Yesterday was the fifty-second anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis. Though his death was eclipsed by the assassination of John F. Kennedy on the same day, his legacy has endured. While half a century has passed, in the minds of many he remains one of the most successful and influential Christian thinkers of the twentieth century. Personally, I am very thankful for the man and his writings. That may sound strange to some. After all, I have my differences. I’m Presbyterian and he was Anglican. I’m a Calvinist, he wasn’t. I think Christ’s atonement is central, in his impatience he was ambiguous. I believe in the full authority of the Bible, he did not. But despite these and other differences—which are significant—his writings have had a profound effect on me.
C.S. Lewis taught me that Christianity doesn’t have to be mindless. I grew up in the heart of broad-evangelicalism. It was the kind, you might say, that didn’t encourage serious reflection and thought. To put it candidly it was a fairly brainless Christianity. That changed when I first encountered the mind of Lewis in Mere Christianity. Though I’ve moved beyond that book in many ways, it was there I first came across a Christianity worth thinking about. He taught me that theology—the science of God—is like a map that leads one beyond pious feelings into the presence of God.
C.S. Lewis taught me that a thoughtful Christianity, while not imaginatively satisfying like Norse mythology, didn’t have to be an uncreative Christianity. In a profound way he returned a sense of poetry to logic—against the Rationalists, and logic to poetry—against Romanticism. I’ve always been an admirer of imagination and his was expressed brilliantly through the power of analogy from his Space Trilogy to his genius retelling of Greek mythology in Till We Have Faces.
C.S. Lewis taught me that the happiness of heaven–what he called the weight of glory–consists in being delighted in by God as a father delights in his son. Because of this, he said the profound and eternally relevant question was not what I thought about God, but what God thinks of me. This went against so much of the me-centered thinking I grew up with and was quite paradigm shifting in my life.
C.S. Lewis taught me that a “mere” Christianity isn’t a substitute for creed or confession. If you remember, he likened Christianity to a hallway that leads to various rooms. In these rooms, he said, there are different Christian “traditions.” He asserted that too many were comfortable in the hallway of the house, which is only the place to sit and wait. Thus, he encouraged Christians to get out of the hallway and enter the rooms for it’s there where the chairs and fire are. Lewis and I may have ended up in different rooms—he Anglican and I Presbyterian, but he showed me the value of leaving the hallway in a day of vague and tradition-rejecting Christianity.
C.S. Lewis taught me, with penetrating insight, something of the unfiltered character of pride and doubt hidden deep in my own heart. In one of his most complex pieces of fiction that is veiled in a cloak of darkness, Till We Have Faces (and as rumor suggests his favorite piece of writing), he masterfully retold the story of Cupid and Psyche. With a “Christian” spin, he comments on the mysteries of faith and the necessity of trust in unseen things despite the ever present impulse in all of our hearts to project our notions upon God. In a brilliant way that I still cannot fully understand he showed me, at least in part, what it means to stand before the face of God.
C.S. Lewis taught me that pain and God’s goodness aren’t mutually exclusive. In his intriguing little work, The Problem of Pain, he addresses what many regard as one of the greatest obstacles to Christianity. Unfortunately, because he attempts to harmonize pain and goodness from an Arminian perspective his attempt is, at the end of the day, not consistent with Scripture. Nevertheless, separating the wheat from the chaff, Lewis first challenged me to think through the complexities of this question and demonstrated that pain–tragic and true as it is–cannot overthrow the omnipotence and goodness of God.
C.S. Lewis taught me the necessity of throwing down the gauntlet. In his defense of Christianity he refused to simply defend. Rather, he was the first apologist—if you can call him that—who demonstrated to me how to go on the offensive. For instance, in Miracles he willingly challenged some of the foremost thinkers of his day and, at times, stumped them. While I’m quite persuaded of a different apologetic method than Lewis, his assertion that Jesus is either Lord, liar, or lunatic, first injected into me a degree of confidence for the Christianity I defend. After all, as Lewis argued in The Weight of Glory, Christianity alone can make sense of the waking world. In his Is Theology Poetry?, he asserted, “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.”
C.S. Lewis taught me the dangers and ultimate self-destruction of moral relativism. With an almost prophetic voice he writes in The Abolition of Man, what happens when a society rejects objectivity and replaces it with sentiments, attitudes produced by community, or feeling. In this way humanity tries to “improve” morality, but such a seeming innocent thing actually facilitates the end of our species and damnation of our souls. There is, he writes, “a fatal superstition that men can create values, that a community can choose its ‘ideology’ as men choose their clothes.” I have returned again and again to this work as a brilliant commentary on our own society.
C.S. Lewis taught me about the substantiality of heaven’s joys. Though he didn’t intend The Great Divorce as a doctrinal treatise on heaven and hell (he says so in his introduction), yet in his creative way he speculates what heaven might be like to those who are in hell. It remains one of my favorite of his writings, and showed me, in a roundabout way, that the promise of life everlasting is more real and enduring than we can now fathom.
In the end, Lewis and I are separated by many things—things that are, in and of themselves, significant. While I could never endorse him wholesale (even in the writings mentioned here) I owe a debt of gratitude to a man who has covered the distance from my head to my heart and traversed a path from the depths of my own depravity to the heights of future glory.