Still Looking for C.S. Lewis
By Christopher Mitchell
For the past nearly two decades I have been routinely asked, “Where are the C.S. Lewises of our day?” What they are asking is, “Who are the people that are doing for our generation what Lewis did for his?” In two decades I don’t remember ever being asked, where are the Augustines, the Luthers, the Bunyans, the Wesleys, the Edwardses, the Spurgeons, the Moodys or Chamberses of our day. Perhaps such questions have and are being asked, but they have not been asked of me. But this question is asked, and asked uncommonly often about C.S. Lewis. Why? In this year, the 50th anniversary of his death, why are we still hungry for more Lewis?
To answer this question I want to begin by looking at what Lewis achieved, and to help us get started I want to use two of the earliest, most insightful and liveliest assessments which, interestingly enough, came from the pens of non-Christians. In 1944, The Times Literary Supplement observed: “Mr. Lewis has a quite unique power of making Theology attractive, exciting and (one might almost say) an uproariously fascinating quest.”
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Three years later in a 1947 six-page spread, Time declared Lewis one of the most influential spokesmen for Christianity in the English-speaking world, stating: “With erudition, good humor and skill, Lewis is writing about religion for a generation of religion-hungry readers brought up on a diet of ‘scientific’ jargon and Freudian clichés. … [He] is one of a growing band of heretics among modern intellectuals: an intellectual who believes in God … not a mild and vague belief, for he accepts ‘all the articles of the Christian faith.’” The article finished by attributing much of Lewis’ remarkable success to his “talent for putting old-fashioned truths into a modern idiom” and giving “a strictly unorthodox presentation of strict orthodoxy.”
At a time when it was thought that Christian theology was dull and irrelevant, these two articles tell us that Lewis succeeded in a most remarkable way of making it attractive, engaging, even adventurous. More surprising yet is the suggestion that decades of materialism had by the middle of the 20th century helped create a thirst for something more than the doctrines of naturalism allowed, and that Lewis effectively and creatively tapped into this religious hunger by serving up “old fashioned” orthodox doctrines in fresh, unorthodox ways. No mean achievement.
According to historian Adrian Hastings in A History of English Christianity, to take a stand of faith in the middle of the 20th century “meant standing out against every single one of the giants of modernity, the prophets who had established the framework of understanding wherein which intellectual discourse, the whole modern civilization of the mind, seemed now established…