by Ted Wright
A Modern Commentary of C.S. Lewis’ ‘Learning in Wartime’
Today it is easy to see why many Christians may be discouraged and feel the need to “circle the wagons,” – to not see the need to cultivate a life of the mind, including learning apologetic arguments for Christianity, or even learning anything new at all. We now live in a world of ISIS, Ebola, violent Christian persecution in various parts of the world, and an increasing attack on religious liberties in America.
Perhaps a lesson from the past will bring light and even encouragement to the value of learning – especially loving Christ with all of our minds in the Church today.
In 1939 the dark clouds of Hitler’s Nazi war machine were beginning to loom across Europe and in England. Walter Hooper, who briefly served as C.S. Lewis’ personal secretary in 1963 relates a fascinating story of when Lewis was invited to preach a sermon at Oxford’s Church of St. Mary the Virgin in the late 30’s.
The threat of imminent war with Germany caused many of Oxford’s undergraduates much hesitation and unrest. Christian students understandably wondered at the value of education and the pursuit of truth when a world war loomed on the horizon. At that time Canon T.R. Milford, an admirer of
Lewis’ literary works, asked him to come deliver a sermon and address this growing sentiment among the student body. According to Hooper, “Lewis – an ex-soldier [in WWI] and Christian don at Magdalen College – was thought to be just the man to put things in the right perspective.”
How very right Canon Milford was! Not only did Lewis brilliantly make the case for learning in a time of global upheaval in the twentieth century, there are brilliant lessons we can learn for our own day as well. The text of Lewis’ sermon ended up as a chapter in The Weight of Glory under the title “Learning in Wartime.” The barbarities of our own day and Lewis’s are uncanny, and the lessons are timeless.
Of course, there is no substitute for reading the entire chapter by Lewis’ himself, but in this article I would like to highlight a few principles that I believe relate to those of us today who traffic in the realm of the mind, ideas and the intellect.
There has Never Been a Perfect Time to Learn: Favorable Conditions Never Come
If we’re waiting for more peaceful or favorable times [whatever that is] to begin to dig deeper into our faith or perhaps to learn something new, then we’ll probably never begin at all. Lewis knew then that there will always be distractions which prevent us from pursing truth on a deeper level – whether those distractions are the threat of war, or the hectic busyness of life. He writes…
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