Monday, April 7, 2014

"Letters to Malcom" by CS Lewis: A Review


I wish they'd remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats . . . (5)

Be honest. If you were sitting in CS Lewis' office while he was on the phone discussing theology, faith, or Christianity, would you really care about what was being said on the other side? Probably not. Perhaps that is what I enjoyed about his book Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer posthumously published in 1964.

Two thoughts come immediately to mind before considering its contents. First, there are a host of "Letters to" books (Letters to a Young Conservative, Letters to a Young Progressive, Letters to a Calvinist, etc.) available today. I am only guessing here, but Letters to Malcolm might have been the first or one of the first of this modern "genre."

Secondly, Malcolm is a fictional pen pal. In this sense, the book stands in the tradition of Lewis' more popular Screwtape Letters where the fictional senior demon Uncle Screwtape is writing to his young apprentice nephew Wormwood. Instead of writing a book on prayer, Anglicanism, liturgy, liberalism, and the rest, Lewis approaches these subjects through the medium of letters.

With the above said, I want to consider one aspect of the book for the sake of time. I will reserve larger quotations for later From Lewis' Pen post. In the last chapters of the book Lewis focuses on theological liberalism. Lewis writes:
Left to oneself, one could easily slide away from 'the faith once given' into a phantom called "my religion." (12)
This later leads to a fuller treatment of theological liberalism. I am unaware of Lewis' dealing so clearly with it. He says of liberalism:
They themselves find it impossible to accept most of the articles of the "faith once given to the saints." They are nevertheless extremely anxious that some vestigial religion which they (not we) can describe as "Christianity" should continue to exist and make numerous converts. They think these converts will come in only if this religion is sufficiently "demytholigised". The ship must be lightened if she is to keep afloat. (119)
It is interesting that the writer of one of the greatest myths and fantasy's of the twentieth century who was converted to Christianity shortly after his friend and fellow myth writer J. R. R. Tolkien convinced him that Christianity is the one myth that is actually true, is criticizing the motive and work of liberalism as guilty of wanting to demytholigise Christianity. To demytholigise it, to Lewis, was to rob Christianity of Christianity itself.

This leads Lewis to ask Malcolm, . . . did you ever meet, or hear of, anyone who was converted from skepticism to a "liberal" or "demytholiged" Christianity? (119) Of course liberalism seeks to take a pulse of the purveying culture and then meet them where they are. Regarding this point, Lewis suggests A man who first tried to guess what the public wants and then preached that as Christianity because the public wants it would be a pretty mixture of fool and knave.

I agree. But the book is about more than theological liberalism. As the subtitle of the book suggests, Lewis primarily tackles the difficult issue of prayer. The reader will be greatly blessed picking the brain of one of the most beloved Christian thinkers of the twentieth century. The book is short enough that it can be read rather quickly but what makes Lewis such a great writer is his ability to say so much brief, memorable, proverbial ways. When Lewis is right, he says it better than anyone else.

Add this often unheralded classic to your library and return to it often.


From Lewis' Pen Series:
From Lewis' Pen: Read Old Books
From Lewis' Pen: When Love Becomes a Demon
From Lewis' Pen: Until You Fully Love God
From Lewis' Pen: As the Ruin Falls
From Lewis' Pen: Screwtape on Marriage
From Lewis' Pen: Lay Down Your Arms
From Lewis' Pen: Aslan is on the Move
From Lewis' Pen: Lead us, Evolution, Lead us
From Lewis' Pen: Lead us, Evolution, Lead us
From Lewis' Pen: An Exaggerated Feminine Type
From Lewis' Pen: Theology as a Map
From Lewis' Pen: A Lot of Wrong Ideas
From Lewis' Pen: Children Know Better Than Grownups
From Lewis' Pen: The Historical Jesus
From Lewis' Pen: Aim at Heaven
From Lewis' Pen: Satan Speaks


For more:
"A Mixture of Fool and Knave": CS Lewis on Theological Liberalism
Lewis on Practical Theology
Lewis on the Why of Democracy
From Uncle Screwtape:  Christianity and Politics 
Theology As a Map: Lewis, Practical Theology, and the Trinity
"Screwtape Letters" by CS Lewis: A Review
The Most Unpopular of Christian Virtues: Lewis on Chasity - Part 1
The Most Unpopular of Christian Virtues: Lewis on Chasity - Part 2
The Most Unpopular of Christian Virtues: Lewis on Chasity - Part 3 
"Willing Slaves of the Welfare State": CS Lewis on Freedom, Science, and Society - Part 1
"Willing Slaves of the Welfare State": CS Lewis on Freedom, Science, and Society - Part 2
He is Not a Tame Lion: Aslan, Jesus, and the Limits of Postmodern Inclusivism  
To Be Undragoned: Aslan, Christ, and the Gift of Regeneration 
Lewis on Practical Theology  
Lewis on the Why of Democracy
From Uncle Screwtape:  Christianity and Politics      
Theologians I Have Been Influenced By - The Dead
"The Magician's Twin: C.S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism" Full Documentary
Beyond Narnia:  A Great Documentary 
"Surprised by Joy" by Lewis
"Jack:  A Life of CS Lewis"  
"The Great Divorce" by Lewis
"Finding God in the Land of Narnia
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