Every so often on thefrontieratgrace.com we give book reviews. If you’ve ever wondered why we do this, here is how I would boil down our rationale. Our primary aim is to endorse or challenge certain viewpoints and themes in the books we read in an attempt to illustrate and move men toward a biblical worldview. Our secondary aim is to encourage men to read and to adopt an active rather than a passive mental approach to life.
Along these lines, permit me to offer a few comments in the first of this week’s two book reviews. I’d like to talk about an oldie but goodie.
Actually, I guess C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy is not that oldie. Published in 1955, the book offers the author’s reflections on his early life and conversion. Well, better said, his deep reflections. The book is peppered with clever, light-hearted remarks, to be sure, as when Lewis describes his family dog: “Poor Tim, though I loved him, was the most undisciplined, unaccomplished, and dissipated-looking creature that ever went on four legs. He never exactly obeyed you; he sometimes agreed with you.”* Much of the book, though, is abstract and philosophical, and I found reading this material to be analogous to a tiring but satisfying workout.
If someone ever demonstrated an “active rather than a passive mental approach to life,” Lewis would have to be that person. His command of literature and his ability to evaluate it was simply astonishing; frankly, I have never heard of someone reading as broadly and as deeply as Lewis. Some books leave you wanting to be famous or financially secure or more industrious. Surprised by Joy left me wanting to appreciate poetry.
What was it in the end that resulted in Lewis’s conversion? Lewis would recoil at the suggestion that there was a single event in his life through which he “found God.” On the contrary, Lewis describes his journey to faith in Christ as a complex, gradual process by which God found him. Here the author compares God’s intervention in his life to the strategic moves of a chess player who eventually places his opponent in checkmate. Amongst these strategic moves were God’s arrangement of Lewis’s life such that he would come in contact with a number of brilliant thinkers, both personally and through the written word, who just happened to be Christians.
I confess that I make just about everything more intense than it needs to be. It’s safe to say, though, that Surprised by Joy is not a light read. If you’re looking to do some challenging and deeply satisfying mental weightlifting, then pick it up. Who knows? God might use you in a chess match.
*C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, Harcourt Brace Modern Classics (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1955), 157.