The Relevance and Challenge of C. S. Lewis | Mark Brumley
(Note: This essay originally appeared on IgnatiusInsight.com in November 2005.)
Mere Christianity sat innocently on the bookrack at a neighborhood bookstore, right next to end times prognosticator Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth. The author of Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis, was unknown to me. I confused him with Lewis Carroll of Alice in Wonderland fame. What could a weaver of children’s tales teach me about Christ?
An odd question, given that Jesus himself said that we must become as little children to enter the kingdom of God. Ironic, in another way, too. For Lewis was, unbeknownst to me, renowned for a series of extraordinary children’s books, The Chronicles of Narnia. And he was a great friend of Lord of the Rings creator, J.R.R. Tolkien.
The back cover of the slim, powder blue paperback reported that Lewis had been a Cambridge professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature. Strange, I thought, that a high-brow English scholar would have written a book the publisher so assertively subtitled "What One Must Believe in Order to Be a Christian." (Newer editions of the book removed the subtitle.) Thumbing through the book, I was instantly captured by its obvious Christ-centeredness and clarity.
Lewis quickly became my best friend, theologically speaking. He challenged me to use my mind to understand Christ and his truth, to know what I believed and why I believed it. I devoured everything of his I could get my hands on. Even scholarly essays of literary criticism did not lessen my capacity for Lewisian cuisine, not even his magisterial contribution to the massive OHEL (The Oxford History of English Literature), titled English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama–a repast hardly digestible by the sophomore public high school student I was at the time.
More remarkable still is that, humanly speaking, it is largely due to Lewis, an Anglican, that I converted to the Catholic Church, something as nearly inconceivable to me in my Fundamentalist days as becoming a Martian. Now, after more than two decades in the Church, I have met or learned of scores of far more illustrious Catholic converts who likewise list Lewis on their spiritual resumes. The late Sheldon Vanauken, friend of Lewis and former Anglican, once spoke of his mentor as "Moses"–one who led the way into the promised land of the Catholic Church yet never entered himself. Even Walter Hooper, faithful secretary of Lewis in his last days, executor of the Lewis estate and an erstwhile Anglican clergyman, made the pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome. But more in a moment on Lewis’ Catholic converts and his own failure to "pope".
Interest in Lewis is on the upswing, again, especially with the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe movie and portents of many more in a series of Chronicles of Narnia feature films. What, then, to make of this highly influential, Belfast-born Christian thinker and writer, and his impact on modern Christianity?