IVP - Addenda & Errata - The Next C. S. Lewis!

January 6, 2010

The Next C. S. Lewis!

Would the next C. S. Lewis please stand up? I’d like to meet you and sign you up for your next book or ten.

A number of years ago a theologian friend of mine was hailed as “the next C. S. Lewis” (or some such wording) in a review of one of his books in a prestigious religious journal.

Well, okay. It was the late Stan Grenz. And the journal was the Christian Century. I can’t remember what the book was, though I think it had an apologetic angle. At the time I knew that line would make great ad copy. (You couldn’t bribe a reviewer with too much to say that!) But at the time I also thought it was great nonsense. I knew Stan, respected him, liked him, even edited him and continue to miss him. But—no offence intended—I never imagined him to be a “next C. S. Lewis.” And I don’t hear anyone referring to him as such today.

That’s not the first time I’ve heard someone referred to as “the next C. S. Lewis.” And it wasn’t the last. One president of a Christian college likes to refer to N. T. Wright as “the C. S. Lewis for our time.” A Christian arts organization is said to have the goal of fostering the next C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien. And the opinionator Lisa Miller of Newsweek tells us that “[Tim] Keller is now pitching himself as a C. S. Lewis for the 21st century.” (I don’t think he is.)

It puzzles me why we think there will be or must be or should be another C. S. Lewis. Is it a nervous tick of recent orthodox or evangelical faith, this impulse to look for or identify another C. S. Lewis? Is it motivated by the idea that somehow, if C. S. Lewis were to show up, he would have all the answers and would slay the dragons of modernity or postmodernity? Is it a swooning over the perceived romance of Oxbridge life or Anglicanism? Or is it just editors thinking how great it would be if they discovered this new anointed one?

It is a bit of a strange thing the way this British English professor and lay theologian has risen to such a stature among evangelicals. On many theological particulars he didn’t and wouldn’t agree with many of today’s evangelicals, particularly those in the U.S. And I suspect that, on meeting him, many American evangelicals would have been put off.

I say all this as one who held him as a hero in my younger years and still admires him. But as the years have worn on, I’ve been repeatedly amazed at the ceaseless lionizing of this man. And I’ve observed one or two who knew Lewis in some marginal capacity or another make handsome capital of it. If they had only copied down every word Lewis had spoken in their presence, they would have had the makings of a book.

But back to the next C. S. Lewis. C. S. Lewis was C. S. Lewis. It’s best to quit this nonsense and just take people—in all their unique giftedness—as they come to us over the horizon. It is perfectly sensible to say, “Her prose reminds me in certain ways of C. S. Lewis’s writing” or “His argumentation is reminiscent of C. S. Lewis” or whatever more modest language of comparison comes to mind. But I think we (particularly those of us in publishing) skew our perceptions and engage in self-serving hype when we seek out or claim to have found “the next C. S. Lewis.” The next whomever will be uniquely themselves, and we will see them more clearly, appreciate them more fully and do them less harm if we leave it at that.

[Note to editorial self: Look for the next modest approximation to C. S. Lewis. If you do find him or her, keep it on the down low. And whatever you do, don’t mention it to competing publishers.]

Posted by Dan Reid at January 6, 2010 9:35 AM Bookmark and Share

Comments

Good word. Isn't it odd that "the next C. S. Lewis" is almost always someone writing in theology, apologetics, or some kind of spiritual formation genre? Once or twice, I've heard a children's author hailed as "the next C. S. Lewis," but never a sci-fi novelist or satirist. I don't recall any literature scholars receiving the label, either.

I recently asked friends on Facebook to recommend good books (on any subject) for undergrads to read. C. S. Lewis was the most recommended author, but there wasn't a single book of his recommended more than once. Perhaps part of his appeal is that his great variety of writing resonates with so many different kinds of people.

Comment by: Mike Hickerson at January 6, 2010 10:43 AM

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