Theology Thursday: C. S. Lewis: A Guide for Life

Group of hands clasped in prayer

C.S. Lewis has marked my life intellectually, imaginatively and spiritually. My greatest literary pleasure as a child was reading “The Chronicles of Narnia.” I loved everything about these books: the grand adventures, the talking animals and the battles between good and evil (in which good always triumphed in the end). Most of all, however, I loved the great lion Aslan, the ultimate king of Narnia, who is strong, noble, beautiful, wise and good, but also wild and untamed. I did not then realize that Aslan was a Christ figure and this was probably just as well, for (at the time) it might have prevented me from enjoying these books as much as I did.

Not until I went to college and committed my life to Christ did I learn that Lewis had written a great many other books besides “The Chronicles of Narnia.” While studying at Baylor University, some friends told me about a class on the life and writings of C.S. Lewis. I enrolled in the course and soon learned that I was to have the pleasure of reading a different book by Lewis each week of the semester. Not only did we read the seven books of the Chronicles, but we also read the “Ransom” (or “Space”) Trilogy, “The Great Divorce,” “The Pilgrim’s Regress,” “The Screwtape Letters,” “Till We Have Faces,” “Mere Christianity,” “Miracles,” “The Problem of Pain” and “The Abolition of Man.” I found in Lewis a wise and winsome guide — not only for the intellectual and imaginative aspects of my life but (far more importantly) for its moral, spiritual and specifically Christian commitments as well.

So why do I appreciate Lewis, and why has he had such a potent influence on my life and thinking? Although I cannot cover everything here, I have come to admire Lewis as a creative writer, capable apologist, competent scholar and committed Christian.

A Creative Writer

C.S. Lewis seemed born to be a writer. As a child, he and his brother Warnie spent hours together writing, drawing and creating imaginary worlds.1 As he got older, Lewis desired to be a poet. His first book to be published (before Lewis became a Christian) was a book of poems entitled “Spirits in Bondage.”2 Although he maintained a love for poetry throughout his life, after his conversion Lewis soon branched out into other forms of writing as well. He was one of those rare individuals who could write well in a variety of genres and seemed to add his own special charm to every type he touched.3

From an early age, he was an inveterate letter writer, and his collected letters (which make fascinating reading) fill three large volumes. His first book published after becoming a Christian was an allegory, “The Pilgrim’s Regress.” Over the ensuing years he churned out several popular-level books on Christian apologetics, ethics and theology, dozens of essays, poems and short stories, fantasy literature for children, science fiction literature for adults, novels, broadcast talks for the BBC, a spiritual autobiography, and several works of impressive literary scholarship.

Lewis always aimed at clarity in his writing, continually keeping in mind his intended audience. Although his scholarly works are filled with references to some of the most important texts in the Western intellectual tradition (and peppered with quotations in Latin, Greek, Anglo-Saxon, French and Italian), he could also write easily and enjoyably for children.

A Capable Apologist

Lewis is rightly regarded as one of the greatest Christian apologists (i.e., defenders of the faith) of the 20th century. Possessing a sharp logical mind by both training and temperament, Lewis’s apologetic work has influenced millions of readers for Christ. Some of his best-known works of Christian apologetics include “The Problem of Pain,” “The Abolition of Man,” “Mere Christianity” and “Miracles.”

One of the things that made Lewis so effective as an apologist was his continual concern to always communicate clearly to his intended audience. Indeed, in a talk on “Christian Apologetics,” Lewis argued that ministers and theologians were obligated to learn how to render technical theological vocabulary into the language of the layperson.4  He realized that if his audience could not understand what he was saying, then there was little point in saying it.

Aside from his writings, Lewis also spent much time speaking on issues in Christian apologetics. During World War II, he delivered his famous “broadcast talks” for the BBC (which later became the book “Mere Christianity”).5 He spoke to religious societies, British soldiers and other groups. And for many years he also served as president of the Oxford Socratic Club, which regularly hosted speakers representing a variety of philosophical and religious viewpoints with whom he would engage from a Christian worldview perspective.6

A Competent Scholar

The depth and breadth of Lewis’s scholarly work in medieval and renaissance literature are astonishing, especially when one remembers how much popular-level work he was continually producing. Some of his best-known works of literary scholarship include “The Allegory of Love,” “English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Excluding Drama),” “A Preface to Paradise Lost” and “The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature.”

While these works are deeply interesting and informative in themselves (and they are all written with Lewis’s characteristic lucidity and wit), they also inform much of Lewis’s fiction to a degree not often appreciated by more casual admirers of Lewis. For example, Michael Ward, in his book “Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis,” has argued that the literary atmosphere of each of the seven books in the “Chronicles of Narnia” is indebted to the medieval understanding of each of the seven “planets” known at that time.7 These include the sun and moon, along with Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

While Ward’s book reveals the influence of medieval cosmology on the Chronicles, anyone who has read Lewis’s “Ransom” (or “Space”) Trilogy will recognize that similar influences are operative in these novels as well. Suffice it to say that Lewis’s fiction is infused with important influences from his vast reading and (in particular) his scholarly work in medieval and renaissance literature.

A Committed Christian

Lewis’s life was characterized by his commitment to the two great commandments: love for God and love for people. Indeed, his love for God was chiefly demonstrated in his love for people. Let’s consider three examples:

First, when Lewis began attracting attention as a Christian author (in the early 1940s), he also began receiving a great deal of mail. Lewis, who believed that each human being was important, attempted to respond to (almost) everyone who wrote him.8 Indeed, he quickly found himself becoming a sort of spiritual advisor to a vast range of people. For nearly 25 years, Lewis offered thoughtful answers to questions about Christianity, compassionate counsel to individuals struggling with their faith, and encouragement in applying Christian truth to one’s life.9

Second, Lewis was a man of prayer. Not only did Lewis write about prayer, but he was also committed to personally praying for others. This included Lewis’s friends and family, as well as many of the people who wrote asking for his spiritual counsel and advice.8

Finally, Lewis was a very generous man. Although this was manifested in a variety of ways, his charitable giving (in particular) was quite impressive. We know from Lewis’s brother, and his good friend (and lawyer), Owen Barfield, that two-thirds of the money which Lewis received as royalties from his books was simply given away to help others.10, 11

Teachings From C.S. Lewis

To sum up, C.S. Lewis was not only a creative writer, a capable apologist and a competent scholar; he was also a committed Christian. His allegiance to Jesus Christ was demonstrated in a number of practical (and even costly) ways. Although he certainly wasn’t perfect, he has been an incredible gift of God to the church and has had a profound influence on my own life and thinking. I thus hope that some of you will also turn to Lewis for your own edification and enjoyment.

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1 Lewis, C. S. (1955). Surprised by Joy. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
2 Green, R. L. & Hooper, W. (1974). C. S. Lewis: A Biography (Revised edition). Harcourt Brace & Company.
3 Latta, C. (2016). C. S. Lewis and the Art of Writing. Cascade Books.
4 Lewis, C. S. (1970). Christian Apologetics. In Walter Hooper (Ed.). God in the Dock (pp. 89-103). Eerdmans.
5 Phillips, J. (2002). C. S. Lewis in a Time of War. Harper San Francisco.
6 Hooper, W. (1992). Oxford’s Bonny Fighter. In James T. Como (Ed.). C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table (pp. 137-185). Harcourt Brace & Company.
7 Ward, M. (2008). Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis. Oxford University Press.
8 Mitchell, C.W. (1998). Bearing the Weight of Glory: The Cost of C. S. Lewis’s Witness. In David Mills (Ed.), The Pilgrim’s Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness (pp. 3-14). Eerdmans.
9 Lewis, C. S. (2004-2007). Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis. Walter Hooper (Ed.). 3 vols. Harper Collins.
10 Barfield, O. (2011). C. S. Lewis – 1964. In G. B. Tennyson & Jane Hipolito (Eds.), Owen Barfield on C. S. Lewis (pp. 1-17). Barfield Press. 
11 Lewis, W. H. (1966). Memoir of C. S. Lewis. In W. H. Lewis (Ed.) Letters of C. S. Lewis (pp. 21 46). (Revised & Enlarged edition, ed. Walter Hooper). Harcourt Brace & Company.

Approved by faculty for the College of Theology on Aug. 3, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.