Tuesday, January 31, 2023


The newest issue of CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C.S. Lewis Society arrived today. The lead essay introduces Subversive: Christ, Culture, and the Shocking Dorothy L. Sayers by Chrystal Downing. It includes several references to the relationship between C.S. Lewis and Sayers. I have ordered the book.

Margaret Goodman, author of the extended review, begins by quoting from the first page of the book.
When Dorothy L. Sayers died in 1957, C.S. Lewis wept. Though she sometimes sharply criticized his opinions, Lewis delighted in Sayers's ability to communicate subversive perceptions in snappy, sometimes hilarious ways, even if at his expense. In fact, when asked near the end of his life to name authors that influenced his spiritual life, Lewis identified four: two specialists on mysticism, G.K. Chesterton, and Dorothy L. Sayers.
.... Like Martin Luther and William Tyndale, who did the first English translation of the Bible working directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts, Sayers's goal was to preserve the foundation of Christianity. Sayers was not concerned with what people thought of her; her commitment was to clarify what are the components of true Christian dogma, which Downing defines: "Dogma is the unchanging foundation — the orthodoxy — upon which the architecture of Christianity is solidly built, enabling it to accommodate renovations as culture changes." It was important to Sayers to separate her own opinion from the integrity of church doctrine: "Nothing would induce me to 'set down my religious beliefs and convictions.' Setting down what I understand to be the church's beliefs and convictions is a different matter." Clarity on this distinction was important when Sayers defined as heresies such beliefs as not believing that Jesus was fully God or the opposite — that he was not really human. This is not disagreement with HER beliefs; it is contrary to the beliefs of the church. ....

Sayers always freely admitted that she had a prejudice against emotional worship experiences because she could not relate to them. To C.S. Lewis she wrote, "All spiritual experience is a closed book to me; in that respect I have been tone-deaf from birth." She asserted that she could identify no moment of conversion, having believed in Christ's death and resurrection her whole life. "I am quite without the thing known as 'inner light' or 'spiritual experience': On the contrary, she defined her attraction to Christianity as intellectual. She used the expression "passionate intellect" to describe her love for the way that "Christian doctrine can explain not only the existence of good and evil, but also God's sacrificial love for humanity." Most of all, she believed Christian dogma to be TRUE!

Sayers rejected the idea that all believers are called upon to evangelize. On the contrary, in I Corinthians, Romans, and Ephesians, St. Paul emphasizes that the church is made up of members with different gifts, only one of which is evangelism. Sayers believed that God had granted her the gift of teaching, which was important to her because she was appalled by intellectual sloppiness.
I haven't got a pastoral mind or a passion to convert people, but I hate having my intellect outraged by imbecile ignorance and by the monstrous distortions of fact which the average heathen accepts as being "Christianity" (and from which he mostly naturally revolts.)
Sayers gave lectures and radio talks, wrote newspaper and magazine articles, books, and plays in order to educate people about the facts of Christian doctrine. Though her stated goal is not to evangelize, she attracts people to faith by appealing to their intellects, not their emotions:
It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; It is vitally necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe. It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism.
That is only a small sample from the review. I very much look forward to the book. I've posted much both about and by Sayers on this blog.

Margaret Goodman, "An Introduction to Subversive by Chrystal Downing," CSL, November/December, 2022.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:12 AM

    “had a prejudice against emotional worship” I’ve often thought this and tend to find comfort from the Lord, not be how I “feel” but by what I know to be true. I am looking forward to reading this book. Thank you.


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