C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis
“The Christian is to resist the spirit of the world. But when we say this, we must understand that the world-spirit does not always take the same form. So the Christian must resist the spirit of the world in the form it takes in his own generation.” C. S. LEWIS
C. S. Lewis is the most popular Christian writer of the 20th Century by a huge margin. People from all branches of the Faith love his books. Sales of his works remain robust, and conferences and societies continue to honor his legacy.
Lewis stands as a philosopher of religion who encourages us to reconcile faith with reason. He fought for the orthodox Christian worldview over against the postmodern spirit that denies absolute truth and embraces nihilism.
“The standard of permanent Christianity must be kept clear in our minds, and it is against that standard that we must test all contemporary thought. In fact, we must at all costs not move with the times.” C. S. LEWIS
C S Lewis Biography
Born in Belfast, Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) died quietly the same day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
As a boy, he loved mythology. His early life was tranquil; his precocious mind filled by a house full of books. The person he loved most in the world, his dear mother, died of cancer when the lad was but nine years old, and this loss created a cloud of pessimism that lasted a lifetime.
He was soon sent to boarding school, where he regularly went to church, said his prayers, and read his Bible. But as a teenager, Lewis was introduced to erotic literature and the occult, eventually becoming an atheist. He said, “Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.”
In 1917, Lewis was admitted to Oxford and so began a life of reading, writing, lecturing, and debating. It was classmate Owen Barfield who convinced Lewis that he was guilty of “chronological snobbery”—the belief that new ideas are automatically better than the old.
His long road back to life began when fell under the spell of the Scottish Romantic author George MacDonald, who was also a Christian minister. Lewis began to realize that atheist authors were shallow and superficial, while authors who saw the world through the lens of a Christian worldview had a profound depth in their writings. In 1929, he finally knelt, prayed, and came back to God. It was two more years before he abandoned Deism and was convicted in his heart that Christ Jesus was exactly who He said He was: The Son of God and the Savior of Mankind.
C S Lewis Books
The “Literary Evangelist” is one nickname applied to Lewis. Fifty million of his books have been sold. He wrote theological and apologetic treatises, as well as fantasy novels, to equal acclaim.
Mere Christianity (1952) is the most widely read and influential of his non-fiction books, while the seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia the most beloved of his works of fiction. Also quite famous are the autobiographical Surprised by Joy (1956) and his book about coming to terms with the death of his wife, A Grief Observed (1961). The Abolition of Man has proved to be his most prophetic work.
In 1960, Lewis observed: “There are a great many people who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen.”
C. S. Lewis defined his mission as “to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” He believed nothing is as important as “the salvation of a single soul" and that evangelism is the “real business of life.” The Oxford Don toiled tirelessly to make high brow theological concepts understood by the common folks.
God wants to transform us, but we must overcome pride and our selfish will, as Lewis writes about in The Problem of Pain. Salvation only comes to those who willingly put themselves in the hands of Christ, where we might be transformed into His likeness. If we have faith, we will trust God, and if we trust God, we will do what he says because we believe He has our best interests at heart. We can never earn salvation; we can only be given it if we surrender and repent.
The problem of humanity is a moral problem, and sin is what separates us from God. Despite its seductive promises, sin leads us down the path of perdition.
God and Man
A section called “Nice People or New Men” in Mere Christianity introduces us to a pair of fictional characters, one of whom is a not very likable Christian and the other a non-believer with a wonderful personality. Lewis says most people would say the non-believer was most like Jesus and use this to argue that not only are some Christians hypocrites but you don’t have to believe in Christ to be a good person. Lewis makes the brilliant point that instead of comparing these two extreme examples we should be asking a different question altogether: What if the non-believer was a Christian? And what if the Christian was not?
Our author refutes the popular liberal idea that the character of an individual is the result of social factors beyond our control—which 'progressives' use to make excuses for all sorts of bad behavior, especially by the ‘poor’ and ‘disadvantaged’—and argues that we have the ability to choose if we will become the type of person God wants us to be (that we can be if we accept His transformative grace).
In The Screwtape Letters he shows us that “to watch a man do something is not to make him do it.” The reference is to the old argument that, if God knows what we are going to do, we don’t have free will. Lewis conveys that the fallacy comes from not understanding that God exists outside space and time and therefore human past, present, and future are all in the present to Him. God does not force us to do anything, but he knows what we will do in His Eternal Now.
In Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis tells of an old argument he had with schoolmates as to whether “the future was like a line you can’t see or like a line that is not yet drawn.”
Personally, I have long wondered: Is God ever surprised?
In a discussion about predestination, Lewis comes up with a brilliant solution: “I find the best plan is to take the Calvinist view of my own virtues and other people’s vices; and the other view of my own vices and other people’s virtues.”
C. S. Lewis believed salvation to be an ongoing process—not a one-time thing. Conversion is a huge event, but one can choose to backslide and stop cooperating with the Holy Spirit and thereby lose salvation. True believers can fall from grace.
Some liberals abandoned Lewis because he strongly believed in objective truth and that Jesus was God Incarnate.
He taught that most everybody regularly submits to authority in which they place faith. So the real question is whose authority we will accept; in whom will we place our faith?
The New Testament is historically reliable, according to Lewis. For one reason, the writers of it possess the prime great characteristic of honest witnesses: they disclose some information that seems damaging to their own conclusions, which they easily could have omitted, and that no false teacher would have fabricated.
Some modern atheist critics complain that mythology contains some similar stories to those that appear in the Bible. They take this as evidence that the Bible copied other myths. Lewis says, why make that assumption? Unless you start from non-belief intent on disproving God? Why not think that some mythologies copied the Bible or simply bear witness to the same events the Bible accurately describes?
The purpose of the Bible is to convey the Truths of God to the reader. And Lewis says that not only were the writers of Scripture inspired by God to write what they wrote, but the receiver must also be inspired by the Holy Spirit to comprehend the reality of God’s message. It requires a discerning, humble spirit with pure motives to comprehend the Word of God because God has revealed the Truth to us to transform us into the likeness of Christ—not to satisfy man’s intellectual curiosities.
The Christian Faith
The Christian Faith is absolutely, objectively the Truth, Lewis believed, not simply some cold comfort. He did not think—as liberals do—that religion is only subjective, personal, and private. As he said so succinctly, “Christianity is a statement, which if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
One of man’s highest callings is the pursuit of the Truth. Lewis wrote that many people refuse the Truth because they are morally corrupt. They want the Truth—that God is the ultimate moral judge of men—suppressed because they want to indulge their sinful appetites. “It would be very convenient if Christianity were not true,” he wrote, for those who habitually engage in immoral behaviors. Instead of doing what is approved of, they simply approve of what they desire to do.
Lewis reminds us that he is not merely defending his personal beliefs but the historic orthodox doctrines of the faith, which are summarized in the ecumenical creeds. Authority, experience, and reason are the ingredients required to discern the Truth of anything. Faith is belief well grounded in firm factual truths.
The foundation of 20th century thought (for non-believers) is a bias that prevents them from giving the Christian Faith—the supernatural aspects of it, not the Social Gospel—a fair trial. They assume Christianity is false and attempt to build a case against it with that prior assumption instead of evaluating its truth claims on objective grounds. They start with the notion that the worldview of Christians is tainted, but theirs is not.
If a man does not want to be saved, he will get his wish. Lewis never wants to tell people what to think but to engage them on a serious intellectual level. The cultural intelligentsia of any age shapes the thinking of the masses, and it is shaped by the spirit of this world. Lewis sought to inject the Christian Faith into subjects that non-believers—who do not read overtly Christian material—would be interested in; through those great influencers of culture: Books.
“If no set of morals were truer or better than any other, there would be no sense in preferring civilized morality to savage morality, or Christian morality to Nazi morality. In fact, we all believe that some moralities are better than others. The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another; you are, in fact, measuring them by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either.” C.S. LEWIS
Before Freud, guilt acted as an early warning system that told us there was real moral danger ahead. Psychology sees guilt as a dysfunctional feeling that must be expunged by a therapist, who will explain away your guilty feelings and train you to blame others for your moral failings. This is a devilish trick to teach people that they have no need of forgiveness by God—and therefore no need to repent of their sins.
We should concentrate on the ordinary sins in the lives of decent, average people, Lewis believed, and not let the Evil One sidetrack us into thinking that social ills are caused by the sins of an abstract, ambiguous, amorphous ‘society.’ The reality of a universal moral standard and our inability to obey it is “the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.”
Mere Christianity opens with a story of three people arguing about cutting in line, breaking promises, and a seat on a bus. In each quarrel, there is an appeal to an objective standard that every person is supposed to know, and in fact that each of them acknowledges knowing. They do not dispute the standard, but they search for excuses or loopholes as to why it doesn’t apply to them in the current dispute. To Lewis, the daily actions and interactions of people everywhere shows that ultimate standards of right and wrong that govern human behavior are an objective reality.
Now some would argue this is nothing more than natural instinct. But if morality were mere instinct, why would anyone jump into a raging river to save a drowning child? Why would anyone, possessed as we all are with an overwhelming instinct for self-preservation, risk their own lives for others as lifeguards, firefighters, police officers, soldiers, and other heroes do?
Some postmodern deconstructionists argue that morality is merely social convention. Teachers, parents, and pastors, of course, inculcate morality. Does that prove it is a social construct or even of human origin? We teach children primary colors and multiplication tables—can we make them anything we want them to be?
Without objective standards of right and wrong, how could we hold criminals accountable or even say that Pol Pot was wrong to slaughter two million Cambodians to achieve his socialist dream? Even the “tolerant” crowd does not think we should tolerate rape or even racism. If there is no objective Truth and therefore no objective right and wrong, how can racism be called wrong?
The fact is we all believe in ultimate standards, if we admit it or not.
Jesus claimed to be an eternal, divine being who forgives the sins of the repentant and will one day judge the living and the dead. That is why the Jews wanted Him dead. The greatest sin of Judaism was to claim divine status, which was considered blasphemous and deserving of death.
The leaders of the Jewish people were particularly outraged that Jesus said He could forgive sins. Only God can offer forgiveness because He is the One ultimately offended by all sin.
C.S Lewis famously says that when it comes to Jesus—when He asks us, “Who do you say I am?”—There are only three possible answers: a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord of the universe (as He said He is).
Even people who hate Christianity generally admit Jesus was a good moral teacher of sound mind. They don’t think Him silly or conceited. They will usually concede He lived a life beyond reproach. People of all persuasions see that He had incredibly profound insights and was of impeccable character. He was a masterful teacher who led an exemplary life. So how could He be crazy or a deceiver of men?
The Problem of Evil, Pain, & Suffering
The problem of evil presents a great challenge to the Christian apologist, along with the existence of suffering and pain. The question is, “If God is perfect and good and omnipotent, why do these things exist? If God is all-powerful He could obliterate all pain, suffering, and evil in an instant, and if He truly is perfectly good He would, wouldn’t He?”
C.S. Lewis answers this way: “But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t.”
I would say to the atheist, we are in a world of pain, suffering, and evil. You are saying it is all for nothing. Nothing could be sadder than that.
I don’t know why evil and pain present any kind of problem for non-believers. If we are nothing more than random accidents, here through the blind chance of evolution, and all that exists is the material world, then there is little reason to complain about evil and suffering since no one is listening. Energy and matter do not care what your problems are. Christians, on the other hand, believe that someone is hearing and caring about us.
If we set aside natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and disease, it is clear that the evil and suffering throughout history can be attributed to bad choices made by men of free will. War, oppression, injustice, and all kinds of abuse, rape, murder, deception, treachery, and robbery—all involve the misuse of freedom.
If God had not made us free to choose evil, we would not really be free. The same freedom that allows us to love allows us to hate. The same freedom that makes possible a Mother Theresa makes possible an Emperor Nero. God gave us the freedom to choose our own actions, but He will hold us responsible for the choices we make. God could not have made a world pregnant with meaning without creating people free to exercise their freedom in all that is meaningful in life—love, relationships, and acts of nobility.
Lewis lamented that modern folks seem to “want not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who likes to see young people enjoying themselves.” We should remember that the primary concern of God is not our temporal gratification—fleeting pleasures that have no redemptive value—but our eternal health. If God loves you, would He not do whatever it takes to cut the cancer of sin out of your heart even if it requires the scalpel of suffering? Should God not use the megaphone of pain, even if it hurts, to heal your soul and prepare you for Heaven?
Pain and suffering not only rouse us from the sleep of self-sufficient complacency; they can purify our motives, correct our attitudes, and humble us, as well as provide opportunities for familial and communal love, sympathy, and compassion.
Sin is real and people are responsible for it. That is the bottom line.
The Wider Hope
But what about the fate of the unevangelized? If Jesus is the only way to salvation, what about the millions who died without ever hearing the Gospel? I doubt that anyone reading this falls into that category.
God will judge according to the light received. All Truth is God’s Truth and response to light is ultimately a response to the Father of lights. What the Creator most requires of his creatures is purity of heart, not doctrinal knowledge or ritual precision. God is a loving father who gives all some degree of illumination and will not judge a person for light not received, only for light not followed, light rejected or ignored.
God is a reader of hearts and will judge you according to your motives—not what you didn’t know. Lewis is in the camp called “The Wider Hope.”
If I offered a million dollars cash to every American who went an entire year without committing a single sin, would you consider me cruel if I did not also give the same reward to those who refused my offer?
God is holy and cannot tolerate any sin whatsoever in Heaven. Since we all fall far short of perfection and we are all sinners, God made a way for us to overcome this dilemma and that Way is through His Son Christ Jesus. The enormous responsibility of the Community of Christians is to spread this Good News throughout the world.
Lewis warns of a world where men will be dominated through social engineering, psychological manipulation, and pharmaceutical alteration. Those in charge will condition humanity according to their personal preferences. The end result will be dehumanization.
The manipulators are intent on demolishing objective morality and absolute truth, to rid mankind of its belief in God. Just like their atheist, socialist predecessors, they will promise unfettered freedom in a new utopia but deliver universal bondage and depravity.
In The Abolition of Man, Lewis writes: “At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely ‘natural’—to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammeled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity. Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man.”
Jesus of Nazareth
There is only one person in the history of the world that both claimed to be God and is universally considered profoundly sagacious: Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus really is the Son of God and that accounts for the miracles He performed; His Resurrection from the dead; the incredible impact He made on history; the body of doctrine created around His Person; the founding and subsequently amazing success of the Christian Church; and the reliability of the New Testament.
At the heart of the Faith is God’s promise to make us like Jesus. Holiness is not adherence to a set of rigid rules but a transformation of the heart. Holiness is far from an oppressive burden. It is a vision of the beauty and meaning of life that answers our deepest longings for lasting happiness and leads us up into the arms of the holy heavenly Father.
The hope of heaven resides in every human heart.
C. S. Lewis
Every act of sin diminishes your own character. Our heavenly Father knows that we will never be truly happy if we are not holy. In Mere Christianity, Lewis shows his shepherd’s heart:
“But if you are a poor creature—poisoned by a wretched upbringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels—saddled, by no choice of your own, with some loathsome sexual perversion—nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends—do not despair. He knows all about it. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner than that) He will fling it on the scrapheap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all—not least yourself: for you have learned to drive in a hard school.”
Place your trust in the goodness and wisdom of our heavenly Father. He can and will separate your true character from the physiological, environmental, emotional, and psychological baggage you carry. First recognize you have moral responsibility. You need the Great Physician. You must admit you are sick before you get the cure.
Some people today do not believe in a personal God because they want God to be beyond personality. Lewis said, “It is only Christians who have any idea of how human souls can be taken into the life of God and yet remain themselves—in fact, be more themselves than they were before.”
This is the opposite of New Age Pantheism that teaches we disappear into God like a drop of water would disappear into the ocean. God is more than a person in an ordinary sense but He is not impersonal. We can be united with God and retain our individual identity.
The Christian view of love, communication, personality, and relationship goes to the bottom of reality. The very things that make us distinctively human and most endow our lives with meaning, best make sense if we are creatures of a personal God.
The source I used to create this article is C.S. Lewis & Francis Schaeffer: Lessons for a New Century from the Most Influential Apologists of Our Time by Scott R. Burson & Jerry L. Walls
More by this Author
The House of David was a religious colony in my hometown of Benton Harbor, Michigan. When I was a boy I was mesmerized by the magical, mysterious House of David. My father grew up around the House of David,...
1955 was the year America hit its zenith. It manufactured half of all the goods made in the world. More people went to church in 1955 than ever before or since in the United States. More churches were built in 1955 than...
The French Revolution; Jacobins; Reign of Terror; Guillotine; Vendee Uprising; King Louis XVI; Robespierre; Bigot; Illuminati; Cult of Reason; Atheism; Communism; Feminism; Satanism; the Antichrist.