SEBTS’s Michael Travers Joins Paul Fiddes and Others for New Book on C. S. Lewis

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For those readers with an admiration for C. S. Lewis, Michael Travers’s commentary on Lewis’s writings provides rich and sumptuous fare. Travers’s most recent contribution is an essay in the forthcoming volume, C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra: Reshaping the Image of the Cosmos (Kent State University Press; July 2013). This work brings together a world-class group of literary and theological scholars and Lewis specialists that includes Paul S. Fiddes, Monika B. Hilder, Sanford Schwartz, Michael Travers, and Michael Ward. 

For those of BtT’s readers who are uninitiated, Lewis’s Perelandra is a theologically ambitious piece of imaginative science fiction writing. The Kent State volume emphasizes its theological nature and shows how the novel synthesizes cosmology, mythology, and Christianity. The first selection of essays treats cosmology, while the second selection treats morality and meaning. For those interested in Lewis, sci-fi, literature, and theology (and all combined), pick up a copy of this new volume here.

We invite you to attend The College at Southeastern or Southeastern Seminary, where you can study C. S. Lewis under Dr. Travers’ tutelage.

Dr. Travers (Ph.D., Michigan State University) is Professor of English at The College at Southeastern, where he also serves as Associate Vice President and Senior Fellow of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture. He is the author of The Devotional Experience in the Poetry of John Milton (Edwin Mellen), Encountering God in the Psalms (Kregel), and co-author with Richard D. Patterson of Face to Face With God: Human Images of God in the Bible (Biblical Studies Press), and has published articles in Bibliotheca Sacra, Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Baker), Journal of Evangelical Theological Society, and Westminster Theological Journal. Dr. Travers is known as a master teacher, a mentor to young faculty, and a fine writer.

For more info on Dr. Travers and our other professors visit our website (http://www.sebts.edu/ or http://www.sebts.edu/college/) and check out the Admissions and Academics links.

 

Briefly Noted: On Long Walks and Deep Thoughts

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In a recent edition of The Chronicle Review, Robert E. Manning holds forth on the virtues of taking long walks in order to stimulate deep thoughts.[1] In the article, “Long Walks, Deep Thoughts,” he begins by noting, “One of my favorite parts of the day is the half-hour walk between my home and campus, when I reflect on my teaching and research. Lately, I’ve been walking farther, hiking some of the world’s great long-distance trails….Every day on the trail is an adventure that engages me both physically and intellectually.” Although most of us consider walking to be rather “pedestrian,” it in fact is a psychosomatic marvel.

Manning notes the long and storied association between walking and thinking. Aristotle walked as he taught at the Lyceum in ancient Athens. Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that industrialization and urbanization are harmful for humanity, and implied that humanity (including humanity’s capacity for deep thinking) is better off walking in a natural setting than sitting in an urban factory. “There is something about walking that stimulates and enlivens my thoughts,” writes Rousseau. “I can only meditate when I’m walking….When I stop I cease to think; my mind works only with my legs.” Likewise, Romantic thinkers such as Wordsworth, Thoreau, and Muir were walker-thinkers.

Less well-known are the walking habits of Charles Dickens. As Manning describes it, “Charles Dickens may have been the ultimate urban walker, logging as many as 20 miles a day in his native London. Those rambles not only gave him welcome respite from his writing desk but also enlivened his work with the grim details of city life that made his novels famous.” Manning goes on to detail the connection between walking and thinking in Alfred Kazin’s A Walker in the City, in Muslim hajjs, and in Christian pilgrimages.

As I read Manning’s, article, I made some personal connections between walking and thinking, and made some historical connections between Christian thinkers who walked while they thought.

The personal resonance is what drew me into the article. My childhood included may long walks on the sidewalks of the small town in which I grew up and on the golf course where I worked and played. In college, I remember taking long walks in the woods outside of Campbell University in order to clear my mind or to assess some of the things I was learning in courses I took on Western Civilization, Christian Ethics, or Communication Law. But most poignantly, I remember walking miles per day when I lived in Kazan, Russia. For four months of the year, I walked in relatively mild weather, surrounded by grass and flowers and the such. For eight months of the year, however, I walked on ice and in the midst of a near-steady snowfall. Clothed in a fur-lined leather coat, fur-lined boots, and a triple-knit Nike toboggan, I walked for at least an hour per day. During these walks, there was little to do other than think, and thinking is what I did. I had brought with me to Russia one suitcase with clothing and four suitcases of books. My walking was, as it were, the medium of reflection for the ideas contained in those books. These walks are some of the best memories of my life.

The historical connections are many, and I will suffice to mention only two. First, Jonathan Edwards. At Campbell University, my English professor was Alan Davy. As a part of English 101, Dr. Davy required us to read two sermons by Jonathan Edwards, one of which was entitled, “A Divine and Supernatural Light.” I was taken by Edwards and soon began to read more of his sermons and even some of his books. As I did so, I discovered that Edwards did much of his thinking while walking or riding horseback in the woods or environs near his parish. Edwards is widely recognized as America’s most brilliant theologian, and some commentators consider him also America’s most brilliant philosopher. This brilliant man, I realized, was able to think deeply and reflect critically, precisely because he took the time to walk slowly through the woods. He was contemplative in part because he was circumambulative. J

Second, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. In 1929, the agnostic Lewis was on his knees praying to God and considering the truths of Christianity. Lewis recounts this part of his life in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Essayist Andrea Monda summarizes this period of his life:

Although in 1929 Jack was already on his knees and had prayed to God desperately and reluctantly, it was Tolkien’s friendship that brought him to the encounter with Christ. On 19 September 1931, Jack and “Tollers” (as Tolkien was called by his closest friends), together with their common friend Hugo Dyson, were taking their usual after-dinner stroll in the grounds of Magdalen College and began discussing ancient myths and the Truth “hidden” in these legends.

On this September evening, Lewis, Tolkien, and Dyson spent the entire evening pacing Addison’s Walk (Magdalen College, Oxford), debating the truth of Christianity. To summarize, Tolkien argued that mythology and narrative satisfied humanity’s rational and imaginative impulses by using “myth” to convey truth. Lewis already admired mythology, but had rejected religion. So Tolkien (and Dyson) made the point that Lewis was inconsistent. Lewis held the Bible to a higher standard than any other sort of expression. In the end, Lewis admitted he was wrong, and this little stroll down Addison’s Walk marked a watershed moment in his spiritual and professional life.

I’ll limit myself to one concluding reflection. Our 21st century urban context pushes us to live lives that are dizzyingly busy, crammed full of many things and devoid of time to contemplate. Perhaps the best thing we can do is set aside some time to be “unbusy,” so that can partake in such a deeply humane activity as walking and thinking. As Eugene Peterson points out, our busy-ness sometimes stems from arrogance—we are busy because we are building our own kingdoms. Other times, it stems from laziness—we let society write our agenda rather than writing our own. Either way, we rob ourselves of the time needed to immerse ourselves in deep thought about. Healthy spiritual and intellectual formation requires a certain amount of unhurried leisure, the sort that is often provided by a long stroll.



[1] Robert E. Manning, “Long Walks, Deep Thoughts,” in The Chronicle Review (Dec 14, 2012), B13.

Briefly Noted: On Jacques Barzun, Western Culture, and Public Theology

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I will not easily forget the first time I encountered Jacques Barzun. During the very first seminar of my PhD program, I took a seminar on Christianity and Western culture. Dr. L. Russ Bush required a cornucopia of books, the fattest and most intriguing of which was From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present, which Barzun published when he was 93-years-old. I’ve got the book in my hands right now. We were given two weeks to read it. It is 877 pages long and, accordingly, I took care not to read it in the evenings lest I fall asleep, drop it and crush myself to death. And, although the book had some wonderful moments, I thought it had some some dreadful quarters of an hour.

In a recent edition of The New Criterion, editor Roger Kimball reflects upon Barzun’s role as a public intellectual.[1] Barzun (1907-2012) was a presence on the American intellectual scene from the 1950s till his death this year. In his role as a professor at Columbia University, he was known as a teacher whose influence on his students was deep and pervasive. Also, to the point of this post, he “was a public intellectual before that role had been hollowed out by celebrity and the demotic faddishness of the 1960s” (p. 1). Barzun was the author of more than thirty books.

Kimball notes that Barzun’s earlier works established his public significance. Best-sellers such as Teacher in America (1945) and The House of Intellect (1959) “were part of an intellectual conversation that bridged the gap between academic and general culture in a way that fewer and fewer writers seem to manage” (p. 1). Yet, this is not code for “popular writer.” As the essay states, “Barzun was an academic expert who spoke the language of everyday life” (p. 1). What does this mean? “Barzun seems never to have succumbed to the intellectual’s chief occupational temptation of mistaking abstractions for the realities they adumbrate” (p. 2).

Barzun’s magnum opus is a case study in communicating across the often-growing gap between academia and broader culture. To provide one small example of his attempts to bridge the gap: In From Dawn to Decadence, Barzun argues that decadence had triumphed in numerous aspects of contemporary (21st century) life. Western nations spend billions of dollars on public education, motivated by a generic desire for social betterment, or maybe, personal excellence. All the while,

 “ . . . society pounces on any show of superiority as elitism. The same nations deplore violence and sexual promiscuity among the young, but pornography and violence in films and books, shops and clubs, on television and the Internet, and in the lyrics of pop music cannot be suppressed, in the interests of ‘the free market of ideas.’” (p. 2)

This decadence pervades not only popular culture, but also “the realms of social relations and politics” (p. 3). Though Barzun was quite negative in his diagnosis of modern culture, his prognosis was less negative. As the essay remarks, “decadence is no more inevitable than progress . . . One never knows what reparations await the touch of fresh energies” (p. 3). Thus the essay concludes with the note that Barzun’s very life is evidence of this.

My response is limited to two points. First, in relation to Barzun’s fine point that Western culture is in a state of decadence, the Western church must begin to recognize the need for faithful presence in every sector of American culture (the arts, the sciences, politics, economics, business, sports and entertainment). We must not devalue these sectors (by, for example, implying that the jobs that “really” matter to God are professional vocational ministry jobs). To do so implies that Christ is not Lord over those sectors, and that biblical Christianity does not speak to those areas of life. I am afraid that our evangelical churches have built such privatized and experiential theologies that we have little idea how to relate biblical truth to the pressing public issues of the day. Second, in relation to Barzun’s role as a “public intellectual,” we must hope and pray that our churches and seminaries will produce “public theologians,” who can speak with propriety and prescience to our current context, and lead our churches well in thinking about public issues. Just as Lewis, Chesterton, Schaeffer, and Neuhaus did in their day, so we must in ours.



[1] Roger Kimball, “Notes & Comments” in The New Criterion (Dec. 2012): 1–3.