C.S. Lewis undeniably wrote much and wrote much well, from his professional field of English literature to science fiction, but arguably he endures most in his amateur theology (Clark, 167). He addresses those modernists who think something is wanting in Christianity, those in the Church who think they must sanitize and remove the miraculous for relevance in the modern age, and the layman who has neither time nor interest for deep theological meanderings (Clark, 10-12). He wrote at many different levels, reaching people where they are. While he seems so inward focused, alive in his mental and academic life and very private, I submit that he kept the outward focus in mind, that he ministered to his fellow men in the way that best suited his talents: his writing. He seems to have achieved that balance: loving your neighbor and seeking his good without being too concerned about what he thinks of you. And that’s what stands out to me when I think of Lewis’ legacy as a Christian author.
There are many factors in Lewis’ enduring impact. Perhaps the biggest is truth. While he points out that he is no less distracted than anyone else in his autobiography Surprised by Joy, he manages to keep the spotlight on the important things when he writes (130). Everything on earth is transient, that which we have not yet seen is the reality that will endure (2 Cor. 4:18). Lewis’ work rarely forgets that. He keeps to the central doctrines to reach more Christians (Clark, 10; Dorsett, 223), which means he addresses the things of most value. In the process, he tries his best to be a good guide to those who follow after, the real purpose of writing theology (Clark, 165).
Lyle Dorsett argues that a significant factor in Lewis’ appeal and power is his abiding spirituality (218). This spirituality was a result of a deep and devoted prayer life, where he interceded for the needy and received revelations (218-220). In his personal life, he was frank about sin and prompt about dealing with it (221). He obeyed even when he didn’t understand the reason or it cost him time and comfort (221). More publically, he was honest about questions and doubt, because he had a firm foundation in the belief that Christianity was the answer and there could be no debunking it (222-223).
Another, dual factor is focus and perspective. Lewis is powerful because he focused on Jesus, constantly exploring different questions, and not on fame or even influence (Dorsett, 224). He introduces people to new perspectives, broadening their perceptions (Clark, 5). He desired to honestly instruct people, so he didn’t choose unnecessarily divisive topics (Dorsett, 223-4). He sought to evangelize always, subtly working the Gospel into everything (Dorsett, 224). He also came from the unbelieving side, so he knew those struggles and what rang true (Dorsett, 217). Therefore, he teaches us that understanding people and their sins and struggles and thoughts better enables us to reach out to them. The Great Divorce is a classic example. In the story, the characters are literally brought out of their usual perspective and into a new place and the reader gets to ride along with them. In that place, the characters are exposed, presented as they really are in Heaven’s eyes, held up against their own perceptions of themselves and shown wanting. It is a masterful lesson, Lewis putting just enough distance between the reader and the faults to prevent offense and to avoid losing the willing ear.
There is also what could be called the mythopoeic factor. Lewis talks in The Weight of Glory of that desire in all of us, that longing for what could be called Heaven or Beyond or simply More. In his works, we glimpse that more, we hear echoes of it, we can taste it, and that’s why we come back to Lewis. You could say that he references the Epic that we want, that touches a hunger in us. Thomas Howard points out that he evokes terror and sublimity (92), our highest and lowest points, from somewhere beyond our perceived world, and thus that Lewis speaks to the truth of existence (92-93). Howard calls them epiphanies “when we see revealed the glory that has been there in someone all along, but that may have been cloaked in ordinariness and hence hardly recognizable” (98). Lewis is constantly trying to get us to pull back the veil and see the world and ourselves in their terrible splendor.
In conclusion, Lewis is an astute, heartfelt writer with a touch of the romantic. His clear sight and clear hand have affected many. He is remembered in that sigh and “You know, C. S. Lewis. Can’t say it any better.” It’s that refreshment, that renewed perspective and desire to walk in the Lord’s righteousness and be worthy in some small way of that epic grace offered freely to us. Lewis’ great legacy is his devotion to being a Christian and how he encourages others to follow after.
Clark, David G. C. S. Lewis: A Guide to His Theology. Malden: Blackwell, 2007. Print.
Dorsett, Lyle W. “C. S. Lewis: Some Keys to His Effectiveness.” G.K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis: The Riddle of Joy. Ed. Michael H. Macdonald and Andrew A. Tadie. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989. 215-225. Print.
Howard, Thomas T. “Looking Backward: C. S. Lewis’s Literary Achievement at Forty Years’ Perspective.” G.K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis: The Riddle of Joy. Ed. Michael H. Macdonald and Andrew A. Tadie. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989. 89-99. Print.
Lewis, C.S. “Surprised by Joy.” The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis. New York: Inspirational P, 1994. 1-130. Print.
——-. The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. Print.