Why C.S. Lewis’s Works Always Matter

Recently a friend from church gave me a biography of one of my favorite thinkers and writers, C.S. Lewis. When I read the introduction by Lewis’s step-son, Douglas Gresham, and read what he had to say about Brown’s bio of the intellectual titan C.S. Lewis, I knew I would devour this book.

In it Brown traces the theological and spiritual and intellectual pilgrimage of Lewis from his earliest years in Belfast to his boyhood years being shuffled from one English public school (what Americans would know as private schools) to another, to his being tutored by Mr. Kirkpatrick (among others), and of Lewis’ voracious reading. He learned Greek, Latin, the Classics, mythology, philosophy, history, and on and on. His lone weakness was mathematics. But his learning and his self-discipline to learn were absolutely formidable.

We read of Lewis’ struggles between materialism/atheism and theism/Christianity. We read of how little glimpses into beauty pricked the facades of intellectual hubris Lewis adopted at various stages of his growing. We read of the vast amounts of reading Lewis inculcated his entire life: G.K. Chesterton, George MacDonald, Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology, Latin, Greek, the Bible, medieval and Renaissance literature, George Herbert, Shakespeare, Milton, Homer, Euripedes, Bunyan, the history of philosophy, Dante, Augustine, and on and on.

But Lewis’ thinking was refined over and over again. God was on his tail, he’d later write. Lewis began to see that one’s worldview must necessarily be either materialist/atheistic or theistic/supernatural. Here is the way Lewis put it himself:

Long before I believed theology to be true, I had already decided that the popular scientific picture at any rate was false. One absolutely central inconsistency ruins it. The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears. . . . Unless Reason is an absolute, all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that Reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based. The difficulty is to me a fatal one. (122)

Lewis’ works matter because they clarify what’s at stake. If materialism is true, how would men know it to be true? After all, to posit truth is to, in some sense, step outside of the system one is critiquing. But materialism is just that: material. And why should material imagine itself capable of thinking? When’s the last time a rock wrote a poem or sand wrote an opera?

Lewis finally came to understand that the biblical view of man is the true one. The biblical view of man explains why we suppress truth in unrighteousness. It explains how pride besets us. It explains why the world hates Jesus the Christ, because he told and lived and died for the truth, and because even when Satan and his legions tried to bury the Christ by murdering him, Christ was raised bodily for all to see. Aslan was on the move, you see. That’s why Lewis’ works matter.

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explantion is that I was made for another world. (1)

Lewis’ works matter because he saw that man is not just a random, meaningless, cosmic accident of material in motion. That’s the materialist’s view. (Isn’t it interesting that materialists write books trying to persuade people of the truth of their position? Hmmm. Seems odd if they believe what they profess.)

Lewis’ works matter because he saw and heralded the realities that we all know. We sense that some things and moments and pictures and novels and plays and operas and songs and sunsets and vistas are beautiful.

And we also recognize that hypocrisy and lies and unnecessary cruelty and betrayal are ugly.

Why do we recognize these things? Because we are more than mere matter, because God exists, because beauty and truth exist, because God has created us to know him and his creation and our fellow creatures and Christ whom God has sent. These are all reasons Lewis’ works still matter.

Like thousands who have come before me, I have read and reread C.S. Lewis’ works for years, and I discover more wisdom in them and from his own spiritual awakening through Lewis’ own works and through fine biographies of Lewis like the one referenced here. Take up and read–both Lewis’ oeuvre and this bio of him in particular.

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