Retired Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee wrote a piece for the Nov. 24 issue of Newsweek commemorating the 40th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's death. Meanwhile, cable news channels are broadcasting specials to reexamine JFK's assassination. No mention was made this week, to my knowledge, about another great man who died Nov. 22, 1963.
Not that C.S. Lewis would mind. An Oxford professor of literature and language, successful author and best-known Christian apologist of modern times, Lewis asserted throughout his life that it was his work that mattered -- not the fame that accompanied it.
This is how he once introduced himself:
"It's not because I'm anybody in particular that I've been asked to tell you what Christians believe. In fact it's just the opposite. They've asked me, first of all, because I'm a layman and not a parson, and consequently it was thought I might understand the ordinary person's point of view a bit better. Secondly, I think they asked me because it was known that I'd been an atheist for many years and only became a Christian quite fairly recently. They thought that would mean I'd be able to see the difficulties -- able to remember what Christianity looks like from the outside. So you see, the long and short of it is that I've been selected for this job just because I'm an amateur not a professional, and a beginner, not an old hand."
I first became acquainted with Lewis 24 years ago when an animated adaptation of his children's book "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" aired on TV. The next day, I rushed to the school library as quickly as my legs could carry me. I sensed biblical allegory in how Aslan, a stand-in for the real Lion of Judah, sacrificed himself to save a sinner. Unaware of Lewis' reputation, I enjoyed the complete "Chronicles of Narnia" for what they were -- beautifully written stories.
Enrolled years later in a college philosophy course, I needed resources other than the Bible for a paper refuting a liberal theologian's notion that Jesus wasn't divine. Dr. William Frierson referred me to "Mere Christianity" and "The Problem of Pain." Those books removed several roadblocks in my own spiritual understanding.
Raised in church, I was the kind of kid who annoyed most Sunday school teachers. I wanted to know why we believe what we believe, especially after I became a Christian at 13. Answering "why" questions, however, takes research and much prayer. It's easier to read a 30-minute lesson about King David than to explore whether the promise of a heavenly reward makes Christian life a mercenary affair (a discussion Lewis addressed in "The Weight of Glory"). But don't we owe it to ourselves to examine the foundations of our beliefs? Lewis said yes. "Mere Christianity" makes a rational argument for Christianity that is as clear as it is impervious to intellectual assaults. "The Problem of Pain" showed me misconceptions I harbored about God's character:
"What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, 'What does it matter so long as they are contented? We want, in fact, not so much a Father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven -- a senile benevolence who, as they say, 'liked to see young people enjoying themselves' and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of the day, 'a good time was had by all.'"
For his impact on my life, I owe Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) a great deal. That's why I'm encouraging readers today, Nov. 22, to check out "The Screwtape Letters" or "The Abolition of Man" for yourself and the "Chronicles of Narnia" for your kids.
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