Lessons from C. S. Lewis, Part 1 (of 2)

Lessons from C. S. Lewis, Part 1 (of 2)

The Christian church has been graced with brilliant and influential thinkers since its inception. A “who’s who” of such individuals includes the Apostle Paul, St. Athanasius, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Johannes Kepler, Blaise Pascal, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, among many others. Yet another to add to that list is English scholar and writer C. S. Lewis. This distinguished “Oxbridge” literary scholar, prolific author, and lay Anglican theologian, was, in all his pursuits, an apologist for Christianity.

Though most of Lewis’ works are now over 50 years old, he remains an important intellectual figure. The ongoing popularity of his writings and the various stage and screen adaptations of his novels testify to the extent of his impact on Christian thinking. In examining Lewis’ life and legacy, I see valuable guidelines for American   evangelicals of the new millennium. In this two-part article series,1 I explore four lessons Christian apologists of the twenty-first century can learn from Lewis.

1. Lewis, like Augustine and Pascal before him, explodes the widely held myth that a Christian’s commitment to intellectual pursuits is somehow at odds with commitment to spiritual growth. Evangelicals have been plagued with an unnecessary tension between head and heart, between reason and faith, between loving God with all their minds and loving God with all their souls. Lewis’ writings raise no such false dichotomy. His works include both exploration of the deep theological and philosophical implications of Christian truth (Mere Christianity, The Abolition of Man, God in the Dock) and the day-to-day struggle of living out those truths in devotion to God (The Screwtape Letters, Letters To Malcolm, The Four Loves). While this Oxford don and Cambridge professor possessed a keen ability to identify the crucial ideas on which the Christian worldview is based, his writings never leave the reader with the impression that Christianity is merely a collection of ideas devoid of a passionate commitment to Almighty God.

On the contrary, for those of us cerebral types more inclined to read a book about prayer than to pray, Lewis’ writings serve as a corrective exhortation. He calls us to integrate our head and heart by loving God with all of our being. For some people, studying requires more discipline than does taking action. For others, taking action takes more discipline than studying. Lewis lets neither off the hook.

2. American philosopher William James defined two broad types of thinkers: the “tender-minded” and the “tough-minded.”2 The tender-minded thinker focuses on the inner life of the mind, with reason and intuition as sources of knowledge, and emphasizes the coherence and unification of thought. The tough-minded thinker, on the other hand, focuses on the five senses, orients himself or herself toward scientific inquiry, and emphasizes correspondence to objectively established facts.3

Whether we accept James’ specific categories as valid or not, we can observe easily a difference in the way people go about apprehending truth and reality. What I appreciate about the writings of C. S. Lewis is his ability to communicate meaningfully and persuasively to both types of thinkers. In The Chronicles of Narnia and The Great Divorce for example, he connects with people who emphasize the more imaginative areas of life while in nonfiction works such as Mere Christianity, he connects to people who take a more analytical or skeptical approach to reality. Lewis’ apologetics, writings, and lectures comfort the heart and challenge the mind simultaneously.

Part 2 of this article series will close with two more lessons for twenty-first century apologists from C. S. Lewis.

  1. This article was published originally as one piece in RTB’s publication Facts & Faith 12, no. 2 (1998), 6–7, to commemorate the centennial of C. S. Lewis’ birthday.
  2. William James, “The Present Dilemma in Philosophy,” in Pragmatism (New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1907).
  3. For further discussion of James’ categories, see Ed L. Miller, Questions That Matter, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996), 19–21. Miller’s book is an excellent introductory text to philosophy.