Archive for the ‘Inklings’ Category


Booking for our conference ‘George MacDonald and the Victorian Roots of Modern Fantasy’ at Magdalen College, Oxford 13-15th August 2014 is now live and further information can be found at www.george-macdonald.com including details of our speakers. The conference is open to everyone and it is possible to book via PayPal, thus avoiding any complications with currency conversion etc. Accommodation is available at the college, including a limited number ‘with the walls’ where C.S. Lewis had rooms. Ideally bookings for accommodation should be received by us before the 10th May to enable us to confirm to the College.

The call for papers (30 minute) is still open. Proposals including: name, institutional affiliation, CV, title of paper, abstract (400 words max) should go to gmsociety.papers@gmail.com by 1st May 2014.


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The ‘Inklings’, an Oxford group that included C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams, has long been recognized as one of the most creative literary groups of the mid-twentieth century, one whose fantasy writings in particular have become a major influence on the development of subsequent literature and film. But, as they freely acknowledged, behind these lay an earlier generation of Victorian writers who pioneered the forms they developed – perhaps most notably George MacDonald. With the fiftieth anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis we wish to explore the many connections, and to see some of the ways in which the work of the Inklings was ‘informed’ by the work MacDonald and his fellow fantasists. Speakers include Kerry Dearborn, Danny Gableman, Malcolm Guite, Moniker Hilder, Stephen Logan, Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson, John Pennington, Stephen Prickett (Chair), David Robb and Jean Webb. As Magdalen was Lewis’s college – host to many ‘Inkling’ discussions – and as Oxford’s history is long-entwined with the genre of fantasy, the conference will include a thematic introduction to relevant sites. We invite session papers of not more than 20 minutes on any themes connecting these writers and their work and influence on literature, theology, and the arts in general. Attention to fellow 19th century fantasists such as Charles Kingsley, Lewis Carroll, and William Morris is welcome. Proposals  (including name and institutional affiliation, CV, title of the paper, and an abstract of no more than 400 words) to gmsociety.papers@gmail.com by May 1, 2014.

“MacDonald is the greatest genius of this kind whom I know.”

C.S. Lewis

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The Shack

I’ve just finished reading William P Young’s ‘The Shack’ and, from looking on the web, can see that this this book has generated a lot of energy (including heat!). Somehow I had missed all this and only became aware of the book when I saw it by chance in W H Smith’s in Manchester Airport when we were flying out to Hungary in August to help with a children’s mission. So I had no preconceptions about it and avoided all the hype.

I’m not going to go into detail about the story for fear of spoilers – but from my own perspective I would definitely recommend it. You need to keep objective though – it is just a story. It’s not scripture or necessarily even great literature (though Eugene Peterson in his endorsement suggested that it ‘has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!’). Indeed theologically it may at times veer into unorthodoxy (lack of hierarchy in the Trinity for one). But, in my view, that’s to miss the point.

This is where I tread on thin ice. At times it is possible for people of faith (I hate the word religious) to aim to be so right that they become wrong. Twenty years ago I would have described myself as a card carrying evangelical – but the older I get, the more I realise that all our systematic understandings of theology are at best only approximations of truth. It’s not what you know or believe but who you know that matters in the end. Transformation comes through relationship with The Father/ Son/ Holy Spirit and fellow believers on the Way. Life is a journey – you don’t arrive when you become a Christian, you walk through a door. In God’s eyes some significant things happen but the work of transformation continues.

This, for me, is where The Shack hits home. It is inspirational/ motivational in the best sense. It encourages you personally to enter into a more intimate relationship with God, especially as Father. At the same time it deals with some of the stumbling blocks that as ‘recovering’ human beings we all face/ experience to greater or lessor extents in our lives. Scripture teaches that in Jesus we can know what the Father is really like. But is that really how we relate to God in our regular Monday to Saturday lives. Young’s depiction of God in The Shack shakes our preconceptions. Do you really believe that he/she ‘is especially fond of all’ of his children? Are you able to call God ‘Abba’, or “Daddy’, like Jesus did? Each of us will respond to different aspects of the story, but this is what struck a chord with me on a first reading

Another criticism that I’ve seen online is of implied universalism. All I would say on that hot potato is that again I believe that God’s love and ability to redeem his damaged creation is much greater than my definitions sometimes allow. Interestingly, in his postscript the author quotes George MacDonald and the Inklings as among his inspirations. That made me ask who were my ‘spiritual’ inspirations (humanly speaking). Many, but top of the list would be Simone Weil, George MacDonald, John Wimber and William Barclay. At least two of those (MacDonald and Barclay) have, rightly or wrongly, had the accusation of universalism levelled at them. At the end of the day though, if we are co-operating with God in his masterwork of restoring humanity and creation, does it actually matter? One of the quotes that struck home to me in the book is that ‘God is a verb’ – it is the core of God’s nature to be doing. He is the active ingredient that transforms from the inside – not a passive external observer. God cares about us and his creation. Enough for Jesus to limit himself, become a man and embrace the cross. A deeper appreciation of that truth has the power to transform our lives

I will shortly be leading an Alpha Group (for new christians/ seekers) and my instincts are, while pointing them toward scripture, to recommend it. Sometimes the heart needs to lead the head. In human terms if the blood flow stops the brain dies. Increasingly we are having to think about new ways of getting the gospel across to people. There’s still a place for solid bible study (neglected I would argue) but that, for many people, comes later in the journey. Once again, the heart of the Christian faith is a relationship not a list. We are not under law, we have grace to enter.

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