On Nov. 22, 1963, C. S. Lewis died of kidney failure. The death of one of the great Christian apologists of the 20th century didn’t make many headlines: Those belonged to President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated that very same day in Dallas.
If Lewis’s death didn’t impact the news cycle, however, his writings made a nearly incalculable impact on the Church. Use the phrase, “He’s not a tame lion, you know,” and nearly two generations of Christians would get the reference to the Christ figure Aslan the lion from the Chronicles of Narnia. The name “Screwtape” can send chills down the spines of millions, who know, thanks in part to Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, that the Devil and his fiendishly sly temptations are not the stuff of superstition and fairy tales.
And the title of Lewis’s most famous work became an almost proper noun in itself: Mere Christianity – the book that paved the way for the conversion of one Chuck Colson.
On the night Chuck gave his life to Jesus, his friend Tom Phillips read to him Lewis’s masterful passage on pride:
“There is one vice of which no man in the world is free,” Lewis wrote, “which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else … The vice I am talking of is Pride … Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind …
“As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”
As Chuck said on BreakPoint many years later, “It felt as if Lewis were writing about me, former Marine captain, Special Counsel to the President of the United States, now in the midst of the Watergate scandal. I had an overwhelming sense that I was unclean.
“When I got to the automobile to drive away, I couldn’t. I was crying too hard … I spent an hour calling out to God. I did not even know the right words. I simply knew that I wanted Him. And I knew for certain that the God who created the universe heard my cry.”
And that was Lewis’s genius: his ability to take the vast and sometimes complicated claims of Christianity, boil them down and express them in a way that nearly everyone can understand – whether they’re driven to their knees by them or not.
Lewis’s straight talk in Mere Christianity – the kind of straight talk Chuck himself became so adept at – provided the basis, the template, for much of modern-day Christian apologetics. Take for instance, Mere Christianity’s best-known passage:
Was Jesus just a good moral teacher? “That is the one thing we must not say,” Lewis wrote. “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said … would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else would be the Devil of Hell. … Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to.”
So, if you’re looking for compelling ways to think and talk about what Christians believe and why we believe it, Mere Christianity is a great place to start. It’s also a great book for that seeker in your life. (Reprinted with permission from BreakPoint.)
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