C. S. Lewis is the Mount Everest of Christian apologists (at least over the past century). For decades, laypeople, specialists, defenders, and critics have launched themselves at the summit, striving to capture the tantalizing blend of clarity and logic that made Lewis such a towering figure. “Yet, curiously,” the editor of this volume writes, “Lewis is not generally considered a major figure by academic theologians.… There are very few books that discuss his religious writings with the scholarly depth and rigor they deserve” (p. 1).
With that in mind, the stated aim of this new offering, a collection of 20 pro/con essays by 10 scholars, is “to produce a book that examines Lewis’s main arguments for Christianity with depth and rigor but is also accessible to general readers” (xv). By “main arguments,” the authors are referring to what they consider to be Lewis’s five most important apologetic arguments: (1) the argument from desire, (2) the argument from reason, (3) the moral argument, (4) the trilemma argument, and (5) the argument concerning the problem of evil.
The book is divided into five parts, with each section devoted to one of these five key arguments. The pro/con debate format, as indicated by the subtitle, allows the defenders or critics of Lewis’s apologetics the opportunity to state their case and then provide one rebuttal.
Limited by space considerations, only a few summary remarks will be made here, followed by just one prime example of a weakness that appears throughout the essays.
Overall, this volume should be required reading for a number of university or seminary courses, especially one on apologetics. Almost every author shows how to cordially interact with people they disagree with so that the debate can be fruitful—not to mention helpful in clarifying, nuancing, or even abandoning closely held arguments for better ones. Like Lewis, they collectively exemplify the ability to argue without being argumentative; to disagree without being disagreeable; to have authority without being an authoritarian; even to have dogma without being dogmatic.
Also as a whole, the authors write briskly and accessibly. They are good on representing Lewis’s views, reflecting their backgrounds in Lewis studies. They reliably convey the conflicts’ broad outlines for those who know nothing about the arguments, while adding enough fresh material to interest those more familiar with them.
Happily, this volume does not linger on matters that would make most general readers’ eyes glaze over. There are also, to be sure, many things that both sides of any given argument have in common. For the most part, they both express their level of respect for Lewis’s apologetics. They also share an intense desire to know the truth, “as scholars seeking an honest and focused appraisal of the true strengths and weaknesses of his arguments” (p. 26).
Since the editor, however, repeatedly highlights (e.g., four times in the introduction) that their examinations of Lewis’s arguments are academically rigorous, one might be left wondering why their “Works Cited” exhibits more popular-level works than scholarly ones, even to the exclusion of many standard or classic academic treatments on their respective topics. Take the argument Donald Williams refers to as Lewis’s best known and most famous: the Trilemma argument (Jesus as Liar, Lunatic, or Lord). Both sides of the debate agree on “the crux of the matter: the question of whether Jesus did or did not claim to be God” (p. 201). However, the contributors are less reliable when they move beyond Lewis studies to examine the NT textual evidence for Jesus’s deity (see my essay on the topic, “Jesus as ΘΕΟΣ [God]: A Textual Examination,” in Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament: Manuscript, Patristic, and Apocryphal Evidence, ed. Daniel B. Wallace [Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2011], 229–66). They also too quickly fast-forward a few centuries to the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon, without even dealing with a host of other academic discussions that should chronologically precede them, such as early Christian worship practices.
The point here is not merely to highlight some glaring omissions or troubling blindness. No work is exhaustive. But researching and utilizing the key academic works on such topics, and not merely popular-level works or those written by well-known theologians who have only written broadly on such topics, might have prevented several outdated arguments, uninformed representations, and at times inaccurate conclusions.
Nevertheless, this is a delightful volume, with a minimum amount of minutiae. This team of scholars has produced a page-turner on C. S. Lewis’s apologetics, and every university library should own a copy. Both sides of the debate should thank them.