Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Wisdom of C.S. Lewis

I became aware of C.S. Lewis in a high school English class where The Screwtape Letters was required reading. I read Mere Christianity while attending Brigham Young University, and finally became acquainted with The Chronicles of Narnia as my nephews and nieces grew up. I am continually amazed at how many times Lewis is quoted by a General Authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Conference talks or Ensign articles.

In 2008, I happened to watch a program on BYU TV entitled "Letting God Have His Way: A Conversation about C.S. Lewis." It was a roundtable discussion with BYU religion professors Robert Millet, Andrew Skinner, Brent Top; BYU English literature professor John Tanner; and non-LDS professor of psychology Brent Slife. Partially filmed in England where Lewis lived, the program presented biographical information and showed how his life experiences influenced his writing. The professors also explained why they thought Lewis is such a popular author, especially among Christians:

  • He has the ability to express complex ideas as simple principles; simplicity beyond complexity.
  • He has a gift for metaphor, which helps readers understand and remember what he says.
  • He is a non-denominational writer so everyone can identify with him.
  • He speaks to the people; he is a common sense Christian.
  • He is able to write in the vernacular of the common man. He said if a writer can’t write in the vernacular, he either doesn’t believe what he is writing about or he doesn’t understand it.
  • He has intellectually defensible religious thoughts.
  • He focuses on Christian ethics—what it is like to be a Christian from the inside.
  • He honestly deals with his own issues.
This program piqued my interest in learning more about such a universally admired writer. I determined that my personal course of study for 2009 would be learning more about Clive Staples (Jack) Lewis. I purchased from The Teaching Company a multiple cassette-tape class entitled "The Life and Writings of C.S. Lewis." In 12 half-hour lectures, the professor discusses Lewis' philosophy of life using examples from his books.

Unlike most authors who specialize in a single genre of writing, Lewis produced a body of work that is as prolific in its length as it is wide ranging in its breadth. It includes not only apologetics (a logical defense of the Christian faith), but also theology and philosophy, science fiction and fantasy, children’s literature and poetry, literary theory, aesthetic history, Christian allegory and spiritual autobiography, fictional letters, and devotional meditations.

Reading Lewis' books can be challenging. There are many layers to his writings, and I believe they are like the scriptures in that the more we read, the more we understand; the more we understand, the more we want to study; the more we study, the deeper our knowledge and (hopefully) our wisdom become.

Reading Lewis definitely requires commitment, but I have found that once the journey began, I haven't been able to wait to see what lay just around the bend of each new thought, or was hiding behind the closet doors, or woven in the literary fabric of medieval literature, or imagined in outer space. Underneath it all are Lewis' perceptive insight into human nature and his solid beliefs and wisdom. I look forward to taking you along on my journey through C.S. Lewis-land.

Note: To hear the voice of C.S. Lewis, check out this YouTube audio clip of him reading part of the introduction to his book "Four Loves."

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