C. S. LEWIS

Born NOVEMBER 29, 1898

Image: butterfunk.com.

He read, thought, prayed, and lived through life’s ups and downs for nearly sixty-five years, helping the rest of us in the process. As an adult, C. S. Lewis converted from atheism to become the leading Christian apologist of the 20th Century. The avid reader turned well-loved author wrote 40 books in various genres. The lifelong bachelor married in his late 50s. That union brought great joy until cancer took his wife. Thankfully, his wrestling with the realities of life and death and eternity in light of the Bible have benefitted millions of others.

TEEN ATHEIST

Clive Staples Lewis always loved books. He spent his preteen years pulling books from the shelves in his parent’s Belfast, Ireland home, reading page after page. Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain and the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow fueled his imagination. Then, Clive’s fondest memories took a jolt before his tenth birthday.

In 1908, his mother died from cancer. The Bible she presented him before dying didn’t matter to young Clive. The God he believed the Bible described wouldn’t have caused his mother’s death. As the years passed, Clive’s anger festered into bitterness. The teenage Clive Staples Lewis proclaimed himself an atheist.

He entered Magdalen College at Oxford. In late 1917, World War I interrupted his studies. He was sent to the front lines in France, arriving on his nineteenth birthday. During a battle, an exploding artillery shell injured him. Clive was transported to a hospital in England. His experience in the gruesome conflict, which took the life of his best friend, seemed to support Clive’s pessimism toward God’s existence. Life’s harsh realities without God were becoming a continual winter without Christmas.

THE FOX HUNT

Magdalen College, Oxford. Photo by Ian Yarham, licensed for reuse under creative commons licence.

After the war, Clive returned to the world of books. He concluded his studies at Oxford and accepted a teaching position there. By then he’d published his first book of poetry. He eventually discovered that some of his favorite authors were Christians. Then, two of the university’s brilliant minds whom he’d befriended acknowledged their Christian faith. One of those men, J. R. R. Tolkien, shared a love of Icelandic mythology with Clive. The atheist’s disbelief in God gradually eroded.

Years later in his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he referred to himself as the pursued animal in an English fox hunt. He pictured himself out in the open with the pack of hounds closing in on him. Clive decided the dogs were driving him to safety. He eventually found that place of safety. He concluded in Surprised by Joy, “When we are lost in the woods, the sight of a signpost is a great matter.”

In 1929, not long after an evening walk and conversation with his Christian friends, J. R. R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, Clive admitted God was God. But Theism is not Christianity. That came two years later while riding to the zoo on a motorcycle with his brother, Warnie. When they reached the zoo, Clive had fully accepted Jesus’ death on the cross for his sins. C. S. Lewis would never be the same. Nor would the millions of people who would read his writings.

NEW PURPOSE

The Eagle and Child. Photo by Stefan Servos (ardapedia.herr-der-ringe-film.de)

Clive began hosting weekly meetings in his home in 1933 with fellow Christian writers, including Tolkien. Calling themselves “the Inklings,” they also met Tuesday mornings at a pub called “The Eagle and Child.” They critiqued each other’s writings and shared their thoughts on a variety of topics.

Clive’s new-found faith began to grow. It informed all his thinking. He started writing books that examined, explained, and otherwise emphasized the Christian faith. For thirty years his typewriter poured out book after book that explored Christianity through apologetics, allegory, science fiction, and children’s fiction. He did all of it in a clear, crisp style to which readers could relate.

At Oxford, he helped create a forum for debating religious issues He served as its first president. Named the Socratic Club, the forum lined up atheist and Christian voices to debate their beliefs. As a result, many Oxford students became Christians.

WAGING WAR

Like Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War II, C. S. Lewis used radio to encourage England’s civilians and soldiers. From 1942-1944, he gave a series of informal talks over the BBC, defining Christianity. Those talks later became the book Mere Christianity.

The year 1942 also witnessed the release of Clive’s book The Screwtape Letters. The series of letters from a senior demon training a rookie tempter sold well. The Oxford don became a well-received author and a speaker in demand.

The year after Clive’s last radio address, his book That Hideous Strength was published, completing the space trilogy that began in 1938. Almost a decade later, the book Miracles led to Clive’s faith being featured as a Time magazine cover story. The article summed up his strength of communicating Christian beliefs by saying “he has a talent for putting old-fashioned truths into a modern idiom.”

While the world outside the walls of academia read and praised Clive’s Christian books, many of his peers disapproved his zealousness. The chilly climate cost him a promotion to a professorship.

NARNIA AND CHRISTIANITY

Clive wrote prolifically in the 1950s. He published his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy (1955) and his final work of fiction, Till We Have Faces (1956). The decade began with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), which would introduce the most read-ers of all ages to C. S. Lewis. Six other books  in the Narnia series followed throughout the decade.

Narnian world map . Photo by David Bedell (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 Wikimedia Commons]

The Chronicles of Narnia appeal on the surface to people of all religious persuasions. Beneath the surface of the fantastic childhood adventures, there’s something more. Each book whisks the reader off to a land visible only through the eyes of childlike faith. Belief versus unbelief is a central theme. Then there’s the key figure, Aslan. He’s a reflection of Jesus in numerous ways. (Check list of “Narnia and the Bible” sites below.)

In 1952, the book Mere Christianity began leaving its mark. The book that clearly explains the Christian faith has had an immense impact. Two individuals it led to salvation were political-power-broker-turned-religious-leader, Chuck Colson and Dominos Pizza co-founder, Tom Monaghan.

JOY AND GRIEF

In 1950, the year the reading public first discovered Narnia, Clive began receiving letters from an America woman named Joy Davidman Gresham. Two of his previous books had contributed to the former Jewish American embracing Christianity.

After her husband left her for another woman, Joy and Mr. Gresham divorced. She and her two sons, David and Douglas, moved to England in 1952. Clive developed a strong friendship with Joy, who was also a writer. Their friendship grew into love. They married in 1956.

Not long thereafter, doctors diagnosed Joy with cancer. When Clive, as a child, lost his mother to cancer, he turned against God. In his sixties, losing his wife of only four years to the same disease brought a different response. Using a pseudonym, he wrote a very frank book about his feelings of loss, titled A Grief Observed. The movie Shadowlands (1993)details his relationship with Joy.

The Kilns. Photo by jschroe.

After Joy’s passing, Clive lived for another three years. He died at his home of thirty years which he called “the Kilns.” His death occurred November 22, 1963, the same day a sniper in Dallas, Texas shot and killed President John F. Kennedy.

REMEMBERED IN BRONZE

The writings of the former atheist continue to influence each new generation. His books still speak to those both in and out of the Christian faith. In recent years, three of the Narnia books have been made into movies. Some of his writings have also appeared as stage plays and radio dramas.

Since 1998, The Searcher Centenary Statue has attracted visitors. Located in Belfast, it’s a bronze figure of Clive’s fictional character, Digory Kirke, holding onto a chair with one hand and opening a wardrobe with another.

The Searcher Centenary Statue, Belfast, Ireland.
Image: butterfunk.com

These words are inscribed on the back of the wardrobe: “C.S. Lewis did not just hang clothes in a wardrobe, he hung ideas – great ideas of sacrifice, redemption, victory, and freedom for the Sons of Adam and the Daughters of Eve – Set within the commonplace, revelation within something that looks ordinary on the outside – revelation through investigation. We should not stop looking, some of the greatest things can be found in the most ordinary of places, like a wardrobe.”

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LET ME KNOW:  How has Clives’ story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.

Bibliography————————————————————————————————-

  • Klein, Patricia S., ed. A Year With C. S. Lewis. San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins Publishers, 2003.
  • Mills, David, ed. The Pilgrim’s Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1998.
  • Woodbridge, John D., ed. Great Leaders of the Christian Church. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1988.
  • “C. S. Lewis” Christian History. Vol. 4. No. 3, 1985.
  • Lewis, C. S. Surprised by Joy. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1955.

C. S. Lewis Websites-

Narnia and the Bible-

Books by and about C. S. Lewis-

C. S. Lewis on DVD-

  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. DVD. Directed by Michael Apted. 2010; Burbank, CA: Buena Vista/Disney, 2011.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. DVD. Directed by Andrew Adamson. 2008; Burbank, CA:Buena Vista/Disney, 2008.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. DVD. Directed by Andrew Adamson. 2005; Los Angeles, CA: Twentieth Century Fox, 2006.
  • Shadowlands. DVD. Directed by Richard Attenborough. 1993; New York, NY: HBO Home Video, 1999.
  • Find other C. S. Lewis DVDs at http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=c.s.+lewis+DVDs+.

C. S. Lewis on YouTube-

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About William E. Richardson

I'm married to a wonderful woman named Deb. We're the parents of a son and daughter who bring great joy to our lives. I currently pastor the Assembly of God church in Afton, Iowa.
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2 Responses to C. S. LEWIS

  1. Ben McIntire says:

    A great post about a great theologian. Thanks William!

  2. Very nice article, totally what I was looking for.

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