July 1, 2013
No doubt most of you reading this little essay have heard of C. S. Lewis. Or Clive Staples Lewis. In the event that you are not familiar with him let me give you some background. Lewis was born in Ireland in 1898 and died on the same day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. He may not have been the most prolific Christian writer of the 20th century but he was likely the most read and the most diverse. He wrote everything from children’s books (the 7 books of the Narnia series which have been made into several movies), to poetry, to English textbooks, to deep and difficult theological issues, and even a book recounting his grief as he worked through his sorrow over the death of his wife. He didn’t actually get married until late in his life and he married a “pen pal” whom he had corresponded with for years. She was 17 years his junior. Lewis was an English professor at both Oxford and Cambridge for decades.
Back in the 1970’s, and 80’s and even into the 90’s one could scarcely hear a presentation on the gospel without it being accompanied by a compelling quote from Lewis. Few Evangelical Christians (I fear using the “E” word here since it is so readily misunderstood) of my era would have escaped their teens or 20’s without a healthy dose of Lewis. When I was going to seminary North of Boston MA I registered to take a course on Lewis at a different seminary than the one I attended… there was a reciprocal agreement among 7 seminaries at that time. The professor was one of the world’s foremost experts on Lewis. Much to my dismay the class was cancelled at the last minute because there were not enough folks registered to take it.
I taught at a Prep school north of Boston for one year after seminary. Most Prep schools in the Boston area began from Christian roots but few of them maintain their faithful past. Not unlike some small colleges in the Pittsburgh area (and farther) who began as denominational schools but few would recognize their beginnings any longer. I taught at the school with a woman who was from England and had graduated from Oxford. She was a devout atheist and not a very friendly sort. But I remember the day she told me she had taken a class from Lewis… I was stunned. I was talking to someone who had sat under the tutelage of one of THE great Christian men in all of history. Understand, she did not have him for a class on religion, but for a class on English. I remember one story she told me. She said that Lewis often came to class 5 or 10 minutes late. He walked with a cane and would have to take the steps to the front of the classroom laboriously and individually. One day the students decided to deride him for his tardiness by clapping their hands as he took each step. She said when he got to the front of the room and had gathered himself he very modestly said: “I will never be late for this class again.” And she said he wasn’t. She was not a Believer, but she was impressed that this world famous man would humble himself in front of a group of snotty/rude University students. I’ve often reflected on the notion that of the literally millions of words that have been written about Lewis only myself and a few other people know of this story… and now you do as well.
I know that the world is changing rapidly. One only need open the newspaper (if you still know what that is) or listen to the radio or television, or consult the internet to see how fast things are shifting. (for the better or worse?? You decide) It seems tragic to me that we in the Christian faith are growing farther and farther from the words and teaching of C.S. Lewis. But we are growing farther from many things aren’t we? Biblical truth seems to be a secondary issue for many Christians. Godly morals are becoming a thing of the past. The notion that we should think of anything beside our own good pleasure is antiquated. And “sacrifice” for others might as well be a four letter word.
A day will come… sooner than we might think… when Christianity in the U.S.A. will be a distant thought. And the places on the globe where the faith is flourishing such as Africa, South America, South Korea, and even China will have little memory of C.S. Lewis. I for one will remember him… and be grateful for this amazing man of God. If you haven’t read Lewis… well… DO!!! There are many places to begin… read the Narnia books to your children or grandchildren. The Screwtape Letters. The Great Divorce. Or, if you are struggling with sorrow; A Grief Observed. There are many places to begin. I don’t think you will be terribly disappointed.