Alister McGrath’s New Biography on C. S. Lewis

Alister McGrath. C. S. Lewis: A Life, Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013.

McGrath’s work is a welcome addition to the voluminous literature on Lewis. It represents exhaustive research and insightful analysis. The reader comes to know Lewis the man, his character, and his ideas. McGrath clearly explains Lewis’ ideas and places them in the context of their development. New information requires reassessment of some events in Lewis’ life.

The work provides detailed information about Lewis’ family dynamics (mother, father, and brother) and his relationships with Mrs. Moore, Joy Davidman, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, other literary figures, and the Oxford faculty.

McGrath provides a brilliant analysis of Lewis’ literary works, especially The Chronicles of Narnia and recognizes his significance among twentieth century writers. I found his analysis of Mere Christianity and other apologetic works less insightful.

The last chapter assesses Lewis’ influence. McGrath states, “Lewis’s rise to fame in the United States was linked with the wartime revival of interest in religious questions, which persisted until late in the 1950s–but then began to fade. During the 1960-s, religious interest and concern switched from theoretical questions to practical issues. Lewis seem ‘much too theoretical and abstract’ to the younger generation.” (p. 363) McGrath says Lewis’ prominence “receded in the 1960s” and he had “few champions ” in the 1960s. He says Evangelicals in the 1960s “clearly regarded him with suspicion.” (364-365) He says Lewis’ popularity surged again in the seventies.

This tracing of Lewis’ influence in America does not square with my experience and what I observed during the mid twentieth century. As a student in Ozark Bible College in the late fifties and early sixties, I brought and read several of Lewis’ books. His books were discussed at the college. I attended Wheaton Graduate School in the mid-sixties. Lewis’ influence was very much alive in Wheaton at that time. After Lewis’ death in 1963,Wheaton professor Clyde Kilby began collecting Lewis materials for “The C. S. Lewis Collection.” In 1965 the Wheaton College Library Committee accepted Kilby’s proposed Lewis’ collection. Because of an endowment of the Collection, in 1974 it was renamed The Marion E. Wade Collection. But that date does not document the beginning of the collection as McGrath seems to indicate. I began teaching in Bible college in 1967 and used Mere Christianity as a required text each semester from then until 2005.

 Having read many books by and about Lewis over the past fifty years, I found McGrath’s book to be the most definitive biography of Lewis available today. His exhaustive research in all the Lewis correspondence and other primary sources adds credibility to McGrath’s work. This is a thorough, well-written, honest portrait of C. S. Lewis.

C. S. Lewis, Apologist—a Bibliography

C. S. Lewis may well be the most influential twentieth century English language apologist. The following resources provide information and perspective on his apologetics.

Baggett, David, Gary R. Habermas and Jerry L. Walls, eds. C. S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008.

Burson, Scott R. and Jerry L. Walls. C. S. Lewis & Francis Schaeffer: Lessons for a New Century from the Most Influential Apologists of Our Time. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998.

Cunningham, Richard B. C. S. Lewis: Defender of the Faith. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008 reprint of 1967 ed.

Dorsett, Lyle W. Seeking the Secret Place: The Spiritual Formation of C. S. Lewis. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2004.

Downing, David C. The Most Reluctant Convert: C. S. Lewis’s Journey to Faith. Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 2002.

Duriez, Colin. “Lewis, C. S.” New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics, W. C. Campbell-Jack and Gavin McGrath, eds. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2006, 402-403.

Duriez, Colin. The C. S. Lewis Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to His Life, Thought, and Writings. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990.

Farrer, Austin. “The Christian Apologist,” Light on C. S. Lewis, ed. Jocelyn Gibb. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1965, 23-43.

Geisler, Norman L. “Lewis, C. S.,” Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999, 420-425.

Kilby, Clyde S. The Christian World of C. S. Lewis. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964.

Lindsley, Art. C. S. Lewis’s Case for Christ: Insights from Reason, Imagination and Faith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005.

Lindskoog, Kathryn Ann. C. S. Lewis: Mere Christian. Glendale: G/L Publications, 1973.

Macdonald, Michael H. and Andrew A. Tadie, eds. G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis: The Riddle of Joy. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989.

Purtill, Richard L. C. S. Lewis’s Case for the Christian Faith. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981.

Walsh, Chad. C. S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics. New York: Macmillan, 1949.

Walsh, Chad. The Visionary Christian. Touchstone Books, 1996.

C. S. Lewis and Fairy Tales for Children

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When speaking about C. S. Lewis in class at Wheaton College, Clyde Kilby said he believed that children exposed to the world of fantasy were better able to understand and relate to the real world as adults.

In The Christian World of C. S. Lewis, Kilby wrote:

Lewis rigorously defends the fairy tale against any who claim that it gives a false conception of life. The fact is, says he, that this is the direct opposite of the truth and it is the so-called realistic stories which deceive children. The fairy tale, like the myth, on the one hand arouses longing for more ideal worlds and on the other gives the real world a new dimension of depth. The boy ‘does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little more enchanted.’ The child reading the fairy tale is delighted simply in desiring, while the child reading a ‘realistic’ story may establish the success of its hero as a standard for himself and when he cannot have the same success, may suffer bitter disappointment.[1]

Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and other similar books have an important place in a child’s early development.

[1] Clyde S. Kilby, The Christian World of C. S. Lewis (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 116.