The Journey of True Christianity in C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

“He has come to be seen as a trustworthy, intelligent, and above all accessible representative of a theologically and culturally attractive vision of the Christian faith” (McGrath 371). What pain, trials, and tribulation did C.S. Lewis have to endure on his journey to be seen as a great influence in the eyes of Christians? Lewis had hardships and difficulties yet used them to represent Christ in numerous ways. From feeling alone in his early childhood to having great success in his career, C.S. Lewis has been able to influence many people not only through his works but also through his testimony. On November 29, 1898, Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland. Lewis was born into a primarily Protestant family. He was the son of Albert and Flora Lewis. Living in Lewis’s house with him were his brother, parents, and their two servants. His father was a police solicitor who had a deep passion for literature, and his mom was a clergyman’s daughter (McGrath 3, 5, 14).

Under his parents’ rule as a child, Lewis was living in Cherbourg House and wanted an opportunity to provide for himself. He came up with a solution; Lewis figured the best way to do this was to change his name to Jack. Changing his name made Lewis more self-confident and less reliable on others (Biography.com Editors 2). After his time at the Cherbourg House, Lewis started school at Melvern College and was internally upset. Lewis felt as if he was purposefully being tormented at Melvern, making it seem as if there were no God who loved him. He strongly disliked everyone at his school because he felt they were not smart and very insensitive. Lewis asked his father to take him out of Melvern many times, one time even threatening to shoot himself (Downing 50-51).

While Lewis was at Melvern, his mother tragically passed away. After her death, Lewis transferred to boarding school and started to learn from a tutor (Biography.com Editors 1). Lewis’s tutor was W.T. Kirkpatrick, a professor at Lurgan College where Lewis’s father had attended (notablebiographies.com) (Downing 51). During this time of private tutoring, Lewis was deployed into the army as World War I began. Lewis had been seriously injured in a battle and had to be sent home from the army. After he returned home, Lewis chose to live with Jamie Moore, who was the mother of one of Lewis’s closest friends who had passed away during the war (Biography.com Editors 2).

After the war was over, Lewis attended Oxford University from 1922 until 1923 (Downing 124). While he was at Oxford, Lewis had a double major in literature and classical philosophy, which inspired him to be an author (Biography.com Editors 3). While at Oxford, C.S. Lewis joined a club where he met his most influential and prominent friend, J.R.R. Tolkien (McGrath 129) (Biography.com Editors 2). Lewis stepped into Tolkien’s life and became his accountability partner, someone who would tell him when he was doing wrong. Lewis and Tolkien began meetings together in 1929 (McGrath 129, 175).

Lewis and Tolkien’s meetings grew at Oxford, and they started a friend group of accountability partners in the late 1920s known as “the Inklings,” who discussed faith and literature (Biography.com Editors 3)(Zaleski 195). After Lewis and Tolkien, the first person to join the Inklings was Lewis’s brother, Warnie (McGrath 175, 176). Eventually, more people started to join this group, including Dean Lewis, Owen Barfield, Hugo Dyson, and Nevill Loghill; but, out of all the writers in this group, Lewis was the most well-known (Zaleski 195)(McGrath 176, 369). Because Oxford was an all-male institution at this time, no females belonged to their group (McGrath 178). The Inklings’ group helped lead Lewis back to his Christian morals and lifestyle (Biography.com Editors 3).

One person in particular, Charles Williams, became a mentor to the Inklings. One of the first ever references to the Inklings was actually in a letter that was written to Charles Williams. As he got older, Williams’s health began to decline; therefore, Lewis went to have meetings with him at the hospital. On his way to the hospital one day, Lewis got news that Charles Williams had died. During the war, Lewis had looked to Williams as a person to whom he could go for accountability and any uncertainty or doubts he had about religion (McGrath 242).

Although all of the Inklings were mourning the loss of Williams, Lewis had taken his death the hardest. Lewis met with a few members of the Inklings and came up with the idea to write a book to commemorate Williams. The Inklings never actually intended to work on books together; in fact, they merely intended to criticize one another’s books. Only four other Inklings helped Lewis write this book for Williams, but one member outside the group, Dorothy L. Sayers, also helped the Inklings author this commemoration (McGrath 177).

After Lewis graduated from Oxford University with the Inklings, he was given opportunities to teach at multiple schools while he was also pursuing a romantic interest. Lewis became a professor at Magdalen College in 1925, and taught students his philosophies. Because he was teaching many students, more people started to realize how influential Lewis would become (Biography.com Editors 1, 3). After teaching at Magdalen College, Lewis started another job as professor at Cambridge University. A few months after he accepted this job at Cambridge, Lewis met Joy Gresham. Joy became the love of his life, and they got married two years after he started his job. She was an American English teacher who also had a passion for literature (Biography.com Editors 3).

Before Lewis met his wife, Lewis started to stray from his faith during his teenage years at Cherbourg House, and this issue remained for a few years (Biography.com Editors 3)(Downing 49). At first, Lewis was confused in his faith because of the problem of evil. He was always being pushed further into Atheism as he read nature and social science books (Downing 49, 50). Eventually, Lewis realized that Atheism came with many problems. Lewis says that people believe they are dealing with intellectual problems when they are actually dealing with problems of their imaginations. Atheism also taught Lewis that he was on this earth because of fate and chance. He inferred from what he was being taught that religion just killed the need in people’s lives and values (Downing 50, 55). Lewis, along with many others, started to question his faith when the war returned to Europe in 1939 (Jacobs 220).

In his preface to The Pilgrim’s Regress Lewis outlines his spiritual journey in one sentence: ‘On the intellectual side my own progress had been from ‘popular realism’ to Philosophical Idealism; from Idealism to Pantheism; from Pantheism to Theism; and from Theism to Christianity.’ By ‘popular realism’ he means his boyhood conviction that the observable world experienced through the senses is the only reality. By his own account, then, neither the mind- matter dualism of the war years nor his interest in spiritualism marked any real advance over the materialism of his adolescence. It was not until he began formal study of philosophy at Oxford that he seemed to take a discernible step forward in his spiritual understanding. In Lewis’s summary, it is also important to note the qualifier ‘on the intellectual side,’ showing his vivid awareness that philosophical inquiry alone does not make up the whole of one’s spiritual journey (Downing 123). The first time Lewis ever had to deal with idealism was when he went to Oxford before the Great War. Lewis’s philosophy class changed his view on understanding Christian ways, but learning about doctrine scared him (Downing 123, 125)(Jacobs 37). Whenever Lewis was talking about “Popular Realism,” he was saying that the only reality was the one he experienced in his own life (Downing 123).

Many people believed that suddenly one night, Lewis was convicted and converted immediately; but in reality, Lewis’s conversion happened over the course of months and year after a conviction in 1916 (Downing 140). In many of his books, Lewis records two different stories of the way he converted to Christianity. Lewis said he first converted to Theism in 1929 and then to Christianity in 1931; Lewis did this in order for his readers to get the best, most accurate timeline of his life. People also thought that Lewis’s conversion was due to the death of his father in 1929 (Downing 139, 140).

During Lewis’s periods of struggling through faith, C.S. Lewis was influenced to write books by two major things: growing up in a house full of books and being surrounded by a culture of storytelling in Ireland. Lewis never directly wrote about Ireland, but Ireland’s setting was always incorporated in various ways. His imagination was so vastly expanded because his house was filled with many books, and he would read them every time he had a chance (McGrath 9, 14). Lewis started to write numerous books over many subjects. He wrote both non-fiction and some fiction works, and in some of his books, Lewis even argued over Christianity. It was not until the mid-1920s that Lewis started to publish books (Biography.com Editors 2,3). Some of Lewis’s major works included The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, and the Chronicles of Narnia.

The Screwtape Letters was one of the most prominent books in helping people deal with real issues happening in the world at that time, including two major issues concerning the war. The first issue was how one might proclaim his faith and not let sin in; another major issue this book was concerned with is how eternity had interpreted war (Downing 221). “The Screwtape Letters (1942), for which Lewis is perhaps best known, is a satire in which the devil, here known as Screwtape, writes letters teaching his young nephew, Wormwood, how to tempt humans to sin” (notablebiographies.com).

Lewis’s first science-fiction work entitled Out of the Silent Planet was published in 1938. Writing this book, Lewis showed that he could author more than one genre of books. This book was one of the first to deal with sin and desire relating to space (Biography.com Editors 3). Not only was Lewis a famous author, but also he was a famous radio personality (Jacobs 220). His work, Mere Christianity, was a series of radio broadcasts that he recorded during World War II. This book helped convert many people to the Christian faith (Biography.com Editors 3).

Some of Lewis’s less popular books included Dymer, The Allegory of Love, Surprised by Joy, and Miracles. Dymer was the first book that Lewis published (Biography.com Editors 3). In Surprised by Joy, Lewis talks about his conversion to Theism (Downing 137). Lewis published Miracles in 1947 to simply talk about his theological work (Wilson 211). One of Lewis’s bigger accomplishments for a less popular book was winning the Hawthornden Prize for The Allegory of Love (Biography.com Editors 3). Perhaps Lewis’s most well-known and influential books were the seven books of Chronicles of Narnia, inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien (Wilson 217, 220). Narnia is sometimes perceived as the town of Ulster in Ireland with made-up animals (McGrath 9). Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was started in 1939 but not completed until 1949. This book introduced the series by having four children find a mysterious hole in the back of one of their dressers while playing hide and seek. This hole led the children to the wondrous world of Narnia. In these books, the children are trying to redeem Narnia from an ice witch with the help of Aslan, the lion who sacrifices his own life for the bad decisions made by children while in Narnia (Wilson 220). Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was completed in February of 1950. Following that, Narnia: The Horse and his Boy was finished by the mid-1950s. Narnia: The Last Battle was completed in 1953. Lewis will forever be known as a touching children’s author because of the Chronicles of Narnia (Wilson 220).

After the series was completed, Lewis encountered the tragedy of his wife dying of cancer in 1960. He wrote a book, A Grief Observed, showing his mourning over his dead wife. Another book Lewis wrote about the tragedies he had experienced was Memoirs of the Lewis Family, 1850-1930. Through writing books and his life experience, Lewis was an influence to many people all around him, especially during the war. People sought after Lewis to answer their questions about religion. His influence started to decrease at one point, but his effect on people would later be rightfully recognized and respected (McGrath 363).

“On 8 September 1947, Lewis appeared on the front cover of Time magazine, which declared this ‘best-selling author,’ who was also ‘the most popular lecturer in [Oxford] University,’ to be ‘one of the most influential spokesmen for Christianity in the English-speaking world’” (McGrath 239). Lewis gained his legacy by talking to people who were actually interested in wanting to get to know more about Christ. Lewis’s main focus was on Christians who began to take action on starting a revolution in America. He did not care what denomination people were; he just focused on anyone wanting to learn (McGrath 240, 370). After Lewis’s leadership gained prominence, he began experiencing very severe heart pain. He decided to resign from his teaching job at Cambridge University in 1963 (Biography.com Editors 4). Before he died, Lewis believed no one would remember his name in five years (McGrath 363). Lewis died on November 22, 1963, in Headington, Oxford, England (Biography.com Editors 1). At the time his obituary was written, people believed Lewis’s influence would live in the past and have no affect on the future (McGrath 364).

“Engaging both heart and mind, Lewis opened up the intellectual and imaginative depths of the Christian faith like nobody else” (McGrath 369). Lewis’s works brought a different tone of religion into perspective for the Americans. People no longer just wanted to scrape the surface into Christianity; they wanted to explore the depths and all Christianity had to offer (McGrath 241).

A few years after he died, people started to forget about the intellectual effect that Lewis had on them. Lewis’s close friends wrote biographies on him in order for people to see how influential he truly had become. In the 1960s and 1970s when Tolkien’s popularity was very high in the United States, Lewis benefitted from Tolkien’s followers and became influential to many of them (McGrath 368-369). In order for Lewis’s legacy to be institutionalized, buildings, committees, and boards were put into place. The New York C.S. Lewis Society was established in 1969 to carry-on Lewis’s legacy. Many other cities raised funds and started organizations dedicated to Lewis (McGrath 368).

When Lewis rose in popularity again, some professors and theologians were upset because Lewis was not a typical philosopher of that day. The evangelical people questioned his writings. He did not have a great guidance on the younger generation, as they were too immature to understand some of Lewis’s writings (McGrath 241, 363, 365). Although Lewis never went to the United States, he was more well-liked and appreciated in the United States than he was in England. Many Americans considered Lewis to be their spiritual mentor as he transformed many nations, not just England (McGrath 369). People from various different aspects of life all wanted to read the works of Lewis.

Someone who helped Lewis gain popularity again after his death was Walter Hooper. Hooper became Lewis’s private secretary after the previous secretary died in 1975. Hooper sold Lewis’s books and placed them back on the market after Lewis’s upsetting death and Lewis’s influential loss. Anytime the manufacturers would publish one of Lewis’s works that had not been released before his death, they would re-publish two of his old works in order for those books to never be forgotten (McGrath 368).

Although Lewis went through periods of loneliness, his career and testimony led him to be able to influence many people. Lewis never had an easy life, but he always seemed to turn the hardships around to glorify Christ. Lewis is able to be seen as a legacy, someone who influences others and leaves a lasting mark. Lewis is a great example of how someone can experience pain and turn all of the pain for good. All in all, Lewis may have let his head down at some points in his life; but, in the end, he held his head high and was able to inspire many people.

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