The Life, Writings, and Legacy of C.S. Lewis

From the lecture series: Life and Writings of C. S. Lewis

By Louis Markos, PhD, Houston Baptist University

Let’s take a brief look at the legacy of C.S. Lewis—one of the greatest writers and thinkers of the twentieth century who dared to advocate a return to orthodox Christian doctrine.

vintage wardrobe with winter decorations depicting the wardrobe in Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.
(Image:By aprilante/Shutterstick)

Views on Man, God, and the Universe

Lewis sought to free his age from that progressivist “chronological snobbery” that accepts as established, nonnegotiable facts our modernist (post-Enlightenment, post-Darwinian, post-Freudian) views of man, God, and the universe. Without ever becoming “puritanical” or judgmental, he challenged his readers and listeners to reassess the claims of Christ, the church, and the Bible. And he did so in a nonpartisan, nondenominational fashion that spoke with equal power to the Catholic and the Protestant, the high-church Lutheran and the low-church Baptist, the rational Calvinist and the emotional Charismatic.

This is a transcript from the video series Life and Writings of C. S. Lewis. Watch it now, on The Great Courses.

His concern was with “mere” Christianity, that is, the central doctrines of the Apostles’ Creed that all believing Christians share in common. Thus, he asserted the metaphysical truth of the Trinity and Incarnation; the historical truth of the virgin birth, the miracles, and the Resurrection; the theological truth of the Atonement; and the “geographical” truth of heaven and hell. But he left open such peripheral issues as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, purgatory, end-of-the-world prophecy, and the exact nature of the Atonement.

Writing For the Common Layman

Lewis did not seek the praise and approval of the literati, but wrote for the common man, the educated nonspecialist, and the sincere layman. In contrast to the growing specialization of our century, Lewis produced a body of work that is as prolific in its length as it is wide-ranging in its breadth.

It includes not only apologetics (apologetics = a logical defense of the Christian faith), but also theology and philosophy, science fiction and fantasy, children’s literature and poetry, literary theory and aesthetic history, Christian allegory and spiritual autobiography, fictional letters, and devotional meditations.

Image of Statue of C. S. Lewis looking into a wardrobe
Statue of C.S. Lewis looking into a wardrobe, entitled “The Searcher” by artist Ross Wilson. (Image: By “Genvessel”/Public domain)

Unlike his contemporaries, Lewis did not look down on such genres as children’s fiction and science fiction but felt that they could bear as much intellectual meaning and spiritual import as any “serious” or academic work. Like Wordsworth, he did not consider it a mean or low duty to entertain his audience and invoke their childlike wonder and imagination.

More than a great writer, Lewis was a man who truly lived out his faith. Though few people knew it, Lewis donated over 50% of the royalties he received on his books to various charitable organizations. He lived a very modest lifestyle and never adopted the mannerisms or attitudes of a successful and respected author. Despite his busy schedule of writing and teaching, Lewis took the time to personally answer innumerable letters from his fans (including children).

Learn more about how J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’ friendship changed storytelling

A Brief Look at the Life of Clive Staples Lewis

Lewis (Jack to his friends) was an Irish Protestant, born in Belfast in 1898. He was raised by a passionate father and a somewhat reserved mother. His happy childhood ended with the death of his mother in 1908 (Lewis was only nine) and his father’s decision to send him to several boarding schools that he despised.

The worst of these was Malvern College, where he endured the fagging system. Relief came in 1914 when Lewis began to study under William Kirkpatrick, an obsessively rational thinker who taught Lewis how to think and reason clearly. Kirkpatrick’s tutelage helped get Lewis accepted to Oxford University.

Highlights of Lewis’s Oxford years include the following: Though a confirmed atheist, Lewis was challenged by two friends he made at Oxford, J. R. R. Tolkien (a Catholic) and Owen Barfield (a new Christian convert). Through their encouragement and that of others, Lewis became a theist in 1929, the year after his father’s death, and a Christian two years later. His newfound faith changed him completely, and he quickly composed a fictional account of his conversion: The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933).

Learn more about how science fiction is used by C.S. Lewis to reaffirm religious beliefs

The Prolific Writer

Over the next fifteen years, he wrote prolifically. Everything he wrote, whether sacred or secular, was guided and invigorated by his Christian faith. During World War II, he agreed to deliver a series of broadcast talks on the Christian religion, later collected as Mere Christianity. He honed his apologetic skills even more as president of the Oxford Socratic Club. His style was further honed by the Inklings, a group founded by Lewis and Tolkien, that provided a forum for the recitation of works-in-progress.

In 1954, Lewis was elected Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature, Cambridge, but continued to spend his weekends at his Oxford home, the Kilns. About this time, Lewis befriended and later married Joy Gresham, a divorced American Jew whose youthful flirtations with atheism and communism had given way (partly through Lewis’s apologetic works) to a firm Christian faith. After three years of marriage, however, Joy died of cancer. Lewis was devastated and wrote a moving account of his grief: A Grief Observed. Lewis died on November 22, 1963, just one week shy of his 65th birthday.

Learn more about how lessons from the book of Job compare with views of such modern thinkers as C. S. Lewis

More than a great writer, Lewis was a man who truly lived out his faith.

Common Questions About the Legacy of C. S. Lewis

Q: What does C.S. Lewis’s full name stand for?

The C.S. in C.S. Lewis stands for Clive Staples.

Q: What did C.S. Lewis mean in writing the Chronicles of Narnia?

The Chronicles of Narnia is the jewel in the crown of the legacy of C.S. Lewis. He was a staunch Christian apologist and writer and so the Chronicles of Narnia shares allegorical space with the story of Christ.

Q: Is Narnia simply a Christian allegory?

Although C.S. Lewis included many Christian elements and views in the Chronicles of Narnia, it is also considered by critics and readers to stand alone as a children’s adventure series to be read with or without the Christian overlay.

Q: What killed C.S. Lewis?

C.S. Lewis was felled by kidney failure. He died on November 22, 1963. This fact is an interesting aside in the legacy of C.S. Lewis as it was the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

This article was updated on December 18, 2020

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