Tucked alongside the Redlands airport, in the building formerly occupied by Mission Aviation Fellowship, sits the C. S. Lewis Foundation, an internationally recognized organization named in honor of one of the 20th century’s most influential Christian scholars and defenders of the faith. Its mission, inspired by Lewis’ life and legacy, is “to encourage and equip Christians to integrate their faith within the world of ideas and the arts.” The organization’s president, and Trinity Church member, Dr. Stan Mattson founded the non-profit foundation 30 years ago to combat a crisis of thought and faith in higher education.
Historically, American universities were founded with the purpose of advancing the Christian faith, equipping pastors with the knowledge and skills they needed to shepherd their flock. Yet as society transitioned from Christian to secular, higher education also shed its biblical roots. What once was a place designed to educate and equip pastors became an institution that marginalized Christian intellectual ideals. We still look to universities to educate our next generation, but that generation is being trained in an environment void of a credible Christian voice. In the words of C. S. Lewis, “The sources of unbelief among young people today do not lie in those young people. This very obvious fact – that each generation is taught by an earlier generation – must be kept firmly in mind. Nothing which was not in the teachers can flow from them into the pupils.”
It is into this changing culture that the C. S. Lewis Foundation defined its mission field.
Its roots lay deep in Stan Mattson’s own history. God’s hand can be seen guiding Stan’s professional career choices and focusing his vision, which prepared him for his work at the foundation. In the early 1970s, when Stan was serving as professor of history at Gordon College in Massachusetts, he recognized the need for Christian faculty to be proclaiming Christian truths in a secular institution. He discovered the extent of the problem while reading The Christian Mind by Harry Blamires. The opening sentence of that book declared the startling truth that “there is no longer a Christian mind”. Stan realized that Christian theology, Christian worship, and Christian institutions still existed in American society, yet in the academic world there was no longer a viable Christian presence.
In response, in 1972 Stan convened a weekend retreat of Christian scholars from throughout New England to discuss the issue. During this meeting, the seeds of the C. S. Lewis Foundation were sown. The group determined two things. First, they resolved to reach out in support of Christian faculty serving in colleges and universities across the U.S. Second, they resolved to pray about establishing a “Mere Christian” college strategically placed within biking distance of a major secular university campus with the objective of encouraging open and constructive interaction between Christians and non-Christians. They chose to embrace the name of C.S. Lewis, Stan observed, “out of respect for Lewis’ stellar example of boldly identifying with a Christian worldview while also maintaining close and deep friendships with those who deeply disagreed with him.“
Over a decade passed between that initial meeting and the formal establishment of the C. S. Lewis Foundation. Stan didn’t spend all of that time in higher education, but the Lord’s hand can clearly be seen guiding his course; his diverse work experience prepared him for the unique demands of the Foundation in ways only the Lord can orchestrate. Teaching junior high, being headmaster at a K-12 school, and working in university development gave him a rich and varied view of all aspects of education and administration. Even his leadership of a truck stop development company prepared him to handle zoning and building issues, contract negotiations, and fundraising – all of which he’s faced at the Foundation.
In 1983, Stan, his wife Jean, and their two children moved to California where Stan accepted the position of Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations at the University of Redlands. The Lord had brought Stan to Redlands for more than just this job, though. Stan had been continually seeking God’s leading on the vision that had been sketched so many years before. In 1986, he felt called to resign from his university position and devote all his energies to the establishment of the C. S. Lewis Foundation. He convened a second retreat of Christian scholars to solidify the purpose and plan, and the Foundation was born.
Shortly after the Foundation’s inception, though, it became all too evident to Stan that leaders in the secular academy in the U.S. had little interest in working with Christians. So, the Foundation set out on a “reverse pilgrimage” to establish its academic credibility back in C. S. Lewis’ home town of Oxford, England. Joining forces with The Kilns Association, it acquired Lewis’ home, the Kilns, and carefully restored it. At present, the Kilns serves as the C.S. Lewis Study Centre and hosts a scholars-in-residence program for graduate students, faculty and clergy. It operates annual summer seminars; and conducts tours for over 2,000 visitors annually.
The Foundation has also fostered academic engagement through its triennial Oxbridge Summer Institute held at Oxford and Cambridge, England. Mattson describes the Institute as “a rare assemblage of world renowned scholars and clergy from every Christian tradition, cultural leaders, poets, artists, plus theatrical, symphonic, choral and dance performances, and a host of workshops on a wide variety of subjects.” And the result of this collaboration? “The academic doors have opened wide for us throughout America! Praise God!”
Here at home, the Foundation has conducted regional retreats and conferences in cities and campuses across the U.S., including UCLA, USC, UC Berkeley, and the University of Colorado, Boulder. In these opportunities to share dialogue on secular campuses, Stan has discovered non-Christian faculty who welcome the presence of a Christian voice in conversations as challenging as evolution and social history.
These events reflect the heart of the foundation’s focus: to reintroduce the Christian voice into academia. Stan employs the analogy of baseball, where avid fans of one team find that there is nothing more precious than their opposing team’s fans without the “other side,” the game has no flavor. He asserts that the same is true in the University, for “when everyone is speaking the same language with the same ideologies, the conversation is boring – there’s nothing that one needs more to grow than to have honest discourse with people who totally disagree with you. That’s what a university is supposed to be for.”
The Foundation continues to work towards establishing C.S. Lewis College, a college of the Great Books and the visual and performing arts, rooted in the Christian faith and geographically situated next to a major secular institution with which it can engage as a Christian alternative voice. That location has narrowed to the Five College region of western Massachusetts. Most recently, the Foundation purchased Green Pastures, a Victorian home in nearby Northfield, MA which was formerly home to Dwight L. Moody’s daughter; They are now working to raise the funds needed to restore the home and prepare it to serve as the first C.S. Lewis Study Center in the U.S.
Over the past 30 years, Mattson has had to lean heavily on the knowledge of God’s faithfulness and exercise trust, faith, dependence, patience, and flexibility. Throughout, he has asked, “how Lord, where Lord” and acknowledged, “not my will but yours”. He wholeheartedly declares, “While much has been accomplished, the need for Christian engagement in the world of ideas and higher education has never been more urgent.” Truly, academia is its own mission field, and the C. S. Lewis Foundation serves as an organization that provides vital missionary support to Christian academics proclaiming Christ in an increasingly hostile environment.
By Sheryl Gruenler