This year marks the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s passing. It is deeply fitting, therefore, that on November 22 a memorial stone will be unveiled in Westminster Abbey to honor his memory. As a writer and public intellectual, his legacy is like a diamond with many facets. It catches and refracts the light in any number of ways. Bless God for his memory.
Still another 50th anniversary, though lesser known, falls in 2013, and it is also linked to Lewis. For in 1963, his former student Harry Blamires published the now-classic text “The Christian Mind.”
If ever a benign thunderbolt fell from heaven, it fell in this book. Blamires’s first paragraph comprised a single-sentence reality check: “There is no longer a Christian mind.” Near the close of page one, Blamires found it his somber duty to explain why. “As a thinking being, the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization.”
The chapters that followed were a cri de coeur. With great care and skill, Blamires surveyed his historical moment. He charted the reasons for the loss of a Christian mind. Then, as a wise and learned pilgrim, he pointed to paths that could foster a renewal of thinking Christianly—and all this within a trenchant book that ran to only 191 pages.
Therein lay much of “The Christian Mind’s” appeal. It could have gone on interminably, an arid text that only censured at length: rife with criticism, slender in hope. But Blamires’s intellect and pen yielded remarkably conversational prose. He had a gift for coming alongside his readers, as a friend would. And if, early on, he spoke somber truths in love, the last chapters of his book were bright with possibility. He explained what it was to “define, establish, and nourish a Christian mind.” Each of his readers, he stated, could become agents of renewal in our culture and civilization.
The opening lines of Chapter Six were harbingers of that renewal—no less vibrant and winsome than they were fifty years ago:
The Christian mind thinks sacramentally. The Christian Faith presents a sacramental view of life. It shows life’s positive richnesses as derivative from the supernatural. It teaches us that to create beauty or to experience beauty, to recognize truth or to discover truth, to receive love or to give love, is to come into contact with realities which express the Divine Nature. At a time when Christianity is so widely misrepresented as life-rejecting rather than life-affirming, it is urgently necessary to right the balance.
These are beautiful words of urgent purpose—never more needed than now.
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For me, the most compelling pages of Blamires’s book are found in Part Two, “The Marks of the Christian Mind.” Here, his contrast of the Christian mind with secular thought could not be more telling, or more valuable. Those passages are like a compass, important to keep close on our journey.
Modern secular thought, Blamires tells us, “ignores the reality beyond this world. It treats the world as the Thing. Secularism is, by its very nature, rooted in this world, accounting it as the only sure basis for knowledge, the only reliable source of meaning and value. Secularism puts its trust in this life.”
The Christian mind holds another allegiance altogether. It “sees human life and human history held in the hands of God. It sees the whole universe sustained by his power and love. It sees the natural order as dependent upon the supernatural order, time as contained within eternity. It sees this life as an inconclusive experience, preparing us for another; this world as a temporary place of refuge, not our true and final home.”
Two sentences come to the heart of the matter. Blamires asserts: “To believe that men will be called to account for each wrong committed and each good committed is itself enough to give an urgency to human deliberations and decisions which the secular mind cannot sense. When one weighs the full momentousness of this particular distinction between the Christian mind and the secular mind, one is awestruck.”
Things flow from these presuppositions, and one wishes for space to touch on them all. Blamires devotes subsequent chapters to how the Christian mind ought to shape our awareness of evil, our conception of truth, our acceptance of authority, and our concern for the person. Add to these things his aspirations for a culture enriched by people who evince a Christian mind, and one begins to get a sense of why so many readers took this book to heart on its publication 50 years ago.
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I’m privileged to say that I learned firsthand the story of how one young reader was influenced for good by reading Blamires’s book. I had lunch in Oxford two years ago with my cherished friend Os Guinness, and I happened to bring my newly purchased first British edition of Blamires’s book with me. While we were waiting to be served, I showed it to Os. He smiled a great smile and, taking it up in fond recognition, began to explain how “The Christian Mind” had wrought a great blessing in his life. When he finished his brief story, I asked him if he would mind writing something about that in my new book as a keepsake. He kindly agreed and wrote, in part: “On the occasion of our lunch in the King’s Arms, Oxford. This was the book that opened my eyes to ‘thinking Christianly.’”
I think of the many books that have flowed from Os’s pen in the fifty years since 1963. “The Call”is a personal favorite, as are “The Long Journey Home” and “A Free People’s Suicide.” Harry Blamires inspired the author of those books, along with many other believers, over the last five decades. That’s worth remembering.
It also seems fitting to note the interest his former tutor, C. S. Lewis, took in Blamires’s writing. Lewis kindly read through the manuscript of one of Blamires’s earliest books, giving helpful suggestions and criticisms. He took an interest in Blamires as a young writer, and recognized his promise. That encouragement and investment in Blamires’s gifts was not misplaced, as “The Christian Mind”bears witness.
Still, these are only two of many reasons why readers today ought to read “The Christian Mind.” Its power is undiminished, its lessons still bright with possibility. Its message will always be needed, like that of a watchman who keeps vigil on the ramparts. We ought never to lose sight of what a privilege it is to strive to think, and live, Christianly.
Fifty years on, I’ve thought that a fitting tribute to “The Christian Mind,”as a classic text, comes to us in the lines of a graceful couplet from the pen of Isaac Watts. I’d like to think Harry Blamires knew them—
I must be measured by my soul— The mind’s the measure of the man.
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