Monday, May 19, 2014

"C.S. Lewis In A Time Of War" by Justin Phillips: A Review

It's important to appreciate that for the BBC, this was the first of a series of broadcast talks produced by the religious programmes department. CS Lewis was not well-known. With hindsight, it seems extraordinary that this first series of broadcasts, which was to shape Lewis's life and produce a world best-seller, Mere Christianity, should begin in such a humdrum way. Humble is barely the word. This would probably not have bothered Lewis one bit. He was not concerned with questions of vanity or drawing attention to himself. This was simply an intriguingly different speaking engagement to a bigger audience or university lectures. (117-118)

In all of the non-fiction works of CS Lewis I have read, none surpass the ongoing influence of the first one I read: Mere Christianity. When I first considered its pages, I was oblivious of Lewis' story and legacy. All I knew was what I was told by all the spiritual leaders I respected: I have to read this book! They were right.

Now, decades later, my love for Lewis has only increased and recently I read and enjoyed a book that tells the story behind Mere Christianity's original radio broadcast. The book, authored by Justin Phillips, is called C.S. Lewis In A Time Of War and it is a real page turner.

As the title suggest, Phillips tells the story behind the original airing and later publication of Mere Christianity. It is ultimately a story about war and mere Christian faith. The producers at BBC radio in England had come across Lewis' book The Problem of Pain and without hearing him speak, knew they had to get him on air. They therefore hired him to do a series of short talks on the radio which proved to be profitable and fruitful to both radio and to Lewis.

The book tells the story from both perspectives. During the war, the BBC was at times shut down and at other times struggled to continue. Nonetheless, the BBC persevered and became an important voice - even beyond the daily news briefings - throughout the war.

The author also tells Lewis' story during this part of his life and even discusses briefly (compared to other biographies) his relationship with Ms. Moore and his role in The Inklings. The author discusses briefly the story behind The Problem of Pain and what might be Lewis' greatest sermon The Weight of Glory

Both perspectives are intertwined beautifully.

Beyond this, I will highlight just a few more things. First, there is a brief moment that illustrates Lewis' little appreciated sense of humor. Phillips notes how Lewis began one program:
I've managed to catch an absolute snorter of a cold so if you hear this talk suddenly interrupted by a loud sound, you needn't jump to any rash conclusion, it's probably only me sneezing and couching.
The author then adds:
Those are the opening words with which Lewis began that talk - not preserved on any recording and not included in any transcript or published version of the address either in Broadcast Talks or in Mere Christianity. In fact there is an even earlier version. Lewis originally put in a joke but it was deleted . . . What appears in pencil is 'you needn't jump to any rash conclusion that we are being bombed, it's probably only me sneezing and coughing'. The reference to being bombed was dropped, no doubt on grounds of taste. (128, emphasis original)
Secondly, it turns out that Lewis was not a real fan of radio mostly because he was a poor listener to radio. Ultimately, he considered it noise. The author explains:
When an American schoolgirl wrote to him seeking tips on how to write, Lewis gives her seven pieces of advice. The first is to turn off the radio. . . . 

Why turn the radio off first of all? Because if you want to avoid God, avoid silence and solitude, live in a crowd and keep the radio on. the radio, he says, was invented to destroy solitude. In less serious mood, he even blames radio for driving away he leprechauns from Ireland.
The author also notes that Lewis made similar comments in Screwtape Letters. An ironic twist to the story to say the least.

In the end, I highly recommend this book especially for fans of Lewis and Mere Christianity. It is always helpful when a book of historic record slows down and zero's in on a small period of history. Phillips does a good job at telling the story and showing why it needs to be told.





From Lewis' Pen Series:
From Lewis' Pen: But He's Good

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:
"Letters to Malcom" by CS Lewis: A Review 
"Screwtape Letters" by CS Lewis: A Review
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
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
"A Mixture of Fool and Knave": CS Lewis on Theological Liberalism
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