Nearly 400 people participated in SPU's conference "The C.S. Lewis Legacy for the 21st Century," held June 19-21, 1998. It was the first of two activities hosted by SPU in commemoration of the Lewis centennial.
Conference sessions explored Lewis and his writings, and the relevance of his insights for today. Other highlights were theatre productions, an English Banquet and a traditional choral evensong service.
The public unveiling of a C.S. Lewis reference volume co-edited by SPU Assistant Professor John West took place at a conference book party and afternoon tea. Other authors were on hand to sign their books as well.
The Kilns, home to C.S. Lewis for thirty years, was one of many sites in Oxford, Cambridge and London visited by the SPU study tour in July 1998. The group included 30 students, alumni, retired faculty and others.
Four of the people who have been influential in Lewis study at SPU met up this summer at The Kilns. From left, they are: Kim Gilnett, Professor Emeritus Karl Krienke, Michael Macdonald and Don Yanik.
C.S. Lewis photos used by permission of The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.
Earning a Reputation for Lewis Scholarship
A single comment from a faculty colleague eventually led Michael Macdonald to found the annual C.S. Lewis Institute at Seattle Pacific University 20 years ago. "I had just completed work on my doctorate," recalls Macdonald, SPU professor of European studies, German and philosophy. "Karl Krienke told me, 'Don't quit growing. Keep working; keep reading.'"
As a result, Macdonald opened his previously ignored copy of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and began a fascination that would span more than two decades. "In that book, I found someone whose ideas were intellectually sound, who wrote extremely well -- and who was enjoyable to read," he says.
Before long, Macdonald designed and taught a course on Lewis, the Oxford don who wrote everything from academic classics to theological treatises to children's stories featuring talking animals.
The popular class caught the attention of former Seattle Pacific President Curtis Martin, then dean of Summer Session. "Curt took me out to lunch and we brainstormed about how we could build the class into something bigger and better," says Macdonald. That 1977 lunch sparked what became SPU's annual C.S. Lewis Institute.
The Institute began by inviting Lewis scholars to campus each summer to lecture or teach courses. "We were on the cutting edge of C.S. Lewis studies," says Macdonald, now an acknowledged expert on Lewis. "We were one of the first academic institutions to focus on him."
That focus drew prominent speakers such as Chad Walsh, author of the first Lewis biography, C.S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics; Clyde Kilby, founder of Wheaton College's Marion E. Wade Center, home to many Lewis manuscripts; Walter Hooper, private secretary to Lewis during the summer of 1963; and Thomas Howard, author of The Achievement of C.S. Lewis.
Several Seattle Pacific faculty and staff members, including Professor of English Janet Blumberg, Fine Arts Marketing Associate Kim Gilnett, and the late Professor Emeritus Evan Gibson, lent their expertise to the venture as well. Also an important contributor was Richard Purtill, professor of philosophy at Western Washington University.
"From its inception, the C.S. Lewis Institute at SPU has been a bellwether for Lewis studies," says Howard. "The seriousness, thoroughness and professionalism with which the life and work of Lewis are approached at the Institute are a model to all Lewis scholars and readers."
Commemorating the Lewis Centenary
SPU's C.S. Lewis Institute eventually led to four national conferences, including this summer's June assembly to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Lewis' birth. "The C.S. Lewis Legacy for the 21st Century" was co-sponsored by Seattle University, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Discovery Institute. As with previous conferences, notable speakers abounded, including Howard; Peter Kreeft, author of The Shadowlands of C.S. Lewis; Earl Palmer, senior pastor of Seattle's University Presbyterian Church; and Phillip Johnson, author of Darwin on Trial.
SPU Assistant Professor of Political Science John West Jr. helped organize the centennial event, and a new book he co-edited, The C.S. Lewis Readers' Encyclopedia, was featured at a conference book-signing party. "One of the things that attracted me to Seattle Pacific in the first place was the University's reputation in Lewis studies," he says. "This summer's event was a highlight of my time here."
Attended by nearly 400 people from across the country, the conference was the first of two SPU-sponsored activities to mark the Lewis centenary. Thirty people -- undergraduates, pro-fessionals and retirees -- left July 4 for England on the study tour "C.S. Lewis: Quest for the Permanent Things." Led by Macdonald and Gilnett, the group spent two weeks exploring Lewis' world.
Amy June '93, a field representative for Prentice Hall Publishing who lives in Eugene, Oregon, says she was eager to join the tour. "I wanted to get away from the work world and do something completely different -- meet new people and stretch my brain in a way that I hadn't since college."
She and the others roamed Oxford, Cambridge and London. In Oxford, they toured Magdalen College, where Lewis taught; Holy Trinity Church, where he attended and where he is buried; and The Eagle and the Child, the pub where he and other Inklings, a prominent group of Christian intellectuals, regularly met.
Like the first Lewis study tour in 1987 (which teamed Macdonald, Gilnett and Professor Emeritus William Rearick as leaders), the program covered Lewis' work and life, often drawing on firsthand accounts from people with direct ties to the author. Hooper, who acts as a literary consultant to the Lewis estate, joined the group at The Kilns, Lewis' home from 1930 until his death in 1963. "His personal stories of Lewis were incredible," says June. At The Kilns, the group also met with Don Yanik, SPU professor of theatre and restoration designer for the site.
Restoring the C.S. Lewis Home
By the 1980s, The Kilns had fallen into disrepair. A bout of circa-1970s remodeling eliminated nine of 10 fireplaces, added a two-car garage and modernized the kitchen with prefab cabinets. Purchased in 1984 by what was to become the C.S. Lewis Foundation in Redlands, California, the home's restoration began.
Gilnett serves on the United Kingdom board that manages The Kilns Project. "It became extremely clear to me over time that what we needed was someone with good period-design skills," he says. The Foundation agreed. Gilnett brought Yanik to see the 12-room home in 1994.
"It was a natural progression to work on a restoration project, because many times as a set designer you create interiors," says Yanik, who readily agreed to participate. He now determines such things as colors, furnishings and fabrics. He has also wielded a chisel, helping to dig beneath linoleum and concrete to unearth the original quarry tile of the kitchen floor. Throughout the restoration, he has relied heavily on photos and interviews with people who lived in the home, including Douglas Gresham, one of Lewis' stepsons.
One of Gilnett's roles with the project has been to "shepherd" the groups of volunteers that arrive at The Kilns each summer. "Because of his years of Lewis study and his incredible knowledge of Oxford, Kim is an invaluable guide on the life and works of Lewis," says Yanik. "He also leads morning reflections that not only focus on Lewis, but on our common Christian faith."
During the Foundation's centennial conference in England this year, Gilnett and Yanik led tours of The Kilns and its grounds for 600 attendees. The project is almost complete and when the last furnishings are in place, the C.S. Lewis Study Centre will open, a quiet residence for Christians who come to Oxford to study. Says J. Stanley Mattson, director of the Foundation, "Without a doubt, Kim Gilnett and Don Yanik have been the two most exceptional contributors to the restoration of The Kilns over the years."
For 20 years, SPU faculty and staff have furthered Lewis scholarship and now also preserve his physical legacy at The Kilns. That combination has turned Seattle Pacific into a renowned center of Lewis study, says West. While other societies and organizations exist, the C.S. Lewis Institute at SPU is distinct, he says, because of its foundation in scholarship. "Academically, I think that SPU's contributions to Lewis studies are unique."
For Macdonald, what began as a casual exploration has become a passion. "My life and work have been tremendously enriched by the writings of C.S. Lewis," he says. "I'm so grateful to be doing something both enjoyable and worthwhile. I'm also grateful for the many people -- like Kim Gilnett, John West and Don Yanik -- who share my interest in Lewis. I think there is a great future for Lewis scholarship at SPU."
For more information about the SPU C.S. Lewis Institute, call the Division of Continuing Studies at 800/648-7898.