Review: C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian

C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian
C. S. Lewis and the Crisis of a Christian by Gregory S. Cootsona
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book does something different from most books about C. S. Lewis or his works. The purpose of this book is neither biography, nor an exposition or critique of part or all of the writing of Lewis. Rather, the writer seeks to introduce Lewis through the lens of the existential crises of life, as Lewis experienced them, as the author experienced them, and as we may experience them, either as atheists or Christians or in our common humanity.

Cootsona summarizes the life of Lewis around crises he experienced as an atheist, apologetic crises he grappled with as a Christian, and the existential crises of suffering, evil, and death that every human being must face and that Lewis faced in his own losses of mother and wife, as well as in his own final decline.

But this is not simply biography. Around these three major types of crises, Cootsona introduces us to what Lewis said and wrote about these matters. Thus, this book could serve as an introduction to the relevance of Lewis’s writing for a new generation of reader.

First of all he concerns himself with “crises” of atheism. One of these is the self-contradictory and self-defeating nature of naturalism–if there is no design, if all is random, and if rationality is an epiphenomenon, then our certainty about these assertions, and this very sentence are up for grabs. Naturalism can offer no real sense of meaning, yet we act as if life is meaningful. Finally, even though we can posit no basis in naturalism for any transcendent moral law, we act as if it is so, that there are things that are really wrong.

Then he moves on to crises peculiar to embracing Christian faith. One of these is the crisis of pluralism: how may we believe in the uniqueness of Christ when there are so many alternatives. Isn’t this simply one myth among many? In this context, Coosona introduces us to Lewis’s famous “liar-lunatic-Lord” trilemma. Secondly, he explores the question of authority and the nature of biblical authority. Here he “outs” Lewis as not among the inerrantists. Yet Lewis believed the Bible was authoritative because of Christ and the Church’s witness, because, for its human faults, it carried the Word of God, at even sections Lewis might consider “mythical” (such as the creation accounts) were not fictional but true, and that the Bible forms the lives of those who read it, including Lewis. Lewis believed the miracles that were recorded as historical facts, including the miracle of the resurrection. Thus, Lewis challenges both fundamentalists and liberal skeptics in the way he reads and understands the scriptures.

The final section explores existential questions. One is the question of emotivism. Ought I base my decisions simply upon feeling or are there moral standards that I might live by regardless of feelings? Second, how do we make sense of suffering? He explores not only the arguments in The Problem of Pain but also those in the more intensely personal A Grief Observed that explore both where purpose may be found in suffering and yet the fundamental mystery we face in much suffering. Finally we see how Lewis regarded death, including his own approaching death.

Throughout, Cootsona weaves together his own experiences, Lewis’s life and writing, as well as how this has proven helpful to others. Cootsona introduces us to some of his own archival research along the way where this illumines how Lewis might approach a question. Yet his priority focus is to demonstrate how the works of Lewis that are available to most readers address these crises of life.

That begs the question: do we need this book if we have Lewis’s books on our shelves? Strictly speaking, the answer is no. But for the skeptic or young believer who is not well-acquainted with Lewis, this book can serve as a helpful doorway into the works of Lewis. The book also serves as a basic apologetic for Christian faith for a person who is asking the questions or wrestling with the crises the book explores. I do think the book would be helped with recommended readings of Lewis at the end of each chapter relevant to the chapter discussion. There is a bibliography at the end that includes some material on where to start in reading Lewis and includes a lists of his works, biographies, and other scholarly work on Lewis.

[This review is based on a complimentary e-galley version of this book provided by the publisher through Netgalley. I have not been in any other way compensated for the review of this book.]

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