A Tribute to C.S. Lewis

Who Was C.S. Lewis, Why He’s Still So Influential, and Two Ways to Get to Know Him

Let us suppose we find ourselves in a beautiful citadel city, founded in ancient times, and still vibrant. We are guided to the City Hall, which is open and through which doors open into a variety of rooms, all lit and open. In the rooms we see chairs, fires, and wonderful meals prepared for our visit. (5/25*)

Our host and guide loves to explain the mission of this ancient city, how we can be invited to live there, and its abounding future. He is C.S. Lewis, describing the joys of what he calls “mere Christianity.”

But our guide also tells us that our universe is engaged in a great civil war. The part of the universe we live in is “enemy-occupied territory,” controlled by the rebel. (3/10), (1/13) He tells us that Christianity is the story of how the rightful King has landed in disguise (just as Lewis’s own Aslan did in his Narnia stories). That King is now calling on us to participate in a secret campaign to undermine the rebel. (12/7).

But why all the secrecy? And why hasn’t the “rightful King” already invaded in force? Lewis says a logical guess for the delay is that “He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. Because when the author walks onto the stage, the play is over. God is going to invade, all right. But it’ll be too late to get on His side then. (12/7) So C.S. Lewis says that today is the day we need to choose whether we’ll support the Resistance, or the turncoat Vichy government. (2/4)

This little parable is drawn from the writings of C.S. Lewis, and reflects his style. In his deep and eloquent biography, C.S. Lewis A Life, Oxford don Alister McGrath says Lewis represents an approach to the Christian faith in which the mind, heart, reason and imagination are brought into creative interplay, with different audiences in mind.

Like Lewis, McGrath began his career as an atheist “before discovering the intellectual riches of the Christian faith.” He says “Lewis has become that rarest of all phenomena—a modern Christian writer regarded with respect and affection by Christians of all traditions.”

Who Was C.S. Lewis?

Skimming just the highlights of his life: Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) was born in Belfast, Ireland. He abandoned his early Christian faith in boarding school and became an atheist. He was coached in logic and writing by a brilliant, materialist tutor. In 1916 Lewis won a full scholarship to University College, Oxford. He then joined the British Army, was wounded in action in France, and returned to Oxford. He earned a rare “Triple First,” graduating with “First Class Honours” in Classical Languages and Literature, and then English Literature. He met his friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien in 1926. Tolkien appealed to Lewis’s love for mythology to help him return to Christianity, which he did in 1931.

After publishing a book on Christian apologetics, The Problem of Pain (1940), Lewis was invited to give a series of BBC wartime broadcasts to explain Christianity to the public. It was “England’s darkest hour,” and C.S. Lewis became “the voice of faith” for the nation. He later edited those talks into his most famous book Mere Christianity.

Lewis’s great gift for inventing fictional stories and characters that explain faith from entirely fresh perspectives led to the immensely successful Screwtape Letters in 1942, and his world-famous Narnia book series for children in 1950.

In 1956, Lewis married Helen Joy Davidman, who was dying of cancer. She had a dramatic, but temporary remission, and they enjoyed several years together before she died, in 1960. Lewis published his achingly honest A Grief Observed, in 1961. He died on November 22, 1963.

C.S. Lewis wrote more than 30 books in three streams: scholarly works, Christian apologetics, and fiction for children and adults. Alister McGrath says, “Lewis has made the most difficult transition an author can make. He is read by more people a generation after his death than before it.”

Given the broad range of Lewis’s writing, many people would love to find a way to survey his writings a bit at a time, every day, in a way that would allow them to locate and retrieve his most important teachings, as needed.

A Year With C.S. Lewis

The publishers of many of Lewis’s books have come to the rescue with a small book that mines the crux of eight of Lewis’s most important books and essay collections: The Abolition of Man; The Great Divorce; A Grief Observed; Mere Christianity; Miracles, The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters; and The Weight of Glory. Because Lewis often returned to the same topics in several of his books, Patricia Klein, the editor, has performed the daunting task of finding those passages, and grouping them together by topic. Then she spread them into 366 daily readings of one page or less.

Take pride, for example, C.S. Lewis is an authority on some crucial topics that American pulpits often skip. Ask yourself how many sermons on spiritual pride have you ever heard? Yet Lewis sees pride as the main obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. (3/22)

It was C.S. Lewis’s powerful explanation of pride in Mere Christianity that brought President Nixon’s cynical, tough-guy fixer, Chuck Colson to tears, and then to Christ. But how many people with Mere Christianity on their shelves could find that passage to share it? In A Year With C.S. Lewis, the daily entries on pride from Mere Christianity, A Grief Observed, The Screwtape Letters, and The Problem of Pain appear together from March 19-April 4.

The Year With book is bursting with what Lewis calls “the good infection.” He says “Good things as well as bad, are caught by a kind of infection. If you want to get warm you must stand near the fire. If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into the thing, that has them.”(2/11)

And does this little book ever reward re-reading! Returning year after year to passages we’ve read before is like a new visit with an old friend. New windows keep opening, and the pleasure never ends.

C.S. Lewis was given a memorial stone in the Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, near stones for Chaucer and Shakespeare. The inscription distills the faith of this great man: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” (11/6)

Ken Hagerty became a C.S. Lewis zealot reading A Year With C.S. Lewis every day for nine years. Ken and his bride of 52 years, worship at Christ Church Anglican, Mt. Pleasant. © 2021 Ken Hagerty

* Dates in parentheses refer to daily entries in the book A Year With C.S. Lewis.

By Ken Hagerty, Christ Church, Mt. Pleasant