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Essay

The Beautiful Imperfection of Saints

By December 5, 2013 No Comments
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This past week I came across an interesting article on the lesser known life of C.S. Lewis. If protestants canonized “saints” undoubtedly C.S. Lewis would be one of the first and greatest for many within the evangelical world. It’s funny how we make our “saints” out to be the people we want them to be. We put them up on a pedestal and make them shine, unaware, or unwilling to acknowledge they were finite human beings. Protestant Christianity holds Lewis up to be a great Christian, author, theologian, and apologist—a defender of the Christian faith who many credit with contributing to their conversion or continued sanctification. As a part of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death—on the same day that John F. Kennedy was assasinated—John Blake wrote a piece with the title “The C.S. Lewis You Never Knew.” Blake describes how Lewis ended up poor, donating the proceeds from his religious books to charity. He describes how Lewis viewed himself as a failure, far from the apologist he is currently made out to be. Blake also refers to what many in the evangelical world would consider deviant sexual interests. He writes,

Lewis displayed an interest in sadomasochism during his youth. He read the writings of the Marquis de Sade; once became drunk at a party and begged people to allow him to whip them; and signed three letters to friend Arthur Greeves with the closing “lover of the whip,” according to McGrath’s biography.

Some might see this as a contemporary obsession with dirty laundry. Maybe… but the fact that Lewis drank, smoke, and spent an extra ordinary time in pubs is strangely reassuring. It shows that Lewis was a human being. I’m not against honoring those who are extra ordinary or heroic. I’m not even against holding up specific individuals who have demonstrated a rich, profound, faith at certain moments in their lives. To put it bluntly—I’m not against “saints.” We need “saints” to serve as examples of what it means to “work out our salvation” (as Paul puts it)—to show us what it looks like to take faith and life seriously. To do this well, however, they have to be human beings. Sure, we don’t have to drag them through the mud to show the world they are just like us. There is such a thing as “too much information” that only serves to flatten the human experience. Yet, hearing that Lewis had certain sexual “interests”, or that his family life was a mess—to me anyway—makes his Christian faith all that more robust.
So thank you Mr. Lewis, for Narnia, for Mere Christianity, and for hanging our in pubs and drinking just a but too much from time to time.

 

 


Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

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