He was the greatest defender of Christianity in his day. He was one of the greatest writers of Christian fiction of all time. He was a brilliant literary critic. And he is one of the most puzzling contradictions of a man that I have ever run across.
Clive Staples Lewis was born on Nov. 29, 1858. He grew up in an outwardly Christian home. During his teens he rejected the concept of God and moved on to a strong atheism. He remained in this state for a few years but slowly began to realize that there was strong evidence for the God he had rejected. This is a quote from the book ‘Surprised By Joy’ which is an account of his early years and conversion:
“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even a second from my work, the steady unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity term of 1929 I gave in, admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The prodigal son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused b wicked men that we shudder at them; but properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”
Lewis after his conversion went on to write many polemics for the Christian faith. His book ‘Mere Christianity’ has been acclaimed by some as being the greatest defense of Christianity written. He also wrote many books and essays on how Christianity relates to the various parts of our culture and world. On a general level his works resound with a clear and witty presentation of the truth in a very succinct and powerful way.
I was first exposed to Lewis as I expect many were, thru his fiction series ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’. From the very first I loved them. Later I read ‘Mere Christianity’ and to be honest I was not very impressed. ‘The Screwtape letters’ came next and I found them to be humorous but also not as captivating or interesting as ‘The Chronicles’. Then there followed a gap of a few years in which I read nothing of his.
Upon coming here to china I realized that the brother I am working with here, Eugene, is a huge Lewis fan. So I decided to give the guy one more try and picked up ‘Till we have Faces’, his retelling of the ancient story of Psyche and Cupid (don’t jump to any premature conclusions). And to say that I was blown away by it would be an understatement. His brilliance in weaving together a compelling plotline astounded me. After that I moved on to his retelling of his own early life and conversion. ‘Surprised By Joy’ is chock full of insight on our search for what we really want in life. And it was in this book that I found just how deeply he understood what Christianity is all about.
Lewis describes this deep-seated longing that we have that we are constantly seeking to fill. We feel right down to our core that there is a purpose for our being here and we are desperately seeking this to try to fill that emptiness we have. What we so often do is try to fill or at least drown it out with sensual pleasures. But Lewis came to realize that we can only find this ‘joy’ in the pursuit of God. Joy is not so much the total satiation of that thirst as it is the continual deep hunger that causes us to run after God. This longing and love for the King of kings is itself what we seek. And it is the only thing that will satisfy a human being.
This teaching is what we see ratified clearly in scriptures and echoed by the men of God thru the ages. So it is surprising to then learn what else Lewis believed.
Lewis was not by any stretch a fundamentalist Christian. His ideas would probably land him not quite in the liberal camps but probably outside of those we would view as conservative. Among other things Lewis…
Denied the inerrancy of Scripture
Believed in Theistic Evolution
Denied the legitimacy of OT miracles
Believed that some could be saved thru other religions
In the light of these grievous errors many have thrown Lewis to the side and rejected him as ‘just another liberal’. Now I do not desire to downplay the problems he had. They were many and some of them extremely important. But what confuses me is to see the deep love for God that flows out of his writings and his understanding of the center of the gospel.
These truths are rarely seen amongst the writings of others of his era. And just as rarely seen amongst those who are considered the liberals of any era. We do not see the German higher critics or the members of the Jesus Seminar defining what it means to know and love God in a clear biblical way. These truths are among the first to be rejected as one begins to ride down the highway of liberalism en route to the city of Humanistic thinking. This is because they are predicated upon a universe in which God is the center and everything revolves around Him. The absolute antithesis to all modern attempts to combine humanism and theology.
So why we see them in Lewis I am not sure. I don’t understand how he managed to keep a grip on this central truth all the while rejecting many others. I believe he was a real Christian. This seems obvious from his writings on the believer. There is such a depth of understanding seen here that to deny personal experience seems absurd.
So after all this is considered it leaves me quite confused about the man. A Christian? I believe so. A conservative? I would not consider him so. A fundamentalist? Definitely not! But thru all the confusion from his other beliefs is a clarity shining forth about the reality of the Christian God. The Christian life is painted in such terms that unmistakably suggest personal experience.
What should his place be in modern Christendom? Well that I will mostly leave to the individual to decide. Different people based on differing understandings of scripture place different emphasis on different doctrines. For me, I will continue to read the man. I find the meat there too great to run past though I admit there are quite a few bones that must be spat out.