Why Didn’t Christianity Today Mention The Most Important Part?

Remember Dorothy Sayers? A lot of us don’t, but the twentieth-century writer has had enormous influence on twenty-first century evangelicalism. A recent article in Christianity Today about Sayers’ influence, though, mysteriously left out the most important part of Sayers’ legacy for American evangelicalism. Why?sayers

In the Christianity Today article, author Crystal Downing focuses on Sayers’ famous series of BBC plays about Christ. As Downing tells the story,

In 1940, the BBC asked Sayers to write a series of 12 radio plays about Jesus. Taking the commission very seriously, Sayers spent a year rereading the Gospels, studying the original Greek as well as Bible commentaries. . . . Reporters, surprised that Sayers used colloquial rather than King James English, played up the fact that some of Christ’s disciples spoke working-class slang. . . . Due to the nationwide scandal, hundreds of people tuned in to the broadcasts for titillation more than for edification. What they got was the gospel delivered in language that made sense to them. They discovered that their perceptions of Jesus had become as static as stained-glass depictions in their churches. . . . As Sayers recounted to [C.S.] Lewis in 1946, “Thousands of people write to say that they have been ‘brought back to God,’ or had their faith renewed, or returned with eagerness to reading the Bible” due to the broadcasts. Lewis himself was so impressed by the profundity of Sayers’s plays that he read the print version for his Lenten devotions every year.

It’s a well-known story and one that should be remembered. But when it comes to real influence in the world of American evangelical culture, there is a much more important side of Sayers’ that this article simply didn’t mention.

sayers lost tools of learning

Sayers’ REAL lost legacy…

Why not?

It might be simply due to ignorance. As Patrick Halbrook has explained in these pages, not many people know the story of Sayers’ indirect influence on conservative evangelical schooling in the twenty-first century. As Halbrook explained,

if you were to visit a conference on Christian education and pull aside a parent or teacher to inquire about the distinguished Ms. Sayers, more often than not she would simply be lauded as the author of a brief 1947 essay on education entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning.”

Throughout the past few decades, this essay has spread throughout the evangelical Christian community through a peculiar turn of events.  In the mid twentieth century it came to the attention of William F. Buckley, who reprinted it at various times in National Review.  In the pages of Buckley’s magazine, it was read by a pastor of a small church in Moscow, Idaho named Douglas Wilson (Wilson is now known, among other things, for debating Christopher Hitchens and writing an award-winning novel).  In the early 1980s, Wilson began a private Christian school in Moscow in which he implemented Sayers’ ideas; he later popularized them in his 1991 book, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning.  Over the following years, hundreds of schools across the country began to form using Wilson’s school as a model.  Sayers’ ideas also appear in the pages of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, an enormously popular book on homeschooling which is now in its third edition.

Perhaps the general reader might not know about this vital legacy of Dorothy Sayers, but it seems odd that it wouldn’t be mentioned in an article specifically dedicated to revealing Sayers’ oft-forgotten legacy.


CS Lewis on Science and Evolution

Did Aslan evolve?

Aslan and friends. Image source: WikiNarnia

Not according to a new book about Narnia-creator C.S. Lewis’ philosophy of science. Editor John G. West pulled together a fascinating collection of essays in The Magician’s Twin: C.S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society.

The Discovery Institute’s West hopes to claim Lewis’ legacy for the intelligent design movement; the essays argue that Lewis was profoundly skeptical of what Lewis called “error scientism.”

As evolution skeptic Tom Bethell notes in a review for American Spectator, some evolutionists have claimed Lewis as an ally. But the authors in The Magician’s Twin paint a very different portrait. Among Lewis’ intellectual protests against evolutionary thinking, Bethell argues, was a deeply held concern with Darwin’s naive progressivism.  A nineteenth-century optimism about humanity’s natural tendency to improve, Lewis believed, had been thoroughly discredited by both Christianity’s vision of original sin and the twentieth century’s horrors.

Intelligent design advocate Michael Flannery agrees that this collection of essays captures Lewis’ deep anxiety about the cosmological claims of naive evolutionism.  In a long review for Evolution News and Views, Flannery extols the essays for recognizing Lewis’ appreciation for medieval thought, Lewis’ denunciation of the plausibility of natural selection as an evolutionary mechanism, and Lewis’ worry about the anti-human and anti-Christian implications of evolutionary thinking.

C.S. Lewis remains one of the most popular Christian authors for Christian and non-Christian audiences alike.  His Screwtape Letters , not to mention his wildly popular Narnia books, keep Lewis a household name in all kinds of households.  Claiming Lewis’ legacy for the intelligent design movement would be a major coup for West and his co-authors.

For those of us trying to understand cultural conflicts over education, these essays offer key insight into the intellectual depth and range of the intelligent design movement.  Especially for those evolutionists who dismiss intelligent design as simply “Ken Ham warmed over,” this collection of essays will illuminate the very different tone, style, and intellectual ethos of the movement.