G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, And J. R. R. Tolkien on the Human Condition
Publisher: Broadman and Holman
Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team
In the past few years, the fictional writings of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis have been turned into blockbuster movies. Riding the wave of enthusiasm over these 20th century literary giants, Christian publishers have poured forth a steady stream of books that examine these men. Who were they and what do we make of their theology? Donald T. Williams new book Mere Humanity is one such book, but it truly stands out from the crowd. Mere Humanity examines the doctrine of anthropology (the study of humanity), as set forth in the writings of Lewis, Tolkien, and G.K. Chesterton.
Williams is the director of the School of Arts and Sciences at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. He wrote Mere Humanity to help answer two basic questions – What is man? What is the purpose of this life on earth? He admits that his book does not provide a complete systematic theological treatment of the subject. However, it does aid us in recovering biblical anthropology from the enemies at hand.
And who are these enemies? Williams warns of the dangers of modernity, postmodernity, and secular naturalism. By a strange coincidence, I read through Mere Humanity the same week that I read through Phillip Johnson’s now-classic work Darwin on Trial. They are very similar in focus. They both warn of the wreckage to humanity that comes from jettisoning a belief in a sovereign and personal creator. Williams writes, "We cannot make human beings less than human; but by training them to think of themselves as less than human, we can get them to act as less, with disastrous consequences." Indeed, ideas do have consequences.
Some might argue that Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton were not correct in all their theological convictions. Williams would heartily agree and admits as much. However, in answering the charge of secular naturalism, they showed profound biblical insight regarding the questions being posed in their day. And make no mistake, those same questions are still with us today.
In addition to the anthropological discussion, Mere Humanity gives the reader two additional bonuses. First, the book includes quite a few selections of Williams’ original poetry. Based on these selections, I can only hope that a publisher will pick up his poetry for a full book. Second, there is an appendix wherein Williams discusses the role and function of literature within Christianity. He gives an apologetic for literary imagination within the life of a Christian. It is well written and challenging.
If you are already a fan of Lewis, Tolkien, or Chesterton, I recommend this new work by Williams. Or, if you want to communicate the dangers of modernity and postmodernity, this book gives you another angle from which to come. Either way, Williams’ passion for his subject makes for delightful reading.