Some have referred to the late C. S. Lewis as "an apostle of faith and reason," or the apologist of "heard and heart." Lewis was arguably one of the great integrators of faith and learning in the 20th century. He also impacted my life deeply when I was a student at Wheaton College in the 1960s.
Before I transferred to Wheaton, from the University of Alabama, I only knew of Lewis because of his famous book Mere Christianity, which is really a collection of short presentations he gave over the BBC radio network during World War II. When he died, on the same day as President Kennedy's death, I did not take notice at all, since I was freshman in high school and had not yet even heard of him.
Lewis remains as important as ever, indeed more important in my estimation, precisely because he was a serious thinker, a serious Christian and an intellectual who spoke clearly to ordinary people. This rare combination has made him a role model for me ever since I studied his work under the late Dr. Clyde Kilby (photo left), my professor at Wheaton who personally knew Lewis and then became one of America's early advocates of his writing. Through Dr. Kilby many of the manuscripts and remains of Lewis' life and work are now housed at Wheaton College at the Marion Wade Center. The Wade Center brings guests from all over the globe to study Lewis and is an important repository of English and apologetic work.
Lewis cannot be understood until you realize that he was first and foremost a Christian evangelist. The word evangelist has fallen on hard times in modern American Christianity. We almost cringe when we hear the term these days. But Lewis, the scholar, was an evangelist. He called himself a rhetor (one given to rhetoric, thus persuasion) and an evangelist (one who attempted to bring people to faith in Christ). Lewis told students, "Woe to you if you do not evangelize." A professor who says that today is seen as "over the top." We do not like too much passion about our evangelism. It makes us nervous. It sounds judgmental. Many emergent Christians almost never use the word. But then many evangelicals never talk about Jesus either, not even in church if you listen carefully enough.
Lewis as an apologist who engaged in direct evangelism. He wrote about the Christian faith and he sought to prove why it was intellectually reasonable. He did not try to prove the faith, in typical evidentialist ways, so much as he removed barriers to belief and helped those who were weak in faith to see that they could reasonably embrace Christ and remain intellectually honest. One British historian called Lewis the single most effective person proclaiming the gospel in England in the 20th century. I agree.
C. S. Lewis influenced me in my early attempts to do evangelism and apologetics precisely because his arguments made sense and helped me to see why and how my faith addressed the big issues of the time. He still does that for me. But he eventually did a lot more for me. About fifteen years ago I discovered C. S. Lewis as an ecumenist. I always knew about his ideas regarding "mere Christianity." But I never deeply explored them. His ecclesiology is not well-developed since he was not a theologian. But his profound insights into human nature, and the way people thought, helped him to see through the maze of church conflicts and then to make some rather profound observations that foster the kind of ecumenism I have come to believe in so deeply. In a letter Lewis once wrote:
It takes all sorts to make a world; or a church. This may be even truer of a church. If grace perfects nature it must expand all our natures into the full richness of the diversity which God intended when He made them, and Heaven will display far more variety than Hell. "One fold" doesn't mean "one pool." Cultivated roses and daffodils are no more alike than wild roses and daffodils.
On church division he once wrote a letter in which he said:
Disputations do more to aggravate schism than to heal it; united action, fortitude and (should God so will) united deaths—these will make us one.
In his famous Mere Christianity he wisely counseled:
Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son.
More on Lewis in tomorrow's post.