About ten years ago, when I was young, single, and had a lot of free time on my hands, I read Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. He devotes an entire chapter to the discipline of study, which was music to my ears—like a nutritionist telling me that coffee was one of the four food groups. Thanks to Foster, I set myself a study goal: I decided to read everything C. S. Lewis had ever written.
I never quite accomplished that goal. Collected Letters, Vol. 1, currently collects dust on my nightstand, bookmarked shortly before Jack’s graduation from Oxford. But I did read almost everything else of any significance, from the bizarre (That Hideous Strength) to the dull (The Pilgrim’s Regress) to the scholarly (Miracles) to the sublime (several, with my favorite being The Great Divorce).
Along the way, I learned a great deal from the Cambridge don—both from the many things he wrote about and from the way he wrote. His words give evidence of careful and clear thinking; he studiously avoided jargon, had no time for empty rhetoric, and never came near emotional manipulation. Moreover, while Lewis wrote (and spoke) to men and women of various levels and degrees of education and experience, he always treated his audience with respect and generosity. Not all of his ideas and arguments have stood the test of time, but his insistence on clear communication devoid of manipulation will never grow old.
Today, as we celebrate Lewis again on the fiftieth anniversary of his death, I find that I can’t possibly adequately sum up his distinctiveness and importance to so many believers. He is one of the spiritual fathers of thinking Christians, and his writings are deeply treasured by many. So instead of trying to capture everything everyone feels about C. S. Lewis in one blog post, I’ll just recommend some of my favorite books.
A Grief Observed
A Grief Observed, the book Lewis wrote after the death of his wife, is the only thing I will ever give to friends who have lost a loved one. One friend told me, “[That book] was like a life preserver in the dark, tumultuous ocean of grief. I would curl up in my bed with that book and it felt like [Lewis] was in my room in a comfy arm chair telling me it was okay to feel what I was feeling. I am eternally grateful.”
Too many books try to explain to the grieving what it is they’re feeling, and why; Lewis simply, and beautifully, feels it alongside them, and gives voice to their grief. If he had never written anything else, this one book would make him a saint in my eyes.
Surprised by Joy
Because Lewis was such a renowned thinker and apologist, it comes as something of a shock to discover how little reason and logic had to do with his conversion. But in Surprised by Joy, Lewis’s memoir, he makes it clear that from the beginning it was a sense of beautiful otherness—of the “numinous,” or what he simply called Joy—that drew him to God. “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy,” he wrote, “the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
I find this combination of that-which-cannot-be-explained-in words and Lewis’s devotion to defending Christianity among the halls of Cambridge and Oxford to be fascinating.
The Screwtape Letters
The Screwtape Letters is my favorite and my least favorite C. S. Lewis book. It reveals Lewis as an incredibly perceptive student of human nature; his ability to see the actual motivation behind the professed motivation behind the behavior is sometimes alarming, and quite often deeply convicting.
Lewis once said it was the hardest book for him to write because he didn’t like thinking like a demon. I imagine it was hard for an entirely different reason. As anyone who’s done any kind of ministry or counseling would tell you, it’s really risky to tell someone that the real motivation for their behavior is different than they think it is. Get that even a little bit wrong and you look like a fool. But Lewis gets it right, over and over, for millions of readers. His powers of spiritual perception are uncanny.
The Great Divorce
I truly hope heaven looks something like Lewis depicts it in The Great Divorce. Just when I was struggling to believe in a heaven full of happy people singing Vineyard songs while ignoring their loved ones burning up in hell, Lewis painted a different, much more compelling picture—one that also made better sense of what the Bible says about heaven and hell. Almost daily I am motivated by the idea of becoming the kind of person who will find God’s presence to be a place of joy and peace.
The Legacy of Lewis
I may never finish my study goal. I’m married now, with two small children, and my reading time is mostly taken up with books by Foster W. Cline and Dr. Seuss, so The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis may have to sit on that shelf for a few more years. But I am deeply thankful for what I learned from Lewis, and the ways his writing shaped my intellectual life. And I know that I am not the only one. Everywhere I go, I meet Lewis enthusiasts, and happily recommend his books to any who have never read past Narnia. His impact on twentieth-century Christianity was significant, and his legacy impressive. I hope his books continue to draw readers well into the twenty-first century, and beyond.
What books by C. S. Lewis have influenced you the most? Leave us a comment!
Willie Krischke works at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, with Native American students. He has worked for InterVarsity since 2006. His wife, Megan, is an area director, and they have two kids, Flannery and Soren.