Monday, March 11, 2013

Redating Lewis's Conversion to Theism?

Perhaps the most famous words in Lewis's Surprised by Joy are these:

"You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England" (Surprised By Joy, ch. 14, p. 266).

Alastair McGrath thinks that Lewis may have wrongly recollected his conversion to theism as Trinity Term of 1929. But I think the objections Forster presents here have to be taken seriously.

HT: Steve Hays

Missing link now supplied.


Dr. Evangelicus said...

Which objections?

Victor Reppert said...

There are several problems with this. A conversion does not always translate into speech and action immediately. Even when Lewis identifies changes that followed his conversion, he doesn’t say they happened right away. Such a gap may be particularly likely to be present in this particular conversion. Most important, this was an intellectual conversion. He changed from believing in the pantheistic god of English Hegelianism to the transcendent god of Berkeley (a figure he identifies in Surprised by Joy as representing the view he changed to and the reasons for it) but not yet to the revealed God of the scriptures or the history-changing God of G.K. Chesterton or the heart-transforming God of George MacDonald.

Also, he writes in Surprised by Joy that he was relationally estranged from his father and ashamed to admit to his friends and academic colleagues the truth about his selfish life; this may have slowed the process of communication. Plus, we know that in general the pre-conversion C.S. Lewis was (how shall we put this delicately?) a man who knew how to compartmentalize his emotions. Moreover, I bieleve (under correction from McGrath or any other scholars who know this better than I do) that we do not have reliable information about the dates of Lewis’ progress from theism to Christianity. Who is to say the conversion he was beginning to experience in 1930 wasn’t this latter conversion? That would make sense of the evidence.

Victor Reppert said...

That is quoted from the essay.

Kathen said...

What essay? Is it online?