Jovial Calvinism

cslYesterday’s post (Sammy Rhodes on Twitter humor and resurrection hope) reminds me of an exchange at the 2013 DG National Conference on C.S. Lewis. During the speaker panel the topic of “jovial Calvinism” arose, and the discussion was later published in The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life, and Imagination in the Work of C. S. Lewis (Crossway, 2014), pages 166–69:

Douglas Wilson: I guess the first thing I would say is that you have to be careful that the joviality is not sort of a Dr. Pangloss, like out of Candide, where someone who’s going through a terrible world of suffering is not clued in to what’s happening. That’s not joviality. That’s not someone who is responding appropriately. He needs to be dialed in. True joviality, I think, has to be understood as an act of defiance. The world is a mess. It is fallen. It’s filled with wickedness.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the White Witch comes across the feast in the woods and asks, “Why all this gluttony? Why all this self-indulgence?” Lewis captures that wonderfully. Judas is the one who wants to know why the ointment was not sold and given to the poor. Judas is the one who is being the skinflint. Judas was the one pinching the pennies — and there was a reason for that, as John tells us. The White Witch captures that wonderfully. If you’re celebrating at some Sabbath dinner, or you’re celebrating because you’ve never heard of any of the conflict, then you just are not clued in. But if you are at Rivendell, The Last Homely House — if you’re feasting — then it’s an act of defiance. It’s a declaration of war. It’s the recognition that this is how we fight. We are the cheerful warriors, the happy warriors, the cavalier. We should fight like a cavalier. We should fight like Dartanian and not like a thug. Right? We need to fight. We must fight, but the person who fights like a cavalier is an attractive leader. He’s going to attract more people to his side. He’s going to be more effective.

Think about a pro-life activist who says, “But they’re killing babies, and it’s terrible. And the whole world’s falling apart. The whole world’s going to hell.” So they write their letter to the editor with a fisted crayon — what I like to call the spittle-flecked letter. That is, they can’t say, “But abortion’s so important, I’ve got to do it this way.” I would say no. Abortion is so important that you must not do it that way. You’re not venting; you’re fighting. And if you fight, you want to fight effectively. You want to use your head. You want to keep your cool. And part of this is, I think, essentially joviality.

Joe Rigney’s talk yesterday was wonderful, and he pinpointed King Lune as the quintessential jolly man. He’s king of Archenland. But he’s the quintessential jovial character. He’s not a pacifist. He’s first in and last out. He is the fighting king, but he’s the kind of fighting king that I would want to follow. There are people who are so hard-bitten — they’re so disillusioned — that they’re not going to motivate anybody to do anything. So that’s in a nutshell what I would say.

Philip Ryken: Joviality is not the only mood of the Christian life, but somebody that does not have a godly, sanctified joviality perhaps has a one-dimensional or not as fully human expression of the Christian life. The New Testament seems to present both fasting and feasting as normative for the Christian experience — both lamentation and celebration. Most of us find it hard to get the balance or proportion right, but those are both strongly held values in the Gospels. And C. S. Lewis is one of the best exemplars we can think of as the jovial Christian.

Douglas Wilson: Yeah. The apostle Paul says in Corinthians, “We are sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” So you can go through afflictions. There’s tears and bruises and hard times, and that’s what I think a biblical joviality means. Death is swallowed up by victory at the end, and we must never forget that. . . . If you have a true community of believers, if you are plugged into a church and are a vibrant member of that church and you take the words of the Scripture seriously, “Weep with those who weep; rejoice with those who rejoice,” then you find yourself having to do a lot of those things in quick succession. You’ve got the funeral on Wednesday and the wedding on Friday or the funeral on Wednesday and the wedding rehearsal Thursday evening and then the wedding on Friday. And you’ve got to go from one to the other.

We’re not called to schizophrenic scatteredness. We are called to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. The thing I must have to orient me in all of this is the recognition at all times that this is a comedy, not a tragedy. This ends well. It is comedy not in the sense of a sitcom, but comedy in the sense of The Divine Comedy, where it ends well. So it begins with a garden. The Bible begins with a garden and ends with a garden city. It ends with the bride coming down the aisle. That’s how it ends. That’s the story I’m in. So if I’m preaching the funeral of someone whose death just shocked the whole congregation, do I know where I am? Do I know what kind of book I’m in? This goes back to your point of knowing the genre. Do I know the genre of the history of the world? It’s a comedy.

Randy Alcorn: Many of you have had this experience. Certainly when I’ve been doing memorial services, the therapy of laughter occurs as certain stories are told about the loved one who’s departed and is now with the Lord, and you’ll have tears just streaming down your face and then laughter — and it’s not a superficial laughter. It’s a laughter that is an overcoming laughter. It’s a laughter that says we know a God of joy, a God who is eternally happy, and we’ll be happy for all eternity, and we’ll be with him and enjoying that happiness, and our loved one has gone on to be with him. That doesn’t minimize our tears, but it does give a tone to the memorial service that’s remarkable. There are times when laughter is louder at memorial services than in a normal context, and when it’s done for those reasons it’s Christ-centered laughter. I think it’s very healthy.

Education Versus Training

C. S. Lewis sounds this warning in a 1939 essay recently collected and published in Image and Imagination: Essays and Reviews By C. S. Lewis (page 22):

Education is essentially for freemen and vocational training for slaves. That is how they were distributed in the old unequal societies; the poor man’s son was apprenticed to a trade, the rich man’s son went to Eton and Oxford and then made the grand tour. When societies become, in effort if not in achievement, egalitarian, we are presented with a difficulty.

To give every one education and to give no one vocational training is impossible, for electricians and surgeons we must have and they must be trained. Our ideal must be to find time for both education and training: our danger is that equality may mean training for all and education for none — that every one will learn commercial French instead of Latin, book-keeping instead of geometry, and ‘knowledge of the world we live in’ instead of great literature.

It is against this danger that schoolmasters have to fight, for if education is beaten by training, civilization dies.

That is a thing very likely to happen.

Lewis on Tolkien

Image and Imagination: Essays and Reviews By C. S. Lewis is a new compilation of short works on literature by Lewis, gathered up and published by Cambridge University Press in their Canto Classics series. The book includes several book reviews and prefaces Lewis wrote, and most of them will appeal only to readers with advanced training in literature and a particular interest in Milton, Chaucer, Boethius, or classic, medieval, and renaissance literature.

But some pieces in this book will appeal to a broader audience of readers. Of special interest to me was Lewis’s rather critical review of his friend Dorothy Sayers’ book, The Mind of the Maker (167–9). He closed the review by writing, “To novelists and poets, if they are already inclined in any degree to idolatry of their own vocation, I recommend it with much caution. They had better read it fasting.” Ha! Also very interesting is Lewis’s preface to a theology book, where he explains what makes for good pastoral theology in written form (181­­–4). I’ll probably have more to say on this particular preface in the future.

But by far (to me) the most valuable pieces in the collection are Lewis’s four published reviews of the works of his friend J. R. R. Tolkien, which include two reviews of The Hobbit (1937) and two reviews of The Lord of the Rings (1954, 1955).

On The Hobbit, Lewis closed one review like this:

It must be understood that this is a children’s book only in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery. Alice [in Wonderland] is read gravely by children and with laughter by grown ups; The Hobbit, on the other hand, will be funnier to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or a twentieth reading, will they begin to realise what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true. Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbit may well prove a classic. (96)

Decades later, in one of the LOTR reviews, Lewis makes this comment:

Probably no book yet written in the world is quite such a radical instance of what its author has elsewhere called ‘sub-creation.’ The direct debt (there are of course subtler kinds of debt) which every author must owe to the actual universe is here deliberately reduced to the minimum.

Not content to create his own story, he creates, with an almost insolent prodigality, the whole world in which it is to move, with its own theology, myths, geography, history, paleography, languages, and orders of beings — a world ‘full of strange creatures beyond count.’ The names alone are a feast, whether redolent of quiet countryside (Michel Delving, South Farthing), tall and kingly (Boromir, Faramir, Elendil), loathsome like Smeagol, who is also Gollum, or frowning in the evil strength of Barad Dur or Gorgoroth, yet best of all (Lothlorien, Gilthoniel, Galadriel) when they embody this piercing, high elvish beauty of which no other prose writer has captured so much.

Such a book has of course its predestined readers, even now more numerous and more critical than is always realised. To them a reviewer need say little, except that here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart. (99–100)

Such a book — such a world! — was destined for literary applause.

The book is too original and too opulent for any final judgment on a first reading. But we know at once that it has done things to us. We are not quite the same men. And though we must ration ourselves in our re-readings, have little doubt that the book will soon take its place among the indispensables. (108–9)

Though I have a hunch Lewis knew LOTR would become a classic on his first read.

For the patient reader there’s a lot to learn and ponder in this collection Image and Imagination: Essays and Reviews By C. S. Lewis.