Thursday, June 27, 2013

Anthony Kenny reviews Alister McGrath on C. S. Lewis

Philosopher Anthony Kenny has written a TLS review of Alister McGrath's biography of C. S. Lewis, which discusses, among other things, Lewis' encounter with philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe (it did not go well for Lewis), critiques of his theological arguments, and his influence on contemporary American Christians:

'The final chapter of McGrath’s book, entitled “The Lewis Phenomenon”, charts the writer’s posthumous reputation, particularly in the United States. In the 1960s, Lewis almost vanished from view: by the end of the century he had become a cultural icon. Initially, in America, he was read only by Episcopalians, and was upbraided by Evangelicals as a smoker, a drinker and a liberal. But as barriers between mainstream Protestant denominations began to weaken, the author of Mere Christianity began to be admired across the spectrum. Roman Catholics, too, began to link him with G. K. Chesterton and Tolkien, and to consider him a fellow traveller. Most surprisingly, we are told, Lewis has now become the patron saint of American Evangelicalism. In a centenary article in 1998, its flagship periodical, Christianity Today, declared him “the Aquinas, the Augustine and the Aesop of contemporary evangelicalism”. Polls of American Christians, McGrath tells us, regularly cite Mere Christianity as the most influential religious book of the twentieth century.'

Who needs Augustine and Aquinas when you have Lewis? God help us all.

Towards the end of the review is a brief (and perforce too quick) critique of naturalism by Kenny; his confidence that "indeed there are signs that naturalism is collapsing under its own weight" seems premature, given the recent work of Owen Flanagan and other naturalists. Although Kenny is correct to point out some difficulties faced by naturalists in defending and defining their position, I do not believe there is a single philosophical position which does not face grave difficulties which must be overcome through careful argument.
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