Clive Staples Lewis was a celebrated Anglo-Irish novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, lay theologian and Christian apologist whose impact and influence lives on.

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Lewis Lately: Postmodern Dialogue Redux

July 21st, 2013 | Skip to comments


(I first performed this dialogue as early as the late 1990s, and later published it in a different version as an epilogue to my Not a Tame Lion [Tyndale, 2005].

Here is an updated version of my fictional dialogue with Jack. — BE)

I wandered cyberspace, as I often do, stumbling aimlessly in an slightly expectant but still melancholy mood, despairing (or exulting?) over my captivity to narrow horizons and shallow dreams.

Then I happened upon (or it happened upon me) an intriguing pop-up—tucked away, in a corner of my backlit LED screen, something usually hidden, beyond the reach of any search engine optimization. There, an invitation.

Click Here! it said. Come and See!

What joker, knave, or sage was at the other end of the net tonight? Dare I click on this link anchored by the imperative Come?. Yes. And thereby was transported to the surprisingly unadorned site, no clever graphics, or crisp images. Just words, naked words, flat on the screen.

What follows is the series of screen captures from the impromptu chat session that ensued from that fateful event.

JACK: “Lewis, here, Jack.”

I was startled to say the least.

I—as many—had found in C. S. (“Jack”) Lewis an amiable, skeptical, category-defying companion for traversing what began as the burgeoning and what ended as the bloody Twentieth Century. Should I be surprised that in the 21st Century someone’s online tonight in a fanciful masquerade?

How fortuitous to come upon a fellow enthusiast on the net with an active imagination, audacious enough to impersonate Lewis! Having just spent the better part of the last 35 years trying to fathom the legacy of Lewis’s life and works, this diversion was welcome.

(The pantomime was yet faulty, so I thought. Jack distrusted technology. Had he repented?)

Everything about Lewis’s life, his perspective, his worldview appealed to me: he had taught me precisely to get past watchful dragons of this God-defying world, discerning and demolishing many of the twentieth century’s hidden agendas: the myth of progress, the innumerable problems of unreflective relativism, the maniacal hedonism of capitalistic excess, the adoration of machines, and the deification of sex and sexual identity.

I did not want to be the only witness to Lewis’s plaintive, scholarly, relentless critique of our waning Western civilization; why, his very vocabulary and fearlessness in engaging modern (and what we call post-modern thought), has made it possible in large measure for any of us even to begin to imagine an alternative to a world dominated by incessant autobiography and the worship of the new and the now. I had always wondered what Lewis would say to us, today, to me, were he still alive.

I decided I would play along with this “supposal.”

“Jack? Jack Lewis? Clive Staples Lewis, you say? It’s Professor Edwards, er, Bruce . . . “

JACK: “Bruce, how the deuce are you? I am afraid my clumsy fingers can never get used to this damnable keyboard! Let me switch to SIRI mode. There. Better to speak my lines, eh? Don’t be too put off. My brother always did my typing for me, but he’s off writing a new history of 17th-Century French politics. Who’ll read that do you reckon? But, say, I’ve been observing you, and enjoying your futile efforts to champion my ‘legacy,’ such as it is. My goodness, there are a number of biographies of me surfacing lately. It appears I’ve made quite the career builder as a subject! Good for something, one surmises.”

EDWARDS: “Yes, Jack, and well worth it to extend your influence?”

JACK: Influence? My influence? Or theirs? Frankly, it’s rather embarrassing. I knew I shouldn’t have penned that Joy memoir. Too easy to leave things out. I was terrible about dates—and no one reliable around to fact-check like McGrath or Lazo. Wait till they’re 60!

EDWARDS: “I’m there, Jack. And indeed I see what you mean. Can’t even remember my own phone number. But, how would you even know about the present—or care?”

JACK: “Oh, quite right. I see what you mean. It must seem a waste of our time. Tolkien’s working on more ‘lost tales,’ and all that. But, you see, we do have some freedom here, you know, to peek in, to have a look, and, like tonight, occasionally to `weigh in.’ To register a few, if you will, corrections. And I’ve taken a particular interest in you.”

EDWARDS: “Uhhh . . . I’m flattered. But where’s `here’? Freedom? Peek in? Interest in me? What campus are you on `Jack?'”

I didn’t like the tone of his last remark; could this fellow be incarcerated somewhere?

JACK: “Campus? Oh, I’m done with schools and schooling, Bruce. You might say I `graduated’ many years ago, nearly fifty years ago, to be exact.”

I now knew I was in the middle of something far more nefarious and otherworldly than I had thought. I would have to play along with my clever foil a bit longer.

EDWARDS: “Well, Jack, since you’re `peeking in’ and all, I suppose you’ve noticed you’re still very popular–Catholics and Protestants alike read you, even ultra-conservative fundamentalists and wild-eyed charismatics . . . why some fundevangelicals hardly seem to read any other Christian writers besides you. . .”

JACK: “The what?”

EDWARDS: “The fundevangelicals—a neologism I coined to describe—”

JACK: “Be careful, Bruce; sloppy categorization, lumping everybody into one camp for the purpose of dismissing them—a dangerous habit of mind. Some groupings are necessary, I know, for initial consideration and debate, but, beware: all such groupings conceal more than they reveal. Here, old man, every individual creature is uniquely loved, known, specified in its creaturehood. You remember the old nominalist debates–is each thing a particular or a universal? Well, up here (‘up’ is relative, of course!) the problem is solved. . .”

EDWARDS: “How so?”

JACK: “All are particulars. . .”

EDWARDS: “But how–”

JACK: “. . . and, all are universals. There is no distinction. Each of us was/is sui generis, one of a kind. All along that’s how God ‘imagined’ us. (Once you get here, which is not a place, actually, but an order or dimension of being that cannot be fathomed by mortal folk, it will be immediately and spontaneously clear. My Great Divorce wasn’t so far off!) . . .

Bruce, when God ‘imagines’ it’s not like human daydreaming, for with Him an ‘image’ becomes concrete, or should I say ‘manifest.’ (‘Concrete’ is another of your, sorry, our ‘terran’ words that make little sense to the departed soul.) Concrete compared with what? This is true ‘reality,’ as solid and dense and ‘here’ as any existence could be–just like, you recall, perhaps, in Perelandra when the Green Lady. . .”

EDWARDS: “Look, sorry, Jack, I, I, appreciate the distance between us, literally–

JACK:Literally! Another of those terran concepts! As if anything on earth could be anything but a metaphor for the kind of being, the kind of transcendent reality that refugees like me experienced, why I—“

I realized I was beginning to drawn in, that I was taking this very seriously, much too seriously, I was talking to him as if he were the real Lewis. I thought of a trick question.

EDWARDS: “OK, just tell me, Jack, is Christianity the one, true religion? What about America, will it survive? And Western culture itself, is it destined to–”

JACK: “Bruce, I can’t answer those questions.”

EDWARDS: “Can’t? Why not, who’s better to–”

JACK: “Well, it’s not that I can’t answer them, in fact I can, quite easily; in fact, I do so numerous times in my work–as you well know. But, well, to answer them in the way you have posed them, with the prototypically human, ultimately definitive, historically encompassing perspective, etc., etc., would do neither you nor your students any good.

(Drat, Bruce! I’ve not used the etcetera since I left Terra; it’s not a word or concept that makes any sense here, either; neither ‘et al.’ nor “etc.’ fit; there is no ‘and so on’ in heaven; everything is specifically and exactly what it is and nothing else and, well, carelessly to consign items and beings to any form of ellipsis is, well, it’s the essence of that other realm below, where nothing is (any longer) what it is, and no-body and no-thing exists in itself. Hell is one long etcetera.)

EDWARDS: “Really, Jack, I think you’re dodging my questions. They are—aren’t they?—straightforward?”

JACK: “Wait, Bruce–all questions are situated in some context or other; they don’t spring from some pure or static mode of being such that they can be answered prescriptively in the way humans think (and I once thought); to call your question or any other ‘straightforward’ is to grant it the sobriety and ultimacy of being that only God Himself possesses–”

EDWARDS: “No straight answer from you, I see–is it some ‘oath of secrecy’ you’ve had to subscribe to since you left?”

JACK: “If I didn’t know you better, and the truth is, I don’t know you very well at all, dear chap, but judging from your tone, I’d say you were becoming quite sarcastic.
Don’t you see what you’re accusing me of is that which they accused your Elder Brother when He became planetary, er, human? No straight answers, they said. Always answering questions with questions. Nearly every earnest query met by a story of some sort to be interpreted by the hearers at their peril. You humans you’re so, so–”

EDWARDS: “Preoccupied with our own importance, a false of urgency?”

JACK: “Well, that too, but what I meant to say is, you fashion a world and the rules for it from the crib, and then spend most of your lives asking why people and events don’t conform to the rules you’ve made up. That’s my true biography, too, mind you.”

EDWARDS: “Now, hold on, you were an advocate of ‘mere Christianity’ when you were, uh, planetary, and. . .”

JACK: “Indeed, and still am for those still exiled–like you. But up here, you see, we don’t talk about Christianity or religion as if it were a system of thought or a philosophical argument, in fact, we don’t talk about Christianity as such at all. There’s no ‘religion’ here. Just God’s eternal Trinitarian presence.

“My good man, who needs to label or codify ‘systems’ of thought when your very mode of existence makes unnecessary the need for separating things into dualities: mind/body, soul/spirit, male/female, all of your, what did you call them, ‘structuralist dichotomies. . .’ (Descartes and Kant and Leibniz, bless them, lived their lives in a very small universe!)”

EDWARDS: “You mean, heaven transcends all of our distinctions and categories?”

JACK: “If by ‘transcend’ you mean ‘divests us of them,’ then, yes, but, understand now, those labels were never the qualities or identifying features that ‘individualized’ or ‘made unique’ any creature in the first place.”

EDWARDS: “If not them, then what?”

JACK: “God’s nature in you, the image, the spark, the life–infinitely precious, ultimately unique, because God is the being than which no greater can be conceived, the greatest of all ‘knowers’: “Ultimate Mind, which is to say, Ultimate Spirit, Ultimate Person; each creature therefore bears the artistry of the creator in a manner—form and content—that is utterly ‘one’—you are ‘like’ God, utterly so—and, also, that is utterly ‘many’—‘unlike’

“God, Creator, Redeemer, utterly different than, and utterly different from, all the other creatures He made, yet known to and made known by Him in a manner suited only to you. What you call existence is maintained by His holding you in fast contemplation, a contemplation which never fails. I can assure you, Bruce, there’s never been anyone like you before or after; but don’t get too puffed up–it’s that way with us all! You cannot fathom the infinite diversity of the Creation—He positively revels in it. Why do we miss that primary character trait in God?

“Your kind, all of you, would be scandalized by it on Terra if you could fully grasp it—your notions of diversity are so limited!

“Oh, to be known and to know—these are the ultimate predicates, just as I and Thou are the ultimate Subjects. Thus—”

EDWARDS: “Jack, our conversation is making me believe my questions are trivial or worse.”

JACK: “Trivial? Well, all merely human endeavor is penultimate, subordinate, temporal–as it was designed to be, after all. When you come to face your true selfhood, as I have, as all of us departed have, you come to think of your planetary, terran life as pure preparation, each self-deluded ‘serious’ pursuit as having been something more like a ‘game’ or an ‘adventure’ whose principles and exploits were to be understood and mastered as a discipline rather than merely endured or, worse, escaped from: games and adventures that, since Eden, He would use to bring you ‘Home’–”

EDWARDS: “So much suffering, such violence, such exploitation—how dare you call human life a ‘game’—that so sanitizes the subject, why—”

JACK: “Sanitizes? You mean, as if God had turned his back on humankind and creation? I didn’t say human life is a game, I said from certain heavenly vantage points, one’s former planetary preoccupation with the self and its satisfactions looms as an elaborate game or adventure. Sanitizes?

“Are you a deist, for God’s sake? The whole point of the incarnation–and this is really elementary, Bruce, and I’m surprised to have to point it out–is to restore to wholeness the very fallen, very barren planetary life you caricature with glib abstractions–that’s what suffering, violence, exploitation are to you in the prosperous West. But his incarnate life did more than that, it demonstrated what true humanhood is to be.

“Our Elder Brother underwent any and all the suffering, violence, exploitation humans can concoct. In his sojourn, his death, and his resurrection, He identified, condemned, and, if may I say it, outlived the rebellion that spread your corrupt ‘patriarchalism’ (emanating from Adam on down) originally, and in its place portrayed ‘real’ manhood, that is, loving, compassionate, merciful personhood.

“He was the man Adam was to be and wasn’t; and the Gospels’ depiction of how He ‘related’ to women and womanhood is unparalleled in ‘ancient’ literature (all equally ‘ancient’ to me, now), you know. He came as ‘man’ and not ‘woman’ not to privilege maleness, but to de-privilege it. Dear sir, do you think God is ‘male’?”

EDWARDS: “I don’t know what I think, you’ve got me twisting and twirling, I was so used to your clarity and decisive logic, Jack. You’re no help.”

JACK: “Sorry, old chap, truly so. But, it’s all to the good. Twirl if you must, but when you stop, stop on stable ground. You ask whether this or that -ism will survive. Planetary life was never—and heavenly life prohibitively is not—about -isms. There aren’t any ‘sociologists’ in heaven, if you will, no poll takers, no, what you call, ‘spin doctors.’

“There are some ‘smart ones’ here but they quickly give up their pretensions of erudition; heaven, you see, strips us not only of our vices, but of our virtues as well–as Flannery O’Connor has reminded not a few of us here!”

EDWARDS: “In the end, then, none of this matters, my Lewis scholarship, the fate of American jurisprudence, the survival of West, my students’ aspirations, you’re saying, in the end, ‘all is vanity’?”

JACK: “You’ll no doubt remember this from your vast reading of my undistinguished oeuvre, but let me quote myself to you. It may be the truest thing I ever wrote, though the tendency of my admirers to misattribute and misquote my words in their reductive way is alarming!

‘All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.’
“There it is. What is ‘eternal’? What did your Elder Brother point to: faith, hope, and love?

“Nothing is ultimately ‘vain—even your ‘fundavangelicals’—if it somehow contributes to the initiation or imitation of these three, especially the latter, for that’s what He ‘is’: Love. Love incognito at times, Love as painful, searing truth more often than not, but Love nevertheless.

“Even His poorest disciples end up witnessing to this in their own faltering way. Because, you see, there only exist ‘faltering’ ways–partial, time-bound, paradoxical, elusive. You can never, from Terra, fully explain or understand any phenomena, even yourself. Only He can provide that because He’s been both inside and outside of your world.”

EDWARDS: “Then it doesn’t matter what view I take, what behavior I adopt? It’s all the same? Liberal/conservative, believer/ unbeliever, devout/skeptic?”

JACK: “There’s the epitome of humanness for you—always either/or, dichotomous, anti-paradoxical. We even have a term up here, “Piperian,” I think it is, ahem. Just a little heavenly humor. Bur, really, Bruce, believe me, I understand your pressing for sureties of this kind—I too was a master of the dichotomy and the trichotomy while I labored `under the sun.’ (Remember, Professor Kirke’s defense of Lucy before Peter and Susan, and, even my own, “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord”?)

“But what I immediately discovered upon arrival here is that Heavenly truth is always paradoxical. Never binary. But, by the same token, always true. Conformed to the real. To answer your question, Bruce, It matters a great deal.”

EDWARDS: “Matters? Matters how, pray tell? Is this what a tutorial with you was like Circles within circles. I feel you’ve trapped me in a kaleidoscope.”

JACK: “Indeed, now there’s an apt metaphor: kaleidoscopic. That’s planetary life for you. You just trace out one design and follow its linkage to another and by the time you comprehend it, it’s changed, either by color, contour, or combination.”

EDWARDS: “There’s no compass, then . . .”

JACK: “To the contrary. Revelation, reason, experience, God speaking through events, persons, texts. All quite useful maps. But don’t confuse the maps for the destinations themselves, the Destination itself, I should say. You would have God spare us the journey, the negotiation, the navigation. Why do you think He speaks to us in dream and deed, word and wonder? Is not the Biblical record `true’? Of course. But is it easy to believe and trust? Of course, not, for you must have your own encounter with Him. Should His presence and the path to Him be `clearer’? Clearer to whom, my dear chap?

“Those who have eyes to see, see, and those who have ears to hear, hear. It’s not His way, you know, confounding and dismaying as it may seem on Terra, to make sure that all things are all the time crystal clear to all. And what is “clear,” after all–what the majority at any one pinpoint of myopic human history think? Understand this: the journey to Him and with Him is one by one, not en masse. There is no Scripture, no story, no experience of Him than cannot be gainsaid by the unbelieving. There must always be room for the personal discovery, the glory of hearing one’s own name called—”

EDWARDS: “Finally, then, what one believes doesn’t matter.”

JACK: “Not so; listen! It matters because at the end of self, to which all of us eventually come, awaits God. The path you take can be better or worse lit, can contain more or fewer obstacles, can be hastened or inhibited, can confuse or bless others on the journey.”

EDWARDS: “The end of self?”

JACK: “You know the story of the Prodigal? He couldn’t make the journey home until he came to the end of him-self, by which I mean, the Son meant, the end of our claims on self; forgive me, but let’s say it bluntly: when we die it is the end of our claims to use our and only our suspect lexicons and epistemologies to define ourselves, our neighbors, and the universe. We can choose to die now, die to self—or let death perform this function without our permission.

“A rather dreadful conclusion, mind you. On Terra, full, supernatural, trinitarian Christian faith, mere Christianity I hasten to add, truly represents this—if may I say it—disarmingly ‘wider’ view, a faith simultaneously affirming unique, significant personhood while also explaining how things went awry, and how God acted to put them back aright. Cosmic in import, compassionate in comport.

“‘Mere’ Christianity is resilient, you know: the regenerated life redeemed from the ravages of sectarian, culture-hued, gender-striven, zeitgeist-driven dogma. In a word, The Life He lived, and Lives.”

EDWARDS: “So, just where is this ‘mere’ Christianity, Jack?”

JACK: “All over, everywhere, if you seek it you will find it. But, mind you, it doesn’t come self-labeled. And it certainly isn’t, in the worst sense of that terran word, ‘popular.’ It won’t be on your Six O’clock News. It defies denominational possession. Rather it’s a journey you must choose to undertake for yourself. But there are some marvelous comrades along the way, I must say. I was just saying this to Søren K. the other day. . .”

EDWARDS: “Jack, I . . .”

JACK: “Must go, old fellow? Right. Good chatting. Sorry, very sorry I can’t be helpful in the way you’d like. But even if I could be, it would do you no good. You don’t need my answers, you need yours, the ones God grants you. And you shall have them!

“You see, in some ways, all of His answers to you will be analogous to all others He’s continually offering: ‘Come unto me ye heavy-laden and I will give you rest’; on the other hand, he comes to you, and you alone; what He says to you and how He says it–the ‘rest’ you get–I couldn’t begin to guess or articulate. That, thankfully, is His business.

“His only one, I might add. . .”

EDWARDS: But Jack, one more question. . .

But the conversation ended, abruptly, an unexpected crash by my ISP?

I left the display drained. Left to saunter on, quivering in the light of paradox, embarrassed by the poverty of my own intellect, chastened by the rediscovery of my mortality—desperate to verify what truly lies beyond it.


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