There are few writers from the 20th century that come close to either the amount or the influence owned by Clive Staples Lewis. Although primarily known today for his religious writings, Lewis seemingly wrote something about nearly every topic under the sun during his 50-year writing career. And like G.K. Chesterton before him, Lewis shined most brightly as an essayist. Although he certainly wrote his share of long-form books and novels, his brilliance and eloquence were most readily on display when he limited his writing to fewer than ten pages. God in the Dock, an eclectic collection of some of his essays and articles, is a great introduction to his polemical and apologetic writings, in addition to being a magnificent example of how Christianity should be thought about and lived out in the world around us.
Although college professors in our modern day tend to be thought of as out of touch and detached from the "real world," Lewis was intimately aware of it. Rather than viewing his prestigious academic position as an opportunity to turn away from the common man, Lewis endeavored all the more to make his work accessible to them. He rightly understood that one generation cannot pass on to the next generation something that it never received. He writes: "If the younger generation have never been told what the Christians say and never heard any arguments in defence of it, then their agnosticism or indifference is fully explained" (p. 115). Lewis understood his task to be one that helped to not only communicate the message of Christianity, but to communicate it clearly and intelligibly so that anyone willing to listen could easily grasp it. His well-known book, Mere Christianity, actually came from a series of radio addresses, meant for the entire British population, which were broadcast over the BBC during World War 2.
It should be obvious to anyone that has read this far that a similar crisis exists in our own 21st century brand of Christianity. According to many different studies done in the last ten years, younger generations are fleeing the Church in droves. One of the reasons most often cited is that the Church doesn't have anything to offer that can't be found elsewhere. While this is a completely false and misinformed statement, it does confirm the fact that the older generations haven't been properly communicating the gospel and what Christianity really is to its youth. Lewis makes the observation, in his article that bears the same name as the book, that
ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defence for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God's acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God in the Dock. (p. 244)
For those not familiar with the English justice system, the "dock" is the place where the accused stands trial, similar to our witness stand. What Lewis is saying here is that, unlike ancient man, modern man is now seated in judgment over God. In other words, modern man isn't seeking to hear an acquittal from God, modern man has empowered himself to be the Acquitter. And the situation hasn't gotten any better since Lewis wrote these words in 1948. Lewis indicates that man in his day was ready to hear a defense of why God did what He did, but 60 years later we find ourselves in an empty courtroom. Our churches are emptying faster than a speakeasy during Prohibition and we continue to call after them that we have coffee, doughnuts, and relevant messages. It's not that the essays found in God in the Dock are now outdated, they were simply ahead of their time. Lewis was writing as if his audience had no understanding of what Christianity was all about, when in reality they still had an inkling of it; today we don't have the luxury of that inkling. This is what makes Lewis such an important writer for our time; perhaps even more so than he was for his own.
In his "Preface" to the book, Walter Hooper writes this:
The absence of moral values is so acutely felt today that it would seem a pity not to make public whatever help is available to our confused and spiritually-starved world. There may be contemporary writers who strike us as more humane, tender, "original" and up to date than Lewis. But, like the Three Little Pigs, we need, not straw, but firm brick houses. Those who are concerned about the cheap religion and shoddy values so typical of our times will be aware of our immediate need for the antidote which Lewis provides: his realism, his moral rectitude, his ability to see beyond the partial perspectives which limit so many existentialists [those who believe that only we ourselves can give meaning and purpose to life]. (p. 12)
Hooper's words, written in 1970, are no less true today. Although many collections of Lewis' shorter works are available, God in the Dock is the most comprehensive in its subject matter. And while it is also true that Lewis did have several quirky theological beliefs, these almost never enter the picture in his shorter writings. The reason for this, just as it was with Chesterton, is that Lewis was writing these articles and essays with a general audience in mind, rather than a "Christian" one. That is, Lewis was writing from a general Christian perspective, not a specific one. Because of this, Lewis is less prone to make the theological speculations in his articles that show up now and again in his books. And because of the shorter nature of the writings, God in the Dock is a book that can be picked and put down, instead of demanding the full attention of the reader for hundreds of pages. Modern readers not familiar with Lewis' nonfiction will find God in the Dock to be a great starter, and seasoned Lewis readers will find it to be something of an old friend. Despite their comfort level with theological writings, all readers will benefit from, and be challenged by, the 60 essays and letters that comprise the book. If you already own Mere Christianity (and more importantly, have already read it), God in the Dock should be the next Lewis book on your reading list.