by Rebecca Fox, Hope College Junior, English Major
When Joseph Pearce took the stage of Dimnent chapel last Wednesday, I’ll admit, he wasn’t who I was expecting. I’d been terribly excited all week that an Englishman was coming to Hope to give a talk on C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien (my favorite novelists, Christian thinkers, and scholars). I suppose I’d been expecting a stuffy Oxford-type academic–perhaps wearing tweed and lecturing in a posh accent.
As Mr. Pearce delved into his passionate discussion of the Trinitarian nature of reality, I was immediately struck by three things. The first was that this man had a surprising and captivating London accent. He could have been attempting to impress upon me the importance of further regulation on the exportation of cheese curds and I would have been fascinated. More important, though, was the realization that the subject of God’s Truth, Goodness, and Beauty was intensely personal to Mr. Pearce. As I would find out later, he was not simply discussing an abstract idea, but was revealing the nature of his own intimate experiences with the Triune God.
Over lunch–hosted by the English Department’s Dr. Curtis Gruenler–Mr. Pearce conversed with several Hope students about the merits of having students use creative writing to explore and process great works of literature (in lieu of more traditional academic papers). In person, he was just as courteous and insightful as he had seemed on stage.
His afternoon lecture on the “Christian Imagination of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien” in the Martha-Miller Rotunda was full of eager students, faculty, and community members. Mr. Pearce’s insights inspired nearly half an hour of intense questions after his presentation. His talk ranged from the conversion of C.S. Lewis to the sanctification of the story and the richness of Christian allegory and symbolism in Lewis and Tolkien’s works. As he finished his lecture in a passionate analysis of Gollum as an instrument of divine grace, I was once again struck by his ardency: this was not the speech of a man who is merely academically interested in literary analysis, but was that of someone who has personally experienced divine grace firsthand.
Joseph Pearce’s final talk revealed the depth of this truth. At 7:00 pm in Winants Auditorium, he gave his testimony to a rapt (and large) audience. As detailed in his recently published autobiography, Race With the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love, Mr. Pearce told his story: how God had rescued him from his life as a hate-filled skinhead. Punctuated with roughly sung snatches of anti-Catholic war songs, he told of his prison sentences and violent ideologies. The providential discovery of the writings of G.K. Chesterton (who was, subsequently, the subject of Pearce’s first book) and C.S. Lewis later were used as instruments of grace in Mr. Pearce’s own life. As such, Mr. Pearce’s conclusion was identification with John Newton’s famous hymn, Amazing Grace.
Having essentially spent the day with Joseph Pearce, I was left with the conviction that story (as Mr. Pearce said in his afternoon lecture) has indeed been sanctified by Christ and can be used by God to awaken the hearts of humankind. Even the heart of a man whose identity is in hatred can be transformed by such Amazing Grace.
These events were sponsored by the Saint Benedict Forum and co-sponsored by Hope College’s Campus Ministries, Dean of International and Multicultural Education, English Department, Political Science Department, Philosophy Department, and Religion Department.
The audio of Mr. Pearce’s Chapel talk can be found here.
The video of “The Christian Imagination of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien” can be found here.
The video of “Race with the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love” can be found here.
All photos by Aaron Estelle