Who has influenced your philosophy of life?
I am a fan of C. S. Lewis.
I recall reading The Chronicles of Narnia — the series for which Lewis is inarguably best-known — when I was very young. By the time my dad took me to see a community theater production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” in the late 1970s, I had probably read each of the seven books in the series at least twice, and before I was 10 years old. But seeing the portrayals of Aslan the lion, Queen Jadis the White Witch and Mr. Tumnus fused the stories a little bit more to my heart and soul.
Even the sight of the titular wardrobe — a character in itself, really — brought a tremendous amount of joy to this young boy.
I don’t know how many times in my near-50 years I have reread the series now, but I still enjoy returning to them, even if they are considered books for children.
Lewis himself once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”
To my knowledge, I have read almost every book written by Lewis — I still may lack a few letters or treatises on medieval literature — and dozens written about him. I wrote my master’s thesis on some of his works and I find myself quoting him probably more than I should. It’s no secret his works have influenced my philosophy of life, even though I can say without hesitation that I do not agree with all of his theological conclusions.
By whom was Lewis influenced? What authors or books inspired him, apart from the Bible itself?
A reporter for “The Christian Century” magazine asked Lewis in 1962, “What books did most to shape your vocational attitude and your philosophy of life?” Here are a few of his answers.
• “Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women,” by George MacDonald — The book centers on a man pulled into a dreamlike world where he misguidedly hunts for his ideal of female beauty. Lewis said when he first read the book at age 16 that his “imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized.” The Scottish writer MacDonald remained one of Lewis’ favorite authors.
• “The Everlasting Man,” by G.K. Chesterton — A book of Christian apologetics by an English writer and theologian, this book was written to rebut H.G. Wells’ ideas that humans evolved from animals and that Jesus was just a charismatic man. Lewis said this book “baptized” his intellect, much like “Phantastes” baptized his imagination.
• “The Idea of the Holy,” by Rudolf Otto — This German work urged readers to investigate God in serious rational study before relying on one’s emotional experiences.
• “The Consolation of Philosophy,” by Boethius — Written by a Roman statesman in prison for the alleged crime of treason, this text reflects on the problem of the existence of evil in a world ruled by God and how happiness is nevertheless still attainable.
• “Descent into Hell,” by Charles Williams — This novel penned by a friend of Lewis deals with selfishness and how sin requires a substitutionary sacrifice of love.
Lewis, with all these influences, became a great influencer himself. Widely regarded as the most popular theologian in the 20th century for the average person, he believed people who had knowledge needed to share that knowledge with others in a way that their readers or hearers could understand — not in some lofty academic language. This was especially so in the case of Jesus Christ. Those who had a saving knowledge of Christ had an imperative to share that understanding of God’s grace with others who did not yet believe, realizing they were part of God’s plan to share the gospel in the world.
Some of Lewis’ friends, such as J.R.R. Tolkien, believed only trained theologians should talk publicly about God. Lewis argued his friend was wrong, that this was the command for every believer.
If Lewis is a mentor of sorts to me, then I must take his deeply-seated belief to heart and share the gospel. If I am a follower of Christ, more importantly, I must take his command to heart and share the gospel.
God used many people to reach the heart of the young atheistic Lewis and lead him to become a follower of Jesus. If am I among the voices God uses to reach the heart of an unbeliever then I can consider myself blessed to have been used as such.
But I can’t be used if I don’t speak.