by Jack Hoehn

By Jack Hoehn, November 25, 2013

Jack Hoehn was 17 years old in Angwin, California, a college freshman at the most beautiful campus in Adventism, when on November 22, 1963, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was murdered in Dallas, Texas. Although cell phones were still science fiction (Dick Tracey cartoons!) and there was no Internet to text on, we did have Television and Radio. Swept up in the national grief for our assassinated first Catholic president (yes, it used to matter), it was sometime later that I learned that another Jack had died the same day.

C.S. “Jack” Lewis

I first became acquainted with Clives Staples Lewis through other young Adventist college students I had met while working at church summer camp. After chopping wood, washing dishes, and being ersatz parents to 10- and 12-year-olds, we would apply our young and maturing minds to what we had been taught in Cradle Roll and Kindergarten with what we were discovering in the larger world outside of Adventism, and in this case, outside of the USA. We were still being nurtured at Adventist high schools and colleges, and were working in one of Adventism’s most endearing institutions, church summer camps. Pine Springs Ranch, Camp Cedar Falls, Leoni Meadows, Mivoden, Big Lake, Little Lake, and Inbetween Lake camps were beautiful humble institutions, not only for the pre-teens and early teens deposited there for a week or two, but also for the young staff and youngish pastors tasked with their operation. In my experience they were hotbeds of fun and faith mixed together.

It was Noel Johnson, whom we all considered a genius, and Jonathan Butler, a young man with a lovely laugh and probing mind, that I would later name my firstborn after, who introduced me to C.S. Lewis.

John F. “Jack” Kennedy and Bobby

Jack Kennedy’s death on that day started an instability in American politics that left us in the hands of a Texan (who pulled the ears of dogs for fun) and a Californian (who came on TV to convince us he was not a crook because Checkers his dog loved him) that took Americans to Viet Nam, Kent State, and Chappaquiddick in rapid succession.

I was not mature enough to understand the political world I lived in. I had been educated to believe that Catholics would try to restore the papacy in effigy in the USA, to make this country an image of the Beast. So I missed the fact that Protestant politicians were making Americans behave beastly with carpet bombings and body bags. Evil is happy to have all denominations and none serve him.

I did drive a few years later with Fred Bunch to hear Jack’s younger brother Bobbie Kennedy give a stump speech shortly before Sirhan Sirhan murdered him, too, in my home town. But it was mostly as a critic, a Catholic-fearer, that I approached the younger Kennedy’s principled and moral attempts to stop the Vietnam War.

C.S. Lewis Importance

Jack Lewis (it took me a while to learn that C.S. Lewis was known to his friends as Jack), on the other hand, I did recognize as a formidable giant in my life. And although his death on November 22, 1963, was likely consequent to him not having the protections of an Adventist lifestyle, with his pipe and pub culture, I found in Lewis a huge defender of my faith. First, he was one of the many who mature from the adolescent thrills (and Lewis said: ease) of atheism to the more robust and demanding questions of faith in the God who is, instead of what Lewis considered an immature understanding that God is not.

Secondly, although he was far removed from the life style of Adventism, I found again and again the theology of Adventism confirmed and reaffirmed by his broad and generous intellect. I did not meet Lewis in children’s fairy tales; I met him first in theology, in the classic Mere Christianity. And then in the equally famous Screwtape Letters, in which Satan is very much the same real opponent to God pictured in our Great Controversy story. Although Lewis’ mind spun fables with alacrity; those fables made spiritual realities like Satan, Heaven, Hell, the Fall, Right and Wrong, and the key of Christ to all the spiritual questions in this Universe more real, not less real.

Jack Lewis and Ellen White

I became an avid student of C.S. Lewis and have read almost all of his published works, as well as many of his letters published posthumously. Ellen White is the only religious writer I have studied more than Jack Lewis. I have found that God speaks to me through both of these messengers. It was as an adult that I first read the Narnia books, so I am not in love with Aslan as are children who first read these stories, but I understand him and appreciate the analogies to Calvary he offers.

Figure 1. My library with some well appreciated and worn C.S. Lewis books.

My all-time favorites? The Great Divorce, a short book about the nature of selfishness and the reality of righteousness in a fable of hell as a great empty city full of people who keep moving farther and farther away from each other because they can’t stand any impingement of their self. They are offered a day trip to the outskirts of heaven where they learn that truth and beauty and right are more real than the ghosts self has made them, even heaven’s grass hurts their selfish little pathetic feet.

And Lewis’s science fiction trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Perilandra, and That Hideous Strength, where Professor Ransom, a very Lewis-like English don, understands the Great Controversy between good and evil in a series of science fiction adventures. The science is dated, but as fiction it can afford to be. But the theology of the nature of good and the nature of evil is first rank, top line, Garden of Gethsemane truth.

After being in a Venus Eden with a Green Eve, Professor Ransom even becomes a vegetarian, which of course Lewis was not, but he lets truths ride where they may. And the last book of the trilogy takes the battle away from another planet’s Eden back to earth on a University Campus where Scientism and Christian truth battle it out. Although Lewis was not against Science, he understood what happens when atheism cloaks itself with Science and self becomes a little strutting tyrant against its Creator.

Theistic Evolutionists have tried to have Lewis join them, but Lewis was more of an Intelligent Designer as John West has shown in the research of The Magician’s Twin: C.S. Lewis on Science. Lewis in The Problem of Pain even postulates that death in nature before Adam and Eve was the result of Satan’s fall, which has helped me very much in my own understanding of the Greater Controversy between Christ and Satan starting with Creation Day one.

JACK by George Sayer is my favorite biography of Lewis, but there are many.

Good Catholics, Good Anglicans, Good Adventists

It has now been 50 years for me, Jack Hoehn, to consider what the life and death of Jack Kennedy mean to me, and what the life and death of Jack Lewis mean to me. I’ve learned that Catholic Jacks (and Bobbys) make decisions that have consequences for both good and evil that far outlive them and us, and that good Catholics are far superior to bad Adventists.

I’ve learned that Anglican Jacks can follow the truth where it leads, including making unlikely bedfellows of Ellen White and C.S. Lewis in strange but wonderful agreement on many important issues of faith, if not lifestyle. Christianity as intellectually credible is a good place to start your Christian growth. Jack Lewis, in my opinion, makes this case better than anyone else.

And I’ve also learned that having “3 Jacks” in a hand of cards is not a bad way to begin to play the game of life. In my case since I was smart enough to marry Deanne, not too long after this, I had the advantage of holding as it were: 3 Jacks and a Queen!

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