What I Learned from Rereading C. S. Lewis

Although I took some very good courses taught by excellent professors as part of my graduate studies at the University of Michigan, my greatest and most lasting learnings came from the prep work I did to take my exams.

Between our formal coursework and the writing of our dissertation, PhD students in English were expected to produce comprehensive reading lists in a specific time period or genre, which we work through and are tested on in both written and oral form. The process of reading and commenting on extensive selections from British Romantic poetry, Greco-Roman literature and literary criticism in a short period of time opened my eyes to the ubiquitous themes and issues that bind together the poetry of, for example, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and keats

I went through a similar process to prepare for writing CS Lewis for beginners, work my way carefully and systematically through all the important works of Lewis. Re-reading about 30 books over a period of about six months helped me gain a more holistic vision of the great Christian apologist, equally adept at theology and philosophy, science fiction and fantasy, children’s literature and poetry, literary theory and aesthetics has written history, allegory and spiritual autobiography, fictional letters and devotional meditations.

Here are four insights I’ve gained about the man and his work that justify his ever-growing reputation with both Christian and non-Christian readers.

1. His vision of reality permeated everything he wrote.

Rather than being didactic and dogmatic about his strongly held Christian beliefs, Lewis allowed his works to be naturally, organically illuminated and empowered by the Christian worldview.

Lewis allowed his works to be naturally, organically illuminated and empowered by the Christian worldview.

Whether he took his readers to the magical land of Narnia; the planets Mars and Venus; the dark, superstitious world of the ancient Middle East; the outskirts of heaven and hell; or the Stygian study of a letter-writing, counseling elder demon, Lewis retained his vision of reality. This vision was of a transcendent yet immanent God who is himself the measure of good and evil, virtue and vice, beauty and ugliness – who would draw us out of darkness, error and despair into light, truth and hope.

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2. He saw the beauty of incarnation.

Of all the essential elements of the Christian worldview, the Incarnation appears most frequently in Lewis’s work.

in the Wonder, Lewis calls it the Great Miracle and argues that the truth of it permeates all of nature. in the Pure Christianity, it is only because Christ (the Word) has taken on our flesh that we are qualified to become like Him. in the the pain problem, the process of becoming like Christ incarnate often requires suffering. in the The chronicles of Narniawe love Aslan because he would be what the second person of the Trinity (God the Son) would have been if incarnated in a magical world with talking animals, living streams and walking trees.

Lewis finds the incarnation capitalized on the pages of the Old Testament (Reflections on the Psalms), reflected in the poetic means of allegory and the symbol (The Allegory of Love) and anticipated in pagan rituals (Until we have faces). He even explains in his space trilogy that God’s decision to take human form had cosmic ramifications.

3. He believed that everything comes from God.

Just as Lewis’s theological belief that Jesus was fully God and fully man underpins most of his works, so his philosophical belief that the cause (or origin) must precede and be greater than the effect, unites his apologetics with it his fiction and his fiction to his academic work.

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Either Pure Christianity and The Abolition of Man, Lewis convincingly argues that morality is not man-made but instead requires a supernatural source. He argues the same for religion in the pain problemreason one Wonderand spiritual desire in The retreat of the pilgrim. in the The silver chair, he embodies these arguments as a wicked witch attempts to convince the heroes that suns and lions do not exist; They just made these things up by looking at torches and cats and wondering what they would look like if they were bigger.

in the The discarded image and A foreword to Paradise Lost, Lewis explains that both Dante and Milton knew what we have forgotten: there is hierarchy and order in the universe, we and the angels are created beings alike, Satan and his demons are spiritual beings who rebelled against their status as creatures, and evil not a thing in itself, but a perversion of good. As The Big Divorce makes it clear that God and heaven are bigger and not smaller than us and our world.

4. He held to divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

All of Lewis’ work affirms the reality of human and angelic free will and the temporal and eternal consequences of our choices and actions, without ever stripping God of his sovereignty or denying that salvation comes by grace through faith.

In both his allegorical and spiritual autobiographies (The retreat of the pilgrim and Surprised by joy), Lewis confesses the many false baits he followed in seeking the true source of his happiness. in the the pain problem, A foreword to Paradise Lost, Perelandraand An observed sadnesshe unpacks the connections between disobedience and pain and obedience and grace.

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He confesses the many false temptations he has followed in seeking the true source of his happiness.

At all Narnia Books will not be fully forgiven and restored by Aslan to Lewis’ child heroes until they fully know the nature of their sin and how they could have avoided it. in the The Space Trilogy and Until we have facesthe protagonists learn the need to submit appropriately to authority, as well as the need to act boldly when the occasion calls for it. in the The screw letters and The Big DivorceLewis explores the psychology of sin and traces the diabolical process by which we slowly dehumanize through a series of petty sins.

November 22, 2023 marks the 60th anniversary of Lewis’ death, but I’m confident his reputation will only grow over the next 60 years. Indeed, given the current challenges facing the evangelical church in America, we desperately need Lewis’ voice in the four areas where he has excelled:

1. We need to find a subtler but more effective way of applying the Christian worldview to contemporary social and political problems that at first glance may seem divorced from a biblical understanding of reality.

2. We must base our defense of the biblical view of sex and gender on an incarnative understanding of humanity.

3. We must remind ourselves and our society that goodness, truth and beauty are not relative man-made concepts, but have their origin in God.

4. We must approach issues of justice from a perspective that reconciles societal factors with our status as voluntary beings whose choices have consequences.

May Lewis prove a courageous and winning leader as we strive to reclaim culture for Christ and the gospel.

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