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The C. S. Lewis Bible: An Interview & Preview with Bruce Edwards

We are on the cusp of VDT Madness. In just a few months, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as imagined by Michael Apted and, uh: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Michael Petroni, Andrew Adamson, Douglas Gresham and C. S. Lewis, will hit our holiday movie screens. Book publishers, anticipating their cue, are rolling out their movie tie-in wares for either our enjoyment, engorgement or exasperation.

HarperOne will release fresh editions of VDT for you to read and hear (an audio tie-in features Derek Jacobi) along with A Year With Aslan: Daily Reflections from The Chronicles of Narnia (available October 5). Other publishers will help you get “inside” the story, crack “codes” and learn “secrets.”

But of all the forthcoming books by or about C. S. Lewis, I am most looking forward to The C. S. Lewis Bible, because if you know Jack, you know it’s no secret that Lewis was a student of Scripture. In the Introduction to The C. S. Lewis Bible, Jerry Root writes:

Once Lewis became a theist, even before he became a Christian, he began his lifelong practice of daily Bible reading. For Lewis, Bible reading was as natural to his daily routine as eating or sleeping. From the time of his conversion, the atheist turned Christian most often read passages prescribed in the Anglican prayer book, but his method of reading, study, and meditation varied. Sometimes he simply read from cover to cover the King James Version (also known as the Authorized Standard Version) or the Moffat translation; and as a medievalist he was also familiar with the Coverdale Bible. Sometimes, as his published letters indicate, he would focus for a time on a particular book of the Bible such as Romans or the Psalms. Often, as a trained classical scholar he would read frequently from the Greek text of the New Testament. No matter what section of the Bible captured his attention at any given time, this one thing must be said about Lewis: he was a man of the Book.

Being a man of the book took him further than being a mere student: he was a practitioner to the extent God’s grace allowed and, to the extent his talent, imagination and friendships allowed, he re-imagined the Gospel and the life of a Christ-follower afresh through the power of Story. Scripture + Lewis’s understanding of Scripture must surely be one of the better ways of getting inside Lewis and his love for the Lord, and thus by extension getting inside all that Lewis wrote. While other influences abounded in his life, it was Scripture which he deeply desired as his “grammar.” The Grammar of Christ unlocks whatever secrets and cracks any codes there may be for increasing our understanding of Lewis, and I think The C. S. Lewis Bible will show us how deep his grammar went.

It was pleasure to speak with Lewis scholar Bruce Edwards, Professor of English and Africana Studies at Bowling Green State University, who contributed to The C. S. Lewis Bible and helped bring it to print as a member of the advisory board. Professor Edwards shares here with Rabbit Room readers a preview of what’s in store when the book releases on November 12.

What is The C. S. Lewis Bible?

Harper One is publishing a NRSV edition that features approximately 600 comments, asides, and meditations drawn from more than 40 works by C. S. Lewis that link his theological reflections to specific Biblical passages.

Is it a “Study Bible”?

If you mean, “Will I get targeted, sustained Lewisian commentary on a majority of Biblical passages?” then my answer is no. It is more of a “Lewis-flavored” edition of the Bible. Lewisian passages are scattered throughout that are related to key themes. For instance, you won’t find an explicit comment from Lewis on what the Apostle Paul meant by “baptism of the dead,” but you will find his wit, cunning, and insight into the nature of the Bible as his Lord’s storybook, one that is coherent, reliable, historical, and trustworthy.

Do we need a C. S. Lewis Bible?

Do we “need” a Max Lucado Bible or a Joel Osteen Bible? Basically, those kinds of Bibles provide a convenient gathering point for one teacher or preacher’s point of view and give the reader a further extension of their ministry or worldview.

This edition can be treated as a devotional guide to Scripture with Lewis’s life of faith and purpose as the primary backdrop; it’s unique, perhaps, in that it provides a new window on Lewis’s personal reverence for and commitment to Scripture.

How did you get involved in the project?

Harper contacted me as somebody who’s been publishing on Lewis for a while and maintains a fairly popular website on him. And they were aware of the four-volume encyclopedia on Lewis I recently edited, C. S. Lewis: Life, Works and Legacy.

What was the process used in creating the text?

Harper asked us (approximately 12-15 Lewis scholars from around the world) to identify passages in Lewis’s works that were apropos for linking to specific Scripture passages, or which could provide commentary relevant to a given book or chapter’s overall theme. We then excerpted the passages in Lewis’s works and indexed them to passages in the Bible that we thought Lewis’s comments illuminated.

For example?

I linked a comment from Lewis’s work Miracles to Matthew 10:37-39, which says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Lewis’s commentary on this passage is:

Some people when they say that a thing is meant ‘metaphorically’ conclude from this that it is hardly meant at all. They rightly think that Christ spoke metaphorically when he told us to carry the cross: they wrongly conclude that carrying the cross means nothing more than leading a respectable life and subscribing moderately to charities. [Miracles, Ch. 10]

Were there any surprises for you as you worked on this project?

I went into this project not just only to hunt down and contextualize passages from Lewis’s canon that happened to contain explicit reference to Scripture texts, but also to afford me an opportunity to reflect upon Lewis’s debt to Scripture itself, and what that debt may mean for us in the 21st Century.  This returned me to many Lewis works I had not read in their entirety in years. I wasn’t so much surprised as I was in awe of Lewis’s command of Scripture. We hear much about and make much of Lewis’s perspicacious grasp of myth and legend, but let me testify to the fact that Lewis’s immersion and comprehension of Scripture is astonishing and humbling. The one and the many, the particular and the universal, here they are in abundance; Lewis’s life and legacy are sanctified by and saturated in Scripture.

I came to the conclusion (again and afresh) that Lewis’s commitment to Scripture is neither subtle nor elusive; rather, it is quite pronounced, and often the trump card in any significant theological argument he wishes to make, especially among believers themselves. He is openly contemptuous of any attempt to explain away the demands of Scripture through “spiritualizing them.”

From your point of view, what do we need to know about Lewis and the Bible?

I discovered once again the decisive effect the Bible had not only on anchoring his faith to apostolic orthodoxy, but also in providing him the foundational symbol-system, the parabolic building blocks, and the overarching narrative themes that inspired his apologetics and his fiction, and, indeed, energized and sharpened his literary criticism.

Despite recent criticism from pastors such as John Piper, there is no one I know in Protestant, or specifically Evangelical, circles who has a more profound respect for the authority of Scripture than Lewis had. Simply put, he thought our obligation was to obey it, and this is thoroughly embedded in every letter he wrote to fledgling Christians.

Lewis’s allusions to and citations of Scripture are distributed throughout his works, scholarly, apologetic, poetic, fantastic, or memoirist. He is never not in the presence of, nor never not informed by, a deep submersion in Scripture.

Is there a statement by Lewis himself that you think epitomizes the project of The C. S. Lewis Bible?

Lewis himself wrote in a letter, “It is Christ himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him.” [Letters of C. S. Lewis (8 November 1952), p. 247]. I think Lewis is surely one of our “good teachers.”

* Here are some sample pages from The C. S. Lewis Bible.

* More information is available from HarperCollins.


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