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Published: Friday, 12/10/2010

C.S. Lewis Bible aims at lovers of Narnia

"Imagine if C.S. Lewis were your Oxford tutor or Bible teacher. What would he say, and how would he teach and inspire you?"

That was the perspective of the team of scholars who worked on The C.S. Lewis Bible, Jerry Root writes in the new book's introduction.

The Bible was published last month by HarperOne ($34.99 hardcover), just in time to catch the latest wave of Lewis mania generated by Friday's release of the third in a series of major Hollywood movies based on Mr. Lewis' Narnia novels.

The book contains more than 600 selections from Mr. Lewis' writings, strategically placed throughout the Scriptures as a means of offering insights and commentary from the esteemed 20th-century British author on Bible verses, themes, and issues.

A good example of how this Bible applies Mr. Lewis' insights is found in the Book of Job, where we find an excerpt headlined, "Is the Devil Real?," from the preface to Lewis' The Screwtape Letters.

"… If by ‘the Devil' you mean a power opposite to God and, like God, self-existent from all eternity, the answer is certainly ‘No.' There is no uncreated being except God. God has no opposite. No being could attain a ‘perfect badness' opposite to the perfect goodness of God; for when you have taken away every kind of good thing [intelligence, will, memory, energy, and existence itself] there would be none of him left."

That's it — concise, thought-provoking, and suitable for discussion or debate.

Mr. Lewis was a brilliant and demanding professor and, following in his footsteps, The C.S. Lewis Bible seeks to challenge readers.

"He'd make you wrestle with Scripture. He wouldn't let you get off easy," Mr. Root writes.

Not all Christians are celebrating the publication of this niche Bible, however.

HarperOne announced earlier this week that it was "caught by surprise" by critics claiming the New Revised Standard Version used for the text is "too feminist and too liberal for Lewis."

"I'm shocked that anyone would take offense to this Bible — a substantive, inspiring, and beautiful package," Mark Tauber, HarperOne publisher, said in the news release.

Controversy over the NRSV, published in 1989, mostly centers on its gender-neutral terminology. As one editor states in a note to readers, one of the goals of the translation was to erase "linguistic sexism."

Mr. Lewis, who was an atheist early in life before becoming a Christian, was known to have read the Bible every day.

But he certainly did not read the NRSV — which was published 26 years after his death in 1989.

The reason the publisher chose the NRSV for the Lewis project is quite simple: "It just happens to be a Bible that Harper has the entire rights to," Bruce Edwards said.

A Lewis scholar at Bowling Green State University, Mr. Edwards was one of the experts who contributed to the new Bible.

"We all made suggestions. I personally sent in 500 suggestions," he said.

Of greater concern to Mr. Edwards and his literary colleagues than the NRSV translation was whether it was appropriate to put the name of any individual on a Bible, even a well-known and distinguished Christian apologist such as Lewis.

"We asked ourselves, ‘Who would have the audacity to put out a Bible with someone's name on it?'?" he said. "But every day a new niche Bible comes out, whether it's the Joel Osteen Bible or the Max Lucado Bible or a new teen Bible. I wouldn't be surprised if Deepak Chopra has one."

The underlying purpose of these personalized editions is a worthy one, Mr. Edwards said.

"They all are attempts to get people to read the Bible."

More information is available online at cslewis.com.

The Narnia police

Whether critics rave or rant over The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, devotees of the children's fantasy tales are keeping a keen eye on Hollywood's attention to Narnian details.

They don't want Hollywood taking liberties with the words and images created by Mr. Lewis.

One of the chief watchdogs on the duty is the author's stepson, Douglas Gresham, who has served as a consultant on all three films produced by Walden Media — The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in 2005, Prince Caspian in 2008, and now The Dawn Treader.

It has not been an easy assignment, Mr. Gresham says in December's Christianity Today.

"Well, I do my very best," he said. "I don't always win my battles, and I fight a lot of them. Some I win, some I lose, some I compromise."

There are some "non-negotiables," he said, especially when it comes to the fundamentals of faith. But he has had to pick his fights carefully when confronting the media moguls who steer these multimillion-dollar projects.

When Narnia purists argue that there should be nothing in the movies that is not in the books, Mr. Gresham believes they are being too narrow-minded.

He makes a pointed comparison in that interview comparing such critics to "people who say you shouldn't go to McDonald's because there are no hamburgers in the Bible. People take it to extremes."

Planetary backdrop

Another notable new Narnia-themed project is The Narnia Code, a documentary video just released on DVD that explores a theme that Lewis scholar Michael Ward wrote about in his 2008 book, Planet Narnia.

The concept is that Mr. Lewis added a third, "hidden" layer to the Narnia tales — after the literal children's stories and the biblical allegories — using medieval astronomy as a thematic backdrop for each of the seven books in the series.

Signs and references to Jupiter abound in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and the Sun is the symbol behind The Dawn Treader.

The significance of this theory, according to scholars interviewed in The Narnia Code, ranges from an amusing footnote to a jaw-dropping revelation.

Some see it as clearing up some loose ends in Mr. Lewis' body of work that had seemed too sloppy for an author known as a perfectionist who paid great attention to detail.

Mr. Edwards of BGSU said Mr. Ward's 2008 book was written mainly for the academic market, while The Narnia Code seeks to bring the message to a broader, more mainstream group of Lewis fans.

The video (list price $14.98) features interviews with Mr. Ward and Lewis experts, scenes from Mr. Lewis' life portrayed by actors, plus 45 minutes of bonus material. More information is at narniacode.com.

Contact David Yonke at dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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