The popularity of C. S. Lewis has grown over the decades following his death. Some might wonder why. What is the appeal of a scholar in Renaissance Literature? What has given him such a wide influence beyond the campuses of Oxford and Cambridge where he taught?
In the remaining pages of this booklet, we’ll see some of the answers to those questions. But all the human factors put together would be of little significance apart from Lewis’ deep confidence in the Christian gospel that changed his life.
HIS BELIEF ABOUT WHAT WAS TRUE
Lewis’ affirmation of faith was based on what he believed to be fact. Indeed, he claimed not to have become a Christian to meet some kind of personal need, but because he became convinced that Christianity was true. Of this he wrote:
Christianity claims to give an account of facts— to tell you what the real universe is like. Its account of the universe may be true, or it may not, and once the question is really before you, then your natural inquisitiveness must make you want to know the answer. If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be. If it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all.34
C. S. Lewis also believed what the Christian gospel says about nature, the human condition, and its solution. In Mere Christianity, he wrote:
We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed.35
Clearly central to Lewis’ spiritual life was the belief in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross and its power to cleanse the sins of those who have faith in Him.
HIS CONFIDENCE IN SCRIPTURE
But how could Lewis have such confidence in an event that had happened nearly 2,000 years before he lived? The answer lies in his understanding of the evidence of textual criticism. Lewis was convinced that the scholarly evidence for the cross-comparison of ancient manuscripts supported the historic reliability of the New Testament. He also was convinced that the Bible’s human writers were supernaturally inspired by God. In one of his essays, Lewis observed:
A belief in . . . verbal inspiration will indeed make all Scripture a book by a single Author.36
For Lewis, the words of Scripture were reliable because they were authored by a Divine Being who worked through human writers. Because of this, the Bible, which contains the gospel, should be taken seriously.
Such confidence in Scripture, however, did not mean that Lewis never saw apparent problems and mysteries in the Bible. Instead, he actually pointed to them as evidence for the truthfulness of Scripture. In one of his letters, Lewis wrote:
Would not a revelation which contained nothing that you and I did not understand, be for that very reason rather suspect? To a child it would seem a contradiction to say both that his parents made him and God made him, yet we see how both can be true.37
So despite seeing some issues in Scripture that are difficult to explain, he nonetheless was confident in the Bible as the source of divine truth. It was the reliability of this record that provided Lewis with the foundation for proclaiming Christ as Lord.
HIS ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE WITH EVERYDAY PEOPLE
Because Lewis wrote from within an academic community of skeptics, it is a wonder that he had an impact at all. Yet he struck a chord in the hearts and minds of millions. How was that possible? Of this, Lewis wrote:
When I began, Christianity came before the great mass of my unbelieving fellow-countrymen, either in the highly emotional form offered by revivalists or in the unintelligible language of highly cultured clergymen. Most men were reached by neither. My task was therefore simply that of a translator— one turning Christian doctrine, or what he believed to be such, into the vernacular, into the language that unscholarly people would attend to and could understand.38
Lewis viewed himself as a translator. He was aware that scholarly language and thoughts to which he had become so accustomed in academia were not the suitable means for communicating the spiritual truths to the average man and woman. It was Lewis’ creative writing that used science fiction, children’s fantasies, and popular books on theology to build a bridge to the average person.
Lewis’ perpetual popularity, however, can’t be accounted for just on the basis of his creativity and simplicity.
HIS BREADTH OF KNOWLEDGE
Another aspect of Lewis’ appeal is the depth of his ideas, illustrations, and insights. He drew his thoughts from a vast well of literature, philosophy, and theology. Yet in all this, Lewis used his breadth of knowledge to help others see the priority of personal conversion. In Christian Reflections, Lewis wrote:
The Christian knows from the outset that the salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world.39
At first glance, this statement could be taken as a negative comment about history, literature, and culture. But this is not what he meant. Lewis read widely, reflected deeply, and wrote insightfully with one eye on the human experience in this world and the other eye on the new world promised by Christ.
HIS CONFIDENCE IN RESURRECTION & TRANSFORMATION
Lewis believed that this current world with all its joys and sorrows was only a preview of a better world to come. It was this confidence in a new cosmos under Christ’s sovereignty that caused him to place such a high value on a single human life. Christianity taught that only those who put their faith in Christ would occupy this new world. It was for this reason that Christ came into our world.
For Lewis, the greatest miracle in the history of our universe was the incarnation of Christ—God becoming man. Yet he saw Christ’s brief visit to our world having a much bigger purpose. For it would be through His resurrection from the dead that a way would be made to restore a universe that had gone wrong. Lewis believed that Christ’s resurrection carried the promise not only of making believers into new creatures, but it will also transform the entire universe to serve as their eternal home. In his book Miracles, Lewis wrote:
The records [of Scripture] represent Christ . . . as withdrawing . . . . “to prepare a place for us.” This presumably means that He is about to create that whole new nature which will provide the environment or conditions for His glorified humanity and, in Him, for ours. . . . The old field of space, time, matter, and the senses is to be weeded, dug, and sown for a new crop. We may be tired of that old field: God is not.40
In Mere Christianity, he explained how the familiar would take on the wonder of a new creation:
Christ’s work of making new men [is like] . . . turning a horse into a winged creature. . . . It is not mere improvement but transformation. It is a change that goes off in a totally different direction—a change from being creatures of God to being sons of God. The first instance appeared in Palestine two thousand years ago. . . . [Christ] is the origin and center and life of all new men.41
Those who are changed by Christ don’t just become improved versions of who they once were when living on the earth, but glorious transformations into radiant children of God. Despite the hope of a completed transformation, however, the beginnings of it must be worked out in life’s current imperfections. In Miracles, Lewis wrote:
A new nature is being not merely made but made out of an old one. We live amid all the anomalies, inconveniences, hopes, and excitements of a house that is being rebuilt.42
This is another appeal of Lewis’ writing. He often seems to connect with the painful and uncomfortable realities of everyday life.
And so we see the one who had been called “the most thoroughly converted man” become a writer who was both captivated by and who captivated others with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was Christ to whom Lewis so effectively pointed:
In a civilization like ours, I feel that everyone has to come to terms with the claims of Jesus Christ upon his life.43
The Christ with whom Lewis came to terms is the Jesus who said:
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live (Jn. 11:25).
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (Jn. 3:16-18).
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life (Jn. 5:24).