We’re talking about C. S. Lewis again, in light of the coming DG national conference devoted to Lewis’s legacy later this fall. Pastor John, you “met”—in a sense—C. S. Lewis in 1964, a year after he died. How did you meet him? What were your early thoughts of his works?
As I have tried to ponder Lewis’s impact on me, my memory is not good enough to be completely accurate about this. Let me answer it this way. From 1964 (when I went to Wheaton College as an 18-year-old) to 1968, Clyde Kilby, professor of romantic literature and the foremost Lewis scholar in America, and C. S. Lewis writings all merge into one big impact for me. It is very hard for me to sort out. Was it Lewis? Was it Kilby? Was it the very atmosphere of Wheaton? But here are the pieces that I recall as exploding with significance for me in those four years. Here are the key words: (1) lucid, (2) logical, (3) illuminating, (4) large hearted, (5) joyful longing.
Lewis was a man of crystal clarity in his thinking and writing. Definitions really mattered to Lewis. What you don’t mean matters. He made clear what he did not mean, not just what he meant. People are helped if they hear you say, “I don’t mean this, and I do mean this.” If you leave out the don't, people don’t usually get what you are saying.
A whole world view lies behind Lewis’s crystal clarity. He loves to say what he thinks, and he wants you to know what he thinks. He is not piddling around with fancy efforts at ambiguity to leave you hanging in midair. He really has views of things, he wants you to see them, and he is good at it.
I was a philosophy minor at Wheaton. Lewis taught philosophy for at least a year at Oxford before he became professor of medieval literature. He was simply brilliant in his relentless exposure of shoddy thinking. I had a teacher like that, Stuart Hackett at Wheaton. I just loved him because he took the law of non-contradiction, and he applied it so effectively to all the views that vaunted themselves over Jesus Christ.
Lewis saw holes everywhere in weak arguments, and he was amazingly constructive not just destructive. In other words, when he wrecked somebody’s argument he was building something. He wouldn’t take pleasure in just putting things down or getting things out of the way. He was one of the most constructive writers and so it was this logic that I loved so much.
Lewis finds reality in all of its blazing, glorious, and dazzling there-ness, and he wants to make it plain. He really believes there is a God. He really believes there is a world. He really believes there is logic that is above the merely opinionated minds of man. He is not just dabbling in sophomoric fascination with thoughts. He was serious about finding what is really there. He wasn’t just searching.
He loved answers more than he loved questions. He loved helping people know God, not just provoking them with uncertainties. It seems to me in those days when I was at Wheaton, and even today, intellectual people tended to play a lot of games. They thought they were being profound. They created questions in your head that they couldn’t answer. Lewis wasn’t like that. He loved the church. He loved people. He wanted to help people with his mind, and he used his amazing logic for it.
Lewis can’t touch anything without shedding light on it. He saw. He had eyes. He had this gift of concrete, tasteable, feelable, smellable, hearable words that made the page radiant with insight. He illuminated everything that the touched.
Lewis saw the whole world as worth seeing. Everything was interesting to Lewis. Everywhere he looked he saw something worth celebrating. He wasn’t a crank. He wasn’t a misfit. He wasn’t a naysayer. He was a happy, large hearted, and capacious soul. Yet he believed in evil. He believed in sin. He believed in wickedness, but beauty dominated his eyes. He had seen war. He went to war. He got wounded. He knew what it was like to be a scholar during wartime. He wrote about it. But he wasn’t soured by it.
I was a pretty sour teenager. I really was. I was hypercritical. I was ingrown, and Lewis was just a breath of air for me. It was so healthy to get me out of myself and out of my selfishness and my critical spirit because of the large-hearted beauty he saw everywhere.
Lewis was led to Christ, in large measure, by his longings—the achings of his heart for something he knew not what. And I will tell you, as an 18, 19, and 20-year-old, I felt like one big cauldron of desire, longing, and aching. So, I felt an amazing kinship with Lewis. When I read Surprised by Joy and how the quest for joy brought him to Christ, everything in me said, “I need to know this man.” Christianity for Lewis was the answer to every longing of the human heart.
So those are some of the pieces that to this day have led this man to have a profound influence on the way I see the world.