Oxford Scholar Challenges Academia to Enjoy Beauty in the Gospel

Dr. Michael Ward looks up at a display on the projection screen during his talk on "C.S. Lewis on the Value of a Liberal Arts Education" as part of the President's Distinguished Scholar Lecture. He will speak on "C.S. Lewis' Christian Imagination" during a free public lecture 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7 in the DeSantis Family Chapel.Dr. Michael Ward touched on themes of beauty and rest in his talk “C.S. Lewis on the Value of a Liberal Arts Education” for the President’s Distinguished Scholar Lecture.

Ward will give a free public lecture on “C.S. Lewis’ Christian Imagination” 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7 in the DeSantis Family Chapel, 300 Okeechobee Blvd. Ward is a senior research fellow at Blackfriars Hall, University of Oxford.

In his chapel talk Monday morning, he urged students to enjoy intellectual inquiry for its own sake, rather than viewing it as a means to an end.

Ward drew from the example of C.S. Lewis, the Christian author and apologist. Lewis was a professional academic. He skewered some of his university colleagues in his book “An Experiment in Criticism” for failing to appreciate books as works of beauty and instead only reading for some greater purpose.

Christians do that today when they exalt books, films and plays with a redemptive ending or Christlike character, to the exclusion — or even disapproval — of all else. The beauty of the arts is exchanged for message, rendering the creative works as nothing more than propaganda.

The gospel makes room for the aesthetic, Ward said.

“It’s not just a message. It’s not just something said for a particular utilitarian purpose,” Ward said. “It is life and life in abundance.”

A truly liberal undertaking is worth it, in and of itself, Ward argued.

Ward tapped an example from Lewis’ “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” a book from the “Chronicles of Narnia” series. The plucky, sword-wielding mouse Reepicheep takes the voyagers to task for wanting to turn back, rather than continue to the Dark Island, a darkness or mist that appeared at the edge of the night. The ship’s captain asks what use it would be to plow through the darkness.

The mouse replied: “Use, Captain? If by use you mean filling our bellies or our purses, I confess it will be no use at all. So far as I know we did not set sail to look for things useful but to seek honor and adventure. And here is as great an adventure as ever I heard of, and here, if we turn back, no little impeachment of all our honors.”

Dr. Michael Ward delivers his first talk in this year's President's Distinguished Scholar Lecture series. His topic was "C.S. Lewis on the Value of a Liberal Arts Education."Then Ward turned to Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ in Matthew 16. Jesus had just come into the district of Caesarea Philippi and asked his disciples who people say that He is. Then he asked the disciples who they say that he is, and Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus exalted Peter but strictly instructed the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

“Peter gives glory to Jesus just by giving glory to Jesus. No one else was to be told,” Ward said. “Jesus accepts Peter’s worship.”

While academia tends to be goal-oriented, Ward challenged students and faculty to stop and embrace the present moment. Enjoyment is a purpose of creation, Ward said. From the Genesis account, Christians know that God worked for six days and on the seventh, enjoyed what He made.

Enjoyment frees us from the shackles of worrying about the future, Ward said.

Finally, he encouraged students to view their time at Palm Beach Atlantic not as the passage from one stage of life to another, but as a part of life that is full of beauty, no matter what it brings.

Photo 1: Dr. Michael Ward looks up at a display on the projection screen during his talk on "C.S. Lewis on the Value of a Liberal Arts Education" as part of the President's Distinguished Scholar Lecture. He will speak on "C.S. Lewis' Christian Imagination" during a free public lecture 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7 in the DeSantis Family Chapel.

Photo 2: Dr. Michael Ward delivers his first talk in this year's President's Distinguished Scholar Lecture series. His topic was "C.S. Lewis on the Value of a Liberal Arts Education."