From Oxford to Narnia: The Literary World of C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis Theologian and Defender of the Faith
No Christian writer of the last century has had quite the wide appeal as has C.S. Lewis. Roman Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Orthodox and other Christians as well as those of other views have found inspiration and challenge in his books. Much of this broad appeal stems from Lewis’s general refusal to publicly address many of the issues that divide Christians. In the preface to Mere Christianity he writes, “Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbors was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” Lewis’s major works defending Christianity were published between 1940 and 1952. His later theological books were more of a devotional nature.
Miracles: A Preliminary Study. London: HarperCollins, 2002.
First published in 1947, Miracles was written mainly to challenge the assumptions of naturalistic thought that miracles, including what Lewis calls “The Grand Miracle”, the Incarnation of Jesus, do not occur.
The Screwtape Letters. New York: Macmillan, 1976.
This novel is a collection of fictitious letters from a senior tempting devil “Screwtape” to a junior “Wormwood” working with a particular human “patient.” Originally printed in the periodical “The Guardian”, this became one of Lewis’s most popular books.
Mere Christianity. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.
His most famous and influential work, selling over 11 million copies, is now a classic defense of Christian faith. More than that, it offers Lewis’s penetrating, often pastoral, insights into how to live the Christian life. Its roots were in the BBC broadcasts, and Lewis later revised and expanded the material. In 2000, Christianity Today magazine asked contributors and church leaders to choose the 10 best religious books of the 20th century, Mere Christianity came in first.
C.S. Lewis in a Time of War. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002.
Reverend James Welch, then director of Religious Broadcasting for BBC radio, wrote Lewis in 1941 asking if he would be willing to give radio talks on Christian belief and practice. Lewis agreed and series of radio talks was born. Many listeners were mesmerized by Lewis’s clear exposition. One RAF officer recalled being in an officer’s bar and, “Suddenly everyone just froze listening to this extraordinary voice. And what he had to say.”
The Four Loves audio recordings. Nashville: T. Nelson, 2004.
This collection is one of the few extant sound recordings of Lewis. It was recorded at the request of the Episcopal Radio-TV Foundation in 1958, which allowed him to speak on any subject he wanted. The talks were the basis for the later book of the same name.
The Problem of Pain. New York: Macmillan, 1948.
This short introduction to Lewis’s first book of theology published in 1940 contains many of his distinctive emphases -- admitting weakness, claiming he was not a “real theologian” and focusing on intellectual problems while still offering spiritual advice. The book covers topics such as heaven, hell, human and animal pain, and human wickedness.
Time magazine, 1947.
Time magazine’s cover story on September 8, 1947 was about Lewis and his growing fame.
Lewis and the Bible
As a lover of books and a Christian, Lewis believed the Bible “cannot properly be read except as literature; and the different parts of it as the different sorts of literature they are.” He thought some parts of the Old Testament were divinely inspired myths, while other parts historical. The Psalms “must be read as poems if they are to be understood.” Lewis defended the historicity of the gospels. “I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. ”
Either this is reportage – though it may no doubt contain errors … or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative.” He also thought the overall teaching of Jesus could not be simply reduced to a theological system: “We may observe that the teaching of Our Lord Himself, in which there is no imperfection, is not given us in that cut-and-dried, fool-proof, systematic fashion we might have expected or desired.”
One might expect Lewis to prefer the beauty and grandeur of the Authorized version, but he explained otherwise in his preface to Letters to Young Churches, a 1947 translation of Paul’s letters. He notes the New Testament was written in common, not literary, Greek: “Does this shock us? It ought not to except as the Incarnation itself ought to shock us. The same divine humility which decreed that God should become a baby at a peasant-woman’s breast, and later an arrested field-preacher in the hands of the Roman police, decreed also that He should be preached in a vulgar, prosaic and unliterary language. If you can stomach the one, you can stomach the other.”
C.S. Lewis Collection at the Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College
Clyde S. Kilby, professor of English at Wheaton College, in Illinois, corresponded with and met Lewis, and later was inspired to start the “C.S. Lewis Collection” which became a part of the Wheaton Library in 1965.
Heaven’s Calling A Memoir of One Soul’s Steep Ascent. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008.
Pictured here are author Leanne Payne, at the desk of C.S. Lewis which is part of the collection, and Kilby, with whom as a student she worked on the collection. Among her books is Real Presence: The Christian Worldview of C. S. Lewis as Incarnational Reality.
Letters to an American Lady. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967.
A collection of letters Lewis wrote to Mary Van Deusen which was donated to the Wade Collection. Lewis felt it was his duty to reply to the many who wrote for spiritual help. The letters give a personal glimpse of him as well as pithy, practical and sympathetic advice.
Letters to Young Churches. New York: Macmillan, 1947.
Reflections on the Psalms. London: G. Bles, 1958.
C.S. Lewis and the Church of Rome. San Francisco : Ignatius Press, c1981.
Anglican Lewis is popular with Catholics; Pope John Paul II was a fan. This Catholic writer explores Lewis’s relationship to the Catholic Church.