Remembering C.S. Lewis

Fifty years after his death, Pepperdine faculty reflect on the author's influence on their scholarship and faith.

December 19, 2013  | 8 min read

“I went to visit a Methodist minister who lived down the street to ask him whether faith made any logical sense. He listened patiently to my confused (and probably blasphemous) ramblings, and then took a small book off his shelf and suggested I read it. That book was Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. In the next few days, as I turned its pages, struggling to absorb the breadth and depth of the intellectual arguments laid down by this legendary Oxford scholar, I realized that all of my own constructs against the plausibility of faith were those of a schoolboy ...”

The Language of God:
A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief

Francis Collins
Director of the National Institutes of Health, Former Leader of the Human Genome Project

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In a word, C. S. Lewis turned my whole theology on its head. In The Great Divorce, he intimates that the gates of heaven might actually be locked on the hell side, and not the other way around. That completely changed my view of God. All my life I thought that the greatest obstacle to heaven was God himself, as if God were trying to keep us out. Lewis helped me see how desperately God wants us in.

Lewis also helped me understand how God draws us to himself—through our longing for joy. He spoke of the nostalgic yearning we all feel, as he put it, for a far-off country that we have never yet visited. In Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, he said that the pleasures we experience are glimpses of what we long for—they are “patches of Godlight in the woods of our experience.” Those words raised the tantalizing possibility that my deepest longings might actually be the clue to the purpose for which I was made, and also a foretaste of what awaits me. As he put it in The Weight of Glory, “At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door ... But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”

Gary Selby
Professor of Communication, Seaver College, and Director, Pepperdine University Center for Faith and Learning

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Lewis is a storytelling apologist for a storytelling God, and his books opened up my theological imagination. My introduction was Mere Christianity, soon after my baptism and freshman year at Pepperdine. Lewis’ explanation of the shared hallway of Christian truths, with off- shooting rooms for denominations where individuals would be nourished, embedded a desire for ecumenical fellowship and an appreciation of the richness of Christian thought. I next devoured The Screwtape Letters, and Lewis’ depiction of human nature convicted me of my sins. I’ll never forget the toast where Screwtape rants about how tasteless the people in hell are; there is no one truly evil, but there is a steady march of those adhering to a moralistic therapeutic deism. The Great Divorce gave me reassurance that while hell was real, God’s love was so great, anyone who truly sought him would be welcomed into his fold. One of the last works I read was where most people begin, the Chronicles of Narnia series. Having always struggled with the question of pain, I wept and wept in The Horse and His Boy when Aslan reveals to Shasta that all of his perceived misfortunes are part of God’s divine providence and protection.

Christina Littlefield (’02)
Assistant Professor of Communication and Religion, Seaver College

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The influence of C. S. Lewis on my life is akin to that of a box full of treasures that is kept hidden in a special place, opened from time to time, and its half-forgotten contents both reminding and exhorting to living life more profoundly. I suppose this Lewis box is the opposite of Pandora’s Box, in that when I opened the box containing the books, I discovered a richness of thought, a challenge to rightful living, and a personal comfort of a present and caring God. I first learned of C. S. Lewis when I read the Chronicles of Narnia as a child. I was enchanted by a world of talking animals, a rich variety of cultures, the adventures of the Pevensie children, and seeing the whole arc of a planet’s creation, fall, redemption, and destruction. And, of course, there is Aslan, a figure I did not completely understand but I felt the acceptance and love he offered. Later, as I was older, I read his more theologically oriented books and sophisticated stories such as the Perelandra trilogy. Revisiting these books from time to time, breathing in the magic and logic of Lewis’ stories and arguments, influenced me in becoming a Christian and an academic.

Robert B. Lloyd
Blanche E. Seaver Professor of International Studies, Associate Professor of International Relations, and Coordinator, International Studies Program, Seaver College

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My first encounter with C. S. Lewis occurred in Florence, Italy, while studying abroad with Pepperdine. That year, for really the first time, I was being exposed daily to an all-you-can eat buffet of both new and ancient schools of thought and was overwhelmed with the range of different beliefs in the world around me. I started to question: “What if Christianity is just a religion prevalent in Europe and America during our time, and later when generations are looking back they will view it the with the same nostalgic interest as we do the myths of the Greeks or the fables of Aesop?” It was a scary thought really, and I started to crave wise and honest-minded discussions about religion and belief—discussions that brought everything to the table with openness and vulnerability. The best conversation of my year occurred between me and a frayed copy of Mere Christianity somewhere along the tracks to Prague. When I arrived back
a few days later, I returned the book to its shelf in the the Florence program library, and have hoped ever since that it might continue to make its way into the hands of future wanderers like me.

Jeff Hamilton (’03)
Director, International Programs, Seaver College

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C. S. Lewis is the person most responsible for my conversion to Christianity and what advances I have made in the Christian life. When I was a religiously agnostic law student, someone picked me up while I was hitchhiking. He gave me a book by Lewis that cut straight to my heart, greatly increased my self-understanding, and showed me my need for Christ. Of special value was “The Greatest Sin” in Lewis’s Mere Christianity. Lewis’ God in the Dock showed me that the Christian faith gives insight as to every aspect of life. His The Screwtape Letters taught me both to take the Devil seriously and to laugh at him. I have studied Mere Christianity with generations of law students. With unrelenting logic, Lewis forces us to consider the options—someone who made Jesus’ claims is either a lunatic, a liar, or the Lord of the Universe. Of special, often overlooked, value are the letters from Lewis included in Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy, in which Lewis leads the author and his wife, as Oxford students, to faith, and then enables the author to deal with his wife’s tragic death from cancer.

Bob Cochran
Louis D. Brandeis Professor, and Director, Herbert and Elinor Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion and Ethics, School of Law

 

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C.S. Lewis has opened many doors for me. It started with a wardrobe into the land of Narnia and has led to seeing the world around me in a completely new way. Lewis often discussed how fantasy and fairy tale “baptized” his imagination. These fantastic stories whispered elements of the Gospel story to Lewis when he was a young boy and helped him recognize and accept the Gospel story as truth when he was older. They essentially prepared him for faith. As someone who studies the relationship between fairy tale and faith, Lewis' personal journey towards Christianity fascinates me. Similarly, his writings often baptize imaginations by inviting readers to recognize God’s story in the everyday world around them. Lewis saw God at work in and through everything. This idea has opened so many doors for me—doors through which I see glimpses of who God really is. Through Lewis’ work, I have come to understand that God speaks to us through many ways, infusing His story into the stories all around us, and baptizing our imaginations so that when we hear the Gospel story, we will recognize it and choose to believe it.

Caitlin Lawrence
Visiting Instructor of Communications, Seaver College

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The biggest impact Lewis has had on my life is in my marriage. Before we were married, my wife and I both took a class on Lewis, taught by one of the all-time great C. S. Lewis admirers—Tony Ash at Abilene Christian University. We were both struck by the wisdom of Lewis’ writing about love. He made a distinction between “being in love” (which is an emotion) and a “truer” love (which is the decision to love another person selflessly). No emotion can (or should) be experienced all the time, so the experience of being in love can rise and fall throughout life. According to Lewis, if a relationship is based on the feeling of being in love, it will be hard to stay committed on an ongoing basis. Although it’s not even possible to maintain an emotion for a single week, it’s possible to maintain a commitment to a loving decision for a whole life. That had a profound impact on us when we committed to love each other for life; even when there are times when we don’t feel in love (as every couple experiences), we know we have a commitment that doesn’t fluctuate like feelings do.

Steve Rouse
Chair of the Social Sciences Division and Professor of Psychology, Seaver College

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I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen:

not only because I see it,

but because by it I see everything else.

- C.S. Lewis

As a literary scholar, I cannot help but continue to be captivated by C.S. Lewis as he exemplifies a multifaceted scholar that achieved to connect “the self” with “the other” at multiple levels. He dared to interweave literature and fantasy in the highest academic terms and share it to both; the literary versed as well as to a broad public not related to the literary world. C.S. Lewis was profoundly human and profoundly Christian. He drew from those depths and shared precious thoughts and images that populated his writing. The readers of all ages were prone to let them be fascinated and initiated into the wonderful world of literary fantasy. He was a Christian that was not afraid to ask the hard questions and be challenged while challenging God to answer the difficult questions of life. In this scenario, the fantastic world did not detour very far from the mystical world, and in his fantastic literary works he accomplished what few had been able to manage: to merge both worlds into one without devaluating either of them. C.S. Lewis proposes a fantastic literary cosmogony allied to the mystical world establishing a passage where the earthly human experience can expand. In his own words: “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

Graciela S. Boruszko
Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies, Seaver College

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PEPPERDINE HONORS C.S. LEWIS

To mark the 50th anniversary of his passing, the Center for Faith and Learning hosted a series of events to commemorate the life, influence, and enduring legacy of author C. S. Lewis.

ON OCTOBER 2, the Center for Faith and Learning presented Tom Key in a performance of his acclaimed one-man show, C. S. Lewis on Stage, where the actor drew on Lewis’ autobiography and characters from his works to put the audience in the presence of the author himself.

N ADDITION, British author Steve Turner visited Payson Library on November 7 to speak on Lewis’ impact on Christian philosophy and its relationship to the Christian worldview. Turner, whose own works explore the relationship between popular culture and religion, examined the author in the context of the 21st century and how 50 years after his death, his work continues to resonate and grow in the power of its message.

A SERIES OF CLUB CONVOS, discussion-based, small-group programs led by faculty, staff, or students focusing on topics aimed to deepen students’ understanding of Christianity, also honored the works of the beloved author. Events included an examination of spiritual warfare and temptation in The Screwtape Letters; a six-week analysis of Mere Christianity, Lewis’ thoughtful approach to choosing to believe and follow Christ; and a conversation on The Problem of Pain, which seeks to advise how to reconcile pain, grief, and loss with a faith in a loving God.