The Lewis Effect

I was raised in a Pentecostal home so it is quite funny that some of my major influences have come from the Anglican Church. It is a strange combination but it is not as far-fetched as you might think. When I think of all those from the Anglican tradition none has been more influential than Clive Staples Lewis.

The influence of C.S. Lewis on the Christian world is deep and pervasive. He is an intellectually giant casting a long and inescapable shadow. His voice is particularly strong in contemporary Evangelicalism. There are people whom I know their material better but none come close to the level of influence Lewis.

My entry point into the world of theology came through Christian apologetics and as far as modern apologetics is concerned, Lewis is required reading. It’s not just that his influence is unavoidable, he is a person to be genuinely admire.

One of the funny things that happen when you reflect on heroes or role models is trying to figure why you precisely admire them. I recently listened to the audiobook of his seminal apologetic work Mere Christianity. I was reminded of his amazing ability to communicate. He is one of the most eloquent speakers of the English language I have ever heard. (Being bilingual probably enhances my love of the English language.)

The thing with Lewis was he was not just a clever rhetorician but a master communicator and spokesman for the Christian faith. From childhood he had been steeped in myths and legends, folktales and parables. He was a distinguished professor of English and a world renowned fiction novelist. His love of the fantastical was the hallmark of his work. He was a master of metaphor, allegory and story, and it was precisely through these means that he communicated essentially Christian teachings. Instead of using clunky, cumbersome theological jargon, he used language that the ordinary man could understand. This however, did not compromise the sophistication and depth of his arguments and reasoning. Perhaps it was because he was not a trained theologian that he decided not try to give a class in Christian dogmatics.

C.S. Lewis is often quoted but hardly ever imitated. Many brilliant Christian thinkers have come since him. Some of them arguably much cleverer than Professor Lewis. Few are able to combine reason and imagination, the head and the heart, in the way that he did. How many people could have thought an imaginary conversation between two devils could help the saint or a magical cupboard could transport you to a vibrant world of practical theological parables? Apologists are often found guilty of being so caught up with the argument they forget the heart must also be filled. C.S. Lewis did both. With skill, intellectual rigour, wit and a wonderful imagination he brought Christian theology to life. As a communicator he serves as a wonderful role model, the gentleman Christian spokesman par excellence.

The other great thing about him for me was that he was a lay person. Sometimes it seems only those with certain degrees can come to the party. He inspires me that I can make meaningful contributions to the theological discussion. When I think of his impact as a layman it reminds me of the fact that none of the first Christians. After all, they were not trained theologians yet they had such a profound influence on the world.

C.S. Lewis raises the bar for both the laity and the clergy. He challenges me to use both intelligence and imagination to think through and expound the Christian faith with both clarity and sophistication. His legacy will undoubtedly live on but it is our duty to push it further in new and innovative ways.

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