Review: God in the Dock

Rating: ★★★★

Who: C. S. Lewis, British scholar and lay theologian.

Overview: God in the Dock: Essays in Theology and Ethics is a smorgasbord of Lewis’ short articles, mostly on theological topics. Many of them are responses to theological or literary controversies of the day, but they are written with the same cleverness and care for detail that he put into his other writings.

Meat: The strength of this book is that we can hear Lewis at length on topics that he loved, but were unworthy of a full book. Topics scattered throughout his writings come into full focus here. The essay, for example, on “Reading Old Books” is still particularly relevant and quoted often as an antidote to the worship of the “Idol of the Age.”

My favorite parts of the book, though, were Lewis’ thoughts on mythology scattered throughout. In short, Lewis believed that in Jesus’ resurrection was, in a sense, “myth became fact.” He mentions this in Perelandra, but he expounds it much more clearly in God in the Dock, especially in “The Grand Miracle” and “Myth Became Fact.” These two essays are the kernel of the book and are central to understanding to Lewis’ theology as a whole.

Bones: Some of the essays—a long-winded argument against ‘naturalism’ for example—may be opaque to modern readers. As the book goes on, some of the essays on ethical and critical topics, are for the most part yawn-inducing. (Some of the topics also have little or nothing to do with religion, by the way.) As a whole, it is definitely a book worth having, but I wouldn’t worry about reading it cover to cover.

An abridged collection, The Grand Miracle: And Other Selected Essays might be a quicker, more palatable alternative for less patient readers (and it looks like it has a closer focus on the Christian topics too).

Quotes: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another a new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.” (“On Reading Old Books”)

“The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.” (“The Grand Miracle,” p. 80)

Related: Several similar (though shorter) compilations of Lewis’ articles have sprung up. Confusingly, there is a compilation called God in the Dock that is shorter than this full book; The Grand Miracle is also a kind of “best of” taken completely from God in the Dock. Lewis’ other books of essays and speeches, such as The Weight of Glory and The World’s Last Night, are unrelated to this one and do not overlap.

This book is available in print, digital, and audio formats.

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