The cover of Further Up and Further In by Edith M. Humphrey shows a majestic view of a mountain range. It is apt because Humphrey offers to be your theological guide to viewing the works of C.S. Lewis in this book published by St Vladimir’s Seminary (SVS) Press.
Considered by many to be the most influential writer of the twentieth century for western Christians, Lewis, a life-long Anglican, may have been “an anonymous Eastern Orthodox,” says Humphrey in her introduction. “Leaders as honored as Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) have documented many places where he is in harmony with Orthodox theology and approach,” she writes.
Drawing on Lewis’s broad corpus, both his beloved classics and his less well-known writings, Humphrey, a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, brings Lewis into conversation with Orthodox thinkers from the ancient past down to the present day, on subjects as diverse and challenging as the nature of reality, miracles, the ascetic life, the atonement, the last things, and the mystery of male and female.
The book is structured into three sections, which build on each other, introducing the spiritual themes that Lewis touches upon in his various works. Humphrey compares what Lewis says with Scripture, the Church fathers, and more contemporary authors such as Paul Evdokimov (Woman and the Salvation of the World), Alexander Schmemann (For the Life of the World), and Hans Urs Von Balthasar (Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?).
She shows where Lewis’s thought is in line with Orthodox thought and where it moves in a different direction. For example, in Chapter 2, “Creation, ‘Sub-Creation,’ and Thanksgiving,” Humphrey begins her analysis with an excerpt of the Song of the Three Young Men, a “cosmic litany of praise,” which can be found in both Orthodox and Roman Catholic services. Humphrey writes:
When we use a psalm like this in worship, we also become “sub-creators,” creators under the great Creator, corporately painting a picture of God’s world, encouraging others to worship, and also bringing ourselves and our artistry before the great Creator in adoration. These themes of creation, sub-creation, and thanksgiving command our attention as we consider Lewis’s children’s novels. Since he was a Christian writer, we expect that he made theological sense of his own occupation. For him, the reason for his writing arose from the concept of “sub-creation.” However, it is not only writers or artists who create “under” God. Just as the three in the furnace celebrated God’s creation as all-encompassing, so Lewis adores the Lord and gives thanks in his writings, showing that sub-creation is the human way to do this.
Humphrey notes that Evangelicals may have difficulty with Lewis’s tendency to “tell the whole of the faith that we have received, including those teachings (like purification after death and theosis) that seem to have been jettisoned in the Protestant Reformation.” Other readers are concerned with Lewis’s use of the fantasy genre—“what have witches, wizards, and pagan mythology to do with Christ,” she writes. And progressives may dismiss him “as a relic of the past for his steady concentration upon miracles, atonement, and the justice of God.”
In the end, she leaves it to the reader to decide whether Lewis “has sometimes crossed a line or become a dinosaur.” Humphrey, who has been reading the works of Lewis for half a century, still learns new things in rereading them because “these are not Lewis’s novel ideas but windows and doors onto ancient vistas.”