Friday, August 27, 2010

Thomas Talbott replies to John Beversluis

Tom Talbott wrote one of the critiques of John Beversluis's critique of Lewis shortly after Beversluis's book came out in 1985. Beversluis responded in his revised edition, but Talbott thinks Beversluis missed his central points. Here is his response.


steve said...


What biographies and other studies of Lewis would you recommend?

Tim said...

That was painful. I reread the first edition of Beversluis's book recently and thought it was pretty poor, but I was holding out some hope for the revised edition. Guess not.

Victor Reppert said...

In fairness to John, I think there are some improvements in his book. Specifically, in the previous edition, he used the reports of Lewis's dismay concerning his exchange with Elizabeth Anscombe as grounds that he had backed away from his previous confidence in the defensibility of Christianity. In an review essay of A. N. Wilson's Lewis biography he abandons this line. I think you do get a better-developed rebuttal to the Trilemma argument than you got in the first edition, though not one I agree with in the end. In a footnote he criticizes Christopher Hitchens for an overly simplistic reply to Lewis's argument (Dawkins is even more simplistic), which is good. His understanding of my development of the argument from reason is inadequate, the reading problems Talbott points out concerning his treatment of the problem of evil are accurately portrayed by Talbott, and the attempt to derive a fundamental shift in Lewis's apologetic stance out of A Grief Observed is also a nonstarter. So, it's a mixed bag. But, as the kind of definitive refutation of Lewis' apologetics that it is touted to be on Debunking Christianity, it's certainly not that.

Baggett, Habermas, and Walls' C. S. Lewis as a Philosopher (IVP, 2008) is a good book that was in production at the same time as Beversluis's was, and contains two papers that are replies to Beversluis, one by Dave Baggett, and the other by David Horner. It also contains my rebuttal to Richard Carrier. A good online source is Steve Lovell's "Philosophical Themes from C. S. Lewis,"

I'm not a fan of biographies, but I think Alan Jacobs' The Narnian is probably the best out there.

steve said...

I thumbed through Wilson's biography a few years ago. Came across as tabloid rumor-mongering.

Patrick Chan said...

Thanks for the post and comment.

Btw, The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis looks helpful? Except for people like Charles Taliaferro and Gilbert Meilaender, it doesn't look so philosophical though. The contributions evaluate CSL as scholar, thinker, and writer, which of course is (for better or for worse) a more diverse way to look at him.

Edward T. Babinski said...


But of course the real problem is the argument for Jesus’ divinity. And this problem actually begins further back: There is virtually no mention, and certainly no treatment, of Israel and the Old Testament, and consequently no attempt to place Jesus in his historical or theological context. (One of the “Screwtape Letters” contains a scornful denunciation of all such attempts, and lays Lewis wide open to the charge of ignoring the historical context of the writings he is using—a charge that, in his own professional field, he would have regarded as serious.)

I am well aware that some in our day, too, see the historical context of Jesus as part of what you teach Christians later on rather than part of how you explain the gospel to outsiders. I think this is simply mistaken. Every step towards a de-Judaized Jesus is a step away from Scripture, away from Christian wisdom, and out into the world of . . . yes, Plato and the rest, which is of course where Lewis partly lived. If you don’t put Jesus in his proper context, you will inevitably put him in a different one, where he, his message, and his achievement will be considerably distorted.

This deficit shows particularly in Lewis’s treatment of incarnation. Famously, as in his well-known slogan, “Liar, Lunatic or Lord,” he argued that Jesus must have been bad or mad or God. This argument has worn well in some circles and extremely badly in others, and the others were not merely being cynical.

What Lewis totally failed to see—as have, of course, many scholars in the field—was that Judaism already had a strong incarnational principle, namely the Temple, and that the language used of Shekinah, Torah, Wisdom, Word, and Spirit in the Old Testament—the language, in other words, upon which the earliest Christians drew when they were exploring and expounding what we have called Christology—was a language designed, long before Jesus’ day, to explain how the one true God could be both transcendent over the world and living and active within it, particularly within Israel.

Lewis, at best, drastically short-circuits the argument. When Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven,” he is not claiming straightforwardly to be God, but to give people, out on the street, what they would normally get by going to the Temple.

Victor Reppert said...

That's a pretty narrow-gauge critique of Lewis's argument, suggesting that one line of defense for the central claim was not defended in a correct way. Hardly the kind of comprehensive criticism that someone like Beversluis provides. I think he ends up accepting the central claim of the trilemma argument.

Jason Lepojärvi said...

Dear Victor Reppert,

I've been trying to find John Beverluis' review of Wilson's biography of Lewis. Have you taken it off your page:

If you have a digital copy, could you please send it to me at: or I've been asked to write the Foreword to the new Finnish edition of Surprised by Joy, and would be very interested in reading JB's review.

Jason Lepojärvi