read Scripture through his literary lens, but he still submitted to its full authority and sought God’s will for his life from it (Loc 975).
Possibly the best chapter in this work that helps the reader understand Lewis’ brilliance and ability in writing is Kevin VanHoozer’s chapter on Lewis and the imagination for theology and discipleship. If you have read even 2 or 3 of Lewis’ works you have seen the diversity and brilliance in his literary ability. The styles, the themes, the stories (fiction and nonfiction) that he told show the magnitude of his imagination. Lewis described the Christian conversion to being similar to waking and a Christian is always striving after complete wakefulness. “Theology describes what we see when we are awake, in faith to the reality of God, and discipleship is the project of becoming fully awake to this reality and staying awake” (Loc 1392). Lewis saw understanding theology being important to the Christian discipleship process of awakening.”The imagination helps disciples act out what is in Christ. Theology exchanges the false pictures that hold us captive with biblical truth, disciplining our imaginations with sound doctrine. Discipleship is a matter of this ‘indoctrinated’ imagination’ (Loc 1629). VanHoozer points out that through this section on imagination and it’s use in helping in discipleship, “Lewis had the unique gift of writing about what if in order to give us a taste of what was, is, and will be ‘in Christ'” (Loc 1669). From his classic tales in Narnia to the Screwtape Letters to Mere Christianity, readers were able to see elements of Christ and understand theology and doctrine better from the way he wrote. Lewis helped people, not just disciples, but people who were outside the Kingdom to see Christ and ask questions about Him through his writings. Lewis understood the importance of the mind and imagination to a disciple in pursuit of Christ.
One last significant chapter deals with Lewis’ understanding of Heaven and God’s eternal remedy to the problem of evil and suffering. Many Christians today do not understand how to walk through suffering or why pain even exists in the world. One person that suffered and attempted to understand it was CS Lewis. Lewis knew that in terms of pain and suffering on earth, God’s answer is heaven. “Lewis says that ‘a book on suffering which says nothing of heaven, is leaving out almost the whole of one side of the account. Scripture and tradition habitually put the joys of heaven into the scale against the suffering of earth, and no solution of the problem of pain which does not do so can be called a Christian one'” (Loc 1898).
Lewis says wonderfully in Mere Christianity something that can sum up this entire book. “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world” (Loc. 2031). We are all made for something more. More than this earth can ever deliver to us. After reading these positions on Lewis and different theological areas, I want to dive more into his texts and writings to see his perspective of God more. Lewis was a once in a lifetime person and mind, and God created him to us his mind and heart to show His uniqueness and different facets through many writing types. Lewis was a romantic rationalist to the fullest extent. Consider reading The Romantic Rationalist if you want to know Lewis better and have a greater desire to read his writings.