The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis is a worldview game-changer. Rather, it’s a book about how certain attempted changes to the game are bringing an end to humanity, and in the name of humanity. That’s bad.
Ward’s book is a commentary on Lewis’s book, with background material and line by line explanations of references and persons that Lewis assumed his 1943 academic audience would know.
As with many commentaries, After Humanity is three times the length of Abolition‘s original text. Yet Ward knows his stuff (Ward’s Planet Narnia is one of my all-time favorite books), and the extra pages will repay the effort of reading. Maybe read Lewis three or ten times, then read Ward, then go back to Lewis yet again.
This is a classic, relevant before it was even published as a book, and relevant ever since, with eternally relevant questions for non-Christians and immediately relevant reminders for believers. You should read it.
I’d known about the book for a long time but had never read it. Then, a few weeks ago when war started (again) between Russian and Ukraine, I saw on the tweetstream someone mention that he had started reading Mere Christianity, and I remembered that Lewis originally prepared most of the material for the book as he shared it over a radio broadcast series in England during WW II. Similar contexts, then and now, made now seem like the right time for me to pick it up.
I didn’t realize how many Lewis-ian ideas came from Mere Christianity. This is where the “Lord, Liar, or Lunatic” apologetic comes from. It’s where he says, “the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next” and “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.” It’s where he quotes George MacDonald that as a Father “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.” And it’s where he talks about how men who try to be original can’t be, but “if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before), you will, nine times out of the, become original without ever having noticed it.”
I don’t agree with Lewis (because I disagree with his reading of the Bible) on the degree of freedom in man’s will, and he is wrong (again, according to Scripture) about how some “people in other religions … [can] belong to Christ without knowing it.” While these false things can’t be ignored, they are, ironically, defeated by so many of the true things that Lewis says.
God is killing our need to be needed, and He is doing more than making us “nice,” He is making us new men. Mere Christianity will edify and fortify such men.
A few years ago I began to talk about #MEGA, Make Easter Great Again, not because it ever stopped being great, but in order to remind us of how great it really is.
It’s not the day per se, and it’s not limited to the doctrine. The resurrection itself declares that God received the sacrifice of His Son and vindicated all the Son’s claims. He “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4, ESV). The resurrection, as objective and historical truth, did it.
If Jesus is resurrected, then God is pleased with you who believe in Jesus because you’ve been raised with Him. If Jesus is raised from the dead, then your account with God has been settled. It is finished.
And also He is not finished with us. He will be, and we can share Paul’s confidence. “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV). But at the present time God is willing and working in us (Philippians 2:13), and our perfect heavenly Father wants the same for His sons: perfection.
C. S. Lewis put it this way:
It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. (Mere Christianity, Location 2504)
“You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3, ESV). The realities of Easter remind you that He is making you a new self and renewing you through the knowledge of the living Christ (Colossians 3:10).
I recently saw a guy I follow online post that he had started to read Mere Christianity. I remembered that that book began as a series of radio broadcasts by C. S. Lewis in England during WWII. Of all the Lewis lit I’ve read, that book isn’t one of them, so I thought, in light of what I see in the rest of my news feed, maybe there’s no time like the present.
It’s in that book that Lewis gives his Lord, Liar, or Lunatic argument. It’s fool’s work to claim that Jesus was merely a good teacher. Jesus said things that either were life giving truths or damnable lies. He was from heaven, or He was straight from the pit. He claimed to be the Son of God, and nice guys who aren’t God don’t say that sort thing. So Jesus was either crazy, or a conniver, or Lord of the cosmos.
It’s the immediately preceding context in Lewis’ book that struck me. The thing Lewis highlights is that Jesus forgave sin.
Remember the paralytic in Matthew 9. Jesus told him, in front of the scribes, that in order to know that the Son of Man had authority to forgive sin, the man could also rise up and walk. The healing by His word is a miracle. But the authority of His forgiveness is more awesome.
But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. (Loc. 792)
Jesus asked and asks no man’s permission to forgive. It’s said that to forgive is divine, and amen. He is Lord, and He is Lord of forgiveness.
I put a link to this in my convocation notes, but it needs its own call-out. For what it’s worth, I actually searched for an online reading of “Learning in Wartime” before my first college Greek class of the year, but wasn’t satisfied with what I found so I read the whole thing myself. Glenn posted this the next day. I’ll be sharing this link with others in the future.
Here are the notes from my Convocation address at ECS yesterday.
The word perspective derives from two Latin words, the preposition per meaning “through” and the verb speciō meaning “I look.” We might think of a person with perspective like a bird, high enough to see a broader landscape, or as one using a telescope, far enough away to see how things relate. But at its root, someone with perspective is someone who is able to look through. Someone who can look through is someone who can see clearly as if having found a window in the wall.
From a calendar perspective, we are only on the first day of an entire school year, and so we have a long way to go. From an institutional perspective, we are on the first day of year ten, and so we have come a long way. From even another perspective, not just looking at time, we can see through the fog and know that what we have here is something special.
Follow me here. Perspective enables us to see that what we have is special, and I’d say that what’s really special is that we have perspective. My evidence for that is all the laughter. Bona fide laughter requires perspective.
Both our mission statement and our motto talk about laughter. Here’s our mission:
We commend the works of the Lord to another generation with the tools of classical education, weaponized laughter, and sacrificial labors so that they will carry and advance Christ-honoring culture.
Our motto is: Risus est bellum, or Laughter is war.
We talk about laughter, and in the nine finished years of ECS, there has been nothing more difficult, and nothing more important, than laughter. This kind of laughing is not mostly due to a specific personality type, though it’s certainly true that laughing comes easier to some than the melancholy. I feel as if I have a good view of what this laughter looks like, like a drowning man looks up at the water’s surface with desperate attention and desire to reach it. Laughter is that important.
Of course not all laughter is the same. Solomon had some unflattering things to say about chuckling fatheads.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; (Ecclesiastes 7:6)
Thorns in fire heat up fast, but don’t last. They burn out before providing any real benefit. The laughter of fools is as useless as it is noisy.
If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet. (Proverbs 29:9)
Fools laugh because they can’t see the bigger picture and because they don’t want to look at the immediate problems. A fool’s cackle is mere defense mechanism, making a racket against the reasonable.
Weaponized laughter, the kind we’re after at ECS, is laughter from faith for faith. It is able to see through the current troubles to what God is accomplishing in them. We have some historical examples surrounding us in a great cloud of witnesses.
“When sometimes I sit alone, and have a settled assurance of the state of my soul, and know that God is my God, I can laugh at all troubles, and nothing can daunt me.”
Latimer was the same English Reformer burned at the stake in 1555 with Nicholas Ridley, when Latimer is reported to have said:
“Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
That is the kind of thing you can only say with perspective. A man with the perspective of faith in God can “laugh at all troubles” even to the point of greatest sacrifice.
John Bunyan, who lived less than a hundred years after Latimer, also in England, was the sort of man who had perspective enough to laugh, and his counsel for those being persecuted:
“Has thou escaped? Laugh. Art thou taken? Laugh. I mean, be pleased which soever things shall go, for that the scales are still in God’s hands.”
Godly laughter is God-trusting laughter.
It’s why David wrote, “The righteous shall see and fear, and laugh” (Psalm 52:5). Not only did David have perspective, while on the run from King Saul and from Doeg the Edomite, he was laughing at the man who didn’t have perspective. Doeg seemed to have the upper hand, and he had the King favor, but he wouldn’t make God his refuge. The righteous see right through that.
We will be tempted not to laugh for a number of reasons, especially because of our work. This is true of students, new and old, true of parents, and true for teachers, a thing I know by personal testimony. Temptations come because:
The work is unknown, and we don’t know what we’re doing. There’s a certain level of discomfort, and fearfulness is an easier default than trying while laughing.
The work is unenjoyable, and we don’t like what we’ve been assigned. It’s easier to do the job with more whining than laughing.
The work doesn’t have enough time (from our perspective) to get finished. It’s easier to be flustered than to be laughing.
The work (we got finished) isn’t perfect. It’s easier to to be proudly irritated than to humbly laugh.
The work is tiring. It’s easier to belly ache rather than belly laugh.
The work is unappreciated, at least not praised as immediately as we’d like. It’s easier to fuss than to laugh.
Are you doing your work from faith and for faith? Are you doing your work “heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23)? Then trust the Creator of time with the use and fruit of the time He gives you. The woman who fears the Lord has such an approach.
Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. (Proverbs 31:25)
There is a potent sort of laughing, and it’s the sign of a virtuous man.
You’ve got to be able to not get sucked in by the complainers, to keep your cool when everyone is freaking out about the assignment, to be patient even when the deadline is looming. Laugh in faith because your life is bigger than your grade, and then laugh in thanks when you got a better grade than you probably deserved.
“If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.”
Choose this day which character you will be, Distracted, Fearful, Grumpy, or Dopey. How about instead we aim to be those who are laughing in wartime?
I also said the following on the first day of ECS, 3290 days ago:
“We don’t want our kids to want someone else to do it. We don’t want them to wait for all things safe and predictable and comfortable, for the “perfect” conditions. We don’t want them to work in reliance on their giftedness but rather because they believe God. We want them to walk by faith, ready to deal with the challenges of the battle even if they don’t have all the resources. We want them to be starters and singers. We want them to be just like us, only better. We want them to have first days like this, only bigger.”
As we present ourselves as living sacrifices to Him, and as He blesses the fruit of our hands and homework, we will sing with the psalmist:
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. (Psalm 126:2-3)
May the Lord give us His perspective on 2021-22 and fill our mouths with laughter.
God created us with abilities and appetites and affections. One of the abilities He gave us is to be able to consider our abilities and appetites and affections. Even though we do not always act rationally, we can, and should, grow in applying our understanding to our wanting. God enables this sort of higher attention when He gives us new spiritual life, and He increases it as He sanctifies us.
Certain of our appetites seem to be not only short-term, but urgent. That’s not necessarily or always bad, but it’s usually better to have a bigger context than whatever our body is telling us at the moment. This is, as just one example, a reason that people “sleep on” a big decision. They may see the possibility of an immediate good, but something in them wants to pull back and survey the bigger picture.
We are wired for context. Everyone has a framework through which they measure and prioritize what they choose and how they respond to the choices of others. Not only in our consciences but in the story part of our minds we know that a final reckoning will occur.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
There is an angle of this that applies to evangelism. Everyone has done evil, and no one can do enough good to outdo the consequences of the evil;. So God’s law shows that we need salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (see Galatians 3:23-24).
For those who already believe, we should make sure to keep our frameworks updated that because we believe we obey, and we obey with a desire for His approval. While there is no condemnation for us (Romans 8:1), there is also no good reason to hold back from doing good (Romans 8:4). We are created, and we are saved, for good works (Ephesians 2:10). What glory it will be when, after doing those good works, we hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Our motivation is more than avoiding brute force punishment, but pleasing our heavenly Father. Our appetite for that can’t be too strong.
To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.
This was my third full time through the book, and I’ve read large chunks more times than that. I’d give it seven stars out of five if that was possible. This time I got to read it with my college astronomy class, to whom I assigned it, and I enjoyed sharing Ward’s discoveries with them and hearing their thoughts. I can’t assign it to everyone, but I can recommend it to everyone, whether for insight into world of Narnia or just for considering the unique power of donegality in fiction.
I give this book 10 out of 5 stars. It is my favorite fiction book of all that I’ve read. It is prescient, auspicious, faith-building, and fun. I had wanted to reread it when the pandemic lockdowns began last March (2020), and didn’t get around to start listening until December, but, wow, it’s still double-plus-extra good.
We seem to be living in a bitter mix of 1984/Brave New World, but the world is much more like Lewis’ vision, even though Orwell hated it and wrote his dystopian nostrum against it. Read THS. Listen to it. Again and again. Get yourself to St. Anne’s.
Notes from my address at the inaugural convocation of Comeford College on September 6
Good evening, Mr. President, Founding Members, First Teaching Fellows, Beginning Students, and Guests. It is not a surprise that I have the opportunity to speak to you, but it is no less of a privilege.
Ten years from now the Comeford College convocation will be different, Deo volente. If the Lord blesses this work, we will know then so many more things that we don’t know now. But it will be a glorious decade if we pay attention.
There are some things that are good upon first encounter, that you find out more about later, that make it all even better. Part of what makes them better is that you had a bite, so your appetite was engaged, but then you get the full spread on the table.
On the back cover of the first book I ever read about classical education is the quote by C. S. Lewis, “The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.” You don’t need to start a school to appreciate that reality, but it is possible for one’s respect for that wisdom to multiply.
How much more did my appreciation grow when years later I came across that quote in its native habitat, an essay titled “Learning in Wartime.” Lewis addressed the Oxford undergraduates only 51 days after Germany invaded Poland marking the start of WWII. His sermon was originally called, “None Other Gods: Culture in War Time,” in which he attempted to answer the question, “What is the use of beginning a task which we have so little chance of finishing?” He argued that not only will mankind search out music and meaning in the middle of great conflict, Christians must do it for God’s sake. I have assigned my Greek students to read that essay in its entirety before our first class on Tuesday night; they will not have to wait as long as I did to appreciate the full spread of unfavourable conditions.
A similar thing happened with another quote that has only grown richer and more costly, that has come to focus our energies while expanding our work. In a way, I suppose it was the seed that grew into tonight, sown in my mind in 2004.
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'”
The quote is, of course, from Abraham Kuyper. I heard the quote used by another preacher, and used it numerous times in sermons myself, starting with a message on Solus Christus, long before I began to care about Latin as a language whatsoever. As they say in hermeneutics class: That’ll preach!
I came across the quote again early in 2011 while reading a book about liturgy. The book is titled Our Worship, written by Abraham Kuyper, the first full book I read by him. In footnote number one in the Introduction, I learned that “square inch” is the Dutch phrase een duimbreed (pronounced “uhn dime-brrate”) which refers to the small distance between the sides of the thumb: a thumb’s-width. Everything thing we touch or frame, even what we thumb our noses at, Christ claims as His.
For the real goosebump part, do you know the context in which Kuyper said it? He said it in October 1880 in his inaugural charge to the Free University of Amsterdam. Kuyper talked about all Christ’s creation and sphere sovereignty and the Christian’s obligation to be interested in every sphere Christ is interested in when he launched a college.
In that address he said, “To put it mildly, our undertaking bears a protest against the present environment and suggests that something better is possible.” Yes!
There is a great crisis, a current and global crisis, that concerns not a virus or politicians, it is not a crisis of economics or higher education. It is a crisis that involves a living Person. The crux of our concern is the recognition of a King, who came and was crucified, who rose again, ascended into heaven, after promising to come again. “That King of the Jews is either the saving truth to which all peoples say Amen or the principal lie which all peoples should oppose.”
Will men and women confess that Jesus is Lord? Will they obey Him as Lord? Or will they say that man, and man’s mind, his technology, his methods, and his laws are lord? We will either confess that the “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are in Christ (Colossians 2:3), or contest that claim as delusional and harmful. These two approaches are “the only two mighty antagonists that plumb life down to the root. And so they are worth people risking their own lives for and disturbing the lives of others.”
Think of all the things God has created, visible and invisible, the things He has put in front of the class, so to speak, and those He’s hidden, the Logos and the order and the beauty, the harmonies and tastes and healing medicines. Think of man’s call to take dominion (Genesis 1:28), and yet also of how the unbelieving world can’t help but miss and misrepresent God’s greatness and wisdom. Here is where we need Christian thinkers, a Christian consciousness that finds and defends the sciences and arts of Christ. Those who won’t fear the Lord can have no true wisdom or wonder.
We must buckle down and build up our understanding of Christ’s sovereignty over and in every sphere, from the center to the circumference. We must learn how each cogwheel fits with the others and functions in the great machine of the cosmos. We must see that the world and life and death and the present and the future, all are ours, and we are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (1 Corinthians 3:22-23).
This is not your father’s Bible college, which is true in a very real sense. How I wish I could have taken this program. But we learn more as we go on, and now it’s time to start. We have learning to do for living and for influencing those around us. That influence won’t happen by floating in feelings and fancy. The college is our effort to reify Kuyperianism, to knead the idea into bread. We have a memory of what we’ve been given, and we have stewardship of a godward, intellectual life. The disruption of the world is no good excuse to stop loving the Lord our God with all of our minds (Matthew 22:37).
As Kuyper acknowledged through his address, it would be easy to laugh at not just the project, but at the persons committed to it. The Free University began with a mere eight students and five professors. Who do they think they are? Isn’t this pretentious? Isn’t it presumptuous? Isn’t it preposterous? I can say, it may be contrary to common sense, and that is fine, because most of what we see that’s common in education makes no sense. It may also fail to observe our limits, it is audacious, but it is by faith. So we aren’t striking a pose, we are desperate to be faithful.
I have two aimed charges to give, and one final defense.
My first charge, which may be unsuspected, is to everyone here who is not a teacher or student at the college. In years to come convocations charges will no doubt be different. But actually, there won’t be college years to come without you.
These few students need very little explanation of their responsibilities, because by choosing Comeford College they have already counted a great cost. Each one of them could do other things, go almost anywhere else. The world is small, they are capable, and the options are virtually endless.
In their Cost/Benefit Analysis, they will pay less tuition than at most other schools, but the cost to their reputations will at least be on loan. They, not their parents, have chosen to deal with more questions resulting in quizzical looks. “Where do you go to college?” Answering Comeford College will get the follow ups, “Where is that? Why did you choose that?”
We don’t have departments. We don’t have a Student Life Center. We don’t yet offer a degree or diploma. We don’t even have our own coffee pot.
Which means that these students have chosen what they cannot get at any other school: you. They have chosen their people, they have chosen their community. They are putting themselves on the line, risks and possible rewards, for more than themselves. They could have invested their talents in another field, they certainly could have done something easier. While I sometimes talk about loving Marysville into a destination, they have turned Marysville into a stay-stination.
As worship requires an assembly, so a college requires a community. Not everyone in the community needs to attend, but everyone one in the community should be blessed by college students who live for more than college. Your charge is to support them. Maybe it’s your job to give them a job; be a modern day patron. Maybe it’s your job to open a place where they could hang out and study and drink coffee, or beer when they are finally old enough in a few years. At the least pray for them. You are to help make them jealous-able.
Students, your only charge for today is: remember that Jesus, who is Sovereign over all, looks at you and says, “Mine!” Your class hours, your books, your late nights, your leisure time, and you yourself are His. You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. All are yours, and you are Christ’s.
So have I been talking too excitedly about this? Perhaps. But this convocation is like pushing an old manual car that won’t start down a hill: it needs enough speed before letting the clutch out. We can see the mountain on the other side, so we need as much launch momentum as we can get.
“As surely as we loved [Christ] with our souls, we must build again in His name. And when it seemed of no avail, when we looked upon our meager power, the strength of the opposition, the preposterousness of so bold an undertaking, the fire still kept burning in our bones.” (Kuyper)
Abraham Kuyper died exactly 100 years ago in 1920; we consider the outcome of his way of life and imitate his faith (Hebrews 13:7). As future generations look back with hindsight at the start of Comeford College in 2020, may they sit under the shade of a great tree and give thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ for the seed planted today.