Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Surprisingly Eventful Life of C. S. Lewis

I recently finished Alister McGrath's C. S. Lewis: A Life. Having attended a few lectures sponsored by the C. S. Lewis Society of Chattanooga and as a member of the committee for the annual C. S. Lewis lecture at UTC, I wanted to read a biography that has been receiving a lot of attention. I finished the book in only a few days, which I am sure is directly related to McGrath's breezy style of writing as well as the intriguing sections that he devotes to Lewis's relationships with Joy Davidman, Janie Moore ("Mrs. Moore"), and J. R. R. Tolkien. I was struck with how truly remarkable Lewis's life was.

McGrath will completely change your thinking of Lewis if you assumed that he was simply a boring academic who wrote a few books and taught at Oxford and Cambridge University. The book is packed with remarkable tidbits about Lewis while pausing several times to evaluate the current scholarly views on various aspects of his life. McGrath analyzes Lewis's relationship with his seemingly negligent father, his struggle to find employment at Oxford University, his curiously terse comments about fighting overseas in the Great War, his apparent adulterous relationship with Mrs. Moore, his conversion to theism and, eventually, Christianity, the Inkling meetings, the influence that Lewis had on Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, his rise to fame in America and Britain on the heels of his BBC lectures during WWII and popular books, the "very strange marriage" to Joy Davidman, his move to Cambridge University, his death, and finally a chapter on his legacy, which seeks to answer why a smoking, drinking, adulterer who was not overly concerned with traditional Christian doctrines would be popular among evangelicals. In the midst of these chapters, McGrath devotes considerable time to each of Lewis's major publications, including the Chronicles of Narnia. I learned a lot about Lewis from McGrath's book and highly recommend it for those interested in an engaging introduction on Lewis.

I particularly enjoyed reading the sections on Lewis's relationship with Tolkien and Joy Davidman. McGrath presents a very convincing argument for how instrumental Lewis was in the development of the Lord of the Rings, prodding Tolkien to finish his massive project while offering encouragement and suggestions on how to develop the plot and characters. McGrath also helped me understand Lewis's relationship with Davidman, which he claims is different than the romantic version displayed in the 1993 movie Shadowlands, starring Debra Winger and Anthony Hopkins. Another significant contribution that McGrath makes is on the precise dating of Lewis's conversion. McGrath takes great pains to show that Lewis's own recollection of his conversion in Surprised by Joy is off by about one year.

There is very little about McGrath's book that I didn't like. I would have, however, liked to know more about Lewis's brother Warnie, who succumbed to alcoholism. Very little is mentioned by McGrath on the genesis of Warnie's addiction and his close relationship with Lewis at their residence, The Kilns. We simply read that Lewis occasionally had to clean up puke from Warnie after his various binges. I also wondered about Joy Davidman's son, Douglas Gresham. In the movie Shadowlands, he seems to have formed a bond with Lewis and has become an important guardian and promoter of his step-father's legacy. Yet McGrath offers very little information about Lewis's relationship with him.

Putting these quibbles aside, McGrath's book makes a welcome contribution to the study of C. S. Lewis and would make a very good gift for those interested in religious biographies.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Bookstores in West Michigan

One of the perks of visiting West Michigan is being able to go to the Eerdmans, Baker, and Calvin College bookstores. As many of you know, Eerdmans and Baker Books are two of the largest Christian publishers in America. Both are headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan and have separate bookstores. Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary are also located in Grand Rapids and have a wonderful campus store with lots of titles related to Reformed history and thought. I could have spent all day at these three bookstores.

My first stop was the Eerdmans store, which is next to the publishing firm's headquarters. The bookstore, although seemingly small at first sight, is packed with books (not all of which are Eerdmans titles). There is a large section of "slightly blemished books" published by Eerdmans that are deeply discounted and (in my opinion) in near mint condition. I purchased Tim Grass's F.F. Bruce: A Life for only $8! I also bought An Eerdmans Century, 1911-2011, which tells the history of the firm. To my delight, as I was paying for my books, William Eerdmans, Jr. (pictured to the right) walked into the store. I introduced myself and had him sign my book on the history of Eerdmans. After I told him that I work at UTC, he informed me that he attended McCallie School, a boys prep school located in Chattanooga, and, of course, knew Bill McClay. Even though the Eerdmans bookstore is slightly off the beaten path, it should not be missed if you are visiting Grand Rapids.

My second stop (moving from North to South) was the campus store at Calvin College where I purchased Roger Olson's Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (a book I have been meaning to purchase for quite some time), and, to help me with my upcoming course on Jonathan Edwards, The Cambridge Companion to Jonathan Edwards and Philip Gura's Jonathan Edwards: America's Evangelical. Calvin College's campus is very impressive, and is situated in the heart of the city, off the East Beltline.

My final stop was to the Baker House bookstore, which has been transformed in the last year since I visited it. The inside of the store now resembles a Christian Barnes & Noble, with lots of plush chairs to sit in, a nice cafe, and, importantly for the bibliophile, a huge selection of used books. It would have taken me several hours to read all the used titles for sale. To give you an idea of the array of books for sale in this section, I saw the Letters of J. N. Darby as well as the works of Henry Scougal (in addition to contemporary authors like J. I. Packer, Mark Noll, and others).

If you ever visit Grand Rapids, don't miss out on visiting these three bookstores.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Things To Do in West Michigan

Things to do in West Michigan:


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

On the Road Again

I'll be on the road again for the next two weeks, this time in West Michigan for a family reunion.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Summer Reading

Today, I received several books that I intend to read this summer: David Ceri Jones, Boyd Stanley Schlenther, and Eryn Mant White (eds.), The Elect Methodists: Calvinistic Methodists in England and Wales, 1735-1811 (University of Wales, 2012), John B. Radner's Johnson and Boswell: A Biography of Friendship (Yale, 2012), Larry Eskridge's God's Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America (Oxford, 2013), Alister McGrath's C.S. Lewis: A Life (Tyndale, 2013), and Kate Bowler's Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel (Oxford, 2013).

Congratulations to all these authors. I can't wait to read these books this summer!


Saturday, 15 June 2013

Oliver Crisp Scheduled to Speak at Chattanooga

I am delighted to announce that Oliver Crisp will be coming to Chattanooga to lecture on Jonathan Edwards's theology on Tuesday, October 29 at 7pm.

Crisp teaches theology at Fuller Seminary in California, and has written an impressive number of first-rate monographs in the course of his young career. He has edited or co-edited four books and is the author of seven other volumes, including God Incarnate: Explorations in Christology (2009), Divinity and Humanity: The Incarnation Reconsidered (2007), Revisioning Christology: Theology in theReformed Tradition (2011), and Retrieving Doctrine: Essays in Reformed Theology (2011). 

Since I am teaching a class this Fall on "Jonathan Edwards's Life, Thought, and Legacy in American Religious Culture," I wanted to invite Crisp to Chattanooga to give an overview of Edwards's theology so that my class and the community could benefit from his expertise. Crisp has written or edited some excellent books on Edwards, namely Jonathan Edwards: Philosophical Theologian (co-edited with Paul Helm) (2003), Jonathan Edwards and the Metaphysics of Sin (2005), JonathanEdwards on God and Creation (2012), and After Jonathan Edwards: The Courses of the New England Theology (co-edited with Doug Sweeney) (2012)

Crisp's talk is part of UTC's LeRoy Martin Distinguished Lecture Series, but this time I will be partnering with Cole Hamilton, who organizes the Theology on Tap lecture series at the Camp House on the Southside of downtown Chattanooga. During most of the week, the Camp House functions as a coffee house and music venue, but on Sundays it holds worship services for the Mission Chattanooga, an Anglican congregation that I am proud to call my home church. The plan is for Cole and I to combine our marketing skills and offer the opportunity for a hundred or so twenty and thirty-year-olds to come and hear a stimulating talk while enjoying a pint with friends.

I look forward to hearing Crisp and, hopefully, pique the interest of my students to learn more about Edwards.


Are you looking for a Father's Day gift for an academic (or for yourself)? Consider Charles Bamforth's Beer: Tap into the Art and Science of Brewing, published by Oxford University Press. I have been enthralled with my copy that I received for my birthday.

The book, written by the Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences at the University of California, Davis, is intended for educated laypeople interested in the history and process of beer production. Bamforth intentionally writes his book in readable prose, yet is sophisticated enough in its details to appeal to academics.

The book has a number of interesting tables on the consumption of beer per capita as well as worldwide output. As one might expect, German residents are among the highest consumers of beer, but what is interesting is that the country does not have any major brewing brands. The largest brewer, InBev, is headquartered in Belgium, which ironically has a low consumption rate per capita. Perhaps you might guess that Nevada has the highest consumption of beer per capita in America, but did you know that New Hampshire is a close second?

As he explains the fascinating history of beer, from its origin in the Fertile Crescent to the modern day, Bamforth weaves into his narrative various modern success stories, such as the founding of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Anheuser-Busch, and Coors.

In sum, this is a very entertaining book that I believe would be a hit as a Father's Day gift for academics.