Students share their thoughts on C.S. Lewis’ stepson coming to campus

By Joel Sams
Senior News Writer

Douglas Gresham, stepson of C.S. Lewis and producer of the Narnia films, visited campus on Monday, Sept. 23, to speak about his stepfather’s life and work in conjunction with the publication of Asbury professor Devin Brown’s new book, “A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis.” Gresham spoke in chapel, the Miller screening room and participated in an evening event with Brown in Hughes Auditorium.

Before his address in Monday’s chapel, Gresham was introduced by freshman Sheridan Swathwood, who told students how she has corresponded with Gresham by email since she was “a Narnia-obsessed 14-year-old who just had to have her questions answered.” 
“Doug has become far more than just another nice person to me,” Swathwood said. “He’s a mentor, and a wise, dear friend.”

Before he spoke, Gresham was greeted by a standing ovation.

“Oh dear,” he said. “This is most embarrassing.”

Some students shared the feeling; they thought Gresham was being judged by his reputation rather than by the message he was going to deliver.

“I think his past works justified it, but I feel like it happened based on his reputation, and I didn’t really like that,” said senior Micah Hubin. “I think it was evidence of how highly Asbury thinks of everything about C.S. Lewis.”

Hubin did appreciate Gresham’s chapel message, though. He said he thought Gresham was “a wise man,” and “certainly very humble, himself, in the way he comes across.”
Gresham’s chapel message focused on the necessity of living out the Christian faith.

“‘The greatest of these is charity,’” he said. “And that doesn’t mean giving your money to the poor—it chiefly means your personal attitudes towards other people.”

Gresham stressed the idea that Christians must not take a “hands-off” approach to the world. “If you want to be a Christian, you have to be prepared to become ‘involved in mankind,’” he said.

Monday evening’s events included discussion with Gresham and Brown of C.S. Lewis’s life and work, as well as a book signing in the student center. Attendance was around 1,000 people, according to Larry Jarrard, assistant vice president for institutional advancement.

Visitors included students, alumni, community members and out-of-state visitors.

Pastor Josh Baker from the Washington, D.C., area visited Asbury for the first time on Monday. He said that the draw for him was the book release as well as the chance to talk to Gresham about a project.

“We’re launching a new ministry called ‘Live Like Lucy,’” he said. “We have about 500 pieces from the films. We’re going to be doing hands-on presentations and challenging young people to do what Aslan challenged the Pevensies to do. We’re here to talk about our project, and hopefully get some permissions from the estate.”

Junior Matt Ippolito said that Gresham’s message had given him a better picture of who C.S. Lewis was. “We want to paint him as an impersonal philosopher, but this really helped me see him as a person; as a husband, a father and everything,” he said.

Not all students were enthusiastic about the Lewis-related events, however. Junior Hunter Plummer said that the amount of interest generated in C.S. Lewis was strange.

“I don’t really understand the obsession and why it’s so strong,” he said. “While he is a very good writer, the intensity of the interest here is odd. I have never encountered such a love for a single author in a concentrated group of people such as this. I don’t really understand where it came from or began. At times, the passion toes the line of over-the-top and comical.”

Freshman Rebecca Hershey, on the other hand, sees Lewis as a model for Christian students in the liberal arts.

“It’s amazing having a world-renowned scholar, but also a Christian, and that’s what I see Asbury students striving to be,” she said. 

Gresham says that interest in C.S. Lewis is not particular to Asbury, and that it’s “pretty general around the U.S. Christian universities.” Even among other faiths, such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, Gresham says there are those who “absolutely love Jack’s work.” He believes that the broad appeal of Lewis’s work is due to the universality of his message.

“The human race is designed to seek the truth,” he said. “It’s one of the things God built into us when he made us: a desire for truth, a longing for truth. Jack provides it in his books. There’s also a great deal of grace in Jack’s books. He writes them as if he loves us, because he did—because his Master did.”