A Courageous Biography of CS Lewis
By Scot McKnight
Two of the most influential voices in evangelicalism were not evangelicals themselves, though they have been claimed for evangelicalism and many younger thinkers can’t imagine their not being evangelicals. Those two are Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an orthodox Lutheran, and C.S. Lewis, an Anglican with the sensibility of a “mere” kind of Christianity. In their day neither was claimed by the kind of evangelicalism that then existed, which was more like the very conservative side of evangelicalism today. One could probably tally up a lengthy list of folks who are “claimed” by some group but who in their day were not in that group.
Let’s have a discussion on the most important book by C.S. Lewis and why.
What cannot be denied though is that C.S. Lewis has become a saint for evangelicalism. The focus of his biography is not on that dimension of Lewis, even if he has one of the better sketches of that story, but on the life, development, theology, and career of C.S. Lewis. I’m speaking of Alister McGrath’s exquisite new biography, C.S. Lewis, a Life: Eccentric Genius. Reluctant Prophet. I can’t say McGrath’s two categories (eccentric genius and reluctant prophet) are addressed head-on but these two expressions certainly form deep structure themes in this book. Lewis was eccentric and he never did want the attention he garnered.
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I have read four other biographies of Lewis — Green, Wilson, Sayer, Jacobs — and McGrath. McGrath is now the best of the lot because it provides more perspective and critical interaction than the others. Wilson’s remains too critical and suspicious while Green’s is now the dated volume. Jacobs set out to do more of an examination of imagination but offered more of a biography than a thematic exploration.
McGrath spent 18 months reading everything from Lewis in chronological order. He sorted through papers and pictures and documents and historical and university records, judiciously selected from the scads of noteworthy items and drops his discoveries into the text in clean and compelling ways. McGrath both keeps the story of Lewis’ life flowing and yet pauses for critical reflection and theological interaction. This is the biography for the thinker even if the fan may found it a bit deep at times. If you love Lewis and want to know what was “really” going on, read McGrath first. Alister McGrath has a book due to be published next month called The Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis, and I shall no doubt buy and read it in due course…
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