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John Beversluis is a perceptive—and forthright—fellow. In his Introduction to C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion, Beversluis observes that the author of Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters has become a figure of wide, rather disturbing veneration. There are, Beversluis notes, "C. S. Lewis calendars, sweatshirts, aprons, bumper stickers, and tote bags"; there are, in several places, "the equivalent of C. S. Lewis museums and shrines." Moreover many of the scores [End Page 806] of accounts of Lewis' life "read like hagiography": they more than imply that Lewis was this century's most brilliant and sainted figure. As Beversluis points out, there is even in print the testimony of one Lewis disciple who insists that he twice witnessed Lewis' beaming ghost wafting about and offering pearls of wisdom from beyond the pale.
Lewis, Beversluis rightly suggests, would have been embarrassed by much of this "hero worship." But it is also likely that Lewis would not have warmly welcomed Beversluis' book, which bluntly asserts that wholly uncritical Lewis devotees have for too long monopolized the discussion on the effectiveness and durability of Lewis' apologetic prose. These critics, Beversluis suggests, tend to offer little in the way of hard analysis: they "seldom transcend a sort of doting worshipfulness." Accordingly, they generally produce books "that lack direction, thesis, and, in the end, substance."
Beversluis does probe. He examines works such as Mere Christianity, A Grief Observed, and Surprised by Joy and finds—in each of them—serious flaws in logic, in theological understanding. As he searched for "a rational religion based on rock-solid evidence," Lewis—Beversluis argues—routinely oversimplified opposing views and more than once attempted to reconcile "incompatible" philosophical systems—including, in A Grief Observed, Platonism and Ockhamism. He created "false dilemmas" when he insisted that—as Beversluis puts it—"either the universe is the product of a conscious Mind or it is a mere 'fluke'; that either morality is grounded in the supernatural or it is a 'mere twist' in the human mind"; that either Jesus was—in Lewis' own words—"the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse." Observes Beversluis:
Some theologians have claimed that Jesus' claims about himself are not entirely consistent, but we need not put forth so strong a claim. It is enough to observe that his messianic claims have been variously interpreted. In light of this, Lewis' view that Jesus' claims were so clear as to admit of one and only one interpretation reveals that he is a textually careless and theologically unreliable guide.
Beversluis—who heads the Philosophy Department at Butler University—is a most reliable guide to the theological arguments of C. S. Lewis. He is erudite and thorough; he is tough—but by no means hostile. In fact, Beversluis openly admires Lewis' humaneness, his often riveting prose style, his decision to struggle with "the intellectual difficulties involved in Christian belief in so gripplingly visible a way and at such personal cost." The result is a provocative and sympathetic book that no serious student of Lewis' thought can afford to miss. [End Page 807]