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C. S. Lewis and InterVarsity
December 7, 2005
The new Chronicles of Narnia movie, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, is introducing a new generation to the writings of British scholar C.S. Lewis. InterVarsity’s roots are in the same British university communities where C.S. Lewis studied and taught, but his influence on InterVarsity was mostly through his writing.
“A good many of our staff, at least through the 1970s, were brought to the Lord after reading Lewis and being convinced that you could love God with your mind as well as your feelings” says Terry Morrison, director emeritus of Faculty Ministry. “If you survey senior staff, they will say that Lewis was extremely important for our work. A good many students were nourished on Lewis.”
Terry was introduced to C.S. Lewis’s writings as a student in Pittsburgh during the early 1950s through an early edition of Lewis’s apologetic book, Mere Christianity. Soon he had read everything he could find written by Lewis. As he joined InterVarsity staff and began working with students, Lewis was a handy reference.
Ned Hale, a resource specialist with InterVarsity’s International Student Ministry, says he collected nearly every book that Lewis had written and gave away numerous copies of Mere Christianity as a staff worker in the 1960s and 1970s. “Through Lewis I was introduced to Williams, Tolkien, Sayers, and MacDonald, and I came to appreciate and use in student ministry the whole genre of fantasy to illustrate and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“Quotes and arguments from Lewis are used extensively and convincingly in both evangelistic dorm discussions and in a host of books for believers,” says InterVarsity Press Publisher Bob Fryling. “Outside of the Scriptures themselves, Lewis is probably the greatest authority and example of a thoughtful Christian faith. In a university environment, Lewis has the stellar academic credentials that command intellectual respect, while his journey from atheism to Christian faith describes a personal and spiritual authenticity that is attractive and not easily dismissed.”
InterVarsity Press currently has in print at least eight books about C.S. Lewis and his writings. C.S. Lewis’s own books also still sell well. “His books have been widely read on campus for decades by both Christians and those curious about Christian faith,” Bob says.
Faculty Ministry director Stan Wallace says Lewis is a role model for Christian faculty “who love God deeply with every aspect of their being—heart, soul, strength, and mind; and seek to communicate God’s Truth and Grace to all they influence, both personally and through their publishing.” He says, “Our desire is to see an entire generation of faculty being faithful to Christ in their academic callings, as Lewis was, each in their unique way. By God’s grace, their faithfulness will have a profound, redemptive influence on all aspects of our universities, culture, and world.”
Terry Morrison notes that Lewis was never really an evangelical. “But he made traditional orthodoxy convincing.” In books like The Narnia Chronicles he planted a seed that later blossomed into faith for many. “So many students have told me that they never knew there was a Christian message embedded in the stories when their parents read The Chronicles of Narnia to them,” Terry says. “It was only after they had become Christians and went back and read the Narnia stories that they found how rich they were.”
For those who are just discovering Lewis through the movie and are looking for more of his writings, Terry recommends the science fiction space trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. He says Lewis’s own favorite of his works was Til We Have Faces, a retelling of the ancient Cupid and Psyche myth . “It’s a chance for Lewis to communicate what really led him to the Lord in the first place,” Terry notes, “when Tolkien and others convinced him that Christianity was a myth but it happened to be The True Myth. It can really get you to thinking about contemporary life, about human values, about truth.”
Other books that may attract readers looking for more from Lewis include The Pilgrim’s Regress, Lewis’s autobiography in literary form; The Abolition of Man, reflections on education and values; and The Problem of Pain, how to believe in God in spite of pain and suffering. “He knew medieval and ancient European literature backwards and forwards,” Terry observed. “He brought the resources of the ancient and medieval world to bear on modern problems in ways hardly anyone else could. People regard him as a wise man, and he would say ‘that’s because I read all of the ancient wise men.’”
Terry Morrison believes the timing is right for another generation of readers to discover the writings of C.S. Lewis, both fiction and non-fiction. “There’s a fierce honesty that gets down to where we live. And he’s got such a felicitous way of turning a phrase. There’s just no one who can express themselves in such a way to hook your mind, so it sticks with you for a long time.”