Are We Fascinated with Lewis’s Fame or His Influence?

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The video below introduces the amazingly influential C.S. Lewis. If your time is short, just go straight to the video. But if you wonder why we should even care about Lewis’s influence, you might want to read these few paragraphs.

C.S. Lewis’s profound influence on so many people was not owing to his aberrations from evangelical doctrine. Aberrations there were. But that was not the spring of his influence. It was in spite of that. So the quest to understand the depth and extent of his influence promises riches even for those of us who prize the doctrines where he was weakest.

Some people are influential because they attract attention with their avant-garde, unorthodox views. C.S. Lewis boasted of being an “intellectual dinosaur,” not avant-garde. Lewis was not at home in the modern world. He never learned to drive. He never learned to type. He rarely read newspapers. And his clothes were frumpy. The air he breathed was medieval. In other words, he was not influential because he was cool.

What was it?

And why would you want to know? I have an answer, but first a clarification. Don’t read Lewis mainly to figure out why he was influential. Read him for robust wisdom and virtuous pleasure. But after you have done that for thirty or forty years, you might want to ask, Why was he so influential?

I want to know the keys to his influence because there is a difference between wanting fame and wanting influence. Christians should want to be influential. We should not want to be famous. Wanting fame means wanting to be known and praised by lots of people. Wanting to be influential means wanting lots of people to know and praise God because of how you spoke of him and lived before him.

It’s the difference between Matthew 6:1 and 5:16. To fame-seekers, Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1). To influence-seekers, he says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).