C.S. Lewis Interview: Joe Rigney

C.S. Lewis The Wardrobe Door

To celebrate 10 years of blogging here at The Wardrobe Door, I wanted to speak with some others who read, appreciate and study C.S. Lewis. Over the next two weeks, each day will feature an interview with one of these individuals (and maybe a few more).

Joe RigneyToday, I talk with Joe Rigney. He is Assistant Professor of Theology and Christian Worldview and Institutional Writer at Bethlehem College and Seminary.

He is also author of Live Like A Narnian: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles (which you can get on sale from Amazon now through Christmas) and the upcoming The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts.

Wardrobe Door: What do you remember about reading C.S. Lewis for the first time?

Joe Rigney: I don’t remember my first encounter with Narnia, though I’m sure it was the first thing of Lewis’s that I read. I distinctly remember reading Mere Christianity for the first time when I was about 13 or 14 and finding it unspeakably stimulating.

In other words, the clarity of the argumentation resonated at a deep level with me, but I was unable to articulate the profundity of the argument. I remember trying to explain Lewis’s arguments to my parents in my own words, and being frustrated that I couldn’t help them see how amazing it was.

I also remember insisting that we give it to some unbelieving intellectual family members because I thought it might help them to see the reasonableness of Christianity. Suffice it to say, that first encounter with Lewis’s apologetics left a mark.

WD: While it may be next to impossible to answer, what is your favorite Lewis work, one you consider most overlooked, and one that you tend to enjoy less than others?

I’ll confess that I haven’t read all of Lewis’s works. While I’m tempted to say that Narnia is my favorite, I won’t. Instead, I’d say either The Space Trilogy (especially That Hideous Strength) or The Screwtape Letters.

The Space Trilogy contains some almost prophetic analysis of our present day and the conflicts that animate it, as well as some keen depictions of human interactions. Read That Hideous Strength along with The Abolition of Man, “The Inner Ring” (which may actually be my favorite), and “Membership.” Since the latter two are included in Weight of Glory, it gives me a chance to mention Lewis’s sermon, which I probably read every few months.

Most overlooked work would be his essays. I read Present Concerns on an airplane recently and was struck with a number of Lewis’ insights (the article “Talking About Bicycles” was particularly interesting).

The one I enjoy less than others is Reflections on the Psalms. There are some great insights in this book, but when Lewis starts in on the imprecatory psalms not being inspired, I get frustrated, because I think he ought to know better (or at least seek out those who do).

WD: Here are 50 of my favorite, what is your favorite Lewis quote?

This one’s easy for me. King Lune’s words about kingship in The Horse and His Boy.

For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.

First In, Last Out, Laughing Loudest. That more or less describes my approach to being a husband, father, and leader. (For more on how this fleshes out in a vision of manhood, see my chapter “Masculinity Handed Down” in Good: The Joy of Christian Manhood and Womanhood.)

WD: Why do you think he continues to maintain such influence in modern evangelicalism?

Off the top of my head, I’d give three reasons. First, Narnia. They’re just great children’s stories that have layers and depths that you can write books about.

Second, his tone in all of his works. It’s very conversational, as though Lewis is a good friend who is tackling an issue with you. He’s brilliant, but doesn’t lord his intelligence over you. Instead, he comes alongside and helps you to see things in a new way.

Finally, I think he’s unbelievably perceptive about our true motivations, our self-justifications, the lies we tell ourselves, and the glories that hide all around us. And he’s able to expose those lies without being a jerk, and he’s able to awaken us to the glory through an unusual gift with words, imagery, and metaphor.

WD: Like all of us, Lewis wasn’t perfect. Where do you find yourself disagreeing with him or his approach?

I already mentioned Reflections on the Psalms. While I respect his intentions with Emeth in The Last Battle (and I don’t think it’s as bad an error as some), it’s still off from where I sit.

Lewis also advocated for the separation of civil marriage from sacred marriage (an argument that is having a much stronger showing in our day). I think he’s just plain wrong about it.

There’s probably others that I could think of, but the nice thing about Lewis is that I think he was on the right trajectory. In other words, there are people who hold some of his erroneous positions today that I’m far more concerned about, because I suspect they’re moving in the direction that Lewis is coming from.

He seems to me to be always moving further up and further in to biblical truth, and, like all of us, he hadn’t arrived. Others who cite him for support are moving in the opposite direction, and one of the things I’ve learned from Lewis is that trajectory matters.

WD: If you had to choose, what is the most invaluable lesson you learned from him?

I love Lewis’s earthiness. His fingerprints are all over my latest project (The Things of Earth, coming in January from Crossway). Lewis has profoundly helped me in seeing how creation and the gifts of God can be rightly related to God himself.

I could try to unpack that, but it’s probably easier to just point people to the new book and to leave your readers with a quote from Letters to Malcolm:

I have tried, since that moment, to make every pleasure a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I mean something different. How shall I put it? We can’t—or I can’t—hear the song of a bird simply as a sound. Its meaning or message (“That’s a bird”) comes with it inevitably—just as one can’t see a familiar word in print as a merely visual pattern.

The reading is as involuntary as the seeing. When the wind roars I don’t just hear the roar; I “hear the wind.” In the same way it is possible to “read” as well as to “have” a pleasure. Or not even “as well as.” The distinction ought to become, and sometimes is, impossible; to receive it and to recognize its divine source are a single experience.

This heavenly fruit is instantly redolent of the orchard where it grew. This sweet air whispers of the country from whence it blows. It is a message. We know we are being touched by a finger of that right hand at which there are pleasures for evermore. There need be no question of thanks or praise as a separate event, something done afterwards. To experience the tiny theophany is itself to adore.

Gratitude exclaims, very properly, “How good of God to give me this.” Adoration says, “What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!” One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.