Is Your Lord Large Enough?, Peter J. Schakel. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008.
Summary: This book looks at the contribution Lewis made, particularly through the way his books engage the imagination, to the spiritual formation of Christians, exploring a number of the matters crucial to their growth in Christ.
Peter J. Schakel has written a number of fine books on C.S. Lewis including one on Till We Have Faces (Reason and Imagination in C.S. Lewis: A Study of Till We Have Faces) that I found incredibly helpful as a book group I was in was struggling to make sense of this greatest but most challenging fiction works of Lewis. So when I noticed this on one of my stacks of unread books, I thought I would give it a read.
In this book, Schakel turns to the writing of Lewis on topics concerning the formation of Christians and what he does is provide a “digest” of Lewis’s writing around each topic from his letters, fiction, and non-fiction books and essays. The topics are:
- Is Your Lord Large Enough?
- God’s Time and Our Time
- The Meaning of Prayer
- What Can We Pray For?
- God’s Grace and Our Goodness
- Keeping Love Alive
- Why We Need The Church
- Keeping Things Under Control
- Making Sense Out of Suffering
- Room for Doubt
- Coming to an End
- Picturing Heaven
In one sense, like so many books on the writing of C.S. Lewis, you can get all these things simply by reading Lewis, which I wholeheartedly recommend. Yet this work is a helpful one both for the person who has never read Lewis who wants to consider what he has to say on these topics as well as for one like me who has read Lewis but is happy to be reminded of things I’d seen and surprised by the things I’ve missed.
The chapters on prayer I found to be among the most insightful. The longer I go, the more true I find Lewis’s statement on truly praying: “May it be the real I that speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.” So many problems I’ve had in prayer come of speaking from a “false self” and speaking to false perceptions of God. Perhaps the most challenging in his chapter on what we can pray for are his words on praying for enemies. Lewis prayed for Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini as well as more personal enemies as a regular practice.
“Keeping love alive” distills the wealth of insight on the “four loves” that one finds in Lewis both in the work by this title and in Till We Have Faces which explores what happens when we love inordinately. In his chapter on the church, Lewis anticipates contemporary authors like Rachel Held Evans in writing of his struggles to embrace the church only to discover that he needed both the sacrament and his neighbors in the pews. It is also here that Schakel discusses Lewis’s warnings about seeking to be part of “inner rings”.
Schakel summarizes Lewis’s attempts to address some of the hardest challenges we face in terms of suffering and doubt. He calls attention to Lewis’s belief that suffering in fact is God’s way of getting our attention and breaking our illusions of self-sufficiency. He wisely counsels in terms of doubt that we should never try to make ourselves think or feel in a certain way, but simply to continue to live in the Way, both pursuing the questions honestly that we wrestle with and continuing to act in obedient faith in the things not in question.
His final chapters explore the matters of death and our everlasting hope. We see here perhaps more than anywhere how totally converted Lewis is in his unblinking and even joyous acceptance of the reality of death and the hope of resurrection beyond. And with this is the vivid reality of heaven, a world more real than our own, for Lewis.
Each chapter concludes with reflection questions. The book concludes with a brief biography of Lewis as well as a topical and chronological listing of Lewis’s work and an extensive bibliography of other works on Lewis and his writing.
This book is currently out of print, according to the publisher, although available in e-book formats, or used via your bookseller or online. Given the spate of books on Lewis and his work, I can see how this one may be overlooked. I found it helpful for its insights into the work of Lewis, as well as into the life to which Lewis bore witness.