“The Most Reluctant Convert in all of England”: Why Former Atheist C.S. Lewis Became a Christian

By James Bishop

Lewis is perhaps one of the most well-known converts from the 20th century. There is much more about him that just his conversion. For example, he too proved to be a prolific writer as well as a gifted intellectual (1).

 

He held academic positions at both Oxford and Cambridge and is widely known for his fictional works, perhaps most famously being his book The Chronicles of Narnia which has been popularized on stage, TV, radio, and cinema.

He also penned other popular fictional works of the likes of The Screwtape Letters, and The Space Trilogy. Subsequent to his conversion from atheism he also became a Christian apologist and penned the popular works of Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain.

He was also a close friend of the famous author J.R. Tolkien as they both served on the English faculty at Oxford University. Tolkien and Lewis would often debate religion and philosophy in each others company. Lewis’s works have since been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies.

The conversion of C.S. Lewis

Lewis was a professed atheist and spoke of a “blandly Christian childhood” as he was brought up in the home of a religious Anglo-Irish family in Belfast. But even given this upbringing he maintained a seemingly “firm belief in the inexistence of God,” and became an atheist at the young age of 15. His initial exodus from religious belief was due to the fact that he saw Christianity as nothing more than a chore and a duty.

However, doubt soon begun to creep into Lewis’ atheism after he got to know Tolkien as a close friend. This doubt, Lewis explained, was also supplemented by his reading of the author and philosopher GK Chesterton, “In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.”

Lewis informs us how reluctant he was to actually convert to belief in God, “You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England(2).

It took Lewis two years to actually become a Christian though. He had obtained belief in God in 1929 and would become a Christian in 1931 following a long discussion and late-night walk with his close friends Tolkien and Hugo Dyson. They talked until after three in the morning and a few days later Lewis wrote to his friend Arthur Greeves saying…

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“The Most Reluctant Convert in all of England”: Why Former Atheist C.S. Lewis Became a Christian