Clive Staples Lewis
Summary: An author, Christian apologist, theologian and philosopher.*
Date: Born: 29 November AD 1898; Died: 22 November 1963
Location: Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Family: Father: Albert James Lewis; Mother: Florence Augusta Lewis
- Introduction -
"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."
Spoken like a faithful follower of Christ. Indeed, these famous words were penned by Clive Staple (C.S.) Lewis, who traveled on a long, reluctant journey from Atheism* to Christianity.
Lewis rejected his childhood Protestantism in his teens and embraced an atheistic and materialistic worldview as a result of failing to perceive God’s hand in the correct limelight during the aftermath of his mother’s death and the horrors of trench service in World War I. Later, due largely to a nighttime conversation with friends at Magdalen College, Lewis surrendered his life to Christ, and from that time forward, he dedicated himself to advancing the Kingdom.
It is ironic that God used a former militant atheist to draw others to Himself in a way that has not been totally paralleled by anyone else in the history of the world. During the struggles of World War II and the following Cold War, God used Lewis’s BBC broadcast talks, theological books, Narnia Chronicles, and sharp, able mind to bring help, hope, and healing to countless persons, such as Joy Davidman, in Europe and America.
Lewis was one of the greatest and most articulate Christian apologists and authors of all time and is deservedly remembered, admired, and beloved across the globe.
- Early Life & Conversion -
Born in 1898, Clive was born in a devoutly Christian home in Belfast, Ireland (now Northern Ireland). He tragically lost his mother when he was just ten. After being discharged from service during the First World War due to a shrapnel wound, Lewis went on to study at, and graduate from, Oxford University. His academic focus was chiefly on classical philosophy and literature.
On a cool night at Magdalen College, a conversation commenced between Lewis and two dear friends that would be decidedly influential in the former’s conversion and change his life forever. Abandoning the faith of his parents, Lewis had turned to atheism in the wake of the disillusionment that plagued millions of people during and after the horrors of the First World War, but he was finally convinced of the existence of God in 1929 when he became a theist***. Unfortunately, however, he was not sure how Jesus Christ and the Gospel Story fit into his new-found belief. That was to change.
Lewis’ whole world was turned upside down on the night of September 19, 1931, when he invited two of his closest friends, J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, to dinner at Magdalen College, Oxford University. For some time, Lewis had convinced himself that even though he enjoyed reading and learning about myths, they were not true at all. Tolkien powerfully expressed his belief that on the contrary, all myths originate in God and reflect some aspect of His truth. Continuing on, he convincingly argued that the Christian story is real and veritable and urged Lewis to plunge into the transforming truth of the Gospel. He did.
When a month had passed since the ground-shattering conversation, he wrote with complete surety to Arthur Greeves, an old friend of his, that “…the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened” (Companion and Guide 14). God moved in a mysterious way during that now-famous nighttime conversation, which was emphatically instrumental in helping to bring about Lewis’s conversion, and through his writings, that of millions of others.
- The Chronicles of Narnia -
As a result of his conversion, in the late 1940s, Lewis was inspired to write a children’s story with Christian parallels set in the mythical realm of Narnia, which ultimately garnered J.R.R. Tolkien’s disapproval because it blended unconnected mythologies and contained inner inconsistencies.
In 1949, Lewis read part of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, his first attempt at children’s fiction, to Tolkien, who thought it was almost worthless and told his friend so. Lewis was stunned. He was saddened. He was discouraged. Still unimpressed a short while later, Tolkien remarked to Roger Lancelyn Green, “I hear you’ve been reading Jack’s children’s story. It really won’t do, you know! I mean to say: ‘Nymphs and their Ways, The Love-Life of a Faun.’ Doesn’t he know what he’s talking about?” (Companion and Guide 402).
Tolkien was plainly disparaging the way Lewis (in his view) somewhat carelessly treated myth. Since the seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia were each written in about six months, Tolkien also believed that Lewis’s pace was too rapid and hasty and allowed for inconsistencies within the stories. Thankfully, though, Lewis was not disheartened by his friend’s harsh criticism, he read portions of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to his close friend Roger Lancelyn Green, who thoroughly enjoyed the story and encouraged Lewis to finish it. He did, however, Tolkien’s antipathy of Narnia caused a rift in his friendship with Lewis that was never fully healed.
- Joy Davidman -
In 1952, Lewis found an unlikely new friend in Joy Davidman, a boisterous American lady with a solid Christian faith. Vacationing in England during August, Joy was relishing a much-needed break from her volatile home life with a hospitable and congenial pen pal of hers, Phyllis Williams, who lived in the illustrious city of London.
For some months Joy had also been pen pals Lewis, a prestigious scholar and author, and in September she invited him to have lunch with her and Phyllis at the Eastgate Hotel in Oxford. He did. The threesome wholly enjoyed the meeting, and Lewis returned their kind gesture by inviting the two women to a luncheon at Magdalen College, Oxford University where he was a Fellow and Tutor of English Literature. Enthusiastically, George Sayer (who also attended the luncheon) reported, “The party was a decided success” (Sayer 352).
Although Joy was a strong-willed, abrasive New Yorker, Lewis delighted in her bluntness against modern stupidities. These two luncheons were the precursor of an unlikely friendship between Lewis and Joy Davidman that would ultimately lead to marriage.
- Legacy -
Serving God until his last breath (he died in 1963), Lewis led a remarkable life and was blessed with an extraordinary talent to explain potentially difficult theological concepts in lay terms to ordinary, everyday people.
The most ground-breaking and significant experience of Lewis’s life was certainly his nighttime conversation with J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, two men used by Divine Providence to turn Lewis’s whole world upside down. If not for this critical event, Lewis might have gone down in history in a few poetry journals and obscure publications as a quirky Oxford don. If not for this vital event, Lewis would not have written the seven books in The Chronicles of Narnia or his various theological works or been in a suitable position to correspond with Joy Davidman, his future wife. If not for this crucial and saving event, Lewis, who, at the time of the conversation, was a Theist and did not have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, would likely be suffering in the fires of Hell.
Ultimately, no one on earth knows what happened to Lewis’s soul when it passed out of this world on November 22, 1963, (interestingly, the same day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas) and into the next. It is sincerely hoped and believed by many, however, that Clive Staples Lewis passed through the Pearly Gates that he anticipated and longed for his whole life and is now in the eternal presence of the Holy God, Who used him in many marvelous means to help thousands of others see the illuminating light of the Gospel.
1. Hooper, Walter. C.S. Lewis: Companion and Guide. HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.
2. Through Joy and Beyond: A Pictorial Biography of C.S. Lewis. MacMillan Publishing Company, 1 Jan. 1982.
3. Sayer, George. Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis. 2nd ed. Crossway, 1994.
4. Simpson, Paul. A Brief Guide to C.S. Lewis. Running Press Book Publishers, 2013.
1. C.S. Lewis | Biography & Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/C-S-Lewis
2. C.S. Lewis. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/cs-lewis-9380969
3. THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE. (1898, November 29). About C.S. Lewis - Official Site | CSLewis.com. Retrieved from http://www.cslewis.com/us/about-cs-lewis/
Researched and Written By
With Contributions By
Best known for his beloved Chronicles of Narnia, Clive Staples Lewis was also a renowned scholar and an eminent Christian apologist. Following a reluctant conversion to Christianity, Lewis went on to debate many of the world's leading atheists.
*An apologist is someone who attempts to defend their beliefs from critics; a theologian is someone who studies and tries to explains the nature of God and other religious beliefs; a philosopher tries to understand what existence, reality and knowledge are.
**Atheism can mean multiple things. It can be either a worldview (belief system) that lacks belief in a divine being. Or it can mean a person who actively believes that there is no God. CS Lewis was one of the latter.
**A theist is someone who believes in a divine Being (often a god, or, in the Christian faith, God).