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What we see vs. what we get

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“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.” – C.S. Lewis

I like C.S. Lewis because his writings help me see things about God that no one could ever explain.

Theologians parse doctrines, dogmas, creeds, liturgies, scripture, traditions and church history. Priests, preachers, pastors and ministers tend the flock, seek the lost, lead worship and share the Good News of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ crucified, dead, buried and risen, our sins forgiven, Amen.

But Lewis (1898-1963), arguably the most influential Christian writer of the 20th century (Mere Christianity, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc.), formally was neither theologian nor clergy. He was a first-rate scholar – of English literature – at Oxford and Cambridge universities in England. His life’s ambition was to be a poet, but he found his voice writing prose. He grew up near Belfast, Ireland, the son of a pious Protestant solicitor (attorney) in a house full of books Lewis read voraciously.

Upon Lewis’s mother’s death in 1908, his father sent him off to boarding schools which Lewis later considered to be the most dismal period of his life, worse even than the trench warfare of World War I in France where he sustained a deployment-ending shrapnel injury. By his mid-teens Lewis was a serious, thoughtful atheist, even – per his unsuspecting father’s wishes – as he was “confirmed” in the Church of Ireland at 16. It would be 1931 before he became “the most reluctant convert in all England” intellectually rejecting “the glib and shallow rationalism” of the Enlightenment and its tyranny against the emotions and imagination that animate faith.

So explains Oxford professor, theologian, author and biographer Alister McGrath in two outstanding new books, C.S. Lewis, A Life (biography), and The Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis (eight essays by McGrath). The books commemorate the 50 anniversary of Lewis’s death in England on Nov. 22, 1963, the same day America was shocked by the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Lewis, a practicing member of the Anglican fellowship, didn’t preach the Gospel, promote a church, or invoke his beliefs on others. His genius and enduring impact was in his ability to convey and elicit the importance, bigness, and rationality of the Christian story. Lewis provided broad description rather than limiting definition, and imaginative vision rather than a finite manifesto to transmit “what it feels like to believe in the God of the Christian revelation.” Millions relate to his work.

McGrath helps thoughtful Christians understand Lewis’s sublime gift of helping others “get” God by seeing beyond the explainable.

Walters (rlwcom@aol.com) was surprised to learn how severely Lewis’s academic contemporaries criticized him for writing “popular books.”


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