C.S. Lewis is often regarded as one of the best Christian apologists. He is certainly one of the most widely read Christian writers. I've seen English, Swedish and Czech editions of his works. "Mere Christianity" was one of the first Christian books I've ever read. And yes, "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" may have been my first sustained exposure to the Christian message (without realizing it).
While the more hardnosed sceptics love to hate Jack (as Lewis was called by his friends), many other sceptics and seekers consider him to be their favourite apologist. The reason isn't necessarily the quality of his arguments, but rather the fact that Lewis put forward arguments at all! Aren't we all getting tired of fundamentalists who simply quote the Bible or liberals who claim that religious language is non-empirical and therefore beyond criticism? And while Lewis doubted Darwinian evolution in private, he never seems to have distorted scientific facts in his public works. His arguments can be checked or rationally discussed.
John Beversluis is an atheist and materialist who have weighed Lewis and found him wanting. This is the second, revised edition of his book "C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion", which apparently is considered to be quite the bombshell. The author's main points of contention are that Lewis often substituted rhetoric for cogent argument, advanced contradictory or self-contradictory ideas, and attacked straw-men. He also believes that Lewis gradually changed his view of God, from a relatively sympathetic view with Platonist affinities to a decidedly less sympathetic (and bizarrely incoherent) Ockhamist standpoint. Somehow, this is contrary to everything we thought we knew about Jack! I guess you could call this John Beversluis' dangerous idea...
I've always considered Lewis' works to be a bewildering mixture of thoughtful arguments, cogent existential observations and claims that are almost bewilderingly bad. Sometimes, he *does* resort to arguments from authority, as when he says that he believes in the efficacy of the sacraments because Jesus said so (in this case, the appeal would be to Catholic and Anglican tradition rather than the Bible itself). At other times, he does seem oblivious to higher criticism of the New Testament, while accepting higher criticism of the Old Testament ("the chosen mythology"). The dilemma or "trilemma" about Jesus being either mad, bad or God is remarkably silly. In Lewis' defence, it could perhaps be said that he put it forward at a time when even atheists and agnostics considered Jesus to have been a great moral teacher. Today, many sceptics *would* consider Jesus either mad or bad, in effect turning the dilemma against Christianity! Also, I suspect that the results of higher criticism are more widely known today. In the United States, Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus" was a commercial bestseller a few years ago. A moderate sceptic who doesn't consider Jesus to be mad or bad, might still coherently deny that he was God.
As avid readers of my review know, I nevertheless consider some of Lewis' arguments to be largely correct, the most obvious being the objective character of morality (an argument Beversluis would consider Platonist). Others are at least interesting, such as his discussions about Eros or the numinous. Naturally, this colours my reaction to Beversluis' critique of Lewis. I think he is weak when attacking Lewis' view of objective morality. That A.J. Ayer and other positivists were deeply moral anti-Nazis, simply prove that their actual philosophy was unlivable. In other words, Ayer & Co were cheating. Nor do I find Beversluis' attack on Lewis' attempted synthesis of God and the Good entirely convincing. On many other points, however, I would concur with the author. I found the chapter on "The Argument from Reason" particularly interesting. I never really understood Lewis' point in the first place, and always suspected that there was something weird or fishy about it. (If Beversluis have managed to prove naturalism, is another thing entirely. He has not.)
I don't know who John Beversluis might be (an professor emeritus, according to the back matter) or what prompted him to dissect Clive Staples Lewis of all people, but he seems to have corresponded with Lewis himself (how old is this guy? 80?). Despite sustained attempts to sound objective, there is a passion in this book, a passion sometimes bordering on strong frustration. I wonder what relationship the author really had to Lewis and his writings, and why he felt compelled to launch an attack of this kind against him. I almost sense a personal disappointment in-between the lines. Nothing wrong with that. It makes the book more interesting. Otherwise, it would just have been a dry, philosophical tome.
In the end, I award it fours stars and await further developments.