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.
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.
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).
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.
More than a great writer, Lewis was a man who truly lived out his faith.
Common Questions About the Legacy of C. S. Lewis
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.
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.