Christian History Home > Issue 65 > Apologetics: C.S. Lewis
Apologetics: C.S. Lewis
The atheist scholar who became an Anglican, an apologist, and a patron saint of Christians everywhere.
"He was a heavily built man who looked about forty, with a fleshy oval face and a ruddy complexion. His black hair had retreated from his forehead, which made him especially imposing. I knew nothing about him, except that he was the college English tutor. I did not know that he was the best lecturer in the department, nor had I read the only book that he had published under his own name (hardly anyone had). Even after I had been taught by him for three years, it never entered my mind that he could one day become an author whose books would sell at the rate of about two million copies a year. Since he never spoke of religion while I was his pupil, or until we had become friends 15 years later, it would have seemed incredible that he would become the means of bringing many back to the Christian faith."
Even to his best biographer and longtime friend George Sayer, Clive Staples Lewis was a surprise and a mystery.
As J. R. R. Tolkien advised Sayer, "You'll never get to the bottom of him." But understanding or even fully agreeing with Lewis have never been prerequisites to enjoying and admiring him.
His books continue to sell extremely well (the Chronicles of Narnia set, for example, is among Amazon.com's top 200 titles), and many readers rate him as the most influential writer in their lives. Quite a feat for a man who long disparaged "the Christian mythology" and regarded God as "My Enemy."
Lewis was born into a bookish family of Protestants in Belfast, Ireland.
"There were books in the study, books in the dining room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds," Lewis remembered, and none were off limits to him. On rainy days—and there were many in northern Ireland—he pulled volumes off the shelves and entered into worlds created by authors such as Conan Doyle, E. Nesbit, Mark Twain, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
After his only brother, Warren, was sent off to English boarding school in 1905, Jack became reclusive. He spent more time in books and an imaginary world of "dressed animals" and "knights in armor."
His mother's death from cancer in 1908 made him even more withdrawn. Mrs. Lewis's death came just three months before Jack's tenth birthday, and the young man was hurt deeply by her passing. On top of that, his father never fully recovered from her death, and both boys felt increasingly estranged from him; home life was never warm and satisfying again.
His mother's death convinced young Jack that the God he encountered in the Bible his mother gave him didn't always answer prayers. This early doubt, coupled with an unduly harsh, self-directed spiritual regimen and the influence of a mildly occultist boarding school matron a few years later, caused Lewis to reject Christianity and become an avowed atheist.
Lewis entered Oxford in 1917 as a student and never really left. "The place has surpassed my wildest dreams," he wrote to his father after spending his first day there. "I never saw anything so beautiful." Despite an interruption to fight in World War I (in which he was wounded by a bursting shell), he always maintained his home and friends in Oxford. His attachment to Oxford was so strong that when he taught at Cambridge from 1955 to 1963, he commuted back to Oxford on weekends so he could be close to familiar places and beloved friends.
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