An interesting take on one of the great thinkers of our time.
‘The third part of the book, titled “Christian Behaviour,” is the most professional, and there is a reason for that. As well as teaching English literature, Lewis had at one stage taught philosophy. He knew his way round the classic discussions of the virtues and vices and how they operate. He also submitted himself to regular, serious spiritual direction, and as well as knowing the intellectual framework of behavior, both classical and Christian, he was deeply alert to the nuances of motivation and action, able to articulate moods and behavior patterns that for most people, in his day and ours, remain a mystery.
I suspect that one of the great appeals of his book, then and now, is that it gives one a grammar of everyday morality, enabling one to understand and speak a highly useful and indeed mellifluous language most of us didn’t know existed. Some of his moral discussions are small classics.
He is superb on generosity. He sticks a small but sharp pin into the system of usury on which the entire modern world is based. He is fascinating and fresh on sex (though of course even more deeply unfashionable today than then); and his reflections on marriage, despite his bachelor disclaimers, are worth pondering deeply (especially his final comments about it being important for the man to be in charge of what he calls the couple’s “foreign policy”).
He is clear and challenging on forgiveness, spot on in his analysis of pride and its centrality, and shrewd and helpful on the fact that charity is not an emotion but a determination to act in a particular way, and that to our surprise we find that when, without anyfeelingof love towards someone, we actas ifwe loved them, we discover that the feelings bubble up unbidden, so that we end by feeling in reality what before we had merely determined to do.
At this point, of course, we come up against Lewis’s implied soteriology, and I suspect that others have challenged him on this point. Several times he insists, effectively, on the priority of grace: We can’t save ourselves, but God does it, takes the initiative, rescues those who couldn’t rescue themselves. But equally often he speaks as though it’s really a matter, as with Aristotle, of our becoming good by gradually learning to do good things, and with Jesus coming alongside, and indeedinside, to help us as we do so. Salvation, and behavior, are caught by infection, by our being in Christ and his being in us.
I suspect that Lewis never really worked all this out; and I suspect, too, that the outsider looking in doesn’t need to, either. I know that’s heresy in some circles, but I think it’s important that we are justified by faith: not by believing in justification by faith, but by believing in Jesus Christ. Obviously a clear understanding of justification would help a great deal, but I don’t myself regard that as the first thing to explain to a potential convert. Sufficient to draw them to Jesus.’