For those who need a break from social media and the news, and who would welcome something theologically rich, relevant, and entertaining – consider one of Brian McGreevy’s podcasts on C.S. Lewis. Brian, an Associate Rector at St. Philip’s Church, Charleston, and our resident Lewis expert, was recently interviewed on the popular podcast “Pints with Jack.” On July 8, 2020, I had the opportunity to chat with him (via Zoom) about his affinity for and focus on the works of C.S. Lewis.
Brian, to say you’ve “taught a few classes” on C.S. Lewis, would be a huge understatement. I checked yesterday and you have 74 (mostly hour-long) talks or classes online. So, what is it about C.S. Lewis that makes him worthy of all this attention?
A couple of things: first, he consistently points to Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We’re also at a cultural moment where Lewis is a great bridge to people who aren’t necessarily in the Church, or who are in the Church but aren’t mature believers, or who want to go deeper in loving God with their minds. A few years back, during “Mere Anglicanism,” Alister McGrath and Tom Wright spoke about how Story was going to become more and more important in reaching people as we go down this slope of secularism. I think that’s really true and that Lewis resonates with people. People will come to a C.S. Lewis class who wouldn’t come to a Bible study, so it’s a great bridge—one through which people can actually be doing a Bible Study without their realizing it!
How and when did you first encounter Lewis?
I first encountered Lewis when my parents started reading me The Chronicles of Narnia, but it wasn’t until I was a college freshman having a crisis of faith that I read Mere Christianity – that got me going again. Later, my InterVarsity mentor married into a British family with many Lewis connections. That deepened my interest and led to my conducting some study tour pilgrimages on Lewis and the Inklings.
He wrote more than 30 books. Do you have a favorite? Or “top five?”
“Top five” is a much better question for me–my favorite changes often, and is often the last thing of his I’ve read! Top five not necessarily in order: Mere Christianity for sure, Screwtape Letters definitely, That Hideous Strength – always in my top five. I don’t want to lump all The Chronicles together –The Silver Chair is my favorite of those right now, and last but not least, Lewis’ “Weight of Glory” essay.
“Weight of Glory.” I’d heard it was something I ought to read.
It’s a powerful essay and even more powerful when you realize it was given as a sermon at the University Church at Oxford during World War II in a time when people literally thought the world was going to end and death was raining from the sky. Lewis gave this beautiful sermon about the weight of glory, the hope of the Kingdom of God and the writing in it is just luminous – It’s one of those, if you haven’t read it yet, that I’m kind of envious because the joy and wonder of getting to read that for the first time are so amazing. I’d encourage you to find a beautiful quiet place and read it out loud. It was originally delivered out loud and it’s much more impactful when you read it that way.
I’ll do it! Do you think it has something to say to us, during the pandemic?
Definitely! A lot of what Lewis wrote, particularly during WWII, is especially resonant right now. Although clearly we’re not in a world war, it can feel like the world is hurtling out of control in many ways. The things people are used to as the guideposts, structure, and framework of life, the assumptions we’ve based our lives and habits upon, are gone now, in much the same way they were in Lewis’ time. His “Learning in Wartime” sermon is particularly on point as well.
So, you meet someone who’s never read any Lewis. Which book would you recommend they start with?
First, I’d say, “I’m so sorry you haven’t had the experience yet!” I often suggest that folks read one of the Chronicles of Narnia first (starting with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) – or The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape is pretty accessible–since the letters are pretty short, it’s easy to jump in without much preparation and then get hooked by it.
You have three podcast series: The Screwtape Letters; CS Lewis and the Christian Life and The Fellowship: Lewis, Tolkien and the Inklings. Which of your classes would be a good one to start with?
That’s a hard question. I’d probably say start with the Screwtape podcast. It’s very profoundly based in Scripture.
One of the goals we talk about in that class is learning to live a boldly Christian life. When I’ve taught Screwtape before, it’s been from the more traditional angle of the temptations to watch out for. But what I realized in preparing this class is that there’s a whole subtext all the way through the book about what really annoys the devil – the things the devil doesn’t want us to do because doing those things leads to our growing strong in our faith in Jesus. What I’ve tried to do in the class is to tease those things out. That has been a great joy.
I’d say both other classes are helpful, particularly the one on the Inklings. The Inklings are one of the best examples of strong Christian fellowship where people really put a priority on investing in relationship with each other that’s deeply grounded in their faith, challenging each other to use their gifts and to pull out from one another the things that God had planted there. There’s a lot we can learn about what might happen if we really engaged in fellowship and were really committed to each other and to encouraging one another to use our gifts—all of which is a great antidote to the loneliness that pervades our society.
Can you explain the difference between “On the beach, snorkeling, and scuba diving?”
That’s a great question. When we do these classes, we have some people who don’t even know who C.S. Lewis is, we have others who’ve been studying works of Lewis for 30 years, and everything in between. I’ve tried to make it interesting to everyone by having three different levels. If you are on the beach, you come to class – or not – and you get what you get. I’m delighted to have you! If you’re snorkeling, you come to class and look more closely at the things you’re interested in. If you’re scuba diving, you approach this as if it were a class in university. I’m not grading you – or making you write things for me – but I’m asking you to do a lot of reading. Some articles may be 40-50 pages long. But, oh boy, they are a gold mine!
Do I need to read the book ahead of time?
Ideally, for Screwtape it’s nice to have read the letter beforehand – and then listen to the podcast. Afterwards, look at the PowerPoint and read the articles. But even if there’s no time to prepare, that still works, as I read each letter out loud in the class.
Anything more you’d like to tell our readers?
First, I’d say Lewis is a great resource to share to start discussions with friends who are seekers. Lewis appeals to a broad age range. We have a significant number in the class who are under 30, some still in college and who tell me the class is unbelievably relevant to their daily lives, and then we’ve got people who are in their 80s, and everything in between.
I get random emails every month from people in England, Australia, Canada, wherever, talking about how God profoundly touched their hearts through the wisdom Lewis expresses that’s drawn from the Scriptures. That’s the most exciting thing in the world, to see the Holy Spirit using God’s Word to touch people’s hearts.
Last year, Netflix’s biggest deal was acquiring The Chronicles of Narnia, and Prime Video’s biggest deal was for Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I’d love to say Netflix and Amazon Prime are driven by their desire to provide excellent Christian content, but I’m pretty confident that’s not their motivation. Their motivation is that market research tells them this is what people want, what will sell.
We’re in this cultural moment where we’ve been given the gift of these works from Lewis and Tolkien, and for us to be good stewards of this time, to use the power of Story to open up the Gospel, is not only a privilege but also really important.
Find Brian’s Podcasts at https://www.stphilipschurchsc.org/. Click “Learn and grow,” then “sermons and classes,” or you can go to https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/c-s-lewis-and-the-screwtape-letters/id1480075367.
By Joy Hunter