If I were to rattle off Christians, alive or dead, that have influenced me over the years, C.S.Lewis must be in the top tier. The reason is simple – he has provided more insights into the great questions around life, the universe and everything (and the answer isn’t 42) than anyone I can name. While some in my theological camp have been antipathetic as he doesn’t quite dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s theologically speaking, my response is if you were to the line Lewis up with any number of supposedly sound types, Lewis will likely far outscore any with his depth of thought and clarity of insight. After the Bible, his would be the works I would like to have with me.
I first come across C.S.Lewis (1898 – 1963) in the sixth form and as a new Christian I took on board the suggestion of my RE teacher to go an read Lewis’s “Screwtape Letters”, about a senior devil advising a junior devil how he might distract a new Christian from his new found faith. I was not disappointed for the book made quite an impression. Shortly after, I went up to university, and I became acquainted with his other works, in particular his apologetic “Mere Christianity”, although it didn’t quite resonate at the time being somewhat deeper than what I was ready for and there being other books fitting the bill. It was for several years after that, and despite being an avid reader of “Christian” books, I left Lewis alone.
I don’t quite remember what got me into reading Lewis again but I did and the more I read, and he wrote widely on all sorts of topical still issues, the more I realized this chap had something important to say and did so with depth and clarity, and I needed to take it in. Let’s face it, being a Christian in today’s culture has its challenges, to put it mildly, and for deep thinkers like I try to be there are all sorts of questions that don’t have easy answers yet need to be tackled, and I am one that won’t get fobbed off with banal trite. This is where Lewis comes in. While he doesn’t answer all the important questions thoroughly, he goes a lot further than many (I am tempted to say any) I know and is why his works are on my “must read” list.
Lewis is best known, at least by those outside the serious Christian circle, as a writer of children’s books, “the Chronicles of Narnia” being the most well known. I didn’t have the privilege of reading these growing up as a child (it had to wait to later life) but I did read to, and encourage to read, my son as he was growing up and would happily advise parents similarly placed to do likewise. They are in my view brilliantly written stories that are wholesome, and most appropriate given these are linked to Lewis’s Christian world view. More recently, on a trip to India, and having run out of reading material, I brought the set in a down town bookshop and about managed to read the lot before leaving for home.
This brings me to “C.S.Lewis – a life”, a book written by Alister McGrath, something I picked up whilst in Aladdin’s cave (Southend Christian Bookshop) while waiting for the owner to turn up so we can go off for our breakfast meeting. What I like about McGrath is that he has good understanding, is meticulous in his scholarship and eminently readable, doing something fans of Lewis would welcome – find out about the man, what he did, why he did it and in essence what made him tick. McGrath recognises others before him have written much about Lewis and his other limitations yet it is evident already that he touches on all sorts of pertinent aspects. I am only a quarter of the way through and am determined to find out more about this brilliant Christian philosopher, superb children’s author and distinguished academic, and no doubt a lot more besides. (I have now finished this book and identify even more with this worts and all man and with his struggles – ed).