C.S. Lewis, the Oxford don who penned some of the great classics of the faith, never visited the United States. Were he alive today he would probably be amazed — and amused — to find himself starring in an off-Broadway play. Well, at least his ideas are starring in a play.
It's an amazing illustration of how we can become a great cultural influence for Christ through the most unexpected venues.
The story begins a number of years ago at Socrates in the City, a forum I founded to help busy New York professionals examine the big questions in life. Our guest one evening was Dr. Armand Nicholi, Jr., a Harvard psychiatrist who talked about his book, The Question of God: Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life.
The book features side-by-side arguments — Christian and secular — by these two giants of 20th-century thought.
Unbeknownst to me, a playwright named Mark St. Germain was in the audience that night. He was so intrigued by Dr. Nicholi's talk that he purchased a copy of his book, and then began writing a play based on the book.
Titled “Freud's Last Session,” this amazing play is about an imaginary meeting between the 41-year-old Lewis and the 83-year-old Freud on the day that England enters World War II. When Freud extends an invitation to Lewis to visit him, Lewis, who has recently satirized Freud in a book, expects the psychoanalyst to give him a royal dressing-down. But it turns out that Freud has a more significant purpose in mind: He wants to know why Lewis, a former atheist, now believes in God. A profound and witty debate follows, with neither man being portrayed as the “winner.”
“Freud's Last Session” opened in a small off-Broadway theater, but has since become a smash hit. It's also playing to packed houses in Chicago and Buenos Aires, and shortly will be opening in Los Angeles. The play has drawn the interest of many celebrities, including Woody Allen, Barbara Walters and Alec Baldwin.
Martin Rayner, the actor who portrays Freud, told the New York Times that the play has drawn “Jewish groups, Christian groups, book groups,” and even groups of psychiatrists and psychoanalysts because it offers “a great battle of brains and wits — over God.”
“Freud's Last Session” is a brilliant exploration of Christian thinking — and a prime example of what's possible in terms of winsomely engaging the culture.
While some Christians may wonder how meaningful such a play is if there's not an altar call at the end, I believe we have to trust that God will use this play to lead playgoers to Himself in His own time.
Think about it: People who would have never sought out God in a church setting are paying $65 or more to hear an intelligent explanation of Christian ideas in an Broadway theater.
So I hope you will go see “Freud's Last Session” if you have a chance, and take along some unsaved friends who enjoy good theater. And then have a discussion about the play over dinner. You might even follow up by giving your friends a copy of Lewis's Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters.
C.S. Lewis — smoking his pipe up in heaven — would surely be pleased.
For more information on “Freud’s Last Session,” visit our website, BreakPoint.org, and click on this commentary. And if you’d like to know more about Socrates in the City, and I hope you do, please go to socratesinthecity.com and check it out. I don’t think you’ll believe some of the speakers we’ve had; some of them you know about, some you don’t. But it’s a delightful thing, and if you’re coming to New York, consider going to Socrates in the City.
Publication date: June 12, 2012