Part 4 in The Echo's "100 Years" series
By Kathryn Fenstermacher (’13)
Rarely does a birthday ode for a famous apologist and fantasy writer make front page news. However, on Nov. 14, 1980, The Echo featured a full-fledged tribute to C.S. Lewis, a leading Christian writer of the last century.
Former Taylor English professor Frances White Ewbank and her Advanced Freshman Composition class held a dinner Nov. 19 for C.S. Lewis’ 83rd birthday honorarium.
A follow-up article by student Jeni McCaughan, published several weeks later, said Ewbank’s students engaged in a reader’s theater and read scholarly papers at the celebration held in the campus Dining Commons.
“The fourth annual Taylor birthday party for C.S. Lewis was a success,” McCaughan said. And given the amount of news coverage it received, she was right.
Lewis was remembered at Taylor on more occasions than his birthday. Throughout the past few decades, The Echo has chronicled Taylor’s longtime regard for C.S. Lewis and how, even after his death, he has presided on campus as an unshakeable spiritual influence.
One area of influence is the C.S. Lewis & Friends Society that began meeting on campus in 1999, according to an article published in March of that year.
The Society began in response to Taylor’s acquisition of the Edwin W. Brown Collection in 1997. Housed in the basement of Zondervan Library, this collection includes first edition works by C.S. Lewis and related authors, said Laura Constantine, Assistant for the Center for the Study of C.S. Lewis & Friends.
The collection became a focal point in The Echo during the late ’90s, as articles featured a constant stream of visiting speakers and performers attending the biennial Frances W. Ewbank Colloquium on C.S. Lewis & Friends, speaking at Society meetings or narrating Lewis’ life and theology through the dramatic arts.
Professor emeritus of mathematics and resident scholar David Neuhouser played a key role during this time, exposing students to Lewis’ ideas.
After discovering Lewis during adulthood, Neuhouser became an avid reader of the apologist’s work. He eventually took over the honors program, which regularly featured classes on Lewis. He was also influential in acquiring the Brown Collection for Taylor, Constantine said.
Neuhouser became an outspoken advocate for Lewis in The Echo, as the primary source for nearly every related piece of news after the collection moved to Taylor.
Taylor had been actively hosting events in honor of Lewis even before the Society began meeting on campus.
In 1979, a C.S. Lewis film series was announced on the front page, and in 1995, The Echo’s campus calendar featured “A Night at the Pub with C.S. Lewis.” Dramatic performances portraying Lewis’ life were regularly noted in The Echo throughout the ensuing years.
In 1997, The Echo covered the first official course titled “C.S. Lewis and Friends,” which has since become a standard in the course catalog.
Constantine said Christian scholars at Taylor have related to Lewis because he embraces both the imaginative and the rational side of faith.
“In his apologetic works, Lewis is able to take very complicated ideas and make them easy to understand, and yet not to dumb them down,” she said. “Lewis was a very unusual person in that he could be very reason centered or he could be highly imaginative — and valued both.”
“Lewis was brilliant and articulate,” added Pamela Jordan-Long, the center’s director. “His work clearly illustrates how one can be an intellectual and a vibrant Christian.”
Student voices in The Echo have affirmed regard for Lewis’ scholarly voice.
Student writers cited Lewis in many opinion articles, editorials and features in The Echo during the last several decades.
Lewis references were used diversely, from supporting literary criticism, Christian charity and obeying the LTC to condemning Christian policymaking, argumentative fallacies and overcommitment.
Some articles referred readers to Lewis’ published works, while others included extended quotations, such as an editorial titled “Some Time to Kill,” published in 1996: “We have to start stopping the moment we wake up in the morning. C.S. Lewis writes in ‘Mere Christianity’ that this is where the real problem of the Christian life occurs. He says that when we first rise, ‘all the wishes and hopes for the day rush at us like wild animals. And the first job every morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other stronger, quieter life come flowing in again.’”
Student Teresa Cress interviewed visiting actor and director Tom Key in 1979. Key explained how our fixation with Lewis is ultimately derived from the simplicity of truth found in the author’s writings.
“One of his finest traits was his ability to stick to the truth and not add or take away from it,” Key said of Lewis. “He’s a continual reminder that my goal is merely to be a Christian. If I can do that, then the rest follows.”
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our “100 Years” series, which was originally published during Homecoming on October 19, 2012. View the other parts by clicking the links below.