On November 22, 1963—exactly fifty years ago—the world lost a very great man. His name was Clive Staples Lewis, but he preferred to be called Jack. He was an academic, poet, novelist, literary critic and lay theologian. He was also a close friend and associate of J.R.R. Tolkien, the renowned writer of fantasy.
Jack was not a saint, a prophet or even an author of literary masterpieces. No, Jack was something very different and equally wonderful: a genius of varied interests, remarkable talent, deep faith and gentle humor.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the man to whom the world owes Narnia, Screwtape and a great deal of commonsense theology.
I give you C.S. Lewis, a man whom we shall never forget.
Raised in a religious home, C.S. Lewis drifted into skepticism as a young man and became an atheist. It was with extreme reluctance that he returned to belief in God and eventually (with a little help from friends like Tolkien) devotion to Jesus Christ.
As an ex-atheist, Lewis devoted much thought to Christian apologetics—the rational defense of Christianity as an accurate worldview. He also dabbled in theology, penning books such as Mere Christianity and The Four Loves in which he discoursed upon faith, love and absolute morality.
Lewis’s faith blurred together with his prodigious imagination. His Narnia books wove together folklore and Greco-Roman mythology with a Christian worldview, and The Screwtape Letters explored Christian life from a diabolical point of view.
(I enjoyed The Screwtape Letters so much that I imitated them—badly—on this blog in the form of The Turnspike Emails, which I discontinued a long time ago. Forgive me, Jack.)
Lewis was—no pun intended—a jack of all trades. He dabbled in everything from theology to literary criticism to medieval studies. He wrote novels. He wrote essays. He wrote poems. The range and variety of his work is incredible.
One of Lewis’s greatest strengths was his gift for explaining things simply. Take the super-confusing concept of the Trinity: God as three persons, yet a single entity. Lewis gives the best explanation of the Trinity I have ever seen, read or heard… in three paragraphs. Three. (See Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 2.)
Another example: For centuries, theologians have debated the exact relationship between faith and good works. Which is more important? By which does God save us? C.S. Lewis resolves the debate in two sentences: “Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ. I have no right really to speak on such a difficult question, but it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is more necessary.”
C.S. Lewis is idolized by some and reviled by others. He certainly wasn’t infallible, but no one can dismiss his intelligence or creativity. Personally, I find his works on Christianity remarkably insightful. The Narnia books are pretty good, The Space Trilogy rivals Doctor Who for offbeat science fiction and Till We Have Faces is simply fantastic.
For anyone interested in the Christian faith, Mere Christianity is a thoughtful work for believers and skeptics alike. The Screwtape Letters is a really clever treatise on Christian life. For sophisticated readers, Till We Have Faces is a brilliant reimagining of an ancient Greek myth; for those with simpler literary tastes, the Narnia books are fun, easy reads.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, C.S. Lewis is awesome.