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Sheldon Vanauken: The Man Who Received “A Severe Mercy”

One Man's Journey

Do we have the courage to ask the honest questions?

February 18, 2014
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Sheldon Vanauken: The Man Who Received I’ve been thinking about how different Christians are. I don’t mean how different they are from the rest of the world, but how different they are from each other. And, as one of them, I’m convinced that’s not a bad thing. It amazes me the different paths God seems to choose for His creatures. I still believe what Jesus said—that He is the only way to the Father, that He and The Father are One—but He seems to bring people to Himself through diverse means. In a recent blog article titled The Cost, Rachel Held Evans talked about the cost of our convictions, and the fact that in honestly searching for the answers, not everyone comes to the same conclusion.

Maybe we don’t have to change each other’s minds to lighten one another’s load by not assuming motives, by giving each other the benefit of the doubt that we arrived at our beliefs through honest searching.

How arrogant we are to think that our honest searching, and the conclusions to which we’ve come, disqualify the conclusions and honesty of others. Which is not to say that there are no right answers, or that we shouldn’t strive to find them. But jumping to conclusions about the motives of others only leads to close-mindedness on both sides.

Sheldon Vanauken was a man who was willing to open his mind to new ideas. You may not agree with the conclusions he came to by the end of his life, but it would be hard to argue he came to them without careful thought and reason. Many fans of C S Lewis are aware of Vanauken through his autobiographical book, A Severe Mercy, which became famous because of the letters from Lewis he quotes in the book. Less familiar are Vanauken’s follow-up book, Under the Mercy, the novel Gateway to Heaven, as well as several other works.

Will Vaus (The Hidden Story of Narnia), has written a new biography about “The Man Who Received ‘A Severe Mercy,'” filling in some of the gaps, using some of Vanauken’s personal notes and private correspondence (and conversations) between the two. With no hint of judgment, Vaus traces Vanauken’s journey from agnosticism to Christianity, from radical liberalism to staunch conservatism, from the Disciples of Christ Christian Church to Roman Catholicism.

A path with plenty of twists and turns. And Vaus does a great job of providing plenty of details without getting bogged down. I found myself wanting to know more, and enjoying my journey through the book. The details I will leave for the reader to discover – including finding your own answers to life’s questions.

Will Vaus’ website: WillVaus.com

More HJ articles about Will Vaus and his writing:

The Hidden Story of Narnia –What is Narnia All About?
The Hidden Story of Narnia –Interview with the Author, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Speaking of Jack: A C. S. Lewis Discussion Guide –Will Vaus Shares “Road Tested” Materials
Mere Christianity: C S Lewis’ View of the Atonement –Picturing What We Cannot Fully Understand





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Mark received an Associates degree in Pastoral Ministries in 1989 and was licensed to the Gospel Ministry in 1997. Mark and his wife, who have been married over 30 years, live in northern Indiana. They have four grown children, two granddaughters, and one grandson. Besides his job for a manufacturing company, Mark also sells books—mainly related to C S Lewis and JRR Tolkien—on eBay (iHaveAnInkling).

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