C. S. Lewis in the University: His Life and Faith As A Guide For Us

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In his sermon “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis exhorts his hearers to pursue the idea of glory. But the pursuit of glory is maligned by modern philosophers who attempt to convince us that “the good of man is to be found on this earth…they begin by trying to persuade you that earth can be made into heaven” (31). But of course this is not the case. Our true calling is in the pursuit of the glory of God. Lewis defines this as, “good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledge, and welcome into the heart of things” (41). He further defines it as “glory or brightness, splendor, luminosity” (42). All the longing of our hearts will one day, Lewis says, be realized. When that day comes, “The whole man is to drink joy from the fountain of joy. As Saint Augustine said, the rapture of the saved soul will ‘flow over’ into the glorified body” (44).

Lewis then reminds us that the cross precedes the crown. We are called to follow Christ and in doing so we must not linger in thinking about our own glory, but in looking to our neighbor’s needs. He says that “The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the back of the proud will be broken” (45). He then drives home his major point, holding that “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 the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealing with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics” (46).

It is therefore with a great sense of urgency that we, who have been called to a vocation in academia, must go about our duties. We are not called simply to teach, gain tenure, or publish, but to something even greater. We have been placed where we may bear witness to the One who is the source of all truth. We must have the attitude of Lewis—who saw his colleagues as potential bearers of glory and bore testimony to the truth of the Gospel.

In our day it is not easy to do this. Opposition to Christianity is great in some places. Our beliefs often fly in the face of political correctness. Our beliefs often conflict with the spirit of the age. Yet it is precisely this “weight” that we are to take upon ourselves. We must see, as Lewis did, the great need for Christ in our universities. Lewis willingly took the abuse of his colleagues because he saw that this life is not all there is. He saw each person he interacted with as a potential saint.

Another of Lewis’ significant writings is The Abolition of Man. Published in 1943, it is a startling prophetic work regarding what would eventually become the reality of the modern university. We have seen the university abandon any idea of “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false.” We live in an era now that Lewis foresaw of “men without chests.” Today everything has value except traditional values. John West writes:

That essay—The Abolition of Man—discusses the potential for tyranny in a world where the elites no longer believe in any sort of objective truth. If everything is simply reduced to a struggle for power, then there is no constraint on what social elites might do to reshape society in their own image. The fundamental question in society is not “which policy is more just” but “which group has the most power to impose its will on society?” Lewis sees the mentality as the wellspring of tyranny. (68)

West sums up well the outcome of what Lewis foresaw, something which certainly has application to the university: “It has…led to a moral vacuum in many disciplines, opening the door to the postmodern claim (springing from Nietzsche) that people are free to create their own reality through a sheer act of will” (69).

“The Weight of Glory” and The Abolition of Man—one quite prophetic, the other a great exhortation—both reinforce the idea that we live in perilous and needy times. While postmodernism has, to some extent, allowed for a more tolerant attitude toward some worldviews, orthodox Christianity, with its claims of truth and absolutes is still often not welcomed.

In his excellent essay, “A Thoroughly Converted Man,” in the book The Pilgrims Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness, Bruce Edwards writes a strong reminder:

If I were to describe Lewis in a single phrase, it would be this: C.S. Lewis was a man who lived his life before Pilate. That is to say, he carried out his daily tasks as teacher, citizen, and believer as one who knew he was always standing before a skeptical inquisitor, an inquisitor who too often hides from the truth and masks his fear of knowing the truth behind indifference, agnosticism, or the pretense on the search—as Pilate did in the presence of Our Lord (John 18:37). He knew that faced with a troublesome truth, the skeptical inquisitor will if he can send it out to be killed…As Christopher Derrick, Lewis’s pupil and friend, has judiciously observed, “Lewis was a man willing to ‘challenge the entrenched priesthood of the intelligentsia.’ And he did so from within the cloister, at the cost of being thought a traitor by many of his peers. One finds in him an uncommonly valiant and articulate skeptic of the modern era, one forthrightly opposed to the ‘chronological snobbery’ of our times that assumes truth is a function of the calendar and that the latest word is the truest one. (40)

Not only should we emulate Lewis’ life of living before Pilate, but we must daily live in a state that the Reformer’s referred to as Coram Deo—before the face of God. It is He that we ultimately seek to please and serve. In doing so there is great reward. May the Lord of Glory give us the strength to stand firm in the day of trial.

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