Thrive
Podcast

Overview

Today on the podcast I had the privilege of talking to Dr. Michael Peterson, Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Asbury Seminary. We talk about his recently released book C.S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview. We’ll link to this book in the show notes, so you can pick up a copy if you haven’t already.

His book engages Lewis philosophically and provides a comprehensive framework for Lewis’ worldview. We talk about things like the relationship between faith and science, the problem of evil, what we can learn from Lewis’ worldview and how we can appropriately apply it to our own lives.

Let’s listen!

Dr. Michael Peterson, Professor of Philosophy of Religion

Dr. Michael L. Peterson is Professor of Philosophy of Religion.  He has written or been senior author in a number of books: Reason and Religious Belief (Oxford University Press); God and Evil: An Introduction to the Issues (HarperCollins/Westview); With All Your Mind: A Christian Philosophy of Education (University of Notre Dame Press); Evil and the Christian God (Baker Books); Philosophy of Education:  Issues and Options (InterVarsity Press); Science, Evolution, and Religion: A Debate about Atheism and Theism (with Michael Ruse, Oxford University Press); Religion and the Biosciences (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming); and C. S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview (Oxford, forthcoming). He has edited Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings (Oxford); Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion (Blackwell of Oxford, 2nd edition forthcoming); and The Problem of Evil: Selected Readings (Notre Dame, now in 2nd edition).

He is General Editor of the Wiley-Blackwell scholarly monograph series “Exploring Philosophy of Religion,” which currently contains five books.  He is currently working on three books: Monotheism, Suffering, and Evil (Cambridge, forthcoming), Christian Theism and the Problem of Evil (Wiley-Blackwell Publishers of Oxford, forthcoming) and The Problem of Suffering in the Book of Job. Both of Dr. Peterson’s current Oxford books in philosophy of religion are long-time leading textbooks which are now in fifth editions.

Dr. Peterson has contributed chapters to many reference books and scholarly works, including The Oxford Handbook of Religious Diversity: Contemporary Challenges, Global ResponsesThe Oxford Handbook of EschatologyBlackwell Companion to Philosophy of ReligionThe Chronicles of Narnia and PhilosophyC. S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness, and BeautyThe Continuing Relevance of Wesleyan Theology: Essays in Honor of Laurence W. WoodPhilosophy and the Christian Worldview:  Analysis, Assessment, and DevelopmentBasketball and Philosophy: Thinking Outside the PaintHandbook on Science and ReligionThe History of Evil (6 volumes); The Oxford Handbook of Atheism; and The Cambridge Handbook on Evolutionary Ethics, and the Cambridge Companion to Religious Experience (forthcoming).

Dr. Peterson has received both research grants and programmatic grants from various major foundations:  Lilly Endowment, Pew Charitable Trust, the John Templeton Foundation, and the Institute for Advanced Christian Scholarship.  Dr. Peterson launched and continues as the Managing Editor of the prestigious scholarly journal Faith and Philosophy, published at Asbury Theological Seminary and now available free and open access worldwide at faithandphilosophy.com.  He has lectured widely and conducted a large number of seminars and workshops on topics in his areas of expertise.

Heidi Wilcox, host of the Thrive Podcast

Writer, podcaster, and social media manager, Heidi Wilcox shares stories of truth, justice, healing and hope. She is best known as the host of Spotlight, (especially her blooper reel) highlighting news, events, culturally relevant topics and stories of the ways alumni, current students and faculty are attempting something big for God. If you can’t find her, she’s probably cheering on her Kentucky Wildcats, enjoying a cup of coffee, reading or spending time with her husband, Wes.



Transcript

Heidi Wilcox:
Hey everyone, welcome to this week’s edition of the Thrive with Asbury Seminary podcast. I’m your host, Heidi E. Wilcox bringing you conversations with authors, thought leaders, and people just like you who are looking to connect with where your passion meets the world’s deep needs. Today, on the podcast, I had the privilege of talking to Dr. Michael Peterson, Professor of Philosophy and Religion at the Seminary. We talk about his recently released book, C. S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview. We’ll link to this book in the show notes so you can pick up a copy if you haven’t already done so.

Heidi Wilcox:
His book engages Lewis philosophically and provides a comprehensive framework for Lewis’s worldview. We talk about things like the relationship between faith and science, the problem of evil, what we can learn from Lewis’s worldview and how we can appropriately apply it to our own lives. Let’s listen.

Heidi Wilcox:
Dr. Peterson, thank you so much for joining me today on the Thrive with Asbury Seminary podcast. I’m very excited to have you here and to get to talk about your book, C. S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview, so thanks for joining me today.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Well, you’re certainly welcome. Glad to be here.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. So you’re a professor of Philosophy and Religion at Asbury Seminary. How do you like teaching Asbury Seminary?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
I love it here. I’ve been here about a decade, but I had spent several decades of my teaching career at the university level and I was all about engaging culture and intellectual circles to help Christian beliefs seem rationally credible and I spent a lot of my career in that particular setting, but after coming here I see that those same concerns translate very well, I think and try to bring that particular dimension to seminary education of engaging culture and making sure we are good stewards of the intellectual aspect of Christian faith. So I am just having a ball.

Heidi Wilcox:
Awesome. Awesome. What classes do you teach at the seminary?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Well, I teach the required Philosophy of the Christian Religion, which is a very broad based introduction and everybody has to take that. Then I teach the C. S. Lewis course called C. S. Lewis in Christian Faith. I teach Science and the Christian faith because my PhD is actually in Philosophy of Science.

Heidi Wilcox:
Wow!

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Yeah, I do quite a bit with the, you might call it the science religion dialogue or the science religion debate in general culture, which is everybody’s got to be aware of that, so we tie into that in that course and then I do a course on Suffering and Tragedy and Christian Faith, which is about the problem of evil, problem of suffering. If God is good, why does this happen? Everybody knows that perennial human question.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes. Yes. What prompted your interest in C. S. Lewis?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
I began reading Lewis as an undergraduate philosophy major and mostly is just his philosophical works, and I thought they were a model of not just intellect and passion in presenting what I would call the reasonableness and the attractiveness of Christian faith. Lewis was highly trained in philosophy. I think he’s an excellent philosopher, but he’s not a professional philosopher. He’s a communicator to the general public and so some of his critics will say well he’s not a technically precise philosopher and in my view, they don’t read him closely enough or sympathetically enough, but I could see from early on when I began reading Lewis as an undergraduate, I could just see that so many of these ideas were rooted in very good philosophical background.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Even in my book I try to give him a representation that is maybe a little more academic than some of his more popular books would seem, but it’s the same idea is getting a better representation at an academic level.

Heidi Wilcox:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes. I really enjoyed reading your book, by the way, just so you know.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Oh, thank you.

Heidi Wilcox:
It was very good. Yeah. Have you read all of C. S. Lewis’s works?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
I have not read everything. I read mostly his philosophy books. There’s just a handful, but he’s got a lot of philosophical essays.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes he does.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Academic and collected books, with those essays compiled but particularly his scholarship on medieval literature and poetry. I don’t read a lot. Unless it has some part of it that’s has a philosophical interest for me. Of course you got children, raising them children we read the fantasy and the fiction.

Heidi Wilcox:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Of course. What is your favorite work of Lewis?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Actually my favorite is maybe his simplest and it’s Mere Christianity. That’s a series of radio broadcasts done during the war and he bonded so much with the people in Great Britain by doing that and just trying to speak as a communicator to a wide variety of people during a very tough time about what Christianity really is all about. And so I think the reason it’s my favorite is number one, you see a really erudite person knowing how to communicate in interesting ways and very clear ways. These are some of the best expression – that’s why the book is so much beloved and in Christian literature, just the clearest expression of Christian faith.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
I think the part of it that I like the best is his Trinitarianism. He works in the book toward a view of God as Trinity and he’s a Social Trinitarian that God is a real fellowship of Father, Son and Holy spirit and to be able to do that really over BBC Radio broadcasts in short little snippets, then it all gets put into that book. That’s an amazing piece of communication on the one hand, and it’s also incredibly Orthodox Christian in putting the Trinity at the center of Christian theology.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes. I had never heard the explanation of Mere Christianity until I read your book and it was talking about what the word “mere” means. I had thought it was just Christianity, but I was really fascinated to hear that it was just pure unmixed Christianity. I think to me it gave the book a whole new meaning or a holding dimension, I guess.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Yes. Yeah, I agree. A lot of people think… they use the modern sense of “mere”, which means small or diminutive-

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
… insignificant or something like that, but you know, he meant it to be unadulterated by non essentials. And what he says in the early pages of the book is he’s going to avoid denominational preferences and sectarian interests because those are off putting to a non-believing public and then they actually put the believing community off in more narrow directions than they should be going as well. And so he tries to stick to just historic orthodoxy and that’s actually had a revival in our day in the last several decades. The great Tom Odin, his work, we see NT Wright and his work all now coming back to saying yes, that’s our guidepost. That’s our touchstone is orthodoxy, not our denominational preferences and agendas.

Heidi Wilcox:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Why is Lewis so revered then as a philosopher and theologian?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
I think that the Christian community in Christians from so many different traditions, they just love Lewis, although he’s really not a professional philosopher and he’s not a professional theologian.

Heidi Wilcox:
Interesting.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
He was trained in philosophy. He was trained in literature and took prestigious honors in both fields, but he ended up in literature, technically a professor of literature both at Oxford and then later at Cambridge. I think it’s because it’s Lewis the communicator and it’s not just a kind of a bare intellectual truth. He has a rich, imaginative life and he knows how to communicate that, he knows how to communicate very well to people and what he communicates is nourishing. It’s significant. It’s important. It’s the deepest level of thought about God and thought about how to live our lives with God.

Heidi Wilcox:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes. When I was reading your book and you pulled quotes from different pieces of his work, it just helped me think about God in ways that I’ve may have had questions about or been thinking about, but maybe didn’t have the words or the space in my head to think about it that way. So there was… yeah, I would totally agree with that.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Oh, it’s amazing. Some of the images he uses. The central image I think that he uses in all this literature would be that of The Great Dance. You see that such a rich, colorful image and it was thought of by Saint Gregory of Nazianzus in the fifth century when he was reflecting on John 14:17. When Jesus… there’s also this language in those chapters. Jesus says, “If you abide in me as I abide in the father.” And so this language of abiding or dwelling in, Nazianzus was reflecting on that and thought of God as a kind of a dance, a giving and receiving of mutual respect and honor and love and he envisions the inner life of God being “The Great Dance.” And Lewis makes that I think his signature image in all his works.

Heidi Wilcox:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Which-

Dr. Michael Peterson:
It comes up late in mere Christianity and he also has about 10 pages devoted to it in para lender.

Heidi Wilcox:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). It’s a beautiful image.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
It is.

Heidi Wilcox:
Earlier this year in January, I believe it was, you published your newest book, C. S. Lewis and the Christian Worldview. So I was just hoping that you could give us an overview of this book so that I can learn more about it and that our audience can hear more about it as well.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Sure. The book came out in January in the US. I think it was out in April in the UK and worldwide, but I wanted that book to fill a gap. I had seen that gap literally for decades in all the writings about Lewis, the commentaries and so on. I mean, works that are on his fantasy and fiction are abundant and the retellings of his life story, his biography are abundant. But there’s a gap in engaging him philosophically and you know, there are some books that do that. They’re just a few and a few essays or books of essays, but they’re topical. They’re selected topics and I thought there’s no book out there that gives a comprehensive framework for his worldview. And even if you look at my table of contents, which I’ve been working on that in my head for decades, I just never had time to write the book until recently.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
The table of contents is a kind of a template for how you can think about Christian worldview as Lewis approaches it and so we treat his arguments for the existence of God. Arguments, reason, morality, and joy. Search for joy. Those three are distinctively Lewisian, and then his central ideas of incarnation and trinity form the middle of the book. Those are very rich. If you ask me. He’s amazing.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Then it plays out on very important philosophical issues like promised suffering, science and scientism, the problems of prayer and providence. I have a chapter on that and how in the fate of the unbelieving, the fate of the unevangelized, I have a chapter on that. What do you do with people outside the faith who through no fault of their own, have never heard the gospel, let’s say, or never heard a credible presentation of the gospel.

Heidi Wilcox:
Right.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
So then once you have the buildup through the middle of the book, it plays out on all these kinds of issues. In the final chapters of the book.

Heidi Wilcox:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). What did you learn from your research and writing? Did you learn anything new as you wrote this book?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Well, I learned how vast the literature on Lewis really is. I mean, I knew it was vast, but just diving into it felt like diving into the ocean. I learned how much energy there still is for Lewis. It’s amazing. I think it was at the turn of the millennium in the year 2000. I was looking at a survey by Christianity Today magazine on the best Christian books of the 20th century. I think they surveyed, was it 100 or so of their best authors and consultants and Lewis’s books, took the seven of the top 10.

Heidi Wilcox:
Wow!

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Mere Christianity was number one.

Heidi Wilcox:
Wow!

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Screwtape might’ve been number two. Great Divorce was high. It’s just… it’s crazy.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. It’s not surprising. I mean, were you surprised by that?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
No. I don’t know whether I was surprised or I was just almost pat to pass out, but he’d take seven out of 10. I’ve thought a few but seven out of 10, but it just shows you that over time the Christian community has really bonded with Lewis.

Heidi Wilcox:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). What would you say is the central element to Lewis’s Christian worldview?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Well, I think that Lewis’s idea of orthodoxy that it’s within historic Christian orthodoxy that we find clarity on who God is and how we properly relate to God. I think that when he envisions God as a Trinity, as we were mentioning, I think that’s very central and then his call to all people as whole persons, not just to be intellectual, but to use your intellect and to the best of your ability everybody’s going to vary, but you have to use your intellect to find truth about God, but you also have to, to feel this almost existential or a deeply personal need that God has built into us to search for him.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
And so you’re coming to God ultimately as a whole person and I know when you read Lewis’s story, which I recount in the first part of my book, he’s got all these different elements of his life that are not balanced. They’re not together. They’re out of sync. His mind is going one way. His emotions are going in another. His mind as an atheist tells him there’s not a universe provides meaning and joy and yet he has this deep need. He just can’t quite push away for meaning and joy and that’s a little bit a different concept from just sheer truth and making an intellectual acceptance of truth. It’s ultimately, he’s saying when you come to God, he gets all of you and he fixes all of you.

Heidi Wilcox:
What can we learn from Lewis’s faith journey and well thought out faith? Cause you were talking about his journey from atheist to then accepting Christianity. So what can we learn from his journey?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
I think for one thing we learned that you have to keep pursuing. I’m thinking that maybe the most quoted biblical verse in Lewis throughout his writings is: “Those who seek, find. Those who truly seek, will find.” And that is really his life story. Almost 20 years, 20 years of searching from his early teens when he lost his faith, when his mother died and his prayers weren’t answered to save her. And she was his rock and his security, then intellectually went to boarding schools, private boarding schools, and they damaged his faith severely.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
From early teens, he records being a non-believer and an atheist and he didn’t become a Christian till just around 30 years of age, 20 years.

Heidi Wilcox:
Wow!

Dr. Michael Peterson:
But he didn’t give up and partly that’s the strength of that divinely given need for meaning and for joy. And so he’s partly giving witness to that and he’s partly giving witness because he’s thinking it through. He’s got a lot of thoughts about this, that he’s picked up from a different worldviews and he’s exploring all those different worldviews. So his intellect is the need in his heart. They’re all working together eventually to bring him into that point of conversion, but it’s almost 20 years search, so never give up or give up on anybody else.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. What was his tipping point, if you will, to accept the Christian faith?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
I think… of course, you know, it’s a building process and things were being built into his thinking that he may not have reacted to at the time, but he was wounded in the war. He read G. K. Chesterton’s Everlasting Man while he was in the hospital and for the first time during his atheist period of time he saw the Christian outline of history and began to see the claim that Jesus was the central pivotal point of history. Then he moves to Oxford, gets his first job, put in the English department and he’s a cocky and arrogant. And There’s Tolkien who’s an Orthodox Christian believer and Catholic Christian who understands ortho… If you understand orthodoxy and you intellectually process that you’re not going to be too terribly intimidated by a squeaky little atheist to be really frank. You get Chesterton, you get other things he was reading.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
You get Tolkien in his life speaking to him, you get all these influences that he eventually, it’s almost like a combination lock. The different tumblers have to fall in place and he’s struggling too, because he knows if what they’re saying is true, he’ll have to give himself away to God and he’s very much self-controlling person. He began to struggle with even that and I think that’s a very typical human trait. You know, you need to do this as as the truth of Christianity looms larger in your thinking, but you’re also resistant. So it’s kind of like an approach avoidance, but he eventually gave in and believed in God, began going to church and chapel at Oxford and then a short while later became a robust Christian and believed in Jesus. That was actually a kind of a dual process believing in God and then later, just a little later believing in Jesus and becoming a Christian.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
But anyway that’s… I think the tipping point was probably, if you look at what he says is late night walk with Tolkien and Hugo Dyson around Addison’s Walk, it’s on the side of Magdalen College Oxford. So it was with the Lake and there’s a little dirt path and they were talking about how he could think intellectually about the truth of the incarnation and the significance of the incarnation. He couldn’t quite… he could believe in God, but to believe that God was identified with the historical person, Jesus, a first century Nazareth and all the meaning we invest with that. He couldn’t come… And so finally that talk, he says really reoriented his thinking and he became a Christian shortly thereafter.

Heidi Wilcox:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). How can we take his Lewis… because Lewis spent 20 years, exploring different things intellectually. How can we take his faith journey and study and then apply it appropriately to our own journeys?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Well, of course I would say there’s both the universal and the particular aspects and it’s the universal aspects that I think we have to key on if we’re going to apply it to ourselves.

Heidi Wilcox:
Okay.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
If God builds human beings all the same universally, then there’s going to be some commonalities, but then they’re also going to be particularities that just you can’t duplicate. They won’t compare. I think there’ll always be that universal versus the particular way of analyzing what was universal in humans, in Lewis’s search I think was that there is a need to find truth. There’s a need to find meaning and joy and he pursued those. He was a good steward of his divinely given powers of reasoning, which were considerable, but he was also increasingly paying attention to this deep need, a human need for meaning and those two threads weave together in Lewis’s life.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
And so I think everybody has to pay attention to their own human nature needing truth, needing meaning. Those are universals and ultimately needing God of course, but the particularities are pretty hard to duplicate. The amazing education he had, his amazing abilities. We don’t all have those. We have our different gifts, our different abilities, but those are hard to duplicate. I know, particularly the way he expresses his need for joy.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
I personally don’t relate to that. I don’t have any emotional personality and so I think, well, if people think that Lewis’s quest for joy, lifelong quest for joy and meaning and fulfillment as a human being, which you didn’t find in other worldviews, they didn’t present a universe in which that’s even possible, but if we take that and we go for the emotive language, the emotional language he uses, I’m thinking, I don’t relate to that. So in the book, I try to make a point that we should pay attention to the universal human need for joy and meaning, but it’s packaged differently in different people because of their own emotional structures. I think that’s a better way of applying Lewis and what happened to Lewis in universal terms that should happen to all human beings? We should seek truth, meaning and fulfillment in God.

Heidi Wilcox:
What is the role of philosophers and theologians in our own faith? I mean, I guess what I’m trying to ask is-

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Sure.

Heidi Wilcox:
… like Lewis had his, after his exploration, he had his beliefs and way of thinking about faith and how Christianity worked. If that’s an inappropriate way to say it. So how can we… what is that role like? Because I think what I sometimes feel like, or I’m not sure if this is the right way, but like he spent so much time thinking about it so it must be correct and therefore I should believe the same thing too. Does that make sense?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Yeah, it does. I think that Lewis would not want us to do that of course. Just believe on his prestige or his lovability. He would want us to believe what’s true on its own grounds and if he’s helped us see those grounds, those logical grounds, the evidence, the reasoning, he presents, the way it resonates with our humanity. All of these things are good grounds and they all come together for Lewis, but he’d want the us to own the process and not just take it secondhand from him, even though he certainly led the way and opened up a lot of ways of thinking and understanding to others and he’s much beloved for it.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
He’d want us to own it and think it through for ourselves. That can include reading philosophy and theology and but not everybody is an academic or going to read some of the most technical and sophisticated stuff and that’s all okay, but we all have philosophical ideas and we all have theological ideas and it’s important that those ideas be as clear and as accurate and helpful as we can make them according to our ability and our background.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes. No, I understand that. I think I’m getting to the point in my own faith where I’m like… I mean my faith is definitely personal to me, but I want to understand more about it and how it works instead of just being like, this is what the church has told me or my parents have told me, my friends have told me I want to understand and to be able to think through some of the things on my own.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Yes. I agree.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. So you said that you’d been a fan of Lewis, a scholar of Lewis since undergrad. Are there any similarities between your faith journey and Lewis’s faith journey?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
I think on the universals. I think I was a kid who was not ever a… but not on the particularities. Like I was never an official unbeliever or atheist as he claimed to be early on. I was just a kid who was lost and search, but searching, I was a thoughtful kid. And so I validate the search, just like Lewis validates the search. You’ve got to be on a search and the biblical promise of course, is that those who search honestly and sincerely will find. And so from my early teens, I was a searcher. That’s true and a thinker. I remember eating several dialogues of Plato. I remember reading Aristotle when I was 13 or so, something like that.

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh, wow!

Dr. Michael Peterson:
From a book club, a $1 book club. In my teens you could buy books for a dollar-

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh, wow!

Dr. Michael Peterson:
… but at any rate I think that the combination of good books and good friends in Lewis’s background search is important and I’d say the same for me that particularly when I began dating a United Methodist minister’s daughter in high school-

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
… my high school sweetheart, and she was getting me around her United Methodist minister family. Her dad was the local pastor of the Methodist Church. That was an amazing influence and he would give me books to explain Christianity and so forth and take time with me. So for Lewis it was Tolkien and Dyson and others influencing him and for me it was the particular friends who and people in my life who influenced me. So I think that’s a similarity. I think the similar emphasis on intellect, the similar emphasis on trying to communicate to others, help others to understand clearly the gospel and it’s claims. I think all those are some similarities and by the way, we celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in June.

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh, wow. Congratulations.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Yeah, that’s my high school sweetheart.

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh, wow. That’s awesome.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Thank you.

Heidi Wilcox:
So your book includes, I believe it was for the first time in publication letters that Lewis and Thomas Van Osdall exchange. Can you introduce us to these letters?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Yes, there are volumes, large volumes of Lewis correspondence and when you put those things together, you always hope that all the different letters of Lewis that you can get a hold of and publish had come together. I guess you’d think, well how do you ever know you’ve got them all, but a few years ago as I mentioned in the book, in the appendix where they are present in the book that few years ago, Ashland university near Cleveland found these letters. Thomas Van Osdall was a scientist in their science department and wanted to write a book for general, the sort of general culture explaining the role of science and how impactful, how influential it’s been in general culture and that it actually is something that religion needs to take account of and not be blind to or naive about.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
And it’s a human achievement. It’s a major human activity and we have to encounter it correctly and he thought that there was a way of sort of formulating a Christian engagement with science, but yet explaining real science, not fake science or not, not amateur science, but he knew Lewis was the great communicator. This was in the early months, I guess my more middle of 1963 the year Lewis died. And so Lewis was just in the process of becoming an invalid but still answering fan mail and that kind of thing. And so we found five letters. They were given to the university by a friend of the family who would cleaning up the estate and things like that and so the university has the originals on display in the library. But the letters ask about Lewis’s advice, his advice on a science and Christianity volume.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
And you see it in the early letters, Lewis was giving some advice and they’re having a nice chat back and forth. Then one letter by then Van Osdall is missing and the reply by Lewis was found, and that’s the last letter, just almost a month or so before he died in November. So this would be maybe like in October and it’s totally changed. The conversation has changed. So we can only infer what Van Osdall’s letter must have said because Lewis says, “I’m so sorry to hear of the death of your teenage son.” You are no longer talking science. And Van Osdall has revealed he lost his only son, his teenage son in a car accident and is grieving and not sure if he’ll finish the book as expected and those kinds of things.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
And so Lewis immediately switches to a sympathetic response saying, “I know exactly what you’re feeling, I too know what it’s like to have lost what you love most.” And he’s alluding of course, to his own loss of his wife joy and by charming coincidence, he sought for joy all his life, found it in the Christian God and then he married late in life. The American woman named Joy.

Heidi Wilcox:
I thought that was beautiful and really funny.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Well, he taps into his own sorrow and his own sense of loss from a few years before when he had lost Joy. And it’s a very human letter. It’s a great letter. Yeah. Very human Lewis.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes. Very empathetic and compassionate.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Oh, yeah.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. How did she get access to these letters?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Well, the president of Ashland at the time called me. He knew I had written some stuff on Lewis and he knew me and called me and said, “Would you come up and we’ll do a kind of an unveiling of these letters and you will speak about their importance and talk a little bit about Lewis.” And since Van Osdall was a scientist and much beloved by the university there, he says, maybe do something that touches on science. So I put together a talk and did that and before I left I mentioned to them that I wanted to do this book and I’d like to touch base with them and get facsimiles or something of those letters and their permission to reprint.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
And so that eventually developed and they were in the book, but yeah, I was just invited kind of out of the blue. I didn’t expect it, but to come in and be part of the, sort of a public relations event, which you know being identified with Lewis gives every institution prestige the can do it.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes. How cool is that? What an opportunity.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
I don’t think it was being identified with me.

Heidi Wilcox:
So Dr. Peterson, as we’re talking about Thomas van Osdall and C.S. Lewis and faith and science. What is the relationship between those two things?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Well speaking for Lewis, so to speak, and that would be my own view as well. Science is an important human activity spawned by God-given gifts of intellect and the ability to inquire and learn truth about his world or parts of his world. Usually we say the physical world nature and all the sciences of nature and Lewis, he was broadly educated, mostly in the humanities, philosophy, literature but he respected mainline science and he had a pretty good understanding of its methodology that it was kind of religiously neutral.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Science wasn’t about answering religious questions. Is there a God? Is there not a God? That’s hardly a scientific question and there’s no scientific answer. And so he was very wary of attempts to use amateurish interpretations of science either to prove or to disprove faith or questions that were not scientific questions.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
I would say Lewis’s very sane approach is to say within the Christian worldview, all of life and reality make sense and fit together and science and its study of nature is part of all of reality and it’s within the Christian worldview that its very existence makes sense. That we have a rational world able to be physically studied, understood and in some worldviews that’s hard to get. And how about the rationality that humans exhibit in science? Some worldviews don’t even support rationality, all that well.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Lewis was predicting truly an opponent of secularism and naturalism and materialism. Those kinds of attitudes that he thought were the dominant worldview of secular Western culture. They call it naturalism and naturalism believes that the world came about by chance and it’s only physical. There are no supernatural beings and if that’s the case, Lewis asked in his argument from reason, how in the world reason the ability to think logically ever occurred in a naturalistic universe? So he’s already in his argument from reason which occurs in his book Miracles actually, he’s already suggesting that really only a worldview that supports rationality in a full and robust way could support science.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Then you also need a rational coherent world to study and he once again looks at other worldviews and says, “Christianity says it best, a rational God created a rational world to be rationally studied.” And so that’s more the relationship than some of these attempts you see all the time in popular religious literature of trying to use science to prove God’s existence or also popular and academic literature that thinks science disproves God. That’s I think a way of looking at what Lewis is doing, he’s appreciative of mainline science, not trying to deny it or be threatened by it, but to frame it, to say what kind of a world his very existence can occur with within.

Heidi Wilcox:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes, that makes sense. So you were talking about this a little bit, but I have to ask too-

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Sure.

Heidi Wilcox:
… with the intellectual side of Lewis’s faith, where is the faith element for him and then for us as well?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Very good point. I think he views faith holistically, meaning that it’s not just a feeling or a choice. You hear that occasionally, but it’s the whole person and the whole person includes the intellectual, the need for truth and need for understanding. So that not everybody can be an academic or read sophisticated theology and philosophy, but they still have a need for truth and understanding within the limits of whatever capacities and gifts and background we have.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
So in that regard, that’s a universal that all humans need to find truth about God and within that context of mentally or intellectually understanding the truth about God, we respond in trust and faith. Otherwise, you get a kind of a blind faith or emotional faith without guidance by truth. So a lot of his journey, for example, could be interpreted as him looking for a mental framework within which he could exercise valid faith.

Heidi Wilcox:
And he said-

Dr. Michael Peterson:
He found it after about a 20 year search.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. That makes sense. Why is it so important to have a well thought out faith or as Lewis would put it, to align ourselves with reality in our intellect and our faith?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Yeah. Lewis, one of his recurring themes is that in coming to God and exercising obedient faith in God, we are aligning ourselves with reality and he uses a capital R. So all of life actually outside of religious concerns is partly a process of aligning ourselves with reality. When I know how reality is in and I’m not mistaken about it, then I know the truth. Right now, I’m sitting in a chair and I have to respond appropriately to the kind of reality that chair is.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
I can’t float in the air and I can’t do certain things. It’s got its own reality that I can’t create. I can’t change. I’m responding to it as we talk and Lewis’s point is that God is a reality, we don’t invent, we can’t change. We can’t change the terms on which we are to have relationship with him. And so in aligning myself with the reality of this God, I have to be the one who changes. I have to submit, obey, allow myself to be transformed because I can’t come to God and make demands. I’d like to be this way, or I’d like to be that way. It’s really much more about having his life take root in our lives and grow in our lives and transform us in ways that he chooses.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
So that’s something that number one for Lewis has the intellectual aspect. I have to understand this about God, I have to own it intellectually, but then I have to personally live into it.

Heidi Wilcox:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Kind of like you have to know the truth and live the truth.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Good point. I think that’s what he’s saying really.

Heidi Wilcox:
Okay. So with that, one of the quotes that you used in your book from your Christianity really stood out to me about how we search for Christ. And so the quote was, “As long as your own personality is what you’re bothering about. You’re not going to him at all, look for Christ and you will find him.” And so that really kind of puzzled me because I’m not sure what it means to truly seek Christ, because I mean, for me, a lot of times I think about, oh, I got really frustrated at this person. I need to change that about me. So how can we truly seek or no I need to change that about me, but you know what I mean? Like, that’s something that I need God to work on. And so for me, it sometimes does revolve around my outward action. So what does it mean to truly seek Christ?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Yeah. Excellent question. I think using that quote that as long as you’re bothering about your own personality, you’re not really going to find Christ. This is a super quote. He says that in so many different ways in different writings, his point, I think is the human problem of self obsession, self control, self preoccupation is one of his big targets. We often want to come to God for selfish… either we keep ourselves from coming to God because we don’t want to give up control. That was his problem, but even in coming to God, you can come for reasons that are less than worthy or less than positive like you want something and he’s probably saying you have to come to God for who he is and himself, and you can’t preoccupied with your own self and your own sort of prescription for how you’d like to come to God.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
What you’d like God to do for you X, Y and Z. That particularly comes out in Great Divorce. In The Great Divorce, this dream of people in the realm of the damned going to heaven to see if they could maybe like to stay there, but then they’d have to conform to reality of course.

Heidi Wilcox:
I guess.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
They were enjoying their unreality which is hell and for Lewis that’s unreality. So they encounter many of these people who are just visiting, they’re ghosts, they’re insubstantial. They’re not fully real because they haven’t given themselves to God and wanted to be in heaven and they may see a loved one who’s deceased and in heaven and want to be with a loved one but they will be told, well, you can be here if you’ll give yourself to reality, let God himself change you. And they’ll say, “You mean I could get to see Reginald or I could get to see this other person or I could get to do this or that if I come to God?”

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Then the advice is, “No, you can’t come that way. You have to come to God because you need God and everything else will fall into place, but you can’t use God as a means to your end. God is an end in himself.”

Dr. Michael Peterson:
So interesting. Now I should probably add that Lewis early in life sort of believed that, early in his Christian life, you come to God purely as a matter of principle because he’s the ruler of all and we’re the subjects and we finally acknowledged that. But really as his thought about Christian conversion matured, he realized most of us don’t come exactly that way and you can’t say you can’t come to God, unless you do it out of the right principles that there’s this deep divinely given need, a need for God, a need for meaning a need for joy. And that drives us as well and is it selfish?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Well, it’s certainly about ourselves. It’s about our deep need that God gave us, as Augustine said and Lewis was a big fan of Augustine, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” And so pursuing that need is not irrational. It’s not unproductive. So he believes in that as well, pursue truth and pursue meaning, but he was really pointing out lesser motivations, like using God to get what I want or get to some other good that’s less than what conversion and Christian life is really all about. He points a lot of that out in Great Divorce. Some of that comes out in Screwtape as well. Studying human personalities and their way of rationalizing, how I’m not square up to God.

Heidi Wilcox:
Can some of those lesser reasons for coming to God, help you get to the deeper reason and the ultimate reason for coming to God?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
I think so. I think so. I don’t think God is… I mean, you think about this, the amazingly humble God who will take us on virtually any terms, who knows what motivations we might have, who knows what kind of confusions we might have. We’ll come to him, it’ll all start working out. I think that’s a big theme in Lewis. He didn’t come to God perfectly. You know what I’m saying? According to some prescribed method, none of us, I don’t think do come in some perfectly prescribed method. We come how we come, the needs we have. I think his mature reflections on that process allow him to pick out some themes, like our need for truth, our need for meaning, but yes, I mean, just being fearful, just being needy. If it brings you to God, hey, it’s all part of prevenient grace.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
It’s all part of the brace that seeks and draws.

Heidi Wilcox:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So I want to add about Lewis and the problem of evil and how he reconciled that with a loving God, especially because right now, as we’re recording, we’re in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. So we’re all kind of dealing with some version of the question, if God is loving and good, how did this happen?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Yes. Excellent question. It’s the perennial human question and Lewis knew that and wrote a whole book, The Problem of Pain, where you get kind of his academic answer to that and briefly he wove together two elements to talk about why God would create a world like this, that a loving good God would create a good world, a good world that allows for us responding to God or rejecting God and having relationships to others. He says: ” what kind of features have to be part of that kind of world?”

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Well, there has to be a structure to nature. There have to be natural laws. Nature has to have a regular operation as our context for action and response. Also, we have to have a very robust kind of free will where we can do some amazingly good things or some very, very bad things and that’s within our range of freewill and very risky kind of world for God to create, but there’s no relationship without risk. In marriage or in friendship or in other interpersonal context, if there’s power and control, you destroy relationship automatically. That’s a law of life.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
So Lewis paints a picture in pain of a world that’s got these two features, natural laws freewill and the point of that world is to allow us to grow toward God if we will choose and build relationship with God. So that’s his academic answer and he’s often almost over simplified by people who quote some of these things that pain is meant to get our attention and make us return to God. It can, it certainly can do that or it can turn us against God because it’s so intense. People react different. So sometimes his interpreters, I think aren’t fair to the, just the sheer riskiness that he’s trying to suggest.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
So many goods, so many pleasures, so many wonderful things to do in God’s world, but there’s so many ways to go wrong. It’s a strange mixture that creates the question. Why would God create a world that turns out like this? And his point is that it’s not controlled. It’s a risk, it’s a relational risk and that we should be thankful for the life we have, do the best by it. Turn to God, live into God, and we will have done what this world was meant to offer us.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Now on the personal level, not the academics so much, when the bachelor Lewis late in life, married Joy, Joy Gresham, this American woman who was a fan and a reader and an accomplished poet on her own. They married and he said, “I found a happiness that I didn’t think would ever come my way.” And then soon thereafter she’s diagnosed with cancer. It’s eating away her femur and there’s lots of pain, suffering. The treatments were hard. They pray, they think she might be healed. She’s not healed. She dies an agonizing death and he witnesses all of this and he’s torn up about this. He’s just heartbroken.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
So his academic answer from pain he should have said, well, it’s a risky world. Natural processes didn’t go our way and that’s that. But of course that’s an academic answer and he began to feel it very personally when he lost her, it changes things. And it’s not that the academic answer is false. It’s that the academic answer is not the whole answer.

Heidi Wilcox:
Right.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
And so Lewis is actually angry thinking that this should never have happened. It’s very personal, deeply personal thing. He writes his book, A Grief Observed which is kind of a diary where he journals all of his thoughts and feelings and there’s anger at God, questioning God, wondering what it’s worth to be Christian, if you can’t have things go well and basically by the end of the book, he’s saying I’m calming down, I’ve processed my emotions. I feel like I’ve got a deeper faith, but it’s not a faith that is untried and has never suffered. And I see that happiness can include suffering.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
So I have happiness with God, but suffering now has been part of my happiness. So it’s very interesting. So he’s got the academic answers, which I think are exactly correct actually. Natural law, freewill makes a chance a universe, but it’s the chance to do good. It’s the chance to do evil and we must choose, but we’re also set in this physical setting, which is not always going to give us the most pleasant experiences we will get sick. We will lose loved ones. It’s a strange world in that regard, but it’s a world where we can touch one another, where we can have all sorts of opportunities to do good and be thankful for those opportunities.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
So at any rate, I would say that the fragility of life in this world is still a gift, but it is fragile and he emphasizes that considerably in both his academic and his personal reactions. To put those two books together, Problem of Pain, Grief Observed is an amazing exercise and see why he’s dealing with two levels.

Heidi Wilcox:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I thought it was interesting how, when he was grieving, Joy’s passing, it ended up ultimately bringing him closer to God because of how he processed his grief and processed it with faith, but then earlier in his life, of course, he was much younger and not as mature and things like that, but his mom’s death drove him completely away from faith.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
That’s exactly correct. It’s how you respond, it’s not the event or the situation itself that determines the outcome. It’s the human response. As they say the same sun that melts the butter hardens the clay.

Heidi Wilcox:
That’s true.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
It’s the personal response. When you look at the pandemic, I think in an academic way, you can say kind of in a Lewisian fashion, nothing has changed. This is not a new piece of evidence. There been goods and evils mixed in this world for all time, for all history. This is not somehow tipping the scales more toward there not being a God. From the Lisbon Earthquake to the Spanish Flu to World Wars, to whatever offset against on the other side of the ledger, all the human goods of love for family and friends and good deeds and accomplishments. It’s in the balance, but it doesn’t tip the balance.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
And just like with Joy’s death, people have been dying throughout history and loved ones are grieving for them. Joy’s death was not a new piece of evidence, never before thought of, but it didn’t happen to Lewis. Those other things didn’t happen to him and it was personal to Lewis. And that’s that other dimension we were talking about, where you have to get yourself in a frame of mind where you’re allowed to feel your grief and process it, however you process it. He processed it in a pretty intellectual way. If you’d read the terminology and grief, that really, this is his journal, but still he comes up to this very deeply personal trust that his faith is still there, but it’s been through the fire and it’s in a sense deeper. He still would love to have her back-

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, of course.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
… but he is where he is and he can’t have her back. So he’s testifying to a greater faith, but it doesn’t change the intellectual situation, the academic problem, and a good response, just to add one more piece of the same old, same old. You know what I’m saying? Well, people don’t get that. I hear occasionally people say, did God bring this pandemic? And I just have to say, the world has always been capable of natural processes that either benefit us or harm us, and we do our best to navigate, and this is not new. So it’s not some new judgment or anything like that. It’s just a risky world on both physical level and the spiritual level.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes. Dr. Peterson, I have so enjoyed our conversation today. We’ve talked about a lot of things. Before we close, is there anything else you want to mention that we haven’t talked about already?

Dr. Michael Peterson:
I can’t think of much other than to say I think the merging theme of Lewis is that this is a relational God, a Trinitarian life, a self-living self-giving life, that is at the heart of reality, and it created everything else not to get anything, but to give and to give the opportunity for relationship with others and relationship with that life at the center of the universe and that everything Lewis does is sort of under that umbrella and that’s the amazing theme I think that frames Lewis, and even in talk about evil and suffering, it’s talked about within a relational universe that is structured for relationship, but it’s risky, but never lose sight of the fact or forget that it’s about something very good. It’s a good kind of world created by a perfectly good God.

Heidi Wilcox:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). Definitely. So as we wrap up the podcast today, we have one question that we ask every guest who comes on. So because the show is called the Thrive with Asbury Seminary podcast, what is one practice, it can be spiritual or otherwise that is helping you thrive in your life right now.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Well, I hope that some of these things we’ve talked about themes in Lewis will also help people thrive and flourish in their Christian life. I think that’s one of the big attractions that people have always had to Lewis. They feel like he’s not explaining things intellectually, but they’re actually being nourished spiritually by his writing. So I do recommend that people think about that in Lewis and of course by the book.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
But I know I’m on sabbatical this term and so I didn’t have some of the disruptions that some people teaching had in changing their teaching format and that was quite a scramble and we did it, but… Well, I’m sort of secluded at home. I’ve actually been buried and trying to finish a book for Cambridge it’s on biology and science and religion, and that encounter, which is so much really in the public culture these days, that encounter between religion and science. Doing that for Cambridge, turn it in soon.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
I’m just pushing really hard, probably too hard because I’m a workaholic. And as I do that, I don’t know if this is helpful to others because others are probably coming out of sheltering in place and being careful with their health, but for all this weeks I’ve been alone, I’ve been thinking about how great it’s going to be to be back with family and friends that we cannot be with.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
That is very sustaining to me. I’m all about family and I know people will know the, the standard Christian practices. You know, there’s not a lot I can say about that. Probably people don’t know, but if you want something kind of personal for me and sustaining it’s the looking forward to, it’s the anticipation of when we’ll be past all of this and we’ll be with loved ones.

Heidi Wilcox:
Absolutely. Absolutely. I’m looking forward to that too and that, I’m just like, if we can get through this, there is hope on the other side.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Exactly, exactly.

Heidi Wilcox:
Dr. Peterson, thank you so very much for your time today. I’ve greatly enjoyed our conversation and found it very helpful to my own faith and thought life and journey personally. So thank you very much.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
You’re welcome. I enjoyed it. Hope everybody else did too.

Heidi Wilcox:
I’m sure they will. Thank you.

Dr. Michael Peterson:
Thank you.

Heidi Wilcox:
Hey everyone. Thank you so much for joining me for today’s conversation with Dr. Peterson. I hope you found it helpful on your journey to see and think through the truth found in Lewis’s worldview and that it may have helped you come to a deeper understanding of God as we set our hearts to truly seek after him. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll go ahead and subscribe to our podcast in your favorite podcast player and you can follow us in all the places on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @AsburySeminary. Until next time I hope you all have a great day and go do something that helps you thrive.