I was just a few months old when the death of President John F. Kennedy shook our nation 50 years ago. But everyone who knew of the Kennedy assassination at that time knows exactly where they were at the moment when they heard the news. Like 9/11 in our day, the story of the Kennedy tragedy shaped a generation. However, there was another cultural event on November 22, 1963 that was overshadowed by the Kennedy shooting: the death of C. S. Lewis.
Clive Staples “Jack” Lewis: famous Christian of the 20th century, influential apologist, and still today a popular author of children’s fantasy… and yet, I often wonder how much the Christian church has truly been been shaped by the life and work of this Oxford don.
As my fellow Veracity blogger, John Paine, confesses, Lewis can sometimes be a little hard to get in sync with. From another angle, I pretty much boycotted reading Lewis years ago precisely because he was so popular back then. Many evangelicals seem uncomfortable today about the legacy of this tobacco-smoking, British intellectual Anglican. But both John and I have now come to deeply appreciate Lewis more and more.
What does Lewis have to say? If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be imagination. It was a vision of a Biblically-informed imagination that brought this atheist to faith, a man filled with animosity towards his father, and who had a very odd, even scandalous relationship with a much older woman. Lewis endured the mindless insanity in the French trenches of World War I, but he rarely talked about it. Lewis, like any human that I know, had moral failures and terrible skeletons haunting him in his closet. But it was the creative energy of thinking about the love story of the Bible, God’s relentless pursuit of bringing a rebellious and alienated people into relationship with Himself, that broke through Lewis’ cynicism, despair, and denial.
We need more of C. S. Lewis’ vision of a Christian imagination today in Christ’s church. Many Christians get so absorbed by the literal truth of the Scriptures that they forget about the revelatory power of the figurative, the transcendent beauty of a turn of a phrase, the deep wisdom of Biblical poetry, the whoop and wharf of story, and the subtle Truth of myth.
I think Lewis can still help us with that.
I have been listening to a wonderful and provocative audio book by Alister McGrath, C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet. In promoting the book, McGrath gave a series of lectures, including the following sponsored by the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, Texas in the spring of 2013.
May we as followers of Jesus be shaped by the imaginative vision of C. S. Lewis. His friends knew him as “Jack”.