C.S. Lewis and a theology of Christian Hope

I love C.S. Lewis. I can’t help it. About 20 years ago I read “Mere Christianity” and “Until we have Faces” and right then and there, I was hooked. The thing that I find most appealing about Lewis is the way he approaches life and spirituality. He loved to read, loved to teach, loved to debate, loved to think, and loved to study…but he also loved to imagine, loved a good story, loved to have beer with friends, loved to laugh, and loved to enjoy life. In short, Lewis saw work and play as simultaneous expressions of worship given to God. I have read very few authors, and met even fewer people, who keep as firm a grasp on this as Lewis. I am recently reading Jonathan Edwards and as I work through the material, I can’t help but wondering, “When did this guy ever lighten up?”

I feel the same way in regard to contemporary theologian/pastors such as Piper, Sproul, and Macarthur. Not that those guys are bad. I love those guys. But, to be honest, I don’t think I’d much like to hang out with them. They just seem so serious. All the time. Working. Laboring. Plowing. On the other hand, I also read and listen to guys that don’t ever seem to be serious. The Willow Creek folk are this way. They need to look deeper. Think deeper. Some of the Youth Specialty folk or Young Life guys are like this…just being dumb all the time. Have you ever read the “Whittenburg Door”? As we used to say in inner-city Atlanta, “They play too much”. They make me want to say what I always used to say as a Youth Pastor, “Guys, c’mon. Can we be serious for a minute”?

Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a “time for everything under the sun and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecc. 3:1-4). This is what I like about Lewis. He seemed to get this. And reading him helps me to get it too. This is why I also like authors like Flannery O’connor, G.K. Chesterton, Eugene Peterson, N.T. Wright, and Peter Kreeft. And this is what I love in some of my dearest friends, especially my good friend Bobby Pruitt. Someday I’ll tell you guys about him.

I’m attracted to people who care about moving toward Jesus in this way; as a human being. Not as a machine, or a drone, or a slave, or a worker bee. But also not as a half-cocked, unthinking, comedian, or a pleasure hound, or a silly, goofy, kid. Of all the signs and virtues that indicate true Christian maturity – Love, Faith, Peace, Patience, etc. – this passionate balance of work and play seems to be the most overlooked in evangelical circles. Why is that? I don’t know. It seems that we evangelicals have a lot to say about Faith. We have a lot to say about knowledge. We have a lot to say about what is right and good and moral. But we do not speak much of love. And rarely even still do we talk about Hope. Paul, at the end of his treatise on Love in 1 Corinthians 13, says this at the end. “Yet remain these three…Faith, Hope, and Love. But the greatest of these is Love.” Notice that he sort of economizes these virtues – Faith as great, Hope as greater, and Love as the greatest of all. We evangelicals speak and think a lot about Faith. We talk a little bit about Love. But do we really understand what it means to Hope? This is what makes Lewis so great. He powerfully explores Hope and Love – and this Biblical exploration makes his Faith in Christ all the more beautiful.

Christian – do you Hope? Do you really Hope? Do you Hope all things? Believe all things? We desperately need to understand the power of Christian Hope. We need to understand that, yes, Jesus turned over tables in the temple and He called Peter Satan and that He lived a perfect and holy life. But we also need to understand that the very same Jesus drank really good wine and attended wedding parties and told children stories and that He spoke in parables that brought a chuckle and made a point at the same time. We need to understand that Jesus was and is the God-Man, who calls us to be fully human, even as we are called to embrace the divine. Without Christian Hope, we cannot do this. Because Hope calls us to care – and care intensely. Hope says, “This is not the way it is supposed to be, and I care very much.” But it also demands that I not care at the same time. In this regard Hope says, “This is not how it will always be, so I will not care too much.” Hope tells us to work because there is something to work for – something not yet seen. Hope also tells us to play because there is something to celebrate – something not yet fully known.

“Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see Him face to face (I Cor. 13).

Therefore, Hope frees us to work when it is time to work. And to play when it is time to play. And Hope calls us to do both – to work and play – as acts of worship unto God. When we work, Hope reminds us to work as children, not as orphans. To work as sons who labor alongside their Father, knowing that the day will eventually come to a close, that there comes a time to leave the fields and go home. Home: where supper will be put on the table, where wine will be served, where jokes will be told, where songs will be sung, and friends and family will laugh and celebrate together. And Hope reminds us that the Father who works with us in the field is the very same Father who plays with us at home. Hope gives us this pleasure. Hope gives us this rest. And Hope gives us the courage we need to get up in the morning and head out to the fields again tomorrow.

Thank you C.S. Lewis. Thank you for teaching me how to Love Jesus better; to Hope in Jesus, just as firmly as I Trust in Him.

17 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis and a theology of Christian Hope

  1. Pingback: C.S. Lewis and the Gospel of Hope « Notes from an Eclectic Christian

  2. If I’m going to err, I want to err on the side of playing too much. Trusting that God will do what He will do with me, and trusting that His grace is free, and that nothing…nothing at all is required from my side of the equation.

    Those that work seem to be self-righteouss, or phoney. I like to hang with real people who relize what they are (real sinners)and realize that they have a real Savior, not just one that boosts them up into the saddle.


    – Steve Martin


    • I get what you said. However, I think it is not a matter of work, which I agree makes people self-righteous and phony. It is not work in the conventional sense; it is a total surrender! Surrender to a God, or universe, that is full of wisdom, realizing that we have so much to learn. We can only learn what we need to learn by humbling ourselves, and waiting, waiting, for what is real and true to make itself known to us. The idea of sinners is about the unwillingness to be humbled and listen for wisdom. We are all sinners when we refuse to wait and listen for God. Actions and judgments about what we do or do not do are just like wrapping on a package. They are window dressings, that only focus on our actions. What is important is that we open our heart to a God who is ready and waiting to fill it with love and wisdom. By this we can be transformed, and become who we were meant to be. It is not easy, but it is different than “work” because it is a call to a complete life transformation.


  3. You just described the battle we all face. It’s where we live. And the faithful God will see us to the end. as John wrote, Little children, love one another.


  4. Hey Timmy!
    Keith here. Loved the article. I too am a fan of C.S. Lewis. And, as you know, I believe those that live their lives under such strict, dare I say legalistic, rules are missing out on the way Jesus lived and what He did for us all: He liberated us from such laws with the shedding of His blood on the cross. We’re told that his blood covers a multitude of sins and that once we have been reconciled to Him, we are no longer bound by the law. Well, I’ve said all of that to say that I believe that Jesus Himself enjoyed laughing, enjoyed singing and drinking wine with his fellow man at wedding feasts. In short, I believe Jesus, being both God and Man (John 1:1,14) taught us how to enjoy life, to laugh, to love our fellow man. After all, He was God in the flesh to show us how to live and to point us to the Father. He didn’t do that with an iron rod or a clenched fist. He did it with tenderness and open arms saying, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)


  5. After reading some of the comments I belive we are missing the point Tim is saying. He is not saying that John Piper is wrong but that he has his style and that it is not who he would want to hang out with. But Tim is a big fan of John Piper and he knows that all John Piper writes about is written with a very loving heart for God. I know Tim is not saying to sin because grace abounds but he is saying that dont let the love for the law effect the love for the people. C.S Lewis is great,thanks for the comments these are the types of things that make us learn more about Gods heart and the different views we can have. DonBob I truly love Piper also he is a very powerful writer and some of his best writing is when he tells about the joy he has in everything about the Lord.
    Keith remember that Christ very methodically braided a whip in the temple. We must point out all the attributes of God because his discipline is out of love also.


  6. Yeah,
    I’m with you on that DonBob. I’ve learned a lot about joy reading Piper. That’s the truth. But I haven’t often sensed a ‘lightness of Joy’ from Piper. As Ron is emphasizing, I think I would rather hang out with Lewis. I don’t think I’ve ever felt “relaxed” whiled reading Piper. He’s so intense. So heavy.

    I have to be honest in saying that I believe Piper has an underdeveloped sense of ‘play’ in his Theology (Wince). I don’t say this as a ’slam’ against Piper but more as gentle critique. Sometimes, in Piper’s theological economy, I get the feeling that unless you are ’setting yourself on fire’ for God (my overstatement), then you are not worshiping Jesus. We see this perspective displayed most dramatically in the book ‘Don’t Waste Your Life’. I get what he’s saying and what he speaking to. I get it. But what I don’t hear him saying is “Hey, It’s OK to watch football and have a beer and hang out with friends. That too can be done as worship to God.” His view seems to paint a picture of worship as always doing something that has to have overt overbearing impact on the Kingdom. On the whole, I think this leads to ‘Impact’ Worship – where ‘Impact for God’ simply legitimates the idol of power and reputation. A good theology of play balances this tendency. We must understand that ‘eating a steak dinner with friends to the glory of God’ is just as important as ‘preaching the Gospel in New Guinea to the glory of God’. I would love to hear Piper say something like, “Hey guys. Go prepare a steak dinner, invite some friends over, and enjoy that meal together and watch football and have beer. And do that to the Glory of God, knowing that God enjoys it together with you!

    Somehow, I don’t think Piper would say something like that. I don’t think he gets this aspect. Again, I love him. I thankful for him. But I think we need to turn to other people – Lewis, Luther, Chesterton, O’connor, Kreeft, Eugene Peterson, and my friend Bobby Pruitt (I’ll give you his number!) – to help us develop a more balanced theology in this regard.

    1 Corinthians 10:31 – So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.


  7. OK. Of the people you like to read, the only two I know much about in their personal lives are Lewis and Luther. I don’t think you mean it this way, Tim, but one could think you are saying, “Hey, if I can’t drink a beer with you, you are way to serious and you need to lighten up.” Problem is, a lot of joyful believers have grown up in Baptist/Fundamentalist traditions and are never going to imbibe. Yet, joyful they are and they probably have fun.
    The “fun” life can be as empty as the “you’re not nearly legalistic enough for me” life. My conversion was nearly 39 years ago when I was 18. Yeah, there was a lot of legalism back then. It’s always around. And I’ve heard Piper talk about how he doesn’t like (maybe hates) the term “fun”. Ironically, some people I know who talk a lot about people who are “amusing themselves to death” seem to be having fun all the time. And don’t forget our man Lewis from “The Weight of Glory”…. “This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously — no flipancy, no superiority, no presumption.” I’ll call it serious lightness.
    If I’m miserable in my Christian walk, I’m not going to experience serious lightness, period.
    I can talk with someone about imputed righteousness or the most exciting football game I’ve ever seen, but if they don’t take me seriously or I’m not paying attention to what they have to say, there won’t be fun or joy.
    Some people “hang out” in ways that others might not consider proper “hanging out”. Not everybody’s serious lightness is gonna look the same. I think you’d be surprised at how some who may appear overly serious worship God in ways that one might say, “Hey, that looks like fun.”


  8. Don’t get hung up on the beer. You’re right. I don’t mean it that way. That’s not my point at all. I agree with you, and completely agree that we need a broader perspective in regard to what play looks like. But this is what I feel Piper is unwilling to do. Beer or no beer, Piper doesn’t seem to allow for ‘Christian play’ in any shape or form as legitimate worship.

    I think you made my point when you said that you’ve heard Piper saying he “hates the word ‘fun'”. I’ve listened to a number of Piper sermons, read almost all of his books, and this aversion to play and recreation seems to ‘eek’ out again and again. In fact, he has often attacked other Pastors and Preachers for using humor in their sermons. He also says things like, “watching a football game is an ungodly waste of time.” Now, keep in mind, I love the guy. My point is simply that I believe Piper to be underdeveloped in his theology of play. He seems to view “Working for God’s Glory” as legitimate worship without also emphasizing “Playing for God’s Glory” as equally legitimate. The danger in this emphasis on passionate work for Christ is that it can easily foster ‘impact’ idolatry perspective.

    So, as I strive to develop a balanced theological perspective, especially in regard to Christian refreshment, imagination, creativity, and the like, I have to turn to other theologians.

    GK Chesterton (Everlasting Man) and Eugene Peterson (especially Peterson’s Pastoral series) are especially helpful. Also, Robert K. Johnston (“The Christian at Play” and “Life is not work, work is not life”).


  9. TimBob, Just want you to know that I am having FUN writing in your blog. FUN! Yes, I have fun. And I was intending to make your point about Mr. Piper. I did intend to point out that there are “fun police” around today, and they remind me of the “holiness (read: ‘legalism’) police” of another day. Some now seem to think that if you don’t drink wine, et al, you are a legalist, just as earlier folk were sure your soul was in jeopardy if you went to movies, danced, etc. Yeah, I might have a beer with you, but I might have more “fun” over a cup of coffee for reasons unrelated to what we are drinking. It’s interesting to me that having gone to your early morning Bible study for almost a year now, I could have deduced that you were on the anti-fun side (please bear with me, I’m not trying to really say there are two real camps: fun and anti-fun, although there may be some truth to it). Your intensity seemed to reveal a guy who needs to “lighten up”. Looks, as they say, can be deceiving. Yes, Lewis talked about fun and he had fun, although if we were to transport ourselves into his era wouldn’t we necessarily enjoy his fun ourselves. Yes, I think the balance you are defending is very real and important, and we can do ourselves damage if we don’t hear what you and others have to say about it. I’m sure you are aware that there are many men who would confess that they were so into fun that they have only recently, some in their 40’s and 50’s, realized that they have neglected serious Bible study and meditation until now. Three cheers for your blog and I raise my glass of….whatever….to you for writing it.


  10. Pingback: The Idol of Christian Impact « Sacrosanct Gospel

  11. Pingback: “Heaven is not my Home” - a book review « Sacrosanct Gospel

  12. Balance is so important. Fun and work. Laughter and seriousness. Even reckless abandon and solemnity. Faith and hope, tempered by love. Scripture and Church tradition. Beer and coffee. There is indeed time for everything under the sun. Sometimes they overlap, but I don’t drink beer with my coffee. Yecch.

    When I watched John Piper preach at your blog entry “Christian Impact and Football,” he seems to be in the pangs of giving birth. He doesn’t seem to be enjoying it, but I know he is passionate about his message. I highly respect him, but I disagree with him sometimes.

    More so R.C. Sproul. I visited his church in Orlando sometime between 1999 and 2001, and while he had a good sermon on Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, I went up to shake his hand afterward and he seemed cold, distant, and unfriendly. I had read his book, “Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification,” and quite frankly, it was the book that began me on a quest to dispute his premise rather than support it. It’s an unpopular position, but as I’d like to be, I’m not called to be popular.

    I’ve concluded, (and I know you’re going to wince) that the New Testament does not, in fact, teach justification by faith alone. It teaches justification by faith… Period. In fact, Luther’s doctrine is refuted by the very words of James: “So you see that a man is not justified by faith only.” I grew tired of the languishing, overbearing, smug “faith-alone police” judging everyone who disagreed with them. In Reformed circles, they’re ready to anathematize anyone who disagrees with them. Very little concern for reconciling dialogue, but for being right. That is a shame.

    I am not a Roman Catholic, like G.K. Chesterton, but he’s a great thinker, philosopher, and theologian. I am simply a Christian disciple convinced of the truth of the Scriptures. But if you take a position such as sola scriptura, then you violate it if you take the position of sola fide. They are logically contradictory, but they are not even paradoxical. It is not taught by either Paul or James. It is not a minimalist theology of faith, but a comprehensive faith embracing love and hope, and limiting the supposed superimportance of human logic.

    That’s perhaps a rabbit trail for another discussion. But, I think you have hit the nail on the head, Tim. Faith, while the foundation of our salvation, is not of higher precedence in Paul’s mind for the Christian as is Love and Hope.



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