C. S. Lewis understood his times well and responded brilliantly. One of his most substantive rebukes—and one that’s particularly relevant today—was his condemnation of chronological snobbery. This view asserts that what we believe today must be true because it’s most recent. It assumes that we’ve evolved intellectually so our beliefs must be better than those of less enlightened people of the past.
C. S. Lewis modeled disagreement in a variety of helpful ways. Sometimes, he declared that particular ideas were wrong. Early in Mere Christianity he anticipated the objection against universal morality: “I know some people say . . . different civilisations and different ages have had quite different moralities.” He simply followed with “But this is not true.” Only after drawing this hard line in the sand did he offer support for his strong claim.
Sometimes, he softened his words when others might have sharpened theirs. This works especially well when countering common misconceptions about the gospel. For example, when Lewis addressed the claim that Christianity is just a bunch of rules to follow, he gently responded, “I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.”
In some instances, his brilliant reasoning skills allowed him to dismantle arguments before offering the truth. Such was the case when he responded to the claim that Jesus was just a good man but not God: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.” He also took on the idea that Jesus never claimed to be God. Some said it was his disciples who invented those statements. Lewis responded, “The theory only saddles you with twelve inexplicable lunatics instead of one.”
Of course, when responding to less-than-sincere objections, he felt no need to mince words:
There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of “Heaven” ridiculous by saying they do not want “to spend eternity playing harps.” The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.
Does that seem too harsh? It probably is for most of us in most of our situations. But bear in mind the dramatic differences between the contexts we inhabit (usually one-on-one conversations with a friend) and Lewis’s platforms (radio broadcasts, public speeches, or arguments in books). It fits some situations to make sweeping or pointed declarations. Often, though, we should temper the boldness of our rebukes. But even when sitting across the table from a confused friend, our gentle pushbacks need to be both genuinely gentle and genuinely pushbacks.
Reading the Times
C. S. Lewis understood his times well and responded brilliantly. One of his most substantive rebukes—and one that’s particularly relevant today—was his condemnation of chronological snobbery.